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