The hooting and hollering continued at Class of 1952 Stadium long after the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team whipped Cornell 14-9 last Saturday night to complete an undefeated Ivy League regular season.
But in the Princeton locker room, Alex Capretta stood quietly in a corner, smiling broadly and clutching the silver trophy the Tigers earned for their victory.
After serving as an understudy in his first three years with the program, senior midfielder Capretta took a starring role in Princeton’s win over the Big Red, scoring a career-high five goals to trigger the Tiger offense before a standing-room only crowd of 4,133.
“The way it works, one shot goes in and another shot goes and eventually it feels seamless,” said Capretta, reflecting on his big night.
“You get into a really smooth rhythm and it feels great. I think the motivation was a little higher than normal today.”
The motivation will be even higher this weekend as Princeton will host the four-team Ivy League tournament that will determine the conference’s automatic qualifier for the upcoming NCAA Tournament.
The first-seeded Tigers (10-3 overall, 6-0 Ivy) will play No. 4 Brown (7-7 overall, 3-3 Ivy) while second-seeded Cornell (9-3 overall, 4-2 Ivy) will take on No. 3 Yale (9-4 overall, 4-2 Ivy) in the semifinals on Friday night with the victors to meet on Sunday at noon in the title game.
“I never know if the next game is going to be my last; we have only one more game guaranteed,” said Capretta.
“We really want to make sure that there is a second game after that and hopefully a third and a fourth after that. We want to keep going.”
Coming into the season, there was no guarantee that Capretta would even be a starter for the Tigers. The 6’2, 205-pound native of Mill Valley had scored a grand total of 10 points on eight goals and two assists in his first three seasons. He has been a revelation this spring, however, tallying 19 goals and eight assists, including the overtime game-winner against Yale and four goals in a victory over Rutgers.
“I think a lot of it has to do with experience and being really familiar with coach [Chris] Bates’s offense and his sets,” said Capretta, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for his performance against Cornell.
“In addition, I think we just have fantastic chemistry on offense. I know what everybody is going to do and everybody knows what I am going to do and we are all really comfortable together. My success is a product of their success. They are due just as much credit as I am.”
Princeton head coach Bates wasn’t surprised that Capretta produced a successful performance against the Big Red.
“I thought all week that Alex would play well; one of his best friends from high school is Roy Lang on the other team,” said Bates.
“I just knew that Alex was so committed and really has taken so many positive steps. I had a really good feeling that he was going to have a good game so I couldn’t be more happy for him and I am proud of him.”
Bates was happy to see the Tigers jump out to a 3-0 lead against the Big Red on the way to a 8-4 advantage at halftime.
“The last reminder I had for them was ‘fellas enjoy the moment,’” recalled Bates.
“We play well when we are loose; we play better when we are not tight. I thought we came out well; when the lights go on and that opening face-off takes place, we are ready to go. This team has continued to impress me with how they come prepared. It gets you loose; to put three quick ones on the board is clearly the way you want to start the game.”
The Princeton offense continued its freewheeling ways throughout the contest.
“We scored on early offense like we do; we are living and dying on it a little bit but we create opportunities for ourselves and we are giving guys latitude,” said Bates, who got three goals apiece from Jeff Froccaro and Forest Sonnenfeldt in the win with Mike MacDonald adding two and Tucker Shanley chipping in one. “At the end of the day, we shot the ball very well and we found the open man.”
On the defensive end, the Tigers kept Cornell from getting open space. “Cornell is good, they are tough and they move the ball well,” said Bates. “We bent at times but we didn’t break. Tyler [Fiorito] stood tall in goal. We played with good energy. You could see our athleticism. Jonathan Meyers, Chad Wiedmaier, Rob Castelo, and John Cunningham all played well. It is a good solid group that I thought played physically and with good emotion. They really gave us a good 60-minute effort.”
Bates enjoyed an emotional moment as the team gathered en masse at the middle of the field to hoist the trophy.
“I am happiest for the seniors; these guys have really worked to shape a culture here and take the next step,” said Bates, reflecting on the group which has spearheaded the turnaround from last season’s 4-8 mark.
“This hasn’t happened here since 2001, to go 6-0 and be the sole Ivy champs. You can just see that there is a sense of accomplishment. This was a big goal for us. We didn’t want to share it so this is a nice accomplishment for this group.”
Star goalie and team tri-captain Fiorito attributes Princeton’s success this spring, in large part, to a special group dynamic.
“I think with what happened to coach; we have all bonded together,” said Fiorito, reflecting on the death of Bates’s wife, Ann, this past November after a lengthy battle with brain cancer.
“I think we have a great group of guys; there is big talk of family here. I think this year is special; we have really come together through our senior class and through coach Bates. I think we know there are great things ahead of us.”
Fiorito enjoyed a special moment with the trophy in the raucous post-game celebration.
“Going up there and holding it up with John [Cunningham] and Chad [Wiedmaier] and seeing our team running towards us is a special moment,” said Fiorito, who had 11 saves in the victory.
“As a senior, those are the moments you will remember. You may not remember how the game went or all the moments in the game but you will remember holding the trophy up and seeing your teammates running towards you.”
Fiorito is hoping Princeton can continue a run that has seen the Tigers win four straight games and eight of its last nine and jump to No. 10 nationally in this week’s Nike/Inside Lacrosse Media Poll.
“We are going to bring it every single time that we can because it could be the last time we suit up together,” said Fiorito, who had 16 saves when Princeton beat Brown 13-2 in the team’s March 31 regular season meeting.
“I am trying to enjoy every moment with this team; we really enjoy playing with each other. I think we have been building momentum over the last few weeks and that’s what we are trying to do, peak at the right time.”
In Capretta’s view, things are coming together at the right time.
“In the beginning of the season, we weren’t coming out as strong,” said Capretta “One of our emphases in the second half of the season was to come out strong; to step on the gas pedal and just never let up and it’s paid off.”
If Capretta and the Tigers can keep their feet on the gas, there could be some other trophy celebrations to come this spring.