Ryan Ambler and his teammates on the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team liked their chances as they headed into the second quarter of their clash with Johns Hopkins last Saturday.
The rivals were locked in a 4-4 tie after the one period with Princeton holding a 12-7 edge in shots.
“We were moving the ball well, there was good ebb and flow to the game,” said sophomore attackman Ambler. “We made some stops on defense; they made a little bit of a run but so did we.”
But in the second quarter, Hopkins embarked on a decisive run that changed the course of the game. The Blue Jays outscored Princeton 5-1 in the period and extended their lead to 12-5 by midway through the third.
While the Tigers got back on track, responding to the 8-1 run by outscoring Hopkins 4-3 from there, it was not nearly enough as the Blue Jays posted a 15-9 win before 2,540 at Class of 1952 Stadium.
In assessing Hopkins’ surge, Ambler acknowledged that Princeton didn’t have much room for error.
“I think that they just got a couple more possessions than we did,” said Ambler.
“I think they capitalized in the second quarter more than we did, it came down to that. We knew that they were a good team. They shot the ball really well, they shared the ball really well. There were some times collectively that we had a lapse as a team.”
In the latter stages of the third quarter, Princeton did capitalize, reeling off three straight goals.
“I had a lot of faith in our defense, offense, and face-off guys, all around the field; the same thing happened with Hofstra,” said Amber, referring to a late rally which saw Princeton go on an 8-2 run to pull out a 12-10 win on February 22. “We knew that we were going to get our run, it was unfortunate that we couldn’t keep it going.”
The 6’1, 190-pound native of Rydal, Pa. has it going this spring, with 12 points already on three goals and a team-high nine assists.
“I am just a year older and hopefully, a little wiser,” said Ambler, who matched his career single-game high in the Hopkins loss with five points on two goals and three assists.
“The guys on the team do a great job finishing the ball, we move the ball really well. I have got to give credit to the guys finishing the goals. They cut to the ball, I feed them and they finish.”
Ambler has developed a comfort level with senior midfielder Tom Schreiber and junior attackman Mike MacDonald.
“We have a great feel for each other and we are great buddies,” said Ambler.
“We understand the flow of the offense as does the rest of the offense. I think everyone has got a great feel to the offense that we run. We just capitalize on some good plays. I am fortunate to play within this offense.”
Princeton head coach Chris Bates knew that the Hopkins offense posed some challenges for his young defense which starts a sophomore [Mark Strabo] and two freshmen [Will Reynolds and Bear Goldstein].
“Coming into this game, I knew Hopkins is very different offensively this season,” said Bates, whose team dropped to 2-1 with the defeat.
“Some of the things they have shown that they are going to do were going to cause some problems for us. It was not a surprise to me.”
In assessing Hopkins’ decisive run, Bates noted that Princeton was doomed by a number of problems.
“We didn’t have the ball,” said Bates. “It is a game of momentum; we turned it over a few times and we didn’t face off well. I knew coming in if we were forced to play a lot of defense that we were going to give up quality shots and that was the case during that run. Honestly, we needed another save or two to get the ball back and give us a little life, to give us a little momentum and we didn’t get that. We didn’t get the critical plays at critical moments to get it back in our favor.”
Bates credited Ambler with giving Princeton life at the offensive end. “Ryan is playing with confidence; he is strong on the ball, he has such great vision,” said Bates.
“It is nice when the pieces of our offense play together, it is pretty to watch. You just see the ball move around and guys are unselfish. Ryan is unselfish but he is confident enough to take advantage of his opportunities. You love guys that have equal goals and assists, that’s the way the game should be played. It is nice to see his development.”
Responding with a grimace, Bates acknowledged that the Tigers need their goalies to develop some consistency.
“This was a good test; they are high velocity, high accuracy shooters and we didn’t catch up with balls today,” said Bates, who has been rotating senior Brian Kavanagh and sophomore Matt O’Connor between the pipes.
“We didn’t look like we were on the ball, that is a concern. That is an area that is going to continue to stay under the microscope. I don’t know if you solve it today or next week or when you do. To be where we want to be, we need more consistency and we need the answer there.”
The answer could come, in part, by being more deliberate with the ball. “We still have to do a better job of managing the game on the offensive end,” said Bates.
“In some instances, when you are facing a dynamic offense like Hopkins, you have got to keep it out out of their hands. It is only a matter of time. They are just so slick and so skilled, they know each other really well. We have got to be able to withstand that and tilt the field the other way.”
The Tigers know they are going to have to withstand another high-powered attack as they host No. 8 North Carolina (3-1) on March 7.
“We have Carolina coming in here Friday, it is another big-time opponent,” noted Bates.
“You learn lessons and you take the next steps. I really feel like this team is going to be much different at the end of April than it is in the beginning of March. We have to hold on to that thought. It doesn’t feel good right now. I have done this long enough where I have got to remind myself and remind my guys of that. They are not happy right now and I don’t blame them but we have to keep it in perspective.”
Ambler, for his part, is taking a long-range perspective. “We understand that it is March 1, we have plenty of time,” said Ambler.
“Hopkins was a great test, UNC is going to be another great test. All we can do is look forward to one game at a time and that is what we are going to do. We hate losing; we are going to take what we have from that loss and we are going to progress forward, the key word is progress.”