December 18, 2013
BREAK POINT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Jonathan Liau chases down the puck in recent action. Sophomore forward Liau is tied for second in scoring for Princeton with eight points on one goal and seven assists. The Tigers, who are 3-12 overall, are currently on holiday break and will resume action when they play in the Florida College Classic at Estero, Fla. from December 28-29.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BREAK POINT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Jonathan Liau chases down the puck in recent action. Sophomore forward Liau is tied for second in scoring for Princeton with eight points on one goal and seven assists. The Tigers, who are 3-12 overall, are currently on holiday break and will resume action when they play in the Florida College Classic at Estero, Fla. from December 28-29. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton University men’s hockey team bringing a 3-12 record into its holiday break, the numbers don’t lie.

Among the 12 teams in ECAC Hockey, Princeton is last in goals scored (2.07) in all contests and has given up the second most goals per game (3.87).

In the wake of its final action before the hiatus, which saw Princeton lose 3-0 at No. 11 Union and 5-2 at Rensselaer, Tiger head coach Bob Prier didn’t hesitate in pinpointing his team’s biggest issue.

“We need to work better in the defensive-zone,” asserted Prier, whose team is 2-8 in ECACH play and tied with Dartmouth for last in the league standings. “We are on the wrong side of checks; we are trying to pickpocket the puck and do it the easy way.”

In Prier’s view, getting stingier on defense will go a long way towards helping the team be more productive offensively.

“If we play stronger defensively, the offense will come,” said Prier. “I am not worried about us scoring goals. It’s not that we can’t score goals.”

Prier is also looking for his players to be tougher all over the ice. “We need to play with more pride and work ethic,” said Prier, whose team went 1-5 in its last six games before the break, getting outscored 31-12 in that span.

“We need to work extra hard around the puck. We are working hard in the open ice, flying up the rink but that is easy. We need to battle harder in 1-on-1 situations. Our breakout needs to be better. We need to play more fundamentally sound and stay between our opponents and the net.”

Having dealt with injuries to such key players as Andrew Calof, Alec Rush, Tommy Davis, Tyler Maugeri, and Ben Foster, it has been hard for the Tigers to go full throttle in practice.

“We haven’t had the bodies and we have barely had contact in practice because we want to keep the guys healthy,” said Prier.

“It’s harder work to stay low and knock guys off the puck. We are not able to battle in practice and that is carrying over into the games.”

But with plenty of games left, Prier believes his team can use the break to regroup.

“We need to get the guys fresher so we can battle more,” said Prier, whose team wraps up the 2013 portion of its schedule by playing in the Florida College Classic at Estero, Fla. from December 28-29.

“We have lots of the season left. After the RPI game, I said to the guys that we have faced just about everybody in the league and there is no one we played where we thought we have to figure out a way to beat them. The league is so tight. We need to clean up some things and we have as good a chance as anyone to win these games.”

December 11, 2013
WEISZ BEYOND HIS YEARS: Princeton University men’s basketball player tracks a foe in recent action. Freshman Weisz has made an immediate impact for the Tigers, starting from day one and averaging 8.9 points and 4.9 rebounds a game. Last Saturday, Weisz achieved his first college double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds as Princeton topped Fairleigh Dickinson 77-65. He was later named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week for his performance. The Tigers, now 6-1, play at Rutgers on December 11 and at Penn State on December 14.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

WEISZ BEYOND HIS YEARS: Princeton University men’s basketball player tracks a foe in recent action. Freshman Weisz has made an immediate impact for the Tigers, starting from day one and averaging 8.9 points and 4.9 rebounds a game. Last Saturday, Weisz achieved his first college double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds as Princeton topped Fairleigh Dickinson 77-65. He was later named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week for his performance. The Tigers, now 6-1, play at Rutgers on December 11 and at Penn State on December 14. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Spencer Weisz brought a reputation as a heady player to the table in joining the Princeton University men’s basketball team this winter.

During his senior season at Seton Hall Prep in 2012-13, Weisz averaged 17 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and three steals on the way to earning second-team New Jersey All-State honors.

Stepping into the starting lineup at Princeton from day one this season, Weisz has focused on honing his basketball IQ.

“I just wanted to come in and play within the offense and stay solid on defense,” said the 6’4, 180-pound Weisz, a native of Florham Park.

“I think the detailed scouting report helps a lot. The coaches do a great job of preparing us in the practices before games. It allows me to really understand what is going to come. The ability to know ahead of time really benefits myself and the team as a whole.”

Last Saturday, Weisz showed the benefits of that detailed preparation, achieving his first college double-double with 17 points and 10 rebounds as Princeton topped Fairleigh Dickinson 77-65 before 1,952 at Jadwin Gym.

Coming into the game, Weisz was looking to hit the boards. “I just want to stay aggressive offensively and defensively,” said Weisz, who is averaging 8.9 points and 4.9 rebounds a game in his debut campaign and was later named the Ivy League Rookie of the Week for his effort against FDU.

“I struggled with boxing out a little bit in the beginning but some of our key rebounders are out right now so you just want to step up and be where the opportunity is present.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson acknowledged that the precocious Weisz is progressing even faster than he had hoped.

“I knew he was a good player but I think I underestimated his ability to get to the rim and make tough layups,” said Henderson, whose team extended its winning streak and improved to 6-1 with the win over the Knights.

“What is important is that he listens. When we say this is important, he is right there with you. He doesn’t like it when you tell him he has done something wrong, which is a good thing. I say he is an underrated passer, he makes people better, similar to T.J. [Bray].”

With Princeton missing Bray and Jimmy Sherburne, who weren’t allowed to compete on Saturday due to violations of athletic department rules, it did a few things wrong against FDU as it went on a 12-3 run to build a 36-28 halftime lead and then started the second half by outscoring the Knights 21-10 to break the game open.

“I think they understood what we wanted them to do on offense and defense but they needed to be on the court to understand it,” said Henderson.

“I think that is when it started clicking. FDU does some tricky things on defense. You have to keep your composure which I thought we did nicely. Spencer was getting some drives to the basket and some kick-outs. I think it was just moving the ball.”

Junior forward Denton Koon was on the ball against the Knights, scoring 18 points with six rebounds and three assists.

“Denton established himself inside a few times and then we had a huge 3 from Denton in the corner which I thought was a really nice play,” said Henderson, whose team will look to keep on the winning track when it plays at Rutgers on December 11 and at Penn State on December 14.

“I thought he was terrific tonight. It reminded me of Denton last year. He is a very, very difficult matchup. He banged two 3s, so he is versatile. I thought he brought a lot of balance to our team tonight. He had some huge offensive rebounds as well.”

Koon, for his part, gained rhythm from his work in the paint. “I had a lot of opportunities near the rim and I got myself going a little bit,” said Koon. “We had some open slips to the rim and that helps to get a couple  of easy looks.”

With Princeton off to its best start since the 1997-98 season, when it was 7-0 through seven games, Koon likes the way things are looking for the Tigers.

“We are moving the ball really well; I am excited with the way we are playing,” said Koon.

“Since I have been here, this is definitely the best we have felt early in the season. We are playing together, playing as a team; it just feels good. A lot of guys are contributing well to the system. We feel good about the way things are going right now.”

In Weisz’s view, the Tigers’ intelligent play in the second half against FDU exemplified the team’s ability to run its system.

“Everyone’s ability to see the floor and read cuts showed tonight,” said Weisz.

“I think that contributed a lot to the second half run. We were able to get some open 3s and some timely baskets and we were able to push the lead to a point where we didn’t want to let up but it was a little more comfortable.”

RECOVERY TIME: Princeton University women’s hockey player Jaimie McDonell heads up the ice in recent action. After being sidelined all of last winter due to knee and hip injuries, sophomore McDonell has given the Tigers a lift in her return to action, scoring nine points on four goals and five assists so far this season. Princeton, now 7-6-1 overall and 6-4-1 ECAC Hockey, is currently on a holiday hiatus until it hosts a two-game set against Connecticut on January 2-3.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

RECOVERY TIME: Princeton University women’s hockey player Jaimie McDonell heads up the ice in recent action. After being sidelined all of last winter due to knee and hip injuries, sophomore McDonell has given the Tigers a lift in her return to action, scoring nine points on four goals and five assists so far this season. Princeton, now 7-6-1 overall and 6-4-1 ECAC Hockey, is currently on a holiday hiatus until it hosts a two-game set against Connecticut on January 2-3. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Jaimie McDonell, her freshman season with the Princeton University women’s hockey team turned out to be a lost year.

McDonell tore a ligament in her knee before the 2012-13 season began. She was later diagnosed with a hip injury that required surgery. As a result, McDonell never saw a minute of playing time.

“I just tried to be a positive, supportive teammate the best I could even though I was a little miserable by myself,” said McDonell.

“I got back on the ice in the end of April, beginning of May. It wasn’t full contact until August.”

Back to full speed this season, sophomore forward McDonell has been a positive force for the Tigers, as she has scored nine points in four goals and five assists and is tied for third on the team in scoring.

McDonell is savoring her return to action. “Especially after an injury, it makes you so grateful for every time you get out there,” said McDonell. “You don’t realize how fast it can all go away. The seniors are starting to feel that now.”

Last Friday, McDonell helped Princeton get off to a fast start against Rensselaer as she scored a first period goal to give the Tigers a 2-1 lead on the way to a 4-1 victory.

In reflecting on her tally, McDonell acknowledged she was in the right place at the right time as she deflected the puck past the Rensselaer goalie.

“I saw [Ali] Pankowski taking a one-timer and I just braced myself a little bit,” recalled McDonell, a 5’8 native of East York, Ontario. “I was pretty confident from where it hit me.”

Bouncing back from losing two games at top-ranked and defending national champion Minnesota over Thanksgiving weekend, Princeton showed confidence against RPI from the opening face-off.

“We had our mindset, we knew what we wanted to do, we had a game plan and we just stuck to the basics and got the job done out there,” said McDonell of the Tigers who got the job done a day later as they completed a weekend sweep by topping Union 4-1.

“I think we set the tone in the first and we kept sticking to our game plan. We didn’t fall apart, we kept doing it and eventually we just kept going.”

While McDonell is thrilled to be doing well this season, she is quick to credit her linemates, junior Brianna Leahy and freshman Hilary Lloyd, with helping her produce.

“I feel good but it is also who I am playing with,” said McDonell. “My line is really clicking; I wouldn’t be able to do it without my wingers and defensemen.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal liked the way his team clicked in the win over Rensselaer.

“We played solidly in the first and still played well as the game continued,” said Kampersal, who got two goals from Denna Laing and one from Olivia Mucha in the triumph.

“The shorthanded goal by Laing was huge and even the second one coming before the first period was up was big. I think that was just the second game all year that we have scored the first goal so that was a big goal, no question.”

Having McDonell on the ice this season has been a big plus for the Tigers. “We thought we would get Jaimie back by Christmas time last season but that didn’t happen so that was a bummer,” said Kampersal.

“She is a heart and soul player, she is a good kid in the middle. She works really hard. She has been consistently good for us all year.”

Senior captain Laing has been a consistent force all season long for Princeton.

“Denna played solid for us as well,” said Kampersal of his senior captain who now has a team-high 11 points on four goals and seven assists. “That shorthanded goal was good and she got that third one. She is a big, strong kid. She skates hard and she works hard. It takes a lot to bring her down. She is a player who has endurance and can last. She can play good strong minutes for us.”

Kampersal was hoping for a strong weekend from his team in its last action before a holiday hiatus.

“We need a strong day tomorrow and then we need a break,” said Kampersal, whose team ended the weekend at 7-6-2 overall and 6-4-1 ECAC Hockey and is next in action when it hosts a two-game set against Connecticut on January 2-3.

“It will be nice to get a whole healthy lineup out there. The focus is just getting our power play better.”

McDonell, for her part, is confident that the Tigers can get better and better as the season unfolds.

“I think this could be a turning point in the season,” asserted McDonnell.

“After the past two weeks, we really needed to bounce back and show the league who we are and get back to how we were playing before. We had a rough patch, it is all about adversity.”

And McDonell certainly knows a thing or two about overcoming adversity.

December 4, 2013
ONE FINE BRAY: Princeton University men’s basketball player T.J. Bray looks to pass in a game last winter. After missing the first three games this season due to a broken hand, senior captain and star guard Bray has made a big difference for Princeton since returning to action in late November. The 6’5, 207-pound Bray is averaging a team-high 13.7 points and 5.0 assists in three appearances and was named the Ivy League Player of the Week. The Tigers, who have won four straight games to improve to 5-1, will look to keep on the winning track when they host Fairleigh Dickinson on December 7.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

ONE FINE BRAY: Princeton University men’s basketball player T.J. Bray looks to pass in a game last winter. After missing the first three games this season due to a broken hand, senior captain and star guard Bray has made a big difference for Princeton since returning to action in late November. The 6’5, 207-pound Bray is averaging a team-high 13.7 points and 5.0 assists in three appearances and was named the Ivy League Player of the Week. The Tigers, who have won four straight games to improve to 5-1, will look to keep on the winning track when they host Fairleigh Dickinson on December 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the Princeton University men’s basketball team opened its season last month, T.J. Bray cut a forlorn figure.

The senior captain and star guard was sidelined due to a fractured hand suffered during the preseason and sat grim-faced  on the bench wearing a cast.

Despite being out of action, Bray was able to stay sharp as he recovered from the injury. “I did a lot of conditioning with our strength and conditioning coach when I had my cast on,” said Bray.

“I got my cast off a couple of Wednesdays ago and I was able to start slowly doing things then. I have probably been playing 1-on-0 for about a week now. In terms of live stuff, it has been less than a week. I put a lot of time in over the summer so I didn’t lose too much of that.”

Bray returned to action for limited duty in a 70-56 win over Rice on November 23 and then showed a hot hand three days later in a 71-66 victory over visiting George Mason. The 6’5, 207-pound Bray hit on 7-of-10 shots for a team-high 18 points.

“It was obviously one of my better games as a player here,” said Bray, a native of New Berlin, Wisc.  who passed for a career-high 10 assists in the victory over the Patriots and had six rebounds and no turnovers in the win as he achieved his first career double-double.

“My teammates were great too, they were knocking down shots which makes my job easy. I know if I throw it to them, they are going to catch it and make a good play. They help me out so much.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson made no bones about how much it helps the Tigers to have Bray back on the court. “I thought he was just terrific,” said Henderson of Bray, who scored 15 points and had a career-high nine rebounds in a 66-53 win at Bucknell last Saturday and was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week.

“Once again he had a line that I would have dreamed of having as a player here. I always wanted to have lots of assists and no turnovers. This is a helluva of a line including the last shot to put us up four which I thought was just huge. We missed T.J. in our first few games and I am really happy to have him back.”

In assessing Bray’s strengths, Henderson pointed to his versatility. “T.J. is taking the ball out of bounds; he has got energy to play another half or two,” said Henderson, whose team improved to 5-1 with the win over Bucknell and will look to extend a four-game winning streak when it hosts Fairleigh Dickinson on December 7.

“He is coming up with huge rebounds, he is telling everybody what to do. He makes a huge shot going to his right off the glass and he is a lefty. He just does a little bit of everything and I am glad he is on our team.”

Bray’s court vision is possibly his best attribute, in Henderson’s opinion. “He sees the game, he sees things,” said Henderson. “I don’t think you have to teach somebody that, I think you just show them what to look for.”

Henderson liked what he saw from his team collectively as it held off a George Mason charge that saw the visitors tie the game at 66-66 after trailing 40-23 at halftime. “I am never comfortable with a lead, I knew they were going to come at us,” said Henderson, who got offensive balance against the Patriots as Ben Hazel scored 14 points with Hans Brase adding 12 and Denton Koon chipping in 10.

“They just started going to the rim. I think with the way the games are called now, you have got to be prepared for that. We got into some foul trouble with Hans and all of a sudden the lead starts to chip away. I really liked that we maintained some aggressiveness. One team becomes very aggressive and the other team has to match that aggressiveness and I thought we did that nicely at the end of the game, including making a huge couple of stops there defensively.”

Bray, for his part, sensed that Princeton could outfight George Mason in crunch time.

“I have played in enough games here that it has happened before,” said Bray. “It was nice that we were able to come out on top. I knew that we had to keep battling and that’s what we did. We were able to get some nice buckets inside. Coach drew up some great plays. If we just kept battling, I knew we would be on the right side of things at the end of the game.”

WHEAT HARVEST: Princeton University women’s basketball player Alex Wheatley, foreground, hustles after a loose ball in a game last winter. Sophomore forward Wheatley has moved into the starting lineup for the Tigers this season and is averaging 11.1 points and 6.0 rebounds a game. Princeton, now 3-4, plays at Navy on December 6.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

WHEAT HARVEST: Princeton University women’s basketball player Alex Wheatley, foreground, hustles after a loose ball in a game last winter. Sophomore forward Wheatley has moved into the starting lineup for the Tigers this season and is averaging 11.1 points and 6.0 rebounds a game. Princeton, now 3-4, plays at Navy on December 6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Alex Wheatley, moving into the starting lineup for the Princeton University women’s basketball team this winter has given her an increased sense of urgency.

“That is different, that is fun,” said the 6’2 sophomore from Upper Holland. Pa. reflecting on her promotion which comes in the wake of a freshman season that saw her come off the bench in all 29 of her appearances. “It makes you be ready for when the whistle first blows.”

Wheatley and her four classmates on the team put in extra time as they prepared to make a bigger contribution this winter.

“We all worked a lot over the summer and really tried to get stronger in preparation for this year,” said Wheatley, whose fellow sophomores include Amanda Berntsen, Michelle Miller, Annie Tarakchian, and Taylor Williams.

“Just mentally, not being freshman, I think it helps to be able to run the plays and to understand the game a little bit better on defense. I am really trying to bring something new to the team.”

Last week, Wheatley brought a lot to the Tigers in a 74-65 loss to St. Joseph’s as she scored a team-high 14 points and contributed three rebounds and two assists.

“I was happier with how I played,” said Wheatley. “I have a lot more to work on, but just like the game for the team, I thought it was a step forward for me.”

Wheatley acknowledged that the Tigers need to step things up at the defensive end. “I think defensively we need to communicate more,” said Wheatley. “St. Joe’s is a very good team. They shot really well, they are very good at moving on offense with screens and all of that. We were learning as we went.”

The Tigers have been good learners as they strive to get on the right page in the wake of losing four starters to graduation.

“I think we are getting better with every practice,” said Wheatley. “I think we have good chemistry. I love my teammates.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart saw improvement in her squad against St. Joe’s, even in defeat.

“I like where we are today based on where we were on Saturday,” said Banghart. “We were much better at getting the ball inside. We were much more aggressive off the dribble. We are getting the ball out in transition better. They have made major steps from last Saturday and last Tuesday’s games.”

The Tigers do have to get much better on defense. “Defensively, there is not a lot of trust yet,” said Banghart.

“It starts with yourself, trusting that you can guard off the dribble and then next to that is trusting that your teammates will be there. We are just not there defensively yet but I would rather know that now. There is lots of time to fix it and they have to see it.”

Banghart acknowledges that she has yet to figure out her best lineup. “I would say we are still trying to find the right combinations,” said Banghart, whose team headed to Oregon last weekend where it topped Portland State 94-76 in Saturday before falling 110-90 to the University of Oregon a day later in moving to 3-4.

“We are still trying to find what the matchups are. We don’t have our fighting eight, we are kind of a fighting vague 10.”

Although the Tigers may be still be trying to find themselves, they haven’t lost the fighting spirit that has helped the program win four straight Ivy League titles.

“I think there is a little bit of a heavy heart because they don’t like to lose,” said Banghart of the Tigers who will stay on the road as they play at Navy on December 6.

“I think fortunately with this group, that hunger to get better overrides the heavy heart. This is no reason to hang your heads. I told them if you wanted to win a guaranteed 20 games, I should have scheduled differently. I care about being really good in January with a really young team.”

Wheatley, for her part, isn’t fazed by the challenging slate of non-conference games.

“I think, like coach is saying, our schedule is one that give us experience, not necessarily wins,” said Wheatley.

“They are meant to be tough games and we are supposed to get better after every one. We still have games left in the preseason and we are going to give them our all.”

WATER QUALITY: Princeton University men’s water polo player Drew Hoffenberg handles the ball in a game earlier this season. Junior star and co-captain Hoffenberg starred in the recently held CWPA tourney as the Tigers placed second, falling 11-9 to St. Francis College Brooklyn in the championship game to just miss out on a berth to the NCAA tournament. Princeton ended the season with a 22-6 record.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

WATER QUALITY: Princeton University men’s water polo player Drew Hoffenberg handles the ball in a game earlier this season. Junior star and co-captain Hoffenberg starred in the recently held CWPA tourney as the Tigers placed second, falling 11-9 to St. Francis College Brooklyn in the championship game to just miss out on a berth to the NCAA tournament. Princeton ended the season with a 22-6 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The Princeton University men’s water polo team had the CWPA (Collegiate Water Polo Association) Championship tournament in late November circled on its calendar from day one.

“We were excited; our whole season is geared to those three days,” said Princeton head coach Luis Nicolao, whose team entered the tourney, formerly known as the Eastern Championship, seeded sixth and ranked 18th nationally.

The Tigers produced an exciting opening day at the competition held at Brown University as they topped Iona 16-12 and then edged Harvard 9-7 to reach the semifinals.

“The Iona win was good; we had two games that day and we wanted to get an early lead so we could play some of our other guys and give the top 10 players a rest,” said Nicolao, who got nine goals on the day from sophomore star Thomas Nelson and a total of four from junior standout and co-captain Drew Hoffenberg.

“We knew we were in for a dogfight in the second game; Harvard played really well. We were flat in the first half; our shots weren’t going in. I give Harvard credit, that was due to the way they were playing. We started playing better in the second half and we were able to pull it out.”

In the semis, the Tigers faced a nemesis in third-seeded Navy, who had topped Princeton 12-10 in the semifinals of the Southern Championship.

“There were five to eight teams that could win the title and Navy was one of them,” said Nicolao, a former Navy star.

“They had a great weekend at Southerns. They are a deep team and they are good swimmers. It was the fourth time we played them and we were 2-1.”

With Nelson tallying four goals, including the game winner, the Tigers were able to edge the Midshipmen 9-8.

“We wanted to control tempo and keep them from getting into their run and gun game,” said Nicolao. “The fourth quarter could have gone either way and we were lucky to get out of that.”

Princeton’s luck ran out in the final against St. Francis College Brooklyn as the Tigers lost 11-9, falling short of earning the NCAA berth at stake in the contest.

“That was just a battle; they shoot the ball so well and they have one of the best goalies in the country,” said Nicolao, who got two goals from Nelson in the final with Hoffenberg adding a goal and two assists and freshman Jovan Jeremic tallying three goals.

“We wanted to keep it a low-scoring game and have it even in the second half and then hope to wear them down with our conditioning. It was 9-9 with three and a half minutes left, whoever got the next goal was going to win. We made a mistake and they capitalized.”

While Princeton ended the tournament on a down note, Nicolao had high praise for his players.

“I am really proud of our guys,” said Nicolao, whose team ended the fall with a 22-6 record.

“Our goal each year is to get to the eastern championship game and play for the NCAA bid. We know anything can happen when you get to that game. We just came up just a little short this time.”

The team’s group of seniors, co-captain Kurt Buchbinder, Matt Pugliese, A.J. Galainena, Alex Rafter, Constantine Nakos, Ben Dearborn, and Tyler Amina, have made some good things happen for Princeton over their careers.

“We have a large number of them and they won a championship and played in two finals,” said Nicolao, reflecting on his senior class. “They did a lot for the program. Kurt was a great leader, he was a positive kid.”

With such returning players as Nelson, Hoffenberg, Kayj Shannon, Sam Butler, Jovan Jeremic, Jamie Kuprenas, Curtis Fink, and Alex Gow, the Tigers have the potential to do some great things in the future.

“I am really excited,” said Nicolao, who has guided the Tigers to three Eastern titles (2004, 2009, 2011).

“In the years past when we won the title it was precede by a tough loss in the finals. I am hoping we can springboard this to a title. We just need to do that little extra.”

November 27, 2013

When the Princeton University football team fell behind 21-0 at Dartmouth last Saturday, it wasn’t fazed.

After all, Princeton had rallied from a 17-0 deficit at Brown in October and roared back for a 39-17 win and had dug a 16-0 hole against Penn at Franklin Field in early November only to thump the Quakers 38-26.

SLIPPED UP: Princeton University receiver Seth DeValve gets tackled in recent action. Last Saturday, junior star DeValve caught nine passes for a career-high 115 yards but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 28-24 to Dartmouth in its season finale. The defeat combined with Harvard’s 34-7 win over Yale left Princeton as Ivy League co-champions as it ended the fall at 8-2 overall and 6-1 Ivy while the Crimson went 9-1 overall and 6-1 Ivy.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SLIPPED UP: Princeton University receiver Seth DeValve gets tackled in recent action. Last Saturday, junior star DeValve caught nine passes for a career-high 115 yards but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 28-24 to Dartmouth in its season finale. The defeat combined with Harvard’s 34-7 win over Yale left Princeton as Ivy League co-champions as it ended the fall at 8-2 overall and 6-1 Ivy while the Crimson went 9-1 overall and 6-1 Ivy. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The Tigers’ ability to score in bunches through its hurry-up, no-huddle offense had thrust Princeton into the limelight as it had already amassed an Ivy League record 413 points and clinched a share of the league crown coming into the contest against the Big Green at Memorial Field in Hanover, N.H.

Princeton head coach Bob Surace, for his part, was confident that another eruption was forthcoming.

“We had our best Wednesday of the year,” said Surace, whose team came into the game ranked 19th nationally among FCS (Football Championship Subdivision) programs.

“As the week progressed, I thought we were really peaking. We were hoping to play our best game of the year.”

Sure enough, Princeton started to chip away, narrowing the deficit to 21-14 at halftime as junior quarterback Quinn Epperly hit Roman Wilson for a 5-yard touchdown pass with 4:43 remaining in the second quarter and then did a one-yard quarterback plunge for a score in the waning seconds of the half.

On the Tigers’ second possession in the third quarter  Epperly found Matt Costello for a 30-yard scoring strike to knot the game at 21-21.

Surace had a sense of deja vu at that point. “We needed to get moving forward; we were off on third down conversions,” said Surace. “But like the Brown and Penn games, we got on a roll. We got it to 21-21 and it looked like we were going to do it again.”

But this time, Dartmouth stemmed the tide, regaining the lead late in the third quarter as quarterback Dalyn Williams raced 17 yards for a touchdown. Princeton responded with a field goal midway through the fourth quarter but as a snow squall hit the field, the Tigers went cold and ended up losing 28-24.

The defeat combined with Harvard’s 34-7 win over Yale left Princeton as Ivy League co-champions as it ended the fall at 8-2 overall and 6-1 Ivy while the Crimson went 9-1 overall and 6-1 Ivy.

In analyzing the defeat, Surace said it came down to big plays. “They had four really long explosive runs; they had 150 yards on four runs,” said Surace whose team was outgained 239 yards to 140 on the ground.

“They also had a 56-yard TD pass. We had 55 plays of terrific defense, a few decent ones, and five bad ones. Offensively, we struggled to get chunk yardage plays. We had bad field position. We grinded out a lot of first downs.

On Princeton’s last possession, the Tigers couldn’t overcome bad field position as an Epperly pass was intercepted with 24 seconds left in regulation to seal the win for the Big Green.

“We had punted it to them deep in their territory,” said Surace. “They hadn’t gotten a first down in a while but they were able to get it to our 20. We got it at the 20 and there was a blizzard at that time. We needed some luck; it was tough sledding with the weather.”

While the defeat was a tough way to end the fall, Surace went out of his way in his post-game comments to focus on what had been accomplished in a special season as the program won its first league crown since 2006.

“We gathered them together and told them how proud we were of the season,” said Surace, a Princeton alum who became just the third person to ever win an Ivy League title as a player (1989) and a head coach along with his counterpart on Saturday, Buddy Teevens, who accomplished the feat for Dartmouth as a player in 1978 and as the Big Green’s head coach in 1990 and 1991, and Dartmouth’s Jake Crouthamel, a player for the 1958 championship team and a head coach with three Ivy championships for the Big Green from 1971-73.

“We thanked the seniors for all that they have done. They will never play for Princeton again and it was the last football game for most of them. It is a disappointing way to end but we came into the season with three goals to win the Big 3 (beating Harvard and Yale), win the Ivy, and get nationally ranked. The last one might be hard now but we accomplished the other two. We had two tough losses but we had eight wins in between and we have to remember those games. It is a long time since we have won the title and we have to be proud of that.”

In Surace’s view, Princeton’s success this fall came down to a collective effort.

“For me, what sticks out is how many people contributed to this,” said Surace.

“We have some players like Caraun [Reid] and a few others who are going to get some accolades but there were so many guys who stepped up. It really was a team thing. They do things the right way.”

With a good foundation in place, the Tigers are headed in the right direction. “Last year, all the games were battles that went down to the wire,” said Surace.

“This year we were lucky enough to get some separation in some games. We showed that we could compete with the Browns, Penns, and Harvards, week in, week out. We will give the players a week off and then after Thanksgiving, we will start getting ready for 2014. It is great to get this title in a league that is so good where there is such parity.”

SAVING TIME: Princeton University men’s hockey goalie Colton Phinney makes one of his 31 saves in a 3-0 loss to No. 5 Quinnipiac last Friday. A day later, the freshman netminder made 32 saves to earn his first college win as the Tigers rallied for a 4-3 victory over the Bobcats in a home-and-home series between the ECAC Hockey rivals. Princeton, now 3-8 overall and 2-6 ECAC Hockey, plays at Michigan State (3-7 overall) on November 29 and December 1.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

SAVING TIME: Princeton University men’s hockey goalie Colton Phinney makes one of his 31 saves in a 3-0 loss to No. 5 Quinnipiac last Friday. A day later, the freshman netminder made 32 saves to earn his first college win as the Tigers rallied for a 4-3 victory over the Bobcats in a home-and-home series between the ECAC Hockey rivals. Princeton, now 3-8 overall and 2-6 ECAC Hockey, plays at Michigan State (3-7 overall) on November 29 and December 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Colton Phinney faced a big challenge last Friday as he made the third start of his career for the Princeton University men’s hockey team.

The freshman goalie was between the pipes as the Tigers hosted a No. 5 Quinnipiac squad that came into Baker Rink riding an 11-0-1 unbeaten streak.

The Bobcats put Phinney under the gun from the opening face-off, generating 13 shots in the first period. The 6’1, 175-pound native of Chatham, N.J. was up to the challenge, turning away all the shots as the teams headed into the second period knotted in a scoreless tie.

“I was definitely excited,” said Phinney, reflecting on his mindset heading into the contest. “We were ready to go. We came out well, it was a 0-0 game. It was tough but we battled. I felt more comfortable as the game went on.”

In the second period, Phinney and the Tigers had a bad 30-second stretch as Quinnipiac scored a power play goal with 11:38 left and then added a second tally with 11:08 left. Princeton kept battling but ended up falling 3-0 as the Bobcats added a third period tally.

“You can’t be giving up two in a row,” said Phinney, who made 31 saves on the evening.

“We did a good job of settling down and keeping it 2-0. We had a good third period and they just had a another power play goal, I thought we battled hard.”

A night later as Princeton played at Quinnipiac in the home-and-home series between ECAC Hockey rivals, the Tigers showed a battling spirit, rallying from a 3-1 deficit to pull out a dramatic 4-3 win and snap the Bobcats‘ unbeaten streak. Phinney stood tall in the net again, making 32 saves to earn his first college victory.

“The whole game is a battle, every single play,” said Phinney in assessing the biggest challenges he has faced in moving up to the college level.

“Anything can happen. You blink once and it is in the back of the net. It is battling from the first minute to the last minute; you have to keep focused.”

Princeton head coach Bob Prier liked the way Phinney stayed focused against the Bobcats.

“Colton had a good game; he was composed,” said Prier. “I thought he held on to a lot of the pucks that were shot from the outside. I thought he kept it simple. He didn’t have to make too many big saves; I thought he controlled his rebounds pretty well.”

The Tigers kept Quinnipiac under control for most of the contest. “We got better defensively through the week and tonight,” said Prier. “Our defense did a good job of protecting the middle of the ice. It is something to build on.”

In the wake of the loss on Friday, Prier was optimistic heading into the Saturday rematch.

“I was proud of the way the guys battled and hopefully we will continue to make strides here; I thought that was one of our better games,” said Prier, who got goals from Eric Carlson, Jack Berger, Mike Ambrosia, and Andrew Ammon in the triumph on Saturday as the Tigers improved to 3-8 overall and 2-6 ECACH.

“We just have to have a good practice in the morning and make a couple of adjustments and get after them tomorrow night.”

In Prier’s view, Princeton needs to keep getting after it. “The guys are playing hard; we still have some instances where we overskated pucks and didn’t stop the puck,” said Prier, whose team plays at Michigan State (3-7 overall) on November 29 and December 1. “Things like that have to be sharpened; those habits have to be constant.”

Phinney, for his part, is getting sharper through competing on a daily basis against senior goalie Sean Bonar.

“It definitely makes me better, having to go hard every day in practice,” said Phinney. “He is unbelievable, so trying to compete with him has made me better. It makes it fun too.”

HAZEL EYES: Princeton University men’s basketball player Ben ­Hazel heads to the hoop in recent action. Junior guard Hazel played a key role in two wins for the Tigers last week, scoring a career-high 14 points in an 81-80 overtime victory against Lafayette on November 20 and then chipping in 11 points and seven rebounds as Princeton topped Rice 70-56 last Saturday.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HAZEL EYES: Princeton University men’s basketball player Ben ­Hazel heads to the hoop in recent action. Junior guard Hazel played a key role in two wins for the Tigers last week, scoring a career-high 14 points in an 81-80 overtime victory against Lafayette on November 20 and then chipping in 11 points and seven rebounds as Princeton topped Rice 70-56 last Saturday. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Ben Hazel and the Princeton University men’s basketball team got off to a slow start last Wednesday against visiting Lafayette.

Princeton trailed the Leopards 36-31 at halftime as junior guard Hazel was held scoreless in 12 minutes of action with only a turnover and a missed shot on his stat line.

Hazel acknowledged that it wasn’t the best half for the Tigers. “I definitely feel like we were sleepwalking, especially in the first half,” said Hazel, who was making his third career start after taking a year off from Princeton in 2012-13.

“We weren’t talking, we had missed communication and mental lapses, giving up open shots. That is more stuff that we need to correct than our offense. They made shots but we didn’t make it as tough as we should have.”

Hazel and the Tigers woke up in the second half. The 6’5, 181-pound native of Bowie, Md. scored 11 points in a 2:29 span to help the Tigers go from trailing 45-43 to up by 54-51.

Princeton built its lead to 66-57 before Lafayette rallied to force overtime with the teams knotted at 68-68 at the end of regulation. In the extra session, the Tigers forged ahead 77-72 and were able to hold on for an 81-80 win.

Hazel, who ended the evening with a career-high 14 points, was more focused on the team’s success than his breakthrough performance.

“I don’t really think it means so much for myself; it was a good win,” said Hazel, who produced another good effort last Saturday, scoring 11 points with seven rebounds as Princeton topped Rice 70-56 to improve to 3-1.

“My team called on me to make a few more shots so that is just what I tried to do in the second half. It is more of a team win than  just me shooting the ball. Guys contributed throughout the second half.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson wasn’t surprised that Hazel made a big contribution in the win over Lafayette.

“In all the shooting stuff that we do in practice, Ben is one of our top guys,” said Henderson. “He’s got a good feel for the game. I think that going forward, this is the third game in almost two years. Unfortunately I am not cutting him any slack for that. I have high expectations for Ben, I think he can be a very good player. I expect to see improvement game to game.”

Henderson expects to see the Tigers bring more passion to the court than they displayed in their uneven effort against Lafayette.

“I think we were very fortunate tonight,” said Henderson. “That’s a huge understatement. I think we were a little bit happy with the way that we played on the road against a Butler team. A really good Lafayette team had us and we were very fortunate to get the victory. That’s where I am going to leave it. There were some positives on our end but for the most part, we just didn’t approach the game the right way.”

Princeton is getting a positive contribution from freshman Spencer Weisz, who had 14 points in the win over Lafayette and then chipped in eight points and six rebounds in the victory over Rice.

“I think Spencer has an understanding, a feel for the game,” said Henderson.

“We really work hard on that and Spencer does that naturally, making reads, making the right plays. I like the way he talks, he can talk to these guys and tell them what he thinks and what he sees. That is important for us and I don’t care if he is a freshman. There are freshmen all over the country playing well. If he is good enough, which he is, he is going to play.

With senior guard T.J. Bray having been sidelined for the first three games due to a hand injury, other players have gotten the chance to show their game.

“It is a huge opportunity; I see it as a huge positive for us,” said Henderson, whose team plays at Bucknell on November 30.

“T.J. does so many things that we rely on and that’s taken away from you so what are you going to do when you really need a basket or you really need to come together and you really need someone to step up and say this what we are doing and this is how we are going to do it. I’d like to think there have been some really good positives from it.”

Hazel, for his part, has honed his shooting touch so that he can do well when offense is needed.

“I have been working pretty hard on it in practice and the offseason so when the time does come I am able to step up and do what I have to do to help the team win,” said Hazel.

It didn’t take long for things to go awry when the Princeton University women’s hockey team hosted No. 8 Clarkson last Friday.

The Tigers yielded a goal 29 seconds into the contest and found themselves trailing 4-0 after the first period. Things didn’t get much better after that with Princeton falling 7-0 as their five-game unbeaten streak was snapped.

In reflecting on the setback, Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal didn’t mince words.

“We didn’t show up to compete whatsoever,” said Kampersal. “We were bugs and Clarkson was the windshield. They basically crushed us from the opening shift on.”

As a result, Kampersal viewed the game against visiting St. Lawrence on Saturday as a referendum on his team’s character.

“Today was a test to see if we could bounce back and I think we did play hard,” said Kampersal.

While the Tigers trailed the Saints 1-0 in the early going on Saturday, they fought back to knot the contest at 1-1 on a goal by freshman forward Cassidy Tucker with 11:26 left in the first period. But St. Lawrence responded with a go-ahead goal 10 minutes later and went on to a 4-1 victory.

Although Kampersal was happy with the resolve shown by his team, he was disappointed to see his players whistled for seven penalties on the afternoon.

“We showed heart today,” said Kampersal, whose team was outshot 31-28 by the Saints.

“We need to play a little bit smarter; we need to be better disciplined. We had too many penalties.”

The Tigers surrendered two power play goals as playing shorthanded seemed to wear them down.

“The penalty killing was not good so we need to figure that out,” said Kampersal of the Tigers who dropped to 5-4-1 overall and 4-4 ECAC Hockey with the loss to St. Lawrence.

“Most teams score on scrums in front of the net on us. Somehow the puck ends up in the back of our net. We need to do a better job of clearing out and just being tough in general.

Princeton also needs to do a better job on the offensive end. “We had a couple of good chances here or there,” said Kampersal.

“I don’t know what happened; we just need to be a little bit stronger on the puck and more opportunistic.

As the Tigers look to get back on the winning track, the focus will be on being strong mentally and physically.

“They have to be tough, they have to be disciplined and they have to be competitive,” said Kampersal.

“So today, we were competitive but we weren’t very tough or disciplined. Yesterday, we were none of the three.”

Next weekend, the Tigers will need to display all three qualities in abundance as they play a two-game set on November 30 and December 1 at top-ranked and defending national champion Minnesota (15-1).

“They are incredible, they had an incredible streak there (winning 62 straight games) and it should probably get more publicity than it did,” said Kampersal.

“They are obviously very well coached and they have great players. It will be a great rink with great fans. It will be a fun atmosphere to play hockey in.”

BURNING DESIRE: Princeton University field hockey star Kelsey Byrne, left, battles a Duke player in a game this fall. Senior midfielder Byrne helped the Tigers go 14-5 this fall on the way to a ninth straight Ivy League crown and an appearance in the NCAA quarterfinals.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BURNING DESIRE: Princeton University field hockey star Kelsey Byrne, left, battles a Duke player in a game this fall. Senior midfielder Byrne helped the Tigers go 14-5 this fall on the way to a ninth straight Ivy League crown and an appearance in the NCAA quarterfinals. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the Princeton University field hockey team had a bull’s eye on its back this fall as defending national champions, the players didn’t view that as a burden.

“They are not fazed by pressure; they have so much pressure in the classroom that field hockey is an outlet,” said Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn.

“They have the right perspective, they are into it but they are not consumed by what other teams are doing. They go on their own path and it doesn’t seem to be important what’s happening externally.”

While that path included ups and downs this fall as the Tigers dealt with injuries and struggled to find the best combination, the players kept on task as the program won its ninth straight Ivy League title.

“They kept working throughout the process,” said Holmes-Winn. “We had injuries and other things that didn’t allow us to put our best team out there. It is about playing your best hockey at the end of the season. You have to be rested and ready to put everything into it.”

Riding a seven-game winning streak coming into the NCAA tournament, Princeton started its title defense facing a Penn State team that handed the Tigers a tough regular season loss.

Showing skill and resilience as Princeton All-American senior star Julia Reinprecht got knocked out of the game with a head injury, the Tigers prevailed 5-4 to avenge the regular season setback.

“As we prepared for the second game against Penn State, we realized there was nothing we could extract or gain from the first one because we had totally changed,” said Holmes-Winn, who got two goals from senior star Amanda Bird in the win over the Nittany Lions with Allison Evans, Cat Caro and former Stuart Country Day and Peddie School standout Maddie Copeland adding one apiece.

“We were able to put out our very best lineup. We thought we would match up well and we did. We peaked at the right time. We really improved in the front third, that reflected the work of the girls and the coaches.”

In its quarterfinal matchup against host and top-ranked Maryland, the Tigers fought hard to overcome the loss of Reinprecht but fell just short. Princeton led the Terps 1-0 and 2-1 before falling 3-2.

“When you take Julia out, we had to move a striker into the midfield; she is so influential at both ends of the field and on our corners,” said Holmes-Winn, who got goals from Evans and Sydney Kirby in the defeat as the Tigers ended the season with a 14-5 overall record.

“The team really rallied. I think the girls were inspired to get through the weekend so Julia would get to play again. Julia talked to the team and told them to believe, that they could do this. It is a marker of her character and who she is as a sportsman that she put the team first even though she was suffering. In order to compete effectively against Maryland, every single player had to lift her game.”

Holmes-Winn was proud of how her team lifted its game as it dealt with a regular season schedule that included eventual national champion Connecticut along with such other national powers as Duke, Michigan State, Syracuse, Penn Sate, and Maryland.

“The season put us in a position to play our best,” said Holmes-Winn. “They were focused at each phase and stayed in the moment. Every player gave her best effort in practice and in training.”

Princeton’s group of seniors, which included Allegra Mango, Michelle Cesan, Kelsey Byrne, and Christina Maida in addition to Bird and Reinprecht, gave a great effort over their stellar careers.

“They are irreplaceable in many ways, as a class they balance each other positionally and from a leadership perspective,” said Holmes-Winn.

“Each handles a different piece. Some are more off field leaders, others lead by their work rate on the field, others raise their voices, and some are more connected to the freshmen. It was great that the underclassmen got to learn from such a special group.”

In the view of Holmes-Winn, her group of returning players has the chance to do some special things.

“I think we have a lot of exciting playmakers; we have speed from top to bottom,” said Holmes-Winn.

“They just need to be more comfortable with the ball. When that happens, they can take information under pressure and assimilate it in games. If we can get that taken care of over spring and summer, we can be up at the level we want.”

November 20, 2013
BULL RUSH: Princeton University football player Max Lescano battles some Yale defenders on a punt return last Saturday. Sophomore defensive back Lescano and the Tigers enjoyed a big day, topping the Bulldogs 59-23 to win a share of the Ivy League title and earn a second straight bonfire celebration emblematic of beating Yale and Harvard in the same season. Princeton, now 8-1 overall and 6-0 Ivy, can secure the league title outright by winning the season finale at Dartmouth (5-4 overall, 4-2 Ivy) on November 23.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

BULL RUSH: Princeton University football player Max Lescano battles some Yale defenders on a punt return last Saturday. Sophomore defensive back Lescano and the Tigers enjoyed a big day, topping the Bulldogs 59-23 to win a share of the Ivy League title and earn a second straight bonfire celebration emblematic of beating Yale and Harvard in the same season. Princeton, now 8-1 overall and 6-0 Ivy, can secure the league title outright by winning the season finale at Dartmouth (5-4 overall, 4-2 Ivy) on November 23. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Prior to the kickoff against visiting Yale last Saturday in their final home game, the 20 seniors on the Princeton University football team were introduced one by one to the cheers of the throng on hand.

About three and a half hours later, those seniors were hugging their teammates and fellow students on the field as they basked in the glow of Princeton’s 59-23 rout of Yale before a crowd of 14,824 at Princeton Stadium, a win that capped one of the most remarkable turnarounds in the annals of Ivy League football.

Two years removed from a second straight 1-9 campaign, Princeton improved to 8-1 overall and 6-0 Ivy, clinching a share of the league crown, its first title since 2006. The Tigers, who earned a second straight bonfire celebration emblematic of beating Yale and Harvard in the same season, can secure the outright Ivy title by winning their finale at Dartmouth (5-4 overall, 4-2 Ivy) on November 23.

For senior safety and co-captain Phillip Bhaya, the glorious Senior Day scenario was hard to believe, considering that the class started its career with a 2-20 record.

“It was more than I could ask for, especially with my teammates in the senior class,” said Bhaya, who had nine tackles in the victory and made a 34-yard interception return for a touchdown early in the third quarter.

“Obviously we didn’t have too much success in the beginning but we have come a long way. We stayed together as a group. I am so proud of my teammates, so humbled to be part of this class. To go out like this is really something special. We came to this school to win a championship and we got it done today. It is special and we are going to carry this for a long time.”

Princeton head coach Bob Surace, who took the helm of the program when the seniors were in their freshman season, beamed as he reflected on the team’s accomplishment.

“I just told them in the locker room that I am proud of them,” said Surace, a 1990 Princeton alum who was a star center on the 1989 Ivy championship squad.

“They work so hard. They work hard from the day the season ends all the way through. A lot of it is on their own. You are just proud, they earned this. We are going to get back tomorrow and get ready for the next game. We are going to celebrate this one. I hope they have fun tonight and enjoy it, it has been a long time.”

Surace tipped his hat to the seniors and the leadership they have provided in helping the program ascend to the top of the Ivy heap.

“When somebody said who are your senior leaders going to be and my response was is who aren’t they?” said Surace, noting that the bonfire is slated for this Sunday evening.

“You can go down that entire list. Malik Jackson, who signals our plays, gets into the game and our sidelines is going nuts for Malik. He comes in everyday and works as hard as Quinn [Epperly], he works as hard as Connor [Michelsen], he works as hard as Kedric [Bostic], he works as hard as Chad [Kanoff]. The guys love him. That whole group, they all share in the success we were having.”

That success was also due to some players who kept the Class of 2014 on track during some lean times.

“What was even more exciting is when you are in the locker room and Steve Cody is in there, Andrew Starks is in there, Andrew Kerr, on and on,” said Surace, referring to stalwarts for the 2010, 2011, and 2012 squads.

“There is a whole group of guys that you are celebrating with that are part of it. When you are not winning games and the results are not what they are supposed to be, your team is either going to pack it in and fold or they are going to buy in. Those guys bought in every day and that allowed these guys to carry the torch and have some success.”

The Tigers produced a performance to be proud of in dismantling Yale as the archrivals met for the 136th time.

After falling behind the Bulldogs 6-0, the Tigers jumped into the lead when sophomore running back Dre Nelson juked his way 42 yards for a touchdown to help Princeton take a 7-6 lead.

“I can’t wait to see his first touchdown. I don’t know what he did, you are watching and the next thing you know coaches are going he is going to score,” said Surace of Nelson, who ended up with 77 yards on five carries and another touchdown.

“It was like Dante Hall of the Kansas City Chiefs, he is spinning, he is moving and the next thing you know he is out. He is a ball of excitement and he works really hard.”

The excitement was just beginning for Princeton. Tiger quarterback Quinn Epperly hit Connor Kelley for a 23-yard touchdown with 5:08 in the quarter to extend the lead to 14-6.

Yale then responded with a touchdown on a 13-yard pass from Logan Scott to Morgan Roberts. The Bulldogs tried to catch Princeton off guard with an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff but the gamble backfired as Tiger junior defensive back Jakobi Johnson scooped up the loose ball and bolted 46 yards for a touchdown to put Princeton up 21-13.

“Coach Aurich [Andrew Aurich, Princeton’s special teams coordinator and tight ends coach] has been messing with us a long time; he pretty much made us paranoid of an onside kick on every play,” said Johnson. “We just had to be ready for it. The ball popped up and I saw an opportunity so I just took it.”

The Tigers outscored the Bulldogs 10-3 in the second quarter to take a 31-16 lead into halftime.

The third quarter started with a bang for Princeton as Epperly ran for a 4-yard touchdown on the opening possession of the half to make it 38-16. Minutes later, Bhaya made his interception return to break the game open as the Tigers went up 45-16 and never looked back.

Epperly, for his part, viewed the early sequence in the third quarter as pivotal.

“The pick six by Phil was a huge turning point in the game,” said Epperly, who passed for three touchdowns and rushed for one to give him 23 TD passes and 17 rushing touchdowns on the season.

“We had just scored. We felt we needed a stop to get right back on the field and to get a pick six like that was huge. To play in this offense and to engineer it, is just a dream come true and it is a blast to be a part of.”

Bhaya was the beneficiary of some good play by Princeton’s front seven on his interception.

“I didn’t notice at the time because I saw their tight end tip it but Jason Ray was coming off the edge and he got his hands up and actually tipped it the first time so I have to take my hat off to him for that one,” recalled Bhaya, referring to his classmate and star linebacker. “It just fell right into my hands so I didn’t do too much on that one.”

In Epperly’s view, the Tigers still have more to do as they go after their first outright Ivy crown since 1995.

“I think everyone is very well aware that we don’t want to share this title in any way or form,” said Epperly, whose brilliant play had helped Princeton score a program and Ivy record 413 points this season as it has hit the 50-point mark five times.

“I think there would be no better way to send these seniors out on top of a senior day like this. That has been the goal since day one to win a championship and I think it would leave a very bitter taste in everyone’s mouths if we had to share that. Tomorrow we are going to come to work, just like we have all year, and we are going to take this next game seriously because we want to get a win.”

Surace’s vision for the program extends beyond the championship. “We are building something and hopefully building something that is strong with the way we work, the way we operate, and the way we function,” said Surace.

“We want smart, tough, disciplined, team-oriented guys. If we have smart, tough, disciplined, team-oriented guys and they have enough talent, that is really fun. I have been places where you have guys that are selfish and have ego and you are dealing with that kind of stuff. I get to deal with great kids.”

Bhaya, for his part, believes he and his classmates have held up their end of the deal.

“With Princeton football, there have been thousands of student athletes who have come before us,” said Bhaya.

“There are going to be thousands more after us. We are really just one small part of a bigger program here and I think our duty is to leave the program and this university a better place than when we found it and I think, especially for our senior class and this team in particular, we have done that.”

NEW DYNAMIC: Princeton University women’s basketball player Vanessa Smith dribbles upcourt last Sunday as Princeton topped Marist 81-58 in its home opener. Freshman guard Smith made an impressive Jadwin Gym debut, scoring 11 points with six rebounds, two steals, and an assist to help the Tigers improve to 1-1.  Princeton plays at Georgetown on November 23 before hosting St. Joseph’s on November 26.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

NEW DYNAMIC: Princeton University women’s basketball player Vanessa Smith dribbles upcourt last Sunday as Princeton topped Marist 81-58 in its home opener. Freshman guard Smith made an impressive Jadwin Gym debut, scoring 11 points with six rebounds, two steals, and an assist to help the Tigers improve to 1-1. Princeton plays at Georgetown on November 23 before hosting St. Joseph’s on November 26. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Vanessa Smith experienced some jitters as she made her debut for the Princeton University women’s basketball team when it played at Rutgers in its season opener earlier this month.

The 6’1 freshman guard scored seven points with a rebound as the Tigers fell 79-65 to the Scarlet Knights on November 10.

Last Sunday, Smith showed an increased comfort level in just a week as she tallied 11 points with six rebounds, two steals, and an assist as the Tigers pulled away to an 81-58 win over visiting Marist before 712 at Jadwin Gym.

“We are just trying to push forward everyday and get better,” said Smith, a native of Twinsburg, Ohio, reflecting on her progress.

“We definitely improved on the rebounding. We were more in the groove today, playing our game and we are really happy about that. I think it was just the home environment. We just were all feeling comfortable in our own skin again, playing together as a team really well. Everyone contributed.”

There was a special environment at Jadwin on Sunday as updated banners including last year’s fourth straight Ivy League title and NCAA appearance were unfurled prior to the game. At halftime, the program’s storied Class of 2013, Niveen Rasheed, Lauren Polansky, Kate Miller, and Meg Bowen, were honored.

The celebrations inspired Smith in her first Jadwin outing. “For sure, it was really humbling, almost a majestic moment, seeing the banners come down,” said Smith.

“I am humbled by the work that has been done in the past, I am just looking to continue that tradition and work hard everyday to get better.”

In reflecting on her progress, Smith knows she has to get better at both ends of the court.

“I would say one adjustment is getting used to playing defense against people that are D-1 athletes,” said Smith.

“It is definitely different than high school, it is a faster pace defensively,

Offensively, it comes down to knowing what to do and how to work with your team and knowing how to contribute.”

In Smith’s view, Princeton’s work on the defensive end helped spark a 23-10 run over the last 10 minutes of the first half as the Tigers seized control of the contest and built a 41-32 lead by halftime.

“We had a lot of hustle plays in the first half and I think that contributed to the momentum,” said Smith. “So our defense pushed our offense and we were able to convert that into points.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart liked the defensive effort she got from the Tigers in the win over Marist

“I would say the growth that we have made on the defensive end in the past two weeks has been pretty spectacular,” said Banghart. “What I am pleased about is that they were able to adjust through a timeout. Defensively, we needed to get through screens, we needed better ball pressure. We had to have urgency. They were making a lot of shots; I thought we stayed poised for a young team through that.”

The Tigers also showed urgency on the boards, outrebounding the Red Foxes 49-23.

“We were great on the glass; Annie [Tarakchian] had eight boards in 13 minutes,” said Banghart.

“Rebounding is important to us, it shows that we have a blue collar and it shows that we are willing to gut out and play with toughness.”

Banghart also saw progress at the other end of the court. “I thought in the Rutgers game we lost poise with our offense part way through the second half and so we really worked hard on diversifying our looks and sticking with our system and I thought they showed that over 40 minutes.” explained Banghart.

“When we share the ball like that we can score. We didn’t share the ball really well against Rutgers. We did a lot of standing around as we got fatigued. I thought we were able to use more poise today. People are getting more and more ready. It is a young team and we’ll get more and more ready as we go.”

Freshman Smith has already shown that she is ready to be a big contributor to the Tigers.

“Vanessa can a do a little bit of everything; she gives us a unique dynamic to our game,” added Banghart. “She is a willing rebounder, tough off the dribble, and can score. She is long so she can guard. When she is adjusts to the college game, she is going to be really special.”

Senior star Kristen Helmstetter gave the Tigers a special effort on Sunday, scoring a game-high 18 points with  with five rebounds and two assists.

“I think Kristen is Princeton basketball right now,” asserted Banghart. “Her versatility and how much she has developed here has been pretty remarkable. She is a leader, we have to give her some blows so she can get some rest. All she cares about is winning and I am glad she contributed to it today.”

In Banghart’s view, her callow squad has the potential to pile up a lot of wins this season.

“It’s just a team that is still playing a little inexperienced,” said Banghart, whose team plays at Georgetown on November 23 before hosting St. Joseph’s on November 26.

“They are ahead of where I thought they would be defensively and they are about where I thought they would be offensively. I told them how much better they got in one week; get that much better again in one more week. Princeton basketball has been about the process and I think you are seeing that with this young team.”

Smith, for her part, is determined to get better and better. “I will do anything they need me to do,” said Smith.

“I am just going to work hard, hustle and get rebounds and anything I can do to help us win.”

LEADING ROLE: Princeton University women’s hockey player Denna Laing, right, crashes the boards in a game last winter. Senior forward and two-time captain Laing has provided leadership and production as Princeton has gone 4-0-1 in its last five games. In upcoming action, the Tigers, now 5-2-1 overall and 4-2 ECACH, hosts Clarkson (10-3-2 overall, 3-2-1 ECACH) on November 22,  St. Lawrence (5-7 overall, 4-2 ECACH) on November 23, and Quinnipiac (10-1-3 overall, 3-1-2 ECACH) on November 26.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

LEADING ROLE: Princeton University women’s hockey player Denna Laing, right, crashes the boards in a game last winter. Senior forward and two-time captain Laing has provided leadership and production as Princeton has gone 4-0-1 in its last five games. In upcoming action, the Tigers, now 5-2-1 overall and 4-2 ECACH, hosts Clarkson (10-3-2 overall, 3-2-1 ECACH) on November 22, St. Lawrence (5-7 overall, 4-2 ECACH) on November 23, and Quinnipiac (10-1-3 overall, 3-1-2 ECACH) on November 26. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Denna Laing, serving as the captain of the Princeton University women’s ice hockey team for a second year is proving to be a pleasure.

“It definitely makes a difference coming from last year to this year; I definitely have a better handle on things,” said senior forward Laing.

“Honestly, the team is making it easy for me. Nobody is disappointing me and it is making it really easy for me and very enjoyable. I am very proud of everyone.”

Laing certainly enjoyed herself last Friday, tallying a goal and an assist to help Princeton top University of New Hampshire 3-1.

The senior line of Laing and classmates Olivia Mucha and Sally Butler sparked the Tigers, generating a slew of chances and accounting for two of Princeton’s goals as the Tigers broke a scoreless tie by scoring three straight goals in a two-minute span from the end of the second period into the start of the third.

“We definitely know what is at stake,” said Laing, reflecting on the connection between the trio of classmates.

“We know if we are working hard out there, then everyone else will see that and follow our lead. That’s not to say that other lines are doing the exact same thing.”

Laing helped Princeton open the scoring as she fed Mucha for a goal with 1:06 remaining in the second period.

“It all started when we were forechecking down low and we put a lot of pressure on them and things kind of worked out for us,” said Laing.

“We were working hard so we were hoping that one would go in, Mucha had a couple of chances before that were so close. I am glad that she did get that one in and got us rolling.”

The Tigers kept rolling after the second intermission as they scored two goal in the first 59 seconds of the third period as Ali Pankowski and Laing found the back of the net.

“It definitely picked up the momentum for us,” said Laing, reflecting on the third period flurry.

“We were up 1-0 and it is easy to come back on that so we knew to come out hard for the third period.”

On her goal, Laing went hard to the net. “We were working hard down low and the puck was just sitting there for me on a rebound,” said Laing, who now has two goals and five assists in the season. “It was nice work by my linemates to get it there.”

Laing likes the way the Tigers are handling their work this season. “I definitely would say this year compared to other years, everyone is buying in,” asserted Laing, a 5’9 native of Marblehead, Mass. who has 57 points in her Princeton career on 24 goals and 33 assists.

“Everyone is following the rules. Everyone wants it, from the freshmen who came in here and have really made a difference to our sophomores who really worked hard over the summer and have picked it up. The junior and seniors have come back off of injuries and we are really firing. Everyone is working hard from the freshmen up. I think that is really making a difference.”

In the view of Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal, the senior line made a huge difference for the Tigers in the win over UNH.

“They worked so hard; they got it done,” said Kampersal. “All year,
they are going to get it done for us. We are going to rely on them to come up big at the big times. They have been together for the most part for four years and there is some familiarity, no question.”

Kampersal is placing heavy reliance on Laing to spark the Tigers. “Denna brings a lot of heart and soul every time,” said Kampersal. “She did a good job on the penalty kill. She has always played super aggressive. She is strong. She is a workhorse for us.”

Princeton was strong defensively in the victory over UNH. “I thought our defense played well in the absence of Gabie [Figueroa] so it was good that they stepped up in her absence,” added Kampersal, who got another good defensive effort on Saturday as the Tigers tied No. 5 Boston College 1-1 to move to 5-2-1 overall.

“I thought Brie Mahoney was really good in the back as was Pankowski. They did a good job. Kim Newell was really solid in goal, she was solid physically, and solid mentally.”

Having gone 4-0-1 in its last five outings, Princeton is playing some solid hockey overall.

“I think we just focus on the conditioning and the practice,” said Kampersal of the Tigers who are fourth in the ECAC Hockey standings with a 4-2 league mark. “We are working on playing hard for five minutes at a time and restarting the next five minutes. I think that has been a good focus for us.”

The Tigers will have to keep that focus as they are facing a challenging slate of games over the next two weeks.

“We have a tough stretch coming up,” said Kampersal, whose team hosts Clarkson (10-3-2 overall, 3-2-1 ECACH) on November 22, St. Lawrence (5-7 overall, 4-2 ECACH) on November 23, and Quinnipiac (10-1-3 overall, 3-1-2 ECACH) on November 26 before heading to the midwest for two games at top-ranked and defending national champion Minnesota (13-1 overall) over Thanksgiving break. “This is the heart of it. We have to prove our worth in the next five games.”

Laing, for her part, believes that Princeton has the heart to compete with the toughest foes.

“I honestly feel really confident with this team, more so than I have in past years,” said Laing.

“It is a great feeling to be a senior right now. Hopefully, we continue our path. It has only been seven games; we haven’t done anything yet. We are not satisfied yet. We are still looking to make a big impression and hopefully we can keep rolling like we are rolling.”

QUALITY AMMO: Princeton University men’s hockey player ­Andrew Ammon heads up the ice in a game last winter. Senior forward Ammon scored two goals, including the game winner, last Friday as Princeton overcame a 3-0 deficit to beat Dartmouth 5-4 in overtime. The Tigers, now 2-7 overall, 1-5 ECAC Hockey, host No. 4 Quinnipiac (11-1-1 overall, 5-0-1 ECACH) on November 22 before playing at the Bobcats the next day.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

QUALITY AMMO: Princeton University men’s hockey player ­Andrew Ammon heads up the ice in a game last winter. Senior forward Ammon scored two goals, including the game winner, last Friday as Princeton overcame a 3-0 deficit to beat Dartmouth 5-4 in overtime. The Tigers, now 2-7 overall, 1-5 ECAC Hockey, host No. 4 Quinnipiac (11-1-1 overall, 5-0-1 ECACH) on November 22 before playing at the Bobcats the next day. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Having lost six straight games and trailing Dartmouth 3-0 in the first period last Friday, it would have been easy for the Princeton University men’s hockey to get discouraged.

But Princeton senior forward Andrew Ammon and his Tiger teammates were unfazed by the situation.

“We just kept working,” said Ammon. “We knew we were never out of it. It was early in the game there. We knew we had a lot of time; we weren’t going to panic.”

Princeton got itself back in the game, narrowing the gap to 3-1 late in the first period on a goal by Ryan Siiro and then getting two unanswered goals from Tyler Maugeri and Mike Ambrosia in the second period to knot the game at 3-3.

Ammon got the Tigers ahead, scoring 1:06 into the third period as Princeton took a 4-3 lead.

“We came into the zone; Mike [Ambrosia] took a shot and it ended up behind the net,” said Ammon.

“[Jonathan] Liau picked it up and I had no one on me and I was calling for it. He made the pass and I just had all day and took my time with the shot.”

Dartmouth, though, made a comeback of its own, scoring midway through the period to force overtime. With just seconds remaining in the extra session, Ammon scored his second goal, deftly deflecting a Tommy Davis shot into the back of the net to give the Tigers a win and snap their losing streak.

“It came in the zone and squirted out to Tommy,” said Ammon, reflecting on the game winner.

“It was a broken play. I saw him winding up for the net and I just went to the net. I didn’t even think I would be there for a tip but I just stuck my stick out and tipped it and I saw the back of the net.”

After finding the back of the net in dramatic fashion, Ammon was mobbed by his teammates behind the goal.

“It was just exciting, nothing feels better than scoring an overtime game winner,” said Ammon. “I had my whole team come out there. It was an awesome feeling.”

While Ammon now has a team-high five goals on the season, his focus is more on effort than finishing.

“My role is not necessarily scoring but just being there all 60 minutes, bringing the energy and burying the chances that we get,” said Ammon, a 6’0, 185-pound native of Aldie, Va. who has 46 points in his Tiger career on 27 goals and 19 assists.

Princeton head coach Bob Prier was not surprised that Ammon came through in the clutch for the Tigers.

“Ammo is just a warrior; he has been playing so hard, so well,” asserted Prier.

“He has learned to control his game yet still play hard. He is going to get a lot of hard-working, ugly goals but that first one was pretty. He caught it and went top shelf there on a nice play from Liau. The OT winner was just great; he crashed the net and it hit his stick. It was a great tip and he just willed it. He is as hard a worker as you will come across and he earned it.”

In Prier’s view, his players showed an iron will collectively in rallying for the win over the Big Green.

“The guys battled as hard as they could,” said Prier, whose team fought hard a night later but came up short in losing 5-3 to Harvard to move to 2-7 overall and 1-5 ECAC Hockey.

“They stuck to the process. They kept above checks. There were a couple of times it took funny bounces and the next thing you know it is on their stick somehow. We battled through a lot of that. There was a lot of resilience out there.”

Freshman forward Siiro is battling hard on a nightly basis for the Tigers.

“Siiro is big, tough, and skilled,” said Prier of Siiro who has two goals and two assists in nine appearances.

“He is a gem; I just love him. He is as coachable as they come. He is a great kid to be around; a great kid to coach. He is always positive. He is high energy. He is only going to get better every single day.”

Junior forward Tucker Brockett, who had three assists in the win over Dartmouth and then added two more helpers in the loss to Harvard, has gotten markedly better this year.

“Tucker has improved tremendously, he is playing with more confidence,” said Prier of Brockett, who has 11 points this season on two goals and nine assists after totaling just two points in his first two seasons.

“He is also not banged up. The poor kid has had some sort of nagging injury ever since he has been on campus and now he is healthy. He has got skill, he has got poise and he is starting to use it.”

Prier is hoping his team uses the win over Dartmouth as a springboard to more success.

“You want to start winning but then this one is behind you and you move on,” said Prier, whose team hosts No. 4 Quinnipiac (11-1-1 overall, 5-0-1 ECACH) on November 22 before playing at the Bobcats the next day.

“That is kind of what we did with our start tonight. We said hey, it’s behind us. The record tells us where we have been, not where we are going. Let’s stop talking about it and try to get it going here.”

Ammon, for his part, believes the win over Dartmouth could get Princeton going in the right direction.

“That is huge,” said Ammon. “It feels like it has been a while so this is big for us. We try not to look at our record. We try to improve everyday. It is about where we are going, not where we are at.”

November 13, 2013
CRUNCH TIME: Princeton University defensive stars Philip Bhaya, left, and Anthony Gaffney, right, help corral a ballcarrier in action earlier this fall. Last Saturday, senior safety Bhaya had a team-high seven tackles while sophomore cornerback Gaffney made a key interception as Princeton rallied from a 16-0 deficit to beat Penn 38-26. The Tigers, now 7-1 overall and 5-0 Ivy League, host Yale (5-3 overall, 3-2 Ivy) on November 16.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

CRUNCH TIME: Princeton University defensive stars Philip Bhaya, left, and Anthony Gaffney, right, help corral a ballcarrier in action earlier this fall. Last Saturday, senior safety Bhaya had a team-high seven tackles while sophomore cornerback Gaffney made a key interception as Princeton rallied from a 16-0 deficit to beat Penn 38-26. The Tigers, now 7-1 overall and 5-0 Ivy League, host Yale (5-3 overall, 3-2 Ivy) on November 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Connor Kelley hasn’t forgotten how much it stung when the Princeton University football team was crushed 52-10 by Penn in 2010 as the Quakers rolled to the Ivy League title.

“I was there in Coach [Bob] Surace’s first year back when I was a quarterback and so I felt a pretty good beating that year and we have all taken it these past three years,” said Kelley.

Surace, for his part, still feels the pain from that dark afternoon. “They were kind in the game, it was 52-10 and they took it easy,” said Surace. “It could have been a lot worse.”

But when Princeton found itself trailing 16-0 at defending champion Penn last Saturday, it wasn’t about to take another whipping in a series which had seen it lose six straight.

“I think our guys believe if we just keep playing and playing, that eventually we can get this game back to where it is manageable,” said Surace.

“There is no panic, there is no infighting. We use that phrase, ‘hold the rope.’ Our guys hold the rope together, coaches and players. Penn is a really good team, they have won three of the past four championships. You are not going to walk in and put up 35 at halftime, especially at homecoming and all week long they are getting corrected on mistakes they made the week before. We knew we were going to get a championship bout.”

Getting off the canvas, the Tigers delivered some knockout blows to the Quakers as they rallied and pulled away to a 38-26 win over Penn before 21,214 at Franklin Field in Philadelphia.

In so doing, Princeton kept its place atop the league standings, improving to 7-1 overall and 5-0 Ivy to stay ahead of Harvard (7-1 overall, 4-1 Ivy) while Penn’s title hopes were dealt a serious blow as it dropped to 4-4 overall and 3-2 Ivy. The win helped the Tigers break into the national polls as Princeton is ranked No. 25 in the Sports Network’s FCS College Football Poll, its first ranking since being voted as the No. 18 team in the final 2006 poll.

The high-powered Princeton offense sputtered in the early going, as its first five possessions resulted in three punts, a safety, and an interception.

Princeton quarterback Quinn Epperly acknowledged that the Tiger offense was out of synch.

“I think that was the worst display we have had passing the ball,” said Epperly.

“We have got a lot of corrections to make. Yeah, credit to them but I think also credit to our guys, especially the guys up front on being able to grind some things out. I think it just shows our effort and our work ethic. It was definitely not a pretty game on the offensive side but we were able to get a win.”

By contrast, the Tiger defense produced some beautiful moments, generating six turnovers, including three interceptions and three fumble recoveries. The critical turnover was a 59-yard interception return for a touchdown in the second quarter by senior defensive back Elijah Mitchell that put Princeton ahead 17-16.

“We blitzed on the play and fortunately we got a really good amount of pressure and I felt what I thought was the running back releasing or a screen of some type and I pulled up a little bit and that just put me in position to make the play,” recalled Mitchell. “I got the ball and tried to do something with it.”

When Princeton surrendered a touchdown just before the half to go into intermission trailing by 23-17, Mitchell inspired the team by his words as well as deeds.

“I didn’t have to say much at halftime,” said Surace. “Elijah took over the halftime speech. Sometimes these guys are a little shy about those things. He got the guys up; I had chills. He had the guys rocking and rolling and bouncing off the walls as we went out for the second half.”

The Tigers proceeded to control the second half. They regained the lead at 24-23 as Epperly scored on a two-yard touchdown run with 6:52 left in the quarter.

Early in the fourth quarter, Epperly found the end zone on a one-yard plunge as Princeton went ahead 31-23.

After a Penn field goal narrowed the margin to 31-26 with 9:37 remaining in regulation, converted senior receiver Kelley came up big, scoring on a 14-yard touchdown pass as Princeton increased its advantage to 38-26 and never looked back.

In Surace’s view, Princeton’s victory came down to a willingness to mix it up physically with the Quakers.

“I felt it was two really tough teams,” said Surace, noting that the Tigers had to battle to get 98 yards rushing in 44 carries.

“This is the least we have rushed for this year. They rushed for 60-70 more yards (161 yards on 32 carries) than us. They pressured our quarterback; we pressured their quarterback at times. It was a good football game. The thing you have to do is to match their toughness. From 1987 when I first played them through now and probably before then, they have been a tough, physical team. You can’t go and allow them to push you around. I felt, especially in the second half, we at least held our own.”

Epperly showed his toughness as he overcame a hard hit to his throwing shoulder in the first quarter to hit on 32-of-45 passes for 268 yards and two touchdowns and ran for 53 yards and two touchdowns.

“He didn’t come back in the next series and the trainer said he was fine,” said Surace, referring to Epperly’s temporary absence from the contest after he was  slammed to the ground after throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown by Sam Chwarzynski,

“You look at him, that one touchdown run he had at the end where he is hit at the line of scrimmage and just fights his way into the end zone. He is another 220-pound guy and for all the good touch and accuracy he has as a quarterback, there is a physical side to him that is pretty impressive.”

While Princeton’s turnaround from back-to-back 1-9 seasons in 2010 and 2011 is certainly impressive, Mitchell and his teammates aren’t satisfied yet.

“First off, I think it is a testament to every single player that we have and the  job that has been done recruiting but also the coaching,” said Mitchell, who will try to help Princeton stay on the winning track as it hosts Yale (5-3 overall, 3-2 Ivy) on November 16.

“We feel like we are trying to rise from the bottom and we are not done. It definitely feels amazing, I am not going to lie to you. But we also feel that what we are still trying to accomplish has not been done yet.”

Kelley, for his part, basked in the glow of finally beating Penn. “Right from the beginning, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Kelley, who ended the day with six receptions for 75 yards.

“We knew that coming in. We had a similar experience at Brown where we were down at the beginning (overcoming a 17-0 deficit to win 39-17 on October 19) so we just kept battling. Everybody on the offense knew that it was coming and that we just had to keep doing what we do and how we practice. It really feels great.”

REPEAT BUSINESS: Princeton University field hockey star ­Michelle Cesan controls the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior midfielder Cesan tallied two goals and an assist to help Princeton top Penn 5-1 to clinch outright the Ivy League title. It was the ninth straight Ivy crown for Princeton and the 19th in the last 20 years. Defending national champion Princeton, now 13-4 overall and 7-0 Ivy,  will begin its quest for a title repeat when it plays Penn State (13-5 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) in an NCAA opening round contest on November 16 in College Park, Md.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

REPEAT BUSINESS: Princeton University field hockey star ­Michelle Cesan controls the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior midfielder Cesan tallied two goals and an assist to help Princeton top Penn 5-1 to clinch outright the Ivy League title. It was the ninth straight Ivy crown for Princeton and the 19th in the last 20 years. Defending national champion Princeton, now 13-4 overall and 7-0 Ivy, will begin its quest for a title repeat when it plays Penn State (13-5 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) in an NCAA opening round contest on November 16 in College Park, Md. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While the outright Ivy League title was up for grabs as the Princeton University field hockey team played at Penn last Saturday, the Tigers maintained their business-as-usual approach coming into the contest.

“For us, every league game feels similar,” said Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn.

“Our preparation and mentality never wavers and that is a reason why we have been so successful. We take the single-game approach.”

Showing its championship mentality, Princeton pulled away to a 5-1 victory over the Quakers, winning the program’s ninth straight Ivy crown and 19th in the last 20 years.

The game was tied at 1-1 midway through the first half but the ninth-ranked Tigers seized control after that as senior star Michelle Cesan scored one goal and assisted on another to help Princeton take a 3-1 lead into halftime. In the second half, Cesan added another goal along with Allison Evans as the Tigers moved to 13-4 overall and 7-0 Ivy.

“There was never a point in the game where I felt Penn had control,” said Holmes-Winn, whose team outshot the Quakers 28-6 and built a 13-4 edge in penalty corners.

“The teams in the league play a very direct game. It is a lineal game and not a lot of transfers. There can be random chances. I thought we played our lines well. We got a tip or touch on every one of their outlets. It was a very controlled game for us, we were able to dominate. You look at the league stats, we gave up five goals in seven league games and had more than 20 shots in each game.”

Now the defending national champion Tigers will get a chance to defend their title as they face Penn State (13-5 overall, 5-1 Big Ten) in the opening round of the NCAA tournament at College Park, Md. with the victor likely facing host and top-ranked Maryland (20-1) on November 17 for a spot in the Final Four.

Princeton will bring a special motivation to the clash with Penn State as it fell 4-3 to the Nittany Lions on September 15 to snap a 17-game winning streak.

“From my perspective, the one game I would like to have back is the Penn State game,” said Holmes-Winn.

“We are a very different team now. We have grown and evolved since September. We are playing great hockey. We are going to attack the match.”

Senior midfielder Cesan has been on the attack recently, tallying five goals and two assists in her last four games to give her a team-high 10 goals and nine assists on the season.

“Cesan is getting good looks,” said Holmes-Winn. “We changed up our press and we are opening up space in the midfield. We are getting more depth from our forwards.”

Princeton is getting contributions from a variety of players and has overcome some health issues and is riding a seven-game winning streak coming into the NCAA tourney.

“Annabeth Donovan has grown massively, she is marshaling things from out of the back field,” said Holmes-Winn, noting that such stars as Kate Ferrara, Amanda Bird, Sydney Kirby, and Teresa Benvenuti are all at 100 percent after dealing with various ailments over the fall.

“It helps that she has two of the best midfielders in the country in front of her in Julia [Reinprecht] and Michelle. Anya Gersoff in goal is playing well, she has been communicating so well. We are at full strength for the first time this season.”

The Tigers will have to play strong hockey in order to survive the weekend and advance to its third Final Four in the last four seasons.

“It is a classy bracket, the teams and coaches have a lot of experience,” said Holmes-Winn.

“We are grateful to have this opportunity. To me, when it’s hard, its better. It will be a huge challenge for us. We are a team of winners. I said to the girls last week that in every aspects of their lives, they are hard working, detailed, and accountable. They put everything out there and from a coaching standpoint, that is a good feeling.”

Holmes-Winn is feeling good about her team’s prospects. “We played the third strongest schedule in the country and that underpins the disciplined approach we take every day,” said Holmes-Winn.

“It adds a rawness to the environment. You are going to elevate and rise to it or crumble under it. We have done the right thing to this point. I think we are coming together at the right time. Everyone is healthy and we are in a great spot as a team. We are absolutely committed and focused on the moment. Each player is prepared to do what she is asked under pressure. Physiologically, we are in a taper phase, the girls are very fit. We are very excited for Saturday.”

HAPPY RETURN: Princeton University men’s basketball player Jimmy Sherburne heads upcourt last Sunday in Princeton’s 67-50 win over Florida A&M in its season opener. Senior guard Sherburne, who was sidelined all of last season due to a shoulder injury, scored a career-high 13 points in his return to action to help the Tigers pull away from the Rattlers. Princeton is next in action when it plays at Butler University on November 16.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

HAPPY RETURN: Princeton University men’s basketball player Jimmy Sherburne heads upcourt last Sunday in Princeton’s 67-50 win over Florida A&M in its season opener. Senior guard Sherburne, who was sidelined all of last season due to a shoulder injury, scored a career-high 13 points in his return to action to help the Tigers pull away from the Rattlers. Princeton is next in action when it plays at Butler University on November 16. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

After more than a month of preseason practices, the wait was over for the Princeton University men’s basketball team as it hosted Florida A&M last Sunday to tip off the regular season.

Two of the Tigers, though, had to exercise some extra patience in connection with the opener.

Senior guard Jimmy Sherburne was returning to action after being sidelined for a year due to a shoulder injury while junior star Denton Koon was utilized in a sixth man role off the bench.

Looking like he hadn’t missed a beat, Sherburne scored a career-high 13 points with Koon producing a double-double on a game-high 17 points and 11 rebounds as Princeton cruised to a 67-50 win over the Rattlers.

Sherburne, for his part, enjoyed his return to action. “It feels good to be back, it has been a while,” said Sherburne, a 6’3, 197-pound native of Whitefish Bay, Wisc. who also contributed five assists and four rebounds.

“I was just telling the guys before the game, we have waited a long time for this, some of us longer than others. I fall into that category. It was everything I thought it would be. I took that year off for a reason and this was it. It definitely feels good.”

While the sixth-man role was an adjustment for Koon, who made 24 starts last winter, he made the most of the assignment.

“It was a little different,” said Koon, a 6’8, 210-pound native of Liberty, Mo. who averaged 10.5 points a game last winter.

“I just think it is about, especially early in the season, just getting things moving. We got a lot of new pieces this year, a couple of new freshmen in the lineup with Pete [Miller] and Spencer [Weisz] so I think it is just important to play the right way and get a new flow. We have a new look, a new lineup, and a new way that we are playing things.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson liked the way the Tigers handled their business on Sunday.

“It is a nice opener for us and I just told the guys that I think there are a lot of positives and some things to work on,” said Henderson, whose team jumped out to a 38-23 halftime lead and cruised to victory over the 0-2 Rattlers.

“I really liked some of the things that were happening on offense. We had a little bit of a slide there on defense but they do that to you. They spread you out, they are very fast. Overall, I am fairly pleased and I think there are a lot of positives for us to work on.”

Henderson pointed to the play of Sherburne and Koon as two of the major positives on Sunday.

“I am really happy, Jimmy made his first three, that was good,” said Henderson, whose team went 12-of-31 from the three-point range in the victory.

“I will say that it is really important that our program is defined by the way Denton did things today. I am pleased and proud of the way he played because he made other guys better. He got two assists, a big one in the corner to Jimmy. I am putting a little less stock in who is starting right now and more about the way we are doing things.”

Freshman Spencer Weisz started his Princeton career in style, scoring five points with six rebounds and four assists in 31 minutes of action.

“Spencer is really advanced for a freshman in terms of the game,” said Henderson, who also got 12 points from senior Will Barrett in the victory.

“He had consistently been one of our top rebounders in scrimmages and practices and he gets six tonight which I think is important for us. He sort of plays the game like a 40-year old man, unfortunately he also moves like a 40-year-old man sometimes. He really knows how to play.”

With Princeton heading to Indiana on November 16 for a game at Butler University, an NCAA finalist in 2010 and 2011, Henderson is looking for his team to build on its promising start.

“We are going to a really tough place to play in a week,” said Henderson, of the contest which will be a homecoming for him as he was a three-sport star at the Culver Military Academy in Culver, Ind. during his high school days.

“We appreciate things like that. We feel that Jadwin is a special place to play so we are really excited getting out there. It is just about the day to day and getting better. It is process coaching. We have an opportunity to be very balanced and I think that is the emphasis.”

Koon, for his part, appreciates the chance to get on the court, no matter what role he assumes.

“It’s more just game by game and being where the team needs me,” said Koon.

“I am just looking to contribute in any way I can, help the other guys get better,  and help us win.”

Hosting defending national champion Yale last Friday, the Princeton University men’s hockey team dug an early hole.

The Tigers yielded two unanswered goals in the first period and trailed 5-1 after two.

Princeton senior captain Jack Berger acknowledged that the Tigers put themselves behind the eight ball with their early lapses.

“We weren’t real happy with our start unfortunately,” said Berger. “We have been working on our first periods, we still have some work to do.”

Berger did put in some good work in the second period as he assisted on a goal by Alec Rush.

“[Ben] Foster and Ambro [Mike Ambrosia] were working hard and won some battles in the corner and I ended up with it behind the net,” recalled Berger.

“I got it to Rushie and he just let a bomb go and beat the goalie. It was a great shot.”

While Princeton ended up falling 5-2, Berger liked the fight the Tigers displayed in the third period.

“We just really wanted to come out and show them what kind of team we were,” said Berger.

“We didn’t think we had done that. We picked up the physical play. We wanted to take it to them and win that period. I think we did a great job responding.”

The Tigers got off to a better start a day later against Brown as they knotted the game at 1-1 early in the first period. Unfortunately, Princeton gave up four unanswered goals after that on the way to a 6-3 defeat as it dropped to 1-5 overall and 0-4 ECAC Hockey.

Princeton head coach Bob Prier noted that making turnovers has been an ongoing problem for his squad, which has lost five games in a row since a 3-2 win over Dartmouth on opening night.

“It is troubling,” acknowledged Prier in the wake of the Yale loss. “There were far too many unforced turnovers. They are a team that isn’t overly physical; they don’t cause you to throw pucks away. I think that we just tried to pass it into traffic instead of skate it a few times and that was probably the biggest difference in the game. We had far too many unforced turnovers where we just gave them the puck.”

Like Berger, Prier took heart from how the Tigers played in the third period against Yale.

“We didn’t hunt them down hard enough until the third when we decided to play a lot harder,” said Prier, whose team outshot Yale 11-8 over the final 20 minutes of the contest.

“I thought we hunted them down and were taking the time away. After the game, I said we didn’t have any lulls; we didn’t have any momentum swings in the third period at all. It is the sign of a team that is going hard all of the time.”

Prier saw some good signs in defeat. “I think there are a lot of bright spots there,” said Prier, whose team will look to get on the winning track in ECACH play this weekend as it hosts Dartmouth on November 15 and Harvard a day later.

“I was really impressed with the way a lot of guys played. I thought Ben Foster was playing really well. Tucker Brockett worked really hard. I thought Mike Ambrosia had a good game, he had a lot of chances. Tommy Davis played well, he plays with heart. He has tons of passion. Ryan Siro is as consistent as they come. We have to build off it and inspire each other. You see what works and you have to play that way.”

Berger, for his part, believes Princeton still has a chance to enjoy a big season.

“I am really lucky to have such a big senior class,” said Berger. “I think everyone as a group has done a great job. We are just trying to stay positive; there is lot of season left and we are confident with the group that we have. We just need to turn it around here and get it moving forward.”

November 6, 2013
MIGHTY QUINN: Princeton University quarterback Quinn ­Epperly puts up a pass in action earlier this season. Last Saturday against visiting Cornell, Epperly produced one of the most remarkable performances in Tiger and Ivy League history as the junior lefty completed his first 29 passes of a contest won 53-20 by Princeton. Epperly’s completion streak to start the game broke the previous NCAA Division 1 record of Richie Williams of Appalachian State, who completed his first 28 passes against Furman on October 9, 2004. The Tigers, who improved to 6-1 overall and 4-0 Ivy to take sole possession of first place in the league standings, play at Penn (4-3 overall, 3-1 Ivy) on November 9.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MIGHTY QUINN: Princeton University quarterback Quinn ­Epperly puts up a pass in action earlier this season. Last Saturday against visiting Cornell, Epperly produced one of the most remarkable performances in Tiger and Ivy League history as the junior lefty completed his first 29 passes of a contest won 53-20 by Princeton. Epperly’s completion streak to start the game broke the previous NCAA Division 1 record of Richie Williams of Appalachian State, who completed his first 28 passes against Furman on October 9, 2004. The Tigers, who improved to 6-1 overall and 4-0 Ivy to take sole possession of first place in the league standings, play at Penn (4-3 overall, 3-1 Ivy) on November 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

The press box at Princeton Stadium was unusually crowded last Saturday, teeming with NFL scouts in town to get a closer look at Cornell’s record-setting senior quarterback Jeff Mathews.

But by the end of the afternoon, the focus was squarely on Princeton University junior quarterback Quinn Epperly, who turned heads as he produced one of the most remarkable performances in Tiger and Ivy League history.

The junior lefty completed his first 29 passes of the contest to break the NCAA Division I record set by Richie Williams of Appalachian State, who completed his first 28 passes against Furman on October 9, 2004.

Ending the game completing 32-of-35 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns, Epperly triggered a 53-20 rout of the Big Red before a crowd of 7,206 as Princeton improved to 6-1 overall and 4-0 Ivy, taking sole possession of first place in the league standings.

Early in the afternoon, Epperly had the sense that he was in a groove. “At halftime one of the other quarterbacks came up and asked if we had an incompletion and I said I couldn’t really remember one,” recalled Epperly.

“I kind of knew that we were in a zone throwing the ball. The receivers made some excellent catches and the lineman played well, I don’t think I had pressure on me hardly all day.”

In the third quarter Epperly realized that he was closing in on a record but he tried to block it out.

“They said it over the loudspeaker in the middle of a drive and I was like I can’t think about that,” said a smiling Epperly. “We have to move on and get a score here. I wasn’t too concerned about it.”

Afterward, Epperly, whose playing style is reminiscent of Tim Tebow, sounded sentiments similar to the former Florida star and Heisman Trophy winner.

“It is an honor,” said Epperly who rushed for a team-high 69 yards and three touchdowns.

“I have been truly blessed, especially today. I think on a couple of those I got a little bit of help from receivers. It is just an awesome thing to be a part of and I’m happy that we got the win.”

Princeton head coach Bob Surace was thrilled to see the history unfold before his eyes.

“You could tell he was on fire,” said Surace of Epperly, who was named the Ivy Offensive Player of the Week for a record third straight week and was featured prominently on ESPN’s SportsCenter throughout Saturday night.

“I looked at the stats, our long run for the day was a 21-yard run by Bostic in the fourth quarter; our long throw was a 20-yarder to Roman Wilson. It was just unbelievable execution. They weren’t going to give up big plays and he just kept hitting perfect drive routes, dig routes, and slant routes. It looked like pass on air where the ball doesn’t hit the ground. And that is really something to behold, especially because the guy on the other side is as good a quarterback and thrower as has ever played in the Ivy League.”

The Tigers drew inspiration from another historic Ivy League figure as the program celebrated the recently deceased Dick Kazmaier ’52, the 1951 Heisman Trophy winner over the weekend.

“Our whole team went to the celebration yesterday and that was just unbelievable and you still have chills,” said Surace.

“When you walk out at halftime, I was in tears to see all those guys out on the field.”

Princeton needed to stop Cornell’s history-making quarterback Mathews, who came into the game with an Ivy career record of 10,417 passing yards, in order to earn the victory and drop the Big Red to 1-6 overall, 0-4 Ivy.

“You are always holding your breath with him because he is so good,” said Surace of Mathews.

“I thought our pressure was good. I thought our coverage was really good. We were really tight and we forced him into a lot of really short passes. To hold him to 230 yards and sack him seven times; that was really good.”

Princeton senior defensive lineman Matt Landry, who ended the day with four tackles and 1.5 sacks, said the Tigers turned up the heat on Mathews in order to contain him.

“Obviously Jeff Mathews is an outstanding quarterback, not only in the Ivy League, I am sure he will have a great career in the NFL,” said Landry.

“Up front as defensive linemen, our goals are always to contain the quarterback but to also put as much pressure on him as possible to make him feel uncomfortable at all times. The defensive backfield and linebackers had great coverage and we were able to get after him quite a bit today.”

In Landry’s view, the team’s defensive unit is reaching a new comfort level. “I think this defense is clicking on all -cylinders,” asserted Landry.

“Each and every week, we just strive to do our best and improve on our mistakes from the previous week. We always focus on doing our best on every single play. I think we are just excellent, all the way from the defensive front back to the secondary.”

The Princeton offense was clicking from the start on Saturday, converting an interception by Caraun Reid into an early touchdown. The Tigers marched 31 yards on six plays and took a 7-0 lead after a 7-yard touchdown pass from Epperly to Roman Wilson.

After a Cornell field goal, Epperly excelled with his feet and arm, rushing for 27 yards and hitting three passes in a drive culminated by his one-yard plunge as the Tigers went up 15-3.

The Big Red responded with a field goal and then scored a touchdown as Connor Michelsen fumbled after a sack and the loose ball was taken into the end zone by Cornell’s Justin Harris.

With its lead narrowed to 15-13, Princeton broke the game open as Epperly scored his second TD of the game to culminate an 80-yard scoring march and then ran for a third with 1:01 left in the half as Princeton built a 29-13 lead heading into intermission.

The rout was on in the third quarter as Epperly hit Seth DeValve for a 12-yard touchdown pass to put Princeton up 36-13. On the next Tiger possession, Epperly found Wilson in the end zone for a 17-yard scoring strike as the lead increased to 43-13.

In the fourth quarter, Princeton hit the 50-point mark for the fourth time this season, tacking on 10 points with a Nolan Bieck field goal and a 12-yard touchdown run by Joe Rhattigan.

In Landry’s view, it was important for the Tigers to follow up their 51-48 triple overtime win at Harvard last week with another triumph, noting that the Tigers dropped three out of four games in 2012 after a stirring 39-34 win over the Crimson.

“Obviously it was frustrating to do that,” said Landry, referring to last year’s shaky finish,

“It leaves a bad taste in your mouth coming off that season. But as a team we are focused on our game plan and being the best we can be every single week.”

With the Tigers headed to Philadelphia for a critical clash at Penn (4-3 overall, 3-1 Ivy), Epperly is not going to let the accolades from his record-breaking effort distract him from the task at hand.

“We focus in on what we can control, coming to practice every week, working hard, and trying to win the remaining games,” said Epperly, who has passed for 18 touchdowns and rushed for 14 more this fall to help the Tigers win six straight since an opening day loss to Lehigh.

“I think a lot of it is just a credit to our hard work and effort, that is the main thing we pride ourselves each week at practice and that carries over to games. I think even sometimes when we don’t execute perfectly, we try to play very fast and that helps a lot to fix some errors. I think a lot of guys have bought into that and it has turned into a 6-game winning streak.”

MEN AT WORK: Princeton University men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson, right, makes a point at a recent practice as junior guard Ben Hazel looks on. Princeton tips off its 2013-14 campaign by hosting Florida A&M on November 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

MEN AT WORK: Princeton University men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson, right, makes a point at a recent practice as junior guard Ben Hazel looks on. Princeton tips off its 2013-14 campaign by hosting Florida A&M on November 10.
(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last season ended with a thud for the Princeton University men’s basketball team as it fell to Yale and Brown on the final regular season weekend to fall out of first place in the Ivy League and lose its shot at the league crown.

The bitter taste from those defeats, though, could sow the seeds for something special this winter as Princeton tips off its 2013-14 campaign by hosting Florida A&M on November 10.

For senior guard and team captain T.J. Bray, the memory of that meltdown spurred him to greater heights in preparing for his final college campaign.

“Last year stung really bad, I would be lying if I said I don’t think about it  during every workout I did this summer,” said Bray, reflecting on a season that saw Princeton go 17-11 overall and 10-4 Ivy as Harvard went on to take the title.

“It is that extra motivation to do that last rep, that last drill, and push yourself even farther. That is not necessarily the legacy I want to leave here; luckily I have got one more year to change the way people think about me. I don’t want that last weekend to define my career.”

Bray’s classmate, senior forward Will Barrett, was likewise driven by the  experience.

“The way the season ended, it motivated me every single day,” said Barrett. “I thought about it before I went to bed every night and when I woke up in the morning I still had that feeling in my stomach where it just didn’t feel right.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, for his part, views the finish as an important learning tool going forward.

“For two weeks after the season, you don’t sleep, that is how I reacted to it,” said Henderson, who is entering his third season at the helm of the Tigers and has posted an overall mark of 37-23 in his first two seasons.

“Then you watch the film a few times and you move on and you start looking forward to planning for what we have coming back. I have always been excited about what we have coming back. I don’t want to be reactionary. We are focused on the process of getting better. We might have looked forward a little bit too much in that last weekend.”

While the graduation of star Ian Hummer could give Henderson some sleepless nights, he is confident that the team has the depth to make up for the loss of Hummer, the 2013 Ivy Player of the Year who led the Tigers in scoring, rebounding, blocks, and assists.

“Ian did so many things for us but we are so different immediately,” said Henderson.

“We have six new guys and three guys who took the year off. Ben Hazel and Jimmy Sherburne factor in very heavily for us in terms of minutes. I am going to  play some freshmen so it is really a different team. I am not saying that we are not going to miss Ian because we are going to. We are going to be spreading the ball around where we are less focused on one guy. We are obviously going to go with what makes us good. I think it is committee; it is what’s open.”

Henderson expects Bray (9.9 points and 3.8 resounds per game in 2012-13) to do some very good things for the Tigers this winter.

“T.J. is the heart and soul of our program and he has been for three years,” said Henderson of the 6’5 native of New Berlin, Wis. who was a second-team All-Ivy choice last season.

“He gets steals. He is an excellent Ivy League guard. He has become a driller, he is a great shooter. These guys don’t talk to each other when they come off the floor. I think it is the nature of college basketball these days but T.J. is a talker and that’s what you need. You need someone who is really going to be active and a good voice. We switch him around; we put him in different spots so that he can be vocal with different parts of the team.

The 6’10 Barrett (9.3 points and 4.7 rebounds) should be heard from a lot this winter.

“Will Barrett is our tallest player and he happens to be the second best shooter in the country,” said Henderson of Barrett, who hit on 48-for-93 three-pointers last winter for a .516 shooting percentage beyond the arc. “That is a huge advantage for us. He has a beautiful shot; he gets it off very easily.”

Henderson is looking for some inside punch from 6’8 sophomore Hans Brase (5.4 points, 4.2 rebounds) and 6’8 junior Denton Koon (10.5 points and 3.0 rebounds).

“We  weren’t particularly a great rebounding team last year,” said Henderson. “I think Hans Brase is going to make a huge step. I see Denton Koon filling the void there.”

The Tigers are welcoming a class of six freshman who should fill some other holes for the team.

“I like the freshman group, they have all impressed me,” asserted Henderson.

“I am not being political when I say that. I like the group quite a bit. They have embraced the culture and what we emphasize here which is getting better and working hard. That said, I think you will see Pete Miller quite a bit. Spencer Weisz, is a good player from Seton Hall Prep who had a really nice career there. I think following in the long line of Princeton players, he really has an understanding of the game.”

Barrett, for his part, believes that the freshmen will make a nice contribution this winter.

“Coach was talking about the freshmen coming in, they have a point guard through center and every one of them is in the gym shooting every single day,” said Barrett.

“It just motivates me even more seeing younger guys like that who have the hunger and the passion. I am always in the gym with them and we are feeding off each other. That has been very helpful for me.”

In Bray’s view, the team’s veterans can help lead the way for the newcomers.

“I like what we have coming back, obviously Ian is a big loss but we have got  four other starters back and a lot of guys who have played a lot of basketball for Princeton,” said Bray.

“I think we are going to be very balanced this year and I think we can beat teams in a lot of different ways.”

For Henderson, new rule changes which will lead to more fouling and increased scoring should give the Tigers additional ways to beat foes.

“I think it is going to improve scoring and I think it is going to reward  teams that value skill and playing together, which we have done here for years,” said Henderson.

“I like it, I think it is great. Our guys love it too. It opens the floor but it is still going to be a physical game.”

The Tigers will have to be on their game in order to win their first league crown since the 2010-11 campaign.

“I know our guys think the league is good,” said Henderson, whose team was picked to finish fourth in the Ivy preseason media poll.

“We expect to play well and compete against everybody we play, whether it is  Florida A & M, Butler on the road, or a team in our league.”

TAKING THE HELM: Princeton University women’s basketball player Kristen Helmstetter heads to the hoop in action last season. Senior forward Helmstetter, a second-team All-Ivy League performer in 2012-13, will be a key figure this winter as the Tigers go after a fifth straight league title. Princeton opens its 2013-14 campaign by playing Rutgers on November 10.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

TAKING THE HELM: Princeton University women’s basketball player Kristen Helmstetter heads to the hoop in action last season. Senior forward Helmstetter, a second-team All-Ivy League performer in 2012-13, will be a key figure this winter as the Tigers go after a fifth straight league title. Princeton opens its 2013-14 campaign by playing Rutgers on November 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It was a quartet that took the Princeton University women’s basketball program to new heights.

The squad’s Class of 2013 — two-time Ivy League Player of the year Niveen Rasheed, three-time Ivy Defensive Player of the Year Lauren Polansky, Kate Miller, and Meg Bowen — led the Tigers to four straight league titles, a 54-2 Ivy record, and an overall mark of 96-20.

But as head coach Courtney Banghart looks forward to her seventh season guiding the Tigers, she isn’t crying the blues about the graduation losses from a team that went 22-7 overall and 13-1 Ivy last winter.

“This is an exciting group,” said Banghart, speaking last Thursday at the program’s annual media day.

“I think there are a lot of people who won’t recognize some of the people that are going to be really important to us as we go through. We have the same resolve and the same goal. It’s been fun to coach a team that can score and that’s what we can do. We have spent some time over the last three years, creating offense with players that struggle to score. Now we can definitely score.”

In Banghart’s view, her trio of freshmen, Jackie Reyneke, Vanessa Smith, and Taylor Brown could be be very important additions for the Tigers.

“We just do what we do here, we reload and so we have got three players who are exactly what you would want,” said Banghart, whose team opens the season by playing at Rutgers on November 10.

“We have got size in Jackie Reyneke from Saddle River. She is our longest. She is 6’4 with a really high release. She will see time. Then we have got a wing from Cleveland Ohio, Vanessa Smith, she actually started in our scrimmage the other day. She is a really long wing who is really aggressive off the dribble. Then we have got a little lead guard, Taylor Brown, who is about 5’8. As soon as they adjust to Princeton and adjust to the pace of play, they will help us consistently.”

Banghart is expecting more consistent play from her sophomores, Amanda Berntsen (1.7 points per game in 2012-13), Annie Tarakchian (2.9 points), Alex Wheatley (5.7 points and 3.7 rebounds), Taylor Williams (1.4 points), and Michelle Miller (6.7 points and 3.0 rebounds).

“I think the sophomore class, the group of five that played together some last year, all came back better,” asserted Banghart.

“They are stronger. They understand the rigors of our season. They are more skilled. They are noticeably better. I think that part of that came from what happened all year when they had to guard really good players and part of it came with knowing that we were graduating a lot.”

Banghart is getting a lot of intangibles from her senior co-captains Nicole Hung (5.8 points) and Kristen Helmstetter (8.8 points and 5.1 rebounds) along with battle-tested point guard Blake Dietrick (8.0 points and 3.4 rebounds).

“I embrace the journey with this group because of the leadership,” said Banghart.

“I spend a lot of time dealing with these three people and they spend a lot of time dealing with everybody else. I can’t say enough about the leadership of this group.”

The trio figures to lead the way on the court as well. “Hung is coming back from an injury and she isn’t as healthy yet as she needs to be,” said Banghart of the 5’11 guard who was limited to five games last season

“Her commitment to her training and to the team through injury has been admirable. Kristen, our other captain, just does everything for us. She’ll play at either the wing or the post or both depending on whoever else is ready. She has really been the floor leader on both sides of the ball and definitely will be very, very key to our success. Blake has emerged as our starting lead guard. She scored a lot last year and played really well. The team starts and stops with this group.”

Dietrick, for her part, is looking forward to getting the season underway. I am really excited,” said the 5’10 Dietrick, who led the Tigers with 52 three-pointers last winter.

“Our young kids are awesome. They have so much energy and passion for the game. They want to fight everyday just like we do. They are not afraid when we are down their throats about something. They accept it, they listen to it, they want to get better, and I really appreciate and respect that. I think we are going to do pretty well.”

The 6’0 Helmstetter, a second-team All-Ivy performer last season, is ready to stand tall for the Tigers.

“I think my role is a leader on the court,” said Helmstetter, a native of nearby Bridgewater, N.J. “Last year, it was a little bit more of a comfort role, I had four seniors on the court to play with and I just took that back seat and rolled with them. This year both Hung and I have really grown and stepped up into this role. I am just excited. I have four new people to start with. I started with Blake a few times last year so I know we have good chemistry and I can’t wait to gain that chemistry with the other players on our team.”

In Banghart’s view, the team needs to develop some grit to go with its chemistry in order to stay atop the Ivies.

“We just have got to build the right base and build the right blocks defensively, on the glass and the toughness points,” said Banghart, whose club was picked to finish first in the Ivy preseason media poll.

“I think if this team gains toughness on a daily basis, I really like where we will be at the end of the year.”

The Tigers face a tough opening assignment with the road contest at Rutgers.

“I don’t even know who is going to start against Rutgers,” said Banghart. “It is not a race for who is ready first, it is race for who is good enough when it is time. We scrimmaged Temple and I thought we did some really nice things. We scrimmage again this weekend. Everyday we get a little bit different and a little bit better. I think Rutgers is a really good test. It is on the road, which is also difficult, given that we have so much inexperience.”

Banghart is confident that the Tigers can be really good again this winter. “I wouldn’t sugar coat this,” said Banghart.

“As a coach I would rather tell you that I wasn’t happy. It is a good  group. We have a long way to go but I think we have the potential to be pretty darn good which is awesome. To be honest, I think we are reloaded. I don’t think there is any trouble in Tigertown.”

And that could spell trouble for Princeton’s Ivy foes.

PRICKLY ROSE: Princeton University women’s hockey player Rose Alleva goes after the puck in recent action. Senior defenseman Alleva totaled three goals and an assist last weekend as Princeton lost 5-4 to No. 3 Cornell on Friday and then rebounded with a 6-2 win over Colgate a day later. The Tigers, now 2-2 overall and 2-2 in ECAC Hockey action, play at Yale on November 8 and at Brown on November 9.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

PRICKLY ROSE: Princeton University women’s hockey player Rose Alleva goes after the puck in recent action. Senior defenseman Alleva totaled three goals and an assist last weekend as Princeton lost 5-4 to No. 3 Cornell on Friday and then rebounded with a 6-2 win over Colgate a day later. The Tigers, now 2-2 overall and 2-2 in ECAC Hockey action, play at Yale on November 8 and at Brown on November 9. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton University women’s hockey team fell behind visiting No. 3 Cornell 5-0 in the first period last Friday at Baker Rink, it looked like the Tigers were in for a long weekend.

But encouraged by Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal, Tiger senior star Rose Alleva and her teammates believed they could get back into the game.

“Coach just said that we can skate with them,” said defenseman Alleva. “He was positive, he always is. He always has our backs. We just needed to backcheck and protect our house.”

Showing a positive mindset, Princeton exploded for three goals in first three minutes of the second period and added a fourth midway through to make a 5-4 game heading into the final 20 minutes of regulation.

Alleva, who scored the third goal of the second period flurry, acknowledged that she was taken aback by the team’s outburst.

“I think our team just believed in ourselves,” said Alleva, a 5’3 native of Red Wing, Minn.

“We knew we could do it. Once we got one in, we just  kept on going on our momentum. We were surprised, I have to say.”

While Princeton didn’t pull off a surprise win against the Big Red as it fell by that 5-4 margin, Alleva was proud of the way the Tigers tightened up after their shaky start.

“I think we were just playing with our hearts,” said Alleva. “We were stronger in front of the net, we got our heads up. We looked where the people were coming from. They were trying to fly a person from the weak side and also the defense crashed in like forwards. We were just more alert.”

Alleva showed some alertness on her goal. “I saw the forwards are rushing in and during practice we are always like the defense to sneak in,” said Alleva, who also had an assist on the evening.

“Every time I wouldn’t get the goal because the puck wouldn’t come to me. It came right there and I was like, it can’t be this easy.”

A day later, Alleva tallied two more goals as the Tigers rallied from a 1-0 deficit against Colgate, erupting for six goals in the third period on the way to a 6-2 triumph.

As a battle-tested senior, Alleva has made it her goal to help the team’s seven freshmen get the most out of their potential.

“We have so many freshmen,” said Alleva, who now has 27 points in her Tiger career on six goals and 21 assists.

“We just try to give them what they need, guide them through classes, guide them through what they need to do in the ice, what the coaches like, and what our team atmosphere is like here. We want to just get them integrated into the Princeton culture. We really rely on them as freshmen. The depth really helps us; we have fresher legs.”

Alleva’s partnership with classmate and fellow defenseman Gabie Figueroa has also helped the Tigers.

“We first met during national camp in high school,” recalled Alleva.

“She was already committed and I didn’t know where I wanted to go. She said come to Princeton and I said I will look, I’ll give it a shot. I came on my official and I decided to come here. We have always loved playing with each other on the ice. We just work really well together.”

Princeton head coach Kampersal liked how his team worked its way back into the game against Cornell.

“It was definitely a rocky start,” said Kampersal. “After that we just decided to focus on five minutes at a time and try to win four-five minute periods in the second. We did a good job of doing that. We just couldn’t get it in the third. We were in good shape, we kept bringing it. We played with a lot of heart and soul; We could have easily folded the tent at 5-0 no question so it was a good battle back.”

Kampersal credited Alleva with bringing it all night against Cornell. “Rosie is one of those kids who can skate all day,” said Kampersal, who also got goals from Jaimie McDonell, Olivia Mucha, and Ali Pankowski in the battle with the Big Red.

“She is in great shape. She worked really hard this summer. She has good skills so she can get herself out of trouble and then she has good speed so if she were to get beat someone has to beat her twice and that usually doesn’t happen. She is definitely a leader back there.”

Junior Ashley Holt definitely gave Princeton a lift as she came on for starter Kim Newell in the second period of the Cornell game.

“Ashley played great,” said Kampersal of Holt, who went on to make 20 saves in the win over Colgate as the Tigers improved to 2-2 overall and 2-2 in ECAC Hockey play.

“Kim is a great goaltender but it wasn’t her night. I was thinking of putting Ashley in after the fourth goal and I should have but there was 40 seconds left in the period  and I thought we could get out of it and that ended up being the winning goal which is a bummer. The defenseman played really well in front of her and she made that penalty shot save.”

Princeton got good play all weekend from sophomore McDonell and freshman Cassidy Tucker.

“We missed Jamie McDonell last year,” said Kampersal, who got a goal and an assist from McDonnell in the win over Colgate with Tucker chipping in a goal.

“It is a bummer that she got injured but she is just a gritty, tough kid, she plays hard. Tucker is a young kid but she is so savvy and so smart. The defensemen played solid in general.

With increased depth this winter due to the influx of the freshmen, Princeton should be tougher to beat.

“We are usually the team that is shorthanded and fighting it through the third period and we were able to keep throwing people out there,” said Kampersal, whose team plays at Yale on November 8 and at Brown on November 9.

Alleva, for her part, believes the Tigers have a fighting chance against any team in the country.

“We obviously showed a lot of heart in the second period and also the third,” said Alleva.

“I don’t knew where we were in the first. We just proved to ourselves that we can be with the top girls. We are gong to prove that when we go up to Minnesota over Thanksgiving.”

October 30, 2013
OVERACHIEVERS: Princeton University linebacker Jason Ray heads upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, senior star Ray made 12 tackles to help Princeton top Harvard 51-48 in triple overtime. The Tigers, now 5-1 overall and 3-0 Ivy League, are tied for first in the league standings with Penn (4-2 overall, 3-0 Ivy) and will look to keep on the winning track when they host Cornell (1-5 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on November 2.(Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

OVERACHIEVERS: Princeton University linebacker Jason Ray heads upfield in recent action. Last Saturday, senior star Ray made 12 tackles to help Princeton top Harvard 51-48 in triple overtime. The Tigers, now 5-1 overall and 3-0 Ivy League, are tied for first in the league standings with Penn (4-2 overall, 3-0 Ivy) and will look to keep on the winning track when they host Cornell (1-5 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on November 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Christopher Eisgruber is a busy guy these days as he settles into his new role as the president of Princeton University.

But last Saturday afternoon, he took the time to send a message to mark a bit of school history.

Eisgruber was one of the many well-wishers who contacted Princeton University football coach Bob Surace in the wake of the Tigers’ epic 51-48 triple overtime win at previously undefeated Harvard.

“I am lucky it was a road game,” said Surace, a former Tiger football star reflecting on the marathon which was the first triple overtime game in program history.

“I had 70 e-mails and texts waiting for me when I got on the bus, from the president of the school, to alums, to my college roommates. That’s what happens when you coach at your alma mater.”

The congratulations were certainly justified as Princeton achieved a second straight win for the ages over the arch rival Crimson, matching the drama of last year’s triumph which saw Princeton rally from a 34-10 fourth quarter deficit to stun a then-undefeated Harvard squad 39-34.

For Surace, it was special to simply be on the sideline of a second straight classic. “We are just calling the plays, it is the players who are out there executing and playing their hearts out,” said Surace, whose team piled up 520 yards of total offense and exceeded 50 points for the third time this season in improving to 5-1 overall and 3-0 Ivy League while the Crimson dropped to 5-1 overall, 2-1 Ivy.

“It was a beautiful thing to be part of a special game between two such historic schools. It gives you chills.”

Like Muhammad Ali needed Joe Frazier to push him to his limit, Princeton and Harvard bring out the best in each other.

“I think it was two really good teams playing against each other,” said Surace.

“It was like a pay-per-view boxing match; sometimes you get a dud and sometimes you get a classic where you keep the ticket. It was two teams where there was going to be a wave of points each way.”

Like last year, the decisive blows were landed by the passing combination of Quinn Epperly to Roman Wilson. In 2012, Epperly hit Wilson for a 34-yard touchdown that provided the margin of victory. On Saturday, lefty junior Epperly floated a six-yard pass to senior Wilson in the third overtime to clinch the win.

Epperly ended the day with personal records of 37 completions (37-for-50 for 321 yards) and six touchdown passes. He was later named the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week for the third time this season and has now accounted for 15 touchdowns in the air while rushing for 11 more. Wilson, for his part, made nine catches for 76 yards and a touchdown and rushed for another score.

“They both continue to work hard and lead the team,” said Surace, reflecting on what Epperly and Wilson have meant to the Tigers this year.

“They are cool, they don’t flinch. Quinn made a fumble earlier in the game and came right back on the next drive.”

Epperly helped Princeton jump out to a 13-0 first quarter lead as he hit Connor Kelley with a five-yard touchdown pass on Princeton’s initial possession and then found Des Smith on a six-yard scoring strike later in the quarter.

Harvard battled back in the second quarter as quarterback Connor Hempel hit Ricky Zorn for a 33-yard touchdown pass. The Crimson then forged ahead 14-13 after a 60-yard scoring gallop by Paul Stanton.

Epperly found Kelley on another 5-yard touchdown pass as the Tigers regained the lead at 21-14.

Running back Stanton scored again, this time on a two-yard plunge as Harvard knotted the game at 21-21 in the waning seconds of the first half.

As his players assembled in the locker room for halftime, Surace kept it short and sweet. “I told the guys to leave it all on the field and they did it in bucketfuls,” recalled Surace.

“Our locker room was in a trailer under the stands and when we came out there were parents, friends, and students cheering us, it was a wall of sound. It gave me goose bumps.”

Riding that emotion, Princeton scored on its first possession of the second half as Epperly hit Matt Costello for a 10-yard touchdown pass to put the Tigers up 28-21. Harvard responded with a 23-yard scoring strike from Hempel to Tyler Ott and the teams headed into the fourth quarter knotted at 28-28.

The Tigers regained the lead as Epperly hit Seth DeValve with a touchdown pass to make it 35-28. Capitalizing on a Princeton fumble which gave it the ball at the Tiger 19, Harvard tied the game at 35-35 with 2:50 left in regulation on another Hempel scoring strike to Ott.

The contest headed into overtime and Harvard executed well on the first possession as Hempel found Ott in the end zone to go ahead 42-35. With Wilson scoring on a nine-yard reverse aided by a big block from Epperly, the Tigers evened the contest at 42-42

The teams traded field goals on their next two possessions to make a 45-45 game. Making a fine defensive stand, Princeton held Harvard to another field goal and took over trailing 48-45.  Epperly hit Costello with an 18-yard pass to get the ball to the Harvard 6. Two plays later, he lofted the ball to the corner of the end zone which Wilson snared to clinch the win and end the 3 hour, 59 minute saga.

With Princeton hosting Cornell (1-5 overall, 0-3 Ivy) and its record-setting quarterback Jeff Mathews on November 2, Surace is hoping that his team can build on the dramatic win over Harvard unlike last year when the Tigers fell 37-35 to the Big Red.

“We didn’t let down last year, they just beat us,” maintained Surace, reflecting on the game which saw Mathews pass for 525 yards.

“We have to execute against a quarterback of that caliber. They have 25 guys returning with starting experience. They nearly beat Harvard (a 34-24 loss on October 12). There is such parity in the league. You take 200 plays in a game and flip three and things would be different. We have to be more exact.”

In Surace’s view, the character his team has developed in going through the ups and downs over the last three seasons could make the difference.

“I told them I am proud; they are such a tough group,” said Surace, whose team is tied for first in the Ivy standings with Penn (4-2 overall, 3-0 Ivy).

“I have been using a saying I got from Jason Garrett’s [former Tiger quarterback and current Dallas Cowboys head coach] camp this summer and that is ‘hold the rope.’ If a call doesn’t go your way or there is a fumble, you don’t give up; you just keep playing.”

STICKING WITH IT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Tyler Maugeri, right, battles a Dartmouth player in a game last winter. On Friday, junior forward Maugeri helped Princeton edge Dartmouth 3-2 in its season opener in the 2013 Liberty Hockey Invitational at the Prudential Center in Newark. A day later, Maugeri added a goal in a losing cause as Princeton fell 3-2 to defending NCAA champion Yale. The Tigers are next in action when they play at 19th-ranked Cornell on November 1 and at Colgate a day later. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

STICKING WITH IT: Princeton University men’s hockey player Tyler Maugeri, right, battles a Dartmouth player in a game last winter. On Friday, junior forward Maugeri helped Princeton edge Dartmouth 3-2 in its season opener in the 2013 Liberty Hockey Invitational at the Prudential Center in Newark. A day later, Maugeri added a goal in a losing cause as Princeton fell 3-2 to defending NCAA champion Yale. The Tigers are next in action when they play at 19th-ranked Cornell on November 1 and at Colgate a day later. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

With the Princeton University men’s hockey deadlocked 2-2 with Dartmouth in overtime last Friday in the season opener, Tiger forward Tucker Brockett found the puck on his stick in the crease.

Taking advantage his scoring chance, junior Brockett rifled the puck into the net to give Princeton a 3-2 victory and tally his first career goal.

“It was Tucker’s first goal but if you saw the goal you would never know it,” said Princeton head coach Bob Prier.

“He did a good job of getting his hands free and showed tremendous poise putting it on the top shelf. It was a goal scorer’s goal.”

The Tigers showed poise throughout the weekend as they hosted the 2013 Liberty Hockey Invitational at the Prudential Center in Newark, following the win over Dartmouth with a tough 3-2 loss to defending national champion Yale.

“We were playing good systematic hockey for the first weekend,” said Prier. “The resilience is good. We are playing shift to shift, that is the sign of a veteran team. It is a game of momentum and the key is how you react when you don’t have the momentum. We are showing more poise when the other team is on the power play or gets a goal.”

In the win over Dartmouth, Princeton seized the momentum, jumping out to a 2-0 lead on goals by senior captain Jack Berger and freshman Ben Foster.

“Berger’s goal was huge for us; it was a power play goal,” said Prier. “The special teams were good all weekend, we were 5-for-5 on the kill and the PP was 38 percent and we can clean up things even more.”

More importantly, Prier liked how his team responded when Dartmouth scored two third period goals to force overtime.

“I think the advantage of being a veteran team and having gone through the ups and downs is just that,” asserted Prier, whose roster includes nine seniors.

“They had an unflappable mindset, it is what it is. It is bonus hockey and it is still our game. We scored early in OT.”

While Princeton fell 3-2 to Yale on Saturday, Prier liked the mentality exhibited by his players.

“We are breaking down the film and we played really well,” said Prier, who got goals from Tyler Maugeri and Andrew Ammon in the setback. “Yale had only three odd-man rushes and scored on two of them. They have a bit of a swagger. We played desperate in the third period when we needed to. We are resilient.”

Senior goalie Sean Bonar displayed some resilience over the weekend, making 38 saves in the win over Dartmouth and recording 27 saves in the loss to Yale.

“I was really happy with Bonar; he was unflappable,” said Prier of Bonar, who has a save percentage of .929 on the season.

”When your goalie is playing loose and controlling his rebounds, that goes a long way in making the whole team feel loose. Sean has matured tremendously.”

“There were flashes from everyone, everyone was trying to make plays,” said Prier.

“We didn’t play nervous. We didn’t dump the puck and when we had time, we handled it well. We need to play quicker out of our zone when we have possession of the puck.”

Princeton will be looking to make some big plays this weekend as it heads north for games at 19th-ranked Cornell on November 1 and at Colgate a day later.

“Every weekend is tough,” said Prier. “You look at the results from last weekend and hands down, we have the best league in the country. Cornell is really strong, they swept Nebraska-Omaha last weekend and they will be flying. We need to put pressure on them and really go after them.”