The last time the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team met Cornell, the rivals produced a battle for the ages as Princeton prevailed 14-13 in overtime in the 2013 Ivy League semis.
When the teams faced off last Saturday in the Battle of Bethpage, it looked like they may be headed to another run-and-gun classic.
Princeton took a 6-5 lead at half and then the teams combined for 10 goals in the third quarter with Cornell emerging with an 11-10 lead.
In the fourth quarter, though, the defenses rose up and the Big Red tallied just once but it was enough to pull out a 12-10 win, ending any hopes Princeton had of being awarded an at-large bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament.
Princeton head coach Chris Bates was pleased with the effort he got from his team as it ended the season at 7-6 overall and 2-4 Ivy League.
“The team knew what was on the line; we talked about how this was a do or die situation,” said Bates. “We came ready to play, no doubt.”
Bates acknowledged that the Tigers didn’t play well when it counted down the stretch.
“We just didn’t do what we needed to do to win the game,” said Bates. “We had bad decision-making on offense and some of those turnovers turned into early offense for them.”
Noting that five of Princeton’s losses this spring came by a total of seven goals, Bates rued what might have been.
“Until there was 40 seconds left in game Saturday, I thought if we got into the tournament we could peak, and with some breaks, could go on a run,” said Bates, whose team had already failed to qualify for the four-team Ivy postseason tourney.
“I feel like on any given day, we could beat anyone so it is very disappointing to be sitting here without a game to prepare for this weekend.”
It was a disappointing ending for the squad’s Class of 2014, who only made one NCAA appearance in their careers, falling 6-5 to Virginia in a 2012 first round contest.
“There were 14 seniors in the room and they had given their blood, sweat, and tears,” said Bates, who got a career-high four goals from senior Tucker Shanley in his finale with freshman Zach Currier adding two goals and senior Tom Schreiber, junior Kip Orban, sophomore Ryan Ambler and sophomore Jake Froccaro adding one goal apiece.
“I feel like they deserve more. They gave so much and worked so hard. They set a good example. Tom [Schreiber] gets a lot of attention but there were a lot of guys who worked very hard. The expectation when you play for Princeton is that you are going to play into May. They can hold their heads high. They may be disappointed but there is no reason for regret.”
While All-American midfielder Schreiber was held to one goal in his final game for Princeton, that tally helped him accomplish more milestones as it gave him 30 goals for the season and 200 points in his brilliant career.
“He is an all-time great for the position he plays; everyone recognizes his numbers and what he has done in his career,” said Bates.
“He is a humble kid and a team guy and I think he would trade it all for some wins in the NCAAs and a shot at a title.”
In Bates’ view, the team’s failure to make the NCAAs this season was the product of several factors.
“It was a combination, it was a little bit of everything,” said Bates. “We didn’t have the edge to make the big plays and grab the jugular. On any day it could be any of the above, it could be poor defense, bad decision making, or bad luck. We faced a lot of good goalies and hit a lot of pipes.”
While Princeton has a good foundation in place, Bates acknowledges that both coaches and players need to engage in some soul-searching over the off-season to regain the edge that made the program a perennial NCAA power.
“There is very good young talent here and some good players on the way,” said Bates.
“The challenge is to right the ship and notch things up in a different way, starting with the leadership approach. It is not a comfortable feeling. I have faith in the staff and our players. We will find out how hungry the players are. We need to play offense differently. We can’t be playing 15-14 games. We need to do a better job of managing games. We will have a more experienced defense, we have an incumbent goalie coming back.”