While Jack Strabo acknowledged that the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team won ugly in its 15-12 victory over visiting Penn last Saturday, he saw beauty in the effort.
“I don’t think we played a perfect game by any means; I think it was sloppy both ways,” said senior defensive midfielder Strabo, who scored a first quarter goal in the victory which improved 12th-ranked Princeton to 3-2 overall and 1-0 Ivy League.
“Penn is a very tough team. We had to grind it out so I was proud of our guys today for showing some composure at the end and getting a gritty, tough win.”
With Princeton having lost to No. 6 North Carolina and No. 8 Johns Hopkins in its last two outings before last Saturday, getting a victory over the 13th-ranked Quakers in the Ivy League opener for both teams was critical.
“This is obviously a huge game for us, not only coming off two losses but also it is our first Ivy League game and that is what we really want to focus on,” said Strabo.
“League games are huge for us so coming into it we knew we had a lot to prove and on top of that, we knew we had seen flashes where we can put it all together but we hadn’t come together for the whole game yet.”
In Strabo’s view, the Tigers are coming together on defense. “I was proud of our defense, I think we grew up a lot on that end,” said Strabo.
“We made some big stops. Matt O’Connor in the cage made some huge saves in the second half when we needed them, especially in the fourth quarter. I think we were able to put some pressure on and get some stops at the end of the game when we really needed the ball back and we couldn’t afford to give them any goals. I think we are getting better every week. We have got some guys down there but those guys have matured a lot.”
The defensive middie group, which includes senior stars Nick Fernandez and Hunter deButts, along with Strabo, looks to provide leadership to the younger players in the unit.
“A lot of it is trying to make sure that we are making the decisions and communicating a lot, especially in practice,” said Strabo, whose younger brother, sophomore Mark, starts on close defense along with a pair of freshmen, Will Reynolds and Bear Goldstein.
“When you are out there on the field starting, it doesn’t matter whether you are a freshman or a senior, you need to make sure you are talking, communicating, and being in position.
Being in the position of team captain has made Strabo focus on communicating on a daily basis.
“I think I have two great co-captains with Derick Raabe and Tom Schreiber; we try to set the tone in practice and in the games,” said the 5’9, 170-pound Strabo, a native of Arlington, Va.
“We try to make sure that everyone is ready in terms of Xs and Os and in terms of mentality during the week so that we are ready to go from the opening whistle.”
For defensive specialist Strabo, getting a goal was a great moment. “It doesn’t happen very often,” said Strabo with a laugh in reflecting on his fifth career tally.
“We did a good job of pushing it in our early offense and that is one of the things we have been kind of stressing in practice. I think we did a pretty good job of putting some pressure on their defense. We got some good movement on the backside and I somehow ended up on the backside pipe in the attackman’s spot and Mike MacDonald made a great feed. I don’t know how he saw me there; that was a nice surprise.”
Princeton head coach Chris Bates saw Strabo’s goal as a good sign. “Jack is the first one to admit that is not his calling in life; he is not a goal scorer but it gives you life,” said Bates.
“If you are going to win big games and close games, you have to get production from different areas of the field and from unlikely sources. That was a nice omen early in the game. I am happy for him. He is as hard working a guy and as good a leader as you could ever want.”
Bates praised the team’s work on the defensive end. “Our man down defense was something we were concerned about out of respect for Penn’s extra man offense,” said Bates.
“They were 1-for-8 against us overall. It was a high caliber opponent and it is more game experience for those guys to live, breathe, and die together on each possession. I think we took some nice next steps there.”
Pulling out a close win was a vital step in the right direction for the Tigers.
“When you lose two weekends in a row it is a grind,” said Bates, who got two goals and five assists from Mike MacDonald in the victory with Ryan Ambler and Tom Schreiber each contributing four goals and an assist.
“This group is learning how to work through the grind and it is nice to get rewarded because now we have to notch it up. You can’t play like this and win next week. You always have to take next steps and I think we are happy because this is better than the alternative.”
There is plenty of room for improvement as Princeton faces a critical week as they are slated to play at Villanova on March 18 and at No. 16 Yale (3-2 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 22.
“Our message to them afterwards was OK we have to learn how to put ourselves in game situations in practice so we look better than we did at the end of this game,” said Bates.
“If you watched us at the end, it looked like we were trying to give it back a little bit. Hopefully they will understand that and we are only going to turn up the heat in practice because it feels good to win and we need to understand how to practice so we continue to prepare for stressful situations.”
Strabo and his teammates understand that the win over Penn sets up a pivotal week of the 2014 campaign.
“It is a great step in the right direction,” asserted Strabo. “We need to make sure that we turn our focus quickly because Villanova is a very good team on Tuesday and then Yale next Saturday. I think between this game and the next week, that is a very big eight days for us that we need to stress and if we can come out of there 3-0 next Saturday then we are in great shape.”