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Vol. LXIV, No. 47
 
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
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HITTING THE WALL: Princeton University men’s soccer star Josh Walburn controls the ball last Thursday as Princeton battled visiting University of Maryland-Baltimore County in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The 10th-ranked Tigers fell 2-1 to UMBC to end their season with a 13-4-1 record.

Historic Run Ends for Princeton Men’s Soccer as Tigers Fall to UMBC in NCAA Tournament

Bill Alden

Since mid-September, the Princeton University men’s soccer team has shown a knack for winning in a variety of ways.

In putting together a program-record 12-game winning streak and going 7-0 in Ivy League play for the first time ever, 10th-ranked Princeton made its breaks, leading some games wire-to-wire and coming from behind in others.

The three-pronged attack of Ivy League Player of the Year Antoine Hoppenot, Josh Walburn, and Matt Sanner gave the Tigers a quick-strike capability up top.

The defensive pair of Mark Linnville and Ben Burton together with goalie Sean Lynch stymied the opposition, ensuring that the Tigers were in every game.

Last Thursday against the University of Maryland-Baltimore County in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, Princeton displayed its versatility over the first half hour of the contest as it took a 1-0 lead.

On the offensive end, the Tigers were buzzing around the UMBC goal, generating several chances until a Hoppenot corner kick found the back of the net.

On defense, the Tiger defense put the clamps on UMBC’s high-scoring pair of Andrew Bulls and Levi Houapeu.

“I think we have been really good at starting the game well and we talked the last few days about making sure of that,” said Princeton head coach Jim Barlow.

“We were very confident that we would start the game well and that we really wanted to reward ourselves with a goal in that first 20 minutes. We did get a goal finally.”

But UMBC responded with a goal 10 minutes later by Houapeu to knot the game at 1-1 going into halftime. In the second half, the teams battled furiously for the go-ahead score and Bulls came through as he converted a feed from Houapeu to give UMBC the lead with 11:58 remaining in regulation.

The Tigers redoubled their efforts, putting intense pressure on the UMBC defense. With 5:50 left in the game, a Sanner header seemed headed to the back of the net but UMBC goalie Dan Louisignau. made a spectacular diving save to deny Princeton.

In the waning moments, freshman Chris Benedict had two shots but couldn’t convert as the Tigers suffered their first loss since September 19 and ended their season at 13-4-1. Many of the Tigers were stunned at the final whistle with several of them lying and sitting motionless on Myslik Field at Roberts Stadium.

In assessing the setback, a glum Barlow said that his team never stopped believing that it would pull out the victory.

“I feel like we had a bunch of games just like this game this year that we found a way to win,” said Barlow, whose team outshot the Retrievers 28-12 on the evening.

“I think we all felt we were going to win, even up until the very last minute. The breaks didn’t go our way and that is this game. That is what soccer is a lot of the time. We are frustrated about this one; it will hurt for a while.”

Barlow was proud of the courage his team displayed as it dealt with the UMBC rally and a series of injuries.

“I do feel that even in this game we showed a lot of character,” asserted Barlow.

“We lost Lester Nare at half to a concussion. We lost Tim Sedwitz at half to a bad ankle sprain. We had Josh playing with a head injury; we had Ben Burton with a head injury. If we had won, we would have had a hard time figuring out who was going to play on Sunday. I feel good about how we responded to a lot of adversity; giving up a goal late in the first half and losing several key guys to injury.”

Senior star Walburn, for his part, said that the Tigers were determined to answer UMBC’s first-half tally.

“It was frustrating to give up that goal right before halftime,” said midfielder Walburn, a first-team All-Ivy selection who had six goals and seven assists on the season.

“We wanted to come out and get another one before they did but we couldn’t finish.”

Walburn nearly made a big finish, heading the ball off the crossbar with 25:50 remaining in regulation.

“Chris [Benedict] wound up with it,” recalled Walburn. “I saw he was looking to cross it … and I tried to put myself in a good spot so hopefully if he hit it far enough it would get to me and it did. I thought the goalie was coming out so I was just trying to flick it over him.”

The Tigers, though, couldn’t beak down UMBC keeper Louisignau. “We were very frustrated; it seemed like everything we were throwing at them was getting stopped,” lamented Walburn.

“Their keeper seemed to get better as the game went on; he started catching more balls and coming out more. He made it tough on us.”

The UMBC squad also hit Princeton with some tough tackling. “The timing of it was not very good,” said Walburn in assessing the Retrievers’ tackling style. “It resulted in a lot of people getting hit when they didn’t need to be.”

Barlow acknowledged that the defeat hit the Tigers hard, hurting even more than last year’s 1-0 NCAA first round loss to Bucknell.

“This was a team that definitely expected to go deep in the tournament. Last year, it was such a struggle just to get into the tournament. We had to win our last seven games to get an at-large bid. This year, this team felt like we were good enough to play with anyone in the tournament.”

A key in the team’s success was its good group of seniors. “We have 10 seniors; I think five start but all of them are really important to our team,” said Barlow.

“Even the couple of seniors who don’t see a lot of playing time are great in training. One of the reasons why we had such a great year is some of 11-a-side games in training were just as competitive as our real games. The second team beat the first team on a bunch of days. Some of the seniors who were in charge of making sure the second team was good did an outstanding job so we are really going to miss all 10 of these guys. We started the season 1-3-1 and I don’t think anyone would have expected at that point that we would have made a 7-0 run through the league and a 12-game winning streak. The seniors were a huge part of keeping the team together through all of that.”

While Walburn was bitterly disappointed by the loss to UMBC, he was able to put the team’s accomplishments in perspective.

“It is great, no Princeton team has ever gone 7-0 in the league so that is very special and something we are very proud of,” said Walburn.

“Our win streak is something we are very proud of; that had never been done either. After the first seasons here that were kind of tough, it was really special to win the league in that way.”

And even though Princeton couldn’t find a way to win last Thursday, it produced a fall to remember.

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