It has been a bumpy ride for Jeff Froccaro and his senior classmates over the course of their time with the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team.
The group was recruited by Bill Tierney but never played for the Hall of Fame coach as he headed to University of Denver in the spring of 2009 and was replaced by Chris Bates.
During Bates’ tenure, the players endured with a nightmare 4-8 season in 2011 and two tough opening round losses in the NCAA tournament. Injury and transfer reduced the class to five as the Tigers hosted Harvard last Friday night in their final regular season game as Class of 1952 Stadium.
After a brief Senior Night ceremony, a fired-up Princeton team went out and dismantled Harvard 14-6 before a crowd of 1,809, improving to 8-4 overall and 3-2 Ivy League.
In the wake of the win, senior attacker Froccaro was all smiles as he reflected on his last home appearance.
“It is great,” said Froccaro, a 5’11, 185-pound native of Sands Point, N.Y. “Our class has lost a bunch of guys from injury and stuff like that so it is really great to have the five us play four years and finish up with a win and a pretty dominant win really. We are all very, very happy and proud.”
Coming off a disappointing 10-9 loss at Dartmouth on April 13, Princeton was looking to dominate possession against Harvard.
“This week we were trying to make sure that we took a little bit of time off the clock in the beginning of possessions,” said Froccaro, reflecting on the win which clinched a spot for Princeton in the upcoming Ivy tournament.
“We were trying to get the ball around at least once and then go into a play that we wanted to call. That hurt us in Dartmouth because were just taking the first shot that we saw, the goalie was pretty hot and made a couple of saves. Today we just possessed the ball, took great shots and the goalie really couldn’t get into a rhythm.”
Froccaro got into a good rhythm against the Crimson, tallying two goals and two assists.
“I think I played well; there are so many weapons on our offense,” said Froccaro, who recently passed the 100-point mark in his Tiger career and now has 117 points.
“If I am not having a great day, Tom [Schreiber] steps up. If Tom is not having a great day, my brother [Jake] steps up. It’s all around, there are six really, really good players. We don’t discriminate on the scoring sheet, so it has been good.”
Playing one college season with his younger brother has turned into a really good experience for Froccaro.
“I am thankful he is having a great year, which I kind of expected just knowing how he was in high school,” said Froccaro, who has 40 points this season in 28 goals and 12 assists while his brother has piled up 30 points with 21 goals and nine assists.
“It has been amazing playing with him. We have played behind the cage a bunch in games and we just have a knack for finding each other. It has been really good.”
The Tigers knew that they had to ratchet up the intensity for Harvard. “We dropped one to Syracuse and we beat Rutgers but it wasn’t a great win,” said Froccaro.
“After Dartmouth, it was wow, we have to get ourselves together. We came out this week and practiced really hard. Guys were rededicated to the program and we got a good win.”
Princeton head coach Bates likes the dedication his seniors have displayed over their careers.
“We have had four years together,” said Bates. “It is a little bit of a maligned class in some ways. They have three guys that aren’t here. Chris White has given us phenomenal leadership as a senior captain. The other four guys, Jeff, Bobby [Lucas], Tom [Gibbons] and Luke [Armour], have just been consistent. They have been there everyday and they have kept us on track. It is fitting for those guys to win on Senior Night.”
It was fitting for the senior Froccaro to come up big in his Class of 52 finale.
“We challenged him this week and he knew he needed to play his ‘A’ game and I thought he responded well,” said Bates.
“He played with energy and we need that. When Jeff is involved and active, we tend to be successful.”
Princeton got a superb response from sophomore goalie Eric Sanschagrin, who got his first start of the season as Bates opted to bench freshman Matt O’Connor. Sanschagrin made eight saves and looked solid all night long.
“Matt has had a rough couple of games in terms of saving the ball; Eric has consistently been a higher percentage stopper,” said Bates.
“We felt like we needed a spark. We just felt like we needed to make a few more saves a game. Eric had played really well in practice so we had an inkling here the last couple of weeks that this was a possibility. We just decided to make the change and it worked out. We’ll see where we go from there. We have faith in both of those guys.”
The Tiger offense played well as it bounced back from a subpar effort against Dartmouth.
“Facing off early helped us, I think we were 6-of-9,” said Bates, who got four goals from Mike MacDonald with Jake Froccaro and Kip Orban both adding three.
We got into a little bit of a rhythm. I thought we played with great energy and pace. We challenged our offense pretty hard this week. We felt that they let us down against Dartmouth; we were clear about that. I think they accepted that responsibility and they came out with something to prove. We are tough to stop with those first six guys.”
No. 12 Princeton faces another tough challenge this Saturday as it faces No. 4 Cornell (11-2 overall, 5-0 Ivy) on Saturday in the Big City Classic at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.
“They are high-paced, they share the ball, they pose match-up problems,” said Bates of Cornell, who will be hosting the Ivy tournament from May 3-5.
“They are tough, they are physical. But you know what, I believe in our team and the way we rebounded today. We had some questions that are natural coming out of the last couple of weeks. I thought that with the way we played today with a sense of purpose and passion was exciting to see so it’s going to be an exciting game.”
Bates is hoping that Princeton can build on the way it played against Harvard.
“Our guys needed this, we needed to feel good,” said Bates. “To come out and play the way we did and handle our business the way we did, I think is a real positive. That’s what we need, we want to play our best lacrosse now, going into tournament, hopefully it gets us back on that positive momentum.”
Froccaro, for his part, sees the Cornell game as a chance for the Tigers to feel even more positive about themselves as they head into postseason play.
“I think we match up fine talent-wise; I think our systems can break them down,” said Froccaro.
“We are just going to put our noses down and worry about ourselves all this week and see what happens. We want to start rolling at the end of the season. Obviously the Dartmouth loss was a hit. We feel confident that the offense is clicking and the defense played absolutely amazing today.”