May 22, 2013
HEAVY DUTY: The Princeton University men’s heavyweight first varsity 8 displays its form in a race earlier this spring. Last weekend, the first varsity took fourth in the Grand Final at the Eastern Sprints at Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, Mass. The Tigers will wrap up their season by competing in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta slated for May 31-June 2 on Lake Natoma in Sacramento, Calif.(Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

HEAVY DUTY: The Princeton University men’s heavyweight first varsity 8 displays its form in a race earlier this spring. Last weekend, the first varsity took fourth in the Grand Final at the Eastern Sprints at Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, Mass. The Tigers will wrap up their season by competing in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta slated for May 31-June 2 on Lake Natoma in Sacramento, Calif. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

Greg Hughes has been fine-tuning the training approach for his Princeton University men’s heavyweight rowers this spring.

“I would say there is a change in intensity, not volume,” said fourth-year head coach Hughes.

“There is more hard work, it has had a positive effect on confidence. They have seen how much they can gain from that.”

As the Tigers prepared to compete in the Eastern Sprints last weekend, they showed some good intensity.

“We had some really great work,” said Hughes. “We made a couple of changes to combination which were beneficial. We changed the race plan which also helped.”

The Princeton first varsity 8 raced well in its opening heat at the Sprints, clocking a time of 6:05.776 on the 2,000-meter course at Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, Mass. to take second to Brown and qualify for the Grand Final.

“You always go to sprints looking to do well in the heats because it is one-off,” said Hughes.

“The sprint heats have provided some of the greatest races in rowing.

There is a lot of parity in the boats this year. There are 10 boats with the speed to make the finals and there are only six spots. We handled things well in the heat. We showed great intensity and focus. When you make changes, they don’t always stick on race day as the competitive juices take over.”

In the final, Princeton was competitive but ended up falling off the pace to take fourth in a race won by Harvard.

“We were in lane six and we were separated from lanes one-two-three where the racing was taking place,” said Hughes, whose team posted a time of 6:08.917, more than 12 seconds behind the Crimson.

“The train took off and we missed it. It was hard to pick up from there. We had good speed. We raced better.”

With the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta slated for May 31-June 2 on Lake Natoma in Sacramento, Calif., Hughes believes his top boat is primed to race even better.

“We are looking forward to the IRAs,” said Hughes. “I like the attitude of the guys; they are all excited. We could have done better in the final but they have another chance.”

The Tiger second varsity 8 will be looking for a second chance at Brown after Princeton placed second to the Bears at the Sprints, suffering its first loss of the season.

“That was an awesome race,” asserted Hughes, whose 2V clocked a time of 6:09.690 to take second, nearly three seconds behind Brown.

“We had a race like that with Brown two weeks ago and we came out on top. This time, Brown came out on top. Princeton and Brown are two really fast boats and we are excited to get another chance to race against them. From my standpoint, I am bummed for them, I wanted to see them get the finish they wanted. They have had a really great season, I am really proud of them. They have a great attitude and they have been a great addition to the boathouse, they have fun with what they are doing.”

Princeton did earn gold in the fourth varsity race, beating runner-up Harvard by more than three seconds.

“The 4V had couple of seniors mixed in with some youngsters; it great to see those seniors end their rowing careers with a win,” said Hughes.

“One of our few walk-on novices [Doug Guyett] was on that boat, it was great to see how he progressed.”

In Hughes’ view, the progress he has seen from his rowers has resulted, in part, from a coaching group effort.

“A big part of this is the staff and the coaches that we have,” asserted Hughes.

“With the new freshman rule [which allows freshmen to compete on varsity boats], we have changed the way we split things up. Spencer Washburn was really a co-head coach. He gets a lion’s share of credit for the 2V. Our interns, Ian Silveira and Rob Munn, worked with 3V and 4V. What it shows is that it is great to have a staff. You need to bounce ideas off of each other.”

As Princeton gets ready for the IRAs, it won’t be changing its focus on hard work.

“We don’t have a lot of time; we’ll be flying out on Friday,” said Hughes.

“We will be doing a lot of the work that we have been doing. We are not doing anything fancy but we are on the right track. We just need slightly better execution.”

May 15, 2013
HAND IN HAND: Princeton University men’s golf star Greg Jarmas, right, and Tiger head coach Will Green enjoy a fist bump after Jarmas completed his final round at the Ivy League Championship in late April on the way to the individual title. Jarmas’ 3-over total of 213 for the three-round event helped Princeton win the team title. The Tigers will be going after another crown this week as they compete in the NCAA regional at the Palouse Ridge Golf Club in Pullman, Wash. from May 16-18.(Photo by Greg Carroccio, Sideline Photos/Ivy League)

HAND IN HAND: Princeton University men’s golf star Greg Jarmas, right, and Tiger head coach Will Green enjoy a fist bump after Jarmas completed his final round at the Ivy League Championship in late April on the way to the individual title. Jarmas’ 3-over total of 213 for the three-round event helped Princeton win the team title. The Tigers will be going after another crown this week as they compete in the NCAA regional at the Palouse Ridge Golf Club in Pullman, Wash. from May 16-18. (Photo by Greg Carroccio, Sideline Photos/Ivy League)

Coming into the Ivy League Championship in late April, Will Green believed that his Princeton University men’s golf team was in the mix for the title.

“It was wide open without a doubt,” said Princeton head coach Green of the three-round event which took place at the Caves Valley Golf Club in Owings, Md.

“Yale cemented themselves as the favorite, winning two tournaments and coming in second in another. With the depth of the team and the parity in the league, I thought there were six teams that had a chance if they played well. I knew what we had in our players and I knew we would compete. All spring, there had been an unwavering confidence.”

Although Princeton stood in fourth place going into final round, Green had a good feeling about his team’s chances as it got ready to take the course.

“There were five teams within four shots, that is one hole,” said Green. “I was quite emotional; I knew how hard these guys had worked. I was about 20 yards from Quinn [freshman star Quinn Prchal] as he walked to the first tee and I said ‘go get it and he said yes sir.’ I thought he is going to get a good number today; I could see that he had a quiet confidence.”

The Tigers went out and played with a collective confidence, firing a final round total of 288 to post an 883 and win the title, topping runner-up Yale by five strokes. The triumph qualified Princeton for the NCAAs and the Tigers will take part in the regional at the Palouse Ridge Golf Club in Pullman, Wash. from May 16-18.

In reflecting on how things unfolded on the final day of the Ivy tournament, Green said his team followed a winning script.

“It was going to take a solid round from everyone and some some special play and that is what we got,” said Green, who got an even par round of 70 from junior Greg Jarmas, the Ivy individual champion, with Prchal firing a 69, Bernie D’Amato carding a 74, Nicholas Ricci getting a 75, and Matt Gerber posting a 76. “It was a collective effort.”

In the view of his team’s superb effort, Green wasn’t overly focused on the standings.

“Yale still had five guys on the course when we finished,” recalled Green “I was so happy with how the guys played, it didn’t matter whether we won or not. With our season on the line, we played great.”

Jarmas certainly played great as he ended up with a three-over 213 to finish three shots better than Penn’s Max Marisco and P.J. Fielding.

“Greg and I talked during the week, he has been playing well and he knew he could be the variable for us,” recalled Green.

“If he played well, we would have a good chance of winning. I walked all 54 holes with Greg. I wasn’t his caddie but I wanted to keep him calm and focused. We were talking about his shots and what he needed to do.”

Over the final two holes, Jarmas made some huge shots. “He made a 17-foot for par on 17,” said Green.

“On 18, he hit a 320-yard drive, he said to me I am jacked up, I told him to slow things down. We walked really slow and took in the environment around us. It is a beautiful setting. He had 124 yards to the hole and he hit a gap wedge 25-30 feet past the hole but still on the green. He made the 30-foot putt and I knew what we had and where Yale was and that he had a chance to win the individual title.”

Once the team and individual titles were confirmed, Green’s emotions bubbled over.

“The joy I had was for the players who had put in so much effort,” asserted Green.

“I texted an alum from 40 years ago who been so supportive and helped us financially and said this was for you. He texted back that he had tears in his eyes and so did I.”

In Green’s view, the win is important on both the short term and long term for the Tigers.

“We have had an exceptional golf program as long as the sport has been played in the Ivy League,” said Green, who is in his 14th season guiding the Tigers and has now led Princeton to seven Ivy crowns.

“It is our 24th title but we hadn’t won since 2006. It was good to know that we still have it and that we are one of the premier programs in the league and the northeast.
We’ll see what impact it has; hopefully it will help us with recruiting.”

Green is confident the Tigers can make an impact at the NCAA regional.

“Our goal is to advance to the finals,” said Green, whose team will need to finish in the top five to qualify for the NCAA Championship at the Capital City Club in Atlanta from May 28-June 2.

“We are not going out there to be a sacrificial lamb or for ceremonial purposes. We are going to compete.”

IN VAIN: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Erin Slifer controls the ball in a game earlier this spring. Last Friday, sophomore star Slifer tallied four points on two goals and two assists but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 10-9 in overtime to Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Annapolis, Md. The defeat left the Tigers with a final record of 10-7.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

IN VAIN: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Erin Slifer controls the ball in a game earlier this spring. Last Friday, sophomore star Slifer tallied four points on two goals and two assists but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 10-9 in overtime to Duke in the first round of the NCAA tournament at Annapolis, Md. The defeat left the Tigers with a final record of 10-7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Earlier in the spring, the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team appeared overmatched as it fell to such powerful non-conference foes as Georgetown and Maryland.

But catching fire, the Tigers won seven of their last eight regular season games and earned an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament despite an overtime loss to Dartmouth in the Ivy League tournament.

Facing national power Duke in the first round of the NCAAs last Friday evening in Annapolis, Md., the Tigers showed how much they have grown as they jumped out to a 7-5 halftime lead over the Blue Devils.

“It was an incredible 30 minutes of lacrosse at both ends of the field,” said Princeton head coach Chris Sailer, reflecting on her squad’s first half performance.

“We went out and played hard and competed. We dominated the draws all night, that was a huge focus for us all week. We dominated the draws against Dartmouth the first time and then they dominated the draws against us in the Ivy semis.”

Princeton never stopped competing even as Duke forged ahead in the second half.

“They were leading by one with a couple of minutes left and we went into our pressure defense and threw some doubles at them,” said Sailer.

“Caroline Rehfuss made a nice steal and then Erin Slifer made an unbelievable shot to tie it up. It was a great moment.”

Slifer’s tally and a save by junior goalie Caroline Franke in the waning seconds of regulation helped force overtime as the teams were knotted at 9-9 after 60 minutes of action.

“I thought we had momentum going into the sudden victory period,” said Sailer.

“We made a mistake at the end of the first overtime and we were on a yellow card for the first two minutes of the second overtime. They didn’t make a move to goal, I was surprised by that. They held the ball for all three minutes and they weren’t able to get off a good shot. We played some really good defense.”

But Duke solved the Princeton defense and scored to pull out a 10-9 victory and end the Tigers’ season and leave them with a final record of 10-7.

“I am so proud of how they improved and how much they grew,” asserted Sailer, who got two goals and two assists from Slifer in the defeat with Erin McMunn and Charlotte Davis chipping in two goals apiece.

“We made a lot of progress during the season, for the first few games to the end, there was no comparison. We accomplished a lot. We went 6-1 in Ivy League for the first time since 2009. We made it back to the NCAAs and the Ivy tournament.”

Sailer credits veteran leadership with playing a key role in the team’s accomplishments this spring.

“It was a great group of seniors,” said Sailer, whose Class of 2013 included Sam Ellis, Jenna Davis, and Jaci Gassaway in addition to Rehufuss and Charlotte Davis.

“They did a great job of laying the foundation for what we did this year. I credit the seniors for setting the right tone. The team went as they went. The chemistry and camaraderie was great and there was an overall good work ethic. I enjoyed the season; it was a fun team to coach.”

The Tigers appear well positioned to have a lot of fun next year as they return such standouts as Sarah Lloyd, Alex Bruno, Mary-Kate Sivilli, Anya Gersoff, and Liz Bannantine along with Franke, Slifer, and McMunn.

“I think we can build on what we did,” said Sailer. “All five seniors were starters and these five will be missed. We have a great group returning and some talented freshmen coming in. I am excited to see what we can do.”

May 8, 2013
KC PRIME: Princeton University football star Mike Catapano, right, battles a Dartmouth lineman in action last November. Catapano, a defensive lineman who was 2012 Bushnell Cup recipient as the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year last fall in his senior season, was chosen last month by the Kansas City Chiefs in the seventh round of the NFL Draft. This week, Catapano makes his pro debut as he participates in the team’s opening mini-camp.(Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

KC PRIME: Princeton University football star Mike Catapano, right, battles a Dartmouth lineman in action last November. Catapano, a defensive lineman who was 2012 Bushnell Cup recipient as the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year last fall in his senior season, was chosen last month by the Kansas City Chiefs in the seventh round of the NFL Draft. This week, Catapano makes his pro debut as he participates in the team’s opening mini-camp. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

In January, Mike Catapano knew he had to stand out on the practice field as he took part in the 88th annual East-West Shrine all-star college football game in St. Petersburg, Fla.

“I needed to show I could play against a higher level of competition,” said Catapano, a star defensive lineman for the Princeton University football team who was the 2012 Bushnell Cup recipient as the Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year last fall in his senior season.

“If I were the Player of the Year in the ACC, I would be a first round draft choice but I was coming from the Ivy League. The practices were the biggest part for me. There were a lot of one-on-one drills and a lot of NFL coaches watching the practices.”

The 6’4, 270-pound Catapano caught the attention of the pro coaches and ended up getting selected by the Kansas City Chiefs in the seventh round of the NFL Draft on April 27.

This week, Catapano will be looking to turn heads as he makes his pro debut by participating in the team’s opening mini-camp.

“I want to make a great first impression and show the coaches that I am going to be their hardest worker,” said Catapano. “I want to show that I have a high motor.”

When Catapano arrived at Princeton in the fall of 2008, it was hard to imagine him as a future NFL draft choice. He was a 215-pound fullback before being switched to defensive line. Gaining 50 pounds between his freshman and sophomore year, the Bayville, N.Y. native grew into a force.

After earning second-team  All-Ivy League honors in 2011, Catapano caught the eye of NFL scouts and he realized that his dream of playing at the next level was viable.

Getting the chance to come back for a fifth season in 2012 due to being sidelined as a freshman, Catapano decided to hone his skills by working with former NFL player Chuck Smith, who has been training defensive linemen and pass-rushing outside linebackers through his company, Defensive Line Inc., since 2000 in Suwanee, Ga.

“I took the spring off from school so I could play that fifth year,” said Catapano.

“I couldn’t play spring ball because I wasn’t in school. I saw an online clip from Osi Umenyiora (former New York Giants star defensive lineman) talking about a six-sack game in the day and how he had been helped by Chuck Smith. I called him and sent some tapes. I stayed there a month and a half; we did pass rush drills everyday. It was mostly technique-oriented. It was developing an arsenal of moves. It paid off last fall.”

As a senior, Catapano led the Ivies with 12 sacks and helped Princeton go 5-5 as it bounced back from two straight 1-9 campaigns. As a result, NFL scouts made daily pilgrimages to Princeton to check out Catapano.

“There was one at every single practice my senior year,” said Catapano. “They don’t talk to me. You see them there. They would talk to the coaches, my defensive line coach and my strength and conditioning coach. They would go up in the office and look at film.”

After the season, Catapano’s first stop on the road to the NFL was the East-West Shrine game. He then headed up to northern Jersey to train for nine weeks at the Parisi Speed School to get ready for his pro day at Princeton where he performed running, jumping, and weight lifting drills. Catapano ended up posting some impressive numbers in the March 20 session, putting up 33 reps at 225 pounds on the bench press, running the 40-yard dash in 4.75, and doing a vertical leap of 37.5 inches.

Between pro day and the draft, Catapano had contact with several NFL teams. “I was able to do workouts on site for local teams, the Giants and the Jets,” said Catapano.

“I was able to work out for other teams at Princeton or my high school. The Vikings sent their defensive line coach and the Eagles sent a coach. I visited other teams out of the area and I was only able to do physicals and interviews with them. I went to New Orleans, Minnesota, Green Bay, and Cincinnati.”

Once the draft started on April 25, Catapano was based at home in Long Island as he waited to be chosen.

“I watched the draft in Bayville with a small group of family and friends,” said Catapano, who was not picked on April 25 or 26 as the first three rounds were completed.

“I knew who was calling my agent. I was confident and hopeful. I tried to stay positive and not let negative thoughts flood in.”

As Catapano woke up on April 27, he was confident that he would get some good news. When the seventh round approached at around 5 p.m., it became clear that his dream of getting a shot at the NFL was about to come true.

“I heard from my agent that a couple of teams were ready to take me with their next pick,” recalled Catapano.

“Then I got a call from Missouri from the Chiefs’ general manager asking me if I wanted to get aboard the big red train. I was passed to coach [Andy] Reid and then the defensive coach. I was flooded with emotion; I couldn’t think. I can’t remember what I said; I hope it was good. It was so emotional seeing my name flash up on the board.”

The Chiefs have told Catapano that they plan to have him switch positions. “They want me to play outside linebacker,” said Catapano. “

There is a lot of pass rushing and I get to show my athleticism by stepping back in coverage. It is a good mix of the things I have been doing.”

Princeton head coach Bob Surace, a former assistant coach with the Cincinnati Bengals, is confident that Catapano will do the things necessary to succeed in the NFL.

“I saw that he had the work ethic and professionalism,” said Surace, recalling his first impressions of Catapano after he took the helm of the program for the 2010 season.

“He was a guy who was going to work harder than anyone else; that is a trait that separates good players from great players. It is like Jason Garrett [former Princeton star quarterback and Surace’s college teammate] even though he played a different position. When he wanted to get better on his three-step draw; I had to make 500 snaps a day.”

In Surace’s view, Catapano’s success reflects well on the Princeton program.

“It is great; first and foremost, you want the 25 seniors to all get jobs in the fields they have chosen,” said Surace.

“It is great to see that happen for Mike, you know how much this means to him and how hard he has worked for this.”

Drawing on his NFL experience, Surace has given Catapano some advice on making himself invaluable to the Chiefs.

“I told him to find out who is the special teams coach and live in his office,” said Surace.

“Mike is a tough, hard-working, no-nonsense guy but there are a limited number of players who can dress for games. The late-round and middle-round picks need to be able to play special teams. I think he can be a good special teams player, he is explosive. He has a motor that doesn’t stop, that is what the pro guys all say after they watch him.”

Catapano, for his part, believes he is already on the same page with coach Reid, who in his first year with the Chiefs after 13 seasons guiding the Philadelphia Eagles.

“I look at what he wants as he starts a new era for Kansas City,” said Catapano. “He drafted tough-minded guys, that was the commonality. I like that he appreciates my college career and what I bring to the table.”

After exceeding expectations in his college career, Catapano has some big goals as he enters the NFL.

“I am not satisfied,” said Catapano. “I want to earn a spot and show the league that I can be a starter. I want to be in the Pro Bowl. I have been used to setting the bar high.”

While choosing to play Ivy football made Catapano a longshot to end up in the NFL, he wouldn’t trade his Princeton years for anything.

“In the end, it was a blessing,” asserted Catapano. “It was not the normal path but it was so fulfilling. It was such a long road, there was so much emotion. There were so many up and downs and some really low moments. It was a great experience.”

FINAL SALVO: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Kip Orban unloads the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, sophomore midfielder Orban scored the winning goal in overtime as Princeton topped Cornell 14-13 in the Ivy League tournament semifinals. Two days later in the Ivy title game against Yale, Orban scored a goal but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 12-8 to the Bulldogs. The loss left Princeton with a final record of 9-6 as it didn’t receive an at-large bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FINAL SALVO: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Kip Orban unloads the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Friday, sophomore midfielder Orban scored the winning goal in overtime as Princeton topped Cornell 14-13 in the Ivy League tournament semifinals. Two days later in the Ivy title game against Yale, Orban scored a goal but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 12-8 to the Bulldogs. The loss left Princeton with a final record of 9-6 as it didn’t receive an at-large bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though his Princeton University men’s lacrosse team ended regular season play by falling 17-11 to Cornell on April 27, Chris Bates sensed things would be different when the teams met in the Ivy League tournament semifinals last Friday evening in Ithaca, N.Y.

But even head coach Bates could not have foreseen the spectacle that ensued as the Princeton outlasted Cornell 14-13 in overtime on the Big Red’s home field, with each team scoring six goals in the fourth quarter before the Tigers got the final salvo of the evening on a Kip Orban tally.

“We knew that it was going to be that kind of game and a dogfight,” said Bates.

“It was a matter of who was going to have the ball last. The game really exploded in the fourth quarter. From a fan’s standpoint, it was a great game, going back and forth. It was one for the ages in terms of the number of goals scored in the fourth quarter and overtime.”

Tiger sophomore Mike MacDonald produced a performance for the ages, scoring nine points on seven goals and two assists.

“MacDonald was lights out, that was a game that will go down in history,” said Bates. “He had seven goals on eight shots. They were really tough shots, we witnessed something really special.

Things ended on a tough note, though, for the Tigers as they didn’t turn the tables on Yale, falling to the Bulldogs for a second straight year in the Ivy championship game, dropping a 12-8 decision.

While Princeton picked up where it left off on Friday, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on goals by Orban and Tom Schreiber, it ran out of steam.

We started off quickly, Tom rips a shot that literally rips the net and caused a delay,” recalled Bates, whose team had beaten Yale 10-9 on March 22 but lost 20-of-24 face-offs on Sunday and was outscored 6-2 over the last 23:08 of the title contest.

“We seemed to lose some momentum after that. I give Yale credit, they were hungry. I think Friday night caught up with us in the second half and we were hurt by our lack of depth. It is tough to get and keep momentum against a kid [Dylan Levings] that is facing off like that. They got the ball and played a good possession game. I think our defense got a little tired and Eric [goalie Eric Sanschagrin] wasn’t his sharpest.”

While the loss to Yale kept Princeton from getting the league’s automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament, the Tigers were hoping that they could get an at-large bid as they did in 2012. But Princeton received another setback later in the evening when the NCAA bracket was released and Cornell turned out to be the only other Ivy team to get a berth in the national tourney.

“We held out hope and when we got off the bus we said we’ll see how everything goes and regroup,” said Bates, whose team ended the season at 9-6 and ranked 14th in the final Nike/Inside Lacrosse Media Poll of the regular season.

“I think we had the sense that we were going to be on the outside looking in. It was hard to see them taking three teams from the Ivy League, the numbers didn’t add up for us.”

Bates was left with a sense of what might have been as Princeton battled several of the teams in the NCAA field on even terms, losing by one goal to top-seeded Syracuse and fifth-seeded North Carolina and posting victories over Cornell and Yale.

“We beat one of the top teams in the tournament and we had one-goal games with some of the other teams in the field,” said Bates. “It is emotional for the seniors to have it end after being so close.”

While the emotions were raw on Sunday, Bates believes that the program can draw plenty of positives from a 2103 campaign that saw it top Hofstra, Johns Hopkins, and Villanova in non-conference play in addition to other league victories over Harvard and Brown.

“It is Princeton and expectations are high regardless of any circumstance,” said Bates.

“We had a good year, I am pleased by the big wins. I am disappointed that we didn’t beat Yale and get the chance to show ourselves in the NCAAs. We showed that we can play with and beat anybody in the country.”

In the wake of the disappointing end to the campaign, Bates will engage in some tough analysis.

“It is a blank slate,” said Bates. “I don’t reinvent the wheel but I look critically at everything.”

Things are looking up for Princeton, according to Bates. “We have a really solid foundation; there is cause for optimism,” asserted Bates, whose team returns five of its top six scorers in MacDonald, Schreiber, Orban, Ryan Ambler, and Ivy Rookie of the Year Jake Froccaro.

“We have reinforcements on the way. We have a spectacular class of high school seniors coming in. We have players coming back from season-ending injuries (Tucker Shanley, Forest Sonnenfeldt, Rob Castelo) and that will help. We will have more depth and on day one next year we will be a better team than we were at the end of this season.”

Bates didn’t waste any time setting the tone for next season. “We texted the high school seniors on Sunday night and said the process to play on championship weekend begins tonight so they know what our DNA is and what the expectations are,” said Bates. “I am anxious to take the next step and get back to competing.”

LIGHTING IT UP: The Princeton University women’s lightweight varsity 8 shows its form in a race earlier this season. Last Sunday, the Tigers took second in the Eastern Sprints on Cooper River in Camden, posting a time of 7:26.0 with top-ranked Radcliffe winning the title in 7:17.8. Princeton is next in action when it competes in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championships on June 1 in Sacramento, Calif.     	              (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

LIGHTING IT UP: The Princeton University women’s lightweight varsity 8 shows its form in a race earlier this season. Last Sunday, the Tigers took second in the Eastern Sprints on Cooper River in Camden, posting a time of 7:26.0 with top-ranked Radcliffe winning the title in 7:17.8. Princeton is next in action when it competes in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championships on June 1 in Sacramento, Calif. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

Paul Rassam knew that his Princeton University women’s lightweight crew was going to hit some choppy water last spring.

“I think some coaches are afraid to use the word rebuilding but that is where we were at last year,” said Princeton head coach Rassam. “We had a great season in 2011 and then we took our lumps last year.”

It became clear early this spring that Rassam’s rowers had been steeled by last year’s struggles. “Things started really promisingly,” said Rassam.

“We handled Wisconsin easily, I think part of that was because they hadn’t been on the water as much as we had. What was even more promising is when we went out to San Diego and had two hard-fought races with Stanford [defending national champion]. That gave us confidence that the rebuilding had paid off and we had arrived back to where we want to be.”

Last Sunday, Princeton built some more confidence as its varsity 8 placed second in the Eastern Sprints on Cooper River in Camden, posting a time of 7:26.0 with top-ranked Radcliffe winning the title in 7:17.8.

“It was a step in the right direction from the race in Boston,” said Rassam, referring to Invitational Lightweight Cup held on the Charles River on April 21 which saw it place third in 7:17.5 with Radcliffe first in 7:05.7 and Stanford second  at 7:11.1.

“We were in lane four and there was a strong crosswind. To weather that and to stick with Radcliffe much longer than in Boston was great. We think we can get even closer.”

Rassam credits his group of seniors with playing a major role in getting the program back up to speed.

“We have a senior class of five that has been amazing for us,” maintained Rassam of the class which includes Christy Kaelin, Alex Morss, Olivia Panaccio Tresham, Alexa Powers, and Madigan Stanley. “They are different, some are quite vocal and others are quiet and steady.”

Senior co-captain and U.S. U-23 rower Morss sets the tone around the boathouse.

“It would be a mistake to think that she is just a phenomenal athlete and that is why she is successful,” said Rassam of Morss.

“That is only a piece of it. She is a very hard worker; she loves to train. She enjoys pushing herself. We have a lot of underclassmen. They are talented but they are still underclassmen. They need to see the next level of commitment.”

With Princeton next in action when it competes in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championships on June 1 in Sacramento, Calif., Rassam is looking for a high level of commitment over the next few weeks.

“The Sprints are earlier than usual and we have a whole month to prepare for the IRAs,” said Rassam.

“We usually just have two weeks between Sprints and IRAs. We have time to make changes. We want to improve everything and keep the upward trajectory. We need to be faster out of the blocks and get in an early rhythm. We need to be settling harder in the first 30 or 40 strokes.”

In Rassam’s view, his rowers are poised to keep up their progress. “In other years, we were going well early and we had to hold on to that,” said Rassam.

“In 2011, we had such an experienced crew, it was holding your breath that they would maintain their speed. Each week this season, we are getting better and better. Our best is coming in a month, everything points in that direction.”

May 1, 2013
SAVING GRACE: Princeton University women’s water polo goalie Ashleigh Johnson guards the net in a game earlier this season. Last Sunday, freshman star Johnson made 15 saves to help Princeton edge Michigan 7-5 in the Eastern Championship title game and earn its second straight trip to the NCAA Championships. The sixth-seeded Tigers (26-5) will face No. 3 UCLA (26-6) in the quarterfinals on May 10 at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SAVING GRACE: Princeton University women’s water polo goalie Ashleigh Johnson guards the net in a game earlier this season. Last Sunday, freshman star Johnson made 15 saves to help Princeton edge Michigan 7-5 in the Eastern Championship title game and earn its second straight trip to the NCAA Championships. The sixth-seeded Tigers (26-5) will face No. 3 UCLA (26-6) in the quarterfinals on May 10 at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Its quest to repeat as Eastern champions looked to be in serious jeopardy as the Princeton University women’s water polo team found itself trailing Hartwick College 7-3 at halftime in the semis last Saturday.

Princeton head coach Luis Nicolao wasn’t surprised that his team found itself locked in a battle with the Hawks.

“It was a struggle, we knew that going in,” said Nicolao, whose team edged Hartwick 7-6 in a regular season contest on February 17.

“Hartwick is very good, they are big and physical. We didn’t play well in the first half. I wanted to get the girls to relax and play our game. All year we have been saying we can control how the other teams play by how we play. We were doing things uncharacteristic of us. We were making mistakes offensively and defensively and we weren’t communicating.”

The Tigers, though, took control in the second half, outscoring Hartwick 7-3 to force overtime. After a scoreless first overtime period, the Tigers got goals from Katie Rigler and Jessie Holechek in the second extra period to pull out a 12-11 victory.

“We played well in the fourth quarter and the overtime,” said Nicolao, who got four goals and an assist from Rigler in the victory with Diana Murphy and Holechek each adding two goals and freshman goalie Ashleigh Johnson making 10 saves.

“Rigler had a great game, no doubt, but so many girls did. Players like Holechek, [Saranna] Soroka, and [Kelly] Gross got key goals. We would not have been there at the end without those goals. We are very balanced.”

Princeton ended up earning its second straight Eastern crown as it edged host Michigan 7-5 in the championship game on Sunday.

“We looked at it as an opportunity,” said Nicolao, reflecting on taking on the Wolverines in their home pool.

“The atmosphere was great, the place was loud. I have a lot of respect for Michigan. It was a fun game to be in, win or lose.”

In the early going, Princeton wasn’t having much fun as it fell behind 2-0.

“It was critical to stop the bleeding,” said Nicolao, whose team went on a 3-1 run to make it a 3-3 contest after the first period and then outscored Michigan 3-0 over the next two periods to seize momentum.

“They got a couple of quick goals and the crowd was into it. We needed to settle down. The game plan was to play a zone defense and keep one or two shot blockers in front of their shooters with Ashleigh in the front of the net. We didn’t want to let their 2-meter players (centers) beat us. We wanted to make them beat us from the outside. Defense wins championships. We got a great defensive effort and we got the crowd out of it after the first quarter. They were quiet with no goals being scored.”

Star netminder Johnson gave Princeton another outstanding effort in her superb debut campaign, making 15 saves in the championship game as the Tigers improved to 26-5.

“She is wonderful, she is great,” asserted Nicolao of Miami, Fla. native Johnson, who was named the Rookie of the Tournament and was earlier selected as the CWPA Southern Division Rookie of the Year.

“She gives your team confidence. Even if you are not playing well, she can make the saves to keep you in the game. She is extremely athletic and extremely smart. She is a pure athlete. She is so explosive and has great leg strength in the water.”

In Nicolao’s view, winning back-to-back Eastern titles is a great accomplishment for his players.

“We have never done it before,” said Nicolao, who is in his 15th season overseeing both the men’s and women’s water polo programs at Princeton.

“It is hard to do it once. When you win, everyone is looking at you, you are a target. You have to play with a different mindset. I am so proud of the girls, they are the first group to do this for us.”

The Tigers have a special group with talent throughout the lineup as 10 players have at least 20 goals, led by Rigler, the Southern Division Player of the Year and Eastern tournament MVP, at 61, followed by Ashley Hatcher (36), Soroka (33), Diana Murphy (31), Pippa Temple (31), Holechek (29), Molly McBee (29), Brittany Zwirner (25), Gross (21), and Camille Hooks (20)

“Over the last two or three years, we have had the same nucleus of girls,” said Nicolao.

“The pieces we have added have fit in well. We have a great chemistry; they all like each other. It is like one big family.”

After going 1-2 and placing six at the NCAA championships last year in its first trip to the competition, Nicolao is hoping his team can take a big step forward in this year’s national tourney, which is being held at Harvard’s Blodgett Pool.

“We can’t be satisfied to just be there,” said Nicolao, whose team is seeded sixth in the NCAAs and will face No. 3 UCLA (26-6) in the quarterfinals on May 10.

“The other teams will be traveling so we need to come out ready to play. If we do, we can pull some surprises. The excitement of going is over, three-fourths of the team has already been there. They want to have a better showing.”

In order to have a better showing, the Tigers need to be stingy. “It is all about defense,” said Nicolao, who will need a big tournament out of Johnson, who has a 0.669 saves percentage with 328 saves, 41 steals, and 20 assists in 31 starts.

“The other teams are hard to score on and we can’t afford to make mistakes and give up easy goals.”

SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Sam Ellis heads to goal in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior attacker Ellis enjoyed a big day in her final game at Class of 1952 Stadium, scoring a career-high six points on four goals and two assists as No. 12 Princeton defeated No. 6 Penn State 14-9. The Tigers, now 10-5 overall, face Dartmouth on May 3 in the Ivy League tournament semifinals at Franklin Field in Philadelphia with winner advancing to the title game on May 5.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Sam Ellis heads to goal in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior attacker Ellis enjoyed a big day in her final game at Class of 1952 Stadium, scoring a career-high six points on four goals and two assists as No. 12 Princeton defeated No. 6 Penn State 14-9. The Tigers, now 10-5 overall, face Dartmouth on May 3 in the Ivy League tournament semifinals at Franklin Field in Philadelphia with winner advancing to the title game on May 5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Sam Ellis, being honored along with her classmates on the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team last Saturday for the program’s Senior Day triggered some deep emotions.

“It is a very special moment to go through this program for four years and just have my class’s day,” said senior attacker Ellis, reflecting on the pregame ceremony that preceded No. 12 Princeton’s clash against visiting No. 6 Penn State at Class of 1952 Stadium.

“I love playing with this team. I love playing with these girls all four years and especially this team. Just going on the field like this is an incredible feeling. I had a lot of adrenaline pumping.”

Ellis channeled that adrenaline into some offensive heroics as she scored two goals in the first five minutes of the game, helping the Tigers jump out to a 6-1 lead over the Nittany Lions.

“We worked in some new offenses,” said Ellis, a 5’5 native of Bryn Mawr, Pa. “There are no regrets now, senior year, push it to the limits, do what you can and do it for the team.”

Ellis kept doing it all afternoon, ending the day with a career-best six points on four goals and two assists as Princeton pulled away to a 14-9 victory and improved to 10-5 overall.

“It is special to do it on Senior Day,” said Ellis, reflecting on her scoring outburst, which gave her 20 points on the season with 16 goals and four assists.

“It is special that I got to do it in such an important win for us. I really owe it all to my teammates. If it weren’t for them pushing me everyday in practice, I would not have gotten here.”

In Ellis’ view, the team’s work in practice in preparation for the Penn State game helped spark the superb performance.

“We just had incredible practices this week,” said Ellis, who was later named the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week for her performance.

“We were all dedicated, watching film, working extra on the field. We were really prepping each other and pushing each other hard in practice. It just really helped that the offense and the defense was playing so well. We were really able to go off of each other’s momentum and carry that on for the entire game.”

Being pushed by her teammates over the last four years helped Ellis make the Israeli women’s lacrosse national team, which will be competing in the upcoming world championships.

“This is the first year the women were making a team; the tryouts were conveniently in New Jersey,” said Ellis.

“I went and I made it. It is a pretty cool thing. I have become an Israeli citizen. I get to train in Israel, spread the lacrosse image, and get it national. I would be nowhere as good as I am if it weren’t for this team, this school, this coach; and just everything that has gone into this past four years has made me grow into the person I am.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer believed her squad showed offensive growth in the win over Penn State.

“We had a great offensive practice yesterday; we were moving the ball well,” said Sailer.

“We have been trying to attack the corners more. So much this year, we have been attacking up and down. We just put in a little different look so we could attack the corners.”

The Tigers brought an intensity to go along with their tactical wrinkles.

“I could tell when I walked into the team room before the game that they were ready to play,” said Sailer.

“I think they showed that from the very opening whistle. There was just great energy; they fought really hard.”

The team’s seniors fought particularly hard in their final home appearance.

“All of them have contributed since the time they got on campus,” said Sailer, reflecting on the program’s Class of 2013 which includes Caroline Rehfuss, Jaci Gassaway, Charlotte Davis, and Jenna Davis in addition to Ellis.

“This year, they have really come together as a senior class. They have been incredible leaders. They have really set a great culture of being compelled and doing the extra. They have really unified this whole team and I think today was their showcase.”

Sailer pointed to Ellis as exemplifying the seniors’ big day. “Sam really got us started with some great moves early,” said Sailer, who got three goals apiece from Erin McMunn and Erin Slifer in the victory over Penn State with Sarah Lloyd chipping in two.

“Sam was just fantastic today. She really attacked hard. She finished her shots well. I thought all of the seniors played well and it was great to see.”

With Princeton having won seven of its last nine games, Sailer believes her team has a great chance of winning the Ivy League tournament this weekend in Philadelphia.

“We are not always ready at the first or second game of the season,” said Sailer, whose team is seeded second in the Ivy tourney and will play No. 3 Dartmouth in one semi on Friday with top-seeded and host Penn facing No. 4 Cornell in the other and the victors to meet in the title game on Sunday.

“To see them get better and better as the season progresses, that is exactly what you want. The goal is to be peaking come tournament time.”

Princeton is ready for its rematch with Dartmouth at Franklin Field. “We just played them so we will have that tape on them,” said Sailer, whose club edged the Big Green 15-13 on April 20.

“That was a very competitive game. I think if we can keep our intensity level up and really study that film and continue to work, we will have a great game. Right now we are all about winning that tournament. We have got to get by Dartmouth.”

Ellis, for her part, believes that Princeton is primed to keep winning. “We already know that we are going to see Dartmouth in the first round,” said Ellis.

“We already beat them but you take every game like it is a new game. Coming off this win, we are definitely going to feed off that energy. I feel like whenever we get to the end of the spring season, this is when we hit our momentum. We don’t have as much prep time as other schools so it is really nice to see what we have grown into.”

Facing No. 6 Cornell last Saturday in the Big City Classic at MetLife Stadium, the 12th-ranked Princeton University men’s lacrosse team outscored the Big Red 10-9 over the last 38:46 of the contest.

Unfortunately for Princeton, it dug an 8-1 hole in the first 21 minutes of the Ivy League showdown on the way to a 17-11 defeat.

SEEING RED: Princeton University men’s lacrosse star Tom Schreiber heads upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, junior All-American midfielder Schreiber scored two goals and had an assist in a 17-11 loss to Cornell. Schreiber now has 25 goals and 26 assists for the season. Princeton has had a player have at least 25 goals and 25 assists six times in program history, and two of those 25/25 seasons belong to Schreiber, who had 32 goals and 28 assists last year. The Tigers, now 8-5 overall and 3-3 Ivy League, will get another shot at the Big Red (12-2 overall, 6-0 Ivy) this Friday in the Ivy League tournament semifinals at Cornell’s Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, N.Y.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SEEING RED: Princeton University men’s lacrosse star Tom Schreiber heads upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, junior All-American midfielder Schreiber scored two goals and had an assist in a 17-11 loss to Cornell. Schreiber now has 25 goals and 26 assists for the season. Princeton has had a player have at least 25 goals and 25 assists six times in program history, and two of those 25/25 seasons belong to Schreiber, who had 32 goals and 28 assists last year. The Tigers, now 8-5 overall and 3-3 Ivy League, will get another shot at the Big Red (12-2 overall, 6-0 Ivy) this Friday in the Ivy League tournament semifinals at Cornell’s Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, N.Y. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Princeton head coach Chris Bates acknowledged that his squad was out of synch in the early going as it fell to 8-5 overall and 3-3 in Ivy play.

“I think offensively we didn’t capitalize on opportunities,” lamented Bates “We moved the ball and had shots but we weren’t attentive to the scouting report on shooting. They ground-balled us all day. They had two long poles on face-offs and that unit did a good job. Pannell [Cornell All-American Rob Pannell] got two early goals and that set a tone for them; they were feeling good about themselves.”

Bates felt good about how his team refused to throw in the towel after finding themselves facing the large early deficit.

“At halftime, we challenged them a little bit; we talked about things we weren’t doing well and adjustments we needed to make,” recalled Bates, who got four goals and an assist from Mike MacDonald in the loss with Tom Schreiber chipping in two goals and an assist.

“Each time we would get it to four, they would make a big play and get it back to five. I think if we had got it to three, we would have felt differently but we never had a puncher’s chance. This team keeps scrapping and fighting,”

The Tigers face a huge challenge as they play the Big Red (12-2 overall, 6-0 Ivy) again this Friday in the Ivy League tournament semifinals at Cornell’s Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, N.Y.

“As a competitor, that excites me,” said Bates, reflecting on the rematch which will see the winner advance to the Ivy championship game on Sunday against the victor of the Yale-Penn semifinal.

“It is a chance to exact revenge. We are disappointed; we are much better than the way we played on Saturday. All of us are a bit embarrassed by that game. It is a chance to not only show ourselves but to show Cornell that we are better.”

Bates is hoping that his team will take some lessons from Saturday and bring some extra hunger into the rematch.

“We need to make some adjustments; we tried to make some at half but they didn’t stick,” said Bates.

“We need to put in a couple of different wrinkles and looks to slow down Pannell. We need to do better on ground balls and be more physical; they beat us up a little bit. They were dancing around and celebrating after the game; they don’t think they have much to worry about.”

April 24, 2013

sports1It has been a bumpy ride for Jeff Froccaro and his senior classmates over the course of their time with the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team.

The group was recruited by Bill Tierney but never played for the Hall of Fame coach as he headed to University of Denver in the spring of 2009 and was replaced by Chris Bates.

During Bates’ tenure, the players endured with a nightmare 4-8 season in 2011 and two tough opening round losses in the NCAA tournament. Injury and transfer reduced the class to five as the Tigers hosted Harvard last Friday night in their final regular season game as Class of 1952 Stadium.

After a brief Senior Night ceremony, a fired-up Princeton team went out and dismantled Harvard 14-6 before a crowd of 1,809, improving to 8-4 overall and 3-2 Ivy League.

In the wake of the win, senior attacker Froccaro was all smiles as he reflected on his last home appearance.

“It is great,” said Froccaro, a 5’11, 185-pound native of Sands Point, N.Y. “Our class has lost a bunch of guys from injury and stuff like that so it is really great to have the five us play four years and finish up with a win and a pretty dominant win really. We are all very, very happy and proud.”

Coming off a disappointing 10-9 loss at Dartmouth on April 13, Princeton was looking to dominate possession against Harvard.

“This week we were trying to make sure that we took a little bit of time off the clock in the beginning of possessions,” said Froccaro, reflecting on the win which clinched a spot for Princeton in the upcoming Ivy tournament.

“We were trying to get the ball around at least once and then go into a play that we wanted to call. That hurt us in Dartmouth because were just taking the first shot that we saw, the goalie was pretty hot and made a couple of saves. Today we just possessed the ball, took great shots and the goalie really couldn’t get into a rhythm.”

Froccaro got into a good rhythm against the Crimson, tallying two goals and two assists.

“I think I played well; there are so many weapons on our offense,” said Froccaro, who recently passed the 100-point mark in his Tiger career and now has 117 points.

“If I am not having a great day, Tom [Schreiber] steps up. If Tom is not having a great day, my brother [Jake] steps up. It’s all around, there are six really, really good players. We don’t discriminate on the scoring sheet, so it has been good.”

Playing one college season with his younger brother has turned into a really good experience for Froccaro.

“I am thankful he is having a great year, which I kind of expected just knowing how he was in high school,” said Froccaro, who has 40 points this season in 28 goals and 12 assists while his brother has piled up 30 points with 21 goals and nine assists.

“It has been amazing playing with him. We have played behind the cage a bunch in games and we just have a knack for finding each other. It has been really good.”

The Tigers knew that they had to ratchet up the intensity for Harvard. “We dropped one to Syracuse and we beat Rutgers but it wasn’t a great win,” said Froccaro.

“After Dartmouth, it was wow, we have to get ourselves together. We came out this week and practiced really hard. Guys were rededicated to the program and we got a good win.”

Princeton head coach Bates likes the dedication his seniors have displayed over their careers.

“We have had four years together,” said Bates. “It is a little bit of a maligned class in some ways. They have three guys that aren’t here. Chris White has given us phenomenal leadership as a senior captain. The other four guys, Jeff, Bobby [Lucas], Tom [Gibbons] and Luke [Armour], have just been consistent. They have been there everyday and they have kept us on track. It is fitting for those guys to win on Senior Night.”

It was fitting for the senior Froccaro to come up big in his Class of 52 finale.

“We challenged him this week and he knew he needed to play his ‘A’ game and I thought he responded well,” said Bates.

“He played with energy and we need that. When Jeff is involved and active, we tend to be successful.”

Princeton got a superb response from sophomore goalie Eric Sanschagrin, who got his first start of the season as Bates opted to bench freshman Matt O’Connor. Sanschagrin made eight saves and looked solid all night long.

“Matt has had a rough couple of games in terms of saving the ball; Eric has consistently been a higher percentage stopper,” said Bates.

“We felt like we needed a spark. We just felt like we needed to make a few more saves a game. Eric had played really well in practice so we had an inkling here the last couple of weeks that this was a possibility. We just decided to make the change and it worked out. We’ll see where we go from there. We have faith in both of those guys.”

The Tiger offense played well as it bounced back from a subpar effort against Dartmouth.

“Facing off early helped us, I think we were 6-of-9,” said Bates, who got four goals from Mike MacDonald with Jake Froccaro and Kip Orban both adding three.

We got into a little bit of a rhythm. I thought we played with great energy and pace. We challenged our offense pretty hard this week. We felt that they let us down against Dartmouth; we were clear about that. I think they accepted that responsibility and they came out with something to prove. We are tough to stop with those first six guys.”

No. 12 Princeton faces another tough challenge this Saturday as it faces No. 4 Cornell (11-2 overall, 5-0 Ivy) on Saturday in the Big City Classic at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford.

“They are high-paced, they share the ball, they pose match-up problems,” said Bates of Cornell, who will be hosting the Ivy tournament from May 3-5.

“They are tough, they are physical. But you know what, I believe in our team and the way we rebounded today. We had some questions that are natural coming out of the last couple of weeks. I thought that with the way we played today with a sense of purpose and passion was exciting to see so it’s going to be an exciting game.”

Bates is hoping that Princeton can build on the way it played against Harvard.

“Our guys needed this, we needed to feel good,” said Bates. “To come out and play the way we did and handle our business the way we did, I think is a real positive. That’s what we need, we want to play our best lacrosse now, going into tournament, hopefully it gets us back on that positive momentum.”

Froccaro, for his part, sees the Cornell game as a chance for the Tigers to feel even more positive about themselves as they head into postseason play.

“I think we match up fine talent-wise; I think our systems can break them down,” said Froccaro.

“We are just going to put our noses down and worry about ourselves all this week and see what happens. We want to start rolling at the end of the season. Obviously the Dartmouth loss was a hit. We feel confident that the offense is clicking and the defense played absolutely amazing today.”

sports2Alex Peyton has saved her best for last in wrapping up her career with the Princeton University softball team.

The senior pitcher/first baseman has sparkled at the plate and in the pitching circle this spring. She is hitting .366 with team highs in homers (9) and RBIs (33). The 5’10 native of Fullerton, Calif. has been equally valuable at the top of the Tiger rotation, going 7-7 and leading the Tigers with a 2.47 ERA and 74 strikeouts.

For Peyton, her superb final campaign is the product of a calmer mindset.

“I feel good this year,” said Peyton. “I am a little more relaxed and confident this year and it has definitely helped me.”

Last weekend, Peyton experienced some bittersweet feelings as the Tigers played their last home games of the season with doubleheaders against Columbia on Saturday and Sunday.

“It is definitely sad; I have been playing since I was five,” said Peyton, who has 22 career homers, tied for fifth-best in program history. “I am just going to go out and play as hard as I always have and enjoy it while I have it.”

Peyton enjoyed Game 1 on Saturday as she hurled a four-hit shutout and got an RBI in a 3-0 win over the Lions.

“The umpire was giving me a good zone,” said Peyton, reflecting on her pitching effort.

“I just went out there and threw my pitches, not trying to think too much. I knew my defense was going to make the plays today and I just did what I have been doing all season.”

In the nightcap, Peyton went 3-for-4 as the Tigers pulled out a 2-1 decision in nine innings.

“We have had a couple of heartbreaking losses in the past couple of weeks so we needed this,” said Peyton.

“So many people stepped up in that game and made a clutch play when we needed it and got hits. I think our defense was great. Shanna [Christian] threw a great game; that was really good for a freshman.”

For Peyton, the extra-inning triumph spoke volumes about the progress Princeton has made this spring as it rebounds from a 14-32 campaign in 2012.

“We have come together really well and there is a whole new energy that we just haven’t had,” said Peyton. “I think in the past, this is a game that we would have lost.”

While Princeton split the doubleheader on Sunday to move to 24-18 overall and 9-7 Ivy League, four games behind Ivy South leader Penn (24-16 overall, 13-3 Ivy) with four league games remaining, Peyton is leaving college with great memories even if the Tigers don’t get a title in her final season.

“I could not have asked for more, playing Division I softball at the best school in the country,” asserted Peyton. “I am getting a great education and getting to play the sport I love.”

Princeton first-year head coach Lisa Sweeney has gotten all she could ask from Peyton.

“It is funny, people have to bring it up because I am never surprised,” said Sweeney, reflecting on Peyton’s performance this spring.

“I expect her to have two or three hits. She has been just an unbelievable leader on the field and whenever we need a spark, she is the spark. She threw a great game in the first game. She is just a solid player all the way around.”

Sweeney viewed the Game 1 win on Saturday as a solid effort for the Tigers.

“I was really happy with everything that went on,” she said.

“We haven’t had great defensive games and I think today we really did. Some outs that were recorded were diving plays and just fantastic defense.”

The victory in the nightcap exemplified a resolve that Sweeney was happy to see.

“We really had to reset our minds and get back to a spot where it was like let’s take one pitch at a time and we’ll just try to win every inning that we play in,” added Sweeney.

“If we win every inning, we’ll win every game. We knew we were going to win; it is just a matter of how long it was going to take us to get it done.”

In Sweeney’s view, the team was primed to go the extra mile last weekend for its senior group.

“I think everyone, because of the group that we have, the whole team wants to play for them as much as we want to win as a group,” said Sweeney, whose squad wraps up regular season play with doubleheaders at Cornell on April 27 and 28. “This weekend is special for them and that makes it special for everybody because they are that close of a team.”

Sweeney credits the team’s seniors with making this spring special. “I think they were just so dedicated to turning things around that they were willing to do whatever it took,” said Sweeney, whose Class of 2013 includes Liza Kuhn, Nikki Chu, Candy Button, and Lizzy Pierce in addition to Peyton.

“I don’t think that would have been possible without their leadership. Every game means something to those guys and people follow that.

It means a lot to Peyton to have seen things turn out better for Princeton.

“There is a whole new fight in the team,” said Peyton. “We had a team talk this week where we looked at our goals and values as a team and said we are going to keep going after them.”

#4 turns a double play. Please run photo full frame.As the Princeton University baseball players gathered for their post-game huddle after falling 10-2 to visiting Columbia to split a doubleheader last Sunday, their heads dropped in unison.

The Tigers brought high hopes into the weekend, trailing the Lions by just a game in the Ivy League’s Gehrig Division standings with a pair of home doubleheaders.

On Saturday, Princeton lost 4-0 and 7-1 to fall three games behind. Needing a sweep on Sunday to get back to where it started the weekend, the Tigers got off to a good start, winning the opener 2-0 behind a five-hit shutout from junior Mike Ford, a former Hun School star.

In the nightcap, the teams were knotted at 2-2 in the sixth but then things started to fall apart for the Tigers. In the top of the frame, Columbia got a two-run single to go up 4-2. Princeton appeared to have tied the game as John Mishu knocked the ball over the right field fence for a two-run homer but the ball was called foul. The roof fell in on the Tigers as the Lions tacked on six unanswered runs to pull away to a 10-2 win.

Princeton head coach Scott Bradley reflected the mood of his players as he assessed the weekend.

“It was disappointing, they outplayed us,” said Bradley, whose team ended the weekend at 12-25 overall and 9-7 Ivy while Columbia improved to 20-17 overall and 12-4 Ivy with just four league games remaining.

“It is not how often you get hits and how many hits, it is when you get them. I thought our pitching was pretty good; it kept us in. But when you score five runs in four game series, you are not winning. They got some big hits and we were not able to.”

Bradley tipped his hat to the Lions, who just need to win two of four games against Penn next weekend to eliminate Princeton no matter what the Tigers do in their season-ending four-game set with Cornell.

“They pitched the daylights out of it,” said Bradley. “They are good, Columbia plays the game really well. Coach [Brett] Boretti does a really good job with them. They have really developed a knack for getting big hits in big situations. It came down to them making a big two-out hit in a tied ball game to make it 4-2 in the sixth inning.”

Princeton thought it had a big hit when Mishu blasted the ball over the fence but it never recovered from the controversial call. 

“I thought the ball was fair from where we were,” said Bradley. “It is a tough call, it is probably the toughest call umpires have to make. I sit almost on the line and I thought it was a fair ball and so did the other guys. It changed the tone a bit. Again, you have to turn it around. At that point, we were in the game but we let the game get away from us.”

While barely alive in the title chase, Princeton is looking to keep the heat on the Lions as the Tigers play a home-and-home four-game series with Cornell this weekend.

“It is nice playing games that mean something,” said Bradley, whose team hosts Cornell (21-14 overall, 9-7 Ivy) for a doubleheader on April 26 before heading up to Ithaca, N.Y. for a twinbill against the Big Red on their home field two days later.

“We get to play on Friday; we need to come out and throw up a couple of wins and at least get them to the point where they are going to think about us. We want to put pressure on them so that they are going to have to come out and earn it.”

As the Princeton University men’s lightweight first varsity crew learned the hard way in a loss to Cornell earlier this month, there are no shortcuts in the process of reaching top speed.

“I think we got ahead of ourselves in the race with Cornell which is something I haven’t seen before,” said Princeton head coach Marty Crotty.

“We were trying to race with late season cadence and late season fitness. I don’t think we were ready for that yet. The message was to get back to basics; we need to build a better foundation and a sustained base.”

The top boat came back with a better performance last Saturday as it won the Wood-Hammond Cup by beating Penn and Georgetown. Princeton covered the 2,000-meter course on the Schuylkill River in 5:32.4 with Penn next in 5:38.4 and Georgetown taking third in 5:44.2.

“We had a great week of practice,” said Crotty, reflecting on the victory. “Every race you win in the league is something to savor. Any win should be savored in this league. With the youth of our crew a win like that is a step forward. I think the best thing is that it came after a really good week of practice. We have to keep building because the competition gets stiffer and stiffer.”

In Crotty’s view, his program is building something special. “The whole team as a group, all 39 oarsmen and four coxswains have improved during the year and from year to year,” asserted Crotty.

“We were coming into the spring in a good spot. It gave a lot of guys an opportunity. We had 14 or 15 guys with a chance for the first boat and 20 for the second. We also had the permissibility of the freshmen to row in the top two boats. That gave me a lot of options and permutations.”

Senior captain Tyler Nase has given the program a lot in and out of the water.

“It has been a tradition with the lightweight program to have one senior captain and he is it,” said Crotty. 

“He is a great captain. He leads in training and he is excitable on the water. He brings enthusiasm and energy to every single practice. He is down at the boathouse all the time and the guys gravitate to him. He has the ability to communicate with me and lets me know what some of the guys are feeling. I put a lot of trust in him, he helps dictate some of the training.”

With the fourth-ranked Tigers hosting No. 1 Harvard and No. 2 Yale this Saturday on Lake Carnegie for the Goldthwait and Vogel Cups, Crotty is feeling good about his top boat’s mindset as it faces the key test.

“Harvard and Yale are the two best crews in the league,” said Crotty. “We have to be at our best and then some to beat them. The guys are up for the challenge, they can’t wait. We will take a crack at them this week and whatever happens, we will see them in three weeks. It is going to give us a chance to see where we stand against the best and see what we have to do in the next three weeks.”

April 17, 2013
MAKING A FUSS: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Caroline Rehfuss leads the defense in a game earlier this season. Senior co-captain Rehfuss has provided consistent play and a vocal presence as the Tigers have gone 8-4 overall and 5-0 in Ivy League play. No. 13 Princeton, which topped Harvard 11-9 last Saturday and has clinched a berth in the upcoming Ivy tourney, plays at Penn (7-4 overall, 5-0 Ivy) on April 17 and at No. 16 Dartmouth (8-5 overall, 4-1 Ivy) on April 20.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MAKING A FUSS: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Caroline Rehfuss leads the defense in a game earlier this season. Senior co-captain Rehfuss has provided consistent play and a vocal presence as the Tigers have gone 8-4 overall and 5-0 in Ivy League play. No. 13 Princeton, which topped Harvard 11-9 last Saturday and has clinched a berth in the upcoming Ivy tourney, plays at Penn (7-4 overall, 5-0 Ivy) on April 17 and at No. 16 Dartmouth (8-5 overall, 4-1 Ivy) on April 20. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Caroline Rehfuss showed a good finishing touch in her freshman season in 2010 with the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team, scoring 13 goals as a midfielder.

But when Rehfuss was switched to defense as a sophomore, it didn’t require much of a transition.

“I was always more of a defensive midfielder,” said Rehfuss. “I actually like defense a lot better than attack.”

Rehfuss made an immediate impact on defense in 2011, getting 23 ground balls with 19 draw controls and 18 caused turnovers.

Last year, Rehfuss served as a team co-captain and earned honorable mention All-Ivy League recognition.

This spring, Rehfuss is the unquestioned quarterback of the Tiger defensive unit.

“I try and be a vocal leader when we are down there on the eight, telling people who is hot, who is going to be sliding next, and just reminding people on the one-on-ones that their hips have to be square,” said the 5’7 Rehfuss, a native of Latham, N.Y. who is a team co-captain for a second straight year. “I do feel like I do a lot of the talking.”

On Saturday against visiting Harvard, Princeton needed Rehfuss’ leadership as the Crimson utilized a deliberate offensive style to put the Tigers on their heels.

“We haven’t faced an offense like that which stalls through the whole game,” said Rehfuss, reflecting on the contest which was knotted 4-4 at the half.

“Usually we are used to it in the last 10 minutes. Typically we do a really good job with it. We threw in a couple of plays to try to send the early doubles but it was definitely very tiring.”

Princeton fought through the fatigue to pull out an 11-9 victory, improving to 8-4 overall and 5-0 in Ivy League play.

While the win wasn’t pretty, it beat the alternative. “It was a little bit of a struggle but at the end of the day a win is good so we are real happy about that,” said Rehfuss, noting that the win sealed a spot for the Tigers in the upcoming Ivy tournament which includes the league’s top four teams.

“I have to give it to our attack who I felt like tired out the Harvard defense so they really helped us. We know what we have to work on to get better.”

The Tiger defense had to work hard at the end when Harvard had possession and could have made it a one-goal game in the last minute of regulation.

“We didn’t want to give them anything else and we knew they were either going to look for a crease challenge or a two-person crease play,” said Rehfuss. “We talked about our high angles and how that had to be that much better.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer acknowledged that Harvard’s patience posed a challenge for the Tigers.

“It was a tough game to play because Harvard was all about ball possession and they wanted the ball for long, long stretches,” said Sailer.

“When you get the ball, you press. We didn’t have that many offensive looks. They beat us on the draw controls. When you are playing a team that beats you in the draw controls and is looking to kill the clock as their main strategy, it is tough. They didn’t turn the ball over; they kept it moving. They wear you down a little bit defensively.”

Sailer credited her team with showing some mental toughness in overcoming the Crimson.

“To play a difficult kind of game that you are not used to playing and then not playing at your best and you are still able to pull out a win, that’s important at this time of the year,” asserted Sailer.

“We are trying to get better every time we step on the field but you have got to get the ‘w.’”

Senior Mary-Kate Sivilli and junior Sam Ellis both played a major role in helping Princeton get the win as they each scored three goals.

“They had big games and that was great,” said Sailer. “They are two kids who haven’t necessarily been biggest producers. Sam probably got almost half of her goal total. Sam had a couple of goals against Maryland and another good day today. She is finishing 8 meters. I thought MK played really well so it was nice.”

Sailer depends on Rehfuss to be a big producer for Princeton at the defensive end.

“Caroline is the one who tries to get kids talking,” said Sailer. “She really organizes things down there, she is such a leader for us on the defense with consistent play and a vocal presence. She is fantastic.”

On Wednesday, 13th-ranked Princeton heads to Penn (7-4 overall, 5-0 Ivy) in a battle for the league lead which could determine who will host the Ivy tourney. Three days later, the Tigers play at No. 16 Dartmouth (8-5 overall, 4-1 Ivy) in another critical Ivy contest.

Sailer knows her team will have its hands full when it takes on the Quakers at venerable Franklin Field.

“They are very athletic, they are pretty deep and they have a lot of offensive firepower,” said Sailer, referring to Penn, that edged Dartmouth 8-7 last Friday to remain undefeated in league play.

“They have really good sticks, they go really hard. We are going to have to be ready defensively. They have a transfer goalie who has been playing pretty well for them. Just like any other game, so much will be dependent upon ground balls, draw controls, keeping our unforced errors down which we did much better this game. We had a bunch of unforced errors against Maryland (a 15-9 loss on April 10) and we didn’t today so that was a step in the right direction.”

Rehfuss, for her part, is confident that Princeton will be ready to go hard when it takes on the Quakers.

“Penn has always been a great matchup and we are really excited for it,” said Rehfuss.

“Our goal is to win the Ivy outright so we have to buckle down on Monday and Tuesday during practice. We need to get out the little kinks that we have and pay attention to detail.”

GREEN DAY: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Jake Froccaro fights off a foe in recent action. Last Saturday at Dartmouth, freshman attacker Froccaro scored three goals but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 10-9 to the Big Green. No. 13 Princeton, now 7-4 overall and 2-2 Ivy League, hosts Harvard (6-6 overall, 2-2 Ivy) on April 19 at Class of 1952 Stadium. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GREEN DAY: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Jake Froccaro fights off a foe in recent action. Last Saturday at Dartmouth, freshman attacker Froccaro scored three goals but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 10-9 to the Big Green. No. 13 Princeton, now 7-4 overall and 2-2 Ivy League, hosts Harvard (6-6 overall, 2-2 Ivy) on April 19 at Class of 1952 Stadium.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

On the face of things, it seemed like the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team took a step forward when it topped Rutgers 13-8 last week.

But upon closer review, Princeton head coach Chris Bates concluded that the April 9 victory over the Scarlet Knights didn’t actually represent progress.

“It was good to get a win coming out of Syracuse,” said Bates, referring to Princeton’s 13-12 loss to the Orange three days before the Rutgers contest. “Once we watched the film, we saw that we played relatively poorly. We saw a ton of errors.”

Last Saturday at Dartmouth, Princeton continued to make errors, squandering two three-goal leads on the way to a 10-9 loss to the Big Green as it dropped to 7-4 overall and 2-2 Ivy League.

Bates sensed early on that his squad had not learned from the post-game analysis of the Rutgers game.

“After we scored our first goal, I almost called a timeout to dress down the offense,” said Bates, whose team jumped out to a 3-0 lead over Dartmouth.

“They had not taken the next step in terms of decision-making. In our first three possessions, we took the first shot instead of extending possessions.”

Princeton eventually built an 8-5 advantage midway through the third quarter, appearing to right the ship enough to pull out another win. But an inspired Big Green outscored Princeton 5-1 from that point as it rallied for the victory and just its eighth win over the Tigers in 60 meetings.

“Historically, Dartmouth is a team we have pulled away from; I don’t think we gave them the respect that they deserved,” said Bates of Dartmouth, which was sparked by three goals from former Princeton High star Mike Olentine, later named the Ivy Co-Player of the Week.

“It was one of those games where we were looking around and waiting for someone else to make plays. We didn’t make many plays after we were up 8-5. To Dartmouth’s credit, they had a good game plan. They neutralized us and played harder.”

Things were made harder for a Princeton squad as it was missing four key players, Ryan Ambler, Alex Beatty, Jack Strabo, and Chris White, due to injury.

“We were a tired team down the stretch,” said Bates, who got three goals from freshman Jake Froccaro in the loss with junior star Tom Schreiber chipping in two goals and two assists. “When we needed to be fresher and to execute, we didn’t. We are thin on defense; we broke down and made mistakes.”

The breakdown put the 13th-ranked Tigers in a precarious position as it looks to place in the top four in the Ivy standings in order to qualify for the upcoming league tournament. No. 6 Cornell is the frontrunner at 4-0 in Ivy play with Yale (3-2 Ivy), Princeton, Harvard (2-2 Ivy), and Penn (2-3 Ivy) battling for the other three spots.

“That was a punch between the eyes and our backs are to the wall,” said Bates. “We are fighting for our playoff lives.”

Bates is expecting a tough fight when Princeton hosts Harvard (6-6 overall) on April 19 in a game to be televised by ESPNU.

“We are playing a very strong Harvard team that is coming in here playing its best lacrosse of the year,” said Bates of the Crimson, who edged Penn 8-7 in overtime last Saturday.

“We are banged up and not playing our best lacrosse. They have a balanced offense and they are playing with a lot of confidence. They went toe-to-toe with Cornell and Duke in losses. Their defense is sound. They have good scorers and a good distributor behind the net in Devin Dwyer. They know how they play and they don’t beat themselves.”

The Tigers know they have to play better if they are going to qualify for postseason play.

“We need to have possession and we need a more consistent game out of our goaltender,” said Bates.

“On offense, if we are one and done, we are going to lose. On Saturday, we had 15 possessions with one shot and nine with no shots. You are not going to win any game that way.”

Bates, though, still believes his team will find a way to get it done against Harvard. “It was a tough loss, no question,” said Bates. “It comes down to how we respond and I am confident in our guys.”

SURVEYING THE DAMAGE: Princeton University men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson surveys the action during a game this winter. Henderson was down in Atlanta earlier this month for the NCAA men’s basketball Final 4. While Henderson enjoyed the action as he took in the semis at the Georgia Dome, disappointment lingered over the fact that a bad weekend cost his squad a chance at taking part in March Madness. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

SURVEYING THE DAMAGE: Princeton University men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson surveys the action during a game this winter. Henderson was down in Atlanta earlier this month for the NCAA men’s basketball Final 4. While Henderson enjoyed the action as he took in the semis at the Georgia Dome, disappointment lingered over the fact that a bad weekend cost his squad a chance at taking part in March Madness.
(Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

While the Princeton University men’s hoops coach enjoyed the action as he took in the semis at the Georgia Dome, disappointment lingered over the fact that a bad weekend had cost his squad a chance at taking part in March Madness.

Coming down the homestretch of the regular season, Princeton held a one-game lead on Harvard at the top the Ivy League standings. The Tigers were at Yale and Brown on the last weekend with the regular season finale at Penn.

A sweep of the three games would have clinched the league crown and a berth in the NCAA tourney, while two wins would have ensured at least a playoff game against Harvard for the trip to March Madness.

With destiny in its hands, Princeton stumbled, losing at Yale and Brown while Harvard topped Columbia and Cornell to clinch the title and knock the Tigers out of the race.

In reflecting on the lost weekend, Henderson said his team’s struggles came down to some defensive issues and nerves.

“We were a bigger team so how we guard smaller players was an issue,” said Henderson.

“That weekend we got hurt by perimeter shooting. We couldn’t stop the flow of shots. As the games were going on, there was some tightness, which was surprising given the experience of our group.”

Going forward, Henderson and his staff will take some valuable lessons from the defeat.

“It is tough to win the league and there are a lot of good teams,” said Henderson.

“Just because you are in the hunt for the league title doesn’t mean that teams are going to roll over. We need to be as flexible as we can; we have to have many ways to play. We weren’t the best pressing team.”

Showing its character, Princeton didn’t roll over in the season finale as it topped Penn 71-58.

“It was a pretty obvious message, we needed to win for the seniors,” said Henderson, reflecting on victory at the Palestra in Philadelphia which left the Tigers with a final record of 17-11 overall and 10-4 Ivy. “It was bittersweet; we wanted to be playing for a title or a playoff.”

The Tigers do say goodbye to some stalwart seniors in Brendan Connolly, Mack Darrow, and Ian Hummer. Connolly and Darrow were solid performers, who made an impact on and off the court, while Hummer leaves as one of the greatest players in program history.

The 6’7 forward was named the Ivy League Player of the Year this season and ended his Tiger career with 1,625 points, second only for Princeton to the legendary Bill Bradley’s 2,503. This winter, Hummer became the first Tiger since Kit Mueller ’91 in 1991 to lead Princeton in a season in scoring (16.3 points per game), rebounding (6.4 rebounds per game), assists (115), and blocks (23).

“We are losing a great senior class; Ian carried us and helped us in so many ways,” said Henderson.

“We were where we were because of him. He made everyone better. There are a lot of good players in the league. We haven’t celebrated that a lot around here but it is a great award. He is one of the very special players we have ever had here.”

Harvard showed the country something about the talent of the Ivy League as the 14th-seeded Crimson upset No. 3 New Mexico in the second round of the NCAAs.

“It is good for the league, it shows how competitive it is. I like seeing teams in the league do well,” said Henderson.

“We have all the motivation that we need. We don’t talk about other teams much but it does reflect well on the league.”

Henderson believes that Princeton has the foundation in place to do well going forward.

“We are returning four starters; I like the group we have coming back,” said Henderson, who welcomes back two All-Ivy performers in junior T.J. Bray (9.9 points per game in 2012-13) and sophomore Denton Koon (10.5 points) together with junior Will Barrett (9.3 points) and freshman Hans Brase (5.4 points).

“The message is you have to keep improving but don’t lose sight of what got you into first place coming into the last weekend. You have to be hungry to make improvements; they need to focus on getting better in every way.”

The Tigers will be different in some ways from the 2012-13 squad which featured eight players 6’8 or taller.

“We will be smaller but we are still pretty big,” said Henderson, noting that such returners as Clay Wilson, Bobby Garbade, Ben Hazel, and Jimmy Sherburne could emerge as key contributors.

“It will be really competitive, good players are made over the summer. We are doing individual workouts for the rest of the spring until the end of classes.

Henderson is chomping at the bit to get back into competition. “I know I am ready to get going,” asserted Henderson.

“We want to get better and make improvements. We aren’t defined by one weekend; we did a lot of good things this winter.”

A STEP BEHIND: Princeton University softball catcher Cara Worden chases after a ball in a game earlier this spring. Last weekend, sophomore Worden and the Tigers battled hard but dropped three out of four games at Penn in a key Ivy League South series. Princeton, now 21-15 overall and 6-6 Ivy, finds itself in a tough situation, trailing first place Penn (20-15 overall, 10-2 Ivy) by four games with eight Ivy contests to go. In upcoming action, the Tigers host Lehigh (23-14-1 overall) at Class of 1895 Field for a doubleheader on April 17 and then welcome Ivy South rival Columbia (18-18 overall, 6-6 Ivy) for twinbills on April 20 and 21.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

A STEP BEHIND: Princeton University softball catcher Cara Worden chases after a ball in a game earlier this spring. Last weekend, sophomore Worden and the Tigers battled hard but dropped three out of four games at Penn in a key Ivy League South series. Princeton, now 21-15 overall and 6-6 Ivy, finds itself in a tough situation, trailing first place Penn (20-15 overall, 10-2 Ivy) by four games with eight Ivy contests to go. In upcoming action, the Tigers host Lehigh (23-14-1 overall) at Class of 1895 Field for a doubleheader on April 17 and then welcome Ivy South rival Columbia (18-18 overall, 6-6 Ivy) for twinbills on April 20 and 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Playing at Penn last weekend in a pivotal four-game Ivy League South series, the Princeton University softball team was determined to get off to a strong start.

“They threw A.C. Borden in Game One and we know how talented she is,” said Princeton head coach Lisa Sweeney, whose team entered its trip to Philadelphia trailing the Quakers by two games in the division standings.

“We were able to get some hits and some runs. We felt that was a game we needed to win to set the tone for the weekend.”

Princeton seemed to be set for a big weekend as it got to Borden and took a 9-6 lead into the bottom of the seventh and final inning. But then things unraveled as Penn scored four runs to pull out a 10-9 victory.

Sweeney acknowledged that her players faced a challenge in regrouping for the nightcap.

“It was hard to swallow, there are only 20 or 30 minutes between games so it is tough to re-set after something like that,” said Sweeney.

“We told them this doesn’t determine the rest of the weekend. We have to come back and prove that we are a team that is not going down without a fight.”

The Tigers showed their fighting spirit as they prevailed 5-3 in the second game with Maddie Cousens, Tory Roberts, Rachel Rendina, and Candy Button each knocking in a run. Freshman pitcher Shanna Christian came up big in the circle, striking out five and scattering 10 hits in going the distance.

“We showed our true colors in the second game, I was really proud of them,” said Sweeney.

“I was particularly proud of freshman pitcher Shanna, she set the tone, doing everything she could to help us win.”

On Sunday, though, the Tigers failed to get a win as they lost 9-2 and 5-4. “It was one of those things, we came in fairly positive,” said Sweeney, whose team fell to 21-15 overall and 6-6 Ivy in the wake of the sweep by Penn.

“The hitters went in confident but A.C. threw a great game. She really challenged our hitters. We were able to score runs. The first game got away from us but in the second game we were right there. One hit in a couple of situations would have given us the win.”

Now Princeton finds itself in a tough situation, trailing first place Penn (20-15 overall, 10-2 Ivy) by four games with eight Ivy contests to go.

“We are not losing sight of the things we can control,” said Sweeney. “We have to take care of our business and the things we can control. A lot of things can happen.”

Sweeney is looking for some good things to happen this week as the Tigers host Lehigh (23-14-1 overall) at Class of 1895 Field for a doubleheader on April 17 and then welcome Ivy South rival Columbia (18-18 overall, 6-6 Ivy) for twinbills on April 20 and 21.

“It will be nice to be at home on Wednesday against Lehigh,” said Sweeney. “We are expecting a big crowd this weekend. It will be Senior Day on Sunday and that class is really special.”

While Princeton faces an uphill battle in its quest for the Ivy South crown, it knows it can still enjoy a special spring.

“We talked about fighting the entire season and earning everything,” said Sweeney.

“When you work so hard for something, you can’t let one bad weekend destroy that. They have good confidence, they know this is bigger than any of us.”

April 10, 2013
DUEL ACHIEVEMENT: Princeton University senior fencing star Jonathan Yergler smiles in a team shot. Senior Yergler recently helped Princeton win the NCAA team title, a year after he won the collegiate men’s epee individual championship. (Photo Courtesy of PU Office of Athletic Communications)

DUEL ACHIEVEMENT: Princeton University senior fencing star Jonathan Yergler smiles in a team shot. Senior Yergler recently helped Princeton win the NCAA team title, a year after he won the collegiate men’s epee individual championship.
(Photo Courtesy of PU Office of Athletic Communications)

It didn’t take long for Jonathan Yergler to make an impact on the national scene in fencing.

Taking up the sport at age seven after showing a propensity to play with sticks as a toddler, Yergler shot up the national ladder in epee.

“I started in local competitions and I did my first nationals at 10 and I got third,” said Yergler, a native of Winter Park, Fla.

“There were only 40 people in my group but it was still a big confidence builder. I was loving the competition. The higher level I competed, the more fun it was.”

During his high school years, Yergler made multiple national teams and competed in the Junior World Championships.

He joined the Princeton University men’s fencing team in 2009 and distinguished himself as one of the top college epeeists in the nation, taking second in the NCAA championships as a sophomore and winning the title as a junior.

Last month in San Antonio, Texas, he helped Princeton earn its first-ever joint men’s/women’s NCAA team title under the format adopted in 1990.

For Yergler, helping Princeton to the team championship triggered a deeper sense of satisfaction than winning his individual crown.

“When I won the individual title, I was really happy and my teammates came over and congratulated me but it wasn’t the same as having 30 or so people so excited,” recalled Yergler, who took second in the individual epee competition.

“It was great having that team trophy and having the bus rides and that plane ride together with all of us celebrating.”

Yergler has traveled a long journey to become accomplished in epee. “It was pretty intense, I would go to school all week and then my parents would drive me 200 miles to Boca Raton and I would spend the whole weekend training with my coach,” said Yergler, who has been training with coach Mario Jelev since his sophomore year in high school. “I was also getting on a plane and going to national and international events.”

When it came time to choose a college program, Yergler concluded that Princeton would offer him a good chance to keep moving up in the fencing world.

“In my weapon, Princeton had a great team, it was one of the strongest,” said Yergler, who was recruited along with another top epeeist, Ed Kelley.

“I thought the only way to get better was to go against these guys in training everyday. Zoltan [Princeton head coach Zoltan Dudas] was very welcoming; he answered all of my questions on my visit. I could picture myself at Princeton; I felt that connection.”

Once at Princeton, Yergler had to work hard to get himself into the picture for a starting spot.

“It was great, going to training everyday; I loved sparring with those guys,” said Yergler.

“I was trying to make the starting squad. I was told by others that I wouldn’t make it because the epee team was at such a high level. I was thinking that anything worth doing isn’t going to be easy. It was a struggle to get better than the rest. I was clawing my way, working everyday to get better and better.”

True to form, the precocious Yergler didn’t waste any time in showing that he could make Princeton a better team.

“Our first dual meet was at Harvard against North Carolina,” said Yergler. “Zoltan didn’t have Ed or I in the starting lineup; we lost six matches and Zoltan subbed Ed and me into the match and we won our matches. That was a proving point. I didn’t want to leave the starting lineup after that.”

Yergler ended up earning All-American honors that season as he took ninth in the epee at the NCAAs, helping Princeton finish sixth in the team standings. In his sophomore year, he placed second in the epee at the NCAAs with the Tigers moving up to fourth overall.

As a junior, it didn’t look like Yergler was headed to the podium at the NCAAs.

“I did really well in the regular season but I had a terrible tournament at the regional; I didn’t even make the round of 12,” recalled Yergler.

“Because of my scores and getting second in the NCAAs the year before, I got an at-large bid. I felt really lucky to be there and have a chance to see what I could do. I lost some matches but I was able to squeeze into the bottom part of the top four. I had the experience from the year before.”

Utilizing his extensive experience, Yergler topped Columbia’s Alen Hadzic 15-8 in the finals to win Princeton’s first individual NCAA crown since Soren Thompson ’05, also an epeeist, accomplished the feat in 2001.

“In the final, I went against the guy who I had beaten in the semifinals the year before,” said Yergler.

“It is a good matchup for me. I felt really good, I was able to pull it out. I felt great. I was thinking OK, I have accomplished one of my big goals. I was very close to being counted out of it so that made it more satisfying.”

With Princeton having taken second in the team standings in the 2012 NCAA championships, Yergler was confident the Tigers could take the next step.

“We have improved mightily as a team; we knew the women were incredibly strong,” said Yergler, reflecting on the format which consists of the two days of competition each for the men and the women with the school winning the most matches in the four days earning the team title.

“The men’s team hadn’t proven itself at this level. We have been doing better each year but compared to Penn State, Notre Dame, and Ohio State we weren’t there; they have the Olympians and the national team guys. We wanted to put the team in a position to win. If we were close to the No. 1 team; we knew the women would pull out the title.”

The Tiger men took care of business, putting the women in prime position to close the deal.

“We ended up second, a few points behind Penn State but six points ahead of Notre Dame,” said Yergler. “I am really proud of the men’s team for stepping up like that.”

During the women’s phase of the competition, Yergler and his male teammates provided emotional and logistical support.

“We were cheering; we were being caddies, serving them and doing whatever we could to help them,” said Yergler.

“We were watching Notre Dame and keeping tabs in the scoring. I knew before they did that they clinched it because they were in the middle of the matches. It was really exciting finding out. I was super excited.”

Now that his college career is completed, Yergler is looking to make a big impact on fencing’s international stage, setting his sights on the World and Olympic championships.

“I will work to do whatever I need to do to make the Olympics in Rio,” said Yergler, who has set up a twitter page, @yerglerj, and an athlete account on facebook at www.facebook.com/pages/Jonathan-Yergler-athlete/410272639010116 to chronicle his efforts on the international stage.

“I need to get my job situation taken care of, I want to end up in New York City. I want to keep doing national and international competitions to get the experience I need. I still love the sport.”

CLOCKWORK ORANGE: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Jeff Froccaro heads to goal in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior attacker Froccaro scored four goals but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 13-12 to visiting Syracuse. The defeat to the Orange left Princeton at 6-3 overall. Ninth-ranked Princeton, who is 2-1 in Ivy League action, was slated to play at Rutgers (2-9) on April 9 and at Dartmouth (2-7 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on April 13.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CLOCKWORK ORANGE: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Jeff Froccaro heads to goal in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior attacker Froccaro scored four goals but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 13-12 to visiting Syracuse. The defeat to the Orange left Princeton at 6-3 overall. Ninth-ranked Princeton, who is 2-1 in Ivy League action, was slated to play at Rutgers (2-9) on April 9 and at Dartmouth (2-7 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on April 13. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As Chris Bates reflected on how his Princeton University men’s lacrosse team fell 13-12 to Syracuse last Saturday, he felt a little like boxer Joe Frazier after he lost to Muhammad Ali in 1975’s bruising “Thrilla in Manila.”

“It was a 15-round fight and we took too many body blows,” said Princeton head coach Bates, whose team dropped to 6-3 with the setback.

“We got tired at the end. We didn’t face off well and we played a lot of defense. Our defense bent and we did break at times.”

Like Frazier, Princeton was valiant and entertaining in defeat. “It was a heck of a game from a fan’s standpoint, but it was tough to lose from a coach and player perspective,” said Bates.

“We were real proud of the team, they competed hard. I shook hands with coach [John] Desko and we agreed it was a great game; it was tough that someone had to lose.”

The Tigers faced an uphill battle as they fell behind the high-powered Orange 3-0 in the early stages of the contest which was played before a crowd of 4,610 at Princeton Stadium and a national TV audience on ESPNU.

“We had gotten off to a fast start against them the last two years but the three goals put us on our heels,” said Bates, whose team did claw back to knot the game at 5-5 at halftime.

Princeton outscored the Orange 4-2 in the third quarter and held a 12-10 lead with 6:57 remaining in regulation. But Syracuse won the next three face-offs and forged ahead 13-12.

The Tigers got the final face-off of the game and were able to generate a shot by Ryan Ambler that went just wide as time expired.

“It wasn’t really a possession, it was a frenetic transition opportunity,” said Bates, referring to the final sequence.

“Ryan got his hands free. We wanted to get the ball in Tom Schreiber’s hands and let him create something but we couldn’t get the ball to him.”

While Bates was happy with his team’s scoring output, he acknowledged that Princeton misfired at some critical junctures of the contest.

“If you had told me we scored 12, I would think we would have won,” said Bates, who got four goals from Jeff Froccaro with Mike MacDonald adding three, Jake Froccaro adding two and Schreiber chipping in a goal and three assists.

“We were pretty efficient but we didn’t get anything out of our first four possessions when they built a lead. We were up two goals and we had a short possession in the fourth quarter. We took the first shot which we didn’t need to do. I kick myself a little bit and I hope we learned something from that.”

With each of No. 9 Princeton’s three losses having come by one goal, Bates sees the setbacks as mixed bags.

“Carolina and Syracuse are in the top five or six in the country, so we are encouraged by playing close to them,” said Bates, whose team fell 16-15 to No. 6 North Carolina on March 9 and 11-10 at No. 16 Penn a week later before the loss to No. 7 Syracuse.

“It is tough not getting over the hump. The Syracuse loss stings, it could have NCAA implications if we don’t win the Ivy tournament.”

But since Princeton is at 2-1 in Ivy play, trailing only No. 2 Cornell (10-1 overall, 4-0 Ivy) who it plays on April 27, the Tigers are very much in the hunt for the league title.

“We have to move past it,” said Bates, referring to the disappointment after the loss to the Orange. “We told them all of our goals are still in front of us and we control our own destiny.”

With Princeton slated to play at Rutgers (2-9) on April 9 before heading north to play at Dartmouth (2-7 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on April 13, Bates is looking for his players to dwell on things they can control.

“We need to focus on ourselves and getting back to fundamentals and playing good lacrosse,” said Bates.

“If we do that, we will be fine. I told them we want two more wins in the bag after this week with two games to go.”

NAVAL ENGAGEMENT: The Princeton University men’s heavyweight first varsity 8 powers through the water in a race earlier this spring. Last Saturday, the top boat edged Navy as the programs resumed their regular season series after a six-year hiatus. Princeton’s second and third varsity 8s also posted victories in the regatta that took place on Lake Carnegie. In upcoming action, Princeton faces Penn and Columbia at Ridgefield Park, N.J. this Saturday. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

NAVAL ENGAGEMENT: The Princeton University men’s heavyweight first varsity 8 powers through the water in a race earlier this spring. Last Saturday, the top boat edged Navy as the programs resumed their regular season series after a six-year hiatus. Princeton’s second and third varsity 8s also posted victories in the regatta that took place on Lake Carnegie. In upcoming action, Princeton faces Penn and Columbia at Ridgefield Park, N.J. this Saturday.
(Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

It was a renewal of hostilities that had been eagerly anticipated by the Princeton University men’s heavyweight crew team.

After a six-year hiatus in its series against Navy, Princeton was once again facing the Midshipmen in a regular season regatta last Saturday on Lake Carnegie.

“It is the race that used to always start the season,” said Princeton head coach Greg Hughes.

“It is traditionally the first race for the lightweights and it was too for the heavyweights until six years ago. Navy had some conflicts with their schedule. They dropped the race to travel to some other races. The guys were really excited, they know the history and they knew the guys before them always started with this race.”

Making some history of their own, the Tigers produced a superb effort as the first varsity 8, the second varsity 8 and the third varsity 8 each posted wins in their races.

“We saw great intensity from the entire team this weekend,” said Hughes. “Having Navy back on the schedule is great, we know they are really tough competitors. They really work hard and you have to be on your game against them.”

The first varsity got pushed hard as it covered the 2,000-meter course in 6:08.0 with Navy just behind in 6:11.3

“It was a solid piece,” said Hughes. “It was challenging conditions, it was a simple race. We were not trying to focus on any one part of the race. We wanted to just go out and race on our body of work. There are spots in the race we need to talk about and work on.”

Hughes credited senior captain Mike Evans and the top boat’s veterans with setting a positive tone.

“Mike Evans is doing a great job,” said Hughes. “I like the personality of the boat, there is solid character. They have realistic goals, short term and long term. They are willing to work hard. There is something there to work with.”

A rule change in men’s rowing which allows freshmen to compete at the varsity level has given Hughes more to work with. Last Saturday, the first varsity included two freshmen, Patrick Eble and P.K. Konttinen.

“They are freshmen but they are varsity-caliber racers,” said Hughes, reflecting on their debut.

“That was a real varsity race with real shots being taken. You can’t get that racing in high school. They were good enough athletes to be able to step in.”

Having freshmen in the mix for varsity boats has injected a new competitiveness into the program.

“There has been a change in the dynamic with the change in the freshman rule,” said Hughes.

“It has been a great positive in terms of focus and intensity for the rowers. It is great for me as a coach, it is the first time I am looking at every kid. We always trained together but there was a defined separation. We were thinking about having a freshman 8 which we could still have under the rules. We saw the freshmen could help the 2V and the 3V so that has been fun.”

The Tiger first varsity will be looking to have more fun this weekend as it competes for the Childs Cup against Penn and Columbia at Ridgefield Park, N.J.

“I think they need a little more experience together with the execution of the race,” said Hughes.

“There are little components of races, starts, moves, the final part. We spend a lot of time on boat speed, now we need to work on transitions within the race.”

April 3, 2013
FACE TIME: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Justin Murphy heads up the field in recent action. Sophomore Murphy’s emergence as a face-off star has given the Tigers a big lift, helping Princeton win three of its last four games as it has improved to 6-2 overall and 2-1 Ivy League. The No. 7 Tigers, who beat Brown 15-8 last Saturday, host No. 8 Syracuse (6-2) at Princeton Stadium on April 6 in a contest that will be televised on ESPNU.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

FACE TIME: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Justin Murphy heads up the field in recent action. Sophomore Murphy’s emergence as a face-off star has given the Tigers a big lift, helping Princeton win three of its last four games as it has improved to 6-2 overall and 2-1 Ivy League. The No. 7 Tigers, who beat Brown 15-8 last Saturday, host No. 8 Syracuse (6-2) at Princeton Stadium on April 6 in a contest that will be televised on ESPNU. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Early in his lacrosse career, Justin Murphy seemed destined for obscurity.

“Basically in high school, I was a sophomore trying to make varsity and trying to get on the field any way I could,” said Murphy.

“I wanted to play but I wasn’t good enough. I was going to the Landon School (Md.) and there were a lot of good guys ahead of me.”

But Murphy discovered a talent that put him in the limelight. “They saw that I was small and undersized but they liked how scrappy I was facing off,” added Murphy.

“I was a backup second string and I got a shot to go out there and I started having success and it became the thing that I was going to work at. I decided to make it my goal to be a face-off guy and dedicate my time to that.”

Murphy’s dedication paid off as he joined the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team last year as a face-off specialist and he won 15-of-30 draws last year as he saw his first college action.

This spring, Murphy has emerged as a key performer for the Tigers, catching fire in mid-March when he won 12-of-16 face-offs in a 15-2 win over Manhattan.

The 5’9, 160-pound Murphy proceeded to go 15-of-22 in a loss to Penn and then outduel Yale’s Dylan Levings with a 13-of-22 performance in a 10-9 win over the Bulldogs.

Last Saturday, Murphy’s excellence on face-offs helped Princeton top Brown 15-8 as he went 9-of-11 in the first half as the Tigers seized momentum in the contest and led 7-2 at halftime.

In reflecting on his effort against Brown, Murphy credited his practice duels against Princeton’s three other face-off men with honing his skills.

“The good thing about going here is that everyone facing off has a different style,” said Murphy, a native of Vienna, Va.

“We have four different guys, we are all really even and they can throw any of us out there. So in practice I get three different looks with three different guys whether it is Bobby Lucas, Jake Froccaro, or Jeff Froccaro. Having that variety in practice enables me to adapt or change as the game goes on to see what other guys are doing because I have faced a lot of different styles in practice.”

Murphy, though, had to change his style earlier this season to emerge as Princeton’s primary face-off guy.

“After the first couple games, our group and me personally weren’t doing enough,” recalled Murphy.

“We weren’t doing our job necessarily and the coaches came over and said things need to change. So basically I took that and changed up my stance, I used to be going knee down early in the season. The coaches were saying that things need to change. From a coaching standpoint, they were looking at what we were doing so I tried changing my stance. I was accepting the fact that maybe I was being too stubborn so I am standing up now. I think that has actually helped a lot. I did that right before the Manhattan game.”

While Murphy and the Tigers struggled a little bit in the fourth quarter as Brown went on a 5-1 run to narrow the lead to 12-7, Princeton made a last stand and pulled away to the win in improving to 6-2 overall and 2-1 Ivy League.

“I didn’t do the best job in the second half but you can’t worry about the past, you need to focus on the next one,” said Murphy, who is now 60-of-105 on face-offs this season.

“The Ivy League is crazy and anything can happen. So even though we had a lead in the second half, anything can happen. That team has an explosive offense and they could get on a roll. Every game is a must win because we only play each team once in the season.”

Princeton head coach Chris Bates was thrilled to see his team hold off the Bears.

“It is good that we won this one,” said Bates. “We would rather control our destiny and if we can go get two more and if Cornell holds serve, then we have an opportunity to win an Ivy League championship. At the end of the day, that is the easiest way. We want to win our Ivy tournament and our Ivy championship. We control our own destiny and that’s all you want.”

Murphy’s emergence as a face-off star has helped Princeton take control of games.

“It has been the biggest difference for us clearly,” asserted Bates, referring to Murphy’s contribution.

“Early in the games, he has been strong. This week, we thought we would be effective facing off. Brown is not as strong as Yale or Penn. I think Murph was 9-for-11 in the first half and gave us a buffer, gave us an ability to generate some shots and it also gave us ball possession. For a relatively young defense, it is still the less you play, the better. If you are giving up face-offs and giving the defense too much time on the field, offenses at this level are going to score goals. It has been huge for us, he has been great.”

The Tigers got some great offensive production against Brown from the Froccaro family as senior Jeff scored four goals and had an assist while freshmen Jake had three goals.

“Jeff is a leader; he knows where we are supposed to be,” said Bates of the older Froccaro who passed the 100-point mark in his Princeton career with his output on Saturday.

Jake is a young guy; he has figured it out. Obviously he can play.  He has  got a great lacrosse IQ and puts the ball in the back of the net. I think it is good to have a big brother to help you along the way. Both of those guys can play. Jeff is having a good year, he has that knack and desire to put the ball in the back of the net; that’s what he does. Any time Brown got a little momentum today, Jeff stood tall and got one for us.”

The seventh-ranked Tigers have a big game this Saturday as they host No. 8 Syracuse (6-2) at Princeton Stadium in a contest that will be televised on ESPNU.

“It is an historical game; there is a tradition to the game that you can’t avoid,” said Bates.

“Even in the locker room the guys were saying it is ‘Cuse week and let’s get ready for it. It is one of those opportunities to get a big out of conference win at this time of the year which is unique. It fits right in our conference schedule which isn’t the norm so to have that opportunity, it is one we get excited for. They are a good team and they came off a tough loss. They rebounded and beat Canisius 17-5. It is big game for them for their playoff chances. I expect it to be a heckuva game.”

Murphy, for his part, is excited to take on the Orange. “Last year I was hurt and the first game that I was actually able to travel to with the team was the Syracuse game,” said Murphy.

“I got to go to the Carrier Dome; I didn’t get in or anything but it was a cool experience to watch. It is such a great rivalry. The first game I ever watched on TV was Princeton-Syracuse.”

Now Murphy will be getting watched by a national television audience as he looks to keep making an impact through his hard-earned face-off skill.

MULTI-TASKING: Princeton University baseball player Mike Ford gets ready to bat in action last weekend. On Sunday, former Hun star Ford excelled on the mound, at the plate, and in the field as Princeton swept a doubleheader against visiting Brown. Princeton, now 5-17 overall and 3-1 Ivy League, plays a single game at Seton Hall on April 3 and then gets back into Ivy action with doubleheaders at Dartmouth on April 6 and at Harvard on April 7.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MULTI-TASKING: Princeton University baseball player Mike Ford gets ready to bat in action last weekend. On Sunday, former Hun star Ford excelled on the mound, at the plate, and in the field as Princeton swept a doubleheader against visiting Brown. Princeton, now 5-17 overall and 3-1 Ivy League, plays a single game at Seton Hall on April 3 and then gets back into Ivy action with doubleheaders at Dartmouth on April 6 and at Harvard on April 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Mike Ford showed his flair for multi-tasking on the diamond as the Princeton University baseball team swept visiting Brown in an Easter Sunday doubleheader.

In Game 1, junior Ford, a former Hun School standout, starred on the mound, pitching a seven-inning complete game to help Princeton top the Bears 3-1.

Playing at first base in the nightcap, Ford contributed with his bat and glove as the Tigers completed the sweep with a 3-1 triumph. Ford hit a single and scored a run in the first inning and then had a walk in the seventh as Princeton added another tally. He ended the game by scooping up a one-hopper and starting a sparkling 3-6-3 double play.

The wins gave Princeton a 3-1 Ivy League record as it had split a doubleheader against Yale on Saturday. The solid weekend also proved to be a jolt of confidence for a Tiger team that had struggled through a number of near-misses in going 2-16 this spring before getting into Ivy play.

“We really needed this,” said Ford, a 6’0, 225-pound native of Belle Mead. “I think we had lost nine one-run games to this point.”

Ford gave the Tigers what they needed in the opener Sunday as he struck out five and gave up five hits in outdueling former Hun teammate and Brown pitcher Anthony Galan.

“I felt pretty good; I developed a slider today,” said Ford, the Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 2011 and a two-time All-Ivy performer.

“I guess I have an out pitch now. I had a slider before but it was similar to my other breaking ball. So me and coach [Scott Bradley] have been working hard on trying to develop a sharper one. I changed my grip up because of an extra suggestion by coach’s friend; it really worked today. It was the second time I tried to throw it in a game and it really worked for me.”

Ford’s hard work on the mound is paying off as he is 2-0 this season with a team-leading 1.36 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 33 innings.

“I am just learning how to pitch; I guess it is a learning curve,” said Ford.

“I have always felt that I had the stuff to compete at any level. Just learning how to pitch; I am setting guys up a lot better this year. It has just been a good ride so far on the mound for me.”

Ford is getting in a good groove at the plate as well, hitting .240 with a team-high 15 RBIs.

“I had a bad first week but since then I have been feeling really good and hitting balls hard,” said Ford.

“It will come at some point; it is baseball. Hopefully it comes right now because that would be the right time for it.”

Spending extra time on his hitting since last season has made a difference for Ford.

“I had a real good summer in the Cape Cod League; I tried to get a little more power in my swing,” said Ford, who played for the Cotuit Kettlers and had a batting average of .252 with two homers and 17 RBIs in 32 games.

“After the season last year, I worked on my swing a little bit. The summer was really good for me. I saw a lot of good pitching; it is an awesome league to play in. It was one of the best experiences of my life for sure. I tweaked the swing and did real well this summer. Hopefully it is going to translate. I am not worried about it right now.”

After Princeton fell just short of a Gehrig Division crown last season, Ford and his teammates are hoping for a better experience this spring. “Everyone is hungry after our start, 2-16 isn’t what we want,” said Ford, who will look to keep up his hot play as Princeton plays a single game at Seton Hall on April 3 and then gets back into Ivy action with doubleheaders at Dartmouth on April 6 and at Harvard on April 7.

“It doesn’t really matter until we get into the league but it is still nice to scratch more than two wins in the beginning of the year. I think that kind of fueled everyone too. I think after the second game yesterday, everyone was down because of how we walked over the team in the first game. This time we were upbeat and maintained our focus that was really good. If we win three or four every weekend, then we are golden.”

MAKING STRIDES: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Charlotte Davis heads to goal in recent action. Senior midfielder Davis came up big as Princeton topped Columbia 18-7 last Wednesday and then topped No. 12 Cornell 12-10 on Saturday. Davis scored two goals in each game as Princeton extended its winning streak to three and improved to 6-3 overall and 3-0 Ivy League. The Tigers, now ranked 14th nationally, play at Yale (6-4 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on April 6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MAKING STRIDES: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Charlotte Davis heads to goal in recent action. Senior midfielder Davis came up big as Princeton topped Columbia 18-7 last Wednesday and then topped No. 12 Cornell 12-10 on Saturday. Davis scored two goals in each game as Princeton extended its winning streak to three and improved to 6-3 overall and 3-0 Ivy League. The Tigers, now ranked 14th nationally, play at Yale (6-4 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on April 6.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Charlotte Davis is focused on making her senior season with the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team something special.

“I think it has been since 2004 when we won the Ivy regular season title,” said senior midfielder Davis.

“We are really looking forward to doing that this year. As a senior, I am determined to go out with a bang.”

The Tigers have brought some extra determination into this spring after going 8-7 last year and failing to finish in the top four in the Ivy League and qualify for the league tournament.

“We are looking to make a huge change from last year,” said the 5’9 Davis, a native of Alexandria, Va. “We have the talent. We are just looking to really expand on that talent and grow everyday so we can win this league.”

Last Wednesday against visiting Columbia, Davis made a huge play after the Lions scored the first two goals of the second half and cut Princeton’s lead to 9-5. Getting the draw, Davis bulled her way through the crease and fired the ball into the goal to help the Tigers regain the momentum as Princeton pulled away to an 18-7 triumph.

“We have been really working hard on being threatening on attack,” said Davis, reflecting on her tally.

“I think we had just come for a timeout and our coach had said something. We came off of that timeout really strong and I think the flow started going better after that.”

Coming off an impressive 10-7 win over nationally ranked Johns Hopkins on March 23, the Tigers were looking to keep things flowing in the right direction against Columbia.

“That was one of the first games where our defense and offense played really well together all across the field,” said Davis, referring to the win over Hopkins.

“We have to continue to build on that and I think that is what we accomplished tonight.”

As a midfielder, Davis is looking to make an impact all over the field. “It is a definitely two-way role; I have to be on both ends of the field,” said Davis, who ended up with two goals and a ground ball in the win over Columbia. “It has been a great year; I am really enjoying playing midfield.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer enjoyed seeing her team’s sharp play in the Columbia game.

“I think this was the first game where we shot better than 50 percent,” said Sailer.

“We want to be shooting 50 percent (18-of-35); we were 3-for-3 on our eight meters which was huge; we have been having some issues on our 8 meters lately. I think this is the fewest turnovers we have ever had; only six turnovers in a lax game is really pretty good.”

The Tigers looked very good over the latter stages of the first half when they reeled off a six unanswered goals run to build a 9-3 halftime lead.

“We did have a good run at the end of that first half,” said Sailer, whose team kept up its good run of play as it topped No. 12 Cornell 12-10 last Saturday to win its third straight game and improve to 6-3 overall and 3-0 Ivy.

“I think we started winning more draws and we started shooting better. We are still trying to work on getting off to better starts, getting better possessions, better looks initially. So far we have been a team that has to get into the flow and figure out the keeper. Luckily we did that at the end of the first half.”

Freshman Alexandra Bruno got into the flow in the Columbia game as she tallied a career-high six goals.

“Bruno is a finisher; I think she hit a few posts early but when you get her the ball in front of the cage and when she can take her dodge and go, she is a deadly kid,” said Sailer, who got nine points on six goals and three assists from sophomore star Erin McMunn, who was later named the Ivy Offensive Player of the Week.

“She has a really good release and is able to find  the net. It was a good night for her. Hopefully this will give her some good confidence as she heads into the next game.”

Having senior star Davis patrolling the midfield gives Princeton a lot of confidence.

“Charlotte made a really nice dodge and a great shot and it was off to the races from there,” said Sailer, referring to Davis’ second half goal.

“She has been solid; she has been a key player since she came to Princeton.  She is always good for a few goals and she is going to fight in the midfield. We need to rely on her more this year; she has had some good experience and her goals are really important to us. Losing Cassie Pyle from last year and all her firepower on the midfield and Jaci Gassaway not being in a normal position, a kid like Charlotte becomes even more critical for you. She has to put in a few each game.”

The Tiger defense also played a critical role in the win. “I thought the defense did a really good job, especially when we started double-teaming behind on No. 23 [Kacie Johnson],” said Sailer, whose junior goalie Caroline Franke earned Ivy Defensive Player of the Week honors after making eight saves against Columbia and then posting nine in the win over Cornell.

“In the second half, we forced them into a few turnovers. I thought Liz Bannantine once again was phenomenal. We had a freshman on their senior, one of the top players in the league, and I thought she did a really great job on her.”

It was important for Princeton to follow up the Columbia game with a great win against Cornell.

“Obviously, this is a big, big game for us,” said Sailer, whose team has climbed to No. 14 in the Inside Lacrosse national poll and plays at Yale (6-4 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on April 6.

“They are going to be one of the top teams in the league. It is going to be a big challenge for us and a great test for us to really see how we stack up right now against one of the league’s top teams.”

Davis, for her part, looked forward to the Cornell game as a way for the Tigers to show that they are one of the top teams in the league.

“Ivy League games are huge for us; it is going to get more and more challenging,” said Davis, who now has 16 points this season on 12 goals and four assists.

“We are looking forward to expanding on our game. Cornell is going to be a huge challenge and a huge step for us.”

GETTING THE UPPER HAND: Princeton University women’s open crew head coach Lori Dauphiny congratulates Gabby Cole, right, after a race last year. Last Saturday, senior star Cole helped the Princeton first varsity boat start the season in style as it topped Ohio State and Brown to win its opening regatta and claim the Class of 1987 Trophy. The Tigers are next in action when they row against Columbia on April 6 at Ridgefield Park, N.J.(Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

GETTING THE UPPER HAND: Princeton University women’s open crew head coach Lori Dauphiny congratulates Gabby Cole, right, after a race last year. Last Saturday, senior star Cole helped the Princeton first varsity boat start the season in style as it topped Ohio State and Brown to win its opening regatta and claim the Class of 1987 Trophy. The Tigers are next in action when they row against Columbia on April 6 at Ridgefield Park, N.J. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

Lori Dauphiny knew that her Princeton University women’s open crew first varsity faced a good test last weekend in its season-opening regatta.

Hosting Ohio State and longtime Ivy League rival Brown on Lake Carnegie last Saturday, the first boat was pushed hard. The three foes were within a length of each other for most of the race before Princeton pulled ahead at the end. The Tigers posted a time of 6:40.7 over the 2,000-meter course to win the Class of 1987 Trophy with Ohio State second in 6:43.8 and Brown just behind in 6:44.5.

“We went against really good competition,” said Princeton head coach Dauphiny, noting that Ohio State and Brown both did well at the 2102 NCAA championship regatta.

“The first varsity had a great race on Saturday, it was really close. Ohio State and Brown were dead level for most of the race and we were ¾ of a length ahead. They were all overlapping, it was nerve-wracking.”

While the tight race may have been stomach churning for Dauphiny, she realizes that her rowers benefitted from the close call.

“There was a lot of experience to be gained,” said Dauphiny. “I am glad the first varsity had such an intense race. We learned some valuable information. It is not just the start and shift. It was the middle of the race and what happens when you are level with the other boats. We learn more when we have racing like that.”

The Tigers are learning a lot on a daily basis as the program’s stockpile of talent makes for spirited training sessions.

“I think one thing we do have this year is depth; we have been working on that for a few years and I think depth is a strength of the team,” said Dauphiny, whose second varsity placed second behind Ohio State on Saturday while the varsity four took third and the third varsity 8 and the varsity 4 ‘B’ both posted victories.

“It is a good competition; they push each but in a very supportive way. We race each other side by side, we have seat races, we ERG together. I tell them this  is what makes you faster and how you get better.”

With Princeton racing against Columbia on April 6 at Ridgefield Park, N.J., Dauphiny will be looking for her rowers to get faster.

“We do have a lot to work on, the progress we make is going to be key,” said Dauphiny, noting that the addition of new assistant coaches Kate Maxim and former Tiger men’s star Steve Coppola ’06 has given the program a jolt of energy.

“I didn’t know that much about the boats, I know a lot about the individual rowers. We’ll see how it comes together over the next few weeks.”

March 27, 2013
LAST DANCE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Niveen Rasheed heads to the hoop in recent action. Last Sunday, senior star Rasheed closed out her brilliant career by scoring nine points and getting nine rebounds as ninth-seeded Princeton fell 60-44 to eighth-seeded Florida State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The loss left the Tigers with a final record of 22-7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LAST DANCE: Princeton University women’s basketball player Niveen Rasheed heads to the hoop in recent action. Last Sunday, senior star Rasheed closed out her brilliant career by scoring nine points and getting nine rebounds as ninth-seeded Princeton fell 60-44 to eighth-seeded Florida State in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The loss left the Tigers with a final record of 22-7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Courtney Banghart experienced an uncomfortable feeling of deja vu as her Princeton University women’s basketball team trailed Florida State 31-19 at halftime last Sunday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

“It was like the Harvard game, we just couldn’t hit a shot,” said Princeton head coach Banghart, referring to her team’s 58-55 loss to the Crimson on March 1 which saw Princeton hit just 25.8 percent (16-of-62) of its shots.

Going into the dressing room on Sunday in Waco, Texas, the ninth-seeded Tigers had shot a dismal 20.6 percent (7-of-34) while the eighth-seeded Seminoles hit on 14-of-28 shots in building their halftime cushion.

Despite the ice-cold shooting and the deficit, Banghart was far from discouraged as she spoke to her players at intermission.

“Basically I told them we could not have played worse and we were still in the game,” recalled Banghart.

“I told them your toughness, relentlessness, and competitive fire was what kept you in the game and you had to start making shots. I told them to be the Princeton team we brought here.”

Princeton showed its trademark fire in the second half, going on a 10-0 run to narrow the Florida State margin to 38-37 with 11:07 remaining in regulation.

“I was thinking we might be able to steal it,” said Banghart, acknowledging that her team still wasn’t in a groove despite the surge.

But Princeton never got closer as the Seminoles went on a 16-2 run on the way to a 60-44 triumph.

In reflecting on the defeat, which left Princeton with a final record of 22-7, Banghart said the numbers just didn’t add up for the Tigers.

“When you make 19 turnovers, shoot 25 percent (17-of-67) from the field and 40 percent (4-of-10) from the line, you don’t give yourself the chance to win, especially in the NCAA where there are 64 very good teams,” said Banghart, who got nine points and nine rebounds from senior star Niveen Rasheed with sophomore Blake Dietrick scoring nine and freshman Michelle Miller adding eight points.

The loss ended a very good run for the Princeton seniors, who helped Princeton win four straight Ivy titles and go 96-20 overall and 54-2 Ivy over their careers.

“In life, you are not judged on one day,” said Banghart, whose Class of 2013 included two-time Ivy Player of the Year Rasheed, three-time Ivy Defensive Player of the Year Lauren Polansky, together with Megan Bowen, and Kate Miller.

“The seniors have a lot to be proud of, with the way they have treated everyday. I would have liked us to play better, it is a memory that will be with us forever.”

While those seniors won’t have a memory of an NCAA win, they have sparked some key breakthroughs for the program.

“I think when you are in the NCAA, you have a shot,” said Banghart. “To be in the Top 30 RPI) Ratings Percentage Index) the last two years, that is getting over a hump. Getting to the point where you have won four straight Ivy titles, that is getting over the hump.”

Drawing a player like Rasheed certainly helped Princeton get over the hump. “We knew we were getting an impactful player, what we didn’t know about was the charisma, infectious energy and commitment to getting better that she also brought,” said Banghart of Rasheed who ended her career with 1,617 points, the fourth-most in program history.

“She has left a legacy. She brought attention to the league and handled herself so well in the process.”

Rasheed, for her part, tipped her hat to Florida State. “I think they did a great job, but honestly when it came down to it, we just didn’t make our shots and we just took ourselves out of the game,” said Rasheed in the postgame quotes statement issued by the NCAA.

“They played great. They were long and aggressive just like we expected but nothing we couldn’t handle. It’s kind of unfortunate that it came down to us just letting ourselves down.”

While the loss was a downer, Rasheed believes Princeton will remain on the upswing.

“I can definitely see this program not taking a downturn at all, reloading every year,” said Rasheed.

“It makes us feel better that we built this program to what it is, and not letting it go to waste.”

Banghart, for her part, feels good about the future for the Tigers. “With Nicole [Hung] and Kristen [Helmstetter] coming back as seniors, the sophomores like Blake [Dietrick] and Mariah [Smith] who improved so much this year and the spirit of the freshman class [Michelle Miller, Alex Wheatley, Annie Tarakchian, Amanda Berntsen, and Taylor Williams], I like the foundation,” said Banghart.

“Those freshman kids came early to practice everyday, looking to get better. If we had to rebuild, the seniors wouldn’t be doing their job. They are leaving a legacy that extends beyond them. As Niveen said in the press conference, the team is in good hands.”