Coming off two tough losses and facing midterm exams together with a big game against No. 10 Villanova followed by its Ivy League opener with Penn, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team saw last week as pivotal.
“It was definitely huge because last year this is the week where we started to have a tough time,” said junior star Jeff Froccaro. “We wanted to make sure that we beat these teams and start well in the Ivy League.”
Attackman Froccaro took matters into his own hands, tallying a career-high five goals and two assists in a 14-8 victory over Villanova on March 13 and then chipping in two goals and an assist as Princeton topped Penn 11-4 last Saturday before a sunsplashed crowd of 2,518 at Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium.
In Froccaro’s view, the win over Villanova helped give the Tigers momentum as they looked to turn the tables on a Penn team that beat Princeton 8-3 in 2011.
“I think Villanova was a huge momentum swing for us; we just kind of used all the energy from that game and brought it to this one,” said Froccaro, who was later named the Ivy Co-player of the Week for his exploits along with Harvard’s Jeff Cohen.
“This was definitely a big game; we were mad that we lost last year to them. It was a really, really bad loss for us. We wanted to beat Penn; that was the next step for us. Obviously starting off the Ivy League with a win, that is something that is very important.”
While the Tigers jumped out to a 3-1 lead over the Quakers with Froccaro scoring twice, the game tightened up and Princeton led just 4-3 at halftime.
“We weren’t putting the ball in the back of the net,” said Froccaro. “The coaches were saying keep up the pace and keep working hard and get ground balls and we’ll win the game.”
In the second half, the Tigers picked up the pace, reeling off six unanswered goals over the first 23:58 to build a 10-3 cushion and put the game out of reach.
“We were flying around; the guys felt loose,” said Froccaro, reflecting on Princeton’s second half performance. “The guys were not hesitating to just play to their potential.”
For Froccaro, moving to attack this season from midfield has helped him realize his potential as a scorer.
“It has been different; I played attack in high school but it took a little getting used to,” said Froccaro, who is second on the Tigers in points with 16 on 12 goals and four assists.
“I think I am doing pretty well back there. I am working hard in practice; I am shooting more and luckily the ball has been going in. I am comfortable playing with Tommy Schreiber and Mike Grossman; they are two good guys. We are playing all over the place behind the cage.”
Princeton head coach Chris Bates likes the way Froccaro has been playing in his new spot.
“Jeff is a gamer; he puts the ball in the back of the net,” said Bates, whose team improved to 4-2 overall with the victory over Penn.
“I thought he had some good feeds too. He had one assist but I thought it was a big one.”
The ball movement on attack led to a balanced scoring effort for the Tigers.
“The depth is good; it is good to get Forrest [Sonnenfeldt] back,” said Bates, who got three goals and two assists from freshman Mike MacDonald with Tucker Shanley adding two and Tom Schreiber chipping in a goal and three assists.
“I think overall we pulled away in the second half; I give our guys credit. Tucker [Shanley] came out and gave us a big bump in the second half; he got two big goals which we needed and then Chris White stuck the next one. Will Himler gives us another assist. They locked up Tom [Schreiber] a little bit. I thought their defense was very good but Tom still ends up with four points and settles us down and does a good job.”
Bates was happy with his defense, which held Penn scoreless for a 33:28 minute span from midway through the second quarter into the fourth.
“I think our shortsticks were a big reason for that,” said Bates. “Tyler [Fiorito] has settled down and made some big saves. We got lucky; they hit a couple of pipes and missed the cage a couple of times with good looks.”
Princeton looked good at both ends of the field as it pulled away from the Quakers.
“We are a good team when we get a little buffer,” added Bates, who was happy to see his team put on a good show on an afternoon which saw many alums on hand as Sherrerd Field was officially dedicated.
“I was proud that we came out and executed. We are just trying to get our guys to play in the moment and understand that even when it is a one-goal game, if we continue to do what we do, things will pop. There are times when we try to do too much, too quickly both offensively and defensively. The pressure gets a little bit big and that’s when we make some questionable decisions.”
Dealing with exams and two tough foes last week, the Tigers, now ranked 12th nationally, showed an ability to deal with pressure on multiple fronts.
“We come out of a midterm week so guys were tired,” said Bates, whose team plays at Yale (2-3 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 24.
“They are exhausted and we battled back. This was a big one to start the Ivies off right. We can take a breath and have a week to prepare for a good Yale team. This was a critical week and we feel like we passed the test so far.”
Froccaro, for his part, is proud of how the Tigers took care of business.
“It was really tough having that big weekday game because a lot of guys had midterms on Tuesday,” said Froccaro.
“We just got through it. We are used to having a lot of work and practice so we just kind of grind it out and get the job done.”