JUMPING FOR JOY: Members of the Princeton University field hockey team celebrate after scoring a goal in the regular season game this fall. The Tigers went on to win the Ivy League title and later advanced to the NCAA championship game for the first time since 2012, where they fell to perennial power North Carolina. Princeton ended the fall with a 16-5 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Some surprising postseason runs made 2019 a year to remember on the national sports landscape. In pro hockey, the St. Louis Blues went from last place in December to earn their first-ever Stanley Cup in June. The Washington Nationals overcame their history of playoff futility to win the World Series for the first time in franchise history. The Toronto Raptors were a dark horse title contender in the NBA and proceeded to ride the clutch play of Kawhi Leonard to their initial league championship.
At the same time, some dominant teams added to their championship legacy. The New England Patriots defeated the Los Angeles Rams in the Super Bowl to win their sixth NFL title and third in the last five years. The U.S. women’s soccer team won their second straight World Cup, continuing their dominance of the international game.
Over the course of 2019, Princeton University teams spiced up the year with some surprise runs of their own. The men’s volleyball team defeated Penn State 3-2 in the EIVA (Eastern Intercollegiate Volleyball Association) championship game, winning the program’s first EIVA crown since 1998. The Tigers went on to defeat Barton 3-1 in the first round of the NCAA tournament to earn the program’s first win in the national tournament. At Hobey Baker rink, women’s hockey set a program with a 20-game unbeaten streak and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The wrestling team placed 15th at the NCAA championships, its highest finish in that competition since taking 14th in 1978. Producing a dramatic victory, men’s golf won the Ivy League Championships by one stroke, carding a total of 875 with Columbia next at 876 — its first league crown since 2013. The Tiger women’s tennis won its second straight Ivy title and then defeated Northwestern in the first round of the NCAA tournament to advance to the second round for the first time since 2014.
In the meantime, some of Princeton’s traditionally strong programs continued to excel. Women’s lacrosse won its sixth straight Ivy League regular season title and then went on to defeat Penn 13-8 in the Ivy postseason tournament championship game. The Tigers ended up advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals. The men’s track squad rolled to first place at the Outdoor Ivy League Heptagonal Championship, securing the program’s ninth triple crown (cross country, indoor, and outdoor Heps). After making to a pair of NCAA Final Fours in the previous three years, field hockey took one step further, advancing to the national championship game where it fell to perennial power North Carolina. Women’s basketball won its second straight Ivy crown; their seventh in the last 10 seasons.
On the high school scene, the Hun School girls swimming team pulled off a stunner, winning its first-ever title at the Mercer County Championships. The Princeton Day School baseball team had a sub-.500 record, but caught fire down the stretch to make it to the state Prep B final. The Princeton High girls’ basketball team advanced to the Central Jersey Group 4 sectional semifinals, its best postseason run since the 1980s. Seeded seventh in the Mercer County Tournament, the Stuart Country Day School field hockey team knocked off the No. 2 and No. 3 seeds on the way to making it to the final. Chloe Ayres made history for PHS wrestling, winning the NJSIAA Championships title at 105 pounds in the first-ever N.J. girls’ state competition. In the fall, the PHS girls’ tennis won the team title at the MCT for the first time since 2014.
Other area high school programs cemented their status as perennial champions. The Hun School boys’ hockey team won its sixth straight Mercer County Tournament title. In the spring, the Hun baseball team won its fourth straight state Prep A crown while the Raider boys’ lacrosse team won its second straight Prep A title. Over at PDS, the girls’ soccer team won its sixth straight state Prep B title with the boys’ lacrosse program earning its fourth straight MCT championship. Emerging as powerhouses, the Stuart hoops team earned its second straight Prep B crown and the Tartan track squad won the indoor and outdoor Prep B championship meets for a second year a row. Boasting a high-powered attack, the PHS girls’ lacrosse team won its second straight Central Jersey Group 4 sectional title.