RECORD PACE: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Kip Orban races upfield in a game earlier this spring. Last Friday, senior captain and star midfielder Orban scored three goals to help Princeton edge Harvard 12-11. Orban now has 36 goals on the season, tying him with Josh Sims for the most goals by a Princeton midfielder in a season. The 14th ranked Tigers, now 8-4 overall and 4-1 Ivy League, play at No. 12 Cornell (9-4 overall, 3-2 Ivy) on April 25. Princeton, which has already clinched a share of the regular season Ivy title, can earn the right to host the upcoming league tournament if it beats Cornell. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
Kip Orban beamed as he signed autographs for a group of young fans last Friday evening after the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team defeated Harvard 12-11.
Senior star midfielder Orban was in no hurry to leave Class of 1952 Stadium, relishing every moment of a special night as he and his classmates were honored before the game in the program’s annual Senior Day ceremony.
“I feel like it was just yesterday we were making the tunnel for the seniors when I was a freshmen,” said Orban, a 6’2, 190-pound native of Westport, Conn.
“It just makes you reflect on how fast it goes and how much of a privilege it has been, being here the last four years. I have enjoyed and loved every moment of it. There is no better feeling than coming out in front of a big crowd with your family and your friends all there. It is really emotional.”
Riding that emotional wave, Princeton jumped out to a 6-1 lead midway through the second quarter. “The energy coming out at the beginning was great,” said Orban, who scored two goals during that stretch.
“Our backup goalie Matt O’Connor had an awesome pregame speech, it got us all going. The guys all really understood the severity of this game, winning it was crucial for us to advance and hopefully host the Ivy League tournament, which is what we want to do.”
After building a 12-7 lead heading into the fourth quarter, the Tigers had to hold on for dear life as Harvard scored four straight goals to turn the game into a nail-biter. With sophomore star Zach Currier making some clutch hustle plays in the waning moments, the Tigers pulled out the win, improving to 8-4 overall and 4-1 Ivy and drawing raucous cheers from the 2,204 on hand at Class of 1952 Stadium.
In Orban’s view, Princeton’s ability to secure the victory was a testament to the team’s fighting spirit.
“I think it speaks volumes about the character of the guys in our locker room, it’s been a long year trying to instill this gritty character in these guys,” said Orban.
“I love every one of my teammates. They have done an awesome job of digging down deep when it is tough and getting that extra ground ball, getting that clear and just working real hard when it matters. We have also been on the losing side so it was great to be on the winning side today.”
Having been mired in a three-game losing streak earlier this month, the victory was the second straight for a Princeton team looking to peak for the postseason.
“We just had to minimize our mistakes, we haven’t played a perfect game yet this year,” said Orban.
“We had fewer turnovers and we are learning from our mistakes. That goes back to the coaching staff doing an awesome job, doing an unbelievable job with the scout on defense, Coach (Dylan) Sheridan is killing it; coach (Matt) Madalon is always coming up with new ways to attack the cage. The leadership from the top down is really helping us progress and learn from our mistakes.”
As sole team captain, Orban has assumed a major leadership role this season for the Tigers.
“It has been an awesome experience, a wonderful experience,” asserted Orban.
“It has been made really easy with the help of my fellow seniors and even juniors, the leadership on this team is just unbelievable, they have made it a dream. It doesn’t feel like I am a sole captain. It is a good brotherhood from the top down. It has been an awesome year to be around the guys and have it unfold the way it has.”
Orban enjoyed an awesome moment in the second half as his third goal of the evening gave him 36 for the season, tying him with legendary Josh Sims ’00 for the most goals by a Princeton midfielder in a season.
“I didn’t know, I was surprised; it was unbelievable,” said Orban, who now has 92 goals in his Princeton career.
“I grew up watching Princeton lacrosse and all those big names, it is a dream come true for me to be able to come here. I am happy to tie a name like that.”
Orban is happy with how his final campaign is playing out. “My teammates have done an awesome job, the systems on the offense have just been great,” said Orban.
“Ultimately we find ourselves in spots to finish. I think it goes back to a line my dad said, just don’t knock. That mentality, don’t wait for permission. I think that mentality has been helpful I just worked really hard in the offseason. All summer I was hitting the wall and just shooting. I think putting in that extra work has paid off and I am happy it is going as well as it has.
Princeton head coach Chris Bates was happy to see his seniors rewarded Friday for the work they have put in over the last four years.
“They have come such a long way, I said to them earlier in the week, we have lived a life together,” said Bates, who is in his sixth year guiding the Tigers.
“It goes fast but we have had so many experiences over the course of four years; I am really proud of them, they have held this team together,” said Bates.
“We have had adversity this year and you know what, they haven’t blinked. They haven’t got too high or too low and it has been good, consistent leadership. I think they have really served us well. It is different guys. You have guys who are playing a ton of minutes and you have some guys who are not playing at all that are still contributing equally as much.”
The Tigers started on a high, reeling off three unanswered goals in the first 11 minutes of the contest.
“We knew we were going to be ready to play, there was no doubt,” said Bates. “Starting Monday morning, you could feel some excitement. We know what is at stake. It is Harvard, it is obviously a rival. We were able to move the ball a little bit. We drew some slides and nobody got selfish. That is when we are good offensively, the ball moves and guys capitalize.”
In Bates’ view, it was defense that saved the day down the stretch of the game.
“I just thought our defense played really well in the half-field,” said Bates. “Coach Sheridan did a really wonderful job with those guys. The opportunities that we gave up were junk ones on the crease and some transition ones. That is a pretty solid offense and defensively I thought we grew up and took the next step today.”
Freshman goalie Tyler Blaisdell took a step forward, making a career-high 15 saves in the win over the Crimson.
“He got the player of the game,” said Bates of Blaisdell, who was later named the Ivy Rookie of the Week.
“We talked earlier in the week, this is why we played him for a game like this. The team has confidence in him and he rose to the challenge. He settled in, it was a good game.”
The rise of Orban and classmate Mike MacDonald up the statistical ranks in Tiger history was another good aspect of the game. While Orban tied Sims’ single-season goals mark for a midfielder, MacDonald’s two goals and four assists in the win gave him 40 goals and 26 assists on the year as he became the first player in program history to tally at least 40 goals and 20 assists in a season.
“I had tears in my eyes for those two, to be rewarded in a program with this kind of history and to be at the top of the record book,” said Bates.
“Hopefully Kip gets one more. He had broad shoulders and he has just had such a great year as a leader. As a player, to put in that amount, it has been done only one other time. Mikey is doing something that has never been done. That is rare company and that is a credit to him and how hard he has worked to come back and the season he is having. I am really proud of those two.”
The 14th-ranked Tigers wrap up the regular season with a game at No. 12 Cornell (9-4 overall, 3-2 Ivy) on April 25 in Ithaca, N.Y. Princeton, which has already clinched a share of the regular season Ivy title, can earn the right to host the upcoming league tournament if it beats Cornell. A loss to Cornell would put the tournament in Ithaca only if Dartmouth beats Brown; otherwise, it would be in Providence, R.I. with wins by Cornell and Brown.
“We are right where we want to be,” said Bates. “It is all on the line. It will be an easy week to be excited. We are playing for an Ivy League championship which has been our goal all year. We do it a day at a time and that has served us well so Saturday can’t come soon enough.”
Earning the home field advantage for the league tourney, slated to take place on May 1 and 3, would be a nice bonus.
“That is gravy certainly, it is always nicer to play at home,” said Bates. “Today was a phenomenal environment, we knew it would be and we talked about it. Our guys earned the reward of having this kind of crowd and this kind of win so it is a great day.”
Orban, for his part, would dearly love to have some more games at Class of 52 Stadium.
“It would be amazing, there is nothing better than being at home with the fans and the crowd we love and who love us,” said Orban.
“We are so privileged to have them come out here. This atmosphere is unbelievable, you felt it today. It was a good buzz in the place. It was palpable, you could feel the energy. It would be great to host here but no matter where we go, we will bring it.”