Princeton Men’s Soccer Overcomes Adversity; Wins Ivy Crown, To Play at Michigan in NCAAs
CROWNING ACHIEVEMENT: Princeton University men’s soccer goalie Jacob Schachner boots the ball in game last season. Junior star Schachner’s solid play in goal helped Princeton win the Ivy League title this fall as the Tigers have gone 10-5-2 overall and 5-1-1 Ivy. In upcoming action, Princeton will start play in the NCAA tournament where they are slated to play at Michigan (12-5-2 overall) in a first round contest on November 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Jacob Schachner was warming up to play at Yale last Saturday when he saw the rest of the Princeton University men’s soccer team suddenly sprinting toward the locker room.
The junior goalie knew immediately that the Tigers could celebrate an Ivy League championship early, even before they took on Yale, thanks to Cornell’s 2-1 overtime win that eliminated conference runner-up Columbia from title contention.
“I knew that Cornell had somehow beat Columbia, they’re two great teams,” said Schachner. “It was an unreal moment. It seemed like time slowed down.”
Princeton head coach Jim Barlow had discouraged his team from watching the Cornell-Columbia game before their own. The Tigers staff had been worried it would be too mentally draining to follow the highs and lows of the game, and only Barlow and a few injured players were watching when Cornell won the game.
“When Cornell scored, we dropped our computers and phones and sprinted out of the locker room with our arms up in the air,” recalled Barlow.
“Our guys were warming up for the game and they realized what had happened and they just went bananas. It was crazy celebration. Yale hadn’t even taken the field yet. There were no people in the stands and our team was just going bonkers.”
Princeton’s game strategy changed after knowing they’d sealed the Ivy championship, and they went on to lose their only Ivy game of the season, 1-0, to Yale to move to 10-5-2 overall, 5-1-1 in Ivy play, but nothing could diminish their moment.
“The thing that stands out about this one compared to other times is just how many things this group had to deal with throughout the year,” asserted Barlow.
“We started off poorly, we had a ton of injuries, we lost our home field, and our backs were against the wall for a pretty long time this year.”
The Ivy title is Princeton’s fifth under Barlow, who is in his 23rd season at the helm. It is the program’s third crown since 2010, and all nine classes since then have won one Ivy championship, the only Ivy team that can say so.
“That’s not something we’ve talked about or know about, but it’s great to hear that,” Barlow said. “It’s just trying every year to keep the team focused on what they can do now to improve and to compete for a title. Now that we’ve done it, we’re trying to turn all our focus to seeing if we can advance as far as we can.”
The Ivy League championship gives Princeton the automatic berth into the NCAA tournament. The Tigers will play at Michigan (12-5-2 overall) in a first round contest on November 15. The winner of that game faces seventh-seeded Notre Dame on Sunday.
“I think we play our best soccer against the bigger teams,” said Schachner. “I’m really excited to see what our team can bring, not only to stop their incredible offense but try to play our game on their field. I know the conditions won’t be what we’re used to, but I think we’ll have the ability to overcome it and live up to the level of the big-game atmosphere.”
While cold rain is predicted for the NCAA first round game in Ann Arbor, Mich., Princeton is just thrilled to have the opportunity to play after an up and down season.
The Tigers started the year 1-3 and poor field conditions forced them to move their home venue to Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium. Injuries further complicated their continuity and Ivy chase, and Princeton had to rally from a 2-0 deficit to force a 2-2 tie with defending Ivy champion Dartmouth in their Ivy opener. They reeled off five straight Ivy wins to put themselves in position for the title going into the final game.
“The beginning of the year when we put together keys for the team, we emphasized that no one on the team has a ring to give ourselves a little extra motivation,” said Schachner.
“Now that we’re here, all the hard work we put in, injuries, not having home field, all the obstacles thrown at us, I’m so proud of our team for being able to overcome those. It feels awesome.”
Schachner is part of a defense that delivered all year. Princeton allowed only 11 goals all season with a defense that featured Richard Wolf and Ben Issroff at center back, but also used two freshmen, Alex Charles and Ben Bograd, early at center back due to injuries. Bobby Hickson on the right and Cole Morokhovich on the left rounded out the back four.
“On the defensive front, we have four returning starters from last year,” said Schachner.
“The group was already close to begin with. Even when one of our starting center backs went down, we had a guy fit right in. The chemistry was good. The guys were competing for the guys next to them. Our goal was to give up as few goals as possible this year and I think we did a good job.”
In his second year as the full-time starter, Schachner had a 0.71 goals against average and saved 77 percent of the shots he saw for a total of 132 saves. He prevented three penalty kicks himself.
“It’s a lot of work that goes in behind the scenes,” said Schachner. “A lot of scouting from Steve Totten [associate head coach], who helps me perform best for the situation.
Schachner credits his play this year to the experience gained over the previous two seasons. The Waxhaw, N.C. product was an honorable mention All-Ivy selection last year.
“The position is a position where experience can definitely help,” noted Schachner. “The extra help of getting adapted to the college game has calmed me. A lot of college goalkeepers won’t play until their junior or senior year. The experience I gained freshman and sophomore year helped me prepare for the season.”
Princeton had experience all over the field and their veterans gave them confidence from the preseason. “Getting a lot of guys back, I think we returned eight or seven out of 11, that’s something we felt good about coming back,” Schachner said. “Then the freshmen had shown they’d be big contributors and made guys in starting roles be better. Training sessions were
incredible, guys were pushing each other. That type of atmosphere makes a great team.”
Their experience was important after a slow start. Princeton played with an urgency that could have worn down a younger team. They knew they couldn’t lose and expect to make the NCAA tournament.
“Everyone on our team knows when we play our best soccer, no team can compete with us,” added Schachner.
“Up until Yale, we played our best soccer in every game. Because of that, a lot of guys had confidence if we just did our job, the results would come our way. Playing with our backs against the wall, a lot of guys used it for motivation. It helped us go through all our games after Dartmouth without losing.”
They had contributions from everyone. Sean McGowan provided a goal off the bench to get Princeton going against Dartmouth. Will Lentz did the same against Penn.
“They did a really good job of knowing that there was a ton on the line in every game but being able to step on the field and being into it and being in the moment and not worrying about what’s going to happen if we don’t win,” Barlow said. “I think our ability to do that this year was really good.”
Princeton will try to extend its season as underdogs in the NCAA tournament. The Tigers haven’t won an NCAA game since 1993.
“I think it just gives our team more motivation to just prove people wrong,” said Schachner.
“It’s been our goal the whole year to prove that this team is special. We’re hoping we can do that by winning games in the tournament.”