Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 45
 
Wednesday, November 10, 2010
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BIG BEN: Princeton University men’s soccer senior star Ben Burton, center, celebrates with Mark Linnville, right, and Antoine Hoppenot after scoring a first half goal last Saturday in Princeton’s 2-1 win over Penn. Center halfback Burton also helped to spearhead the Tiger defense as it held off a late Quaker charge.

Senior Standout Burton Produces Big Finish as PU Men’s Soccer Edges Penn for Ivy Crown

Bill Alden

Roberts Stadium was overflowing with a raucous crowd of more that 2,000 last Saturday evening as the 16th-ranked Princeton University men’s soccer team hosted No. 13 Penn with the Ivy League title on the line.

If you had told Princeton senior defender Ben Burton in 2007 that he would be playing his last regular season home game of his Tiger career under such circumstances, he would likely have dismissed such a notion as some crazy fantasy.

“It’s been a long time coming,” said Burton. “My freshman year was tough, we had an 0-6 start. Our sophomore year wasn’t that great.”

Last Saturday, Burton helped Princeton get off to a great start in the matchup which saw both teams enter the evening with 5-0 Ivy League records as he scored on a header in the 14th minute to give the Tigers a 1-0 lead.

“It was a huge crowd in front of the net and there were a bunch of guys going after the ball, attacking it strong,” said Burton, recalling his tally.

“Guys in the box were having trouble finishing it and it came out to me. I got a lucky header that went in the back of the net. I was really fortunate.”

Princeton doubled its lead to 2-0 in the second half on an Antoine Hoppenot tally and then needed some good fortune to survive a late Penn rally as the Tigers held on for a 2-1 win.

“It was very tough, especially towards the end,” said the 5’11, 170-pound Burton, reflecting on a night which saw Penn outshoot Princeton 15-4 in the second half in building a 20-14 edge for the contest.

“You saw how many chances they got. They were very good; they gave us a lot of trouble. Our defenders stepped it up to clear the ball out; we did a good job to win it.”

The win extended Princeton’s winning streak to 11 as it improved to 12-3-1 overall, clinching at least a share of the Ivy crown and securing a spot in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

Burton tipped his hat to the Quakers, acknowledging that both teams fought tooth and nail for the title.

“They wanted the championship just as much as we did and they were going to put everything into it,” said Burton, a native of Minneapolis, Minn. and a second-team All-Ivy performer in 2009 who now has three goals and three assists on the season.

“It was just a battle to see who had the most energy and who could give it their all towards the end and thankfully we came out on top.”

In Burton’s view, the ups and downs that he and his classmates have been through helped spark that energy.

“I think all of the seniors brought a lot of leadership to the table and motivated our team to win a title,” said Burton, whose classmates include Josh Walburn, Sean Lynch, Thomas Gasparini, Brandon Busch, Max Hare. Teddy Schneider, Tim Sedwitz together with Princeton High alums Matt Callahan and Peter Callahan.

“Last year we had a better year and this year we had some upcoming talent and it really helped us out.”

The combination of talent and motivation has helped fuel Princeton’s current winning streak, tying a program mark set in 1926-27 and accomplishing the feat for the first time in a single season.

“Our mentality has been superb; we have been confident but I don’t think we have been too cocky,” said Burton.

“A lot of people could get complacent in times like this but we have made sure that we put everything out on the field.”

Princeton head coach Jim Barlow liked the way his team gave its all Saturday from the opening kick.

“Even before the goal, we felt like we came out flying,” said Barlow, a former Tiger soccer star who is in his 15th year guiding his alma mater, having previously led the Tigers to Ivy crowns in 1999 and 2001.

“The guys really wanted it. After we got the first goal, we knew that Penn was going to come at us. They were all over us for a while in the second half. We got that second goal against the run of play and we were holding on for dear life. It was a great effort.”

Barlow credited Burton with playing a key role at both ends of the field for the Tigers.

“Ben was great and he has been all year,” asserted Barlow of Burton, who later named Ivy League Player of the Week for his performance. “He is just a quiet presence. He just does his job everyday and gets it done everyday. For him to get a goal and then be a part of holding things off was tremendous. He is a really, really good player.”

Princeton’s three-pronged attack of Hoppenot, Walburn, and Matt Sanner gives it a tremendous advantage.

“Between Josh, Antoine, and Matt, even when we are getting outplayed, we can still manage to get a goal,” said Barlow. “Those guys did that tonight, Josh slipped a great ball through for Antoine to finish it up.”

Barlow was proud to see his seniors have such a big finish on their Senior Day.

“They started off in a tough stretch in their freshmen year and then we opened up the stadium and didn’t do quite as well as we had hoped,” said Barlow.

“We really turned a corner last year. When we beat Harvard at Harvard last year when they were undefeated and first in the league, that was a big turning point. Our guys believed they could beat anyone. For them to make a run through the league this year, I think it all started with the confidence that started at the end of last year.’

The Tigers needed that confidence to subdue a Penn team that is now 12-4 overall and 5-1 in Ivy play.

“They are great, I think they played well,” added Barlow, referring to Penn. “They were around our goal all night; they got the ball moving. It is a really good program; they play good soccer. We know they are going to make the tournament and I hope we don’t have to meet them.”

In Barlow’s view, his club can be a threat in the upcoming tournament after having made it last year only to get edged 1-0 by Bucknell in the first round.

“We want to go as far in the tournament as we possibly can,” said Barlow, whose team wraps up regular season play with a game at Yale on November 13. “Winning next weekend is important. We want to beat Yale and get through the league without a blemish. Then hopefully we can get a bye in the NCAA.”

Burton, for his part, has big hopes as he looks forward to a second trip to the national tournament.

“Hopefully we can do good things,” said Burton. “We have the confidence in our team to do well. Hopefully we can carry this momentum into the tournament.”

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