June 10, 2015
COLLEGE JOB: Mike Russo just completed his first season as an assistant coach for the Princeton University baseball team. Russo, a former Hun School standout who was a Division 3 All-American pitcher at Kean University, coached for three years at Hun before joining the Tiger program last fall.(Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

COLLEGE JOB: Mike Russo just completed his first season as an assistant coach for the Princeton University baseball team. Russo, a former Hun School standout who was a Division 3 All-American pitcher at Kean University, coached for three years at Hun before joining the Tiger program last fall. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

While Mike Russo was thrilled to start his college baseball career with Division 1 powerhouse N. C. State, he realized that D-3 Kean University would be a better fit.

“I loved the atmosphere at NC State; I loved the school,” said former Hun School standout pitcher Russo, who played two seasons for the Wolfpack.

“I wasn’t developing as much as I thought I could at N.C. State. I didn’t have an established role. The opportunities were limited, based on performance. Neil Ioviero at Kean was a well known pitching coach. They were in the top 5 in D-3 and in the College World Series a lot. It was definitely a good move on my part.”

Russo enjoyed a very good two-year stint at Kean, going 10-2 with a 1.93 ERA as a junior in 2011, earning D-3 All-American honors and getting named as the NJAC Pitcher of the year. As a senior, he went 7-1 and helped pitch the Cougars to a second straight College World Series.

But more importantly than his success on the mound, his experience at Kean changed the course of his future as he caught the coaching bug.

“Neil is one of the reasons I got into coaching; I liked his style, he inspired me,” said Russo.

“He is very hands-on, has a routine, an organization. There is always a practice plan, a drill progression and bullpens. He works with every pitcher individually. If a pitcher was committed to him, he was committed to the pitcher.”

Upon graduating from Kean, Russo returned to Hun to serve as an assistant coach for its baseball program.

Moving up the ladder after serving on the Hun staff from 2012-14, Russo went across town to Princeton University where he joined the baseball program as an assistant coach last fall.

“I was really getting into coaching, I wanted to get to a higher level,” said Russo.

“I e-mailed 15 college coaches looking for a volunteer job. There is usually a lot of movement in May and June. Scott (Princeton head coach Scott Bradley) got back to me, he said a guy was leaving a staff to go back to grad school and that there was an opening. I met with him, he said he had followed me over the years and he basically offered me a job on the spot.”

Russo’s experience at Hun under longtime head coach Bill McQuade helped him become a more well-rounded coach.

“It was great, McQuade always had respect for me,” said Russo. “I ran ideas by him. He would say what do you think. He valued my opinion. He let me take control of some things. I was hands-on. I started out with the pitching staff. I called pitches and took charge of the pitchers and was then doing a little bit of everything. pitching BP, working on team defense, and pickoffs.”

In joining the Princeton staff, Russo was able to take a similar approach under Bradley.

“I said I wanted to work with all of the pitchers individually and he was happy with that, he said do it,” said Russo.

“He wanted to have another pitching guy on the staff, sometimes it helps to have someone say different things to the pitchers, put some different words in their minds.”

While the Tigers endured a rough spring as they posted a record of 7-32, Russo believes that he helped lay a foundation for future success.

“The guys liked the organization, they got better as the season went on,” said Russo, who is running the Robbinsville Baseball Camp for players ages 7-12 from July 27-31 with former Steinert High pitching coach Bryan Rogers.

“We struggled with depth and injuries. The biggest thing is for them to be more accountable with their actions. It was a little bit of a challenge, towards the middle of the season. It was tough to go to the park, you don’t want to go and be losing all the time. They were excited and happy when they went to the ballpark. I think they learned how we have to practice and go about our business.”

Excited to still be going to the ballpark on a daily basis, Russo sees himself as a lifer in the coaching business.

“I definitely love it; I want to keep moving up, I want to become a head coach some day,” said Russo, who is planning to start working on a masters in athletic administration this fall.

“Scott is a big pro guy, he spent nine or 10 years in the big leagues. It is good to be around him. I am always bouncing things off of him. He knows Greg (fellow assistant Greg Van Horn) and I want to be head coaches. He is good role model. I look up to him and have a lot of respect for him.”

June 3, 2015

Things started out well for the Princeton University women’s open crew last weekend as it competed in the NCAA championship regatta at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center in Gold River, Calif.

In the first day of competition last Friday, Princeton advanced two of its three boats directly to the semifinals as the first varsity 8 placed second in its opening heat and varsity four won its heat.

“The 1V was able to squeak by Yale in its heat, which was great,” said Princeton head coach Lori Dauphiny, whose second varsity 8 placed fourth in both its opening heat and repechage race to move on to the C/D final. “The V4 won their heat and that was a big surprise.”

A day later, the varsity 4 was able to squeak into the grand final as it engaged in a three-boat battle in the semis with Ohio State and California for the last two spots in the championship race. The Tigers couldn’t catch Ohio State but they were able to edge Cal for third to book a place in the top six.

“It was like the V8 semis last year but we came out on the right side this time,” said Dauphiny, reflecting on the race. “The leader (Yale) was out there but the next three boats were duking it out for the next two spots and we got in by 2 hundredths.”

The varsity 8, though, placed fifth in its semi to slip to the B final while the second varsity 8 won its C/D semi to make the C final.

In the final day of action, there were mixed results as the varsity 4 took sixth while the varsity 8 placed fifth in the petite final to finish 11th overall and the second varsity 8 won the C race to earn 13th place.

“In a nutshell, there were a lot of up and downs,” said Dauphiny, reflecting on the weekend which saw her team finish 12th in the team standings at the competition as Ohio State took first overall. “I was disappointed.”

Dauphiny had hoped to see the varsity 8 and V4 end on a higher note. “I don’t know what happened, it was not bad,” said Dauphiny, in assessing the top
boat’s semifinal effort.

“We were trying to put a whole race together. After the semis, we were working on first 500; we lost significant ground there in the semi. We did a better job on that on Sunday. It was just a tough final race for the V4.”

The increasingly tougher competition at the NCAAs made Princeton’s task even more difficult.

“What I learned was that the field was much deeper than it ever has been,” said Dauphiny. “The races weren’t necessarily closer but the overall number of boats that were in the running to make the grand final was much bigger. There are a lot of new schools in there, it is great for the sport.”

Dauphiny is hoping that her returning rowers will bring a renewed focus next fall in the wake of their roller-coaster ride last weekend.

“I think we want to do better; it would not ring true if I was to say I was satisfied,” said Dauphiny.

“The 2V was in C final and beat two boats it had lost to earlier in Harvard and USC. The 1V had lost to Yale at Ivies and beat them to reach semis so there were strides forward. I think the returners will come back with a bit more knowledge and an increased enthusiasm and energy to do better next year.”

The program benefitted from the enthusiasm shown by its group of 10 seniors over their careers.

“I want to recognize the senior class, the seniors don’t get another chance but they taught us a tremendous amount about what the standards on the team need to be,” said Dauphiny, who also credited assistant coaches Kate Maxim and Steve Coppola with helping the team make progress.

“I wish we could have sent them out with better results but any improvement we have made has been due to them. There were two seniors in that V4.”

LIGHTING IT UP: The Princeton University men’s lightweight first varsity 8 races through the water in a regatta earlier this spring. The varsity 8 placed fourth in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta on Mercer Lake last Sunday. The varsity 4 took fifth in its grand final. A day earlier, the four without a coxswain earned gold with a win in its grand final.(Photo by Aleka Gurel, Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

LIGHTING IT UP: The Princeton University men’s lightweight first varsity 8 races through the water in a regatta earlier this spring. The varsity 8 placed fourth in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta on Mercer Lake last Sunday. The varsity 4 took fifth in its grand final. A day earlier, the four without a coxswain earned gold with a win in its grand final. (Photo by Aleka Gurel, Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Casey Ward believed that the Princeton University men’s lightweight varsity 8 crew was primed for a big finish as it competed in the grand final at the intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta last Sunday on Mercer Lake.

Having been bested by Cornell and Columbia in the regular season and the Eastern Sprints, Ward and his boat mates were determined to overcome their rivals in the season’s penultimate regatta.

“The race plan was to concentrate on utilizing the faster start we developed over the last two or three weeks,” said senior captain Ward.

“It was really trusting in cumulatively taking inches every stroke with faster paced speed that we felt we had developed since sprints by keeping the blades in the water a little bit longer. We were really focused on just rowing our own race and trusting that 100 base strokes in the middle thousand would add up to something more.”

Midway through the grand final last Sunday on Mercer Lake, the Tigers were right there with Cornell and Columbia. But over the last 1,000 meters, Princeton faded to fourth as the Big Red won its second straight national title with the Lions second and a hard-charging Harvard boat coming in third.

“To be honest we got caught a little flatfooted in the third 500 by Columbia and Harvard presses and didn’t respond in a unified way that produced more boat speed,” said Ward in assessing the race which saw Cornell post a winning time of  5:38.989 over the 2,000-meter course with Columbia taking second in 5:41.042, Harvard coming in third at 5:41.965 and Princeton next in 5:44.708.

“We responded in a scratchier way, we knew we had a good last 400 in our back pocket which I think we showed. It was from the 1000 to the 1700; it wasn’t the base speed we had planned on.”

Afterwards, Ward and his teammates huddled for minutes with heads down and arms interlocked as they listened solemnly to head coach Marty Crotty’s final words of the season.

“The post-race message is that the Tiger lights keep improving every year,” said Ward.

“If you look at the IRA finishes in the last three years, sixth place, last year fifth place, and this year fourth place peppered in with the gold medal in the men’s light 4 yesterday. The future is bright. The seniors who graduate this year, myself included, are good workers but we are not irreplaceable. I think these young guys are going to be awesome. They are a fiery group. We would have liked to have had a medal. It is okay to be upset with the result because you want more for yourself but don’t be disappointed because you can hold your head high and trust in all of the hard work that you did.”

Reflecting on his Princeton career, Ward is amazed at the improvement he made as a rower and a leader.

“I was recruited from a small club in Atlanta, Ga. and if you told me in my senior year in high school that I would be captain of the men’s lightweights at Princeton, I would have told you you were a liar,” said Ward.

“Physically, I developed in leaps and bounds with Marty’s guidance. He is a terrific mentor for creating peak athletic performance in terms of ergometer scores and what you think is possible there, shattering barriers. As a leader, there were some really good mentors in the generation of lightweight rowers before me who have stayed in touch with me to this day. They check in with me all the time.”

Princeton head coach Crotty believes that Ward emerged as a very good mentor in his own right, in and out of the water.

“He was at the cornerstone; any time you needed great leadership or any time you needed a guy to step up and support the locker room and hold things together, he was there” said Crotty.

“This is a tough business, what these guys do day in day out is really hard, win or lose. It is just as hard for Cornell as it is for the Princeton guys who got 4th today. Rowing teams go through some really tough times and you need a great captain and a great leader and Casey has fit that bill for us. He gets an A+ in addition to improving as an oarsman. I think where he was freshman year to where he ended up, he has showed tremendous improvement. It is always nice to get that out of your leader because obviously you want the younger guys to be able to emulate him athletically as well.”

Seeing his guys in the varsity 8 fall just short of a medal in the grand final was tough for Crotty. “Losing to Cornell and Columbia isn’t fun but the guys persevered and they keep a good attitude,” said Crotty.

“I think all the way up to the end, we were training toward being able to overtake them. Even taking the line today, we felt like we could overtake them. I have got to hand it to the guys, they never lost hope. They kept at it, they persevered, they were determined. Cornell and Columbia are flat out good; Harvard had a good last 1,000 like you are supposed to. I think we just stayed the same speed. It wasn’t us going down or falling off. It was a matter of we had to get up to get a medal and weren’t up to it today.”

In Crotty’s view, the result on the last day of the season can’t dim what the team accomplished over the course of the spring.

“Always after this race, I kind of reflect back on the season as a whole rather than just the race today,” said Crotty, whose varsity 4 with coxswain took fifth in its grand final.

“You are left with the dreaded unsatisfied feeling after this race but I think the season on a whole was productive. We made progress as a team, similar to last year and we sprinkled in some high points. Maybe this year, they were a little higher.”

The Tigers enjoyed a major highlight on Saturday as it varsity 4 without coxswain earned gold with a win in its grand final.

“Yesterday watching (senior) Fabrizio (Giovannini Filho) win a gold medal was good,” said Crotty. “I would call that a high point. Obviously we would have preferred to do that in the 8 but I am really happy for those guys.

Looking ahead, Crotty is happy about his program’s prospects. “We have got six guys returning from the 8, three guys returning from that 4 and three guys from the other 4,” noted Crotty.

“We have a really deep team. We have some great guys coming. We are excited. I think it is a situation that is full of promise. I have had emptier situations post-IRA than this year, that is for sure, that is my general feeling.

Ward, for his part, leaves the lightweight program feeling great about his experience.

“You remember the regattas at the end of the year because those are the championship season and that is the hardware you bring home,” said Ward, who will be working in Mexico City after graduation for a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO).

“But I will always remember knocking heads on Lake Carnegie with the  heavyweights and the lightweight guys. I race Cornell, Columbia, Harvard, and Yale, once or twice every year but I race the other guys at Princeton every day, day in and day out and we are competitive. I will remember having a group of guys around me who always pushed me to be more than I thought I was capable of and always demanded more from me. I will carry that forever.”

FINAL ACCOLADE: Princeton University women’s basketball star Blake Dietrick dribbles up the court in a game this  winter. Last week, Dietrick was named as the winner of the C. Otto von Kienbusch Award, the top honor for female senior athletes at Princeton. Men’s lacrosse star Mike MacDonald won the William Winston Roper Trophy, the top award for senior sportsmen.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FINAL ACCOLADE: Princeton University women’s basketball star Blake Dietrick dribbles up the court in a game this
winter. Last week, Dietrick was named as the winner of the C. Otto von Kienbusch Award, the top honor for female senior athletes at Princeton. Men’s lacrosse star Mike MacDonald won the William Winston Roper Trophy, the top award for senior sportsmen. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Blake Dietrick, who led the Princeton University women’s basketball team to unprecedented success and national prominence this winter, and Mike MacDonald, who rewrote much of the Tiger men’s lacrosse record book in his career, were named the top senior sportswoman and sportsman at the Gary Walters ’67 Princeton Varsity Club Awards Banquet last Thursday evening.

For the first time in Princeton Athletics history, there were finalists named for the top two departmental awards, the C. Otto von Kienbusch Award and William Winston Roper Trophy.

The Kienbusch Award is the highest senior female student-athlete award at Princeton. C. Otto von Kienbusch was a staunch opponent of the addition of women to Princeton University in the late ’60s. Once women were admitted to the school, several early women athletes made a trip to his home in upstate New York to try to win him over. They were so successful that he became a major supporter of women’s athletics at Princeton and endowed this award.

The Roper Trophy was originally given by Mrs. William Winston Roper and the Class of 1902 in honor of Princeton’s famed football coach. It goes annually to “a Princeton senior male of high scholastic rank and outstanding qualities of sportsmanship and general proficiency in athletics.” It has been awarded annually since 1936.

Dietrick, a 5’10 native of Wellesley, Mass. who majored in English,  wrapped up a stellar senior season by leading the Princeton University women’s basketball team to an unblemished 30-0 regular season this winter and a fifth Ivy League title in six years, as well as the highest national ranking in Ivy League women’s basketball history (13).

Dietrick averaged career-highs in points (15.1), assists (4.9), and rebounds (4.5) per game this winter en route to Associated Press and WBCA Honorable Mention All-America honors. A seven-time Ivy Player of the Week, she was the conference’s unanimous choice for Player of the Year. Setting a single-season program record for assists (157), her 483 points in 2014-15 are tied for the third highest total in school history.

A two-time first-team All-Ivy selection, Dietrick wrapped up a decorated career ranked third on the Princeton charts in three-pointers made (210) and three-point shooting percentage (.395). Sitting fourth in assists (346) and 11th in scoring (1,233), she poured in a team-high 26 points on 10-of-18 shooting in her final collegiate contest, a NCAA second-round loss to eventual Final Four participant Maryland.

She later represented the Tigers in the annual State Farm College three-point Shooting Championships at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind., and signed a training camp contract with the Women’s National Basketball Association’s (WNBA) Washington Mystics.

The other finalists for the von Kienbusch award were Lindsay Graff of the women’s tennis team, Lauren Lazo of the women’s soccer team, and Erin McMunn of the women’s lacrosse team.

MacDonald, for his part, graduates as one of the greatest scorers in the long history of Princeton men’s lacrosse, with several accomplishments that no other player in program history has ever matched.

A 6’1, 190-pound native of Georgetown, Ontario, MacDonald set the school record for points in a season this past season, when he had 78 points on 48 goals and 30 assists. He graduates third all-time in goal scoring in program history with 132, as well as fourth all-time in points with 208 and ninth all-time in assists with 76.

In addition, he is the only player in program history with a season of at least 40 goals and at least 30 assists and the only player in program history with at least one game of seven goals and another of six assists. He is one of two players at Princeton in the top 10 all-time in both goals and assists. He scored at least three goals in a game 10 times as a senior.

His career numbers would have been even more off the charts had he not been slowed by injuries that required surgery to both hips after his junior year.

MacDonald was the 2015 Ivy League Co-Player of the Year and a unanimous first-team All-Ivy League selection, giving him two first-team All-Ivy selections in his career.

The other finalists for the Roper Trophy were Quinn Epperly of the football team, Cody Kessel of the men’s volleyball team, Sammy Kang of the men’s squash team, and Cameron Porter of the men’s soccer team.

June 2, 2015
BRONZE AGE: The Princeton University men’s heavyweight first varsity 8 rows away wearing the bronze medals it earned in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta last Sunday on Mercer Lake. The Tigers placed third in the grand final while the second varsity eight earned a silver in its grand final and the third varsity 8 placed fifth. Princeton finished third in the Ten Eyck Team Trophy standings for heavyweights just behind California, while Washington won the title for the ninth straight season.(Photo by Beverly Schaefer Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

BRONZE AGE: The Princeton University men’s heavyweight first varsity 8 rows away wearing the bronze medals it earned in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta last Sunday on Mercer Lake. The Tigers placed third in the grand final while the second varsity eight earned a silver in its grand final and the third varsity 8 placed fifth. Princeton finished third in the Ten Eyck Team Trophy standings for heavyweights just behind California, while Washington won the title for the ninth straight season. (Photo by Beverly Schaefer Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

As Greg Hughes presented his first varsity 8 heavyweight rowers with the bronze medals they earned for taking third in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship grand final Sunday on Mercer Lake, he hugged each athlete one by one.

For Princeton head coach Hughes, that result was just one highlight in a superb weekend that saw the Tigers place third in the Ten Eyck Team Trophy standings for heavyweights at the regatta.

“I am very happy,” said a grinning Hughes, reflecting on his program’s overall performance. “I thought that was an incredible performance from the team. We had our best race in the last race of the year in the 1V and the 2V.”

As for the first varsity 8, it produced a valiant effort, closing with a rush as it nearly overtook California for second place behind winner and team champion Washington.

“We had focused a lot on the first half of that race because we knew that there was as an incredible amount of parity in the race and we knew that we had go and establish ourselves well in the piece in order to have a shot,” said Hughes, whose boat clocked a time of 5:30.942 over the 2,000-meter course with winner Washington coming in at 5:28.015 and Cal second in 5:30.798.

“We knew that we had that last 500; we had seen it in the Brown race, we had seen it at Eastern Sprints. So we were thinking about other stuff, quite honestly, knowing that when the time came, if we had done it right, we could always go and tap into that sprint. I thought they executed it perfectly.”

Princeton senior captain Jamie Hamp was proud of the way the top boat competed to the end.

“It was just go out there and be in the pack at the 1k and do what you need to do to finish the race off strong,” said Hamp.

“We saw Washington and Cal sort of going there from 750 to 1000 meters and our goal was just to go with them and we did that. It was absolutely our best race of the year. We obviously would have liked to catch Cal at the end but we started taking it up moving through the line from 700, 800 meters up. We were in a battle with Cal that whole way; they had a great sprint and we had a great sprint. It was two fast boats going at it, props to them but I thought we had a great race too.”

That race capped a great regatta for the Tigers as they showed their depth and talent.

“We set a little higher goals at the beginning of the season but it was a great finish for all the boats, with 2V getting silver and us getting bronze,” said Hamp.

“It is the highest finish for us in almost a decade in the grand final and the team got third in the team points trophy. I think the team really rose to the occasion. It was a great day for all three boats.”

Hughes, for his part, relished seeing his second varsity eight rise to the occasion as it came within an eyelash of a national title, placing second to Washington by just over a second.

“Honestly that was one of the gutsiest races I have ever watched,” said Hughes, whose boat posted a time of  5:34.667 with the Huskies first in 5:33.643.

“They were going hard right from the start. They did that yesterday and we knew that Washington was strong and had that push in the middle. Yesterday it got us so we talked a lot about that. We weren’t going to let that happen again and they did that very, very well. Obviously Washington was the stronger crew and they were able to find something there in the last 250. That is as much as we had right there, I am very proud of that one.”

While the third varsity 8 didn’t earn a medal as it took fifth in its grand final, it had reason to be proud of its performance.

“I think it has been a really great weekend for those guys,” said Hughes. “Maybe it was not the result they had been hoping for but overall, it was strong racing from those guys. There are three freshmen on the boat so there is a lot to look at for the future, which is exciting.”

With a total of only five seniors in the top three boats, the future looks exciting for the Tigers.

“I think obviously we have work to do,” said Hughes. “It is a positive thing to see. It is a good base for next year and in the incoming class of freshmen, there are some really talented, hard working kids too. I think we are going to be able to add to the depth of the team and that is going to be the goal.”

Hughes tipped his hat to his group of seniors, who will get one last chance to row for Princeton as the Tigers are sending three heavyweight boats to the Royal Henley Regatta in England this summer.

“That is the biggest part of today, that result for those senior guys on the 1V and the 2V,” asserted Hughes.

“That is something that they absolutely deserved. They have worked so hard. To see the attitude and the speed of the entire team, that is really a testament to what those guys created over the past four years so thanks to the seniors. It is an honor to have coached them, we are going to miss them.”

Hamp, for his part, was thankful to see that hard work result in a breakthrough campaign for the Tigers.

“It is nice to go out with a medal, this is something we put our sights on all season,” said Hamp.

“Getting the medal at the IRAs is something we hadn’t done in a decade. Obviously we are a little disappointed that we didn’t win but it is a great way to go out I think we had a tremendous season, the whole team. We had our first Rowe Cup (the heavyweight team points trophy at Eastern Sprints) in over a decade with three boats medaling at sprints. We had two medals here; we were the best team on the east coast really so I think we had a tremendous season. It is going to be great for the guys in the coming years.”

Forecasting continued improvement from the heavyweights in the coming years, Hamp believes he and his classmates are leaving a special legacy.

“All the seniors were great this year and the younger guys are really learning something from it,” said Hamp, a native of North Tonawanda, N.Y. who plans to compete for the U.S. rowing program upon returning from Henley.

“We had seven freshmen win at sprints this year, that is huge. It is a great foundation for them moving forward and I think the seniors were really  instrumental in leading that charge this year, especially in the early months. Everybody got more comfortable as the racing season went on.”

May 27, 2015
KEEPING THE FAITH: Princeton University women’s open crew star Faith Richardson churns through the water in recent action. Senior co-captain Richardson has been a mainstay for the varsity 8 the last two seasons. Earlier this month, Richardson and the Tigers took third at the Ivy League championship regatta. They are now headed to the NCAA Championships, which are taking place from May 29-31 at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center in Gold River, Calif.(Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

KEEPING THE FAITH: Princeton University women’s open crew star Faith Richardson churns through the water in recent action. Senior co-captain Richardson has been a mainstay for the varsity 8 the last two seasons. Earlier this month, Richardson and the Tigers took third at the Ivy League championship regatta. They are now headed to the NCAA Championships, which are taking place from May 29-31 at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center in Gold River, Calif. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Faith Richardson started her high school sports career as a cross country star for Wellesley High near Boston.

But after suffering a series of injuries, she took up rowing in the winter of her sophomore year to rehab and stay in shape.

That decision changed the course of her life as Richardson fell in love with crew.

Transferring to Groton School (Mass.), Richardson continued to excel in running but her rowing career took off as she competed in the 2009 and 2010 Junior World Championships and led the Groton women’s 8 to victory at the 2011 Women’s Henley Regatta.

For Richardson, running and rowing complemented each other. “Both sports require the same kind of intensity and dedication,” said Richardson, who was the 2009 ISL cross country champion and was a three-year MVP for the Groton squad. “Running is tough.”

Opting to focus on rowing in college, Richardson joined the Princeton University women’s open crew program in 2011.

Richardson acknowledged that the first two years of college rowing were tough for her.

“Probably the volume and intensity was the biggest difference, any freshman will tell you that,” said Richardson, who rowed on the second varsity 8 her first two seasons, helping the boat take first in the Ivy championships and fourth in the NCAAs in 2012 and then place third in the Ivies and sixth at the NCAAs the next year.

“The biggest jump was from freshman to sophomore year; I did a lot of strength work that summer. I had some injuries freshman year. I had a hernia at the end of fall and a shoulder injury that winter that kept me out for 12 weeks.”

Competing on the second varsity helped Richardson become a stronger rower.

“The 2V has traditionally been a good boat, you can learn a lot from it,” said Richardson. “My freshman year on the boat was awesome. We had really good senior leadership. It was a really tough boat. It was also a really good boat in my sophomore year.”

As a junior, Richardson moved up to the varsity 8, helping it win the Ivy regatta and then finish seventh at the NCAAs.

“It was definitely tough, it was a different boat,” said Richardson, reflecting on moving up to the top boat.

“We had a rough start and then did well in Ivies. The NCAAs was definitely humbling for the boat coming off Ivies. Winning the petite final was good coming from where we were.”

Coming into her final season, Richardson had the honor of being selected as the co-captain of the open team along with classmate Nicki Byl.

“You always look up to the captain, we have had some very strong women on this team,” said Richardson. “I am a major believer in leading by example. Nicki is the co-captain and we both bring different things.”

Princeton head coach Lori Dauphiny credits Richardson with setting a good example on a daily basis.

“Faith is very hard working,” said Dauphiny. “She has a work ethic that very few have and is an example of what it takes.”

The Tigers had to work hard to get on track this spring, getting a late start on the water due to icy conditions on Lake Carnegie. Princeton suffered early season defeats to Virginia and Brown before
ending the regular season with a 4-0 run and taking third at the Ivy Regatta.

As a result of the strong finish, the Tigers earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Championships, which are taking place from May 29-31 at the Sacramento State Aquatic Center in Gold River, Calif. Princeton is one of three collegiate programs (Brown and Washington) to be invited to every NCAA Championships regatta since the inaugural event in 1997.

For Richardson, making the NCAAs is the ideal way to cap her Princeton career.

“Definitely getting the bid for the NCAAs was great, that was one of the goals we had this season,” said Richardson. “We need to find more speed against the boats we have raced, as well as the different boats we will see. We have been working pretty hard this week.”

Richardson and her classmates are bringing a sense of urgency to their final push.

“We are going at this as a team, looking to do well as a team,” said Richardson. “I am ready to graduate. We have a lot of seniors on the NCAA boats and we are all going at this with the same attitude.”

After graduation, Richardson has her eye on joining another special team, having applied to the U.S. Marine Corps’ Officer Candidates School.

“I am interested in doing intelligence, I appreciate military values,” said Richardson, who plans to row this summer for a club in Great Britain.

“I like the training. I may do government law enforcement. I figure it could be worth a shot.”

But this weekend, Richardson will be focused on taking a shot at NCAA glory.

WINNING LOOK: Princeton University men’s golfer Quinn Prchal looks down the course during the Ivy League Championships in late April at Saucon Valley in Bethlehem, Pa. Sophomore Prchal went on to win the individual title at the competition, carding six-under 210 in the three-round competition. Prchal’s heroics helped the Tigers finish second in the team standings by one stroke to Penn. Prchal went on to compete in the NCAA regional held at the Course at Yale earlier this month, where he shot a six-over 216 to tie for 37th in the 75-player field.(Photo Courtesy of the Ivy League/Sideline Photos)

WINNING LOOK: Princeton University men’s golfer Quinn Prchal looks down the course during the Ivy League Championships in late April at Saucon Valley in Bethlehem, Pa. Sophomore Prchal went on to win the individual title at the competition, carding six-under 210 in the three-round competition. Prchal’s heroics helped the Tigers finish second in the team standings by one stroke to Penn. Prchal went on to compete in the NCAA regional held at the Course at Yale earlier this month, where he shot a six-over 216 to tie for 37th in the 75-player field. (Photo Courtesy of the Ivy League/Sideline Photos)

Playing in the Ivy League Championship in 2013 as a freshman, Quinn Prchal got off to an inauspicious start.

“I was six-over for the first six holes,” said Prchal. “I was working my way back the rest of the event; it was a lot of patience. I hadn’t played in an Ivy championship and I let it get to me at first.”

Displaying his talent and poise, Prchal worked his way all the way back into a tie for fourth, helping Princeton win the team title and earning Ivy Rookie of the year honors in the process.

“It was a bunched leaderboard; there were five teams within a couple of shots coming into the last day,” recalled Prchal. “It was really exciting. In some tournaments, you plod along and it falls in your lap. We went out and won the event, that was exciting.”

After taking a hiatus from school for a year, Prchal returned this spring for his second Ivy tourney. Utilizing his experience, Prchal produced some exciting golf, carding a six-under 210 in the three-round competition at the Grace Course at Saucon Valley in Bethlehem, Pa. to earn the individual title.

Once again, Prchal started a little slowly, firing a three-over 75 in the first round before producing rounds of 68 and 67 to win the title by three strokes over Penn’s Austin Powell. He was the second Tiger in three years to win the title as Greg Jarmas prevailed in 2013.

“I think part of it was familiarity with the golf course,” said Prchal, whose heroics helped Princeton place second in the team standings at the event, just one stroke behind champion Penn.

“We had a practice round and then started on Friday. The final day was one of my best rounds. I was seven-under through 13; I made a couple of bogeys down the stretch. Mostly I putted the ball really well. I gave myself opportunities. It is very exciting. You work hard to try to put yourself in that position. My coach and teammates helped me all spring, pushing me to put everything together.”

Growing up in the suburbs of Chicago in Glenview, Ill., Prchal worked harder on baseball and hockey than golf.

“My parents both played a little bit, I picked up the game on the range when I was five or six playing with them,” said Prchal. “I played baseball and hockey more when I was younger. I fit the sports in with the seasons.”

Standing 5’0 in eighth grade, Prchal’s prospects in baseball and hockey weren’t great at the high school level so he started focusing on golf. After a spurt which saw him gain 10 inches in height by his sophomore year, Prchal grew into a star golfer.

“I had a couple of strong finishes in some state junior events,” recalled Prchal, a three-time All-Conference performer and two-time team MVP for Glenbook South High and the winner of the 2012 Illinois State Amateur tourney. “On the national level at AJGA (American Junior Golf Association), I didn’t win but I had solid finishes, some top 10s.”

Taking a tour of east coast schools after playing in a tournament held in Massachusetts, Prchal visited Princeton and felt an immediate comfort level.

“I am from the suburbs and I liked the suburban feel of the school,” said Prchal.

“I had an official visit later. I liked the guys and the coach (Will Green). The Springdale course is close to campus, I didn’t have to go 20 minutes to play.”

Prchal started playing from the start of his career, tying for 22nd in the season-opening McLaughlin Invitational, a three-round event hosted by St. John’s that wrapped up at Bethpage Red on Long Island.

“I was nervous, I was not exactly sure how well I would play,” said Prchal. “It was a different level from high school. Our first event was at St. John’s; I played two decent rounds and then had a good one.”

In the spring, Prchal had a good experience competing in the NCAA Regional, carding a six-over 222 to tie for 57th.

“It was exciting to play in a field that strong,” said Prchal. “I saw a different mentality. They were going out to make birdies and taking advantage of conditions. You had to find your second gear; I have been working on doing that. It is feeling comfortable at two-under and then working hard and pushing to make more birdies. It is something I needed to learn.”

In the NCAA regional held on the Course at Yale earlier this month, Prchal put that knowledge to work, shooting six-over 216 to tie for 37th in the 75-player field.

“It is a fun golf course; the first two days I didn’t play poorly but I didn’t score well,” said Prchal, who carded a three-under 67 in the final day of the competition to move up the leaderboard.

“I hit the ball well on the first day and I had a couple of bad swings. On the second day, I got stuck on the second hole. The third day, I hit the ball great. I was able to string together a bunch of birdies and finished in the middle of the pack.”

Looking ahead to his junior season at Princeton, Prchal believes the Tigers have the talent to be at the front of the pack.

“With everybody back, it is exciting,” said Prchal, who is planning to play in the Illinois State Amateur and the Illinois Open this summer and hopes to qualify for the U.S. Amateur which is being held in the Chicago area this year.

“We brought in three really good freshmen (Michael Davis, Marc Hedrick, and Eric Mitchell) this year. We learned what we need to work on. We came together later in the year. We want to start off strong in the fall and push things to a higher level.”

May 20, 2015
TOTAL TEAM EFFORT: Members of the Princeton University men’s heavyweight crew program celebrate after Princeton won the Rowe Cup team points title at the Eastern Sprints last Sunday. The Tigers placed third in the first varsity eight finals and won both the second and third varsity eight races to earn its first Rowe Cup since 2005. The Tigers are next in action when they compete in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta from May 29-31 at Mercer Lake in West Windsor.(Photo by Aleka Gürel)

TOTAL TEAM EFFORT: Members of the Princeton University men’s heavyweight crew program celebrate after Princeton won the Rowe Cup team points title at the Eastern Sprints last Sunday. The Tigers placed third in the first varsity eight finals and won both the second and third varsity eight races to earn its first Rowe Cup since 2005. The Tigers are next in action when they compete in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta from May 29-31 at Mercer Lake in West Windsor. (Photo by Aleka Gürel)

In posting wins over Harvard and Brown down the stretch of the regular season, the Princeton University men’s heavyweight varsity 8 crew showed speed and a flair for drama.

Against Harvard on April 18, the Tigers posted a 4.5 second win in beating the Crimson for the first time since 2006. Utilizing a furious rally over the last 300 yards, Princeton overcame Brown by 0.7 seconds.

“We have certainly found a way to make it exciting,” said Princeton head coach Greg Hughes.

“Those wins showed us that the speed we had was solid. They were both learning opportunities. You see your strong points and weak points when going against strong teams like that. It helped us across the board.”

Last Sunday, the Tigers displayed their strength across the board as they won the Rowe Cup team points title at the Eastern Sprints on Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, Mass. Princeton placed third in the first varsity eight final and won both the second and third varsity eight races to earn its first Rowe Cup since 2005.

Coming into the weekend, Hughes sensed that his rowers were headed in the right direction.

“As a whole team we made some really good progress since the end of the regular season,” said Hughes. “It is not easy to do when you go into exams and have a weekend off from racing. Looking at the results from yesterday and the competitiveness of the races, we needed that improvement.”

The first varsity 8 showed its competitiveness in its grand final, going after eventual winner Yale and then engaging in a three-boat battle for second.

“Yale is a really strong boat, we knew that going in,” said Hughes of the Bulldogs who clocked a winning time with Northeastern second in 5:37.089,  Princeton next in 5:37.438, and Brown fourth in 5:37.549.

“We threw everything at them, as did Northeastern and Brown. They did a good job of holding us off. Yale proved they are the top boat at the sprints.”

But in taking third, Princeton once again proved its strength of character.

“What I was proud of with our crew is that they fought and stayed tough, added Hughes.

“That is part of their identity. They do well when they get a lead but when someone else gets momentum, they stay tough. They had to be ready to defend and respond.”

The undefeated second varsity 8 responded in style, taking first in its grand final in a time of 5:43.954 with Boston University second in 5:45.031.

“For those guys the heat was a really good learning experience; all season long, they have been fortunate to get decent margins,” said Hughes.

“In the heat, they had a real race and they had to execute. In the final, Harvard went high and hard and they had to execute. Boston University took a late run and they stayed in command.”

In the third varsity grand final, Princeton made a dramatic late run to overtake Brown for the victory.

“That was one of the most impressive last 500 meters I have seen, it was a sheer guts move,” said Hughes, whose boat clocked a winning time of 5:48.608 to nip Brown, who was just behind in 5:48.885.

For Hughes, the most impressive aspect of the team title is the daily effort he is getting from his rowers across the board.

“What I see is that so much of the work we do is behind the scenes; that work can be boring but the team attitude is what makes you fast,” said Hughes.

“What you see is that a team’s hard work and attitude from top to bottom is what develops speed. A strong team makes fast individual boats. Every kid played a part, there was not one guy who didn’t make a difference. The first varsity didn’t get gold but those final strokes made the difference for the Rowe Cup.”

The addition of coaches Matt Smith and Brandon Shald this season has also made a difference for the Tigers.

“The two assistant coaches have been great,” said Hughes. “We talk about the contribution of every athlete. We have 47 athletes and only three coaches so they are a huge part of the team. Matt Smith has been a remarkable addition. The same thing with Brandon Shald, his ability to inspire rowers has been great. For me as a head coach, it is like having co-coaches. There is a lot of group decision-making and group input. We have conversations back and forth about every kid. There is a diversity of ideas. We want the kids to do that on each boat and I am lucky to have a staff that does that.”

With Princeton ending its season by competing in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta from May 29-31 at Mercer Lake in West Windsor, Hughes will be looking for more group dynamics.

“Even in races that we win, we see things we can do better,” said Hughes. “There is not a lot of time before the IRAs. We need to build on what we have done so far and be better prepared for tight, intense racing, and executing well in tight quarters.”

OPENING IT UP: The Princeton University women’s open varsity 8 churns through the water in a regatta earlier this season. Last Sunday, the top boat took third in the grand final at the Ivy League championship regatta. Princeton finished third in the Ivy team points competition, trailing champion Brown and runner-up Yale. The Tigers hope to continue their season at the NCAA Championships from May 29-31 at Sacramento, Calif. as an at-large selection to the competition. Princeton is one of three programs (Brown and Washington) which has competed at every NCAA Championships since the inaugural regatta in 1997.             (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

OPENING IT UP: The Princeton University women’s open varsity 8 churns through the water in a regatta earlier this season. Last Sunday, the top boat took third in the grand final at the Ivy League championship regatta. Princeton finished third in the Ivy team points competition, trailing champion Brown and runner-up Yale. The Tigers hope to continue their season at the NCAA Championships from May 29-31 at Sacramento, Calif. as an at-large selection to the competition. Princeton is one of three programs (Brown and Washington) which has competed at every NCAA Championships since the inaugural regatta in 1997. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Lori Dauphiny knew that her Princeton University women’s open varsity 8 crew was in for a dogfight at the Ivy League championship regatta last weekend at Cooper River in Pennsauken, N.J.

The ninth-ranked Tigers were in the title mix with undefeated and fifth-ranked Brown, 10th-ranked Yale, and No. 15 Harvard-Radcliffe.

“Brown was the favorite but we knew Yale would be tough as well as Harvard,” said Princeton head coach Dauphiny.

“There was one second between us and Yale in the regular season and only  two seconds between us and Harvard.”

In the grand final at the Ivy regatta last Sunday, the boats were again separated by a few seconds. Princeton went after Brown from the start but couldn’t catch the Bears, who won the race with a time of 6:15.421. Spent by that effort, the Tigers were passed by runner-up Yale, who came in at 6:18.900 with Princeton next in 6:19.703.

“We didn’t discount anybody,” said Dauphiny. “We wanted to go with Brown, we were in the lane next to them. We knew we had closed the gap somewhat. We went for it to see what we could do. We fought hard and paid a price for it later. Brown had pushed into first at 1,000 but they were not out of reach, they are a great crew. Yale had a strong third 500.”

Princeton ended up finishing a strong third in the team points standings at the regatta as Brown won the title with 87 points with Yale second at 72 and the Tigers just behind with 69.

With Princeton earning five top-three finishes at the competition, Dauphiny was haunted by a fourth place finish from the second varsity 8.

“That was a heartbreaker,” said Dauphiny. “I can’t tell you what happened. They said they put it all out there; they had a better race than in the heat. They had a rough start in the heat; it was messy and they got rattled. We talked about their weaknesses and how we could overcome them and they did but it wasn’t enough.”

On the flip side, the Tigers overcame some adversity and inexperience in fours as the first varsity 4 placed third and the varsity 4 C won its race.

“It was good for the varsity 4, they had some injuries and they handled it well,” said Dauphiny. “They had a rockier approach to the finals. The 4C was great, they hadn’t practiced together and they rose to the occasion.”

While Princeton fell short of the team title, Dauphiny liked the way her rowers rose to the occasion collectively last Sunday.

“I was happy, there was some disappointment,” said Dauphiny. “The good part was that almost everyone won a medal. We came in third and we would have liked better but everyone stepped up. Overall, it was a decent showing for us.”

Dauphiny credited her 10 senior rowers with showing the way. “The senior class had a lot to do with that,” said Dauphiny. “They were peppered throughout the program. They stepped up in their boats. There was a lot of senior impact, they made a difference.”

Those seniors will be looking to continue their careers at the NCAA Championships from May 29-31 at Sacramento, Calif. as the Tigers hope to be an at-large selection to the competition. Princeton is one of three programs (Brown and Washington) which has competed at every NCAA Championships since the inaugural regatta in 1997.

“We focus on getting another opportunity and a chance,” said Dauphiny.

“They are still in finals so it is important to balance the academic commitments with rowing. It is an exciting opportunity that not everyone gets. We will make sure that we value the additional chance to race.”

May 13, 2015
NET VALUE: Princeton University women’s water polo goalie Ashleigh Johnson makes a save in action earlier this season. Last weekend, junior star Johnson excelled at the NCAA championships as Princeton finished sixth in the national competition held in Avery Aquatic Center in Stanford, Calif. Johnson set a new NCAA Tournament single-game record with 22 saves in a 6-5 loss to Cal-Irvine on Sunday in the fifth-place game and ended the weekend with a tourney-record 50 saves over three games. Princeton posted a final record of 31-5, tying the program mark for single season wins.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

NET VALUE: Princeton University women’s water polo goalie Ashleigh Johnson makes a save in action earlier this season. Last weekend, junior star Johnson excelled at the NCAA championships as Princeton finished sixth in the national competition held in Avery Aquatic Center in Stanford, Calif. Johnson set a new NCAA Tournament single-game record with 22 saves in a 6-5 loss to Cal-Irvine on Sunday in the fifth-place game and ended the weekend with a tourney-record 50 saves over three games. Princeton posted a final record of 31-5, tying the program mark for single season wins. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After cruising to a 12-2 win over Wagner in an NCAA play-in game on May 2, the ninth-ranked Princeton University women’s water polo team was primed to see how it stacked up against the elite teams in the college game as it headed west to the national quarterfinals.

“As a group we were excited to go and play well and compete and we did,” said Princeton head coach Luis Nicolao, reflecting on the NCAA championships, which were held at Stanford, Calif.

Competing hard and placing sixth overall, Princeton fell 7-2 to eventual national champion Stanford in the quarterfinals on Friday before edging Hawaii 7-6 in the consolation round on Saturday and ending the competition by falling 6-5 to Cal-Irvin in the fifth place game.

In the battle with host Stanford, Princeton trailed by just 2-0 after the first quarter before things got away in the next period.

“We knew that they had to have a bad game and we needed our best to beat them,” said Nicolao, who got 18 saves from junior goalie Ashleigh Johnson in the defeat with seniors Ashley Hatcher and Taylor Dunstan notching goals.

“Ashleigh kept us in the game, she was unbelievable. Other than the second quarter, I liked the whole game. They smothered us defensively in the second quarter. We made four mistakes in the quarter and they outscored us 4-0. A team like that makes you pay for mistakes.”

A day later, the Tigers rebounded with a dramatic 7-6 win over No. 5 Hawaii which saw Tiger senior Jesse Holechek score the winning goal with four seconds remaining in regulation.

“It was a great game, we talk about that second game at the tournament, it is more our level, playing teams where we are ranked,” said Nicolao.

“We had lost to Hawaii before this season and we didn’t play our best. It was a real battle, both teams responded well from their first game. Holechek has always been a big game player for us, she has a good outside shot, I was really happy to see her get that goal. The defense allowed us to have a chance to win. We didn’t want to be in that last place game.”

In the fifth-place game against No. 6 Cal-Irvine, Princeton held a 2-1 halftime lead and was ahead 4-3 and 5-4 in the second half but the Anteaters scored two late goals to pull out the victory.

“The whole game we were up by one, we couldn’t get that 2-goal lead,” said Nicolao, reflecting on the game which saw Johnson set an NCAA tournament single-game record with 22 saves. “I thought that would give us the cushion we needed with Ashleigh. It was a bummer to lose that last one.”

Having Johnson in net gives Princeton a chance in any game it plays. “Ashleigh had an amazing weekend, she stood out as an elite goalie,” said Nicolao of the Miami, Fla. native who ended the weekend with a tourney-record 50 saves over three games. “The Stanford game was great, to play that well against those kind of shots.”

Nicolao was happy to see his group of seniors, Hatcher, Dunstan, Holechek, CeCe Coffey, Kelly Gross, and Camille Hooks, go out with a great campaign.

“I am thrilled with the season, we had a great year,” said Nicolao, whose team ended the spring at 31-5, tying the program record for single season wins.

“The seniors were 119-19 over their four years and I will take that every four years. They had a great four years and a great ride.”

While graduation will leave a void, Nicolao is already looking forward to next year.

“We lose a large group and Ashleigh is taking the year off from school to train with the U.S. national team as it gets ready for the Olympics,” said Nicolao.

“We have lost great players in the past and other girls have stepped up. The returners have experience in winning and they love to compete. We have a good freshman class coming in.”

For Marty Crotty, it has been a pleasure to coach his Princeton University men’s lightweight varsity 8 this spring.

“They have had a lot of consistency in terms of improvement,” said Princeton head coach Crotty, as he looks ahead to the Eastern Sprints, slated for May 17 on Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, Mass.

“They have had some really good practices. They just need to add a layer of speed over the next 10 days. They are easy to watch, they are easy to coach.”

With Princeton classes having ended on May 1, the rowers can accelerate their improvement with extra time on the water.

“If you look at HYP to the finals of sprints, from April 25 to May 17,

that is 22 days and you might have 15-16 practices in normal schedule when in school,” said Crotty.

“Over that 22-day period we will be out on the water 30-35 times with classes out. We spend a lot more time on the boat and they want to do that. We may talk about recovering from workouts but they are asking if they can row the next morning at 7 and I say I will be there. This time of year, the boat naturally gets better.”

The competition throughout the program has helped the Tigers get better across the board.

“It hasn’t stopped, the 2V and 3V had a tete-a-tete today,” said Crotty. “The ability and the depth come from the rowers getting equal attention; they are getting good, solid coaching and it is not just from me. Bill Manning is a real professional. Alex Mann went to the Institute of Rowing Leadership in Boston, he has been a real good addition to the staff. The improvement directly reflects the coaching and hard work being put in by everyone.”

The program’s group of senior rowers, Karthik Dhore, William Downing, Matt Drabick, Jason Elefant, Fabrizio Filho, Andrew Frazier, Steve Swanson, and captain Casey Ward, have set a positive tone.

“They are good leaders and good guys,” said Crotty. “Day in, day out, they set good examples of how to carry yourself and the way to react to the results of selection. The guys enjoy coming to the boathouse everyday. They strive to be better and they want to be on higher boats but they are able to keep that internal and exclude toxicity.”

Crotty has enjoyed seeing Ward’s emergence as a leader in the program.

“Ward has been leading for several years; he was leading more quietly than he has this year,” added Crotty.

“We have the largest team in our history; we are sending six 8s to sprints. We have never done that before, having that kind of crossover is a task and he does it on the fly. There are 16 freshmen and nine or 10 guys in the other classes and he deals with all of that. He knows what to bring to me and what not to bring to me.”

With his varsity 8 having produced an 8-3 regular season with one loss to Cornell and two defeats to Columbia as it has risen to the top-5 in the national rankings, Crotty knows his rowers will have to bring it this weekend to prevail at Eastern Sprints.

“I am excited to see how things go,” said Crotty. “Cornell is very good, Columbia is very good, both boats are flat out good. We have to continue to make progress and we have been doing that. It is decimal points, having this guy be a little better one day or that boat be a little better. It is incremental progress so that when you get on the bus to go to sprints you are confident enough to relax. To improve our position against the Ivies, we will need to have a great heat to make the final and have our best race of the season in the final.”

ABBY ROAD: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Abby Finkelston heads to goal at the Ivy League tournament earlier this month. Last Sunday, freshman attacker Finkelston scored a career-high four goals to help Princeton defeat sixth-seeded Stony Brook 8-4 in the Round of 16 at the NCAA tournament. The Tigers, now 16-3, play at third-seeded Duke (15-4) on May 16 in the NCAA quarterfinals.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ABBY ROAD: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Abby Finkelston heads to goal at the Ivy League tournament earlier this month. Last Sunday, freshman attacker Finkelston scored a career-high four goals to help Princeton defeat sixth-seeded Stony Brook 8-4 in the Round of 16 at the NCAA tournament. The Tigers, now 16-3, play at third-seeded Duke (15-4) on May 16 in the NCAA quarterfinals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In putting together a six-game winning streak heading into the start of NCAA tournament last weekend, the Princeton University women’s lacrosse had demonstrated that it could excel at both ends in the field.

At the Ivy League tournament over the first weekend of May, host Princeton stifled Harvard 15-8 in the semis before outscoring Penn 14-11 in the championship game.

Playing at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium on the campus of Stony Brook Brook University  to start NCAA play, the Tigers showed their versatility once again, rolling past Fairfield 18-8 in a first round contest on Friday before shutting down sixth-seeded and host Stony Brook 8-4 two days later to earn a spot in the NCAA quarterfinals.

Princeton, now 16-3, will play at third-seeded Duke (15-4) on May 16 in the quarters with the winner advancing to the NCAA Final Four in Philadelphia, where the semis are slated for May 22 at PPL Park.

“The attack really carried us against Fairfield; to get 18 goals in an NCAA tournament game is a lot of goals,” said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer, who has guided Princeton to three national titles in her Hall of Fame tenure. “The defense dominated on Sunday.”

It took a little while for Princeton to get rolling in the win over Fairfield as the Tigers were clinging to a 10-7 lead at halftime before outscoring the Stags 8-1 over the final 30 minutes of the contest.

“I think they came out hard, winning ground balls and draws,” said Sailer, who got a career-high three goals from sophomore Lauren Steidl in the win over the Stags with sophomore standout Olivia Hompe tallying a game-high four and senior Erin McMunn adding three.

“We had to match their intensity and play our game better. We just had to turn it around and we did just that.”

Sailer knew that Princeton faced a hard challenge in the Round of 16, taking on host Stony Brook, who brought at 18-1 record and a seven-game winning streak into the contest.

“They are a great team, they only had one loss and a lot of great wins over teams like Florida and Northwestern,” said Sailer of the Seawolves who were averaging 12.1 goals a contest.

“They had great sticks, they had an incredible attack, deadly off cuts and screens. They are very physical and scrappy and play a different kind of zone defense with a rover.”

Princeton jumped out to a 2-0 lead to gain early momentum and then took control of the game in the second half as it broke open a 3-3 game by outscoring Stony Brook 5-1. Freshman Abby Finkelston scored a career-high four goals to lead the Tigers’ attack.

“They expected to advance deep in the tournament and it was important for us to assert ourselves early and get that lead,” said Sailer.

“It took us a little while to figure out how to be effective on offense. We had to change up some things. We had some great ball movement and Finkelston was finishing well.”

The Tiger defense was effective all game long, holding the high-powered Seawolves to 12 shots with sophomore goalie Ellie DeGarmo making 12 saves.

It was a great defensive effort; to hold a team like that to four goals on their home field is quite a feat,” asserted Sailer whose team had a 15-11 edge in ground balls in the afternoon and won 8-of-13 draw controls.

“Jen Cook (assistant coach) did an awesome job with her defensive scout and game plan. The girls executed things beautifully, they knew what Stony Book Brook was going to do before they did it.

Advancing to the NCAA quarters for the first time since 2011 is a nice feat as well for Princeton.

“It is really exciting for the program,” said Sailer. “Now that the bracket has expanded to 28 teams, you have to win two games and beat a top 8 seed to make it the quarters so it says a lot about the way we are playing right now. We are performing at a high level. We are excited to be back and we think we can play with anybody.”

While Princeton has plenty of respect for powerful Duke, Sailer is excited about her team’s prospects in the matchup.

“They have had a great year; they have been a consistently strong team,” said Sailer of the Blue Devils.

“They have gone through the ACC so they have been playing strong teams game in, game out. We are excited to go down there and play Princeton lacrosse. The girls are dialed in and focused, they are executing what we tell them. We have a nice flow on offense and the defense is playing really well. Ellie DeGarmo has been great in the cage.”

May 6, 2015
LEAVELL BEST: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Amanda Leavell races up the field in a game earlier this season. Last weekend, sophomore defender Leavell starred as Princeton won the Ivy League tournament at the Class of 1952 Stadium. Leavell had an assist in Princeton’s 15-8 win over Harvard in the semis on Friday and then added a goal as the Tigers topped Penn 14-11 on Sunday in the title contest. Princeton, now 14-3, faces Fairfield on May 8 at Stony Brook, N.Y. in the opening round of the NCAA tournament with the winner to face host and sixth-seeded Stony Brook two days later for a spot in the NCAA quarterfinals.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LEAVELL BEST: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Amanda Leavell races up the field in a game earlier this season. Last weekend, sophomore defender Leavell starred as Princeton won the Ivy League tournament at the Class of 1952 Stadium. Leavell had an assist in Princeton’s 15-8 win over Harvard in the semis on Friday and then added a goal as the Tigers topped Penn 14-11 on Sunday in the title contest. Princeton, now 14-3, faces Fairfield on May 8 at Stony Brook, N.Y. in the opening round of the NCAA tournament with the winner to face host and sixth-seeded Stony Brook two days later for a spot in the NCAA quarterfinals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team, its final game at Class of 1952 Stadium last season turned into a nightmare.

Facing Penn in the 2014 Ivy League tournament championship game, Princeton fell behind 6-2 at halftime on the way to a 9-6 setback that left the Tigers glum and teary-eyed.

Last Sunday, when Princeton faced the same scenario as it hosted Penn in this year’s Ivy title game, it was determined to not let history repeat itself.

“I think everybody remembered that, there is no worse feeling than being at your home field and watching perhaps your biggest rival take home the title,” said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer.

“I think we wanted to finish it off in the right way, not just because of last year but because of the great season we have had, we knew we were capable of winning both the championship and the tournament.”

This time, the 11th-ranked Tigers enjoyed a dream-like afternoon, finishing off No. 13 Penn in style, taking a 6-4 lead at halftime and extending its advantage to 13-8 with four minutes left in regulation on the way to a 14-11 victory.

“I am so proud of the team, they have worked so hard to get us to this point from the start of the year,” asserted a beaming Sailer, whose team improved to 14-3 overall with the win and completed a perfect league campaign with a 7-0 Ivy mark in the regular season and two wins in the tourney.

“I think we are playing our best lacrosse right now which is when you want to be playing our best. Everybody on the team today stepped up in a big way. We got  some amazing goals from kids who might not be high on the scoring column, like Amanda Leavell, Cammie Sullivan, and Abby Finkelston. It was truly a team effort today, the defense was awesome. We put a new look in and they executed it really, really well. There was just a ton of heart on the field and we are excited to be Ivy tournament champions and headed to the NCAAs.”

On Sunday evening, Princeton learned that it will play Fairfield in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on May 8 at Stony Brook, N.Y. The winner will play host Stony Brook, the No. 6 seed on May 10 in the Round of 16 for a spot in the quarterfinals.

Senior midfielder Erin Slifer basked in the glow of helping Princeton win its first Ivy tournament title since 2011.

“As a team, this has been our goal from when we stepped on campus in September,” said Slifer, who tallied three goals and an assist in the win over Penn and was named to the All-Tournament team along with fellow Tigers, Anna Doherty, Amanda Leavell, Erin McMunn, Ellie DeGarmo, and Olivia Hompe, the tourney MVP.

“But as a senior, it is the finishing touch to go out and win the tournament for the first time and win the Ivy outright for the first time. It is just really exciting to see our four years really come to this peak. It is peaking at the right time and it is going to carry us into the postseason.”

As the season has unfolded, Slifer sensed that this Tiger squad could do some exciting things.

“This group just has a different edge to it; I think it is a confidence we really didn’t have before,” added Slifer.

“Even though we are the underdogs in a lot of games, we have the opportunity to beat any team when we step on the field and play at our best level. I don’t think in the past, it has always been that way. We have doubted ourselves sometimes. I think this group knows that we are a force to be reckoned with.”

Senior McMunn saw that confidence manifest itself on the offensive end against Penn as the Tigers went on a 7-4 run in the second half to break open the contest.

“I think our attack has just been clicking really, really well together,” said McMunn, who chipped in a goal and two assists in the win.

“We are playing our best lacrosse right now. In terms of being able to pull away in the second half, it was a great effort on the draw that allowed us to come up with the ball in the first place. From there, the  coaches put a lot of trust in us as a unit to just work and play off each other and make the decisions and take the shots that we know we can score. It was really just a matter of playing within our game plan and being very disciplined.”

The Tigers showed discipline on defense as well, coming together in stifling the Quakers.

“We had our game plan and what I think went really well is that we stuck to it,” said sophomore defender Leavell.

“We just had each other’s backs and we were going 100 percent. I think when we do that, it is beautiful to watch and it felt good to just be with each other and working as a unit.”

Goalie Ellie DeGarmo benefitted from the strong defense, making 12 saves in Princeton’s 15-8 win over Harvard in the Ivy semis on Friday and then recording eight stops in the championship contest.

“I was seeing the ball really well and I can definitely attribute that to the defense, they were playing incredible one-on-one defense,” said sophomore DeGarmo.

“In the Harvard game, they were forcing the wide shots, the bad shots, and I could see the ball the whole time. Today we were throwing in new looks and I think they did such a good job adapting to that. We threw them off because they weren’t expecting the new stuff that we put in.”

McMunn, for her part, is expecting the Tigers to make a deep run in the NCAAs.

“I love our chances and I love our chances purely for the fact that I think this is a really special group in terms of how we all care about each other and we all really click with one another, on the field, off the field,” said McMunn.

“I think in terms of what makes a team dangerous, especially at this point of the year when people are starting to get fatigued and you have been playing a long season, is that extra little bit, and that playing for one another. Loving to play with one another is what is going to take us really far; that is something that is going to make us really dangerous in this postseason. I think that people might underestimate us a little bit and that is the spot we like to be in. We are excited to take this as far as we can go.”

OVER THE HOMPE: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Olivia Hompe, second from right, celebrates after one of her career-high six goals last Friday in a 15-8 win over Harvard in the Ivy League semifinals. Two days later, sophomore star Home scored three goals to help Princeton defeat Penn 14-11 in the Ivy championship game. Hompe was named the tournament MVP and was an all-tournament pick.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)goal.

OVER THE HOMPE: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Olivia Hompe, second from right, celebrates after one of her career-high six goals last Friday in a 15-8 win over Harvard in the Ivy League semifinals. Two days later, sophomore star Home scored three goals to help Princeton defeat Penn 14-11 in the Ivy championship game. Hompe was named the tournament MVP and was an all-tournament pick. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)goal.

Olivia Hompe was initially feeling out of rhythm last Friday evening as the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team battled Harvard in the Ivy League tournament semifinals.

“Early in the first half we were having some trouble really possessing the ball on offense,” said sophomore star Hompe.

“I think Harvard was doing a really great job of having long possessions and really working our defense.”

With Princeton trailing Harvard 4-2 late in the half, the Tigers got on track as Erin Slifer scored with 3:30 left in the period and then Hompe found the back of the net with 1:35 left to make it a 4-4 game at halftime.

“I think at the end of the half, it was just us focusing on doing our part and stepping up like the defense did for us,” said Hompe, a 5’9 native of New Canaan, Conn.

In the second half, the Princeton offense stepped into high gear, going on a nine-goal run to build a 14-5 lead and cruised from there.

“I think we just got into a circle set and it really just let us do anything we wanted,” said Hompe, reflecting on the second half outburst.

“It was really free-flowing and I think we just started moving for each other and seeing each other really well. We had an incredible amount of assisted goals in this game, which was great to see. We were just seeing each other really well.”

While Hompe ended up with a career-high six goals, she was more impressed with the team’s collective play than her individual exploits.

“I am really happy withthe  way I played but I think really our whole offense is clicking so well,” said Hompe.

“We have played better and better every game throughout April and to see it all come to fruition in May is really rewarding.”

Two days later, Hompe scored three goals to help Princeton beat Penn 14-11 in the Ivy title game and earn an automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament. In the wake of her nine-goal weekend, Hompe was named All-Tournament and chosen as the tournament MVP.

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer was very happy to see Hompe receive those accolades.

“She is just such a competitor, that girl finds a way,” said Sailer of Hompe, who now has a team-high 48 goals on the season and earned first-team All-Ivy honors this spring.

“I have said all season that she has brought this team an energy. We have fed off of her energy, her big playmaking and how much fun she has on the field. She can light it up like she showed this weekend. Liv brings a little something extra; she has been just phenomenal for us this year.”

Hompe will be looking to light it up this weekend as Princeton, now 14-3, faces Fairfield on May 8 at Stony Brook, N.Y. in the opening round of the NCAA tournament with the winner to face host and sixth-seeded Stony Brook two days later for a spot in the NCAA quarterfinals.

“It is really about proving ourselves,” said Hompe. “It is a great time for us show that we can compete with the best of the best.”

ZACH ATTACK: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Zach Currier looks for an opening in recent action. Last Sunday, sophomore midfielder Currier had a goal, eight ground balls, and won 11 of 24 face-offs in a losing cause as No. 16 Princeton fell 11-10 to No. 9 Yale in the Ivy League championship game in Providence, R.I. with an automatic bid to the NCAA tourney on the line. The defeat left the Tigers with a final record of 9-6 as they did not receive an at-large bid to the NCAAs when the 2015 bracket was revealed on Sunday evening.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ZACH ATTACK: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Zach Currier looks for an opening in recent action. Last Sunday, sophomore midfielder Currier had a goal, eight ground balls, and won 11 of 24 face-offs in a losing cause as No. 16 Princeton fell 11-10 to No. 9 Yale in the Ivy League championship game in Providence, R.I. with an automatic bid to the NCAA tourney on the line. The defeat left the Tigers with a final record of 9-6 as they did not receive an at-large bid to the NCAAs when the 2015 bracket was revealed on Sunday evening. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Chris Bates, the prayer that talks about one having the serenity to accept things that can’t be changed and having the courage to change things that he can has been a theme this season as he has guided the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team.

That message was relevant on many levels last weekend as Princeton produced a big 11-7 win over Cornell in the Ivy tournament semis on Friday only to get edged 11-10 by Yale in the title game with an automatic bid to the NCAA tourney on the line. Hours after the loss to Yale, Princeton found itself on the outside looking in as it didn’t receive an at-large bid to the NCAAs.

In the win over Cornell, Princeton showed a capacity for change as it bounced back from a 15-10 loss to the Big Red six days earlier.

“We prepared with energy and a sense of urgency this week; every practice was good,” said Bates.

“You could feel early on that we were ready to play, the energy and competitiveness were there. We made some changes. We had Zach Currler take every face-off and had a different look on the wings.”

The Tiger defense had a different look in the rematch as freshman goalie Tyler Blaisdell shut the door on the Big Red with 14 saves.

“Tyler gave us a great energy and made some great saves, that is why we made the change to put him in as a starter,” said Bates. “Defensively we were really on point. Bear Goldstein and Aran Roberts were good. We focused less on Cornell and more on Princeton. We were better closing them down, we slid with a purpose. We knew they were going to make a push and we did a good job with that. We were really playing as a unit.”

Facing nemesis Yale in the Ivy title game on Sunday, Bates knew Tigers were in for a nail-biter.

“It was a quick turnaround, the last six games with them have been decided by one goal so every possession is critical,” said Bares. “We told the guys it was going to be at least a 60 minute game and maybe more.”

The Tigers dug an early hole in the game but didn’t lose faith. “At halftime we were down 4-2 and I said our best players hadn’t done anything and that there was a lot of lacrosse left,” recalled Bates. “They seemed to respond to that. We felt good throughout, the energy was good. We stayed together. It came down to our last possession.”

On that last possession, which started with 12.7 seconds left in regulation, sophomore star Currier generated a good opportunity but couldn’t cash it in.

“Zach had a shortstick on him and we feel that is always a good matchup for him so he called an audible on the play we had drawn up,” said Bates, who got a goal and eight ground balls from Currier in the loss with senior star Kip Orban leading the attack with a game-high four goals.

“His shot was from a funky angle, it just bounced wide. Then it was a Hail Mary with 2.5 seconds left, that is always tough.”

Hours later, the Tigers got the tough news that they were not going to be selected to compete in the NCAA tourney.

“It came down to four teams and we thought we had as good a shot as any of them,” said Bates, whose team was in the mix for the last three at-large slots along with Ohio State, Brown, and Cornell.

“When Brown’s name was called, we knew we were going to be on the outside looking in. It is tough to swallow. We wanted a shot and we thought we had the body of work to deserve that. We had wins over Cornell and Yale. The win over Hopkins turned out to be big win. We had the RPI.”

For Bates, getting shut out of the tourney was particularly hard to accept since it deprived senior stars Mike MacDonald and Kip Orban of the chance to extend their storied careers. MacDonald broke Jon Hess’s school record for points in a season this spring, piling up 78 points on 48 goals and 30 assists, better than the 74 points tallied by Hess in 1997. Orban’s 45 goals this season are the most ever by a Princeton midfielder and the fifth-best by an Ivy middie.

“They had historic seasons,” said Bates. “Mikey breaks the single season record; that is something looking at the history of the program, the names he has passed, and the schedule we play. They are good, humble kids. I know they would trade it all for one more game. But as time goes on, I think they will be very proud of what they did. Those are records that aren’t going to be broken any time soon.”

While the Princeton players and coaches were left with broken hearts, Bates will have fond memories of this spring.

“This is one of my favorite groups to coach, based on the adversity we faced all year,” said Bates.

“We lost four prominent guys to injury during the season. We responded to the adversity with an even-keeled attitude and didn’t blink. From an overall perspective, I could not be more proud. They accomplished a lot, on the field and in the locker room. It was a really good senior group. Kip had a lot of responsibility and shouldered it really well.”

In Bates’ view, the future looks good for the Tigers. “We have learned a lot of things in the last few weeks that will help us, there is a solid foundation for Princeton lacrosse going forward,” asserted Bates.

“The culture and the locker room are in good shape. There is optimism. I sit here this morning disappointed but I am excited about the prospects. We have good returners and some great players on the way.”

Princeton University men's tennis, Princeton, NJ,  September 12, 2014

Princeton University men’s tennis, Princeton, NJ, September 12, 2014

In taking the helm of the Princeton University men’s tennis team three years ago, Billy Pate realized that he was becoming part of something special.

“When I interviewed for the job, I saw that there was such a rich heritage here,” said Pate, who had previously been the head coach at the University of Alabama, where he guided the Crimson Tide to seven NCAA tournament appearances in 10 seasons.

“Men’s tennis is the school’s most successful program, it had the most number of wins (an all-time record of 1,054-398-6  and a .725 winning percentage through 2013-14).”

Upon taking the Princeton job, Pate was determined to add to that history.

“I was looking to restore the program back to the level where it is nationally relevant,” said Pate.

“I thought it was fair to set that as a goal and shoot to be a top 25 program and win Ivy League titles.”

While Princeton hasn’t won an Ivy title yet under Pate, the program is returning to the national stage this weekend as it competes in the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1998, earning an at-large bid after going 19-7 overall and 4-3 Ivy.

“I think the guys really bought into the vision that we had, we sold them on the idea that we could be at this level,” said Pate, reflecting on the accomplishment.

“We have made progress, we have had some measure of success. We have not gotten everything. We did make it as a high as No. 23 this season. This is still a big step for the program, we have re-established ourselves.”

In its first appearance in the NCAAs this century, 36th-ranked Princeton will face No. 23 Minnesota (20-7) in a first round match on May 8 in Charlottesville, Va. The Tigers will be joined at the site by the 43rd-ranked Princeton women’s team (12-8 overall, 6-1 Ivy), who won the league title and are playing South Carolina (14-10) in a first round contest on May 9. The women’s squad will be looking to build on last year’s NCAA performance, when they topped Arizona State in the opening round for the program’s first-ever win on the tourney.

While the women had a relatively smooth path to the NCAAs, the men’s road to the tourney was a bit bumpy as the Tigers dropped three straight Ivy matches after starting 3-0 in league play, losing 5-2 to Dartmouth, 4-3 to Harvard, and 5-2 to eventual Ivy champ Columbia.

“We knew Harvard and Columbia were going to be tough,” said Pate, noting that both of those teams are in the NCAA field. “We didn’t play well against Dartmouth, we came out flat.”

Showing resilience,  Princeton rebounded by edging Cornell 4-3 in the regular season finale on April 19.

“I told the guys that was the most significant win we have had,” recalled Pate. “It really helped us, it stopped the bleeding. We were probably already in the NCAAs but if we had lost, I would have been really nervous.

The presence of senior Zack McCourt and sophomore Tom Colautti at the top of the Princeton lineup has helped ease Pate’s nerves.

“McCourt and Colautti have been rock solid,” said Pate of the two All-Ivy performers.

“Colautti was 6-1 in the league as a sophomore at No. 2. McCourt has improved a lot over his career. You know everybody is going to be good at No. 1 and 2 so it is really good to have two guys like that.”

The addition of a good group of freshmen in Kial Kaiser, Ben Tso, Diego Vives, and Luke Gamble, has been a big help for the Tigers.

“The guys came in and did a really good job,” added Pate. “We didn’t have to throw them into the fire as much. Last year we had to play the freshmen at 2-3-4, they gained a lot of experience from that. This year, they got experience but weren’t playing too high so they got some wins.”

Pate acknowledges that it is not going to be easy to get a win over Minnesota in the first round match-up. The victor of the match will face the winner of the Virginia-St. John’s first round clash on May 9 for a spot in the Round of 16.

“They are really good; they had a huge year like us in terms of making a step,” said Pate. “They brought in some good new guys and shared the Big 10 title. We match up okay, it is going to be interesting. If we play well, it will be a good match. The match between the two and three seeds is always close. It is usually two even teams.”

As he hones his team for the regional, Pate will be drawing on his experience in Alabama.

“Less is more, we will focus on fitness,” explained Pate. “It is hard to lift in the season and if you are not lifting twice a week, you lose the effect. We will get in two to three lifts a week and will be doing our running. We will be doing some game-planning. I want the guys to be fresh.”

No matter what happens this weekend in Charlottesville, the experience should help lift Princeton closer to its goal of again being a nationally prominent program.

“To advance in the first year, would be great,” said Pate. “If not, it is a next step. You want to play well. If you play well and come up short, that is okay. Losses help you grow. If you don’t play well, it does leave a bitter taste. We are well positioned for the future to build on this and be better.”

April 29, 2015
PERFECT ENDING: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Erin McMunn controls the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, senior star McMunn scored five goals to help Princeton top Brown 14-8 in the regular season finale. The win gave Princeton the outright Ivy League crown as it moved to 12-3 overall and 7-0 Ivy. This weekend, Princeton will host the Ivy tournament which will decide which team gets the league’s automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament. Princeton is seeded first and faces No. 4 Harvard in a semifinal contest on Friday evening. The winner will play the victor of the the Penn-Cornell semifinal in the title game on Sunday.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PERFECT ENDING: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Erin McMunn controls the ball in recent action. Last Saturday, senior star McMunn scored five goals to help Princeton top Brown 14-8 in the regular season finale. The win gave Princeton the outright Ivy League crown as it moved to 12-3 overall and 7-0 Ivy. This weekend, Princeton will host the Ivy tournament which will decide which team gets the league’s automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament. Princeton is seeded first and faces No. 4 Harvard in a semifinal contest on Friday evening. The winner will play the victor of the the Penn-Cornell semifinal in the title game on Sunday. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Erin McMunn’s senior season with Princeton University women’s lacrosse team nearly ended prematurely when her right leg was banged hard against Harvard in late March.

The star attacker left the game with a strained MCL and bone bruise in her right knee. After being sidelined for the next game and undergoing some furious rehab, McMunn was able to make it back to the field, albeit at less than full speed.

Hobbling through the next few games, McMunn managed to break the program’s career record for assists and pass the 200-point mark as Princeton rolled to a league crown.

So last Saturday, McMunn was particularly emotional as she was honored along with her classmates on the program’s annual Senior Day before its regular season finale against visiting Brown.

“This has just been four years of incredible experience with this program and we are so grateful for everything that Princeton has given all of us as a senior class,” said McMunn, a 5’8 native of Westminster, Md.

“I think we just really wanted to come out here and make a statement today and play for each other and play because we love being part of this team.”

Making a statement with her play, McMunn scored three goals in the first 21 minutes of the contest as Princeton jumped out to 7-3 halftime lead.

“I realize how fortunate I am to have so many great people surrounding me, teammates, coaches, and staff,” said McMunn.

“I think I just really felt that on the field today. I play best when I feel that gratitude and feel that love a little bit. We certainly felt that today and I think we were all giving it to each other. There were just some really great feeds that people were hitting me on and I got lucky to put them away.”

The Tigers went on to 14-8 win as they ended the regular season at 12-3 overall and 7-0 Ivy. The Tigers will now host Harvard on Friday evening in an Ivy tournament semifinal contest with the winner advancing to the final on Sunday against the victor of the Penn-Cornell semi.

“We just really wanted to finish that Ivy season and leave no doubt that we deserve that title today,” said McMunn, who ended the day with five goals and an assist.

“There have been a ton of close games and I am just so proud of this team. This has been our goal since last year. We knew that we wanted to win this title outright because none of us as seniors have done that. We shared it last year and we knew that was not something we wanted to do this year. Being able to have the opportunity to win that outright on our Senior Day at home was huge and something we were all really excited for.”

McMunn is excited to be getting back up to full speed. “It is definitely starting to come back, it was a little tough there for a little while,” said McMunn.

“It was just causing some swelling that was keeping it a little bit tight. It has been feeling really great and I can’t thank our athletic trainers enough, they have been doing an awesome job taking care of me. I have just been really lucky to be back out there and having a lot of fun.”

In assessing her career milestones, McMunn credits the backing she has gotten from her teammates.

“That is the complete reflection of the people that are around me,” said McMunn, a three-time All-Ivy choice and a two-time All-American who now has 22 goals and 13 assists this season giving her 209 career points on 124 goals and a program-best 85 assists.

“The assist record is them; if they don’t bury that shot, it doesn’t matter. I could throw it at somebody all day long and they could miss shots.”

McMunn acknowledges that she is going to miss playing for Princeton. “It is very bittersweet but all you can really do is live in the moment and be grateful for the time I have been given here and with the program,” said McMunn. “I feel that every single day.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer is grateful for all that the team’s seniors have given to the program over the years.

“They have just been such a great class, they are just really quality kids,” said Sailer of the Class of 2015 which includes Erin Curley, Erika Grabbi, Jess Nelson, Erin Slifer, and Annie Woehling in addition to McMunn.

“This year we just have two (McMunn and Slifer) in our starting lineup but all six of them have given so much. They have worked so hard, they have been really great examples of selfless leadership and putting the team first and continuing to work and doing whatever they can to help our program improve. When you have kids like that, that are setting such great examples and bringing great energy, it can’t help but rub off on the rest of the group. They know how much it means to them and how they have sacrificed for it.”

Sailer was thrilled with McMunn’s great performance on Saturday. “That was great, I think this was her breakout game,” asserted Sailer. “She is moving much, much better. She seems like she is moving like her old self before her injury and that is going to be really helpful as we get to the tournament to have her functioning at top capacity.”

Princeton’s top player this spring has been Slifer, who has a team-high 55 points on 36 goals and 19 assists and also leads the team in ground balls with 22.

“She has been our force, having an impact in all phases of the game,” said Sailer of Slifer.

“There is no doubt in my mind that she is one of the top players in the country and her impact on us has been very obvious to anyone who watches our games.”

Going undefeated in the league this spring has taken a huge effort in all phases of the game.

“It is great, there is a lot of parity and every team gets up and tries to bring their best against you,” said Sailer.

“I think we have only had an undefeated Ivy champion now five times at Princeton so it is really special. It is a hard league to win undefeated. I am just really happy for these girls because they really put a lot into this year. It is nice to come through with a young team. We graduated eight seniors we start six sophomores so it is exciting.”

Sailer is excited about Princeton’s postseason prospects, starting with the Ivy tournament this weekend.

“I think we just have to keep doing what we are doing and really just keep the emphasis on our preparation and our work,” said Sailer.

“You can’t get thinking, you have got to win this tournament. You have got to win the ground balls, win the draws, and take a smart shot. It is a whole new ball game, everybody is 0-0 so it doesn’t matter what has happened before. We know that and we are just going to get to work on Monday.”

The Tigers will have to work hard to overcome a tough Harvard (8-7 overall, 4-3 Ivy) squad.

“Harvard is a very, very good team, they lost by one goal to Syracuse and it was a tight game here,” said Sailer, whose team beat the Crimson 17-12 in the rivals’ regular season meeting on March 21.

“We pulled away at the end, but they are talented kids, there is no doubt. They have a lot of speed, they check very aggressively, they go to goal hard. We are going to have to be ready, that is for sure.”

McMunn, for her part, is ready for a big postseason run. “The key is that we have to keep getting better every single day and I think that is something this team has done a great job of focusing on so far this year,” said McMunn.

“We feel that sense of urgency and we don’t want to waste any time out there together. I think that is something that we have to keep going for the last week; we’ll be good.”

SEEING RED: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Mike MacDonald heads upfield in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior attacker MacDonald tallied three goals and two assists in a losing cause as Princeton fell 15-10 at Cornell. MacDonald now has 43 goals and 28 assists this season, becoming the third Princeton player to reach 70 points in a season, joining Jon Hess (74 in 1997) and Jesse Hubbard (72 in 1996). The Tigers, now 8-5 overall and 4-2 Ivy League, will get a rematch with the Big Red (10-4 overall, 4-2 Ivy) this Friday when the foes meet in the semis of the Ivy tournament at Brown with the winner advancing to the title game on Sunday.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SEEING RED: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Mike MacDonald heads upfield in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior attacker MacDonald tallied three goals and two assists in a losing cause as Princeton fell 15-10 at Cornell. MacDonald now has 43 goals and 28 assists this season, becoming the third Princeton player to reach 70 points in a season, joining Jon Hess (74 in 1997) and Jesse Hubbard (72 in 1996). The Tigers, now 8-5 overall and 4-2 Ivy League, will get a rematch with the Big Red (10-4 overall, 4-2 Ivy) this Friday when the foes meet in the semis of the Ivy tournament at Brown with the winner advancing to the title game on Sunday. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Needing a win at Cornell last Saturday to clinch the Ivy League title outright and earn the right to host the upcoming league tournament, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team came out firing.

Princeton jumped out to a 5-0 lead over the Big Red after one quarter with Kip Orban scoring two goals, Mike MacDonald chipping in a goal and two assists and Ryan Ambler and Gavin McBride each getting a goal and an assist.

“We came out and played really well,” said Princeton head coach Chris Bates. “It was a perfect storm for us in the first quarter, we hit our shots and Cornell made some turnovers that we capitalized on.”

But in the second quarter, the Tigers were buried by a blizzard of goals as Cornell outscored Princeton 9-0 to take a 9-5 lead at halftime.

“The second quarter was upside down from the first; the things that had been positives turned into negatives; we couldn’t get a face-off and we turned it over twice,” said Bates, whose team was outshot 25-4 in the period and lost 9-of-10 face-offs.

“We didn’t have a settled offensive possession in the whole quarter. We got punched between the eyes, it was a standing eight count. We limped into the locker room. There was a steamroller effect. I was just trying to find a way to stem the tide but that is tough when you are not winning face-offs. We were just holding on.”

At halftime, Bates focused on holding his dispirited team together. “They were stunned, we just tried to settle them and remind them of how we played in the first quarter and how good we felt,” recalled Bates. “We told them to find their fight and find their competitiveness.”

In the second half, the Tiger showed some competitive fire, outscoring the Big Red 4-2 in the third quarter but the rally fell short as Cornell pulled away to a 15-10 win.

“We played well but we just couldn’t get that momentum going,” said Bates, reflecting on the second half. “We ran out of time.”

Bates also acknowledged that Princeton ran into a buzz-saw in Cornell. “It was tough game, Cornell played well, they showed us some things we hadn’t seen,” said Bates, who got four goals from senior star Kip Orban, making him the first Princeton midfielder ever to get 40 goals in a season.

“Our inexperience on defense came to light. They ran an open set with no crease; we got gun-shy a little and were slow to make the slides. They won some one-on-one battles.”

Although Princeton, now 8-5 overall, 4-2 Ivy, lost the battle last Saturday, it could win the war as it will get a rematch with the Big Red (10-4 overall, 4-2 Ivy) this Friday when the foes meet in the semis of the Ivy tournament at Brown with the winner advancing to the title game on Sunday.

“We have been in this position before, two years ago we got thumped by them at Giants Stadium and then beat them in Ithaca,” noted Bates.

“I will be interested to see how the team reacts; this group has something on its mind about what it wants to do. We have to do better on face-offs and deal with their open set better. We have good leadership, the right message will be sent. The guys will be excited. We talk about responding when you get knocked down.”

SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University softball player Sarah McGowan gets ready to swing at a pitch in a game earlier this season. Last Sunday, senior infielder McGowan ended her Princeton career on a high note, helping the Tigers beat Cornell 3-1 in the season finale. The win gave Princeton a final record of 18-24 overall and 10-9 Ivy League. The Tigers ended the spring taking second in the Ivy South division, trailing Penn, 22-18 overall, 13-7 Ivy.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University softball player Sarah McGowan gets ready to swing at a pitch in a game earlier this season. Last Sunday, senior infielder McGowan ended her Princeton career on a high note, helping the Tigers beat Cornell 3-1 in the season finale. The win gave Princeton a final record of 18-24 overall and 10-9 Ivy League. The Tigers ended the spring taking second in the Ivy South division, trailing Penn, 22-18 overall, 13-7 Ivy. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It was a do-or-die situation for the Princeton University softball team last weekend and they were thrilled to be in that position.

Playing a four-game set at Cornell, Princeton came into the action with an 8-7 Ivy League record, alive in the race for the Ivy South title as it trailed leader Penn by a game and a half.

“I think they were excited for the opportunity; this team has never had the chance to be playing for something on the final day of the season,” said Princeton head coach Lisa Van Ackeren.

“They were ready to do their best to make it last as long as possible, everyone was psyched to do whatever they could. We prepared well all year and we had some really productive practices last week.”

In Saturday’s doubleheader, Princeton took the opener 6-3 and led 7-4 in the nightcap before falling 10-7.

“We got off to a nice start in the first game,” said Van Ackeren. “We had it in game two but we couldn’t get it done in the circle.”

On Sunday, Princeton dropped the opener 7-5 before ending the spring on a high note with a 3-1 win in the finale.

“The kids bounced back really well on Sunday,” said Van Ackeren. “The offense stepped up; we had good run production all weekend.”

While Princeton knew it had been officially eliminated from the Ivy South race by its loss in the opener, the team’s seniors were determined to make the most of their final game.

“It was senior leadership; when seniors are that emotional, the team will fall in line,” said Van Ackeren, whose Class of 2015 includes Rachel Rendina, Alyssa Schmidt, Cara Worden, Meredith Brown, Sarah McGowan, and Libby Crowe.

“We had a class of six and five started. The sixth (Crowe) was hurt but was the first base coach for an inning. Brown started at pitcher; she has been dealing with some injuries. She threw six shutout innings, fighting to do her best. Rendina, Schmidt, and Worden did what they do on the field. Sarah McGowan did well at third. It is hard to hold Cornell to one run. They passed the torch.”

In Van Ackeren’s view, the seniors have made a positive impact on the program.

“The seniors were excited; they thought about all the things we have been through to get to this point,” said Van Ackeren.

“They are an eclectic group, they have strong personalities. They leave the program better than they found it and that is the legacy you want to have.”

While Princeton had hoped to have a better record than its final mark of 18-24 overall and 10-9 Ivy League, Van Ackeren believes that the team’s younger players gained some valuable experience this spring that will help their resolve going forward.

“There were a lot of lessons to learn; we were in a lot of close games in the league,” said Van Ackeren.

“Those one-run losses teach us how to win. It is a programmatic challenge for us to improve so that those close games go our way. I think the returners will come back with a bad taste in their mouths from those close losses and will work even harder. There has been a cultural shift in the program in the last few years where the players are embracing hard work and embracing a blue collar attitude to do whatever it takes to win.”

MAKING A SPLASH: Princeton University women’s water polo head coach Luis Nicolao, second from left, encourages his players in a recent game as Ashley Hatcher, far right, listens in along with her teammates. Last Sunday, senior star Hatcher scored four goals, including the game winner, as Princeton edged Indiana University 7-6 in the CWPA championship game at DeNunzio Pool. The win earned the Tigers, now 29-3, a bid in the NCAA tournament. Princeton will open tournament play on May 2 with a play-in game against Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) champion Wagner College (25-8) at DeNunzio Pool. The winner will advance to face No. 1 Stanford in the national quarterfinals on May 8.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MAKING A SPLASH: Princeton University women’s water polo head coach Luis Nicolao, second from left, encourages his players in a recent game as Ashley Hatcher, far right, listens in along with her teammates. Last Sunday, senior star Hatcher scored four goals, including the game winner, as Princeton edged Indiana University 7-6 in the CWPA championship game at DeNunzio Pool. The win earned the Tigers, now 29-3, a bid in the NCAA tournament. Princeton will open tournament play on May 2 with a play-in game against Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) champion Wagner College (25-8) at DeNunzio Pool. The winner will advance to face No. 1 Stanford in the national quarterfinals on May 8. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Ashley Hatcher was primed for a big finish as the Princeton University women’s water polo headed into the fourth quarter of the CWPA championship game locked in a 5-5 tie with Indiana last Sunday at DeNunzio Pool.

“We were definitely concerned there but it gives you an extra boost of adrenaline to swim your hardest on the draw, the ejection, and the counter attack, and give your all,” said Hatcher.

Hatcher gave Princeton the margin of victory, scoring two goals in the quarter as the 12th-ranked Tigers pulled out a 7-6 win over the No. 11 Hoosiers and earned a bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament.

“One of my teammates sent it to center but it was almost a turnover and then it landed in front of me,” said Hatcher, reflecting on the winning goal which came with 3:38 left in the fourth quarter.

“They play high up in the lane so I drove in and the goal was open, it felt very good. When the ball is in front of me I was going to try to light the goalie up. I wanted to put a shot on goal and make her make a save. I didn’t want to make anything easy for her.”

Hatcher and her teammates realized things weren’t going to come easy in the final in Sunday having lost 9-8 and 13-12 to Indiana on two regular season meetings this year in addition to falling to the Hoosiers in the 2014 CWPA final.

“We knew that when we lost to this team before that we did not play our best game so coming out of those games it was heartbreaking but almost a boost of confidence because I knew and the team knew that we didn’t play our best game,” said Hatcher.

“We were excited to get the chance to play them again. We really wanted this team in the championship more than anything else.”

Winning that championship was special for Hatcher and her teammates. “It means a lot because we won the championship my freshman and sophomore year and we lost last year to Indiana,” said Hatcher, who was a first-team All-Tournament selection along with teammates Ashleigh Johnson and Jess Holechek.

“Right now this is our focus and we put everything on this game. Now we can look forward to the NCAAs. Winning three out of four is awesome.”

It was awesome for Hatcher to have older sister, Karina, on hand at DeNunzio to support her on Sunday.

“My sister played here and the last time we hosted Easterns, I was here watching her in 2007 when we lost to Hartwick,” said Hatcher, a native of Miami, Fla.

“Those little things were in the back of my mind watching her cheer for me. Being at home, it was a great finish.”

Hatcher has produced a great senior season, scoring a career-high and team-high 78 goals so far in her final campaign.

“Over the years I have grown in confidence in my ability,” said Hatcher. “I feel like my ballhandling skills have improved so that definitely helps. With Katie Rigler graduating, she was such an offensive presence for us and really inspired me. She would take over and was never afraid to shoot the ball.”

Princeton head coach Luis Nicolao has enjoyed seeing Hatcher become a top offensive player for Princeton this season.

“I am so happy for Ashley, she has had an amazing year,” said a drenched Nicolao, who was tossed in the pool and sprayed with champagne as the team celebrated the win.

“She has always had the ability. She has always been a strong player for us but this year she really showed how good she is. She stepped up and has been a leading scorer all year for us. She had the game winner today. She is a hard worker and is really passionate about playing the game well.”

In order to beat Indiana in round three between the teams this season, Princeton had to step up its execution in crunch time.

“We had to be more mentally focused,” said Nicolao. “The first two matchups this year went right down to the wire. We had the lead both times in the fourth quarter and just made some crucial mistakes so we knew this game was going to come down to this, a one-goal game.”

On Sunday, the Tigers made the big plays down the stretch. “We had the two-goal lead with two minutes to go, we couldn’t make it easy and keep the two-goal lead,” said a smiling Nicolao, whose team improved to 29-3 with the win.

“We had to sort it out. Indiana is a great team and it is a great matchup. When you have those tough losses, the hope is eventually one will go your way and today it went our way. I think playing them three times in the last 12 months and really having some tough losses really helped us in that fourth quarter to just buckle down, get the lead and make it very difficult for them to score.”

The presence of junior all-American goalie Johnson makes Princeton hard to score on. The Miami, Fla. had 17 saves in the title game and was named tournament MVP. Now with 1,003 saves, Johnson is the only player in Princeton women’s water polo history to stop at least 1,000 shots.

“You saw Ashleigh Johnson and why she is who she is,” said Nicolao. “She is a special goalie. She made some incredible saves and today she went out there and showed you guys that she is the best player in the water.”

Freshman Emily Smith might not have been the best player in the water but she made a huge contribution with two pivotal goals.

“I sent an e-mail to the girls when Duke basketball won the national championship,” said Nicolao.

“Here is this freshman nobody has ever heard of, Grayson Allen, who went out there and scored 10 points in a row and was a key. Since then, I have been talking to our kids, saying who is going to be that person because they are going to try to shut Ashley and Chelsea (Johnson) down and who is going to be that one person to come out and step up. It is great to see her have a great game.”

It was great for the team’s group of seniors, which includes CeCe Coffey, Taylor Dunstan, and Camille Hooks in addition to Hatcher and Holechek, to pull out the title.

“This senior class, along with the men, have been in 7 CWPA championship games,” said Nicolao, who also coaches the Tiger men’s water polo team.

“It is special to get to this game, you got to have some luck to win it. I am really happy for the girls that they got this one today. They have been trying to ease the pain from last year’s loss but it is a game. You are going to win some and lose some and today we were able to come out on top.”

Looking ahead to the NCAAs, Nicolao believes his team has the game to compete with anybody.

“We are going to enjoy this for the next 24 hours and focus on who we are playing next when the bracket comes out,” said Nicolao, whose team will host Wagner (25-8) on May 2 in an NCAA play-in contest with the winner to face No. 1 Stanford in the national quarterfinals on May 8.

“I think when you have the defensive ability that we have, if we come out and play with that kind of defensive intensity, anything can happen.”

In Hatcher’s view, the Tigers are poised to make some good things happen on the national stage.

“We lost to Hawaii by one goal (7-6 on March 15) and played pretty awfully in that game so we would love a chance to go back and play those big teams and show them that this isn’t just an east coast win,” said Hatcher.

April 22, 2015
STEPPING UP: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Liz Bannantine steps into position in recent action. Last Saturday, junior star defender and tri-captain Bannantine helped Princeton pull away to a 12-6 win over Columbia. The victory gave Princeton a share of the Ivy title and the right to host the upcoming league tournament. No. 13 Princeton, now 11-3 overall and 6-0 Ivy, hosts Brown (7-7 overall, 1-5 Ivy) on April 25 in its regular season finale. The Ivy tourney will take place on the first weekend in May with the semis on May 1 and the title game on May 3.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STEPPING UP: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Liz Bannantine steps into position in recent action. Last Saturday, junior star defender and tri-captain Bannantine helped Princeton pull away to a 12-6 win over Columbia. The victory gave Princeton a share of the Ivy title and the right to host the upcoming league tournament. No. 13 Princeton, now 11-3 overall and 6-0 Ivy, hosts Brown (7-7 overall, 1-5 Ivy) on April 25 in its regular season finale. The Ivy tourney will take place on the first weekend in May with the semis on May 1 and the title game on May 3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Needing a win over Columbia last Saturday to clinch a share of the Ivy League regular season title and the right to host the league tournament, the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team hit some turbulence.

After building a 5-1 lead over the Lions at halftime, Princeton found itself deadlocked at 6-6 with 17:25 left in the second half.

The Tigers called a timeout and the players received a wake-up call from the coaches.

“It was just stick to the game plan, execute, but just know that we need to bring more energy,” said Princeton junior defender and tri-captain Bannantine.

“We have to have energy from the offense through the defense and really carry that over and bring each other up when the other side isn’t doing as well.”

The Tigers showed energy at both ends of the field, outscoring Columbia 6-0 the rest of the game to pull away to a 12-6 victory, improving to 11-3 overall and 6-0 Ivy.

“I think it was raising our energy and finishing our shots,” said Bannantine, who had two ground balls and caused a turnover in the victory.

“It was taking that shot when we know it is there and moving the goalie. Hats off to the attack for doing that because they really picked it up. We switched up a couple of things but I think a big part of our defense is playing out and playing aggressive. We came up with some pretty big caused turnovers and some saves that were crucial. It was just coming out hard, playing them and getting on the ground balls.”

Clinching a share of the title and hosting the tourney, which is scheduled for May 1 and 3, is big for the Tigers.

“It means so much to us, it is our goal every year coming in,” said Bannantine.

“We work for it all year, it is what we set our sights on. It is huge for us. I just think it speaks to the experience on our team; we have a lot of senior leadership.

Bannantine has assumed extra leadership responsibility this year as she is quarterbacking the Tiger defense, directing things on the back line.

“I am really happy with how things have worked out this year; I think it is definitely a new role for me in leading the defense,” said Bannantine,  a 5’9 native of Baltimore, Md., who has been a second-team All-Ivy performer in her first two seasons with the Tigers.

“We had a senior captain last year and I had to change around some things. It has taken a while. I have the full support of my teammates and they trust me to lead them.”

With a number of younger players rising to the challenge when called on, the Tigers have developed a special trust level.

“I think we have a lot of kids who can come in and step up,” said Bannantine.

“The younger kids have been huge this year. For them to be able to have that level of maturity, to be able to play through that and pick each other up. I think it is just a really special team this year. It is like nothing I have ever played with before, it is awesome.”

While Princeton head coach Chris Sailer would have liked to see her team play sharper against Columbia, she was thrilled with the end result.

“I am really proud and happy of this team’s second straight Ivy crown; it is a huge accomplishment,” asserted Sailer, whose team won the 2014 Ivy regular season title and advanced to the Round of 16 in the NCAA tourney.

“It is something we work for all year. Columbia is a much improved team. To come through and pull out a win like that is important at this time of the year. We are hoping to finish strongly on Saturday against Brown. We are excited to host the Ivy tournament for a second straight year at the Class of ‘52 Stadium.”

In Sailer’s view, Bannantine has become a vitally important cog in the Tiger defense.

“She is such a steady presence for us at the defensive end,” said Sailer. “She has been making big plays for us since she was a freshman but it is her voice on the field this year that is so important. She organizes and directs the defense, it is like having another coach in the field.”

With new faces all over the field, Sailer believes that the championship campaign is a testament to the depth and character in the program.

“We graduated a lot of seniors last year and we had some kids in and out with injuries,” said Sailer.

“We have been able to pull that out and it has been great. We have had so many kids this year get significant playing time for the first time in their careers. There is a lot of parity in this league so to be able to get the title with young kids in the lineup and really just two seniors (Erin Slifer and Erin McMunn) in the starting lineup, I think that says a lot for the team.”

With No. 13 Princeton wrapping up regular season play by hosting Brown (7-7 overall, 1-5 Ivy) this Saturday, Sailer is looking for her team to play even better.

“I think you learn from this, you just constantly have to go out and give your best effort every day,” said Sailer, who got four goals apiece from Slifer and sophomore Olivia Hompe against Columbia “You can’t take a day off from the pursuit of excellence.”

In Bannantine’s view, the Tigers are ready to give their best effort as they head into postseason play. “Every game you have to come out like it is an Ivy championship, which it pretty much is,” said Bannantine.

“We have to come out hard and play our game first but be able to evolve throughout the game as well and change up our looks. I think that was a little disconnect today but we have to approach everyone like it is a Penn or a Maryland and pull out the win.”

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)

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.”

TAKING HER SHOT: Princeton University women’s basketball star Blake Dietrick puts up a shot during a game this season as she enjoyed a memorable senior campaign. Dietrick averaged career-highs in points (15.1), assists (4.9), and rebounds (4.5) in helping the 13th-ranked Tigers finish the season with a 31-1 record. Along the way, she was a first-team All-Ivy selection and the Ivy Player of the Year. Last week, Dietrick signed a training camp contract with the Washington Mystics of the WNBA and will be joining the team next month.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TAKING HER SHOT: Princeton University women’s basketball star Blake Dietrick puts up a shot during a game this season as she enjoyed a memorable senior campaign. Dietrick averaged career-highs in points (15.1), assists (4.9), and rebounds (4.5) in helping the 13th-ranked Tigers finish the season with a 31-1 record. Along the way, she was a first-team All-Ivy selection and the Ivy Player of the Year. Last week, Dietrick signed a training camp contract with the Washington Mystics of the WNBA and will be joining the team next month. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Blake Dietrick was disappointed to see her career with the Princeton University women’s basketball team come to an end with a loss to Maryland in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

But shortly after that chapter of her hoops life ended, Dietrick learned that her basketball story was far from over.

Within 24 hours after the loss to the Terps, the star guard learned that she might have a shot to play at the professional level with the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA).

“I didn’t realize it was an option until the day after the Maryland game,” said Dietrick, a 5’10 native of Wellesley, Mass. who had a job offer pending from Holborn, a reinsurance brokerage firm.

“The teams had been watching me, I found out later. An article came out projecting that I could be drafted.”

Taking a week off to recharge and focus on finishing her senior thesis on Chaucer, Dietrick returned to the gym to train for her shot at the pros.

“I started doing workouts with my teammates, small group workouts with guards,” said Dietrick, who also took part in the annual State Farm College 3-point Shooting Championships at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, Ind. in late March. “I was also working with the coaches and hitting the weight room.”

While Dietrick ended up not being selected in the three-round WNBA draft last Thursday, she learned that evening that the Washington Mystics were interested in her services.

“The Mystics called during the draft when they were about to make their last pick, Mike Thibault (Washington’s head coach/general manager) called Courtney (Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart) and said they were drafting a guard from Europe to secure her rights but that they wanted me,” said Dietrick. “I was so excited, I didn’t know what to think.”

Dietrick later signed a contract to go to the training camp with Washington and will be reporting to the team in mid-May.

“I didn’t expect to be drafted; I looked at it that way so I wouldn’t be disappointed,” said Dietrick. “Being at a training camp was my goal, I wanted to get to show my basketball ability and see what happens.

In reflecting on her senior year at Princeton, Dietrick is still amazed at what happened this winter as the Tigers captured national attention with their perfect regular season and a win over Wisconsin-Green Bay in the first round of the NCAA tourney.

“I still can’t believe that we went 30-0 in the regular season and how historic and monumental that was,” said Dietrick.

“When I imagined my senior year, I was just thinking about what we wanted to do. It was unbelievable.”

Dietrick produced a remarkable senior year, averaging career-highs in points (15.1), assists (4.9), and rebounds (4.5) as she helped the 13th-ranked Tigers finish the season with a 31-1 record. Along the way, she was a first-team All-Ivy selection and the Ivy Player of the Year. She was also named as an Associated Press All-America honorable mention selection. She ended her Princeton career ranked 11th on the Tigers’ all-time scoring list (1,233) and fourth in assists (346). Dietrick shot a career-best 48.6 percent from the floor this winter and her 157 assists this year were a program record.

While Dietrick savors the individual accolades that came her way, she notes that her success was the product of a group effort and a lot of training.

“I think being voted unanimous Ivy Player of the Year was special; Niveen (Rasheed) had done it and I idolized her as a player,” said Dietrick, referring to former Tiger star Rasheed, a 2013 Princeton alum.

“It showed respect from the league and we have some very good coaches. I couldn’t have done it without my teammates, they carried me when I wasn’t playing well and they supported me when I was having a good game. I think it was just having confidence in my teammates and the coaches having confidence in me doing a lot of things on the court. I worked pretty hard in the offseason and put in extra work and reps on things that I needed to improve.”

True to form, Dietrick will be working hard to make the most of her opportunity to extend her basketball life, hitting the grindstone as the Mystics’ training camp starts on May 17 at the Verizon Center in Washington and runs through May 29 with three preseason games on the schedule.

“I’ll lift three times a week and do up to two workouts a day with my teammates and coaches,” said Dietrick, who has only one exam pending at Princeton and will be able to graduate with her class.

Dietrick is confident she can lift her game to a pro level. “I just want to play hard and make smart decisions with the ball,” said Dietrick.

“I want to push the pace and put the ball in the basket. The coach said to just do what you do, there is no need to reinvent your game.”

ARMED FORCE: Princeton University women’s water polo player Ashley Hatcher shows her focus during a game this season. Senior star Hatcher scored a team-high 70 goals to help No. 13 Princeton post a 26-3 regular season record. This weekend the Tigers will be hosting the CWPA (Collegiate Water Polo Association) championships at DeNunzio Pool from April 24-26 with the winner earning a bid to the upcoming NCAA tourney.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ARMED FORCE: Princeton University women’s water polo player Ashley Hatcher shows her focus during a game this season. Senior star Hatcher scored a team-high 70 goals to help No. 13 Princeton post a 26-3 regular season record. This weekend the Tigers will be hosting the CWPA (Collegiate Water Polo Association) championships at DeNunzio Pool from April 24-26 with the winner earning a bid to the upcoming NCAA tourney. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Luis Nicolao was happy to see his Princeton University women’s water polo team pushed last weekend in its final action of the regular season.

Sharpening itself before it hosts the CWPA (Collegiate Water Polo Association) Championship this weekend, Princeton defeated Harvard 15-7 last Saturday morning and then came back in the afternoon to post a 9-3 win over Brown.

“We played well, it is the first time we had games the week before the CWPA (formerly the Eastern Championship),” said Princeton head coach Luis Nicolao, whose team is seeded first in the 10-team event which will be held at DeNunzio Pool from April 24-26.

“We are getting into postseason mode. The weekend before with Michigan (second seed) and Indiana (third seed) and this weekend were good, every game had an impact on the big picture and affected standings and seedings.”

Senior star Ashley Hatcher has made a major impact in her senior campaign, scoring a team-high 70 goals to help the No. 13 Tigers post a 26-3 regular season record.

“She has had an amazing year, she has an increased sense of confidence,” said Nicolao.

“She has an offensive mind and is putting shots on goal and making the most of her opportunities. Katie Rigler’s graduation has opened things up, she was the top scorer and you defer to her. Ashley has taken over the role as offensive catalyst.”

With Princeton having won 10 of its last 11 games, Nicolao believes his team is rounding into form.

“I feel good about our team, we are getting healthy again,” said Nicolao. “The last six weeks have been a roller-coaster with injuries, walking pneumonia, bronchitis. We have never had a full squad. We only had 11 girls in the water for our final practice before the Indiana game.”

While the Tigers boast plenty of firepower with five players having scored at least 27 goals in addition to Hatcher’s 70, Princeton will need to give a full effort on the defensive end to prevail at the CWPA and earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tourney.

“The offensive balance is strong but we are going to have to win this with defense,” said Nicolao, whose scoring leaders include senior Jesse Holechek (46 goals), junior Pippa Temple (31), sophomore Morgan Hallock (29), freshman Haley Wan (29), and freshman Chelsea Johnson (27).

“We have Ashleigh (Johnson) back there in goal, we need to focus on shutting down teams one possession at a time because offense comes and goes.”

Pointing to a recent history of CWPA championship game nail-biters, Nicolao knows that being seeded first and hosting the event guarantees nothing.

“It is great for the home crowd and the parents but once the whistle blows there is not much of a home pool advantage,” said Nicolao, noting that his team squandered a 4-0 lead in the 2014 CWPA title game against Indiana on the way to a 11-10 loss.

“Players can’t hear much. It comes down to who gets breaks or calls and that has nothing to do with being at home. It is one game a day, 32 minutes at a time. It is like the basketball tournament, the best team doesn’t always win. I wouldn’t expect anything other than nail-biter. There are four or five teams that think they have a shot at winning and they are all right. It is who gets the ball in and makes the big plays in the fourth quarter and doesn’t make the critical mistake.”

Having lost three straight games, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team found itself at a crossroads as it played at Dartmouth last Saturday.

“If we had lost another one, it would have been a long ride home and a long week,” said Princeton head coach Chris Bates, whose team had dropped a 16-15 heartbreaker at Lehigh on April 7. “The season wouldn’t have been over but there would have been some doubts.”

Clinging to a 5-3 lead at halftime against the Big Green, Princeton left no doubt as to the outcome of the contests, outscoring Dartmouth 7-1 in the third quarter on the way to a 16-5 victory.

“We took care of business,” said Bates, who got five goals and an assist from senior star Mike MacDonald with senior captain Kip Orban chipping in four goals and sophomores Sean Connors and Gavin McBride scoring two goals apiece.

“We got into a good rhythm and got the ball moving. We are tough to stop when we get into a rhythm and share the ball. We had some assisted goals.”

Princeton also showed some good toughness in pulling away from the Big Green.

“We played really hard, we out ground-balled them,” asserted Bates, whose team had a 30-29 edge in ground balls on the afternoon as it improved to 7-4 overall and 3-1 Ivy League.

“We made the hustle plays, we showed some heart. We played at maximum speed. Bobby Weaver, Austin deButts, and Austin Sims hustled all over the field at shortstick middie.”

Freshman goalie Tyler Blaisdell was up to speed as he made his second straight start in taking over the spot from senior Eric Sanschagrin, recording eight saves on the day.

“Eric is steady, we know what we are going to get from him, we have seen him at his best and at his worst and we have big sample size,” said Bates in reflecting on the in-season switch to Blaisdell.

“We wanted to get a sense of what Tyler was going to be able to do with a full run. We are thinking longer term about what is going to help us.”

In Bates’ view, being able to turn the Dartmouth game into a rout could help his team’s confidence over the long term.

“If we had squeaked out an 11-9 win, it wouldn’t have been the same feeling,” said Bates.

“Everyone got in and some guys got their first goals. We were able to pull away. We got loose and gained some confidence. It was a good bus ride home.”

The 20th-ranked Tigers are hoping to end the spring on a good ride, starting with an April 17 game against visiting Harvard (6-6 overall, 1-3 Ivy) which is being broadcast nationally on ESPNU. Princeton is currently tied with No. 9 Cornell (9-3 overall, 3-1 Ivy) atop the Ivy standings and faces the Big Red on April 25 in a game that could decide who is going to host the 4-team Ivy men’s lacrosse tournament in early May.

“It is important to feel good about yourself at this time of the year,” said Bates.

“If we win on Friday, we will be in a position to host the Ivy tournament. The guys are dreaming a little bigger. Harvard is an easy game to get everyone motivated for; we are setting sights on going 4-1.”

Bates knows it is not going to be easy to get past a skilled Crimson team that edged Cornell 10-9 earlier this month.

“They are loaded with talent,” said Bates of Harvard which boasts plenty of firepower in Devin Dwyer (19 goals, 27 assists), Ian Ardrey (22 goals, 7 assists), Deke Burns (25 goals, 2 assists), and Joe Lang (20 goals, 7 assists).

“They have had a roller-coaster season, they have had injuries on defense. Any team that can beat Cornell, can play. They have a deep and talented offense and getting steady play in goal.”

The Tigers will need to play a steady game in all phases to beat Harvard. “We need to make stops and make saves,” said Bates. “We need to be efficient on the offensive end; when we are efficient we are tough to stop. We got some confidence on defense on Saturday.”