Having lost a pair of one-goal games in the last two weeks of March, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team was moments away from another excruciating defeat as it hosted Lehigh last week.
Trailing 9-8 with less than 10 seconds left in the April 8 contest, Princeton had a shot turned back and the ball bounced on the turf at the Class of 1952 Stadium.
Then lightning struck as Tiger junior midfielder Kip Orban took a Mike MacDonald feed and rifled it onto the back of the net to tie the game at 9-9 and force overtime.
Princeton came through with the win on a goal in the second overtime by All-American senior midfielder Tom Schreiber to reverse its fortune and finally come out on top in a nailbiter.
For Orban, the tally was unlike any in his career. “I never had a goal like that; I was fortunate to be the recipient of a really hard play by Mikey,” recalled Orban, a 6’2, 190-pound native of Westport, Conn.
“He got that ground ball. He always has the greatest vision. He skips it through all the time. He found me at the top of the box and I was just fortunate to put it past the keeper.”
The Tigers, though, worked hard to make their luck. “We executed at the end of the game which is what we have to do moving forward,” said Orban, who was later named the Ivy League Co-Player of the Week along with Penn goalie Brian Feeney.
“I think we are finally starting to grit it out. Coach is instilling a great work ethic and teaching us to work really hard when we are tired and execute.”
Against Dartmouth, Orban was up to his late heroics again, scoring goals in the waning moments of both the first and second quarters to help the Tigers take an 8-4 halftime lead on the way to a 13-10 triumph.
“I think in the first half, we came out pretty well,” said Orban, reflecting on the victory which improved No. 14 Princeton to 7-4 overall and 2-2 in Ivy League action.
“Dartmouth played well, they showed some zone. We slowed down the pace of our offense a little bit and I think we were able to adapt pretty well and we were able to win it. We put enough on the board and we were fortunate to win it.”
In tallying those two goals, Orban has now scored at least one goal in 24 straight games, the longest scoring streak among Division I midfielders.
“I don’t really think about it, I just go out on the field and it is just being part of the system,” said Orban, reflecting on the streak.
“When I score those I am generally the recipient of great off ball movement. Our two-man system really forces us to play well together and I think our offensive first six guys work well with each other. Tommy [Schreiber] does a great job finding me. Mikey [MacDonald] does a great job finding everyone. Ryan Ambler is stepping up. I think we all work well together. It is just whoever is in the right spot at the right time.”
With two college seasons under his belt, Orban is better able to take advantage of the scoring opportunities that come his way.
“I am a little older; I definitely feel a little more comfortable than freshman year stepping out there and starting,” said Orban, who has 25 points this season on 18 goals and seven assists and is up to 70 points in his career with 53 goals and 17 assists. “It was a lot more nerve-wracking then.”
Orban acknowledged that the Tigers showed some nerves in the second half on Saturday as the Big Green narrowed the Princeton lead to three goals on three occasions over the last 30 minutes of the contest with former Princeton High star Mike Olentine scoring a third quarter goal for Dartmouth.
“I would say we have to come in the second half as we do in the first with the same amount of energy; we can’t come out flat,” said Orban.
“I feel like sometimes we get a little comfortable and I don’t think that should be the case. I feel after a couple of tough ground balls and some face-offs, we broke the seal in the second half. It started to flow and eventually we closed out on top. The team did well today but we definitely can do better moving forward.”
Princeton head coach Chris Bates concurred with that analysis. “I thought we showed some grit on Tuesday night to get that W,” said Bates.
“Today was a little bit lackadaisical. We let them know we didn’t practice well that last two days. We thought we would get a crisper effort today. We’ll take the win but we didn’t feel like it was a real disciplined team effort.”
In Bates’ view, his team needs to develop a better killer instinct. “We talked about that during the week, making the next play and being able to put a team out versus getting a little undisciplined,” said Bates.
“Dartmouth believed they could win until the very end of the game. Frankly, we could have pulled away and ended this thing a little earlier. It is a credit to Dartmouth. They did a nice job and hung with us.”
The Tigers did do a better job on face-offs, winning 17-of-27 on the day, sparked by the return of Justin Murphy from injury.
“Getting Murph back helped, he grits there; he is our go-to guy,” said Bates. “We struggled a little bit without him, We have faced some pretty high caliber competition over the course of the last few weeks. We created some scoring off the transition and the face-off which was nice but we still gave up a few which is a little bit mind numbing. We don’t communicate real well on the wings. Overall, I think it was a pretty decent day.”
Freshman midfielder Zach Currier had a big day, tallying three goals and an assist and scooping up five ground balls.
“Zach was clearly the star of the game; he gave us a ton of energy, he made some highlight reel plays,” said Bates of Currier who was later named the Ivy Rookie of the Week.
“He had a big assist so it was nice. We have been waiting for him to break out and if there is a bright spot today, it was Zach. He works hard; he is really competitive. He was fired up before the game, you could tell. He has got that edge and it is nice to see that rewarded.”
Princeton will need to play fired up as it heads to Harvard (7-5 overall, 3-1 Ivy) on April 19 for a critical Ivy contest.
“We’ll see how we react, it is a team that still fights it a little bit,” said Bates, whose club is riding a three-game winning streak.
“You can’t put the jersey on and expect to win. We control our own destiny. I think there is a clear positive with Harvard losing (8-7 at Penn) but we don’t look at that stuff. We just know that if we win, we are in good shape. The focus here immediately was to start thinking about what we need to do to prepare to beat Harvard with the emphasis on the word prepare.”
In Orban’s view, the Tigers are on board with Bates’ approach. “We just have to take care of what we have to take care of and to put ourselves in the position we want to be in at the end of the season,” said Orban.
“We have got to win out and then all the rest is up to chance. I don’t really focus on that; I don’t think our team does either. We just focus week to week and take care of what is in our hands and that is just Harvard this upcoming Saturday so we have to work hard this week and come out on top then.”