Even though his Princeton University men’s lacrosse team ended regular season play by falling 17-11 to Cornell on April 27, Chris Bates sensed things would be different when the teams met in the Ivy League tournament semifinals last Friday evening in Ithaca, N.Y.
But even head coach Bates could not have foreseen the spectacle that ensued as the Princeton outlasted Cornell 14-13 in overtime on the Big Red’s home field, with each team scoring six goals in the fourth quarter before the Tigers got the final salvo of the evening on a Kip Orban tally.
“We knew that it was going to be that kind of game and a dogfight,” said Bates.
“It was a matter of who was going to have the ball last. The game really exploded in the fourth quarter. From a fan’s standpoint, it was a great game, going back and forth. It was one for the ages in terms of the number of goals scored in the fourth quarter and overtime.”
Tiger sophomore Mike MacDonald produced a performance for the ages, scoring nine points on seven goals and two assists.
“MacDonald was lights out, that was a game that will go down in history,” said Bates. “He had seven goals on eight shots. They were really tough shots, we witnessed something really special.
Things ended on a tough note, though, for the Tigers as they didn’t turn the tables on Yale, falling to the Bulldogs for a second straight year in the Ivy championship game, dropping a 12-8 decision.
While Princeton picked up where it left off on Friday, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Orban and Tom Schreiber, it ran out of steam.
We started off quickly, Tom rips a shot that literally rips the net and caused a delay,” recalled Bates, whose team had beaten Yale 10-9 on March 22 but lost 20-of-24 face-offs on Sunday and was outscored 6-2 over the last 23:08 of the title contest.
“We seemed to lose some momentum after that. I give Yale credit, they were hungry. I think Friday night caught up with us in the second half and we were hurt by our lack of depth. It is tough to get and keep momentum against a kid [Dylan Levings] that is facing off like that. They got the ball and played a good possession game. I think our defense got a little tired and Eric [goalie Eric Sanschagrin] wasn’t his sharpest.”
While the loss to Yale kept Princeton from getting the league’s automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament, the Tigers were hoping that they could get an at-large bid as they did in 2012. But Princeton received another setback later in the evening when the NCAA bracket was released and Cornell turned out to be the only other Ivy team to get a berth in the national tourney.
“We held out hope and when we got off the bus we said we’ll see how everything goes and regroup,” said Bates, whose team ended the season at 9-6 and ranked 14th in the final Nike/Inside Lacrosse Media Poll of the regular season.
“I think we had the sense that we were going to be on the outside looking in. It was hard to see them taking three teams from the Ivy League, the numbers didn’t add up for us.”
Bates was left with a sense of what might have been as Princeton battled several of the teams in the NCAA field on even terms, losing by one goal to top-seeded Syracuse and fifth-seeded North Carolina and posting victories over Cornell and Yale.
“We beat one of the top teams in the tournament and we had one-goal games with some of the other teams in the field,” said Bates. “It is emotional for the seniors to have it end after being so close.”
While the emotions were raw on Sunday, Bates believes that the program can draw plenty of positives from a 2103 campaign that saw it top Hofstra, Johns Hopkins, and Villanova in non-conference play in addition to other league victories over Harvard and Brown.
“It is Princeton and expectations are high regardless of any circumstance,” said Bates.
“We had a good year, I am pleased by the big wins. I am disappointed that we didn’t beat Yale and get the chance to show ourselves in the NCAAs. We showed that we can play with and beat anybody in the country.”
In the wake of the disappointing end to the campaign, Bates will engage in some tough analysis.
“It is a blank slate,” said Bates. “I don’t reinvent the wheel but I look critically at everything.”
Things are looking up for Princeton, according to Bates. “We have a really solid foundation; there is cause for optimism,” asserted Bates, whose team returns five of its top six scorers in MacDonald, Schreiber, Orban, Ryan Ambler, and Ivy Rookie of the Year Jake Froccaro.
“We have reinforcements on the way. We have a spectacular class of high school seniors coming in. We have players coming back from season-ending injuries (Tucker Shanley, Forest Sonnenfeldt, Rob Castelo) and that will help. We will have more depth and on day one next year we will be a better team than we were at the end of this season.”
Bates didn’t waste any time setting the tone for next season. “We texted the high school seniors on Sunday night and said the process to play on championship weekend begins tonight so they know what our DNA is and what the expectations are,” said Bates. “I am anxious to take the next step and get back to competing.”