March 27, 2013

While Kristen Helmstetter and Blake Dietrick were both in uniform when the Princeton University women’s basketball fell to Kansas State in the NCAA tournament last March, neither of them saw any action in the contest.

As ninth-seeded Princeton prepared to face eighth-seeded Florida State in the first round of the 2013 NCAA tourney last Sunday, junior forward Helmstetter and sophomore guard Dietrick knew they both would have a chance to shine on the national stage.

Helmstetter broke into the starting lineup in late November due to an knee injury suffered by Nicole Hung and emerged as a second-team All Ivy League performer, averaging 9.0 points and 4.9 rebounds per game. Dietrick, for her part, saw extra playing time due to senior Lauren Polansky’s struggles with foot problems and became a key perimeter threat, averaging 8.0 points a game and leading the Tigers in three-pointers with 52.

In reflecting on the matchup against Florida State, Helmstetter drew on what she gained from last year’s trip to the NCAAs.

“The tournament is a great experience, no matter what, whether you play or not,” said the 6’0 Helmstetter, a Jersey native from nearby Bridgewater.

“Just going in there and seeing how hard our team played last year. To get to be a part of it this year hopefully, to play with so much heart and get on the court and make a difference is really important.”

For Dietrick, the chance to get into the fray at March Madness stirred her emotions. “I didn’t feel that the loss last year hit me as hard as it did the upperclassmen which makes sense because they were more invested in terms of time because they had been there so long,” said the 5’10 Dietrick, a native of Wellesley, Mass.

“It was my first year and I was so new to the the program. I am ready to feel that emotion and be that passionate about this game and want it that badly.”

While the Florida State game didn’t turn out well for Princeton as the Tigers lost 60-44, both Helmstetter and Dietrick made solid contributions. Helmstetter scored four points and had a team-high nine rebounds along with senior Niveen Rasheed. Dietrick tied Rasheed for the team-high in points with nine, banging in a trio of three-pointers.

Helmstetter’s performance exemplified the progress she has made this winter. “I think this season gave me a lot more confidence in myself and my game,” maintained Helmstetter.

“Our teammates are so supportive in helping each other and working together on the court. I think we have gotten a lot better since the beginning of the year. I am definitely excited to get out there and contribute.

The effort by Dietrick against the Seminoles likewise reflected the growth in her game. “I think I have definitely tried to expand my game and not just be a three-point shooter which is what my role was last year,” said Dietrick.

“I think with LP [Polansky] being injured a little bit in the middle of the season that definitely helped me to take on more of that point guard role and not play as much as a two guard so I am excited to get my teammates involved, push the pace, do all the things that a point guard is expected to do and hopefully defend as well as LP does when I am in there.”

In Helmstetter’s view, the Tigers were excited to give their all against Florida State for seniors Meg Bowen, Kate Miller, Rasheed, and Polansky.

“Most definitely, I think a lot of this is about our senior class,” said Helmstetter.

“They have earned this. It is their fourth trip and for them to go out with a win would mean the most in the entire world to us and to them.”

Although the Tigers didn’t get that win, the play of Helmstetter and Dietrick could result in more trips to the NCAA for Princeton.

PAIN CONTROL: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Jaci Gassaway controls the ball last Saturday in Princeton’s 10-7 win over visiting Johns Hopkins. Playing through a serious knee injury, Gassaway scored three goals in the victory as the Tigers overcame a 7-4 second half deficit. Princeton, now 4-3 overall and 1-0 Ivy League, hosts Columbia (1-7 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on March 27 before playing at 12th-ranked Cornell (6-2 overall, 2-1 Ivy) on March 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PAIN CONTROL: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Jaci Gassaway controls the ball last Saturday in Princeton’s 10-7 win over visiting Johns Hopkins. Playing through a serious knee injury, Gassaway scored three goals in the victory as the Tigers overcame a 7-4 second half deficit. Princeton, now 4-3 overall and 1-0 Ivy League, hosts Columbia (1-7 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on March 27 before playing at 12th-ranked Cornell (6-2 overall, 2-1 Ivy) on March 30. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Jaci Gassaway was primed for a big senior season with the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team as the Tigers’ top returning goal scorer and a co-captain.

But a month before the season opener, the star attacker’s hopes for a stirring finale seemed dashed as Gassaway tore the ACL in her left knee.

If Gassaway had the surgery she needed to repair the injury, she would be out for the season.

With her senior campaign hanging in the balance, Gassaway decided to not rush into anything.

“I wasn’t sure if I could play. I was considering taking the semester off,” said Gassaway. “I decided to see if it would get feel better.”

Trying a large black brace on her knee, Gassaway found that she could navigate the field. She was in uniform for the season opener against Villanova on February 23 but didn’t see action. In Princeton’s next game at Georgetown, the 5’9 native of Severna Park, Md. did come in off the bench but didn’t get a shot.

Two days later, Gassaway saw action against Southern California and scored two goals. She then added two goals in a loss to Virginia on March 16 and a tally in a defeat at Rutgers three days later.

While Gassaway wasn’t close to full speed, she has adjusted her game in order to be a factor for the Tigers.

“I have learned what I can do and what I can’t do,” said Gassaway, who has 12 points on the season with nine goals and three assists. “I can’t go behind the net, I play more in the middle now.

Last Saturday, Gassaway was in the middle of the action as the Tigers rallied from a 7-4 second half deficit against No. 16 Johns Hopkins] and score six unanswered goals to stun the Blue Jays 10-7 at Class of 1952 Stadium.

Displaying her finishing touch, Gassaway scored three goals in that stretch to help spark the comeback as the Tigers improved to 4-3 overall.

“I think it was more the offense was moving better so I was getting open and I took advantage of that,” said Gassaway.

Gassaway acknowledged that the Tiger attack needed to pick things up as Princeton trailed 4-3 at halftime.

“The defense was playing great,” said Gassaway. “Offensively we had outshot them but we weren’t finishing so the focus was to get the ball in the net and do a much better job of that in the second half.”

With Princeton coming off tough losses at Virginia and Rutgers, the Tigers were focused on getting back on the winning track.

“It was definitely a critical game, especially going into our Ivy season,” said Gassaway, reflecting on the league campaign which will see Princeton host Columbia (1-7 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on March 27 before playing at 12th-ranked Cornell (6-2 overall, 2-1 Ivy) on March 30.

“We have had one Ivy game (an 18-11 win over Brown on March 9).We just wanted to put it all on the line.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer believes the win over Hopkins should help her team down the line.

“Whatever happens you move forward but I think getting this win against a good team, a ranked team with a lot of good players on it, is just going to do a lot for our confidence,” asserted Sailer.

Princeton drew confidence early on from a superb defensive effort that saw the Tigers hold the high-powered Blue Jays to four goals in the first half, a big plus considering that Hopkins came into the day averaging 13.75 goals a game.

“The defense was phenomenal in the first half; I don’t know that I can remember a better half of defense,” said Sailer.

“We had some great stands, [Caroline] Franke made some key saves. The job that Liz Bannantine did on Taylor D’Amore was just phenomenal. The whole defense just played so well in that first half.”

In the second half, the Princeton offense stepped up, producing a 7-1 run after it fell behind 6-3 with 25 minutes left in regulation.

“We were taking quick shots and we weren’t changing our levels,” said Sailer.

“Our possessions were just so short so we challenged them at halftime and said look we had to win this game on the attack end, we had to take the pressure off the defense. We did that.”

Princeton started putting the pressure on the Blue Jays when sophomore star Erin McMunn took over draw control duties.

“I think the big factor in the game was second half draw controls,” said Sailer of McMunn, who helped Princeton win nine of 12 draws down the stretch of the game.

“We put McMunn on the draw control and she was phenomenal. The whole team was really scrapping for the ground balls off the draws; that really turned it around.”

Having Gassaway on the field, even in a limited role, has made a big difference for Princeton.

“I am just so thankful for Jaci; the things that she has been able to do are really just amazing,” said Sailer.

“She was huge for us. The kids know that she will handle those balls inside and she was able to put them away.”

Sailer liked the patience her team showed in putting away the Blue Jays down the stretch.

“We knew when we got that two-goal lead that it would help us if we could kill some clock and possess the ball a little bit,” said Sailer, who got two goals from freshman Alexandra Bruno with McMunn chipping in a goal and two assists and senior Mary-Kate Sivilli contributing a goal and two assists.

“They have some talented kids so we knew that we had to take the air out of the ball a little bit and get them out of what they were in as well. Offensively, I thought our kids did a good job of controlling the ball. We haven’t been in that situation that much where we have had to hold the lead and expand it.”

As Princeton heads into the thick of its Ivy schedule, Sailer is hoping her team will take keep playing from the lead.

“I think the kids feel really good about how they performed today,” said Sailer.

“I think it really was a full team effort with the attack and the changes we made in the second half.”

Gassaway, for her part, is feeling really good about being able to contribute.

“It means so much to me to be out there,” said Gassaway.

“I told my teammates I would be happy to play one game with them, now that I have played six I am so excited.”

GOAL GETTER: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Mike MacDonald heads up the field last Friday against Yale. Sophomore attacker MacDonald scored three goals in the contest, including the game-winner, as Princeton edged the Bulldogs 10-9. MacDonald leads the Tigers in goals this season with 19. The eighth-ranked Tigers, now 5-2 overall and 1-1 Ivy League, host No. 20 Brown (5-1 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on March 30.  (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GOAL GETTER: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Mike MacDonald heads up the field last Friday against Yale. Sophomore attacker MacDonald scored three goals in the contest, including the game-winner, as Princeton edged the Bulldogs 10-9. MacDonald leads the Tigers in goals this season with 19. The eighth-ranked Tigers, now 5-2 overall and 1-1 Ivy League, host No. 20 Brown (5-1 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on March 30.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Mike MacDonald established himself as scoring threat last spring in his freshman season on the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team.

The 6’1, 190-pound attackman scored 30 points on 22 goals and eight assists in his debut campaign.

But MacDonald knew he had to diversify his game this spring to become even more effective.

“I think this year more than last year, I have been dodging more and getting a little more involved in the offense,” said MacDonald.

“Tom Schreiber assisted most of my goals last year; I am getting more on the outside and not as many on the inside, which is a nice transition.”

Last Friday against visiting Yale, MacDonald displayed his versatility, scoring three goals as the Tigers edged the Bulldogs 10-9. His second goal helped the Tigers seize momentum in the third quarter and his final tally put Princeton ahead 10-7 with 8:57 left in regulation and proved to be the game-winner.

With Princeton knotted in a 4-4 tie at halftime, the Tigers were looking to be sharper with the ball in the second half.

“We came in at half and said that we really needed to step it up offensively,” said MacDonald, a native of Georgetown, Ontario who now has a team-high 19 goals this season.

“I think we built off the third quarter. The third quarter was probably a little bit better but we played smart in the fourth quarter.”

The play of sophomore Justin Murphy on face-offs helped things go better for Princeton in the second half as he won 13-of-22 on the game.

“Their face-off guy [Dylan Levings] came in with one of the best percentages in the country,” said MacDonald.

“Justin Murphy just stepped in there and played his heart out; he got us a lot of extra possessions.”

MacDonald took advantage of a Yale misstep on the winning tally. “I think my guy just slipped up and I was just dodging and I shot it,” recalled MacDonald

Princeton head coach Chris Bates knew his team could ill afford a slip up against Yale as it was coming off a tough 11-10 loss at Penn in its Ivy opener.

“This team needed a win, I think we were on our heels a little bit after last weekend,” said Bates, reflecting on the victory which lifted Princeton to 5-2 overall and 1-1 Ivy. “We knew it was going to be a tough, close game and it was.”

Murphy’s tough play helped pave the way to the Princeton win. “Justin Murphy gave us a huge lift, I just thought, all game long,” asserted Bates.

“He gave us the ball. He was 13-of-22 and no one does that against that kid.  He’s a pure face-off guy, he’s so focused on that as his craft. He takes great pride in in it. He is such a hard-working, tough kid, it is so nice to see him do well, you hear the cheers. That was the difference in a lot of ways.”

Taking advantage of the possession gained from Murphy’s stellar effort, the Princeton offense drew cheers with its sharp play.

“I thought we just moved the ball well, shared it, and got our hands free,” said Bates, who got two goals apiece from freshman Ryan Ambler and sophomore Kip Orban with junior star Schreiber contributing a goal and three assists.

“We get a little bit loose and feel good, we get a little in the flow. Again it goes back to the face-off; when you have the ball, you are not pressing as much.”

Bates likes the way MacDonald is helping things flow for the Tigers. “Mike is comfortable carrying the ball that much more,” said Bates.

“Last year, he relied on Tom finding him off ball. We are calling his number too and giving him the opportunity to dodge. He is tough to stop going top side. If you bring a pick to him, he is going to use it well. He just turns the corner. He has got a knack. When he gets his hands free, he is going to finish as well as anybody.”

After having lost to Yale 15-7 last spring in the Ivy championship game, Princeton was primed to fight to the finish last Friday.

“Yale is Yale; we wanted to beat them,” said Bates, whose team in now ranked eight nationally and hosts No. 20 Brown (5-1 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on March 30.

“They beat us here so there is no doubt that was in our minds.  They celebrate and they do this and they do that. For us, we just said go back to business. I thought we were a tough team today, we were a tough team on the ground. I thought we were tough on ball, we got to the front of the cage. Hopefully it is good sign for us going forward. We are kind of finding ourselves and getting a little grittier and coming together that much more.”

MacDonald, for his part, believes the Tigers can be even sharper going forward.

“It is good to have a one-goal win rather than a one-goal loss obviously,” said MacDonald.

“I think we are going to build off of that. I don’t think we played our best game today; we can play a lot better, taking care of small things.”

March 20, 2013
TEXAS TWO STEP: Members of the Princeton University women’s basketball team jump for joy after they learned their assignment for the upcoming NCAA tournament in a selection show party at the Triumph Brewing Company. The Tigers (22-6 overall, 13-1 Ivy League) were seeded ninth and will be heading to Waco, Texas to face No. 8 Florida State (22-9 overall, 11-7 ACC) on Sunday in the first round of the Oklahoma City regional.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TEXAS TWO STEP: Members of the Princeton University women’s basketball team jump for joy after they learned their assignment for the upcoming NCAA tournament in a selection show party at the Triumph Brewing Company. The Tigers (22-6 overall, 13-1 Ivy League) were seeded ninth and will be heading to Waco, Texas to face No. 8 Florida State (22-9 overall, 11-7 ACC) on Sunday in the first round of the Oklahoma City regional. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last March, the Princeton University women’s basketball team took a ninth seed into the NCAA tournament and lost a 67-64 heartbreaker to No. 8 Kansas State.

On Monday evening, four-time Ivy League champion Princeton (22-6 overall, 13-1 Ivy League) learned that it has earned a ninth-seed in the NCAA tourney for the second straight year and will be heading to Waco, Texas to face No. 8 Florida State (22-9 overall, 11-7 ACC) on Sunday in the first round of the Oklahoma City regional. The winner of that game will likely face defending national champion Baylor (32-1) in the next round as the No. 1 Bears are heavily favored to defeat 16 seed Prairie View (17-14) in their NCAA opener.

Senior forward Kate Miller, for her part, believes that last year’s disappointment has laid the foundation for success this March.

“Going in as a nine seed last year and playing the 8-9 matchup and losing by three, although it is a heartbreaker, it definitely gives us a ton of confidence going forward,” said Miller.

“Coming off the loss last year, that’s where we were and that’s where we want to be. I think that is the best seed we can ask for.”

In Miller’s view, having suffered a loss in Ivy play this winter for the first time since February, 2011 along with surviving a couple of close calls should help the Tigers.

“We had the loss against Harvard, we had the tough games against Penn and Dartmouth; to not just breeze through like we have been, that’s been great prep for us,” said Miller, a 6’0 native of Rumson, N.J. who is averaging 5.8 points and 3.4 rebounds a game this season.

“I think what we learned from the past three trips to the tournament is that it is not going to be an Ivy League game. You have to remind yourself how it feels to play from behind and to value every possession. That is something that we lose sight of once we get out of the preseason; we have had those tough games.”

With Princeton having lost in its previous three trips to the Big Dance, Miller believes it needs to be tougher mentally to prevail this time. “We need to be poised and treat it like any other game,” said Miller.

“You know we are going to be playing far from home so we are not going to have the fan group we are used to but to just treat it like it is nothing different.  One thing our coach has been telling us is execute first and emotion second. I think that is going to be huge. It is such a big stage and there is so much excitement going into it. If we let that take us out of our stuff, it is not going to go the way we want. I think we need to get down there and get settled the first two days we are there and then really just focus on us.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart likewise believes that tasting defeat in Ivy play and going 9-5 in a challenging non-conference slate will work to Princeton’s advantage.

“We are not going to be winning by 20 at half, I promise you that,” said Banghart.

“So to have played in close environments and close games, I think that will help us. I told this team at the end of the Penn game, we are more battle-tested than we have been and we are deeper and those two things are important in the NCAA tournament.”

The Tigers will face a deep and talented team in Florida State. “They are pretty guard-oriented; they are pretty senior-oriented,” said Banghart in assessing the Seminoles who is coached by Sue Semrau and features three All-ACC performers in senior guards Alexa Deluzio and Leonor Rodriguez and junior forward Natasha Howard.

“Their two leading scorers are guards. Their coach is one of the best in our game. You are not going to get a bad team in the NCAA tournament and they are certainly no exception.”

In the wake of Princeton’s season-ending 60-44 win over Penn on March 12, the Tigers have been focusing on speeding up their offense. “We have worked entirely on the pace of our offense,” noted Banghart.

“I thought we were playing too slow the last two weeks of the season so we worked on getting the east and west side of the court to play together and improve our pace. We have to just make sure that we don’t get going too fast now.”

Banghart knows her team can’t afford to get carried away emotionally when it returns to the big stage of March Madness.

“I thought when we played the home Harvard game, I wrote on the board, let’s execute first and be emotional second,” said Banghart.

“I think that is an important thing to carry into the tournament. The emotions are natural but we have to execute well. We are not going to change who we are, we don’t execute perfectly. We are going to play hard, we are going to defend, we are going to share the ball, we are going to celebrate each other. We are going to try to make some plays.”

Princeton is looking for some big plays from its corps of seniors which includes two-time Ivy Player of the Year Niveen Rasheed,  three-time Ivy Defensive Player of the Year Lauren Polansky, and Meg Bowen, together with Miller.

“I think the athletic mortality of seniors is something that can’t be overstated,” asserted Banghart.

“It is win or go home now for the seniors; I hope I can manage it well with them. I think what they took away from it last year is that some of their best friends were done. That’s hard, that it is over for you.”

Miller, for her part, doesn’t think things are going to end on Sunday for her and fellow seniors.

“This is it,” said Miller. “We have our preseason meetings and we set our goals and the No. 1 thing now is no longer just getting to the tournament, it is getting that first round win. I know for us seniors there is so much pride, heart, and dedication. We put four long years into this team, to go in with this much confidence, to get the win is the only outcome we are going to push for.”

ANCHORMAN: Princeton University men’s track star Peter Callahan sprints to the finish in a race earlier in his career. Earlier this month, senior Callahan produced a blistering 1,600-meter anchor leg to help the Tigers win the distance medley relay at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

ANCHORMAN: Princeton University men’s track star Peter Callahan sprints to the finish in a race earlier in his career. Earlier this month, senior Callahan produced a blistering 1,600-meter anchor leg to help the Tigers win the distance medley relay at the NCAA Indoor Championships.

As Peter Callahan waited to get the baton for his 1,600-meter anchor leg in the distance medley relay (DMR) earlier this month at the NCAA Indoor Championships, he went through a mental checklist.

“What is important for me is that I have so much faith in the other guys; I am just trying to stay loose and look up a few times to keep up on the race,” said senior star Callahan.

“You have five and a half minutes, it is stressful. I just focus on my race strategy and my plan. What is unique is that you don’t know where you are going to be when you get the baton. In an individual race, you have control over where you are. You try to prepare for all the possibilities in the relay and then you just go and race hard.”

Once Callahan got the baton on the track at the University of Arkansas, he went hard and produced a blistering kick that gave the Princeton quartet the national title.

Princeton was in third when Callahan took off on his anchor leg. He kicked into high gear in the last 300 to pull out the win, running a 4:01.11 split as the Tigers finished at 9:33.01, with Penn State placing second in 9:34.00 and Minnesota taking third at 9:34.21

For Callahan, winning the title, Princeton’s first at the national indoor meet in 11 years, was extra special because he got to share it with teammates Michael Williams (1,200 meter leg), senior Austin Hollimon (400 meters), and senior Russell Dinkins (800 meters).

“I went to the meet as an individual last year and that was great,” said Callahan, who took sixth in the mile at the 2012 NCAA indoor meet.

“This is a whole other level. You are racing for something more than yourself. You are racing for the three other guys and for the team and you are racing for the whole school. It is something the four of us will share forever as a group.”

Callahan’s chances of racing to an NCAA title this winter were nearly dashed by injury. Suffering from problems in his left ankle and foot, Callahan was sidelined the last two springs and skipped cross country this past fall to concentrate on training himself back to health.

“I took a gradual approach this fall, I didn’t worry about cross country,” said Callahan, who sprained the ankle as a sophomore and later suffered a stress fracture and tendinitis in the foot.

“I stayed consistent over the fall. From the beginning of the year, we had sat down with Coach Vig (head cross country and distance coach Jason Vigilante) and set a goal of doing well in the DMR at the NCAA meet. I had that inside my head when I was training in the fall. It gave me a focus on what I needed to be doing.”

That plan paid dividends at the Indoor Heps as Callahan won the mile and anchored the DMR to victory to get named the co-Most Outstanding Track Performer at the meet.

“I didn’t know what to expect; I had faith in my coaches and faith in my training,” said Callahan, reflecting on the Heps.

“There is pressure to put up big times early for the NCAA. My fastest time was 4:18, 20 seconds off of what I did last year.  Coach Vig was very confident; he said we have a plan and we are sticking to it. It was big for me to be able to come out with wins and race well. It was a confidence builder.”

Coming to Princeton in 2009 from North Shore Country Day School in Evanston, Ill., it took a while for Callahan to develop confidence on the college level.

“For me, the biggest challenge was the training load and trying to balance academics and athletics at a different level,” said Callahan.

“Coming from a very small school where we had a strong team and then go into this bigger group with all these great runners, it can be a tough environment. All of a sudden, you are traveling to races. Every freshman is trying to prove himself.”

The transition was eased by the help of the Tiger veteran runners. “It can be competitive but it was collaborative,” said Callahan.

“The upperclassmen were very helpful, they wanted you to do well. I am running with 25 great runners everyday and learning from them. I found everybody very open and willing to help each other.”

Callahan experienced a key breakthrough in the Indoor Heps during his freshman campaign.

“When I won the individual title in the Indoor Heps at the 800; I was thinking I can do this college thing,” said Callahan. “It is still running. You put on your spikes and get out and try to run as hard as you can.”

That progress nearly got derailed, however, when Callahan sprained his left ankle before the Indoor Heps the next winter.

“I taped it up before Indoor Heps sophomore year,” recalled Callahan. “After those three races, I had to shut it down, I had tendinitis and then it turned into a stress fracture.”

Despite spend a lot of time rehabbing in the pool and on the bike over the next two years, Callahan was able to achieve a memorable milestone in his junior year as he ran two sub-4 minute miles.

“As a miler, that is the dream,“ said Callahan, who ran a 3:58.86 mile at the Sykes-Sabock Meet at Penn State on February 4, 2012 and then came back a week later to clock a 3:58.76 in the Husky Invitational in Seattle, Wash.

“That has been my goal for years. I have been spending time on the bike and in the pool all spring. I was watching everyone else do well and I was excited for them. I was gratified to be able to get out there and get the two sub-4s in a week. I had always hoped it would happen. I ran with my teammates in the races and had good competition.”

Things came together just in time for Callahan and his DMR teammates this winter as they qualified for the NCAA meet with a Princeton and Ivy record of 9:27.74 at the Alex Wilson Invitational at Notre Dame on March 1 before their NCAA triumph a week later.

“We were seeded as a ‘B’ squad at the Alex Wilson meet but that didn’t bother us,” said Callahan.

“At the NCAAs, we were seeded second. When the gun goes off, the seeds and predictions go out the window and it is all about competing. You are racing to try to beat the guy next to you, you have to show up on race day. All four of us were confident.”

Callahan is confident he can keep racing well as he heads into his final spring season at Princeton.

“You always have goals,” said Callahan, who plans to keep competing after graduation. “But for me, first and foremost, I want to stay healthy and do consistent training. If I do that, I will be able to do some good things.”

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CENTURY CLUB: Princeton University men’s lacrosse head coach Chris Bates exhorts his players. Last week, Bates earned the 100th win of his coaching career as Princeton beat Manhattan 15-2 on March 12. The 10th-ranked Tigers, who fell 11-10 to No. 7 Penn last Saturday in their Ivy League opener as they dropped to 4-2 overall, host No. 18 Yale (3-2 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Jack Strabo knows that he is not going to draw the spotlight through his role as a shortstick defensive midfielder for the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team but he isn’t complaining.

“It is a lot of fun to be able to defend a team; I really like playing within that unit of our team,” said junior Strabo, a 5’10, 170-pound native of Arlington, Va.

“It is something that you might not get necessarily as many accolades but working together with the other five guys and the goalie on the field. It is something that requires a lot of communication, a lot of teamwork. It requires all of us to be on the same page because if one of us isn’t on the same page, it is a goal or an opportunity at least.”

After Princeton fell 16-15 at North Carolina on March 9, Strabo and his fellow defenders were looking to tighten things up as the Tigers hosted Manhattan last week.

“Carolina was a tough loss for us, especially on the defensive end,” said Strabo.

“It is always good to have an opportunity to come back right away on a Tuesday and turn the page really quickly. Giving up 16 goals is something we can’t afford to do as a defense. That is one of the things that we really emphasized coming into this game and moving forward. One of the big keys for us is trying to stop transition offense and not give up any extra man opportunities on a 6-on-5 fast break.”

Strabo and the Tigers took a step forward against the Jaspers in the March 12 contest, locking down Manhattan as they cruised to a 15-2 victory.

“I was really proud of our defense, the way our goalies played, the close defense guys,” asserted Strabo.

“I thought everybody played well and we played well as a unit and executed our game plan.”

Coming into the season, there were plenty of questions surrounding a Princeton defensive unit that lost nearly all of its 2012 starters to graduation, including All-Americans Chad Wiedmaier, John Cunningham, and Tyler Fiorito.

Strabo, though, was confident that the rebuilt group could provide the right answers.

“We knew we graduated a lot of guys and that some people would need to step up,” said Strabo.

“I think a lot of guys have done an excellent job of filling spots. That was something coming in that I know a lot of people were worried about but me personally and most of the people within the program, we weren’t worried at all because we knew the guys that we had in the pipeline already. We knew that they would step up given the opportunity and I think they have done that so far.”

Strabo has played a key role in helping one of the new players step up as he has mentored his younger brother, freshman defenseman Mark.

“It is a lot of fun being out there with my brother; we played together for one year in high school and we were on the field together at times,” said Strabo, who didn’t have a lot of fun last Saturday as Princeton lost 11-10 at Penn in its Ivy League opener to fall to 4-2 overall.

“I gave him some advice over the summer. I would say that the biggest thing is adjusting to the pace and the speed of the game.”

Princeton head coach Chris Bates, for his part, liked the way his defense adjusted in the wake of the Carolina loss.

“We want those guys to continue to build confidence and just get used to playing together as a unit,” said Bates.

“Communication is such a big deal on that end of the field. So any time you get game experience and you do well and you react to a little adversity, it is good. Our starters gave up one goal and that’s a good night’s work.”

The win over Manhattan made it a special night for Bates as the triumph marked the 100th win of his college coaching career.

“I am happy to do it with these guys,” said Bates, who won 70 games in his 10-year tenure at Drexel and has posted a 30-20 record at Princeton,

“We have come a long way with growing up here at Princeton with some of these guys and it is a really likable team that works hard. I was pleased that they were happy for me and it was nice to share it with them.”

It is nice for Princeton to have a player like Strabo holding down the shortstick middie spot.

“He is a leader, he knows the defense,” said Bates. “He is starting to become more vocal, which we need. He and Chris White both give us a lot of minutes there and Bobby Lucas does too. So those guys are the unsung heroes and any time we can give them credit, we do because it is the hardest position on the field.”

Bates acknowledges that his squad is heading into a hard part of its schedule which will continue when the 10th-ranked Tigers host No. 18 Yale (3-2 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 22 in a rematch of the 2012 Ivy League title game won by the Bulldogs.

“We understand the way the schedule is structured,” said Bates. “Our early season is non-conference games and now this is go-time for us. These next few weeks are really going to be important. I think we are playing well. I think we will be ready. We are looking forward to it.”

Strabo, for his part, is looking forward to doing the dirty work required of his position.

“I would say my role is to do my best on the ball to get into the spots where we can to slide to it and recover,” said Strabo, who has four goals and an assist in his career along with 33 ground balls.

“I also need to play within our team’s defense and pick the spots I need to be at. In terms of clearing the ball, to try to get the ball and get it up the field.”

HEATING UP: Princeton University pitcher Zak Hermans fires a pitch in action last spring. Senior star Hermans has pitched well in the early stages of the season, going 0-1 with a 2.35 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 15.1 innings. Princeton, now 1-10, is on its annual spring break trip and is slated to play at Elon on March 20, at UNC-Greensboro on March 21, and then head to Navy for a four-game set from March 22-24.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HEATING UP: Princeton University pitcher Zak Hermans fires a pitch in action last spring. Senior star Hermans has pitched well in the early stages of the season, going 0-1 with a 2.35 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 15.1 innings. Princeton, now 1-10, is on its annual spring break trip and is slated to play at Elon on March 20, at UNC-Greensboro on March 21, and then head to Navy for a four-game set from March 22-24. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Although the Princeton University baseball team dropped three of four games at Stetson earlier this month in its second weekend of action this season, Scott Bradley drew a lot of positives from the his squad’s effort.

“The starting pitching was phenomenal, it was fantastic,” said Princeton head coach Bradley, referring to his rotation of senior Zak Hermans, senior Kevin Link, junior Michael Fagan, and junior Mike Ford, a former Hun School standout.

“I wanted each pitcher to go 90 pitches. Hermans didn’t give up a run until the sixth in the first game. Link threw seven shutout innings. Fagan had five shutout innings. Ford gave up two unearned runs in five innings.”

Bradley saw progress offensively as the Tigers were outscored at Stetson by 17-15 (losing a pair of 7-6 decisions and splitting a doubleheader with each game ending at 2-1), a marked improvement on its first weekend of the season which saw it get outscored 40-9 by Maryland in losing four games to the Terps.

“We saw some good at-bats,” said Bradley. “Mike Ford hit a two-run homer. Peter Owens is off to a good start; he is fast and can get on base. Stevie Harrington is coming off of squash and he is showing signs of getting it going.”

With Princeton squandering leads in each of its defeats to Stetson, Bradley acknowledged that his bullpen needs to be sharper.

“We are still trying to figure that out,” said Bradley, referring to his relief corps.

“Nick Donatiello threw three and a third innings on Friday so I knew I couldn’t use him again; Sunday’s game would have been his. A.J. Goetz had pitched well. He hit a bump in the road but he had pitched three good innings. We have some freshmen, Luke Strieber, Cam Mingo, Chris Bodurian who could help. Tyler Foote gave us some good innings.”

While Princeton did break through with its first win of the season at Stetson, Bradley was disappointed to see his team fail to come away with another victory or two on the trip.

“In the first game we had a 1-run lead in the ninth and a 2-run lead in the 11th,” recalled Bradley.

“We split a pair of 2-1 games on Sunday. In the last game, we had a three-run lead in the ninth. No doubt we should have had a second win or even three. We have to learn from that.”

With Princeton heading south for its annual spring break trip, Bradley knows his team has to get healthier to be competitive.

“The most important person for us right now is our trainer,” said Bradley, whose team went 0-3 against Georgetown last weekend to move to 1-10 and will play at Elon on March 20, at UNC-Greensboro on March 21 and then head to Navy for a four-game set from March 22-24.

“We are a little banged up, nothing major. Alec Keller didn’t play last weekend, he has a shoulder problem, he should be ready to go on the trip. Danny Hoy is one of our talented freshman and has been bothered by tendinitis, so we had him at DH but not in the field. Blake Thomsen has a chance to start at shortstop but has not played yet.”

For Bradley, the trip will be a dress rehearsal for Ivy League play, which features weekends with back-to-back doubleheaders.

“Starting with Georgetown, everything is going to be geared to how we want to play on weekends,” said Bradley, “We need to start putting things together and winning series. If a starting pitcher is feeling good, we may let him go for a complete game.”

March 13, 2013

 

GOING FOURTH: Princeton University women’s basketball player Lauren Polansky looks for an opening. Last Saturday, senior point guard Polansky helped Princeton top Brown 80-51 as the Tigers clinched a fourth straight outright Ivy League crown in their Jadwin Gym finale this winter. Princeton, which improved to 21-6 overall and 12-1 Ivy with the victory, was slated to wrap up regular season play with a game at Penn (16-11 overall, 9-4 Ivy) on March 12. The Tigers will find out their assignment for the upcoming NCAA tournament on March 18.                              (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GOING FOURTH: Princeton University women’s basketball player Lauren Polansky looks for an opening. Last Saturday, senior point guard Polansky helped Princeton top Brown 80-51 as the Tigers clinched a fourth straight outright Ivy League crown in their Jadwin Gym finale this winter. Princeton, which improved to 21-6 overall and 12-1 Ivy with the victory, was slated to wrap up regular season play with a game at Penn (16-11 overall, 9-4 Ivy) on March 12. The Tigers will find out their assignment for the upcoming NCAA tournament on March 18. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In one respect, Lauren Polansky has experienced an agonizing winter in her final season with the Princeton University women’s basketball team.

The gritty point guard and two-time Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year has been slowed by stress fractures in both feet.

“It was really hard sitting out so many games and not practicing,” said the 5’8 Polansky, a native of Mill Valley, Calif., who was sidelined for four games due to injury and was relegated to a reserve role for several others.

“Getting back into it you lose some of your confidence and aggressive mentality so that was hard to turn around.”

Last Saturday, it was hard for Polansky to hold back the tears as she and her classmates went through the Senior Night ceremony when Princeton hosted Brown in their final Jadwin Gym appearance.

“It hadn’t really sunk in, the depth of it, until right before the game when we are all putting our stuff on in the locker room and we were about to walk up and it all kind of hit me at once,” said Polansky, who was honored along with teammates Niveen Rasheed, Kate Miller, and Meg Bowen together with team manager Amanda Roman.

“I thought I was going to be crying and then I saw my mother crying. I was like you have enough emotion for the both of us; I am going to have to keep it together. I thought I was going to be the one senior bawling. The beginning of the game was a little hard, emotions were running tough. We were thinking more about that than the actual game. Our heads were kind of in the clouds a bit.”

The Tigers settled down, pulling away to an 80-51 win over the Bears and clinching their fourth straight Ivy League title in the process. As a result, the players’ heads ended up high above the Jadwin floor as they climbed a ladder one by one to cut down the net in celebrating the crown.

“There is no better way to go out,” said Polansky, reflecting on the victory which improved Princeton to 21-6 overall and 12-1 Ivy.

“We are really fortunate that it ended today. We were upset by the loss [a 58-55 defeat to Harvard on March 1] but it gave us the opportunity to finish it in this way. It was an incredible way to go out; I wouldn’t have it any other way with the families, friends here. It was an amazing atmosphere.”

It has been been an incredible journey for Polansky and her fellow seniors who are the winningest class in Ivy women’s hoops history with an overall record of 95-19 and and an Ivy mark of 53-2.

“We had no idea what we were getting ourselves into,” said Polansky. “We were the first class to have all of the players stay and nobody quit since we have been here. I just think that says a lot about the heart and the commitment that everyone has and the true love of the game and each other. The one surprise is that it hasn’t been easy this entire time. You think you are dominating but there have been some ups and downs and I think we have really been able to pull each other through it together. There is a huge bond. One day I will be down and the others will pull me up and the next day, it will be the other way around. I couldn’t be happier ending it with these girls tonight.”

That bond drove Polansky to be a positive force even as she was benched by her foot woes.

“As a captain, that’s what you have to do, you have to put the team first and you do what you need to do to help everyone out,” said Polansky.

“I am feeling good, the time off really helped and this is the time to get going.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart, for her part, feels very good about what her senior class has accomplished.

“They took a real risk on me as a young head coach; they bought in right away to what I was doing,” said Banghart.

“It is easy in this type of moment to think how fun it is but it is a long season, there are a lot of ups and downs to competitive sports where you battle each other everyday, you fight for playing time. The way these guys have stayed cohesive, stayed competitive, and stayed successful is unbelievable.”

In Banghart’s view, it is pretty unbelievable to have won four straight Ivy crowns.

“It is rare because it is really hard to do and it involves a lot of moving parts,” said Banghart, a former star guard at Dartmouth who helped the Big Green win two Ivy crowns during her playing days.

“It involves trusting a long process and patience when things are hard; getting punched in the face and bouncing back. I know how hard it is to do it and I am just really happy for them.”

Banghart is not surprised by how Polansky bounced back from her foot problems.

“I think all of the seniors have their own mantra and for her, it is just that in a lot of ways she is the glue for the team,” said Banghart.

“That is a special quality of hers and it has never been about her but it has been about cutting the nets down and she has done it four times.”

The team’s special qualities were lauded by Princeton basketball legend Bill Bradley, who spoke to the Tigers on Friday after they topped Yale 77-44 to clinch a share of the league title.

“I thought what was neat was that over about 15 minutes he said three things,” recalled Banghart.

“He said the way that this team shares the ball is really special, which coming from someone like him that means a lot. The second thing he said is the toughness that we showed on the defensive end was a pleasure and is the best he has seen. Then the third thing he said is watching the team on the floor and watching their replacements on the bench celebrate each other is what athletics is about.”

Having seen Princeton go 0-3 in its previous NCAA tournament appearances, Banghart is hungry to celebrate a win in March Madness.

“I don’t think we have played well yet in the NCAA tournament so we have to play well,” said Banghart, whose team was slated to wrap up regular season play with a game at Penn (16-11 overall, 9-4 Ivy) on March 12 and will learn its NCAA assignment during the March 18 selection show.

“It is a 40-minute game. We don’t have to be the better team over the course of the year, we have to be the better team for those 40 minutes. So far, we are 0-for-3 in being the better team for 40 minutes. I think we will play better, we are more experienced. We are also deeper which helps.”

In Polansky’s view, the Tigers are primed for an NCAA breakthrough. “In the first couple of years I think it was the big stage that really got us and not really knowing what to do, the inexperience of the group,” said Polansky, who has piled up 389 rebounds, 278 assists, and 203 steals in her career.

“I think with four out of five senior starters along with Kristen [Helmstetter] who has come on in a huge way, there is experience. You never know who you are going to get matched up against, where you are going to be, and how you are going to play that day but I am really liking the group we are coming into it with. I think that having our past three years experience is definitely going to work in our favor.”

It certainly works in Princeton’s favor to have the resilient Polansky up and running again at point guard.

PARTING SHOT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Rob Kleebaum heads up the ice in a game earlier this winter. Senior forward Kleebaum saw his Tiger career come to an end last weekend as Princeton fell 2-0 to visiting Cornell in a best-of-three ECAC Hockey opening round playoff series. The defeats left the Tigers with a final overall record of 10-16-5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PARTING SHOT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Rob Kleebaum heads up the ice in a game earlier this winter. Senior forward Kleebaum saw his Tiger career come to an end last weekend as Princeton fell 2-0 to visiting Cornell in a best-of-three ECAC Hockey opening round playoff series. The defeats left the Tigers with a final overall record of 10-16-5.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Rob Kleebaum and his teammates on the Princeton University men’s hockey team worked hard to earn home ice for the opening round of the ECAC Hockey playoffs.

“I thought our last three games we were doing the things that we needed to do to be successful,” said forward Kleebaum, reflecting on a 1-1-1 stretch which helped Princeton clinch eighth place in the ECACH standings and the right to host No. 9 Cornell last weekend in a best-of-three series.

“I thought we showed that coming into tonight, that definitely gave us momentum.”

For senior Kleebaum, it was special to get some more action in the friendly confines of Hobey Baker Rink.

“I wanted to get back to Hobey; it is nice to play some more games here,” asserted Kleebaum, a 6’0, 210-pound native of Sherwood Park, Alberta.

“The more important thing is that we get home ice, that is a huge advantage, especially against a team like Cornell. You don’t want to go play in their rink.”

Unfortunately, Princeton squandered that advantage as it fell 4-0 on Friday and 4-2 the next night to get eliminated from the playoffs and end the season with a a 10-16-5 overall record.

In Game 1, Princeton looked like it was continuing its spirited play of late, playing Cornell to a scoreless tie midway through the season period.

“I thought we played well,” said Kleebaum, who was all over the ice and generated several scoring chances for the Tigers.

“We were jumping on pucks and reloading hard. We need to be harder around the net though. When we get chances, we have to put them in and bury a team.”

The Big Red finished their chances, scoring two goals in the last 8:51 of the period and then adding two more in the third.

As Kleebaum looked ahead to Game 2, he knew that the Tigers needed to show a sense of urgency in the offensive zone.

“We need to get hungry around the net,” said Kleebaum. “Everything needs to be a life-or-death chance if you are in the slot or anywhere around the net.”

Early in Saturday’s contest, the Tigers showed that hunger, outshooting the Big Red 13-7 in the first period and taking a 1-0 lead on a Will MacDonald goal at the 12:27 mark.

Princeton head coach Bob Prier, for his part, liked the way his team got out of the gate.

“I thought we started pretty well; I thought we started like last night,” said Prier.

“It was good to get that first goal. It was a pretty good start; it looked like it was going to be our game.”

The game started to unravel for the Tigers in the second period as they were outshot 18-6 and got whistled for three penalties as the Big Red knotted the contest at 1-1.

“We took some poor penalties and lost momentum, it is as simple as that,” said Prier, reflecting on the period.

“It is a lesson that I had hoped we had learned throughout the year, obviously we didn’t and it came back to really bite us in the tail here this weekend. When you get less power plays than the opposition two games in a row against the third penalized team in the country, you do that and it is tough sledding.”

After Princeton fell behind 3-1 in the first 5:57 of the third period, the Tigers got a tough break as they had an apparent goal waved off with 10:59 remaining in regulation.

“It was a high stick or a high glove,” said Prier, when asked about the sequence.

“That is what review is for; it is a good call. It would have been nice to have it but at the same time, the technology is used to make sure that we get the right calls and it’s the right call.”

Undeterred, Princeton kept battling as Andrew Calof scored with 45 seconds left in an extra attacker situation. The Tigers made a final push in the waning seconds but Cornell was able to get possession and tally an empty net game to seal the end of the series.

“It is tough to end a team’s season; these kids want to play together, they want to keep it going,” said Prier.

“Cornell did a really good job of playing trap hockey for the whole second half of the game. We had a tough time penetrating that, they did a good job. It was probably boring to watch but hey, a win is a win.”

It will be tough for Prier to say goodbye to Kleebaum and his fellow seniors. “It is a great group of guys, an awesome group of guys,” asserted Prier, whose Class of 2013 includes Eric Meland, Will MacDonald, James Kerr, Michael Sdao, and Mike Condon in addition to Kleebaum.

“I wish them the best of luck. I know that a lot of them are going to play hockey beyond here and some may not. They are all class act kids, good men.”

In Prier’s view, the progress his freshman class made this winter gives the program cause for optimism.

“I think we got a lot better; we had a beat up freshman
class, unfortunately a lot of guys were injured but a lot of them came a long way,” said Prier.

“I thought Michael Zajac had a terrific game today. He really showed up for both games, he really moved his feet really well. If he has a big summer, he could certainly propel himself. It would have been nice to have Kevin Liss all year, that’s for sure. Once he gets healthy, he’ll be really strong. Mike Ambrosia and Kyle Rankin came a long way this year. They have all certainly had a chance to develop. On this team, the young guys get a lot of ice time. I think the future looks bright; it is promising.”

GOING IN: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Erin McMunn heads to goal in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore attacker McMunn scored a career-high five goals to help Princeton top Brown 18-11 in its Ivy League opener. The Tigers, now 3-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy, play at 11th-ranked Virginia (2-4) on March 16.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

GOING IN: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Erin McMunn heads to goal in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore attacker McMunn scored a career-high five goals to help Princeton top Brown 18-11 in its Ivy League opener. The Tigers, now 3-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy, play at 11th-ranked Virginia (2-4) on March 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As a freshman on the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team last spring, Erin McMunn utilized her passing skills to make an immediate impact.

The attacker passed for a team-high 30 assists on the way to being named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year.

Coming into the 2013 campaign, McMunn was looking to diversify her game.

“I liked to focus a lot on feeding last year but this year I have switched my focus a little bit,” said McMunn, a 5’8 native of Westminster, Md.

“I just go out there and have fun everyday and see what happens and see what kind of game it turns out to be. That’s what I am looking for. I think coming in as a sophomore and just really relaxing and wanting to expand and do new things is something that is really fun and exciting for me this year.”

Last Saturday, McMunn had a lot fun with her shooting, firing in a career-high five goals to help Princeton top Brown 18-11 in its Ivy League opener.

“I think it was just seeing what was opening up on attack,” said McMunn, reflecting on her scoring outburst.

“If I had it, I wanted to be able to take it. But at the same time, if a couple of girls were getting hot on attack and things were opening up for them, we were just trying to get it to the open spots and see what we could create when we are moving.”

While Princeton didn’t open up well against Brown, trailing 4-2 midway through the first half, McMunn and her teammates weren’t fazed. “I don’t think there were any concerns, I think we were just very excited to be out here on a nice day and we were a little jittery to get off to a good start,” recalled McMunn.

The Tiger offense, though, started working well after that, closing the half with an 8-1 run with McMunn scoring four goals in that pivotal stretch.

“I think the biggest thing is that we just calmed ourselves down, took a breath, and focused on executing the little things,” said McMunn.

“We really started stringing some plays together in transition, getting some solid one-on-one looks in the settled offense, and I think just the little things we were doing right made a big difference for us.”

Princeton played a solid second half as it pulled away to the victory and improved to 3-1 overall and 1-0 Ivy.

“I feel like in the second half we just came out confident and we wanted to have a good time and finish the game,” said McMunn, who now leads Princeton in points (16) and goals (11).

“I think we did a good job. They started to come out a little more and get excited but we weren’t letting their pressure waver us or letting their hype bring our level down at all. I think we did a really nice job of responding to that and just playing our game and doing what we do on the field.”

For McMunn, the performance was even more heartening, considering that it came in the Ivy opener.

“I think this was a huge game for us; for our attack to be able to put up 18 goals was huge,” said McMunn.

“Our defense came up with some big defensive stands. We did a really great job of putting together all the things we have been working on in practice in the game today. It is really starting to come together for us. We wanted to start with a strong showing in the Ivy League. I think this was a great confidence booster for us.”

The Tigers will need another strong effort this Saturday as they head south to take on 11th-ranked Virginia (2-4).

“We are hungry to get back into NCAA competition,” said McMunn.

“We felt like we could have played better against Georgetown [an 11-6 loss on March 1]. We have really been working on little things in practice and trying to up our game to that next level, so I think playing against UVa is going to be a great chance for us to really see where we are and how far we have come.”

AMBLING ALONG: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Ryan Ambler heads up the field last week against Villanova. Freshman attacker Ambler contributed five points on three goals and two assists as the Tigers rallied for a 14-11 win in the March 5 contest. Sixth-ranked Princeton, which fell to 3-1 with a 16-15 loss at No. 8 North Carolina last Saturday, was slated to host Manhattan on March 12 before playing at No. 13 Penn (4-1) on March 16 in the Ivy League opener for both teams.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

AMBLING ALONG: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Ryan Ambler heads up the field last week against Villanova. Freshman attacker Ambler contributed five points on three goals and two assists as the Tigers rallied for a 14-11 win in the March 5 contest. Sixth-ranked Princeton, which fell to 3-1 with a 16-15 loss at No. 8 North Carolina last Saturday, was slated to host Manhattan on March 12 before playing at No. 13 Penn (4-1) on March 16 in the Ivy League opener for both teams. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Even though the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team trailed Villanova 10-8 heading into the fourth quarter last week, Ryan Ambler and his Tiger teammates weren’t feeling any sense of panic.

“The coaches said keep fighting,” said freshman attacker Ambler, recalling the message the players received in their huddle after the third quarter of the March 5 contest.

“We were getting opportunities on offense. On defense, I thought we did a pretty good job. Villanova is a great team; they ran around and threw picks at us. They were pretty unconventional and I think coach [Chris] Bates said keep playing our game offensively, keep moving the ball and keep working off ball.”

In the fourth quarter, Ambler raised his game. scoring two goals in the first four minutes to spark a 6-1 Princeton run.

“I took my chances; I let the game come to me,” said the 6’1, 180-pound Ambler, a native of Rydal, Pa. who ended the game with five points on a career-best three goals and two assists.

“One time I had a shorty, they didn’t slide to me and I took my chance. On the other one, Jake [Froccaro] made a great play and fed it to me inside and I capitalized.”

For Ambler, playing in the same line with sophomore Mike MacDonald and senior Jeff Froccaro has helped his production.

“It is great; Mike MacDonald moves the ball really well and Jeff is a great veteran leader,” said Ambler of the trio which combined for nine goals in a losing cause last Saturday as Princeton fell 16-15 at North Carolina.

Both of those guys are dynamic as well as first line and second line middies. I think we can throw six, seven guys at people, maybe more. I think we are pretty dangerous. When we play together and work the ball, I think we are a very hard team to guard.”

Princeton head coach Bates, for his part, liked the way his team kept working in the win over Villanova.

“We stayed composed,” said Bates, who got three goals from Jeff Froccaro in the win with MacDonald, Kip Orban, and Jake Froccaro adding two apiece.

“Being down most of the game, I give  our guys credit, we took the next step in terms of getting ground  balls. We started to face off a little bit better and then offensively, we honestly felt like if we had the ball, we were going to be able to score goals.”

Putting Jeff Froccaro on face-off duty in the fourth quarter of the Villanova game turned the tide as he won 5-of-7 face-offs.

“We wanted to try to save Jeff, his knees are old,” said a smiling Bates of Froccaro, who went on to score four goals in the loss to North Carolina with MacDonald tallying five and junior star Tom Schreiber contributing four.

“Just tying the ball up and winning some forward, he gave us the ball and he gave us momentum. You could tell that was the difference in the game. We started to feel a little bit better offensively. We started to generate some shots and goals. We planned on not using him at all today. We were struggling so much there that we absolutely needed to get another look. Every time that kid gets into a game, he is a gamer, scoring big goals. He doesn’t always make the best decisions but I’ll take them.”

Bates certainly likes the game that Ambler has displayed so far in his freshman campaign.

“He is great; Ryan keeps making plays,” asserted Bates of Ambler, who now has 10 points on four goals and six assists for the 3-1 Tigers.

“He doesn’t back down from the stage. He shares the ball, he sees the field so well. Our guys love playing with him; he really makes us better. He finished some plays, he made some great feeds. They shorted him early which is a slap and he ran right by them. I give that kid credit. He had a whale of a game. He and Jeff were the differences really.”

Ambler, for his part, credits Bates, who coached his older brother, Colin, at Drexel, with paving the way to his sizzling start.

“He knows what he is doing when he is recruiting,” said Ambler, who will look to keep up his good play with sixth-ranked Princeton slated to host Manhattan on March 12 before playing at No. 13 Penn (4-1) on March 16 in the Ivy League opener for both teams.

“He brought me in, the transition has been pretty smooth with these guys. That is probably the best part, working on the chemistry with these guys.”

HARD TO SAY: Princeton University men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson instructs freshman Hans Brase in a game earlier this season. Last weekend, Princeton saw a chance at an Ivy League title slip out of its grasp as it fell 71-66 at Yale on Friday and 80-67 at Brown the next night. Those defeats combined with two wins by Harvard clinched the title for the Crimson as they improved to 19-9 overall and 11-3 Ivy while Princeton dropped to 16-11 overall and 9-4 Ivy. The Tigers were slated to wrap up regular season play with a game at Penn (9-21 overall, 6-7 Ivy) on March 12.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HARD TO SAY: Princeton University men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson instructs freshman Hans Brase in a game earlier this season. Last weekend, Princeton saw a chance at an Ivy League title slip out of its grasp as it fell 71-66 at Yale on Friday and 80-67 at Brown the next night. Those defeats combined with two wins by Harvard clinched the title for the Crimson as they improved to 19-9 overall and 11-3 Ivy while Princeton dropped to 16-11 overall and 9-4 Ivy. The Tigers were slated to wrap up regular season play with a game at Penn (9-21 overall, 6-7 Ivy) on March 12. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming into last weekend, the Princeton University men’s basketball team controlled its own destiny.

Sitting in first place in the Ivy League standings with a one-game edge on second-place Harvard in the loss column, Princeton needed to post wins over Yale and Brown over the weekend and then finish the deal with a victory at Penn in the regular season finale on March 12 to clinch the outright league title and a berth in the upcoming NCAA tournament.

On Friday, though, Princeton couldn’t slow down Yale as the Bulldogs hit 60.5 percent of their shots to earn a 71-66 win and complete a season sweep of the Tigers.

Even with the loss to Yale, Princeton still was in play for a shot at March Madness as a win over Brown on Saturday combined with a victory against Penn would send the Tigers into a one-game playoff with Harvard for a spot in the NCAAs.

But Princeton ran into more trouble against Brown, falling behind early as news came in that Harvard was pulling away to a victory at Cornell. With things looking bleak, the Tigers did a get a jolt of momentum as Denton Koon hit a halfcourt three-pointer at the buzzer to pull the Tigers within four at the half against the Bears.

“I thought Denton’s three at the end of the half was going to be a boost for us because we were really struggling,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson in his postgame comments on the Princeton athletics website.

The struggles, however, continued as Princeton found itself trailing 62-50 with 3:36 left in regulation. The Tigers got the Brown margin down to four points on five occasions in the last 1:28 but couldn’t get closer as the Bears pulled away to an 80-67 win and extinguished Princeton’s chances for an NCAA bid.

“I thought they did some nice things defensively but once again it was us, that was a major concern,” said Henderson, whose team moved to 16-11 overall and 9-4 Ivy in the wake of its lost weekend with champion Harvard ending the regular season at 19-9 overall and 11-3 Ivy.

“If we could make more free throws or a three in there and it could have been a totally different game. We just couldn’t quite get over the hump.”

The team’s defensive struggles against Yale and Brown were particularly perplexing since the Tigers entered the weekend leading the Ivy League in scoring defense, giving up 57.0 points per game.

“We were hanging around a little too much; there was less substance,” said Henderson.

“I think that is what happens when you are not defending. This hurts, this is not where we want to be. It is not what we hung our hat on all season. You have to be the aggressor on the defensive end, we have been good at that most of the season but we lost sight of a couple of guys. We just couldn’t find our way.”

It also hurts to see the Princeton seniors fall short of what they saw as their destiny.

“I am really disappointed for our seniors,” said Henderson, whose group of seniors features the program’s second all-time scorer, Ian Hummer, together with Mack Darrow and Brendan Connolly.

“We have one game left and we are going to prepare for that but to be officially out of the race is tough; this is why those guys came to school here. It is a very special senior class and I am very disappointed right now.”

Lisa Sweeney had a good feeling about her Princeton University softball team before it even played a game this spring.

“We went into the first weekend with confidence,” said first-year head coach Sweeney, referring to the team’s season-opening appearance at the North Florida Osprey Invitational in Jacksonville, Fla. from March 1-3. “We knew we had put in the work in February to be ready for games.”

The Tigers went 3-2 in the Florida event and then improved on that last weekend as they posted a 3-1 record at the UMBC Dawg Pound Invitational in Baltimore, Md.

In action last Saturday, Princeton fell 4-3 to Seton Hall before bouncing back to top Coppin State 6-3.

“Seton Hall is a good team; we had a freshman [Shanna Christian] pitching and it was a good test for her,” said Sweeney.

“It came down to one pitch, a good hitter for them hit a home run. It was a good test to go against competition like that. Coppin State is a very good hitting team, they are consistent and have power. Alex Peyton threw very well.”

A day later, Princeton was clicking on all cylinders as it defeated Mt. St. Mary’s 4-2 and then routed host UMBC 11-2.

“There are still things we need to work on but we can take away a lot of positives,” said Sweeney, reflecting on the Sunday sweep which lifted the Tigers to a record of 6-3.

“Up and down the lineup, we are hitting well. This week, we are talking about not leaving runners on. When we get runners in scoring position, we have to capitalize.”

Sophomore Alyssa Schmidt has been capitalizing on her opportunities so far this season as she is hitting at a .514 clip with a team-high 19 hits in nine appearances.

“I can’t say enough about her,” said Sweeney, referring to Schmidt. “Her approach in the box is beautiful. She is relaxed in every situation; her approach to each at-bat is the same. She is really confident right now.”

Sweeney is developing confidence in her batting order as five players besides Schmidt are hitting .300 or better in Kayla Bose (.529), Sarah McGowan (.438), Maddie Cousens (.333), Peyton (.321), and Tory Roberts (.300).

“I think that is due to all the hard work we are putting in and confidence,” said Sweeney, who team is hitting .313 overall and has scored 47 runs in nine games. “We are not just working on the physical part of hitting, we are working on developing confidence mentally and taking a positive approach.”

Pitching has been another positive for the Tigers in the early going as Princeton has a team ERA of 2.55 spreading innings among several hurlers.

“Liza [Kuhn], Alex, and Shanna are all doing well; Meredith Browne is a sophomore and she will also help,” said Sweeney, a four-time Patriot League Pitcher of the Year at Lehigh during her college days.

“The pitchers have all been working hard, they are some of the grittiest players on our team and some of our hardest workers. We have a real pitching unit. When someone is on on the mound, the others are happy for her and want her to do well. When you are on the mound, it is great to know that everyone is behind you.”

Princeton has been getting some great leadership from its corps of seniors which includes Candy Button, Nikki Chu, and Lizzy Pierce in addition to Peyton and Kuhn.

“All five seniors bring it everyday,” said Sweeney, “They are relentless. They set the tone for the team; what we are about and where we are heading. Their time is limited, every senior goes through that. They fall in love with the program and they want their time to be meaningful.”

Sweeney feels that she and her players have wasted little time in getting on the same page.

“I think we are melding very well; they have shown a willingness to embrace a new coach,” asserted Sweeney.

“They are good people; they are willing to learn and to do things a little differently. My assistant coach, Jen Lapicki, is unbelievable. In terms of the culture we want to create and our values, we match up perfectly. The players see that we are a united front.”

March 6, 2013

 

SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University men’s basketball star Ian Hummer celebrates in the waning moments of Princeton’s 58-53 win over Harvard last Friday. Senior star Hummer contributed 23 points and 14 rebounds in the victory as he moved into second on Princeton’s career scoring list. A night later, Hummer scored 13 points to help the Tigers beat Dartmouth 68-63. That win combined with Harvard’s 75-72 loss at Penn left Princeton atop the Ivy standings as the Tigers moved to 16-9 overall and 9-2 Ivy and Crimson fell to second at 17-9 overall and 9-3 Ivy. Princeton wraps up regular season action by playing at Yale (12-17 overall, 6-6 Ivy) on March 8, at Brown (12-14 overall, 6-6 Ivy) on March 9, and at Penn (8-20 overall, 5-6 Ivy) on March 12.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University men’s basketball star Ian Hummer celebrates in the waning moments of Princeton’s 58-53 win over Harvard last Friday. Senior star Hummer contributed 23 points and 14 rebounds in the victory as he moved into second on Princeton’s career scoring list. A night later, Hummer scored 13 points to help the Tigers beat Dartmouth 68-63. That win combined with Harvard’s 75-72 loss at Penn left Princeton atop the Ivy standings as the Tigers moved to 16-9 overall and 9-2 Ivy and Crimson fell to second at 17-9 overall and 9-3 Ivy. Princeton wraps up regular season action by playing at Yale (12-17 overall, 6-6 Ivy) on March 8, at Brown (12-14 overall, 6-6 Ivy) on March 9, and at Penn (8-20 overall, 5-6 Ivy) on March 12. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In its two Ivy League losses this season, the Princeton University men’s basketball team showed plenty of heart but failed to make enough big plays to avoid defeat.

Falling short against Yale on February 9 in a 69-65 defeat, the Tigers couldn’t get off a shot in the waning seconds when a three-point bucket could have won the contest. A week later at Harvard, Princeton misfired down the stretch, hitting just 31 percent of its second half shots on the way to a 69-57 setback.

Last Friday in a showdown with Ivy frontrunner Harvard, it looked like Princeton was letting another game slip away as it squandered a 46-36 second half lead to find itself trailing 51-48 with 2:44 left in regulation.

But this time, Princeton came up with the clutch plays in crunch time and pulled out a 58-53 win over the Crimson to delight a Jadwin Gym throng of 4,413.

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson was proud of how his team came through when it counted against the Crimson.

“At times this season when we have been down, we haven’t been able to find that moment where we can kind of push through something,” said Henderson.

“I thought tonight was just a huge thing for our program. At 51-48 Will Barrett gets fouled and makes both free throws. We get a huge stop and then Ian [Hummer] comes down and gets the tip-in. Not to mention the tip out on the missed free throw and T.J.’s diving play. That was a big moment for us. I am just really happy.”

Henderson was even happier a night later when Princeton topped Dartmouth 68-63 and Harvard fell 75-72 at Penn, leaving the Tigers in first place in the league standings at 16-9 overall, 9-2 Ivy with the Crimson next at 17-9 overall, 9-3 Ivy.

While Princeton’s win over Harvard wasn’t a thing of beauty, Henderson was impressed with his team’s grit.

“The box score doesn’t look that pretty on our end and it didn’t look pretty the first time,” said Henderson.

“I thought the game was won on the free throw line and with our defense. We didn’t give up too many second chance points.”

Senior star Hummer effectively ended Harvard’s chances for a win when he punched back a missed Mack Darrow free throw in the waning seconds that a diving T.J. Bray batted to Denton Koon, who was then fouled.

“I knew I couldn’t get it; [Steve] Mondou-Missi is a handful but the miss was so perfect, it just came off the back iron and popped right back and I tried to just hit it right out. I was afraid I hit to too hard but luckily TJ was right there to make a diving play.”

After Koon drained two free throws to make it 58-53, Hummer turned to the Princeton student section and gleefully pumped his fist.

“I knew it was going to go our way, the way we were shooting the ball on the free throw line,” said Hummer, recalling his impromptu celebration.

“I wasn’t really worried; whoever was going to be on the line was going to make them. The excitement got the best of me and I went in the opposite direction, I had no idea what I was doing. It is what it is, I got caught up in the moment.”

The Tigers realized that Friday was a pivotal moment of the season, having entered the game trailing Harvard by one game in the loss column.

“We know it is a must-win,” said Hummer, who ended the evening with 23 points and 14 rebounds and was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for the seventh time this season and ninth time in his career.

“I think the way we played last weekend, we were pretty confident coming into this game. I thought we didn’t play our best game up at Harvard. I thought the way we were playing, we could really give them a good run. It is always a good game when we play Harvard and it is always a dogfight. I am just so glad that we came out on top.”

Henderson, for his part, is glad to have Hummer on his side. “He was just terrific; I am an alum here too and I think first, I have to say I am so happy for him because he cares about winning,” said Henderson, a 1998 Princeton grad and former Tiger basketball star.

“But as alum it is just fun to watch him play. I am proud that he wears the orange and black. He just does everything for us; 23 and 14, 7-of-7 from the line. He has really worked at those things, especially the free throw shooting. That is huge for us. That is what we want to be, constantly improving and he is a walking example of that.”

Hummer has improved into one of the greatest players in Princeton history, becoming the second leading scorer in Tiger history, passing Kit Mueller (1,546 points) and Douglas Davis (1,550) on the career list with his output on Friday and ending the weekend at 1,577 points.

That milestone, though, wasn’t nearly as important to Hummer as the numbers on the scoreboard at the end of Friday evening.

“It means nothing if I didn’t get the win tonight,” said Hummer, who will be looking for more wins this week as the Tigers wrap up regular season action by playing at Yale on March 8, at Brown on March 9, and at Penn on March 12.

“It is just icing on the cake. First and foremost, I want to be in contention for an Ivy League title and whatever happens, happens. I am just happy it came in a win.”

STRETCH DRIVE: Princeton University men’s basketball player Brendan Connolly heads in for a layup in Princeton’s  58-53 win over Harvard on Friday. A night later, senior center ­Connolly contributed six rebounds to help the Tigers Princeton top Dartmouth 68-63 on Senior Night.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STRETCH DRIVE: Princeton University men’s basketball player Brendan Connolly heads in for a layup in Princeton’s 58-53 win over Harvard on Friday. A night later, senior center ­Connolly contributed six rebounds to help the Tigers Princeton top Dartmouth 68-63 on Senior Night. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Will Barrett started his career with the Princeton University men’s basketball team as a member of the Class of 2013 but a foot injury set him back a year.

Brendan Connolly, meanwhile, has been a stalwart of the class, providing yeomen’s work in the paint over the last four years.

On Saturday, both played key roles as the Tigers celebrated Senior Night with a 68-63 win over Dartmouth before 3,167 at Jadwin Gym.

The 6’10 forward Barrett scored a game-high 24 points, including 18 in a second-half outburst which saw him hit five three-pointers, while the 6’11, 255-pound Connolly clogged up the middle getting six rebounds in 20 minutes off the bench.

In reflecting on his big performance, Barrett said he was fired up to help things go well for his original classmates in their final Jadwin appearance.

“I work my butt off day in, day out for my teammates so it is nothing really different but just losing five of my best friends, it changes everything for me,” said Barrett.

“I have 15 other best friends that I get to have after this but we were all a little teary eyed in the locker room after the game, we went up and hugged each other.”

Connolly, for his part, admired Barrett’s effort Saturday and on a daily basis.

“It was special,” said Connolly. “He is right when he said he has worked his butt off, he is down here all the time, getting shots up. I was hoping that Will and Jimmy [Sherburne] would be there tonight with us. That was part of the initial plan. I am really happy for Will and I am happy Jimmy is back and he says he is doing well and his shoulder is healing up. I am really happy for them and what they are going to be able to do next year.”

In reflecting on his last game at Jadwin, Connolly is happy for the experience he has enjoyed over the last four years.

“Mack [Darrow] and Ian [Hummer] are two of the best friends I have ever had and I think they always will be,” said Connolly.

“I trust those guys with my life and I think they trust me with theirs. It is  pretty amazing; coming in here, you have no idea that is what the result is going to be four years later. I just thank God that I have those guys and some other guys on campus too that I can always turn to. It is just special, there is not one way to pinpoint how exactly it is, it just is. I think anyone who has gone here and played with the same guys for years will tell you that.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson pinpointed Barrett and Connolly as key contributors in the win over Dartmouth.

“Will made some huge shots, I think it was a five-point lead and it went to eight; it might have gone to 10 or 11 once,” said Henderson, whose team improved to 16-9 overall and 9-2 Ivy League and got a huge lift when it found out later that Harvard fell 75-72 at Penn in dropping to 17-9 overall and 9-3 Ivy, prompting roars from the Tiger locker room.

“He shot the ball with confidence, you have got to make shots. I think it is indicative of how our team is; we have different ways to beat people which is good. I thought Brendan was important because [Gabas] Maldunas was hurting us. A couple of times they were really looking for him and Brendan took away six rebounds tonight which was important.”

In Henderson’s view, his senior players have made a huge impact on the team.

“It is a special group,” said Henderson, whose senior corps also includes reserve guards Ameer Elbuluk and Isaac Serwanga.

“When I first got here, I thought Dan Mavraides and Kareem Maddox and Bobby Foley and those guys in that class, had to do something that no Princeton class has ever had to do, which is take the program back to where it needed to be. This class, Ian, Brendan, and Mack, have been very successful. They have kept it where it needs to be and that is really important too.”

Barrett and his teammates know that the weekend sweep, which started with a 58-53 win over Harvard on Friday, doesn’t guarantee success in the Ivy title race which sees Princeton play at Yale on March 8, at Brown on March 9, and ending the regular season at Penn on March 12.

“After the game last night, we were talking to each other and we said this game means absolutely nothing if we don’t take care of what we have to take care of tomorrow and the next weekend,” said Barrett. “We just have to stay focused.”

While Connolly is focused on ending his Tiger career on a high note, he has already gained memories that will last for a lifetime.

“It is a good way to reflect back on everything and just remember how special things have been and some of the things we have been able to do here,” said Connolly.

INSIDE TRACK: Princeton University women’s basketball player Meg Bowen battles for inside position in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior center Bowen scored 21 points to help Princeton top Dartmouth 68-60 and get back on the winning track after losing 58-55 at Harvard a day earlier to snap a record 33-game Ivy League winning streak. Princeton, now 19-6 overall and 10-1 Ivy, can clinch its fourth straight league crown this weekend as it hosts Yale on March 8 and Brown a day later.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

INSIDE TRACK: Princeton University women’s basketball player Meg Bowen battles for inside position in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior center Bowen scored 21 points to help Princeton top Dartmouth 68-60 and get back on the winning track after losing 58-55 at Harvard a day earlier to snap a record 33-game Ivy League winning streak. Princeton, now 19-6 overall and 10-1 Ivy, can clinch its fourth straight league crown this weekend as it hosts Yale on March 8 and Brown a day later. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

All good things must to come to an end and so it was for the Princeton University women’s basketball team last Friday at Harvard.

After winning 33 straight Ivy League games, Princeton fell 58-55 to the Crimson, suffering its first league defeat since a 73-67 loss at Harvard on February 4, 2011.

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart had no qualms with her team’s effort in defeat.

“We expected Harvard to play well, they have nothing to lose,“ said Banghart.

“They know they are playing for the NIT. I thought we came prepared. We shot 7-of-35 in the second half and still had a chance to win so that tells you how hard we played. It was not from lack of effort, we had a lot of free throws and we hit the glass.”

It was Princeton’s misfiring, though, that proved to be the difference as the Tigers made just 16-of-62 shots (25.5 percent) on the evening.

“We missed more open shots than in any game I can remember since I have been here,” said Banghart, whose team outrebounded Harvard 47-39 and made 20-of-28 free throws.

“We are used to getting good looks and winning by 30. When they didn’t go in, it made us tense. We missed two uncontested layups in the second half.”

In reflecting on the winning streak, Banghart takes pride in what it says about the way Princeton takes care of its business.

“What the streak means is that the program is doing something right on a daily basis,” said Banghart.

“As graduation falls, the program is not falling. The people not getting time are still getting better. You have seen that with our sophomores this year like Blake [Dietrick] and Mariah [Smith]. I don’t believe that the players think that much about the streak. I don’t think they felt under pressure to continue it. We are just a part of their day at Princeton.”

In Banghart’s view, the loss could lead to some good things down the road. “It means that if we don’t shoot well in the NCAA, we have done that before,” said Banghart.

“It was the first time all year that we didn’t shoot well and we weren’t able to right the ship. The more times you do something, the better you get at it. When you are in so many games where you win by 30, that doesn’t help you. We are not going to be up by 20 at half in the first round of the NCAAs. We will need to grind through possessions and this will make us better able to do that.”

A night later at Dartmouth, Princeton handled the grind well, overcoming a 36-33 halftime deficit to pull out a 68-60 win and improve to 19-6 overall and 10-1 Ivy.

“Their hearts were heavy and we didn’t know how they would respond,” said Banghart, reflecting on the mood around the team as it took the court against the Big Green.

“We know we are going to get everyone’s best shot. We didn’t shoot that well again. We were playing like we were scared to lose rather than going for the win.”

Seniors Niveen Rasheed and Meg Bowen each scored 21 points to key the Princeton rally.

“They were huge, this is a league for seniors,” asserted Banghart. “Meg commanded presence inside. Niveen willed us to win, she was making the hustle plays. She had three offensive rebounds in the last few minutes. She knew that the bench wasn’t playing as well as it has been and she said I’ll take care of this tonight.”

With Princeton leading the Ivy race over Harvard (17-8 overall, 8-3 Ivy) and Penn (15-10 overall, 8-3 Ivy) by two games with three to play, the Tigers can clinch its fourth straight league crown this weekend as it hosts Yale on March 8 and Brown a day later for its last weekend this season at Jadwin Gym.

“I told them after the Dartmouth game, we are going home to win a fourth Ivy title and that’s pretty cool,” said Banghart.

“We got what we needed last weekend. You don’t get used to winning the Ivy League title, it isn’t an easy thing to do. We are just going to enjoy it. Hopefully, we get to cut down the nets on Senior Night against Brown, we couldn’t script it any better than that.”

SEEING RED: Princeton University men’s hockey player ­Michael Sdao handles the puck in recent action. Last Saturday, senior defenseman and assistant captain Sdao scored a goal to help Princeton edge Harvard 2-1 in overtime. The Tigers, who improved to 10-14-5 overall and 8-10-4 ECAC Hockey with the win, ended the regular season in eighth place, earning home ice for the opening round of the playoffs as they host No. 9 Cornell (12-14-3 overall, 8-11-3 ECACH) this weekend. Princeton swept the Big Red in the teams’ previous meetings this year, topping Cornell 5-3 on November 9 and 1-0 on February 9.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SEEING RED: Princeton University men’s hockey player ­Michael Sdao handles the puck in recent action. Last Saturday, senior defenseman and assistant captain Sdao scored a goal to help Princeton edge Harvard 2-1 in overtime. The Tigers, who improved to 10-14-5 overall and 8-10-4 ECAC Hockey with the win, ended the regular season in eighth place, earning home ice for the opening round of the playoffs as they host No. 9 Cornell (12-14-3 overall, 8-11-3 ECACH) this weekend. Princeton swept the Big Red in the teams’ previous meetings this year, topping Cornell 5-3 on November 9 and 1-0 on February 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Entering last weekend, the Princeton University men’s hockey team was in position to finish anywhere from seventh to 10th place in the final ECAC Hockey standings.

But heading on the road to play at Dartmouth on Friday and at Harvard the next day in the wake of having dropped four straight games at home, the Tigers seemed destined to settle towards the bottom of the pack.

Displaying a steely resolve, the Tigers battled back from 1-0 deficits each night to earn a 2-2 tie with the Big Green and a 2-1 overtime win against the Crimson.

Princeton’s undefeated weekend combined with other results lifted the Tigers (10-14-5 overall and 8-10-4 ECACH) to eighth place, earning home ice for the opening round of the playoffs as they host No. 9 Cornell (12-14-3 overall, 8-11-3 ECACH). The best-of-three series starts Friday night at Baker Rink with Game 2 set for Saturday and Game 3, if necessary, slated for Sunday.

Reflecting on his team’s work in New England, Princeton head coach Bob Prier saw a lot of positives.

“We played six solid periods this weekend, it is the most consistent we have played all year,” said Prier.

“The resilience was great all weekend. They stuck to the process and played to win. They were reloading on the forecheck and going hard. They were really moving their feet all weekend. We created offensive zone time in both games. We had a lot of shots and lot of opportunities.”

In the tie with Dartmouth, Will MacDonald and Andrew Ammon both cashed in on opportunities with MacDonald scoring a first period goal that evened the game at 1-1 and Ammon scoring to make it 2-1.

“It was such a good response, he worked so hard,” said Prier of MacDonald’s tally.

“He was flying all weekend. Ammon had such a nice goal. It was hard work by Tyler Maugeri and Kyle Rankin to get control of the puck. Ammon got the puck off as soon as it hit his stick and got it right under the goalie’s stick.

In the win over Harvard, senior assistant captain Michael Sdao scored the tying goals and junior star Andrew Calof notched the winning tally, hitting the 100-point mark in his career in the process. “

“Sdao played fantastic, he was skating really well all weekend,” said Prier. “The guys can tell how much he wants it and they are inspired by him. Calof is a unique player, he has turned it up a notch in recent games even if it hasn’t necessarily shown on the scoresheet. He has the puck a lot and he is a one man transition game. He skates right by the forecheck.”

Senior goalie Mike Condon did a good job of keeping Princeton’s foes in check, making 30 saves against Dartmouth and 28 in the win over the Crimson.

“Condon gave up only three goals against two tough teams on the road,” said Prier of Condon who now sports a goals against average of 2.42. “He is so good with the puck, it resonates with the team.”

Prier is hoping his team will be tough at home this weekend against traditional power Cornell.

“It is an advantage, we are excited,” said Prier, who is expecting more big crowds in a season that has seen Princeton post an average attendance of 2,208. “We have a good opponent coming in. It is not who you play, it is how you play. It is up to us to play well and take advantage of being home.”

With Princeton having beaten Cornell 5-3 on November 9 at Baker Rink before edging the Big Red 1-0 on February 9 in Ithaca, Prier is confident about his team’s chances in the opening round and beyond.

“We like the matchup but we are not thinking as much about our opponent as we are focusing on us,” said Prier.

“If we continue to play this way and continue to skate like we have in the last three games, we can be dangerous in the playoffs. When you have the puck more, you start seeing the smaller parts of the game. You get more power plays. This weekend was the first time this year where we had back-to-to back games with more power plays than the other team. We worked hard for that.”

OH BROTHER: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Jeff Froccaro unloads the ball in a game last season. This past Friday, senior attacker Froccaro scored three goals to help Princeton top Johns Hopkins 11-8. Froccaro’s younger brother, freshman midfielder Jake, played a big role in the win, tallying two goals and two assists. The No. 5 Tigers, who improved to 2-0 with the victory, were slated to host Villanova on March 5, play at No. 11 North Carolina on March 9, and then host Manhattan on March 12.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

OH BROTHER: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Jeff Froccaro unloads the ball in a game last season. This past Friday, senior attacker Froccaro scored three goals to help Princeton top Johns Hopkins 11-8. Froccaro’s younger brother, freshman midfielder Jake, played a big role in the win, tallying two goals and two assists. The No. 5 Tigers, who improved to 2-0 with the victory, were slated to host Villanova on March 5, play at No. 11 North Carolina on March 9, and then host Manhattan on March 12. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Playing at storied Homewood Field against high-powered Johns Hopkins last Friday evening, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team knew it was going to be hit with an early barrage.

The third-ranked Blue Jays lived up to expectations, outshooting No. 12 Princeton 17-5 in the first quarter.

But counterpunching effectively, Princeton avoided a knockout punch, ending the first period locked in a 3-3 tie.

“They generated a lot of shots, they were not all high-quality,” said Princeton head coach Chris Bates.

“Matt O’Connor [Tiger freshman goalie] made a few saves early and settled in. We only had five shots but we got three goals so we were efficient.”

The Tigers maintained that efficiency all evening long, pulling out an 11-8 win before a crowd of 2,352 watching in Baltimore and a national audience tuning in on ESPNU.

“I was pleased with our composure,” asserted Bates in reflecting on the win which improved Princeton to 2-0.

“We played with focus and we played together. It was a big stage and we handled it.”

Princeton handled things particularly well down the stretch, outscoring Hopkins 3-1 in the fourth quarter.

“I thought Hopkins pressed a little, we settled down and made plays,” added Bates.

“I thought they were trying to solve us. When it was 10-8, Chris White made a huge goal. It might not have been the most high percentage shot but when your senior captain is playing with that kind of emotion, it is great to see. It put a nail in the coffin.”

It was great for Princeton to see the Froccaro brothers come through in a big way against the Blue Jays. Senior attacker Jeff Froccaro scored three goals while freshman Jake Froccaro tallied two goals and two assists. The brothers combined for a goal in the third quarter with Jake assisting and Jeff scoring.

“Jake just came out and said that kid can’t cover me, give me the ball,” said Bates of the younger Froccaro, who scored two of Princeton’s first four goals on Friday.

“As a freshman, that is a good level of confidence to see. He was probably not at the top of their scouting report so to get production out of him was probably a little demoralizing for them and set a tone for us. Those guys play together so well. They love to play the game, there is a big brother, little brother connection, Jake gave it to Jeff just like in the back yard, great to see that it works on a stage like Homewood Field. Jeff is playing with confidence.”

Another confident Tiger is sophomore attacker Mike MacDonald, who scored two goals in the win over Hopkins and now has five on the season.

“Mike can play, when he is in the flow our offense is better,” asserted Bates. “He is strong and confident. He can dodge and get to the cage. He is only a sophomore but he is already a leader for us. He adds a layer to our offense.”

The Tiger defense continued its strong early play. “I thought they did a good job,” said Bates, whose team gave up just one goal over the last 24:23 of the contest with freshman goalie O’Connor making 10 saves on the evening.

“When the lights are on, we are doing a good job. We have made some mistakes back there and Matt has bailed us out. Each week, I give credit to Greg Raymond [assistant coach], he has them prepared.”

With Princeton, now ranked No. 5, slated to host Villanova on March 5, play at No. 11 North Carolina on March 9, and then host Manhattan on March 12, the Tigers need to cut down on their mistakes to keep winning.

“We are playing with confidence and we are seeing rewards so that is good,” said Bates.

“Day in, day out we have to continue to improve. This can’t be the peak for us. I am happy to take 2-0 but it won’t mean anything if we go out and lose two this week. We are confident and loose and I like that. I told them that healthy nerves are good, they will regret it if they don’t put in a 60-minute effort.”

ASSISTANCE PROGRAM: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Sarah Lloyd heads upfield last Sunday in Princeton’s 18-13 win over Southern California. Junior midfielder Lloyd passed for six assists in the victory, tying the program’s single-game record, to trigger Princeton’s most impressive offensive outburst of the young season. The Tigers, now 2-1 overall, open Ivy League play by hosting Brown (3-0 overall, 1-0 Ivy) this Saturday. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ASSISTANCE PROGRAM: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Sarah Lloyd heads upfield last Sunday in Princeton’s 18-13 win over Southern California. Junior midfielder Lloyd passed for six assists in the victory, tying the program’s single-game record, to trigger Princeton’s most impressive offensive outburst of the young season. The Tigers, now 2-1 overall, open Ivy League play by hosting Brown (3-0 overall, 1-0 Ivy) this Saturday.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Sarah Lloyd didn’t score a goal but she proved to be a catalyst as the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team topped Southern California 18-13 last Sunday.

The junior midfielder passed for six assists, tying the program’s single-game record, to trigger Princeton’s most impressive offensive outburst of the young season.

Coming off a disappointing 11-6 loss to Georgetown two days earlier, Lloyd and her teammates were primed for a big effort against the Trojans, who are in their first year as a Division I program.

“We were really looking forward to coming out as soon as we could and making an impact,” said Lloyd, who hadn’t scored a point this season until Sunday.

“We didn’t think we played as well as we could have against Georgetown so we were ready for the second chance to prove ourselves.”

The Tigers were ready to go to the net. “We were definitely looking to be more intense and aggressive on the attack and I think we did a good job of that,” said Lloyd, reflecting on the win which improved Princeton to 2-1.

Lloyd’s record day was a product of that aggressiveness and the savvy she has gained over her college career.

“I was just kind of looking to see what opens up,” said Lloyd, who now has 32 goals and 23 assists in her Princeton career and tied the single game assist record established by sophomore Erin McMunn in a game last year.

“We were trying to push transition a lot. I guess the experience definitely helps in seeing the field and knowing what my teammates are going to do.”

With Mary-Kate Sivilli scoring five goals and Anya Gersoff and Erin McMunn both tallying three, Lloyd benefited from some sharpshooting teammates.

“We needed that,” said Lloyd, a 5’7 native of Severna Park, Md., whose spirited play and bright red hair make her stand out on the field.

“In our first couple of games, we haven’t had great shooting games; we did a lot better in that area today.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer saw the win over USC as something the Tigers needed.

“I was really pleased with the start we got off to,” said Sailer, whose team jumped out to a 6-2 lead. “Like I told the kids, it’s not perfect yet. There is a long way that we have to go but we made some good strides today and we definitely did compete.”

The Tigers definitely pushed the pace on offense, making run after run straight to the crease.

“It was definitely a focus to be a threat in the transition game; to look for some fast break goals, to look for goals off the secondary options off the break and before we just settled down and got into our sets,” said Sailer, whose team outshot the Trojans 34-23.

“I didn’t realize that she had that many assists; what really stood out about Lloyd today for me was her play on the draw,” said Sailer of Lloyd. who had eight draw controls and three ground balls to go with her six assists on the afternoon.

“She was phenomenal; digging out those ground balls, controlling the draw. Just her fight was really, really impressive. And then to see her line on the assists; I think a lot of those were off transition and I think she worked really hard to get herself in that position, she would win the draw and come down or she would get the ball in transition doing that extra work. She is a smart kid, she saw the open players and was able to give them the ball.”

It was extra special for the Tigers to get two goals from senior star Jaci Gassaway, who is playing through a knee injury.

“That is just so huge, you saw everybody’s reaction,” said Sailer. “It is just such an emotional lift for the team, Jaci is such a great player so anything we can get from her this season, we are happy for.”

Sailer wasn’t as happy about her defense which was shredded by USC freshman star Caroline de Lyra, who scored eight goals.

“We need to be able to figure out the play sooner and make those adjustments,” said Sailer.

“I think if we made those same adjustments in the first half that we were able to make at halftime, it would have been a different story. We did make the adjustments after halftime and took away that option. Number 25 [de Lyra] was just a really smart player for them and she took advantage of our miscues. But we did sort it out and I think our defense plays tough.”

With Princeton starting Ivy League play by hosting Brown (3-0 overall, 1-0 Ivy) this Saturday, Sailer knows that the Tigers need to play smarter.

“We are really excited for the Ivies, I think it is a solid win for us to build on,” asserted Sailer.

“We can play a whole lot better than we did today but it is a big improvement. I think we are definitely moving in the right direction and I think we will have some good energy coming off of this win.”

Lloyd, for her part, believes that Princeton is primed for a good effort against Brown.

“We are going to go into Brown and really look to keep getting better,” said Lloyd.

“We just need to improve a couple of fundamental things, a couple of things in transition and a couple things on defense.”

February 27, 2013

 

MIGHTY MAC: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Mike MacDonald prepares to unload the ball in a 2012 game. Last Saturday, sophomore attackman MacDonald scored three goals to help Princeton top Hofstra 10-7 in its season opener. The 12th-ranked Tigers play at No. 3 Johns Hopkins (3-0) this Friday in Baltimore.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MIGHTY MAC: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Mike MacDonald prepares to unload the ball in a 2012 game. Last Saturday, sophomore attackman MacDonald scored three goals to help Princeton top Hofstra 10-7 in its season opener. The 12th-ranked Tigers play at No. 3 Johns Hopkins (3-0) this Friday in Baltimore. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Featuring a lineup stocked with freshmen and untested upperclassmen, Chris Bates knew that he had to exercise some patience as his Princeton University men’s lacrosse team opened its season at Hofstra last Saturday.

“We reminded ourselves as coaches to stay calm and not start barking at guys; we needed to stay composed,” said Princeton head coach Bates, who started four freshmen on Saturday and unveiled a totally revamped defense.

“There was so much uncertainly with new faces, more on the defensive end. You don’t know how that is going to jell and how the guys are going to do with the nerves of a game.”

After trailing 3-1 in the first quarter, Princeton jelled, scoring four unanswered goals in the second period on the way to a 10-7 victory before a crowd  of 1,556 at Shuart Stadium.

Showing composure, Princeton was not rattled when it fell behind early. “I didn’t think Hofstra did anything that we didn’t expect,” said Bates.

“We didn’t play well offensively, we had some turnovers. I give everybody credit, everybody stayed true to what we were trying to do.”

After a Mike MacDonald goal made it 3-2, it became the Ryan Ambler show for Princeton in the second quarter as the precocious freshman tallied a goal and two assists to help the Tigers take a 6-3 halftime lead.

“The fourth goal was Ryan’s, we exhorted him from the sidelines to be more aggressive and he sped right by his guy and fired it in,” said Bates of Ambler, who got another assist in the fourth quarter and was later named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week.

“He doesn’t turn the ball over and he shares the ball, he gets assists by getting to people at the right spot at the right time.”

Senior midfielder Bobby Lucas came through at the right time for Princeton, winning six-of-eight face-offs in the second half.

“We had a man up to start the half and we seemed settled in defensively,” said Bates.

“They get a goal and it is 6-4; you are never comfortable. We weren’t doing well on face-offs to that point. In the third and fourth quarter, Bobby Lucas was the change. He really gave us life, he controlled the face-offs.”

Junior star Tom Schreiber helped Princeton control the fourth quarter, tallying a goal and an assist as the Tigers outscored the Pride 3-1 over the last 15 minutes of the contest.

“Schreiber gave us some goals and he controls the game with his energy,” said Bates of Schreiber, who had two goals and an assist on the day with sophomore Mike MacDonald chipping in three goals. “He got some ground balls and did things that don’t show up on the scoresheet. He settles you down.”

The new-look Princeton defense settled in nicely, giving up four goals over the last 51:18 of the game after yielding three goals in the first 8:42 of the contest.

“They started to play better as a unit, they got more confidence,” said Bates, in assessing the defensive effort.

“Jack Strabo and Chris White gave us veteran leadership at shortstick middie. That is the most underrated position, it is thankless. They played so well that we didn’t need to slide as much. Derick and Nick settled down, Alex Beatty and Mark Strabo also played well. Greg Raymond (assistant coach) did a good job of preparing them; we were ready for what Hofstra does.”

Freshman goalie Matt O’Connor appeared to be ready for prime time, making six saves in his college debut as he follows in the footsteps of four-year starter Tyler Fiorito.

“One of the reasons we recruited him is that he has such high character; he is unflappable, he doesn’t get too high or too low,” said Bates of the former Lawrenceville School standout.

“He had a good week of practice. I think he is going to get better and better. He is a gamer, he always gives you his best. He just has to be consistent, he doesn’t have to be brilliant like Tyler was at times.”

Leaving Hofstra with a victory was a major high for the Tigers. “We are excited to get out of there with a win, it is a tough place to play,” said Bates.

“The weather was brutal, it was raining sideways and it was cold. It affected our stickwork. If we had gone up to Hofstra and come out with a loss, we might be doubting ourselves. It was great to get a win in that environment, Princeton hadn’t won up there in six years.”

This Friday, 12th-ranked Princeton heads into another hostile environment as it plays at No. 3 Johns Hopkins (3-0) in Baltimore.

“As Greg Raymond said, Hopkins is Hofstra on steroids,” said Bates. “They are a very seasoned team, they have upperclassmen everywhere. They are playing with a lot of confidence, they are feeling pretty good about themselves. They play with a lot of energy and they have no weaknesses.”

Bates promises that Princeton will bring plenty of energy into the annual showdown with the Blue Jays.

“We have to be opportunistic and play smart,” said Bates. “We can’t turn the ball over and we have to face-off well. I can tell you that the guys will be excited to be playing at Homewood Field, this is always an important game for us. It is a going to be on national TV and there is going to be a buzz. We have got to withstand their early barrage, we know they are going to try to knock us out. We have to bob and weave and counter punch.”

If the Tigers can build on their effort at Hofstra, they should have a puncher’s chance against Hopkins.

LAY OF THE LAND: Princeton University men’s senior hockey player Eric Meland controls the puck in recent action. Last Saturday against visiting Yale, defenseman Meland  came up big on Senior Night, tallying a goal and an assist but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 4-3 before a packed house at Baker Rink. The Tigers, now 9-14-4 overall and 7-10-3 ECAC Hockey, wrap up regular season play with games at Dartmouth (13-10-4 overall, 9-8-3 ECACH) on March 1 and at Harvard (8-16-3 overall, 5-13-2 ECACH) on March 2.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LAY OF THE LAND: Princeton University men’s senior hockey player Eric Meland controls the puck in recent action. Last Saturday against visiting Yale, defenseman Meland came up big on Senior Night, tallying a goal and an assist but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 4-3 before a packed house at Baker Rink. The Tigers, now 9-14-4 overall and 7-10-3 ECAC Hockey, wrap up regular season play with games at Dartmouth (13-10-4 overall, 9-8-3 ECACH) on March 1 and at Harvard (8-16-3 overall, 5-13-2 ECACH) on March 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Eric Meland and his classmates on the Princeton University men’s hockey team, there was a short-term goal when they took the ice at Baker Rink for Senior Night.

“We wanted to win,” said senior defenseman Meland. “A win would go a long way to securing home ice so it isn’t our last game here.”

The night’s festivities, which included a ceremony at the first intermission with the six seniors and their families, prompted Meland to reflect on the longer-term significance of his Tiger hockey experience.

“Princeton hockey really helps you grow as a person,” said Meland, whose fellow seniors include Rob Kleebaum, Will MacDonald, James Kerr, Michael Sdao, and Mike Condon.

“You go through ups and downs and you do it as a team. It is always nice to look at the guy across from you and know that he is going through everything you are going through. Successes and failures are shared by all.”

Battling No. 13 Yale before a packed house of 2,374 at Baker Rink, the Tigers battled hard to make it a successful evening. Coming off a disappointing 4-1 loss to Brown on Friday, the Tigers took leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in the first period.

“We came out with more jump,” said Meland,  who assisted on a Jack Berger goal that opened the scoring. “I think the effort was there.”

The rivals were knotted 2-2 heading into the third period and Meland put the Tigers up 3-2 with 10:48 left in regulation.

“In my position back there, I have the ability to sneak in the back door,” said Meland.

“I saw Rob Kleebaum had the puck on the side of the net and he slid it across the front of the net. I happened to be a victim of circumstance and I was able to backdoor it.”

Unfortunately, Yale came back and scored two goals in the last 10 minutes of the game to pull out a 4-3 win.

“It is game of bounces but we control our own fate,” said Meland, reflecting on the Yale rally that dropped Princeton to 9-14-4 overall and 7-10-3 ECAC Hockey, tied for ninth in the league standings.

“We can’t blame anybody but ourselves for this loss; it is something we can learn from.”

Meland, a 6’1, 190-pound native of Grand Forks, N.D., has proven to be a good learner as he has moved to defenseman from forward.

“I was excited about it; you have a little more time on the puck on defense,” said Meland, who has 13 points on two goals and 11 assists this season and 60 career points on 16 goals and 44 assists.

“I was excited to fill an offensive defenseman role and do everything I can to help the team win this year.”

With Princeton playing at Dartmouth (13-10-4 overall, 9-8-3 ECACH) on March 1 and at Harvard (8-16-3 overall, 5-13-2 ECACH) on March 2, the Tigers will need to get on the winning track to move up to eighth place and earn home ice for the first round of the ECACH playoffs.

“We can go out there and give it our all; it is a matter of the puck bouncing here or there,” said Meland.

“It is a results-based game so it is just a matter of bearing down at this point.”

Last fall, Anya Gersoff did her best to thwart shooters as a goalie for the Princeton University field hockey team.

Freshman Gersoff yielded only one goal in a back-up role for the national champion Tigers.

This spring, Gersoff has shed her pads and is trying to beat goalies as an attacker for the Princeton women’s lacrosse team.

Last Saturday, Gersoff was primed to make her lax debut as Princeton hosted Villanova in its season opener.

“It was so exciting to get out there,” said Gersoff, noting that her field hockey experience last fall helped calm her nerves.

Gersoff ended up making an exciting debut, scoring two goals to help the Tigers pull away to a 10-5 win over the Wildcats.

In reflecting on her effort, Gersoff said that playing goalie in the fall helps her be a savvy scorer in the spring.

“You kind of know what a goalie doesn’t like to see,” said Gersoff. “When I am playing goalie I always hate it when there is a shooter and they look at you and you are like oh no so there is that little bit of intimidation stuff.”

The Tigers had a little trouble with their shooting in the first half as they led just 3-0 despite having piled up 15 shots.

“We didn’t play as well as we would have liked to the whole game,” said Gersoff. “In the first half, our shooting was a little rough but we will get better.” Early in the second half, Villanova drew to within 3-2 and Princeton responded with its best stretch of the contest, going on a 6-1 run to seize control.

“We just have so many great leaders on this team and they made it so we should step up,” said Gersoff, reflecting on Princeton’s second half surge.

“We just followed suit and we were able to put it in the back of the net a few times.”

Gersoff got into the act, scoring two straight goals in that run. Her first career goal put the Tigers up 8-3.

“I remember I picked up the ball and I had an open lane and I went to goal,” said Gersoff, recalling her initial college tally. “I was like wow I scored.”

The Tiger freshmen accounted for six of Princeton’s 10 goals as Gersoff’s classmates Alex Bruno and Stephanie Paloscio also scored two apiece.

“We have always gotten along well as a freshman class,” said Gersoff. “I knew that there was something special about us when we came in.”

Not being available to take part in the lacrosse fall training has required a special effort on Gersoff’s part this spring.

“It was a really hard adjustment,” said Gersoff. “I figured it out eventually, it is going OK. It is still an adjustment.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer, for her part, is confident her team figured some things out as it overcame a sluggish start.

“I think we definitely had the jitters a little bit,” said Sailer. “We didn’t look like we have been scrimmaging and practicing. I think it was just a little bit of that first game jitters that hopefully we worked out and we’ll come out a little stronger next time.”

Sailer liked her team’s strong play as it pulled away from Villanova in the second half.

“I think our kids knew that we had to make things happen so we got some turnovers in transition,” said Sailer. “We had some fast breaks, we had some nice connections in the attack end.”

The production of Gersoff and classmates Bruno and Paloscio was a nice plus for the Tigers.

“They really did lead the way finishing but the other kids did a lot between the lines,” said Sailer, referring to the trio of freshmen.

“I was really pleased, those three are all just smart shooters and really strong players so it was great to see them have such a great day on their first day out.”

Princeton got some smart play from such veteran performers as junior midfielder Sarah Lloyd and senior defender Caroline Rehfuss.

“I thought Sarah Lloyd did a really good job on the draw,” asserted Sailer.

“I thought Rehfuss did really well, she had four caused turnovers and No. 40 (Villanova offensive star Jackie Froccaro) had just one goal.”

With senior star attacker Jaci Gassaway sidelined due to a knee injury, the Tigers are going to need to do a better job of communicating on offense.

“We have to be confident in ourselves,” added Sailer, whose team plays at Georgetown on March 1 before hosting Southern California on March 3.

“We need more vocal leadership from our upperclassmen on the field. We didn’t have anyone in the attack end who was settling people and being that voice down there. Jaci was that person for us; we have got to work through that. It was an ugly win but we will take the ‘w’ to start the season.”

Gersoff, for her part, believes Princeton can build on its positive start. “It is always great to get a win in the first game of the season,” said Gersoff.

“We have been playing really well in our scrimmages and practices. We can just step it up a little more all over the field.”

OUT OF CONTENTION: Princeton University women’s hockey player Molly Contini heads up the ice in recent action. Last Friday, freshman forward Contini scored the winning goal as Princeton edged Brown 2-1. A day later, Princeton fell 4-2 at Yale to drop into ninth place in the final ECAC Hockey standings and end an 11-year streak of making the league playoffs. The Tigers finished the winter at 11-16-2 overall and 6-14-2 in ECAH play.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

OUT OF CONTENTION: Princeton University women’s hockey player Molly Contini heads up the ice in recent action. Last Friday, freshman forward Contini scored the winning goal as Princeton edged Brown 2-1. A day later, Princeton fell 4-2 at Yale to drop into ninth place in the final ECAC Hockey standings and end an 11-year streak of making the league playoffs. The Tigers finished the winter at 11-16-2 overall and 6-14-2 in ECAH play. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton University women’s hockey team, the task last weekend was clear.

If the Tigers won their games at Brown and Yale, they would clinch eighth place in the ECAC Hockey standings and the final spot in the upcoming league playoffs.

Princeton achieved step one on Friday as it edged Brown 2-1 with junior Olivia Mucha and freshman Molly Contini finding the back of the net in the first period and freshman goalie Kimberley newell making 23 saves.

“Mucha got us going early, she made a nice move and found a seam,” said Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal.

“When she is scoring goals, we are a better team. Contini took a pass from Kelly Cooke on a 2-on-1 and roofed a backhand, that was a big-time goal. That was early in the game, I was hoping we would get more but Brown played really well. Kim Newell (freshman goalie) played solid all weekend, she did what we needed.”

Against Yale the next day, it looked like Princeton was on the way to the win it needed as it jumped out to an early 2-0 lead.

“We got the lead but we were not playing that well,” said Kampersal who got goals from Mucha and sophomore Brianna Leahy.

“We got a shorthanded goal to go up 2-0. We didn’t take our foot off the pedal but Yale played with a lot of passion. It was their Senior Day.”

Even though Princeton led 2-1 going into the third, Kampersal had a bad feeling.

“I knew we were hanging on,” said Kampersal. “We were tired on Saturday. Our fatigue and their passion made the difference in the third period.”

Things fell apart in the third period as Princeton yielded three unanswered goals to lose 4-2. Princeton’s loss combined with a victory by Colgate over Rensselaer left Princeton at 11-16-2 overall and 6-14-2 in ECAH play and in ninth place and out of the league playoffs for the first time since 2001.

The abrupt ending to the season was painful for Kampersal and his players.

“It’s definitely hard to go out like that,” said Kampersal. “It is not the year we hoped for. We have some things to be proud of but we have to coach better and play better. The three seniors (Alex Kinney, Kelly Cooke, and Corey Stearns) all had good years. Cookie and Corey carried us to the end, they played great.”

In Kampersal’s view, this year’s disappointment could sow the seeds for future success.

“It was definitely a negative but it can also be a positive,” asserted Kampersal.

“It is a slap in the face, but it can get us to focus more on things and be re-motivated to get back to where we were in 2006 and 2007. We need to work hard and come back in unbelievable physical shape. We need to be more disciplined and be better hockey players.”

February 20, 2013

 

IN THE NICK OF TIME: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Nick Fernandez races up the field in action last spring. Junior Fernandez has been moved to defense from midfield this spring and will play a key role as Princeton deals with the loss of defenseman Chad Wiedmaier, longstick midfielder John Cunningham, and goalie Tyler Fiorito to graduation. The Tigers open their 2013 season by playing at Hofstra (1-0) on February 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

IN THE NICK OF TIME: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Nick Fernandez races up the field in action last spring. Junior Fernandez has been moved to defense from midfield this spring and will play a key role as Princeton deals with the loss of defenseman Chad Wiedmaier, longstick midfielder John Cunningham, and goalie Tyler Fiorito to graduation. The Tigers open their 2013 season by playing at Hofstra (1-0) on February 23.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

They were a trio of stars who not only formed the backbone of the defense for the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team but also helped the proud program make it back to the NCAA tournament.

The Big 3 of defenseman Chad Wiedmaier, longstick midfielder John Cunningham, and goalie Tyler Fiorito earned All-American honors and helped spur a bounce-back season for Princeton in 2012 that saw the Tigers go 11-5 after a nightmarish 4-8 campaign the year before.

Although Wiedmaier, Cunningham, and Fiorito have graduated along with 10 classmates, their influence will be felt this spring.

“The senior class was so strong on the field and off the field,” said Princeton head coach Chris Bates, whose team went 6-0 in Ivy League regular season play in 2012 and ended the spring by losing 6-5 to Virginia in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

“We have vowed to them to build on that foundation. It is not going to happen overnight. We have some holes to fill and kids need to get game experience in those areas.”

The Tigers do boast a nice foundation at attack where they welcome back senior Jeff Froccaro (27 goals and 12 assists in 2012) and sophomore Mike MacDonald  (22 goals and eight assists).

“Jeff is playing well and Mike’s game has developed,” said Bates, whose team opens its 2013 campaign by playing at Hofstra (1-0) on February 23.

“Ryan Ambler, a freshman, is the third attacker. He is really doing a lot for us. He is going to give us 60-minute games. He complements the other guys real well; I think we have a chance to be really good there.

Bates has some other good guys who should provide depth up front in sophomore Will Rotatori and senior Luke Armour (three goals and three assists).

“Will Rotatori is the fourth guy; he played well in the fall and is doing well so far this spring,” said Bates, who is entering his fourth year at the helm of the Princeton program and has a 26-18 record guiding the Tigers. “Luke Armour is another option there; he is a veteran.”

Princeton’s top offensive option figures to be All-American junior midfielder Tom Schreiber, who scored 32 goals and 28 assists last spring, the first Tiger to hit 60 points since Ryan Boyle in 2004.

“Schreiber is a captain as a junior, it is his team,” said Bates. “Tom brings something different when he is out there. Day in, day out, his competitive nature shines through. It is great when your best player is your hardest worker. We want the other guys to grab hold of that.”

Bates also wants Schreiber to spread the wealth, when necessary. “We are trying to help develop his game,” said Bates. “He doesn’t have to be Atlas with the players we have around him; there are days when he is going to be neutralized and he has to be a facilitator.”

The Tigers have some skilled players around Schreiber in the midfield. “Kip Orban (eight goals and three assists) ended up being on the first line last year; I think he is going to blossom into a prime-time player,” said Bates.

“He is a big, strong kid with a great shot. Hunter DeButts (two goals and four assists) needs to cut down on his turnovers and be smarter on his shots. He is very hard to cover so he could be good. Jake Froccaro, Jeff’s brother, has helped on extra man. He is skilled and savvy like his brother; he is going to get better and better.”

Princeton will feature two savvy veterans in the defensive midfield in junior Jack Strabo (four goals and one assist) and senior Chris White (two goals and four assists).

“Jack is ready to take the next step; the fact that we moved Nick Fernandez to close defense shows the confidence we have in him,” said Bates.

“Chris White is a captain and he is doing a really good job with that. He is playing really, really well; he is very steady and understands our defense.”

At longstick midfielder, lanky sophomore Alex Beatty is trying to fill the big shoes left by Cunningham.

“Alex Beatty is at long pole; he is 6’7 and he is a nemesis to Tom [Schreiber] everyday in practice; he is pretty athletic.”

In order to shore up the depleted defense, Bates has moved one of his most athletic players, junior Fernandez, to close defense from the midfield.

“Fernandez is so athletic and so mobile; he has picked things up very well,” asserted Bates.

“He has been working very hard with the pole. There are going to be a lot of eyes on him. He needs to direct our defense.”

The defense will feature a bevy of new faces with juniors Derick Raabe, Rob Posniewski, and Brian Reilly together with freshmen Mark Strabo and Brian Pickup in the mix.

“Derick Raabe has been good,” said Bates. “It is a new world for those guys. It is going to take some games for those guys to pick everything up. Mark Strabo is tough as nails; he has been playing very well. Rob Posniewski, Brian Reilly, and Brian Pickup should also help.”

At goalie, Princeton faces the daunting task of replacing Fiorito, who started from day one as a freshman and posted a goals against average of 7.07 last spring. In a case of what goes around, comes around, Bates is leaning toward installing freshman Matt O‘Connor as the starter over sophomore Eric Sanschagrin and junior Brian Kavanaugh.

“Matt O’Connor is ahead of Eric by a nose,” said Bates. “Matt is a strong lefty. He saves a lot of balls; he has a commanding presence. Eric is a pure stopper, he reads the ball so well. We have confidence in all three guys. We want one guy to emerge; we don’t want to have anyone looking over their shoulder.”

At face-off, Bates has confidence in several guys. “Bobby Lucas is the prime guy,” said Bates of the senior who won 91 of 164 face-offs last season.

“Justin Murphy (15-of-30) is a dedicated, hard worker. The Froccaros are very streaky; when they are on, they can get three in a row and you can pick up a couple of goals.”

Bates acknowledged that Princeton is going to need to score a lot of goals to keep its head above water as the new defense takes shape.

“The schedule is pretty unforgiving, Hofstra, Johns Hopkins, and North Carolina in the first few weeks,” said Bates.

“Nobody is going to feel sorry for us. It is going to be a roller-coaster. We can score goals and I am confident the defense will jell. Greg Raymond [assistant coach] does a great job with the defense, they are coming along.”

MID-RANGE WEAPON: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Charlotte Davis heads up the field in action last season. The Tigers are depending on senior star Davis (20 goals, five assists in 2012) to be a force in the midfield this spring. Princeton opens its 2013 season by hosting Villanova on February 23.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MID-RANGE WEAPON: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Charlotte Davis heads up the field in action last season. The Tigers are depending on senior star Davis (20 goals, five assists in 2012) to be a force in the midfield this spring. Princeton opens its 2013 season by hosting Villanova on February 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While missing out on postseason play last spring left the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team with an empty feeling, Chris Sailer believes the experience gave her players a fuller appreciation of what it takes to excel.

“Last year was a tough year for all of us,” said Princeton head coach Sailer, who is entering her 27th season at the helm at Princeton and has won 322 games and three NCAA titles in her Hall of Fame career.

“It led to some important reflection and renewed commitment. The girls have been motivated all year long in the off season and now in the preseason.”

The team’s offseason featured a trip to Malta and London in October that Sailer believes gave her players a boost as they look to rebound from last spring’s disappointment.

“The foreign trips always help a team; you spend so much time together and you do cool things together,” said Sailer, whose team opens the 2013 season by hosting Villanova (0-1) on February 23.

“This group has a unique chemistry. They are so supportive of each other; they get along so well. They enjoy being out on the field and playing together. I think we are in a good place.”

The addition of new assistant coaches Jenn Cook and former Princeton standout Anne Murray ’09 has positively impacted the team’s chemistry.

“That has been awesome, they add a new energy,” said Sailer. “They bring new sets of eyes on everybody and new ideas. There are new drills. The kids have really enjoyed working with them.”

Sailer enjoys having the one-two punch of senior Jaci Gassaway (38 goals and 16 assists in 2012) and sophomore Erin McMunn (18 goals and 30 assists) back to trigger the Princeton attack.

“Jaci and Erin are both good players and they play so well together,” said Sailer. “They lift other people around them.”

While Gassaway and McMunn figure to be the Tigers’ biggest offensive weapons, Sailer believes she has other people who are going to be dangerous.

“I think we are going to have a balanced attack,” asserted Sailer, whose team went 8-7 overall last spring with a 4-3 mark in Ivy League play.

“We have a lot of kids who have stepped up, both returners and freshmen. It is not going to just be the Jaci and Erin show.”

Among those in the mix on attack are senior Sam Ellis (9 goals and seven assists), junior Mary-Kate Sivilli (10 goals, nine assists), sophomore Erika Grabbi (two goals), junior Grace Bowen, together with freshmen Alex Bruno and Anya Gersoff.

“Sam Ellis is a senior; she is an explosive kid,” said Sailer. “Mary-Kate Sivilli started about half the games for us; she plays solid in front of the net. Grabbi and Bowen have both improved from last year; they can help us out in certain situations. We have a couple of good freshman. Bruno is really smart; she is a good shooter and she knows how to read defenses and finish. Gersoff played field hockey last fall and had a great experience. She jumped in with us this spring. She is a lax rat; she has incredible stick skills.”

The Tiger midfield is led by skillful senior Charlotte Davis (20 goals, five assists).

“Char is off to a great start in preseason; we had a scrimmage with Temple this week and she was so solid,” said Sailer. “She is hard to contain with her drive and shot; she is going to be a huge leader for us.”

Junior Sarah Lloyd (17 goals and five assists) and freshman Erin Slifer (10 goals and seven assists) could prove hard for Princeton’s foes to contain this spring

“Sarah Lloyd has been doing well,” said Sailer, whose midfield unit will also include senior Jenna Davis and a pair of promising freshmen in Anna Menke and Stephanie Paloscio.

“She is more of a 1-on-1 player this year; we want her to go to goal. Slifer is an all-around solid player at both ends of the field. She is a good defender and a solid attacker. We are looking for her to do more on attack.”

Sophomore Blake Dietrick, who is currently starring at guard for the Ivy-leading Princeton women’s basketball team, could be a solid addition for the Tigers.

“Dietrick is an athletic kid; we really wanted her to play lacrosse but basketball is her first love and she didn’t play for us last year,” said Sailer, noting that Dietrick was an All-American lax player in high school. “She will join us in mid-to-late March and we will see how she fits in.”

Senior captain Caroline Rehfuss (one goal, three assists, 15 groundballs) adds athleticism and leadership to the Princeton defense.

“Rehfuss is playing so well, she has been on fire,” asserted Sailer.

“She is so smart on the field, her positioning is great. She is also good in transition. She is going to be the backbone of the unit.”

The unit will also feature juniors Colleen Smith and Liz Cutting along with talented freshman Liz Bannantine.

“Colleen Smith is aggressive and very smart; Cutting is playing really well, she made a lot of progress,” added Sailer, who will also be using junior Erin Williams and sophomore Erin Curley on defense.

“Liz Bannanine is doing really well; she is like deButts [former All-American defender Lindsey deButts] in transition.”

Sophomore goalie Annie Woehling is doing well as she builds on a freshman campaign that saw her post a goals against average of 9.50 in 15 starts.

“Annie has a year under her belt and has been tested under fire,” said Sailer.

“She is much more confident and less nervous. She knows what is expected at this level. She is a quick kid.”

Sailer is confident that her squad can rebound from last year’s frustration. “Our goal is certainly to make it to the postseason,” said Sailer.

“We have the potential to be one of the top teams in the Ivies, we are going for the title. It was tough to be left out last year. We have a good group of kids. We have good senior leadership; we have a senior leading every unit. We have good balance; it is not a situation where we have a strong unit and a weak unit.”