Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIII, No. 19
 
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
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ON THE MARK: Princeton University men’s lacrosse senior star Mark Kovler heads up the field last Sunday on the way to scoring a career-high five goals in Princeton’s 10-7 win over Massachusetts in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Kovler’s goal output matched the second highest for a Princeton player in an NCAA game.

Senior Star Kovler Puts on Shooting Master Class as PU Men’s Lax Tops UMass in NCAA Opener

Bill Alden

Mark Kovler has worn out lacrosse nets honing his left-handed shot which resembles a howitzer.

So the senior midfielder for the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team was thrilled to get some extra shooting practice last week as the Tigers got ready to host Massachusetts in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

“Since we have finally finished with classes, we have been able to go out early in the day and after practice and get some extra shooting,” said the 6’0, 190-pound Kovler, a native of Washington, D.C.

As the fourth-seeded Tigers faced the challenge of trying to solve UMass star goalie Doc Schneider, Kovler put on a shooting master class before a crowd of 2,310 that was jamming Class of 1952 Stadium last Sunday.

Whistling the ball at a speeds around 100 m.p.h., Kovler fired four shots past Schneider in the first half as the Tigers built a 6-1 lead by intermission.

The first-team All-Ivy League performer added a goal and an assist in the second half as Princeton held off a gritty Minutemen squad to earn a 10-7 win and improve to 13-2 on the season.

The victory set up a clash of the Ivy co-champs in the NCAA quarters as Princeton will face fifth-seeded Cornell on May 16 at Hofstra.

In reflecting on setting a career single-game best in goals and points, Kovler said the extra shooting paid off.

“They have a great goalie and he made some great saves,” said Kovler, who now has 90 goals in his Tiger career, 14th all-time in program history. “That extra shooting, the repetition, helped us a lot today.”

It was a particularly great day for Kovler considering that he was sidelined late last season with a broken ankle and couldn’t help out as Princeton lost its final two games to squander a chance at making the NCAA tournament.

“I think for all of the seniors with this last game at home, just being able to go out and do what we had to do to beat a really good team; that’s what it is all about,” said Kovler, who helped Princeton make the NCAA quarterfinals as a freshmen in 2006 and came into last Sunday with four goals in three tournament games.

“Rich [Sgalardi] and I weren’t able to finish the season last year and we are trying to make this one last as long as we can.”

Sgalardi, for his part, will savor Princeton’s NCAA run, no matter how long it lasts.

“Ending last year not being able to play and watching our team miss the playoffs was really tough for the team as well as for me and Mark,” said Sgalardi, who had three goals and an assist in the win over the Minutemen.

“Going back to the quarterfinals for the first time since our freshman year, we have learned a lot. It doesn’t come every year, we are not taking anything for granted at this point. It means a lot to us right now.”

The Princeton midfield took control of the contest as Kovler, Sgalardi, and running mate Scott MacKenzie accounted for nine of the 10 Princeton tallies.

“I think one of the special things about this year’s team compared to years past, it could really be anybody scoring and I think we just really fit well together,” said Sgalardi, who leads Princeton in assists with 24.

“If we see if something is working for us, we just try to stick with it. Everybody is unselfish. If it is someone else’s day, everyone is willing to hand it off to that guy and let him do his best.”

Princeton head coach Bill Tierney was thrilled to see his team produce some of it’s best lacrosse of the year as it built that 6-1 halftime lead.

“In the last three games there have been 21 goals scored in the first half and the score is 20-1,” said Tierney, whose team took 7-0 halftime leads in late-season wins over Dartmouth and Brown.

“I really didn’t expect that today. As I just told the guys in the locker room, I thought we executed as well as we possibly could. That was a really good team, to hold them to one goal early was good. Offensively we did what we had to do. It is tough scoring on that guy (UMass goalie Schneider) so to get double figures on him and be up 6-1 at the half, we felt good about that.”

Tierney did expect senior stars Kovler and Sgalardi to step up in their final NCAA tournament.

“The one thing we have been saying all year long is that we have three captains on this team but these two guys and I am sure they would tell you the rest of these guys, they could all be captains,” asserted Tierney, who has guided Princeton to six NCAA titles.

“This class has been special since the day they walked in as freshmen and they have maintained that. It is just a special group of young men. I couldn’t be more happy for them to have them be able to move on to this next round.”

The Tigers know they face a major challenge in the next round in Cornell, which beat Princeton 10-7 in a regular season clash in mid-April.

“We know how good Cornell is,” said Tierney, whose team has dropped five of its last six games against the Big Red.

“We know who they are, they know who we are. Unfortunately, it is a short week. We have to play on Sunday and then come back to play on Saturday. It’s not going to be a week where we are going to have to tell our guys what these guys do. The team that plays better is going to win.”

Kovler, for his part, is confident the Tigers will play better when it counts most.

“It couldn’t be any bigger,” said Kovler. “They took us down. They played a great game a few weeks back, I don’t know what happened. It is a huge rivalry. I didn’t get to play in the game last year so I have never beaten Cornell. This will be a great opportunity, it couldn’t be better to do it with the Final Four on the line.”

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