Jack Strabo knows that he is not going to draw the spotlight through his role as a shortstick defensive midfielder for the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team but he isn’t complaining.
“It is a lot of fun to be able to defend a team; I really like playing within that unit of our team,” said junior Strabo, a 5’10, 170-pound native of Arlington, Va.
“It is something that you might not get necessarily as many accolades but working together with the other five guys and the goalie on the field. It is something that requires a lot of communication, a lot of teamwork. It requires all of us to be on the same page because if one of us isn’t on the same page, it is a goal or an opportunity at least.”
After Princeton fell 16-15 at North Carolina on March 9, Strabo and his fellow defenders were looking to tighten things up as the Tigers hosted Manhattan last week.
“Carolina was a tough loss for us, especially on the defensive end,” said Strabo.
“It is always good to have an opportunity to come back right away on a Tuesday and turn the page really quickly. Giving up 16 goals is something we can’t afford to do as a defense. That is one of the things that we really emphasized coming into this game and moving forward. One of the big keys for us is trying to stop transition offense and not give up any extra man opportunities on a 6-on-5 fast break.”
Strabo and the Tigers took a step forward against the Jaspers in the March 12 contest, locking down Manhattan as they cruised to a 15-2 victory.
“I was really proud of our defense, the way our goalies played, the close defense guys,” asserted Strabo.
“I thought everybody played well and we played well as a unit and executed our game plan.”
Coming into the season, there were plenty of questions surrounding a Princeton defensive unit that lost nearly all of its 2012 starters to graduation, including All-Americans Chad Wiedmaier, John Cunningham, and Tyler Fiorito.
Strabo, though, was confident that the rebuilt group could provide the right answers.
“We knew we graduated a lot of guys and that some people would need to step up,” said Strabo.
“I think a lot of guys have done an excellent job of filling spots. That was something coming in that I know a lot of people were worried about but me personally and most of the people within the program, we weren’t worried at all because we knew the guys that we had in the pipeline already. We knew that they would step up given the opportunity and I think they have done that so far.”
Strabo has played a key role in helping one of the new players step up as he has mentored his younger brother, freshman defenseman Mark.
“It is a lot of fun being out there with my brother; we played together for one year in high school and we were on the field together at times,” said Strabo, who didn’t have a lot of fun last Saturday as Princeton lost 11-10 at Penn in its Ivy League opener to fall to 4-2 overall.
“I gave him some advice over the summer. I would say that the biggest thing is adjusting to the pace and the speed of the game.”
Princeton head coach Chris Bates, for his part, liked the way his defense adjusted in the wake of the Carolina loss.
“We want those guys to continue to build confidence and just get used to playing together as a unit,” said Bates.
“Communication is such a big deal on that end of the field. So any time you get game experience and you do well and you react to a little adversity, it is good. Our starters gave up one goal and that’s a good night’s work.”
The win over Manhattan made it a special night for Bates as the triumph marked the 100th win of his college coaching career.
“I am happy to do it with these guys,” said Bates, who won 70 games in his 10-year tenure at Drexel and has posted a 30-20 record at Princeton,
“We have come a long way with growing up here at Princeton with some of these guys and it is a really likable team that works hard. I was pleased that they were happy for me and it was nice to share it with them.”
It is nice for Princeton to have a player like Strabo holding down the shortstick middie spot.
“He is a leader, he knows the defense,” said Bates. “He is starting to become more vocal, which we need. He and Chris White both give us a lot of minutes there and Bobby Lucas does too. So those guys are the unsung heroes and any time we can give them credit, we do because it is the hardest position on the field.”
Bates acknowledges that his squad is heading into a hard part of its schedule which will continue when the 10th-ranked Tigers host No. 18 Yale (3-2 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 22 in a rematch of the 2012 Ivy League title game won by the Bulldogs.
“We understand the way the schedule is structured,” said Bates. “Our early season is non-conference games and now this is go-time for us. These next few weeks are really going to be important. I think we are playing well. I think we will be ready. We are looking forward to it.”
Strabo, for his part, is looking forward to doing the dirty work required of his position.
“I would say my role is to do my best on the ball to get into the spots where we can to slide to it and recover,” said Strabo, who has four goals and an assist in his career along with 33 ground balls.
“I also need to play within our team’s defense and pick the spots I need to be at. In terms of clearing the ball, to try to get the ball and get it up the field.”