May 16, 2012

LESSON PLAN: Princeton University women’s water polo head coach Luis Nicolao instructs his players in a game earlier this season. Last weekend, the Tigers gained some valuable lesson as they took sixth in their first appearance at the NCAA Championship. The Tigers went 1-2 in the competition to finish the season with a 29-6 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton University women’s water polo team, its first-ever trip to the NCAA Championship proved to be eye-opening on several levels.

“No doubt there was a lot of excitement; it was a tremendous learning experience,” said Princeton head coach Luis Nicolao, reflecting on the 8-team competition which took place last weekend at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex.

“We had never gotten this far. We also had to deal with the hurdles of handling academic responsibilities on the road.”

The sixth-seeded Tigers faced a big hurdle in their first round contest last Friday as they played third-seeded USC.

“They are just so strong; it was great experience going against them,” said
Nicolao, whose team fell 14-2 to the Trojans, the eventual runners-up to champion Stanford. “They are physical, smart, and fast; they make you pay for every mistake.”

While the Tigers didn’t play their smartest game in a consolation contest against Iona the next day, they were able to prevail 9-5.

“We have seen them a few times so we knew it would be a tough game,” said Nicolao, who got three goals from sophomore star Katie Rigler as the Tigers outscored the Gaels 3-0 in the fourth quarter to earn the victory.

“You want to win at NCAAs. We didn’t play our best but we were able to pull away in the fourth. We missed some easy shots but we really played well
defensively.”

In the fifth place game against Loyola Marymount on Sunday, the Tigers sputtered down the stretch as they fell 15-11.

“That was the hardest game to take,” said Nicolao, whose team pulled to within 12-11 in the fourth quarter after trailing by three goals for much of the second half.

“We had our chances; we missed opportunities both offensively and defensively. You have to consider the quality of opponent and the fatigue from the weekend. We played hard.”

Learning some hard lessons over the weekend should serve as motivation going forward for a Tiger team that is only losing three seniors.

“Getting the taste of this and seeing how exciting it is, set the bar higher,” said Nicolao, whose team finished the season with a 29-6 record.

“They want to get back there and do better. The girls are all driven. We talked on the bus ride back from the airport about doing that little extra to be better.”

In any event, it has been a special ride for Nicolao this spring. “The group came together,” asserted Nicolao, who is in his 14th year overseeing both the men’s and women’s water polo programs at Princeton.

“Last year we lost the one-goal games; this year, we were winning them. We have a good foundation in place for Princeton water polo. We will have a target on our backs next year but we are excited to get going again. The girls can be proud of what they did.”

May 9, 2012

DOGGED PURSUIT: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Tom Schreiber, right, gets harassed by Yale defender Peter Johnson last Sunday in the Ivy League Tournament championship game. The Bulldogs pulled away to a 15-7 victory over the Tigers to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Later that evening, Princeton found out it will get a chance to pursue its dream of a national title as it received an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney. The Tigers will head south to play at fifth-seeded and defending national champion Virginia (11-3) on May 13 in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Tyler Fiorito acknowledged that the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team didn’t take care of business when it hosted Yale last Sunday afternoon in the Ivy League championship game.

Knowing that a win could be its only route into the upcoming NCAA tournament, Princeton got overrun by a sizzling Yale team, falling 15-7 to the Bulldogs before a crowd of 1,422 at Class of 1952 Stadium.

In a post-game press conference that had the feel of a wake, a red-eyed Fiorito tipped his hat to Yale, which has now won nine straight games and improved to 11-4.

“They are a good offensive team,” said senior goalie and tri-captain Fiorito, who made just four saves on the day, a far cry from the 13 stops he piled up when Princeton edged the Bulldogs 10-9 in five overtimes in their regular season meeting on March 24.

“They are playing with a lot of confidence and they have some good inside guys. I think they held the ball and brought it behind the net and really attacked us from there. They weren’t taking too many outside shots and they were patient with the ball. They finished their opportunities today.”

Fiorito thought that Princeton might be finished for the year as the loss dropped the Tigers to 11-4 and put them firmly on the bubble for a spot in the 16-team NCAA field.

“We had our chance today, we had it in our hands,” said Fiorito, who was named last week as the Ivy League Player of the Year after helping the Tigers go 6-0 in regular season league action.

“It didn’t go our way; I think it is disappointing for us. We’ll look back at this as a lost opportunity if this is it. We fought hard.”

About seven hours later, however, things went Princeton’s way as the Tigers received an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney, where they will play at fifth-seeded and defending national champion Virginia (11-3) on May 13 in a first round contest.

Princeton head coach Chris Bates knows that the Tigers will have to take some lessons from the Yale defeat in order to beat Virginia.

“It is a tough locker room to be in right now, I don’t think any of us were prepared for this,” said Bates, whose team fell behind 4-0 in the second quarter but rallied to trail just 7-5 early in the third quarter before Yale put the game away with a decisive 6-0 run.

“I give Yale a ton of credit. I thought they played hard; they made plays for themselves. At the end of the day, I don’t think we did what we needed to do to win a big playoff game.”

Bates’ heart went out to his seniors who took the setback to Yale hard.

“I am most disappointed for our seniors who have done everything possible to shape a culture and win games like this,” said Bates, whose Class of 2012 features tri-captain Fiorito, John Cunningham, and Chad Wiedmaier.

“We are not ready for this to be over. I am proud of these guys; I love these guys.”

Bates didn’t love what he saw offensively from his team on Sunday. “I thought Yale controlled the tempo of the game, they wanted to shorten the game and have long possessions,” said Bates, who got two goals and two assists from Alex Capretta in the loss to Yale with Mike MacDonald chipping in two goals and the trio of Forest Sonnenfeldt, Jeff Froccaro, and Kip Orban adding one goal apiece.

“That gets an offense out of a rhythm; we never felt good. We never had the ball moving. Our legs never got under us offensively to gain some momentum and then you do score, if you are not winning the face-off, you have to play defense and recharge the batteries again. That is a challenge.”

In Bates’s view, his team is up for the challenge posed by Virginia. “We can play and beat anybody in the country,” asserted Bates, whose team could get a rematch with the Bulldogs as the winner of the Princeton-Virginia clash will face the victor of the Notre Dame-Yale opening round contest in the NCAA quarters on May 20 in Philadelphia. “I don’t think anyone in the locker room has a doubt; we know we can.”

Fiorito, for his part, has no doubt that the Tigers can do some damage in the NCAA tourney.

“I think we are a great team,” said Fiorito. “I think every time we step on the field, we are going to bring it. I think a lot of teams would fear us. We are a tough team. I think if they put us in there, we would do well. If we get in, we are going to make a little run here.”

Chad Wiedmaier is leaving quite a legacy as he wraps up his career with the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team.

Last week, the 6’1, 200-pound native of Chatham became the first Princeton men’s lacrosse player to be a four-time first-team All-Ivy selection with Cornell’s Max Siebald being the only other four-time first-team pick in league history.

Earlier this spring, senior defenseman and Tiger tri-captain Wiedmaier was named as one of 10 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior Class Award for men’s lacrosse. The award recognizes excellence in what is called the “4 C’s” of classroom, competition, community, and character.

While those accomplishments are special, Wiedmaier realizes that such honors mean that his time at Princeton is fleeting.

“It is bittersweet, I know that no matter what, I am going to be out of here really soon,” said Wiedmaier, who spent last summer helping young people in Uganda, working with Fields of Growth to help the Africans learn lacrosse.

“It hasn’t really hit me emotionally. I know mentally it is about to happen. I don’t think I will really feel it until the last whistle blows.”

While it looked like Princeton may have blown a chance to go for a national title after losing 15-7 to Yale last Sunday in the Ivy tournament championship game, Wiedmaier and the Tigers, now 11-4, will hit the field again as they received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and will play at fifth-seeded Virginia (11-3) on May 13 in an opening round matchup.

As Wiedmaier and his teammates faced Brown last Friday in the Ivy semifinals, they knew the stakes were high.

“It is my last chance,” said Wiedmaier. “We knew if we didn’t win tonight that we would be done for the year probably.”

The semis matchup was tricky since Princeton had routed Brown 13-2 in late March and realized the Bears would be hungry for revenge.

“We embarrassed them the last time we played them so we knew they were going to give us everything they have got,” said Wiedmaier.

“Their backs were to the wall, the only way they were getting into the NCAA tournament was winning the whole tournament.”

Sure enough, an inspired Brown team gave the Tigers trouble, taking a 4-3 lead in the second quarter before Princeton went on a 4-0  run to end the half on the way to a 9-6 victory.

“They were spinning us around inside with their inverts, we calmed down a little bit and zoned up inside,” explained Wiedmaier, who was later named to the All-Tournament team. “Once we started seeing that, it all made sense.”

The Tiger defensive unit has calmed most attacks this spring as it ranks sixth nationally in scoring defense, giving up 7.33 goals a game.

“There is a ton of chemistry there, not just the seniors but the shortsticks and middies,” said Wiedmaier, reflecting on a season which has seen him scoop up 32 ground balls and produce a team-high 33 caused turnovers.

“We have just gotten more and more comfortable as this year has gone on. Against Brown, the first time we played them we may have slid once — it was just individual defense. But tonight and recently, especially after we lost to Syracuse, we have been a sliding team on defense and we have been pressing on that a lot more. That’s what is going to pull us through.”

Coming off a frustrating 4-8 campaign in 2011, the Tigers have utilized an upbeat approach in rebounding to make it through to the NCAA tournament.

“You can just tell the vibe with our whole team,” said Wiedmaier. “We have been playing very loose lately and that is when we play our best. It is just a lot more fun this year than last year.”

If Wiedmaier and the Tigers can have more fun in the NCAAs, that would burnish his already special legacy.

ON THE MOVE: Trina Salcido encourages her Princeton University softball team from the coaching box in 2011. Last week, Salcido stepped down from her post as the head coach of the Tiger softball program. In her five years at the helm, Salcido guided Princeton to an overall record of 81-136 and a 47-53 Ivy League mark. She coached the program to the 2008 Ivy title in her debut season. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

For Trina Salcido, entering into married life means that she is going to take a break from another family.

After five years as the head coach of the Princeton University softball team, Salcido stepped down from her post last week.

Salcido, who is engaged to Rutgers women’s swimming head coach Phil Spiniello with a wedding date set for August, is going to miss the daily contact with her brood on the diamond.

“It is special to be part of their four years and see them mature and grow as people; it is such a valuable role,” said Salcido.

“It is rewarding to see them fail and succeed at practice and helping them develop. The gift of daily contact is great.”

In reflecting on her tenure, Salcido pointed to the deep bonds she developed with her coaching colleagues as another highlight.

“I will miss the relationships I have built with the other coaches at Princeton, both assistant and head coaches,” said Salcido, who served as an assistant with the program for three years before taking the helm for the 2008 season.

“It has been great to sit beside them and to be able to go into their offices and draw perspective from them on where Princeton has been and where it is going. I am inspired by them and feel part of something bigger. It is a core group that believes in the same goals and shares best practices. Everyone is trying to help each other.”

In 2011, Salcido gained a different perspective on things when freshman player Khristin Kyllo died of natural causes.

“Knowing her for two years in the recruiting process and in her fall here is really why I coach,” said Salcido.

“Khristin was a great kid. Losing her was the hardest thing in my life. I never had to deal with a tragedy like that. Both of my parents are still alive and I have three sisters. I have become so close to her family; it is a gift to have a relationship like that. When you get a life and death perspective, you learn to appreciate each day and each moment. You see that things are bigger than winning or losing.”

Salcido did enjoy some winning moments in her tenure, guiding Princeton to an 18-2 Ivy mark in 2008 that stands as a record for regular season league victories.

“We really struggled the year before and we were able to turn it around,” said Salcido, reflecting on that 2008 campaign that helped her produce an overall record of 81-136 and a 47-53 Ivy League mark. “It was an inspired year.”

In Salcido’s view, the program is positioned to enjoy some big years. “I love the foundation that is in place; we are going to have numbers,” said Salcido, who guided her 2012 squad to a 14-32 overall record and 8-12 in Ivy play with five of the league losses being by one run.

“When I came here we had 13 players. There will be 19 players next season for the first time. We have depth of talent at more positions. We have depth in the bullpen, there will be four or five pitchers and three catchers. It creates opportunities for competition and for more people to step up. It gives a coach more options in games. You can also weather injuries. The new coach is going to be able to hit the ground running.”

RIGGED UP: Princeton University women’s water polo player Katie Rigler prepares to fire the ball in recent action. Sophomore star Rigler, a native of Fullerton, Calif., will be making a special homecoming this weekend as the Tigers compete in the NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex. Rigler, the team’s leading scorer with 69 goals, will look to come up big as the sixth-seeded Tigers (28-4) face No. 3 USC (21-5) in a quarterfinal matchup on May 11. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

For Katie Rigler, exhibiting good pitching form on the baseball diamond helped put her on the path to water polo stardom.

“A business client of my mom’s saw a picture of me pitching in a baseball game and he asked if I had any interest in trying water polo since he figured I would know how to throw a ball,” recalled Rigler. “I decided to give it a try and instantly fell in love with the sport.”

But Rigler, a native of Fullerton, Calif., was not an instant success at her new game. “At first, I did not know where I was supposed to be in the pool and got excluded from almost every possession on defense,” recalled Rigler.

“About the only thing I knew how to do was shoot hard. Eventually I got the hang of the basics and could focus on the individual aspects of my game.

A key step in Rigler’s development came when she decided to play for the Huntington Beach Club team that was coached by Natalie Benson, a two-time Olympic water polo star.

“Natalie Benson, in my opinion, is the best women’s water polo player to ever play and getting the chance to pick her brain and learn from her was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Rigler, who went on to star for Rosary High and compete for the USA junior national team.

“She brought a level of passion for the game that was actually contagious for me. My mindset and commitment to water polo completely changed during my time at Huntington Beach — losing wasn’t an option anymore and I began to expect more out of myself than just having fun.”

Seizing the opportunity to join the Princeton University women’s water polo team in 2010, sophomore star Rigler will be looking to help the Tigers pursue a title as they compete in the NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship this weekend at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex.

While sixth-seeded Princeton, now 28-4, faces an uphill battle at the competition, starting with a quarterfinal match-up against No. 3 USC (21-5) on May 11, Rigler believes the Tigers can’t be satisfied merely by making the NCAAs.

“We can’t be complacent with where we are,” said Rigler. “We need to keep looking forward and hope to improve. Although we have had much success this season, it will be disappointing if we don’t continue to play well in front of such a large crowd.”

SoCal native Rigler has special motivation to play well in San Diego. “I am beyond excited to come back home,” said Rigler. “My whole family will be coming and most of my water polo friends from home play on the teams we are competing against.”

In reflecting on her Princeton career, Rigler acknowledged that it took her a while to feel at home during her debut season.

“Freshman year is really tough for any athlete; the hardest transition I found to be was figuring out my role on the team,” said Rigler.

“I did not feel comfortable trying to take over as an offensive leader right away; however, at the same time I did not want to be complacent and lose confidence. Another hard transition was the length of the season compared to the short two-month high school season. By the end of the season, I was completely exhausted.”

As the season went on, Rigler’s transition was eased through the team’s special chemistry.

“Getting to know my teammates was the highlight of my year,” asserted Rigler, who scored a team-high 56 goals in 2011 as the Tigers went 18-11 and took fifth in the Eastern Championships.

“Despite a disappointing end to the season, I enjoyed every second of it. We had so many different personalities on the team that practice and especially traveling was always entertaining. It was also nice to have a pretty successful season individually. I was really nervous about how well I would play against college girls so it was a relief to do well.”

As Rigler and the Tigers headed into the 2012 campaign, they were optimistic about doing well.

“Although we were disappointed to lose six seniors, we were so excited to gain just as many freshmen,” said Rigler.

“All of the new freshmen are so goofy and bring tons of energy and excitement to the team that it was hard not to be hopeful for the new season.”

Pulling out some exciting wins early in the season helped Princeton get on a roll.

“There was a lot more confidence with this team,” said Rigler, who has scored a team-high 69 goals so far this season and is one of 10 Tigers with at least 21 goals.

“I still can’t believe how many big games we trailed in and came back to win. Our team never gave up. I think much of this is due to our depth. We can constantly keep bringing in fresh players to wear down our opponents.”

In order to win the Easterns crown and earn the program’s first trip to the NCAA Championship, the Tigers had to pull through some close games, rallying to beat host Brown 7-6 in overtime in the semifinals and then edging Maryland 6-5 in the title game.

“The Brown game was a testimony to our team’s energy and depth; after halftime we got fired up and came out strong to eventually tie the game,” said Rigler, reflecting on a game which saw Princeton trailing 5-2 in the third quarter.

“Many of our players, including myself, were struggling that game and our bench came up huge. Camille Hooks had the game of her life and scored both the tying and game winning goals. We did not fold over in the midst of adversity. Instead we came back even stronger and finished with a win.”

The Tigers needed to be strong down the stretch to get the victory over Maryland as they scored two goals early in the fourth quarter to take a 6-4 lead and then held off a spirited charge from the Terps.

“I was feeling really confident about winning the game going into halftime,” recalled Rigler.

“Our biggest struggle all season was staying strong the first half and we accomplished that against Maryland. Although it was a big game, I felt really calm most of the game. The final minute or two brought out some nerves because we were so close to winning a championship. Other than that I think our whole team felt really confident and under control the entire game.”

Rigler raised her game at the Easterns, scoring a total of seven goals over the weekend on the way to being named tournament MVP.

“Winning the MVP award was definitely an honor,” said Rigler. “There are so many talented players and I felt really blessed to be chosen for the award. I think now it just means I have to work that much harder to hopefully defend it next year.”

The Tigers face a big job in trying to topple USC this Friday. “We have a really tough matchup against USC in the first round that most people are predicting to be an easy win for USC,” said Rigler.

“However, we hope to play the same game we have played all year and maybe surprise some people.”

But no matter what happens this weekend during Rigler’s homecoming, she believes there are plenty of big games in Princeton’s future.

“This is the most exciting part of our team,” asserted Rigler. “We are only going to get better. We have another big freshman class coming in next year with only three seniors leaving.”

May 2, 2012

ALEX THE GREAT: Princeton University men’s lacrosse star Alex Capretta heads to goal in recent action. Last Saturday against visiting Cornell, senior midfielder Capretta scored a career-high five goals to help the Tigers post a 14-9 win over the Big Red. Princeton will now host the Ivy League tournament that will determine the conference’s automatic qualifier for the upcoming NCAA Tournament. The first-seeded Tigers (10-3 overall, 6-0 Ivy) will play No. 4 Brown (7-7 overall, 3-3 Ivy) while second-seeded Cornell (9-3 overall, 4-2 Ivy) will take on No. 3 Yale (9-4 overall, 4-2 Ivy) in the semifinals on Friday night with the victors to meet on Sunday at noon in the title game. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The hooting and hollering continued at Class of 1952 Stadium long after the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team whipped Cornell 14-9 last Saturday night to complete an undefeated Ivy League regular season.

But in the Princeton locker room, Alex Capretta stood quietly in a corner, smiling broadly and clutching the silver trophy the Tigers earned for their victory.

After serving as an understudy in his first three years with the program, senior midfielder Capretta took a starring role in Princeton’s win over the Big Red, scoring a career-high five goals to trigger the Tiger offense before a standing-room only crowd of 4,133.

“The way it works, one shot goes in and another shot goes and eventually it feels seamless,” said Capretta, reflecting on his big night.

“You get into a really smooth rhythm and it feels great. I think the motivation was a little higher than normal today.”

The motivation will be even higher this weekend as Princeton will host the four-team Ivy League tournament that will determine the conference’s automatic qualifier for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.

The first-seeded Tigers (10-3 overall, 6-0 Ivy) will play No. 4 Brown (7-7 overall, 3-3 Ivy) while second-seeded Cornell (9-3 overall, 4-2 Ivy) will take on No. 3 Yale (9-4 overall, 4-2 Ivy) in the semifinals on Friday night with the victors to meet on Sunday at noon in the title game.

“I never know if the next game is going to be my last; we have only one more game guaranteed,” said Capretta.

“We really want to make sure that there is a second game after that and hopefully a third and a fourth after that. We want to keep going.”

Coming into the season, there was no guarantee that Capretta would even be a starter for the Tigers. The 6’2, 205-pound native of Mill Valley had scored a grand total of 10 points on eight goals and two assists in his first three seasons. He has been a revelation this spring, however, tallying 19 goals and eight assists, including the overtime game-winner against Yale and four goals in a victory over Rutgers.

“I think a lot of it has to do with experience and being really familiar with coach [Chris] Bates’s offense and his sets,” said Capretta, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for his performance against Cornell.

“In addition, I think we just have fantastic chemistry on offense. I know what everybody is going to do and everybody knows what I am going to do and we are all really comfortable together. My success is a product of their success. They are due just as much credit as I am.”

Princeton head coach Bates wasn’t surprised that Capretta produced a successful performance against the Big Red.

“I thought all week that Alex would play well; one of his best friends from high school is Roy Lang on the other team,” said Bates.

“I just knew that Alex was so committed and really has taken so many positive steps. I had a really good feeling that he was going to have a good game so I couldn’t be more happy for him and I am proud of him.”

Bates was happy to see the Tigers jump out to a 3-0 lead against the Big Red on the way to a 8-4 advantage at halftime.

“The last reminder I had for them was ‘fellas enjoy the moment,’” recalled Bates.

“We play well when we are loose; we play better when we are not tight. I thought we came out well; when the lights go on and that opening face-off takes place, we are ready to go. This team has continued to impress me with how they come prepared. It gets you loose; to put three quick ones on the board is clearly the way you want to start the game.”

The Princeton offense continued its freewheeling ways throughout the contest.

“We scored on early offense like we do; we are living and dying on it a little  bit but we create opportunities for ourselves and we are giving guys latitude,” said Bates, who got three goals apiece from Jeff Froccaro and Forest Sonnenfeldt in the win with Mike MacDonald adding two and Tucker Shanley chipping in one. “At the end of the day, we shot the ball very well and we found the open man.”

On the defensive end, the Tigers kept Cornell from getting open space. “Cornell is good, they are tough and they move the ball well,” said Bates. “We bent at times but we didn’t break. Tyler [Fiorito] stood tall in goal. We played with good energy. You could see our athleticism. Jonathan Meyers, Chad Wiedmaier, Rob Castelo, and John Cunningham all played well. It is a good solid group that I thought played physically and with good emotion. They really gave us a good 60-minute effort.”

Bates enjoyed an emotional moment as the team gathered en masse at the middle of the field to hoist the trophy.

“I am happiest for the seniors; these guys have really worked to shape a culture here and take the next step,” said Bates, reflecting on the group which has spearheaded the turnaround from last season’s 4-8 mark.

“This hasn’t happened here since 2001, to go 6-0 and be the sole Ivy champs. You can just see that there is a sense of accomplishment. This was a big goal for us. We didn’t want to share it so this is a nice accomplishment for this group.”

Star goalie and team tri-captain Fiorito attributes Princeton’s success this spring, in large part, to a special group dynamic.

“I think with what happened to coach; we have all bonded together,” said Fiorito, reflecting on the death of Bates’s wife, Ann, this past November after a lengthy battle with brain cancer.

“I think we have a great group of guys; there is big talk of family here. I think this year is special; we have really come together through our senior class and through coach Bates. I think we know there are great things ahead of us.”

Fiorito enjoyed a special moment with the trophy in the raucous post-game celebration.

“Going up there and holding it up with John [Cunningham] and Chad [Wiedmaier] and seeing our team running towards us is a special moment,” said Fiorito, who had 11 saves in the victory.

“As a senior, those are the moments you will remember. You may not remember how the game went or all the moments in the game but you will remember holding the trophy up and seeing your teammates running towards you.”

Fiorito is hoping Princeton can continue a run that has seen the Tigers win four straight games and eight of its last nine and jump to No. 10 nationally in this week’s Nike/Inside Lacrosse Media Poll.

“We are going to bring it every single time that we can because it could be the last time we suit up together,” said Fiorito, who had 16 saves when Princeton beat Brown 13-2 in the team’s March 31 regular season meeting.

“I am trying to enjoy every moment with this team; we really enjoy playing with each other. I think we have been building momentum over the last few weeks and that’s what we are trying to do, peak at the right time.”

In Capretta’s view, things are coming together at the right time.

“In the beginning of the season, we weren’t coming out as strong,” said Capretta “One of our emphases in the second half of the season was to come out strong; to step on the gas pedal and just never let up and it’s paid off.”

If Capretta and the Tigers can keep their feet on the gas, there could be some other trophy celebrations to come this spring.

HOOK SHOT: Princeton University women’s water polo player Camille Hooks fires the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, freshman star Hooks scored three goals, including the game-winner, as Princeton edged host Brown 7-6 in overtime in the semifinals of the Eastern Championships in Providence, R.I. A day later, Hooks and the Tigers nipped Maryland 6-5 to win the title. The 13th-ranked Tigers, now 28-4, earned the No. 6 seed in the 2012 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship and will face third-seeded USC in the quarterfinals on May 11 at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It didn’t take long for Luis Nicolao to realize that his 2012 Princeton University women’s water polo team might be something special.

“From day one, it has been a fun group to coach,” said Princeton head coach Nicolao. “All year, this group has been confident. We have won a lot of close games.”

Last weekend, Tigers knew they were in for some tight contests as they competed in the Eastern Championships in Providence, R.I. at Brown University’s pool.

“I tell the girls that when you get to Easterns, every game is a challenge,” said Nicolao, who is in his 14th season overseeing both the men’s and women’s water polo programs at Princeton. “Everyone is playing for their lives.”

The Tigers proved to be up for the challenge, topping Harvard 9-6 in the quarterfinals and edging host Brown 7-6 in overtime in the semis to earn a shot at Maryland in the title game. Exuding its trademark confidence, Princeton avenged a regular season defeat to the Terps, winning 6-5 to earn the program’s first trip to the NCAAs.

The 13th-ranked Tigers, now 28-4, earned the No. 6 seed in the 2012 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship and will face third-seeded USC in the quarterfinals on May 11 at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex.

In the game against Harvard, it looked like Princeton might have to wait another year to make it to the NCAAs, as it fought hard but was deadlocked 3-3 at halftime.

“I told them to keep playing their game,” recalled Nicolao. “It has been our M.O. this year. We come out slowly and then we rally. I think that is a testament to our depth. We are able to wear teams down.”

Princeton sophomore star Katie Rigler got her shots to fall, scoring four goals to lead the way for the Tigers in the win over the Crimson.

“Rigler always has the top attention of the other teams,” said Nicolao of the native of  Fullerton, Calif., who was later named the  MVP of the CWPA Eastern Championship and to the all-tournament first team. “She always gets the top defender. She is always going at it and battling.”

In the semifinal contest against host Brown, the Tigers found themselves in an uphill battle.

“Our shots were not falling and their crowd was going wild,” said Nicolao. “Midway through the third quarter we were down 5-2 and I made wholesale changes. I put in five fresh bodies and they got it back to 5-5.”

Freshman star Camille Hooks came up big to help Princeton survive the bears, scoring with eight seconds left in regulation to knot the game at 6-6 and force overtime and then scoring the game-winner with 2:07 remaining in the first extra period.

“Hooks had the game of her life,” asserted Nicolao of the Beverly Hills, Calif. native who had three goals in the contest. “She is a steady, smart player. She never gets rattled and she made some huge shots.”

The Tigers faced a huge challenge in the championship game as they looked to turn the tables on a 14th-ranked Maryland squad that beat Princeton 7-6 in the regular season game between the teams.

“We talked about coming out better than we did before against them,” said Nicolao, noting that the Tigers trailed the Terps 7-1 in that March 31 contest. “Maryland comes out fast; they had Michigan down 3-0 the night before in the semis.”

With Princeton tied 3-3 at half with the Terps, Nicolao sensed that his squad was primed to pull out another close victory.

“The girls believed in themselves; we had the better play in the first half but the shots weren’t falling,” said Nicolao. “At half, there was a feeling that we are going to get this.”

The teams were locked in a 4-4 stalemate heading into the fourth quarter and Princeton seized the momentum as Taylor Dunstan and Brittany Zwirner found the back of the net to give the Tigers a lead they never relinquished.

“We got two goals on counter attacks early in the fourth quarter and then it was hold-your-breath time,” said Nicolao, who also got two goals from Rigler in the win with senior goalie Kristen Ward making 13 saves. “We kept playing great defense.”

While the win was a great moment for Nicolao and his program, he experienced some mixed emotions in the wake of the triumph.

“It was so exciting but it was also bittersweet,” said Nicolao. “I am lifelong friends with the Maryland coaches [Carl Sayler and Serela Kay] and I saw the look on their faces. I have been on that side and I know what it’s like. I am so thrilled to win it; I am so happy for the girls. We can’t stop smiling today.”

Having endured some tough defeats in the Easterns helped Nicolao motivate his players.

“It has been a tough road; it has been a long haul,” said Nicolao, who last guided the Tiger women to the Eastern title in 2000 and an appearance in the Collegiate National Championships, the predecessor to the NCAAs.

“We have lost some tough games in the semis. We won two of three games this weekend by one goal. It is hard to get to this point, I told them to go out and make the most of the moment.”

Nicolao is looking for his players to make the most of their opportunity as they compete in the NCAAs.

“We have to play great defense; we are going to be seeing great opponents,” said Nicolao. “We have to be relaxed but not just happy to be there.”

But no matter what happens in San Diego, Nicolao will have many happy memories of the 2012 campaign.

MULLING IT OVER: Princeton University baseball star Sam ­Mulroy is at bat in a game earlier this spring. Last weekend, Mulroy and his teammates fell just short of winning the Ivy League’s Gehrig Division title, going 3-1 against Cornell when they needed to sweep the doubleheaders to pass the Big Red in the division standings. Senior Mulroy ended his career on a high note this season, leading the Tigers in batting average (.351), homers (eight) and RBIs (32) as Princeton finished the spring at 20-19 overall and 13-7 Ivy. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Sam Mulroy’s eyes were red and his uniform was streaked with dirt, signs of the valiant but ultimately unsuccessful fight waged by the Princeton University baseball team last weekend as it looked to earn a spot in the Ivy League Championship Series (ILCS).

Coming into Friday’s action, Princeton had a 10-6 league record and needed to sweep two doubleheaders from Cornell, 13-3 in league play, to pass the Big Red and win the Ivy’s Gehrig Division title.

In the opener of a twinbill at Ithaca on Friday, senior star Mulroy slammed a homer and had two hits and two RBIs to help Princeton win 13-3. Sparked by a magnificent 14-strikeout effort from junior pitcher Zak Hermans, the Tigers eked out a 1-0 win in Game 2 to stay alive.

In Game 1 on Sunday at the friendly confines of Clarke Field, the Tigers rode the shutout pitching of Matt Bowman and some clutch hitting from Steve Harrington and Blake Thomsen to prevail 6-0 and set up a winner-take-all showdown in the nightcap.

In the pivotal game, Princeton jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a first inning homer by John Mishu. After Cornell answered with a run in the top of the fifth, the Tigers forged ahead 2-1 an inning later on a Mike Ford RBI single. The Big Red took a 3-2 lead in the seventh on a Matt Hall homer.

With its season on the line heading into the bottom of the ninth, Princeton scratched out a run on a bunt single and a throwing error to tie the contest at 3-3 and force extra innings. Ben Swindford struck the decisive blow, smacking a solo homer in the top of the 12th that proved to be the game winner for Cornell as it held on for a 4-3 victory and the division title, advancing to a matchup against Dartmouth in the ILCS.

Despite the disappointment, Mulroy was still proud of the character displayed by the Tigers as they fought to the final out.

“We came to play all four games,” said Mulroy. “We battled, we scrapped. I think the last game is indicative of the whole series. We had to come back a couple of times and we just came up short which is really too bad.”

While it was a bad ending for the Tigers, Mulroy was able to put his stellar career in perspective.

“It is weird; I am proud of what we accomplished over my career but at the same time, you hate to see it end, especially like this,” said Mulroy, who led the Tigers this spring in batting average (.351), homers (eight) and RBIs (32).

“I have mixed emotions. For right now, I wished we could have won. As coach [Scott] Bradley said afterward in the huddle, there are a lot of years where 13-7 is good enough. It just happened that this year Cornell got off to a hot start and won enough games to hold us off; 13-7 is the second best we have done in my four years and is nothing to hang your heads about.”

Playing at catcher, center field and third base, Mulroy did his best to help the Tigers in any way possible.

“It has been a lot of fun,” said Mulroy. “This year with Tyler coming in, he deserved to catch as much as he did. I am happy to be in the lineup wherever. I am fine being behind the plate because I like to be in on every play, I like being in center field and running around a little bit.”

Mulroy is hoping to stay in the game a little bit as he has his eye on a career in professional ball after graduation from Princeton.

“At this point, it is a bit of a waiting game because the [Major League Baseball] draft isn’t for another month,” said Mulroy, a 5’11, 205-pound native of Bethesda, Md. “It is something I have always wanted to do and I am going to try to make it work.”

Princeton head coach Scott Bradley like the way his club worked its way into the decisive contest.

“It was great to be able to play out these games that mean this much instead of playing out a string when one loss would have put us in the situation,” said Bradley. “I am proud of them.”

The Tigers, though, just couldn’t string together enough clutch hits to pull off the sweep.

“It is hard to beat a good team four times in a weekend,” said Bradley, whose club finished with a 20-19 overall record. “Our pitching was just unbelievable. We struggled with our bats; we couldn’t score runs when we needed to.”

It will be hard for Bradley to deal with the loss of Mulroy and his classmates, Andrew Whitener, Tom Boggiano, Stephen Elmore, and Ryan Makis.

“It is a great group and they play hard,” asserted Bradley, who held a Senior Day ceremony at home plate after the game.

“They play hard and they care. They have a passion for baseball at Princeton. We are going to miss them desperately; that is for sure.”

Mulroy, for his part, is certainly going to miss playing for the Tigers.

“It has been awesome,” said Mulroy, who ends his Princeton career with 25 homers, the second most in program history.

“It is an honor to have played four years with these guys on this field and for these coaches. I couldn’t be happier with the way the four years went.”

April 25, 2012

STAYING ALIVE: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Cassie Pyle races up the field in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior midfielder Pyle scored four goals to help Princeton top Dartmouth 12-9 as the Tigers stayed alive for a berth in the four-team Ivy League tournament. No. 19 Princeton faces another must-win situation this Wednesday evening when it hosts 15th-ranked Penn (7-5 overall, 5-1 Ivy). A loss by the Tigers would drop them to fifth place and out of the Ivy tourney. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While Cassie Pyle and her teammates on the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team knew they faced a must-win situation when they hosted Dartmouth last Saturday, they didn’t dwell on the big picture.

“We knew we had to win this game; it was a huge game to get into the tournament and just for our team in general,” said senior midfielder Pyle, reflecting on the contest against the No. 7 Big Green which Princeton needed to win to stay alive for a berth in the four-team Ivy League tournament.

“We are better than we have been playing so we really wanted to prove that to ourselves. But the one thing that we didn’t want to do was come in thinking that we had to win and all the negative aspects of that. We just wanted to focus on how big of an opportunity this was for us.”

In the early going, Dartmouth seized opportunity, jumping to a 3-1 lead before the game was six minutes old.

“You are a little bit worried but you stick with your game plan,” said Pyle, reflecting on the early deficit.

“We knew that if we stuck to it we would be good and we didn’t get on each other. We didn’t yell at each other; it was a good feeling all the way around.”

Pyle got the Tigers feeling really good, scoring three goals over the next 10 minutes as Princeton went on a 4-1 run to forge ahead 5-4.

“It was the roll we got on; it really pumped us up and got us excited,” said Pyle.

“I  think better than ever, we really got excited about the little things that people did. We just fed off that.”

The Tigers took a 7-5 lead into halftime and then took care of things after that, posting a 12-9 win in improving to 7-6 overall and 4-2 Ivy.

No. 19 Princeton faces another must-win situation this Wednesday evening when it hosts 15th-ranked Penn (7-5 overall, 5-1 Ivy). A loss by the Tigers would drop them to fifth place and out of the Ivy tourney.

Pyle liked how Princeton responded Saturday down the stretch as it built on the momentum it seized in the first half.

“Our halftime was getting excited about what we did but really focusing on the fact that they could easily come back,” said Pyle, a 5’4 native of Alexandria, Va. who ended up with a team-high four goals on the day.

“They are a great team, they had such an impressive attack and defense and everything. We didn’t want to let them come back. They did get a few goals in the beginning but we wanted to keep pushing and never let up or get timid.”

With only a handful of games left in her career, Pyle is looking to push hard to the end.

“It is definitely sad; I want to have as many games as I can,” said Pyle, who now has a team-high 36 goals this season and a total of 106 in her superb career.

“You definitely want to end the season stronger than when you started it and I definitely think we have a strong possibility of doing that at the end of the day. If we finish the season strong, I will be so happy.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer was happy with the strong performance her team produced in the win over Dartmouth.

“I think it really shows our resilience; we knew our backs were, and will continue to be against the wall,” said Sailer.

“It is clear that we want to get to postseason so you really saw that fight today. In a competitive game, we haven’t really put together goalkeeping, offense, and defense. Today we did that; every single kid stepped up and that is what we needed to beat a very talented Dartmouth team.”

In Sailer’s view, Pyle stepped up in a big way for the Tigers. “Cassie is a competitor too; she did so well,” added Sailer. “She is so quick; she is so hard to defend. She had an awesome day.”

Freshman goalie Annie Woehling had some awesome moments in the win, making nine saves, including several point-blank stops.

“When she is making saves like that, it gives you so much momentum and the team so much confidence,” said Sailer, referring to Woehling, who was later named the Ivy Defensive Player of the Week. “We have got to work on the clears a little bit but I felt she had a great day.”

A pair of freshmen came through on the offensive end as Erin McMunn tallied three goals and two assists while classmate Erin Slifer chipped in two goals and two assists.

“They raised their games, no question,” asserted Sailer, who also got two goals from junior midfielder Charlotte Davis with junior attacker Sam Ellis chipping in one.

“McMunn has always been a feeder but today she comes through with three goals and two assists. She and Slifer played on the same club team so they definitely have that connection. They had some gorgeous goals out there today.”

The Tigers will have to keep making connections in order to beat Penn.

“Penn is an experienced team; they have been in these type of situations a lot of times,” said Sailer.

“They have a great goalie [Emily Leitner]; she is a big kid who takes up a lot of the cage and is really talented. They have got Erin Brennan, who is now a senior. They have players that are able to do some damage, both off the challenge and off the feed. They are always known for their defense.”

In the wake of Princeton’s performance against Dartmouth, Sailer believes her team is up for that challenge.

“If we can play like we played today, I like our chances there,” said Sailer. whose team beat Penn twice last year, prevailing in the regular season and in the Ivy semifinals. “We just gained a ton of confidence and really played smart lacrosse and executed well.”

Pyle, for her part, is confident that the Tigers can execute in a second straight grudge match.

“We are really happy to have these two games at the end because they are such big rivalries; it is so exciting,” said Pyle.

“We are going to try to do the same thing that we did today, not focus on the negative aspects but focus on the opportunities. We need to really ride the momentum from this game and just keep pushing and getting better.”

TOM TERRIFIC: Princeton University men’s lacrosse star Tom Schreiber flings the ball upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore midfielder Schreiber tallied four goals and an assist as Princeton topped Harvard 12-5. The 12th-ranked Tigers, now 9-3 overall and 5-0 in Ivy League play, host No. 7 Cornell, 9-2 overall and 4-1 Ivy, on Saturday night in a pivotal clash. The winner will host the upcoming Ivy tournament. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chris Bates vowed that he was not going to let his Princeton University men’s lacrosse team look past
Harvard.

But with a showdown against Cornell looming on the horizon, the Princeton head coach wasn’t sure if his players were getting the message as they prepared last week to face the Crimson on Saturday.

“We were not happy with how they practiced; I think they were tight,” said Bates. “Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday were average practices. They were a little sloppy; they didn’t execute well.”

But showing that practice performance isn’t necessarily a harbinger of things to come, the Tigers roared out of the gate in Cambridge last Saturday, jumping out to a 5-1 lead after the first quarter and bringing a 7-2 advantage into halftime.

Princeton sophomore star Tom Schreiber scored two goals in the first nine minutes of the contest with freshman Kip Orban adding two more and classmate Mike MacDonald chipping in one as the Tigers seized the momentum in the first quarter.

“I was surprised at how they came out like gangbusters,” said Bates. “We learned that we have to trust these guys to perform when the lights go on. Schreiber got the first two. They came off a couple of broken plays; he sensed the magnitude of the game. Orban got the next two. We scored on six of our first nine possessions.”

Getting the early edge got Princeton into a flow that continued until the final whistle.

“That gives you breathing room; it loosens you up,” said Bates, who got four goals from Schreiber on the day with Orban scoring two and MacDonald, Jeff Froccaro, Forest Sonnenfeldt, Tucker Shanley, Chris White, and Derick Raabe chipping in one apiece. “If we hadn’t gotten off to a start like that, we may have gotten tight like we were in practice.”

With its defense tightening the screws after intermission, the Tigers never looked back, pulling away to a 12-5 win over the Crimson before a crowd of 1,809 at Harvard Stadium.

The victory improved 12th-ranked Princeton to 9-3 overall and 5-0 in Ivy League play, setting up the long-awaited clash against rival Cornell this Saturday night at Class of 1952 Stadium. The No. 7 Big Red, who fell to Brown 10-9 last Saturday, bring a 9-2 overall record and 4-1 Ivy mark into the contest that will be nationally televised on ESPNU. The winner of the showdown will host the upcoming Ivy tournament.

In stifling Harvard, Princeton got a winning effort from senior defender and tri-captain Chad Wiedmaier, who produced a monster game with three caused turnovers, seven ground balls, and one assist.

“Wiedmaier didn’t play particularly well against Harvard last year,” said Bates. “He was playing like a man possessed last Saturday. He was sliding well; he caused turnovers, got ground balls and even got an assist. The defense played well as a whole; it was one of our better games of the year.”

One of the better-kept secrets on Princeton this season has been the play of senior defender Jonathan Meyers.

“Meyers has been in Chad’s shadow; he has had a really solid year and an on-ball defense,” said Bates, of a defense that was anchored superbly again by senior goalie and tri-captain Tyler Fiorito as he recorded 15 saves.

“He is key on the man-down unit; he is a big reason why we are doing well there. He is leading the team in ground balls.”

Sounding a cautionary note, Bates pointed out that Princeton didn’t do well on face-offs in the win over Harvard.

“One area of concern was that we didn’t face off well,” said Bates. “Their guy did a good job. If you had told me that we would be 5-of-21 on face-offs and win by seven, I wouldn’t have believed you.”

As Bates looks ahead to Cornell, he is concerned about the impact of the Big Red’s stunning loss to Brown (6-7 overall, 2-3 Ivy) last weekend.

“Cornell is very good; they got caught against Brown,” noted Bates, whose team clinched a share of the Ivy crown through the combination of its win over Harvard and Cornell’s loss to Brown.

“That could serve to motivate them even more since everything is still on the line for them. We have a share of the title but if we lose to Cornell, it won’t feel too good.”

Princeton would feel very good to be at home for the Ivy tourney which will be held on May 4 and 6.

“Heading into the tournament having beaten Cornell, and being in friendly confines, and having people come to us would be a lift emotionally and psychologically,” said Bates.

Bates acknowledges that Cornell has plenty of people who can pose problems for his squad. The Big Red are averaging 12.45 goals a game and have six players with at least 14 goals.

“Cornell gets scoring from a lot of different players; we expect that [Rob] Pannell may be back,” said Bates, referring to the Big Red senior star who has been sidelined since early March due to a broken foot.

“They have two good offensive midfield lines and an attack that produces. It is easier to prepare for a team that has one or two main scoring threats. They are solid defensively, they play good team defense, some of the best we have seen in a while. It is just a good all-around team.”

The Tigers will need a good all-around effort to overcome Cornell. “We need to face off well; Tyler has to play a Tyler game,” said Bates.

“We need to minimize turnovers and have good decision-making on offense. The defense has been solid; we have been consistent in that area. We know what we are going to get.”

April 18, 2012

ARMOUR PLATED: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Luke Armour fires the ball up the field in a game last season. Junior attacker Armour was on target last Saturday, tallying three goals and an assist to help Princeton top Dartmouth 21-6. No. 13 Princeton, now 8-3 overall and 4-0 Ivy League, plays at Harvard (6-6 overall, 2-2 Ivy) on April 21. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As a kid, Luke Armour became a fan of the New Jersey Pride of Major League Lacrosse, developing a greater appreciation for the fine points of the game.

“Growing up, I was watching the greats,” said Montclair native Armour.

“I was watching Jesse Hubbard, Jon Hess, and Chris Massey when they played on the Pride.”

Looking to follow in the footsteps of that trio of Princeton lax legends, Armour came to the nearby Lawrenceville School and emerged as a star.

In 2009, he joined the Tiger men’s lax program and was assigned No. 16, the number worn by Hubbard.

For Armour, just donning a Princeton uniform is a dream come true.

“It is extremely special; it is really an honor to be out there,” said Armour. “To wear No. 16 is a total honor.”

Last Saturday, junior attacker Armour brought honor to the Tigers and that No. 16, tallying three goals and an assist as Princeton dismantled Dartmouth 21-6 before a sun-splashed crowd of 1,618 at Class of 1952 Stadium.

While Armour was proud to make a solid contribution as Princeton improved to 8-3 overall and 4-0 Ivy League, he credited his teammates with putting him in a position to succeed.

“To be honest, I think on the goals that I scored, the credit should really go to the guys who set it up,” said the 5’11, 190-pound Armour, who now has six points this year on three goals and three assists and is up to 21 points in his Tiger career with 13 goals and eight assists.

“We had great movement off ball and great ball movement. My goals were the easy part.”

It was great for Armour to be in action as he been hampered by injury this spring.

“I tore my plantar fascia in my right foot,” said Armour, who was sidelined after Princeton’s loss to North Carolina on March 10 and returned to action on April 10 in the Tigers’ 13-4 win over Rutgers.

“I have just been working to get my shape back and get back in the swing of things. I feel really great out there and I think that if I can give us a little boost and some energy on the offensive side that would be great.”

For Armour, that month on the sideline was spent working hard to get back up to speed.

“I took four weeks off,” recalled Armour, noting that his stint Saturday was his first substantial action of the season.

“I was in a boot and I took all the pressure off my foot. Then I started running around and strengthening and doing rehab. Our training staff has been great; now I feel pretty much back to normal. I started practicing a week and a half ago. It has been great to be back with my friends. It was really hard watching from the sidelines, particularly on days like today when it is pristine. It is great to be be back.”

Princeton head coach Chris Bates liked having Armour back. “We have played relatively well offensively and when you are out, it is tough to break a lineup,” said Bates.

“Luke is always ready. He will always let us know he is ready and we appreciate that he wants to play. It was nice for him to come out and put a couple of goals in the back of the net and just get back into the flow.”

After falling behind 1-0 on a goal by former Princeton High standout and Dartmouth sophomore Mike Olentine, the 13th-ranked Tigers got into the offensive flow, outscoring the Big Green 10-1 over the rest of the half.

“It was a pretty slow first quarter in some regards but we possessed the ball well,” said Bates, whose team clinched a spot in the upcoming Ivy League tournament with the win and can host the tourney if it prevails in its April 28 clash against No. 3 Cornell (9-1 overall, 4-0 Ivy).

“On the offensive end, we stayed balanced and poised and didn’t try to do too much too early. We systematically broke down their defense which is what we  wanted to do.”

Against Dartmouth, the Tigers excelled on both fast breaks and extended possessions.

“It is kind of who we want to be,” said Bates, who got three goals and two assists from sophomore star Tim Schreiber with Jeff Froccaro and Mike MacDonald also registering hat tricks.

“We want to take advantage of early offense because that has been very good to us but also be smart and understand the time and tempo. We need to understand how much defense we have played and what risk we are taking with our pass. That was our main thrust of the week and I thought we did a good job of it.”

As it won its second straight game since a 10-9 loss to Syracuse on April 7, Princeton appears to be in good shape to put together an inspired stretch drive which will see it play at Harvard (6-6 overall, 2-2 Ivy) on April 21 before the showdown a week later against Cornell at Class of 1952 Stadium.

“We are still smarting or hurting, I don’t know what the word is, from Syracuse a little bit but the hope is that it can serve as a motivation going forward,” said Bates.

“That is one that we really wanted back but at the end of the day, we control our destiny. We have Harvard. We need to do what we need to do there and then it’s Cornell. We are where we need to be. Our belief is that our best lacrosse is ahead of us so hopefully today was a good step in that direction.”

Armour, for his part, believes the Tigers are heading in the right direction.

“We are really excited for Harvard,” said Armour. “I think the coaches do a great job preparing us each week for the different matchups. Everyday, the focus is on doing what we do and running our system. We think we are in a really great spot right now and we are very confident. We are really looking forward to not only these next two weeks but also the Ivy tournament.”

GREAT BRITTANY: Princeton University women’s water polo player Brittany Zwirner prepares to fire the ball in a recent game. Last Sunday, junior star Zwirner scored the game-winning goal with 2.4 seconds left as Princeton edged Brown 9-8 in the CWPA Southern Division Championship game. The Tigers, now 25-4, will be competing in the Eastern Championships at Brown from April 27-29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last spring, the Princeton University women’s water polo team developed a penchant for losing the close games.

The Tigers lost four contests by one goal and six by two goals in 2011 on the way to an 18-11 record.

In the first weekend of the 2012 season, the Tigers pulled out a 6-5 win over Colorado State, setting a different tone in the view of longtime head coach Luis Nicolao.

“We got off to a good start,” said Nicolao. “We had a 1-goal win over Colorado State and won some games easily after that; that was a good sign.”

Indeed, the Tigers reeled off 14 wins before a loss to No. 12 San Jose State. Heading into last weekend’s CWPA Southern Division Championships at Bucknell, Princeton stood at 22-4 and ranked 14th nationally.

“We were excited to get to the end of the year,” said Nicolao, reflecting on his team’s mood as it looked ahead to the Southerns and the Eastern Championships to follow. “We are not taking anyone lightly but we are confident.”

Last Saturday, Princeton showed its confidence was justified as it beat George Washington 11-8 and host Bucknell 14-6 in opening day action.

“We came out slow against George Washington but we had a nice second quarter,” said Nicolao.

“Playing Bucknell in their pool was a challenge. We had a lot of girls scoring and the defense played well. We held them to two goals in the second half, you don’t see that too often.”

In the finals, Princeton faced a Brown team it had beaten 18-8 in regular season play. The rematch, though, turned into a nailbiter and Princeton continued its habit of winning the close games this year, edging the Bears 9-8 to win the title.

“Brown is no doubt a quality team; our first game was not a true measure of their team,” said Nicolao. “They play a zone defense and all of our shots were falling that game. On Sunday, the shots weren’t going in.”

Junior star Brittany Zwirner hit the biggest shot for Princeton in the win over Brown, scoring the game-winning goal with 2.4 seconds left. Zwirner finished the game with four goals while sophomore Katie Rigler chipped in three.

“Brittany was out with an injury before; it is important to have her back,” said Nicolao.

“Rigler can dominate; she is a great player. As a sophomore, she has gained more confidence and she realizes she can dominate.”

Longtime coach Nicolao has been taken aback by the dominance his team has shown this spring.

“No doubt, I am surprised,” said Nicolao, who is in his 14th year at the helm of the program.

“I didn’t expect to have only lost four games to this point. We have a lot of depth and lot of balance. We have eight girls who have scored around 30 goals. All year, we have had a nice balance of scoring. If two girls are off, two others will step up.”

That balance paved the way to Princeton’s first Southern crown since 2008 and its seventh overall.

“Any time you get a title, it is great,” said Nicolao, reflecting on the championship. “Our ultimate goal is to win the Easterns and go to the NCAAs.”

In order to achieve that goal in that competition, which is being held at Brown from April 27-29, Princeton will need to tighten things up.

“We have to play really good defense,” said Nicolao. “We are going to see some tough opposition. We can’t rely on offense. If we string together three good defensive games, we have a chance. There are three or four teams that can win.”

GRAND PRIZE: Princeton University baseball player Blake Thomsen takes a cut in recent action. Last Sunday, freshman third baseman Thomsen hit a grand slam homer to help propel Princeton to a 13-7 win over Penn in the finale of a four-game set between the teams. The Tigers, who went 3-1 over the weekend, are now 16-13 overall and 9-3 in Ivy League play. Princeton has a game at St. John’s on April 18 before heading to Columbia for doubleheaders on April 21 and 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After falling in extra innings to visiting Penn in the opening game of a doubleheader last Sunday, Blake Thomsen and his teammates on the Princeton University baseball team were looking to get off to a good start in the nightcap.

“We definitely needed to bounce back strongly and get ourselves going in this tough division,” said freshman third baseman Thomsen.

“Everyone is playing well. Cornell is playing really well; we knew to keep pace with them we had to get back in it.”

With one swing of the bat in the bottom of the first inning, Thomsen helped set a torrid pace for the Tigers, smashing a grand slam over the wall in left center field to give Princeton an 8-1 lead.

The Tigers cruised to a 13-7 win as they improved to 16-13 overall and 9-3 in Ivy League play. In the wake of going 3-1 in the four-game set with Penn, Princeton stands second in the Ivy’s Gehrig Division, trailing Cornell (24-8-1 overall, 10-2 Ivy).

For Thomsen, his grand slam was a matter of anticipation paying off.

“I was just thinking it was a new pitcher and I thought he would try to get ahead with a first pitch fastball,” said Thomsen, a 5’11, 180-pound native of Newport Beach, Calif., recalling the blast. “He did and I was ready for it.”

After getting off to a relatively slow start in his college career, Thomsen was ready for a break-out moment.

“I was in a bit of a slump; I feel like I have my comfort level back at the plate,” said Thomsen, who went 5-for-11 with five RBIs and three runs scored in the four-game set with Penn to raise his batting average to .267.

“I am seeing the ball a little better, I am having some better at-bats. I’d say this weekend is when I really started to feel kind of similar mentally to back when I played high school ball.”

For Thomsen, making the transition from high school ball to college has involved some growing pains.

“The biggest adjustment is that every guy has got something at just a little higher level than high school,” said Thomsen, who now has two homers and 12 RBIs on the season.

“So whether they locate their pitches better or they throw harder, everyone  is tougher. The balls are hit a little harder defensively; there is definitely a pretty sizable jump.”

The Tiger veteran players have helped Thomsen as he makes that jump.

“They have helped me a lot; these guys have been through everything I am going through, whether it be a freshman slump, making a couple of errors, or dealing with a big Ivy weekend,” said Thomsen.

“They have been there, they have done it and they have been really helpful explaining what is going on and all of that.”

Princeton head coach Scott Bradley liked the way his team came back to win the fourth game of the Penn weekend which saw the Tigers sweep the Quakers 7-3 and 4-3 in Saturday’s action.

“We probably got what we deserved this weekend,” said Bradley. “We got some breaks yesterday and then caught some breaks in the first game today and got ourselves back into it. We then caught a couple of bad breaks with the ball that Sammy Mulroy hit in the bottom of the seventh. It was huge for us to come back and win this.”

In Bradley’s view, Thomsen’s grand slam should be a huge confidence builder in his development. “Blake had a good day, he was good in the first game too,” said Bradley.

“We sort of have a spot at third base where we run a few different guys out there. It was big for Blake. We think he is capable of swinging the bat and helping us out offensively and we need that. We have struggled with the bats a little bit.”

Junior Steve Harrington helped the Princeton batting attack over the weekend, going 7-for-16 with six RBIs.

“Stevie, we know, is a very good hitter; he does a lot for us,” asserted Bradley.

“He has a great feel for hitting. He is a squash player so it takes him a little bit longer to get going out of squash. We did the same thing last year; we got him at-bats and got him into it. We played him mostly against righties and then as we got going he started playing more against lefties. He is a very, very good solid college hitter.”

Princeton has to keep playing solid ball if it is to keep pace with Cornell before the teams clash in doubleheaders on April 27 and 29.

“Every weekend is huge,” said Bradley, whose team has doubleheaders at Columbia (14-19 overall 6-6 Ivy) on April 21 and 22.

“Cornell just keeps winning; they are terrific right now so all we can do is go out and just try and win the games that we can. Hopefully, when we go face-to-face with them, we are still in a position where we can control our own destiny.”

Thomsen, for his part, believes that Princeton has to keep in control mentally to be in a position to succeed.

“For the team we just have to come to play every game,” said Thomsen. “We can’t afford mental lapses. Everyone is going to make physical mistakes but we have got to be at our best mentally every game. We can’t take a game off. For me it is the same thing, just keeping concentrated and keeping my approach.”

RALLY TIME: Princeton University softball player Nicole ­Ontiveros, right, celebrates after scoring a run in action earlier this spring. Last Saturday, senior centerfielder Ontiveros stroked a key RBI single to help Princeton rally for a 4-3 win over Penn and a doubleheader split. A day later, though, the Tigers were swept by the Quakers 4-1 and 5-1 as they fell to 12-23 overall and 6-6 in Ivy play. In upcoming action, Princeton hits the road for doubleheaders at Lehigh on April 18 and at Columbia on April 21 and 22. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Nicole Ontiveros is trying to get the most out of every moment this spring in her final campaign with the Princeton University softball team.

“It adds an extra element to the game, knowing this is the last time I am going to play,” said senior centerfielder Ontiveros. “I just try to go all out in everything I do.”

Last Saturday in the third inning of Game 2 against visiting Penn, Ontiveros faced a big time at-bat.

With Princeton having lost to the Quakers 8-0 in Game 1 and trailing 2-0 in the nightcap, Ontiveros came to the plate with a runner on second and the Tigers in danger of falling out of contention for the Ivy League South Division title.

“I just wanted to get that run home,” recalled Ontiveros. “I was up there and I was thinking I need to get a hit, there was no other option. I had to do it.”

Ontiveros came through, slapping a single up the middle to narrow the gap to 2-1. Her clutch hitting changed the tone of the contest as Princeton scored two runs in the fourth and added another in the fifth on the way to a 4-3 victory.

“Everyone started getting right on her, line-driving everywhere,” said Ontiveros, reflecting on the comeback win. “We definitely know there is a sense of urgency because we have to win these games. It is really important right now.”

A day later, though, the Tigers weren’t able to come through as they got swept by Penn 4-1 and 5-1 to move to 12-23 overall and 6-6 in Ivy play. Princeton now stands third in the Ivy’s South Division, trailing Cornell (19-16 overall, 10-2 Ivy) and Penn (23-14, 8-4 Ivy).

Coming off a 2011 season which saw Princeton stumble to a 7-13 league mark, Ontiveros sees a renewed intensity around the Tigers this spring.

“I think the heart on the team this year is a lot different,” said Ontiveros, a native of Laguna Niguel, Calif. who is hitting .319 with a team-high 36 hits.

“We have a lot of freshmen that are really aggressive and really love the game. We are just a lot louder this year. Everyone really, really wants to win.”

For Ontiveros, the journey from her freshman year to this spring has been special.

“It’s awesome being a senior, starting freshman year and going through all the years so differently,” said Ontiveros, who is planning to go to medical school after graduation and aspires to be a plastic surgeon.

“It is great being a leader on the team and just getting to help my teammates with the experience I have had.”

As she heads into the final weeks of her college softball career, Ontiveros is hoping to go out with a great
experience.

“I am really proud of us that we came back and we didn’t let the first loss get us down which I think shows a lot about this team,” said Ontiveros, who will look to keep up her hot hitting when Princeton hits the road for doubleheaders at Lehigh (28-16, 11-1 Patriot League) on April 18 and Columbia (10-25 overall, 4-8 Ivy) on April 21 and 22.

“The fight is there and I think that is the main difference between last year’s team and this year’s team. We won’t give up ever.”

April 11, 2012

NICKED UP: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Nick Fernandez heads up the field in recent action. Last Saturday, sophomore defensive midfielder Fernandez scored his first career goal but it wasn’t enough as the Tigers fell 10-9 at Syracuse. Princeton, which dropped to 6-3 with the defeat, was slated to host Rutgers on April 10 and Dartmouth on April 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming off a 13-2 rout of Brown, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team picked up where it left off as it played at Syracuse last Saturday.

The Tigers jumped off to a 3-0 lead before a crowd of 4,629 in the Carrier Dome on goals by Mike MacDonald, Tucker Shanley, and Tommy Schreiber.

“It was absolutely the way we wanted to start,” said Princeton head coach Chris Bates.

“They started a freshman goalie [Bobby Werdwell] who had never played a college game before and that may have been part of it. They struggled covering us. They jumped into a zone because they weren’t matching up well with us.”

That adjustment helped turn the matchup into the latest classic of the storied series that has seen the programs meet in four NCAA championship games and play a number of regular season thrillers.

With Princeton suddenly having trouble clearing the ball out of its defensive end, the Orange rallied to cut the deficit to 5-4 at halftime.

“We had the ball twice in the second quarter,” lamented Bates. “Clearing was the name of the game. They put pressure on us and we didn’t handle it with poise.”

In the third quarter, Princeton regained its poise, outscoring the Orange 2-1 to take a 7-5 lead. But then the roof fell in on Princeton as Syracuse struck for four straight goals in the waning moments of the quarter to go ahead 9-7.

“The last 1:45 was backbreaking; you want to save a timeout for fourth quarter but maybe should have taken it then to slow them down,” said Bates.

“Syracuse plays the way they play. They go on runs and it is a game of momentum.”

While Princeton regained the momentum early in the fourth quarter with two unanswered goals, Syracuse scored with 4:11 left in regulation and hung on for a 10-9 victory.

“We came back and got two goals to tie it up,” said Bates, whose team fell to 6-3 overall as its four-game winning streak got snapped.

“Then there was a clearing error and they made a transition play for their 10th goal. We didn’t execute well after that. We had it a couple of times and threw the ball away. Our extra man opportunity didn’t generate anything. On the last possession, we didn’t run the play the way we should. We weren’t balanced. We got the ball to Tommy [Schreiber] but we didn’t space it right.”

In Bates’s view, the Tigers gave the Orange attack a little too much space. “We got away from some things defensively in wins over Penn and Brown,” said Bates, whose team was outshot 40-28 on the day and made 19 turnovers with Syracuse only committing eight.

“We have not been riding as much. We need communication and intensity on our rides; we need to get back to basics there.”

In the wake of the Syracuse loss, the Tigers took care of some basics in training as they prepared for a big week which included a home clash with Rutgers for the Meistrell Cup slated for April 10 before an Ivy League contest against visiting Dartmouth (2-7 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on April 14.

“To put a positive spin on things, we had really good practices on Easter night and on Monday,” said Bates, whose team is ranked 13th nationally and 3-0 in league play, locked in a battle atop the Ivies with No. 5 Cornell (8-1 overall, 4-0 Ivy).

“I hope it is eye-opening. This is a loose group; we need an attention to detail and focus on a daily basis.”

ARMED FORCE: Princeton University softball player Kelsey VandeBergh whips the ball to first base in recent action. Senior third baseman VandeBergh came up big last weekend as the Tigers went 3-1 in doubleheaders at Yale and Brown, pounding out two homers with five RBIs. In upcoming action, Princeton, now 9-20 overall and 5-3 Ivy League, hosts LaSalle (6-26 overall) for a doubleheader on April 12 before two critical home doubleheaders against Ivy rival Penn (20-13 overall, 5-3 Ivy) on April 14 and 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In 2011, the Princeton University softball team got off to a 4-4 start in Ivy League play only to go into a tailspin that saw it lose nine of its last 12 league contests.

This spring, Princeton has gotten off to a similar start in league play, posting a 5-3 mark after going 3-1 last weekend by sweeping a doubleheader at Yale on Friday before splitting a twinbill at Brown the next day.

As Princeton head coach Trina Salcido assesses her club, she doesn’t believe last year’s history is going to repeat itself.

“I think we are peaking at the right time, the No. 1-to-6 hitters are solid and we are starting to get help from the 7-8-9 hitters,” said Salcido, whose team is 9-20 overall and will host a doubleheader against LaSalle on April 12.

“The two junior pitchers (Liza Kuhn and Alex Peyton) are clicking and they are working well with both of our younger catchers (freshman Cara Worden and sophomore Maddie Cousens). I am really pleased with that. I feel the confidence level is better than last year.”

The Tigers came out confidently against Yale, scoring a pair of runs in the second and fourth innings to take a 4-1 lead.  Princeton tacked on two more runs in the seventh on the way to a 6-3 victory. In the nightcap, the Tigers jumped out to leads of 3-0 and 6-2 and held off the Bulldogs to post a 6-4 win.

“We started well at Yale,” said Salcido, who got two hits apiece from Kelsey VandeBergh, Tory Roberts, and Cousens in the opener with Peyton going 3-for-4 in the nightcap. “We hit in multiple innings; that builds confidence.”

The Tigers carried that confidence into the opener at Brown, pounding out eight hits with VandeBergh and Roberts each getting two RBIs in a 6-5 win, which saw Princeton score two runs in the top of the seventh to fight back from a 5-4 deficit. In Game 2, the Tigers had nine hits but couldn’t string together a big rally as they lost 2-1 in 11 innings.

“We closed out the first game at Brown; we could have done better in the second game,” said Salcido.

“Neither team scored until the 10th inning. We had opportunities all the way through. We talk about focus all the way through, you can’t wait until the late innings. There has to be a sense of urgency to get on the board first. When you let someone hang around, anything can happen.”

“Our two seniors have done a great job, leading by example,” asserted Salcido.

“They are taking full advantage of every inning of every game. They come out and work hard everyday in practice. They are not letting any moment slip away.”

While Salcido feels that her club has let a couple of wins slip away in Ivy play, she is not dwelling on what might have been.

“I would love to be sitting square with Cornell at 7-1; at 5-3, we have lost a little bit of control over things,” said Salcido, whose team is tied with Penn for second place in the Ivy’s South Division behind Cornell.

“The control we do have is to take one game at a time and not look at the big picture. We have to play our game. The hitters need to make adjustments and the pitchers need to stay sharp.”

The Tigers will need to be sharp this weekend as they host critical doubleheaders against Penn (20-13 overall, 5-3 Ivy) on Saturday and Sunday.

“They have a great freshman pitcher,” said Salicido, referring to Alexis Borden, who is 12-4 with a 1.43 ERA.

“They do a good job of really getting up for Ivy divisional play; you know that they are always going to be great competitors.”

April 4, 2012

IN THE SWING: Princeton University baseball star Alec Keller prepares to swing in a game earlier this season. Sophomore Keller has emerged as a star for the Tigers this spring, currently hitting a team-high .425. Last weekend, Princeton got its Ivy League title defense off to a strong start, going 3-1 as it split a doubleheader against Dartmouth on Saturday and then swept Harvard in a twinbill on Sunday. The Tigers, who improved to 9-10 overall and 3-1 Ivy, play doubleheaders at Yale on April 7 and at Brown on April 8. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

As a freshman last spring, Alec Keller was part of the supporting cast for a Princeton University baseball team that came through with the Ivy League title.

Adjusting to college baseball and dealing with some nagging injury issues,  infielder/outfielder Keller produced a solid debut season, hitting .297 with 27 hits, 13 runs, and three doubles.

Looking forward to his sophomore campaign, Keller had the feeling that he could assume a leading role for the Tigers.

“Coming into this year, I knew the ropes a little bit more,” said Keller. “I was more prepared and more confident that I could do certain stuff. I feel a lot healthier so that’s definitely been big. I had some back problems last year.”

A month into the 2012 season, Keller has been doing some big things for the Tigers, batting a team-high .425 and piling up 31 hits.

Last Sunday, Keller’s hot bat helped Princeton sweep a doubleheader from visiting Harvard. In a 4-1 win in Game 1, Keller went 1-for-4 with an RBI. In the nightcap, Keller had three hits with a run and an RBI to help Princeton to a 12-6 win as it improved to 9-10 overall and 3-1 in Ivy League play.

In assessing the wins over Harvard, Keller noted that it took a while for the the Princeton bats to get rolling.

“We kind of fell into a lull in the first game today but Matty [Bowman] picked us up on the mound and we scraped it across,” said the 6’1, 185-pound  Keller, a native of Richmond, Va.

“We have got to win those games when they come; that [good pitching] won’t always be there. In the second game, they were kind of down the line on pitching and we took advantage of that.”

While the Tigers started the weekend and the Ivy season by splitting with Dartmouth, Keller was satisfied seeing the Tigers scrape out a 3-1 weekend.

“We wanted to start 4-0 but Dartmouth is probably the best team we are going to face at this point,” said Keller, who went 2-of-7 in the twinbill against the Big Green as Princeton won 8-0 and then lost 8-2 in a rematch of the 2011 Ivy League Championship Series.

“Last year we dropped two to them in the regular season so we split this year. We have just got to come out next weekend and take advantage and hopefully take four.”

In Keller’s view, the Tigers are poised to build on last year’s reversal of fortune which saw Princeton win the Ivy title after having posted the worst record in the league in 2010.

“We had so many unproven guys; even though we knew we were talented, we didn’t how we would piece it together,” said Keller. “Now, we have more expectations than we did before because we know guys can do certain things so that helps.”

Princeton head coach Scott Bradley got the effort he expected from his players as they started their Ivy title defense.

“Every day you come out and every game is critical,” said Bradley, who is in his 15th season at the helm of the Tigers.

“We have had years where you lose by a game so every game that you play is important. We have always stressed to our teams the importance of being able to forget what happened the game before and we are at that point now.”

Putting the split to Dartmouth in the rear view mirror, Princeton took care of business on Sunday against the Crimson.

In Game 1, Princeton got enough out of the three hits and seven walks it generated to get the win as Matt Bowman was sparking on the mound, giving up six hits with nine strikeouts.

The Tiger bats exploded in the nightcap as Princeton pounded out 16 hits with senior star Sam Mulroy going 3-for-3, junior Steve Harrington getting three hits and three RBIs, freshman catcher Tyler Servais going 2-for-5 with a homer and two RBIs, and former Hun School star Mike Ford contributing two hits and two RBIs.

Bradley liked the way his team scratched out the win in the opener. “We took advantage, for some of our guys drawing walks is a good thing,” noted Bradley.

“We have had some stretches where we have been overly aggressive. We did what we needed to do to get on base and Matty Bowman was terrific on the mound.”

Noting that Keller, Mulroy, and Bowman have been carrying the Princeton offense this spring, Bradley was happy to see others get into the act in the second game.

“It was not just good for the team; it was good for those guys,” said Bradley.

“We had some guys who need to get going. It was good for Mike Ford. Tyler Servais is really showing us something; it is so nice having a switch hitter you can put in the middle of the lineup.”

It has been nice for Princeton to have Keller doing so well this spring in the lead-off spot.

“I think he has been healthy this year; he just had some minor little nagging injuries last season where he would play for a couple of days in a row and then we would have to sit him out,” said Bradley.

“He did a great job on his conditioning and working with our trainers and everything else where he has stayed healthy all year.”

With Princeton currently locked in a four-way tie with Columbia, Cornell, and Penn for first place in the Ivy League’s Gehrig Division, Bradley knows his squad faces a healthy challenge in its bid to repeat as league champions.

“I think the Ivy League is going to be very, very competitive like it always is,” asserted Bradley, whose club has doubleheaders this weekend at Rolfe Division foes Yale (6-17-1 overall, 0-4 Ivy) and Brown (4-16 overall, 2-2 Ivy).

“We have brought some really terrific new young coaches into the league and they are on our half. Brett Boretti (Columbia), John Cole (Penn), and Bill Walkenbach (Cornell) have really breathed a lot of energy into those programs and you can just see the starts that they have all gotten off to. It’s going to go down to the last Sunday. There is no doubt that it is going to be very competitive for everybody.”

Keller, for his part, believes Princeton can come out on top against its Ivy competition notwithstanding the pressure of being the defending champion.

“We know that teams are gunning for us,” said Keller. “We feel that if we bring our best and they bring their best, we are going to win. I don’t think the bull’s eye is going to affect us.”

SEEING RED: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Charlotte Davis heads up the field last Saturday in Princeton’s 13-12 overtime loss to visiting Cornell. Junior midfielder Davis scored two goals in the defeat to the Big Red which saw the Tigers score two late goals to rally from an 11-9 deficit and force overtime. Princeton, now 4-4 overall and 2-1 Ivy League, plays at Temple on April 4 before hosting Yale on April 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chris Sailer wasn’t surprised to see her Princeton University women’s lacrosse team locked in a nailbiter against visiting Cornell last Saturday.

“Cornell has nine seniors out there; they have experience and they have had some good wins,” said Princeton head coach Sailer, whose team came into the day ranked 19th in the nation by the Inside Lacrosse media poll while the Big Red was No. 17. “So we were anticipating a competitive game and that is what we got.”

The evenly matched teams were tied 7-7 at halftime. Princeton edged ahead 9-9 with 7:37 into the second half but then gave up three straight goals to fall behind 11-9 with 6:23 left in regulation.

At that point, Sailer called a timeout to settle down her team. “I wanted to give them a little rest; we were doing a ton of running,” recalled Sailer.

“I wanted to give them a couple of plays that we were looking to run. We also talked about what we wanted to get into defensively if Cornell got the ball. We just wanted to get them organized and ready to go for the last six minutes. In lacrosse, you can score a lot of goals in six minutes. We weren’t worried but we knew we had to be prepared for what was coming up.”

The Tigers came up big over the last six minutes of regulation as Cassie Pyle and Sarah Lloyd found the back of the net to force overtime.

In the extra session, Princeton fell behind 13-11 but then got within one on a tally by Barb Previ. That turned out to be the last goal of the topsy-turvy battle as Cornell held on for a 13-12 victory.

“That is tough to go down two goals early in overtime but again it is nothing you can’t recover from,” said Sailer, whose team dropped to 4-4 overall and 2-1 in Ivy League play with the setback.

“We were able to get the one goal off of a nice play but then we just didn’t organize as well as we needed offensively and Cornell took away some of our top kids.”

Cornell’s top player, senior star Jessi Steinberg, made things tough on Princeton as she tallied four goals and an assist.

“We knew she is a quick kid; she has such a good stick,” said Sailer of Steinberg, the second-leading scorer in the Ivy League with 45 points.

“You try to prepare for it and what her moves are but she beat us a couple of times. There was a little missed communication and not getting to those low angle shots. She drops that stick and it is a really good move.”

Princeton senior star Pyle showed some good moves as she scored three goals and played a key role on the defensive end.

“I thought Cassie had a nice game; she came through for us on the attack end,” said Sailer, who got two goals apiece from Lloyd, Erin McMunn, and Charlotte Davis; with Previ, Mary-Kate Sivilli, and Jaci Gassaway each chipping in one tally. “She had a big job because she was guarding Steinberg and was able to get some goals of her own. She has been consistent; she is a tough kid.”

The loss to Cornell was particularly tough to swallow for Princeton, coming on the heels of a heartbreaking 9-8 defeat at Johns Hopkins on March 25 which saw the Tigers squander an early 4-1 lead.

“We have now lost four games by a total of six goals, two of them in OT,” said Sailer, whose team’s other setbacks include a 11-10 double overtime loss to Rutgers and a 12-9 defeat to Duke.

“So I said to the kids, that tells me two things. It means that we are right  there. We could be 8-0, we are competing in all of these games against all of these opponents. But we are just not making the plays when it happens and having the confidence in the clutch to pull out the win.”

In Sailer’s view, her players need to relax more in crunch time in order to start pulling out close games.

“We were talking about that a lot, there are just some things we can focus on in practice, putting them more and more in game situations,” said Sailer, whose team will look to get back on the winning track when it plays at Temple (7-4) on April 4 before hosting Yale (3-6 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on April 7.

“Just little things we will try and change. I just want the kids to remember that it really is just a game and you just have to go out and play. If you are afraid of what might happen then you are not going to be in a good mental state. You have to be willing to make plays and be the hero and risk being the goat. You have to be fearless and play strong.”

HEAVY DUTY: The Princeton University men’s heavyweight first varsity crew powers over Lake Carnegie last Saturday on the way to an opening day win over Syracuse and Georgetown. Princeton’s top boat covered the 2,000-meter course in 6:11.8 to top runner-up Syracuse by 6.7 seconds with Georgetown in third at 6:25.4. In upcoming action, the Tigers host the storied Childs Cup regatta on Lake Carnegie against Ivy League rivals Penn and Columbia. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

Greg Hughes wasn’t expecting anything fancy when his Princeton University men’s heavyweight first varsity started its 2012 regular season campaign by hosting Georgetown and Syracuse last Saturday on Lake Carnegie.

“I was looking for a good, simple, aggressive race,” said Hughes, who is entering his third year at the helm of the heavyweight program.

“We needed to get one under our belts. With so many young guys, they need to compete at the varsity level. We had five or six new guys in the boat. Last year, we had five or six guys who had been in the boat.”

The new kids looked alright as Princeton’s top boat covered the 2,000-meter course in 6:11.8 to top runner-up Syracuse by 6.7 seconds with Georgetown in third at 6:25.4.

“You never take a win for granted,” said Hughes, whose program posted a clean sweep as the second varsity, third varsity, and freshman eight all posted victories. “I liked what happened Saturday but we know we have a lot of work to do.”

Hughes knows that he has some work to do when it comes to figuring out the right combination for his top boat.

“I never set a deadline; it happens when it happens,” said Hughes. “With so many young guys in the mix, it is good to have an open-minded outlook. Guys are still developing.”

Senior captain Ian Silveira, who is a mainstay on the first varsity, has developed into quite a leader for the Tigers.

“Ian has been in the top boat the last few years and he has lots of experience outside of Princeton,” said Hughes of Silveira who has rowed for the U.S. at the U23 World Championships.

“He has raced at a high level; he is a sophisticated racer. He is very competitive and sets a good example.”

Juniors Mike Evans and Brian Wettach have also been setting a good example this spring for the program’s younger rowers.

“They were sophomores in the top boat last year,” said Hughes. “The lineup was largely organized so they could keep their heads down and do as they were told. It has been a transition for them this year. They need to be leaders but not overbearing. They are doing a good job, the younger guys are having a lot of fun with them.”

The Tigers are looking to have fun this Saturday as they host the storied Childs Cup regatta on Lake Carnegie against Ivy League rivals Penn and Columbia.

“It is the oldest cup race in collegiate rowing,” said Hughes, noting that Princeton and Penn have each now won 44 times since the regatta was first held in 1879 with the Tigers having triumphed the last two years.

“We are not usually thinking about history but it brings home the tradition of the sport and how special it is. It started in the 1870s so it is way bigger than we are. It is an exciting piece of the race; we have the chance to do something for those who have come before us.”

March 28, 2012

OVERDUE: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Alex Capretta heads up field in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior star Capretta tallied three goals and an assist, including the game-winning score, as Princeton edged Yale 10-9 in five overtimes. It was the longest game in the history of both programs. No. 11 Princeton, now 5-2 overall and 2-0 in Ivy League action, plays at Brown (3-3 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 31. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team dropped a 1-goal decision to North Carolina earlier this month, Chris Bates pointed to the Tigers’ lack of composure in the clutch as a decisive factor.

After that 9-8 loss to the Tar Heels on March 10, Princeton didn’t have a nailbiter in its next two contests as it cruised to wins over Penn and Villanova.

But last Saturday at Yale, the Tigers got ample opportunity to display their poise as they found themselves in a marathon pressure cooker for the ages as the rivals played into five overtimes, the longest game in the history of both programs.

Showing composure and persistence, Princeton outlasted the feisty Bulldogs as an Alex Capretta goal gave the Tigers a 10-9 win after 18:21 of overtime before 1,057 at Reese Stadium.

A relieved head coach Bates was proud of his team’s resolve as it improved to 5-2 overall and 2-0 in Ivy League play while Yale dropped to 2-4 overall, 0-2 Ivy.

“We are happy to get away with a win and be 2-0 in the Ivy League but we still have room to grow,” said Bates.

“We can put that in our memory bank. We played with good poise. We executed in trying times. It is a good to win a game like that; it gives you confidence.”

At earlier points in the game, it looked like Princeton was going to win with ease. The Tigers jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first quarter, seemingly picking up where it left off from an impressive 11-4 win over Penn a week earlier.

“We started off well,” said Bates. “We were scoring goals in a flurry which is good. We got three relatively quick goals and then the game settled down.”

The teams went back and forth over the next two quarters with Yale outscoring Princeton 4-2 to make it a 5-5 game heading into the fourth quarter.

Once again, it looked like the Tigers seized the momentum as they reeled off a 4-1 run to take a 9-6 lead with 3:35 remaining in regulation.

“We had another little burst, Alex had two goals and Tucker [Shanley] had one,” recalled Bates.

But then showing the kind of lapse that plagued it earlier in the season, Princeton yielded three unanswered goals as Yale forced overtime.

“It was uncharacteristic of us,” said Bates, reflecting on the waning moments of the fourth quarter.

“They got one in transition and it was 9-7 and you could feel that the momentum shifted. They got some face-offs and scored. They are a good team.”

There were wild swings of momentum in the marathon extra session as the foes combined for 26 shots, seven turnovers, nine saves, and three extra-man opportunities.

“It was frenetic; each period had its own personality,” recalled Bates, whose team outshot Yale 18-8 in the overtimes and 49-38 on the day.

“We had some shots that I was sure were going in. There were a lot of penalties. They dominated one period; we only had possession for 20 seconds.”

In Bates’ view, it was fitting that Capretta notched the game-winner. “Finally at the end, Alex got one,” said Bates of Capretta, who had tallied three goals and an assist in the win, giving him 15 points so far this spring after scoring a total of 10 in his first three seasons.

“He had a good game; he is having a really good senior year. He is playing with poise and under control. It was good to see him get that one.”

The Tigers got a poised effort from senior star goalie Tyler Fiorito. “Tyler took the next step; he made two really big saves,” said Bates of tri-captain Fiorito, who made 13 saves in the game and now has a 7.29 goals against average this season. “There was one in the fourth overtime and one in the fifth. They were All-American saves to keep them from winning the game.”

Bates also tipped his hat to his defensive unit which features such standouts as senior tri-captains Chad Wiedmaier and John Cunningham together with classmate Jonathan Meters and sophomore Rob Castelo.

“It is always a work in progress: I think we have some of the most talented individuals in the country there,” said Bates. “But it comes down to how we communicate and operate as a unit.”

With 11th-ranked Princeton playing at Brown (3-3 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on Saturday, Bates is expecting another nailbiter.

“It is going to be a battle; we had a very close game with them last year (a 5-4 win in four overtimes),” said Bates. “Every Ivy game is up for grabs.”

But with Princeton developing an ability to stay cool under pressure, Bates likes his team’s chances.

“It is a pretty mature group; the leadership is solid and it is not just the captains,” said Bates.

“The guys are growing up. I think we have guys who want to step up and make plays. As evidenced Saturday, the guys are willing to take shots. You need the payoff and we are getting it.”

LIGHT WAVES: Members of the Princeton University men’s lightweight first varsity power to victory in action last spring. The Tigers’ top boat got its 2012 campaign off to a good start as it topped Navy last Saturday. In upcoming action, the Tigers host Columbia and Georgetown on March 31 at Lake Carnegie with the Fosburgh Cup on the line. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

The 2011 postseason left a bitter taste for a proud Princeton University men’s lightweight program that is used to performing its best when it matters most.

After having swept the Eastern Sprints and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regattas in 2009 and 2010, the Tigers’ first varsity fell well short of a three-peat last spring, taking fourth at the Easterns and sliding to fifth at the IRAs.

While Princeton head coach Marty Crotty wants his returning rowers to learn from last year’s frustration, he is happy to have them put 2011 in the rear view mirror.

“These guys do a good job; they came in here in September and didn’t dwell on what happened,” said Crotty.

“Everybody knows the score. There were things that I got wrong and things beyond our control that led to underperformance. The coaches and individuals had conversations over the summer and put everything to rest. These guys are so driven, they are just looking to make this year’s team and varsity 8 as fast as possible.”

Last Saturday, Princeton’s top boat showed some good speed as it won its season opening regatta, topping Navy in Annapolis, Md., retaining the Joseph Murtaugh Cup in the process.

“I am more nervous about this than any race even though we are now 3-0,” said Crotty, whose top boat clocked a time of 5:57.2 over the 2,000-meter course on the Severn River with Navy more than five seconds behind in 6:02.5.

“You don’t know what to expect because it is the first race. You don’t know how fast you are going to be until they put a crew next to you that is racing for your shirts. The Navy guys are tough, gritty, and always race hard. The course is usually windy.”

Crotty liked the toughness his first varsity displayed as it pulled away to victory.

“We were waiting for something to happen; maybe that’s what suits this boat,” said Crotty.

“Between 300 and 800 meters, we were vulnerable. We made a great move after 800 meters. I got to see something I hadn’t seen, an acceleration they hadn’t shown. It ended up to be a very nice cushion.”

Princeton has seen some great stuff from senior star and team captain Gianthomas Volpe.

“He’s been great,” said Crotty of Volpe, a native of Naples, Italy who has competed for the Italian national program. “He is not very animated, not very vocal. He keeps a very even keel and he leads through his actions. The guys respect him for what he is producing.”

Another senior stalwart, Steven Cutler, has been producing for the Tigers. “Steve is extremely diligent; he is really into his rowing,” added Crotty.

“Like Volpe, he leads by example. He rowed with the U.S. U-23 team all summer. The results he gets performance-wise make him our best starboard rower.”

Two other seniors, Alex Rubert and Nick Bax, are apparently saving their best for last. “Alex is back after a year out of the varsity; he is having the type of year that makes me look bad for keeping him out,” said Crotty.

“Last year, he did fine but I had a lot of options. This year, he is doing everything to put him solidly in the first varsity. He is stronger than ever and he is really tall for a lightweight. We can do things with him that can give the boat speed. Nick is having a very consistent year. In the past, he was very athletic; he produced some good results but was injured a lot. He is illness and injury free this year.”

In Crotty’s view, the result last Saturday was encouraging as the Tigers look to regain their championship form. “Any time you are .01 second ahead and bring home the Murtaugh Cup, that is positive,” said Crotty.

“It is a good starting point. We have 5-6 weeks to work on fitness and gaining tactical proficiency. This crew is only going to get better.”

Princeton will need to get better this Saturday as it faces a big test when it hosts Columbia and Georgetown at Lake Carnegie with the Fosburgh Cup on the line.

“We need to be aggressive off the line and not give anything away,” said Crotty. “Then we need to get to base speed and get to work. In our league, most races are not settled until the last half. I like this group; they take care of business. I really enjoy coaching them.”

March 21, 2012

WILD RIDE: Princeton University women’s basketball star Niveen Rasheed battles past a foe in action this winter. Last Saturday, the junior star and Ivy Player of the Year produced 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a losing cause as ninth-seeded Princeton fell 67-64 to eighth-seeded Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Bridgeport, Conn. The contest featured six lead changes and eight ties before the Tigers succumbed. The loss to the Wildcats left Princeton with a final overall record of 24-5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As Princeton University women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart broke down her squad’s matchup against Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, she had the sense that the game was destined to be a nailbiter.

“I figured that was a game where neither team was going to pull away; both teams grind it out,” said Banghart, whose team came into the game ranked No. 24 in the latest national poll.

That analysis was certainly borne out when the teams met last Saturday at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. The contest featured six lead changes and eight ties before eighth-seeded Kansas State pulled out a 67-64 squeaker over the ninth-seeded Tigers.

“It was a game of small runs,” lamented Banghart, whose team ended the winter with an overall record of 24-5 and 14-0 Ivy League. “Unfortunately they had their last small run at the end of the game.”

Kansas State started the game with a 5-0 run but the Tigers were undeterred despite having fallen behind early the last two years in the NCAA tournament on the way to lopsided losses.

“It was a confident team all week and it was a confident team on the day of the game,” asserted Banghart. “I told them it didn’t matter how we started, it was going to be a 40-minute game between two good teams.”

The trio of All-Ivy performers, junior Niveen Rasheed and seniors Devona Allgood and Lauren Edwards, weren’t about to let the Tigers get routed this time.

Each produced some dazzling play to bring Princeton to within 31-27 at half and keep the Tigers in the game until the final buzzer.

“I thought our stars played better than their stars but that their role players played better than ours,” said Banghart, who got 20 points, nine rebounds, and six assists from Ivy Player of the Year Rasheed with Allgood chipping in 15 points and 12 rebounds and Edwards adding 15 points.

The Tigers, though, couldn’t contain one of the Wildcat role players, senior Branshea Brown, who scored 22 points and had seven rebounds.

“Brown had career high of 13 points as a sophomore; she was the role player who made a difference,” said Banghart, referring to Brown, who is averaging 5.6 points a game this season.

“We talked about making adjustments but they had her in at the same time as [Jalana] Childs and we didn’t want to take a big off Childs.”

The Tigers got off to a big start in the second half, going on a 12-4 run to take a 39-35 lead. The Wildcats battled back to regain the lead and built a 53-45 cushion with 8:17 remaining. Princeton, though, didn’t fold, reeling off seven unanswered points to get within a point with 6:53 left in the contest. The Tigers couldn’t get over the hump, never regaining the lead on the way to the three-point setback.

“I liked the way we executed in transition; we were keeping with it,” said Banghart, reflecting on her team’s second half effort.

“I told the kids before the game to do what we do and be who we are and don’t get lost in the moment. We showed discipline on defense and in the looks we generated on offense.”

In the final analysis, the Tigers couldn’t generate the clutch plays when they needed them down the stretch against Kansas State, which went on to lose 72-26 to top-seeded Connecticut last Monday in the second round.

“It was a game of possessions; we are kicking ourselves over some possessions we would like to have back,” said Banghart. “There were a few plays that made the difference, they made some shots at the end.”

The tears flowed in the locker room afterward as Banghart addressed her players.

“I think what I liked most about this year’s team is they held themselves to their own standards, no matter what the scoreboard said; they were strong, alone, and fearless,” said Banghart.

“I thanked the team afterward for caring to care. They cared out loud; we didn’t hide our goals. We signed on for this so that is why there is so much heartache afterward.”

While the ending was unhappy, the Tigers showed plenty of heart over the winter as they won their third straight Ivy crown.

“We were able to grow together after the Navy loss,” added Banghart. “We competed well against Top 25 teams. They weren’t happy when we beat Brown by double figures but knew we didn’t play our best. They celebrated each other.”

The squad’s trio of seniors, Allgood, Edwards, and reserve guard Laura Johnson, are a group to celebrate.

“I feel like I grew up with them,” asserted Banghart, reflecting on her seniors, who helped Princeton go 41-1 in Ivy play the last three years as the Tigers posted an overall record of 74-13 in that stretch.

“You look upon certain years as highs and I think they will feel that way when they look back on our time together.”

In Banghart’s view, the program is well placed to keep growing. “It all ended too soon; we hoped we could skip the step of competing well before getting that first NCAA win,” said Banghart.

“It falls on the next group to take that step. If we are building a program the right way, it is someone else’s turn to carry on. We start up again in a few weeks.”

MEMORABLE RUN: Princeton University men’s basketball player Douglas Davis runs up the court in recent action. Last Monday, senior guard Davis, a former Hun School standout, scored a game-high 20 points but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 82-61 at Pittsburgh in the second round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) to end the season at 20-12. Davis’s output in the finale gave him 1,550 in his career as he passed Kit Mueller ’91 at 1,546 to stand second at Princeton in scoring only to the 2,503 points put up in three seasons by Bill Bradley ’65. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

Last week, the Princeton University men’s basketball team started the postseason by giving up 47 points in the first half at Evansville as the programs met in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).

The Tigers, though, scored 48 and kept rolling over the last 20 minutes of the contest, pulling away in the waning moments to earn a 95-86 triumph.

“We scored 95 points in a game on the road and we didn’t defend,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, in reflecting on the win that improved the Tigers to 20-11.

“What I liked most about those points is that a lot of them came off assists. We move the ball nicely and when we do that, you are really hard to guard.”

As Henderson looked forward to his team’s CBI second round matchup at the University of Pittsburgh last Monday, he knew his team had to tighten things up on the defensive end.

“In their wins, they score in the 70; in their losses, they are in the 50s,” said Henderson.

“You really have to defend if you are going to be successful. We are going to work on a lot of different looks because I think they have some talented scorers on the floor.”

Playing at the Peterson Events Center where it rarely loses, Pitt gave Princeton a heavy dose of its offensive talent, jumping out to a 49-25 lead at half.

“We knew when they scored points, they were dangerous,” said Henderson. “A team that makes just over five 3-pointers a game makes nine; we just couldn’t handle that. We can’t give up 49 points in a half and win many games except if you are in Evansville, Indiana.”

While the Tigers put up a fight in the second half, cutting the Pitt lead to 66-55 with 5:58 remaining in regulation, they ran out of gas on the way to a season-ending 82-61 loss.

“I thought we played well in spurts but they were the better,” said Henderson. “They are used to winning games here, we knew that.”

In the wake of the defeat, Henderson tipped his hat to his three seniors, Douglas Davis, Patrick Saunders, and John Comfort.

“We have been playing really good basketball and I am really proud of our seniors,” said Henderson.

“We had a rough start to the season at 1-5 and for us to finish the season winning 9 of 10 down the stretch, that was really important for us especially with what is going into next year. It was an important senior class that chose Princeton when we were down. Doug, Pat, and John chose Princeton and did something to get you back to where you need to be.”

Henderson was particularly proud of Davis, who scored a game-high 20 points in the finale to give him 1,550 in his career. As a result, the former Hun School star passed Kit Mueller ’91 at 1,546 to stand second in scoring at Princeton only to the 2,503 points put up in three seasons by Bill Bradley ’65.

“Doug is now the second all-time leading scorer in the school behind Bill Bradley,” noted Henderson. “He passed a very good player in Princeton basketball history in Kit Mueller.”

Davis, for his part, spread the credit as he reflected on his accomplishment.

“I am definitely proud of it,” said Davis. “It is an honor to be mentioned with Kit Mueller and Bill Bradley but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates so. I am thankful for them.”

Speaking for those teammates, junior star Ian Hummer lauded Davis and his fellow seniors for their contributions.

“Doug is a great player, he is the second all time scorer in Princeton history, that says it all,” said Hummer, who ended the night with 14 points after being held scoreless in the first half.

“He is also a great person off the court. It is a group of seniors on our team that we all love. Patrick and John are great teammates. They didn’t play as much as Doug has but they are still a huge part of this team.”

In view of junior Mack Darrow, playing in the CBI could prove to be a huge boost for the Tigers going forward.

“I think this tournament has been good in terms of being a springboard for next season,” added Darrow, who went 3-of-3 from the three-point range in the loss to Pitt to end up with nine points.

“I know that VCU won this and the next year was in the Final 4. Obviously, you can only hope to replicate something like that. But after our freshman year, we were in the CBI and I think we were close as a group and we won the league the next year. If that could happen again next year, that would be great. I think it definitely has a chance to happen, given the chance to play extra basketball together, it will really help us.”

Henderson, for his part, believes that the experience of playing Pitt and winning down the stretch to earn that opportunity can only help the Tigers.

“That is a good Pitt team,” said Henderson. “We knew the challenges of coming in here and playing well and trying to beat this team. I am just overall happy about the season.”

BIG WEEK: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Jeff Froccaro fires the ball last Saturday in Princeton’s 11-4 win over Penn. Junior attacker Jeff Froccaro tallied two goals and an assist in the victory as the Tigers improved to 4-2 overall and 1-0 in Ivy League play. Froccaro, who scored a career-high seven points on five goals and two assists in a win over Villanova on March 13, was later named the Ivy Co-player of the Week for his exploits along with Harvard’s Jeff Cohen. No. 12 Princeton plays at Yale (2-3 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 24. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming off two tough losses and facing midterm exams together with a big game against No. 10 Villanova followed by its Ivy League opener with Penn, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team saw last week as pivotal.

“It was definitely huge because last year this is the week where we started to have a tough time,” said junior star Jeff Froccaro. “We wanted to make sure that we beat these teams and start well in the Ivy League.”

Attackman Froccaro took matters into his own hands, tallying a career-high five goals and two assists in a 14-8 victory over Villanova on March 13 and then chipping in two goals and an assist as Princeton topped Penn 11-4 last Saturday before a sunsplashed crowd of 2,518 at Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium.

In Froccaro’s view, the win over Villanova helped give the Tigers momentum as they looked to turn the tables on a Penn team that beat Princeton 8-3 in 2011.

“I think Villanova was a huge momentum swing for us; we just kind of used all the energy from that game and brought it to this one,” said Froccaro, who was later named the Ivy Co-player of the Week for his exploits along with Harvard’s Jeff Cohen.

“This was definitely a big game; we were mad that we lost last year to them. It was a really, really bad loss for us. We wanted to beat Penn; that was the next step for us. Obviously starting off the Ivy League with a win, that is something that is very important.”

While the Tigers jumped out to a 3-1 lead over the Quakers with Froccaro scoring twice, the game tightened up and Princeton led just 4-3 at halftime.

“We weren’t putting the ball in the back of the net,” said Froccaro. “The coaches were saying keep up the pace and keep working hard and get ground balls and we’ll win the game.”

In the second half, the Tigers picked up the pace, reeling off six unanswered goals over the first 23:58 to build a 10-3 cushion and put the game out of reach.

“We were flying around; the guys felt loose,” said Froccaro, reflecting on Princeton’s second half performance. “The guys were not hesitating to just play to their potential.”

For Froccaro, moving to attack this season from midfield has helped him realize his potential as a scorer.

“It has been different; I played attack in high school but it took a little getting used to,” said Froccaro, who is second on the Tigers in points with 16 on 12 goals and four assists.

“I think I am doing pretty well back there. I am working hard in practice; I am shooting more and luckily the ball has been going in. I am comfortable playing with Tommy Schreiber and Mike Grossman; they are two good guys. We are playing all over the place behind the cage.”

Princeton head coach Chris Bates likes the way Froccaro has been playing in his new spot.

“Jeff is a gamer; he puts the ball in the back of the net,” said Bates, whose team improved to 4-2 overall with the victory over Penn.

“I thought he had some good feeds too. He had one assist but I thought it was a big one.”

The ball movement on attack led to a balanced scoring effort for the Tigers.

“The depth is good; it is good to get Forrest [Sonnenfeldt] back,” said Bates, who got three goals and two assists from freshman Mike MacDonald with Tucker Shanley adding two and Tom Schreiber chipping in a goal and three assists.

“I think overall we pulled away in the second half; I give our guys credit. Tucker [Shanley] came out and gave us a big bump in the second half; he got two big goals which we needed and then Chris White stuck the next one. Will Himler gives us another assist. They locked up Tom [Schreiber] a little bit. I thought their defense was very good but Tom still ends up with four points and settles us down and does a good job.”

Bates was happy with his defense, which held Penn scoreless for a 33:28 minute span from midway through the second quarter into the fourth.

“I think our shortsticks were a big reason for that,” said Bates. “Tyler [Fiorito] has settled down and made some big saves. We got lucky; they hit a couple of pipes and missed the cage a couple of times with good looks.”

Princeton looked good at both ends of the field as it pulled away from the Quakers.

“We are a good team when we get a little buffer,” added Bates, who was happy to see his team put on a good show on an afternoon which saw many alums on hand as Sherrerd Field was officially dedicated.

“I was proud that we came out and executed. We are just trying to get our guys to play in the moment and understand that even when it is a one-goal game, if we continue to do what we do, things will pop. There are times when we try to do too much, too quickly both offensively and defensively. The pressure gets a little bit big and that’s when we make some questionable decisions.”

Dealing with exams and two tough foes last week, the Tigers, now ranked 12th nationally, showed an ability to deal with pressure on multiple fronts.

“We come out of a midterm week so guys were tired,” said Bates, whose team plays at Yale (2-3 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 24.

“They are exhausted and we battled back. This was a big one to start the Ivies off right. We can take a breath and have a week to prepare for a good Yale team. This was a critical week and we feel like we passed the test so far.”

Froccaro, for his part, is proud of how the Tigers took care of business.

“It was really tough having that big weekday game because a lot of guys had midterms on Tuesday,” said Froccaro.

“We just got through it. We are used to having a lot of work and practice so we just kind of grind it out and get the job done.”

CLEAR FOCUS: Princeton University women’s lacrosse senior star Lindsey deButts clears the ball in a game earlier this spring. Last Saturday, All-American defender deButts helped Princeton top Virginia 9-7. The 19th-ranked Tigers, now 3-2 overall and 1-0 in Ivy League action, play at Columbia (1-4 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 21 and at No. 14 Johns Hopkins (6-2) on March 24. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Lindsey deButts is wearing a large knee brace on her left leg and is coming off hip surgery over the offseason but the senior star defender for the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team is not one to complain.

“I think it would be hard to find any senior who isn’t a little beaten up,” said DeButts, who also had hernia surgery in her junior season and didn’t practice until two days before the 2011 season opener.

“I have had a few extra injuries maybe but when you step on the field for a game, you do what you have to do to get through it. I think everyone has some bump or bruise somewhere.”

Last Saturday, deButts fought through the pain to help Princeton edge Virginia 9-7 before a crowd of 1,238 at Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium.

With the teams locked in a 4-4 stalemate at halftime, DeButts and the Tigers knew that they needed to ratchet up the intensity if they were going to come out on top.

“We wanted to pick it up and be a little more aggressive,” said deButts. “We knew that they were going to come out hungry in the second half.”

Princeton showed its hunger, scoring three straight goals to start the second half and putting together a 5-1 run to build a 9-5 lead. Then after Virginia scored two straight goals, the defense held the fort to secure the victory as the Tigers improved to 3-2 overall.

“This was a great complete game for us, I think, at both ends,” asserted the 5‘7 deButts, a native of Alexandria, Va. “The attack had some really nice goals and on defense, we had some great stops.”

In deButts’s view, the win over Virginia was a great confidence builder for the Tigers.

“I think this was a big game for us; we had lost two tough games, most recently the one to Duke (12-9 on March 3),” said deButts, reflecting on the tight rivalry which is now knotted at 15-15 all-time.

“UVa is No. 10 so it was a big game to prove that we are still in this season. The Duke game is behind us now and we are moving forward with this win. We hadn’t won against UVa since my freshman year. Last year we lost by one. Regardless of their ranking, it is always a tough game.”

As the defensive quarterback for the Tigers, deButts feels a responsibility to help the Princeton back line play tough.

“I try to keep everyone composed and keep that talk up,” explained deButts, a two-time All American, who has 11 ground balls and eight caused turnovers so far this season.

“I think today, it was really a team defense. Annie [Woehling] played great in the goal; she had an incredible game and I think that really helped anchor the rest of the team. It really gave us the confidence and we were feeding off of each other. It was a real team effort.”

As deButts looks ahead, she is confident the Tigers can make a good run in Ivy competition.

“The Ivies have become super competitive over the last couple of years; it makes it really exciting and really fun,” said deButts.

“I think we are anxious to get going. We just had Brown and we start in again with Columbia. I think this is a good way to start hitting our stride.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer believes the win over Virginia can get Princeton headed in the right direction.

“It is a huge confidence builder for us,” asserted Sailer. “That Duke game was just one we wish we could have another shot at; we let that get away. In our loss to Rutgers, we just didn’t play very well so we are starting to put things together. To come out and compete against a good team that has had some wins against Loyola and Syracuse, I think this is going to do a lot for us.”

Freshman goalie Woehling did a lot for the Tigers in the win over Virginia, making 13 saves.

“Obviously Annie had a terrific day in the goal; she probably had more saves today than she has had all year,” added Sailer of her goalie who came into the day with a total of 16 saves in Princeton’s first four games. “She doubled her save total so that was a huge game.”

In Sailer’s view, the combination of deButts and fellow senior Cathy Bachur also played a major role in containing the high-powered Cavaliers.

“The defense played a really good game; we knew Virginia has a ton of movement, a ton of cuts and we didn’t give them any open looks,” said Sailer.

“Lindsey is so tough; she is playing on a sprained knee right now and you would never know it. She just gets out there and competes. Bachur is just so steady. I thought the defense, as a unit, did really well today.”

The Tiger offensive unit was sparked by the one-two punch of senior Cassie Pyle and junior Jaci Gassaway with the former tallying three goals and an assist and the latter chipping in two goals and an assist.

“Cassie is just so quick; she is really hard to contain,” said Sailer, who also got goals from Charlotte Davis, Sarah Lloyd, Sam Ellis, and Erin Slifer.

“She found her opportunities and took them. Jaci is definitely a leader down there; she calms things down; she calls out plays and is always good for some goals and/or assists. She and Cassie had some really beautiful give-and-go plays today. They were reading the defense really well early and had a couple of really nice goals in the beginning of the game.”

With Princeton finding its game, Sailer is looking for a nice spring. “The Ivy is going to be tough, you look at four or five teams that have a legitimate shot at it and so you just have to be at your best every game,” said Sailer, whose team topped Brown 18-8 on March 10 in its Ivy opener and plays at Columbia (1-4 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 21 and at No. 14 Johns Hopkins (6-2) on March 24.

“We have Columbia, we have Hopkins, and then we have Cornell and then we have a few non-conference games in the middle of the Ivies but that is clearly going to be our focus as we move forward. We won the tournament last year; we would like to win the regular season title this time.”

For deButts, the focus is on savoring her last season in a Princeton uniform.

“It is so weird that it is the final year,” said deButts. “I think every game, you appreciate the time out there and you realize that you don’t have many games left. I think all of us are trying to make the most of each game.”