April 24, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

sports3

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 13, 2013

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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