On the face of things, it seemed like the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team took a step forward when it topped Rutgers 13-8 last week.
But upon closer review, Princeton head coach Chris Bates concluded that the April 9 victory over the Scarlet Knights didn’t actually represent progress.
“It was good to get a win coming out of Syracuse,” said Bates, referring to Princeton’s 13-12 loss to the Orange three days before the Rutgers contest. “Once we watched the film, we saw that we played relatively poorly. We saw a ton of errors.”
Last Saturday at Dartmouth, Princeton continued to make errors, squandering two three-goal leads on the way to a 10-9 loss to the Big Green as it dropped to 7-4 overall and 2-2 Ivy League.
Bates sensed early on that his squad had not learned from the post-game analysis of the Rutgers game.
“After we scored our first goal, I almost called a timeout to dress down the offense,” said Bates, whose team jumped out to a 3-0 lead over Dartmouth.
“They had not taken the next step in terms of decision-making. In our first three possessions, we took the first shot instead of extending possessions.”
Princeton eventually built an 8-5 advantage midway through the third quarter, appearing to right the ship enough to pull out another win. But an inspired Big Green outscored Princeton 5-1 from that point as it rallied for the victory and just its eighth win over the Tigers in 60 meetings.
“Historically, Dartmouth is a team we have pulled away from; I don’t think we gave them the respect that they deserved,” said Bates of Dartmouth, which was sparked by three goals from former Princeton High star Mike Olentine, later named the Ivy Co-Player of the Week.
“It was one of those games where we were looking around and waiting for someone else to make plays. We didn’t make many plays after we were up 8-5. To Dartmouth’s credit, they had a good game plan. They neutralized us and played harder.”
Things were made harder for a Princeton squad as it was missing four key players, Ryan Ambler, Alex Beatty, Jack Strabo, and Chris White, due to injury.
“We were a tired team down the stretch,” said Bates, who got three goals from freshman Jake Froccaro in the loss with junior star Tom Schreiber chipping in two goals and two assists. “When we needed to be fresher and to execute, we didn’t. We are thin on defense; we broke down and made mistakes.”
The breakdown put the 13th-ranked Tigers in a precarious position as it looks to place in the top four in the Ivy standings in order to qualify for the upcoming league tournament. No. 6 Cornell is the frontrunner at 4-0 in Ivy play with Yale (3-2 Ivy), Princeton, Harvard (2-2 Ivy), and Penn (2-3 Ivy) battling for the other three spots.
“That was a punch between the eyes and our backs are to the wall,” said Bates. “We are fighting for our playoff lives.”
Bates is expecting a tough fight when Princeton hosts Harvard (6-6 overall) on April 19 in a game to be televised by ESPNU.
“We are playing a very strong Harvard team that is coming in here playing its best lacrosse of the year,” said Bates of the Crimson, who edged Penn 8-7 in overtime last Saturday.
“We are banged up and not playing our best lacrosse. They have a balanced offense and they are playing with a lot of confidence. They went toe-to-toe with Cornell and Duke in losses. Their defense is sound. They have good scorers and a good distributor behind the net in Devin Dwyer. They know how they play and they don’t beat themselves.”
The Tigers know they have to play better if they are going to qualify for postseason play.
“We need to have possession and we need a more consistent game out of our goaltender,” said Bates.
“On offense, if we are one and done, we are going to lose. On Saturday, we had 15 possessions with one shot and nine with no shots. You are not going to win any game that way.”
Bates, though, still believes his team will find a way to get it done against Harvard. “It was a tough loss, no question,” said Bates. “It comes down to how we respond and I am confident in our guys.”