December 15, 2011
PU Women’s Hockey

PANNING OUT: Princeton University women’s hockey defenseman Ali Pankowski, right, goes after the puck in a recent game. Freshman Pankowski has helped to shore up the defense for the Tigers, who are allowing 2.3 goals a game. Princeton, now 6-9-1 overall and 5-6-1 in ECAC Hockey play, is next in action when it plays a two-game set at Ohio State on December 30 and 31. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In last year’s ECAC Hockey quarterfinals, the Princeton University women’s hockey team battled Quinnipiac tooth and nail but couldn’t overcome the Bobcats.

The Tigers fell 2-1 and 2-0 to get swept in the best-of-three series. Princeton was tied at 1-1 heading into the last five seconds of game one and the second game was a 1-0 contest until the Bobcats scored with 16 seconds left in regulation.

Last weekend, Princeton got to spend another weekend with Quinnipiac as the teams played a home-and-home set in the last action before the upcoming holidays.

In an unfortunate case of deja vu, the Tigers dropped two tight contests, falling 1-0 at Baker Rink on Friday and 3-0 a day later in Hamden, Conn.

Reflecting on Friday’s loss, Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal acknowledged he could provide little solace to his disappointed players.

“Our kids played well for a majority of the game,” said Kampersal, whose team is now 6-9-1 overall and 5-6-1 in ECAC Hockey play.

“There is nothing I can really say to make them feel better. They played really hard. They played with a lot of heart. That is all we can really ask of them. We still need to execute better in front of the net.”

Kampersal will be depending on his senior line of Paula Romanchuk, Danielle DiCesare, and Heather Landry to help the Tigers find the back of the net.

“They had a lot of oomph tonight,” said Kampersal. “They have played together on and off here for the last four years. Down the stretch, we are going to rely on them.”

The Tiger defense has proven to be reliable. “The defense was solid, their goal was actually a deflection,” said Kampersal, whose team is giving up 2.3 goals a game.

Freshmen Brianne Mahoney and Ali Pankowski have certainly solidified things along the blue line for Princeton.

“Brianne has good vision and was really good last weekend,” added Kampersal.

“She has good vision; there was a play at the end where she fed it back door and our kid couldn’t corral it but it was a perfect play. Pankowski has a presence out there; she is a big, strong kid and she can deliver the puck to the open net pretty well.”

A big issue for the Tigers so far this season has been a propensity for landing in the penalty box.

“We have got a small bench and it does wear you down,” said Kampersal, whose team took five penalties on Friday and then got hit with four penalties the next day.

“You would really like your power play kids to be your power play kids and your killers to be your killers but sometimes we have our power play kids as our penalty killer kids and that doesn’t bode well.”

When the team returns to action after the holiday break, it will need to show a killer instinct in order to get back on the right track.

“It is a mental thing for us,” said Kampersal, whose team isn’t in action again until it plays a two-game set at Ohio State on December 30 and 31.

“We have to be mentally tough. Physically, we are fine. But we have to be mentally tough no matter what; whether we are up or we are down. We are fighting for all the points we can get, for sure.”

December 7, 2011
Princeton University Men's Hockey

GOING OFF: Princeton University men’s hockey star Andrew Calof, right, battles for the puck in a game last season. Over last weekend, Calof tallied two goals and an assist, helping Princeton beat Rensselaer 5-3 on Friday and tie No. 9 Union 3-3 a day later. The Tigers, now 4-7-2 overall and 3-5-1 in ECAC Hockey play, host Harvard on December 10 before playing at Quinnipiac on December 11.

After earning Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Year honors last winter, Princeton University men’s hockey star Andrew Calof experienced a bit of a sophomore slump in the early stages of this season.

Through the first 10 games of the 2011-12 campaign, Calof had no goals and five assists, a far cry from 9 goals and 24 assists he produced as a freshman in leading the Tigers in scoring.

In game 11 on November 26, Calof broke through with a goal to help Princeton top Providence 3-1 at the Denver Cup Classic.

Last Friday against visiting Rensselaer, Calof built on that performance, notching two goals, including the game-winner, as Princeton prevailed 5-3 over the Engineers before 1,616 at Baker Rink.

A relieved Calof basked in the glow of his two-goal outing. “It is really nice, it is being at the right place at the right time,” said the 5’10, 165-pound Calof, a native of Nepean, Ontario.

“I have been getting great passes and having great chances and it is definitely nice that they are starting to go in instead of missing them like I was doing in the previous bunch of games.”

It was definitely nice for Princeton to rally from an early 1-0 deficit in the win over the Engineers.

“It was pretty big because we have gotten down quite a bit in games this year,” said Calof.

“We are getting confidence that we can battle back. It is really good that we are starting to produce offensively because that has been our biggest shortfall this year. We have been getting a lot of chances but have not been getting them in.”

Calof knows that playing on the same line with junior Rob Kleebaum and sophomore Jack Berger has helped him become an assist leader for the Tigers.

“It is really not too hard when you are playing with the caliber of players that are on the team,” said Calof who now has 42 points in his Princeton career on 12 goals and 30 assists.

“I know that if I get the puck to Kleebaum or Berger in the slot, nine times out of 10, it is going to be in the back of the net. If they miss it, they are going to be mad and it will create a rebound and somebody else will put it in. We have been playing together for quite a bit now. We know where each other are and we are pretty comfortable with each other.”

In Calof’s view, the team gained a comfort level from its recent trip to Denver where it fell to 3-0 to the University of Denver before posting the win over Providence.

“When we played Denver, they were the 10th ranked team in the country and after playing them, we didn’t feel like they were that much of a better team than us,” asserted Calof.

“We felt we could compete with them on every aspect of the game so it gave us the confidence going into the next game.”

Princeton head coach Bob Prier is happy to see Calof playing with confidence.

“Andrew Calof had a couple of goals tonight; he has the monkey off his back,” said Prier, who got two goals and an assist in the win from sophomore forward Jack Berger.

“You see it a lot with a lot of second year guys; it is just a common thing. So now that he has gotten going, with a guy as talented as him, it is not going to stop.”

In the win over Rensselaer, the Tigers showed some grit to go with their talent.

“It was tough on the bench tonight because we were mixing and matching all over the place,” said Prier, whose team showed more toughness on Saturday afternoon when it overcame a 3-0 deficit to tie No. 9 Union 3-3 and improve to 4-7-2 overall and 3-5-1 in ECAC Hockey play.

“When you lose a guy that early in Jimmy Kerr, to a concussion, and you lose a couple of d-men that early to sickness, it was a big grind. The guys responded well. I think Derrick Pallis showed some leadership qualities tonight. He logged a lot of ice, particularly in the third period and he was gassed. He made some really good poised plays while he was in a state of exhaustion and those are plays that your seniors have to do because it settles everyone else down.”

Like Calof, Prier sees the Denver trip as a possible turning point for the Tigers.

“It was huge for us to do that and get some momentum coming back to Baker for three of the next four,” said Prier, whose team hosts Harvard on December 10 before playing at Quinnipiac on December 11.

“You play a team the caliber like Denver and you want to win those games, don’t get me wrong. But you can also take a lot from it and then to beat Providence on the road like that was great for us. Winning breeds winning and winning breeds confidence. You have to get the Ws. I think these guys are starting to learn what it takes little by little and that’s the most important thing.”

It took some time for the Tiger players to adjust to the new systems that first-year head coach Prier has installed.

“Obviously there is a bit of a learning curve but this is an extremely responsive group of young men, more so than any I ever worked with,” said Prier.

“I am pretty sure that they do understand it all, and, at the end of the day, it just comes down to their execution. You can install whatever systems you want with a team but you need all five guys on the ice to do them at the same time. There are no secrets to it; it is just making sure that they are playing together and communicating a lot and knowing what their job is at that time.”

In Calof’s view, everybody around the program is now on the same page.

“It was kind of off and on in games in the past; we weren’t completely buying into the system,” said Calof.

“The problem is that we were doing the systems right some of the time but not right all the time. We just have to focus on making sure that we commit to it all the time. Now that we have been buying into it, things have been going a lot better. We have been getting a lot more chances and we have been seeing the benefits.”

November 30, 2011
Princeton University Women's Basketball

RESERVE STRENGTH: Princeton University women’s basketball player Megan Bowen drives to the hoop in a game last winter. Junior reserve center Bowen has provided the Tigers with a big spark off the bench, averaging 8.5 points a game and 3.0 rebounds a game. The Tigers, now 6-0, host No. 24 Delaware on December 1 before playing at Maryland-Baltimore County on December 3.

Megan Bowen admits to being a project when she joined the Princeton University women’s basketball team in 2009.

“I came in freshman year and I wasn’t ready for the collegiate level,” said the 6’3 Bowen, a native of Bath, Pa.

“It was a learning process for me. I defend Devona Allgood in practice everyday; that’s naturally going to make you a better player. You can only take Devona’s hook shot in your face so many times until you learn to defend it.”

Bowen rarely left the bench that winter, playing 88 minutes in 20 appearances and scoring 33 points. As a sophomore, Bowen proved she could succeed at the college level, getting into 25 games and tallying 136 points.

“I take pride that I have gotten better to help Devona everyday,” said Bowen. reflecting on her progress. “We need people who are going to challenge our starters. I take pride in coming off the bench and having that energy.”

Last Friday in a 53-44 win over visiting Davidson, Bowen provided a spark in 13 minutes off the bench, scoring six points with two rebounds and an assist.

“I am in my junior year so I know what coach wants; she wants you to bring in energy,” said Bowen.

“I think everyone was trying; it was a great team effort. We pulled out the win so that is what is important. We have to just keep growing from it.”

Bowen and her teammates have put in extra effort to help their growth. “I think it is putting the extra time in with coach [Melanie] Moore,” said Bowen, who is averaging 8.5 points a game.

“You do a lot in practice but coach only really has 2½ hours. Getting the extra time is great, I think our whole team has been doing that. Niveen [Rasheed] has been working on 3-point shots. It wasn’t something that was huge in her game when she came here but she puts in the extra time on the shot.”

Missing some time due to a concussion had Bowen fired up to get back in action against Davidson.

“I had a concussion; I took an elbow to the head in practice,” said Bowen, who was sidelined two games as a result of the injury. “I passed the concussion test this morning and got clearance. The doctor looked at it and I was good to go this afternoon.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart was happy to have Bowen back.

“It was great; she is a competitive kid,” said Banghart of Bowen, who had another strong game Sunday, scoring 10 points with four rebounds and three assists as Princeton topped Rider 75-55 to improve to 6-0.

“She takes a lot of pride in her position and being a spark off the bench. I think her rhythm was a little bit off because she has been out for a week. She has been a big bright spot for our team, for sure.”

Another bright spot for the Tigers has been the return of junior star Niveen Rasheed from a knee injury in last year’s Davidson game that sidelined her for most of last season.

“I think the greatest part about Niveen is that she always plays at that level with that speed, that pace, that desire, that competitive fire,” asserted Banghart of Rasheed who is averaging a team-high 17.7 points per game.

“Whether at practice or a game, it doesn’t matter. She has always been able to change the game on her own very quickly. When you take that away from her, i.e., put her on the bench, she has had to learn the game. She still has that ability to create and change the game instantly but now she understands the game a little bit better so I think she will just continue to get better.”

Utilizing a high pressure approach, the Tigers have gotten better on the defensive end.

“We are way better defensively because we are way better athletically,” maintained Banghart, whose team is giving up just 50.0 points a game and has held foes to 35.2 percent shooting from the floor.

“We are very versatile; we can switch all over the floor, we can trap. These guys have really bought in to being disruptive, both over 94 feet and the quarter court. We challenge every shot, so defensively, we are just giving people fits. If we can buy into that same poise on the offensive end, we’ll be really good.”

With two-time defending Ivy League champion Princeton now getting votes in the ESPN coaches’ poll and Associated Press media poll, the rest of the country is getting the idea that these Tigers are really good.

“I think the neat thing about that is that it shows that other people are taking notice,” said Banghart, whose team has a chance to turn more heads when it hosts No. 24 Delaware on December 1.

“I told them after the Marist game [a 68-51 win] that we are writing our own story with this group. The people in the room are what matters. It would be great for the Ivy League to have a team in the Top 25. It would be great for this team to to be recognized nationally for their efforts.”

Bowen, for her part, believes the Tigers can make an impact on the national scene.

“Coach gave us a hard schedule but we prepared for a hard schedule,” said Bowen.

“It gives you confidence going into Stanford, DePaul, Delaware, and those bigger games. I think a few years ago, this program would have looked at playing Stanford as a nice way to get another game in where you will have a lot of media and a big crowd. Now we are looking at Stanford saying they are a great team but we want to have a chance.”

Princeton University Men's Water Polo

YOUNG BUCH: Princeton University men’s water polo star Kurt Buchbinder fires the ball in a game earlier this season. Sophomore Buchbinder has scored 17 goals this season to help No. 14 Princeton advance to the NCAA Final Four this weekend at Berkeley, Calif.

Even though the Princeton University men’s water polo team dropped five of six games on its annual California swing earlier this season, Luis Nicolao saw signs that his squad could play with the best in the college game.

“We had some competitive games; it helped us a lot,” said head coach Nicolao, whose team beat Long Beach State 8-4 and suffered a pair of two-goal losses to Loyola Marymount and a tight 11-7 defeat to UC Davis. “With the youthfulness of the team, we tried some things.”

Upon its return to New Jersey in early October, the Tigers did plenty of good things as it took second in the Southern Championships and then won the Eastern Championships.

By virtue of taking the Eastern crown, Princeton earned a return engagement to California where it will play in the NCAA Final Four this weekend at Berkeley.

The 14th-ranked Tigers, now 21-9, will play top-seeded and three-time defending national champion USC (22-3) on December 3 in one semifinal with UC San Diego meeting UCLA in the other semifinal.

The winners of the semis will play for the title on Sunday while the losers will face each other in the third-place game.

In order to make it back west, Princeton had to overcome a tough Navy team that beat the Tigers 10-5 in the Southern Championships.

While that result was disappointing, Nicolao wasn’t discouraged. “After watching the video of that game, we saw things we could fix,” said Nicolao.

“One guy scored six goals and we had some mental breakdowns. Coming off that loss, we felt if we were fortunate enough to play Navy in the Easterns, we could do some things to win.”

Nicolao acknowledges that his team was fortunate to edge No. 16 St Francis 13-11 in overtime in the Eastern semis.

“That was a gift; we had no business winning that game,” said Nicolao. “We were down three with three minutes left. Things fell our way. Drew [Hoffenberg] played great; Ben [Dearborn] had a big game in goal. We got some breaks.”

That victory set up the rematch with No. 15 Navy in the Eastern title game. “I always tell the guys that the toughest game is the semis on Saturday night,” said Nicolao.

“The season is on the line. Once you get into finals, anything can happen and you can play your game.”

Princeton was able to play its game as it pulled away to a 10-7 win over the Midshipmen.

“We made sure we had the right matchups,” explained Nicolao, who got three goals in the title game from Hoffenberg with Dearborn making 14 saves.

“We knew the two or three guys that we didn’t want to beat us and we shadowed that side of the pool. We shot the ball well. We got up 2-0, 3-1, and then they tied it at 3-3. We ran off five straight goals. Once you get a three-goal lead, so much changes. You are able to take some chances.”

Seizing the chance to win a second Eastern title in the last three years was special for Nicolao, who is in his 14th season guiding the Tigers.

“It was a great feeling; it is a great group of guys,” said Nicolao. “We had it under control, we were able to enjoy it.”

Nicolao has enjoyed this fall, blending a superb group of precocious freshmen with a core of battle-tested veterans.

Freshmen Hoffenberg (43 goals), Matt Weber (44 goals), Kayj Shannon (35 goals) and Thomas Nelson (28 goals) have made an immediate impact while such veterans as junior Tim Wenzlau (38 goals), senior Mike Helou (28 goals), senior Chris Cottrell (16 goals), junior Tommy Donahue (18 goals) and sophomore Kurt Buchbinder (17 goals) have provided stability.

“The young guys added a little swagger and we have great balance,” said Nicolao.

“We have six guys with around 30 goals. We don’t have to rely on a couple of guys.”

With the Tigers having hosted the NCAAs in 2009 and edging Loyola Marymount 6-5 in the third-place game, Princeton does have some national tournament experience upon which to rely.

“We talked about that,” said Nicolao, referring to the 2009 tourney. “The juniors and seniors have played in this; they know what this is like. We have nothing to lose; we want to show our stuff.”

As the Tigers look to thrive on their second trip to California, Nicolao is planning to use the blueprint that former Princeton men’s basketball coach Pete Carril perfected to bedevil foes on the national stage.

“We need to take care of the ball,” said Nicolao. “We can’t make turnovers or let them get on fastbreaks. We have to keep it 6-on-6. We can’t get into a shootout. We have to control the tempo and slow the game down.”