July 12, 2012

VIDEO GAMES: Nate Franks surveys a drill in 2010 as an assistant coach for the Bucknell University field hockey program. Franks, a 2007 Princeton University graduate, came back to his alma mater last year as an assistant coach for the Tiger field hockey program. Later this month, Franks will be heading to the London Olympics as the performance analyst for the U.S. women’s field hockey team. His duties at the Olympics will center on video analysis and breakdown of game action. (Photo Courtesy of Bucknell Athletic Communications)

Nate Franks had just about given up on his dreams of going to the London Olympics as this spring rolled around.

The Princeton University field hockey assistant coach had been seeking a position as a performance analyst with the U.S. women’s Olympic field hockey team since winter but it looked like it wasn’t going to come through.

“I had been talking to the women’s team since last December, asking them to keep me in mind for this,” said Franks, who had filled a video coaching role for the U.S. men’s national team this past fall at the Pan American Games.

“They said no in January, February, March, April, and May. They said they had no credential for me.”

But in late May, Franks’ luck changed while he was on the sidelines at a U.S. field hockey event.

“I was coaching at High Performance and they called and told me I was going,” said Franks.

“I was a little surprised. I wasn’t able to speak coherently for a few minutes. I was pumping my fists and yelling.”

A month earlier, Franks had displayed his abilities on an extended basis for the U.S. program.

“I worked for the women’s team in April in New Zealand for a four nations tournament,” said Franks, a 2007 Princeton graduate who worked as volunteer field hockey coach and women’s lacrosse team manager for the Tigers during his undergraduate days.

“They saw what I could do. The assistant coach of the team was Nick Conway, the guy who brought me into the men’s team.”

His role for the team will draw heavily on his expertise with cutting edge technology.

“I will break down games, sitting in front of a computer, using the Sports Code system,” said Franks, noting that he can code possessions, shots, and other statistics and transfer data utilizing up to 1,200 individual codes.

“With SportsCode, I can spit out info in a matrix and give the coaches salient information on a head set. I radio facts down to them at halftime and at the end of game. I then do a debrief after game.”

Franks’ in-game analysis centers on providing tactical information. “If we are not maintaining possession on the right side of midfield, for example, I can let coaches know and they can adjust things,” said Franks.

The use of the SportsCode system is also valuable in assessing foes. “I will also be scouting; I will be at every single game in the first round since we don’t know who we will be playing from the other pool,” said Franks. “The coaches have a good idea about the other teams. If I notice anything specific, I can pass that on.”

In addition to providing video and computer knowledge, Franks does some hands-on coaching.

“I go with Nick and help with goaltenders,” said Franks, who played professional field hockey in Ireland and coached at American and Bucknell before joining the Princeton staff last year.

“Once we get over there, I will be on field less because I have to be at so many other games.”

Franks is thrilled that current Princeton players Julia Reinprecht, Katie Reinprecht, and Michelle Cesan made the U.S. team and will be at the London Games with him.

“It is tremendous for the players and the program,” said Franks of the Reinprechts, who made the 16-player squad and Cesan, who was named as an alternate.

“I have known Julia since she was 14. I went to school with Sarah [older sister Sarah Reinprecht] and know their parents. It means a great deal that they will be there as well.”

It means everything to Franks to see his Olympic dream come true. “It is an unbelievable opportunity; it is the highlight of my hockey career,” said Franks.

“It gave me an opportunity to reflect on how I have made it to this point. I have been fortunate to find the right people at the right time to motivate me and gave me a lift, like finding Kristen [Princeton head coach Kristen Holmes-Winn] in 2003 and finding Nick Conway in 2010. I realize how fortunate to have male and female role models who have been equally inspiring.”

July 3, 2012

MAKING HER PITCH: Lisa Sweeney and Princeton University Director of Athletics Gary Walters are all smiles after Sweeney was named as the new head coach of the Tiger softball program. Sweeney, who served as the assistant coach at Penn the last two seasons, rewrote the record books during her college career at Lehigh from 2006-09. The Lumberton, N.J. native was named the Patriot League Pitcher of the Year four times and the league’s Player of the Year in 2008. She is replacing Trina Salcido, who stepped down in May after five years as Princeton head coach. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

It was a bit of a lark when Lisa Sweeney hooked on as a volunteer coach for the Lehigh University softball program for the 2010 season.

“It was my fifth year at Lehigh and as I worked on my masters, I wanted to be around my former teammates,” said Sweeney, who rewrote the record books during her sensational career for the Mountain Hawks, getting named as the Patriot League Pitcher of the Year four times. “I am a teacher by trade.”

But after that year, Sweeney got the chance to really get into the coaching trade.

“I got a phone call asking me to be assistant coach at Penn; recalled Sweeney, a 2009 Lehigh graduate.

“They were looking for a pitching coach; it is a fantastic school that I wanted to be part of. I wanted to see if I really wanted to coach.”

The answer to that question quickly became clear for Sweeney. “I fell in love with it; the uniqueness of the team and the fact that each individual brings something special to the team,” said Sweeney.

“You have to find a way to motivate everybody and get the players to improve everyday.”

Sweeney accomplished that goal, helping Penn to a 51-38-1 record over the last two seasons, including the 2012 Ivy South title. In addition, she helped guide freshman pitcher Alexis Borden to an outstanding debut campaign this spring as she earned Rookie of the Year and All-Ivy accolades.

Now Sweeney will be looking to help the Princeton University softball program improve as she took the helm of the Tigers last month.

While Sweeney acknowledges that her resume is a little slim, she is confident she can get the job done.

“It is certainly a fantastic opportunity; some may call it a leap as I have never been a head coach,” said Sweeney, the replacement for Trina Salcido, who stepped down this May.

“Gary [Princeton Director of Athletics Gary Walters] has done a fantastic job of encouraging young coaches and putting trust in them. I don’t have the experience but I have the right resources to be successful.”

Sweeney, though, has been around Division I softball for a long time. “I was lucky as a kid, growing up around my sister and sister-in-law who both played at the D-1 level at college,” said Sweeney, a native of Lumberton, N.J.

“I went to a bunch of their games. I got to be around college softball and have an idea of what it is about and I wanted to be part of that.”

During her career at Rancocas Valley Regional High, Sweeney certainly marked herself as a player headed to a college career.

The right-hander was a two-time Courier Post South Jersey Player of the year and threw a no-hitter in the state Group IV championship game as a senior to cap a senior season which saw her go 31-2 with an ERA of 0.15.

“We had a really fun team: I loved the day-to-day interaction,” said Sweeney, reflecting on her high school career.

“All of us were really competitive; many of us had dreams of playing in college. Finally senior year, we won the state title. We had been to the semis before that. We had a good group of seniors.”

Sweeney’s dream of playing college ball came true at Lehigh University. “Lehigh had that balance b etween academics and athletics but was really competitive,” said Sweeney. “It had a track record of high achievement and attracting really good players.”

Being around those kind of players was inspirational for Sweeney. “With the name of college across your chest, there is a different accountability and a pressure to play for your school,” said Sweeney.

“Lehigh may not be a big-name D-1 team but wearing brown and white, we were doing everything we could to win. There was a different energy and intensity everyday in practice.”

Sweeney got a first-hand taste of that energy and winning spirit in her debut campaign as Lehigh went 43-14 overall and 19-1 in Patriot action on the way to making it to an NCAA regional title game.

“Competing for Patriot League title and automatic bid to NCAA tournament is something to play for,” added Sweeney.

“We didn’t just want to win our league, we wanted to win a regional. In my freshman year, we knocked off Texas A&M in the regional and they were No. 13 or something like that in the country. That was the culmination of a lot of hard work and camaraderie. We built a true team on and off the field; I never took it for granted.”

Over the rest of her career, Sweeney never stopped excelling, ending up as the top pitcher in Patriot history in wins (94), shutouts (31) and strikeouts (928). But while Sweeney is proud of those records, she wasn’t focused on statistics during her college career.

“I think what they speak to is that I did everything I could for the team to be successful,” said Sweeney, who was the league’s Player of the Year in 2008 and also earned Academic All-American recognition.

“Whatever awards or records I have are the result of doing my best for the team.”

In Sweeney’s view, the Princeton team has the foundation in place to compete with the best in the Ivy League.

“I think it is a program that has had ups and downs the last few years,” said Sweeney, who is taking over a club that went 14-32 overall this spring with an 8-12 Ivy mark.

“They have had some standout weekends, like battling Cornell last year. You can see the resilience of Princeton and the character of the kids in the program. The girls are really special and not just for academic excellence. The softball program has a huge tradition of success.”

Sweeney is determined to add to that tradition of success. “I am a huge team person; I see power in the group,” said Sweeney.

“We have a strong group of young women and building on that is really important. I want to instill a commitment to excellence and doing whatever we can do on a daily basis to get better. I am looking forward to getting started; 2012-13 is going to be a good year for Princeton softball.”

June 27, 2012

TRIAL PROCESS: Princeton University women’s swimming star Lisa Boyce cheers on teammates in a meet this winter. Rising junior Boyce is competing this week in Omaha, Neb. at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 100 backstroke and 100 freestyle.
(Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Lisa Boyce started swimming at age 6 and it didn’t take long for her to establish a long-term plan in the sport.

“When I was 8 years old, I knew I wanted to swim in college,” said Boyce, a  native of Champaign, Ill.

As Boyce competed for the Champaign County heat, she proved that such an ambition wasn’t a pipe dream, establishing herself as one of the top young sprinters in the country.

She reached the 100 freestyle championship final at the 2010 Speedo Junior National Championships and qualified for the Long Course Senior Nationals in 100 backstroke. In addition, Boyce was named as one of The News-Gazette’s Top 10 Swimmers of the Decade and the Swimmer of the Year while competing for University High.

Highly sought after by a number of college swimming programs, Boyce decided to come east to Princeton in 2010.

“My top 3 were Stanford, Northwestern, and Princeton,” said Boyce. “When I came on my recruiting visit to Princeton, I felt comfortable. These were people I wanted to be like; I could see myself fitting in.”

Boyce fit in nicely with the Tigers, setting a program record in 100 back with a time of 54.10 in the Big Al Open in her freshman year. She went on to win the 100 back at the Ivy league championship meet and took second in the 100 free and third in the 50 free.

In her sophomore season this past winter, Boyce won the Ivy titles in the 100 back, 50 free, and 100 free. She went on to compete in all three events at the NCAA Championships, placing 38th in the 100 back, 49th in the 50 free, and 31st in the 100 free.

This week, Boyce is in Omaha, Neb. and is racing against the best swimmers in the country at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Boyce, who is competing in the 100 back and 100 free, is being joined at the meet by several current and former Tiger teammates including rising sophomore Courtney Ciardiello (100 butterfly and 200 back), recently graduated Meredith Monroe (200 back), and 2011 alum Megan Waters (50 free).

The Princeton men’s swimming program is sending recently graduated Colin Cordes, (100 free, 200 free, and 200 back), rising senior Will Lawley (200 and 400 free), rising juniors Paul Nolle (1500 free), Daniel Hasler (200 breast, 200, and 400 IM) and Eric Materniak (200 breaststroke) together with a quartet of rising sophomores in Oliver Bennett (200 fly), Conner Maher (200 individual medley), Caleb Tuten (400 IM), and Harrison Wagner (50 free).

In getting ready for the trials, Boyce stayed east to put in extra training.

“We are doing two-a-days at Princeton and I have been adding a few more weight sessions,” said Boyce. “A group of us are training together; it is definitely good. Right now, we are dropping down and tapering.”

For Boyce, getting used to the increased training load was a major adjustment she faced in making the adjustment to college swimming.

“I never did doubles during the school year,” said Boyce. “It was one practice a day during school year and two-a-days in the summer. Doing that and balancing Princeton schoolwork was tough.”

Princeton assistant coach Suzanne Yee believes that Boyce quickly found a good balance as a freshman.

“The thing that struck me was how open she was to learning and doing different things than she was doing before,” said Yee, who works with program’s sprinters.

“Lisa is very passionate about swimming. When she gets in the pool, that is all she is focusing on. In the freshman year, you have a learning curve and hers was easier. Lisa picked up things quickly. In high school, things are more general; you are training for different events. In college, you can specialize and focus on the events that you are best at.”

While Boyce didn’t have her best results at the 2011 Ivy championship meet, Yee saw it as a necessary step in her development as a swimmer.

“As a freshman, there is a lot of pressure at a conference meet,” added Yee. “With Princeton trying to continue its success and the meet being at home, I think she tried too hard to go fast. When you focus on going a certain time, it becomes hard to go that time.”

Boyce, for her part, gained some extra mental toughness from the high stakes competition.

“I felt like I could have swum faster,” said Boyce. “I was very nervous; it was emotionally overwhelming, particularly for a freshman.”

As a sophomore, Boyce felt more at ease. “I was more comfortable with my position on the team and how I fit in,” said Boyce.

“It was really great to qualify for the 100 free at the trials. I made it on the first swim before the qualifying times even came out. The Ivy meet was a lot better.”

Doing so well this winter helped Boyce take another step up the swimming ladder as she qualified for the NCAA championships. “I had wanted to do NCAAs ever since I had heard about them,” said Boyce. “The more I compete at that level, the more comfortable I get.”

In Yee’s view, Boyce has taken things to a higher level in her sophomore campaign.

“One of the differences with Megan Waters graduating is that Lisa stepped up and filled a role on the team as a leader and as a swimmer people can count on,” said Yee.

“She was very consistent at maintaining a higher level. This year, she has been able to focus on the bigger picture and one or two things. She was able to have more fun and swim faster.”

Boyce has the potential to do some special things over the rest of her Princeton career, according to Yee.

“It just depends on what she wants to do; it is an individual sport within a team format,” said Yee, noting that Boyce is naturally gifted in her underwater kicking and is equally adept at the free and the back.

“Going forward, if she keeps working like she is, I could see her scoring at the NCAA meet. That is a very reasonable goal. I don’t know how high she could go; I’d like to see her in top 8.”

Boyce, for her part, is primed to put in some good work this week in Omaha.

“I would like to get my best times but the main point of this is to get experience,” asserted Boyce, who will be competing later this summer at the U.S. Open Swimming Championships looking for a spot in the 2013 World University Games.

“It is one of the fastest meets in the world and it will be great to be around it. One of the key things is to improve mentally so I don’t get overwhelmed when competing at higher levels.”

June 20, 2012

SURE SHOT: Jess Hubbard prepares to unload a shot during his legendary career in the 1990s with the Princeton University men’s lacrosse program. Hubbard, who set Princeton team records for single-season goals (53) and career goals (163) that still stand, was recently named to the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame. Hubbard, who helped Princeton to national titles in 1996, 1997, and 1998, was a key member of a U.S. squad that won the 1998 World Championship. The Washington, D.C. native went on to a superb career in the pro ranks, retiring in 2008 as the leading goal scorer in Major League Lacrosse history with a total of 248. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

The numbers speak for themselves when it comes to Jesse Hubbard’s place in lacrosse history.

During his career with the Princeton University men’s lacrosse program from 1995-98, the sharp-shooting Hubbard set team records for single-season goals (53) and career goals (163) that still stand.

Hubbard lifted his game come playoff time, scoring 43 points on 33 goals and 10 assists in 11 NCAA tournament games as he helped Princeton to national titles in 1996, 1997, and 1998.

After graduation, Hubbard was a key member of a U.S. squad that won the 1998 World Championship. He went on to a superb career in the pro ranks, retiring in 2008 as the leading goal scorer in Major League Lacrosse history with a total of 248.

So when Hubbard was recently named to the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame Class of 2012, it was a no-brainer to most.

But to Hubbard himself, the honor came as a surprise. “They announced the nominations through their website,” said Hubbard. “The other names were such great players; I didn’t think I would get picked.”

The understated Hubbard, true to character, downplays his record-shattering Princeton career.

“It was just my job; it was my role to put the ball in the back of the net,” said Hubbard, 36, a Washington, D.C. native.

“I was just playing the game. Records are meant to be broken and I’d love this one to be broken because that would mean that someone was doing a lot of scoring for Princeton.”

Part of Hubbard’s reticence to take too much credit comes from the fact that he views himself as one cog in an attack unit for the ages along with classmates Jon Hess and Chris Massey.

“Jon and Chris are two of my very best friends,” said Hubbard of the trio which combined for 618 points over their storied careers.

“It is very unique. We were three guys who meshed so well on the field with the way we played and off the field, we meshed with our personalities. Two of us were always thinking that the third was the best. We had respect for each other.”

In Hubbard’s view, his selection to the Hall of fame is a reflection of what the unit achieved collectively.

“That’s what I said to Jon and Chris; it is nice to have people remember what we did,” said Hubbard. “A big part of this is representing the whole era.”

When Hubbard looks back on his Tiger era, he takes great pride in the program’s three-peat.

“It is pretty amazing that we could win three titles in a row; I watch college lacrosse now and it is so competitive and unpredictable,” said Hubbard, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime in the 1996 NCAA final against Virginia.

“You see a team like Loyola win this year, they came into the season unranked. To win one is awesome, to get two is pretty difficult and to win three in a row is amazing. It is a testament to the coaching staff and the way the players stepped up under the pressure.”

Hubbard credits Princeton head coach Bill Tierney with impacting his development on and off the field.

“The thing with Coach T is that although you didn’t realize it at the time, he was preparing you for life,” added Hubbard, who is a driving force of Motive Pure, a company that markets a rehydration solution, and runs the Jesse Hubbard Experience lacrosse camps

“Whether you were in corporate world, teaching, or coaching, he taught lessons you needed to succeed. The first lesson was preparation; he was obsessed about preparing for every possible scenario. The second was having high standards and not settling for anything less. He rode the best players harder than anyone in order to get the most out of them.”

Coach Tierney, for his part, quickly realized that Hubbard could emerge as one of his best players.

“When we first saw him, we said ‘wow this guy can really shoot the ball,’” said Tierney, noting the fact that Hubbard’s older brother, Andy, was a midfielder for the Tigers helped ease the recruiting process.

Things took off for Hubbard when he was teamed with Hess and Massey as a sophomore.

“It was ridiculous when we got them on the field,” said Tierney, acknowledging that he had Hubbard miscast as a midfielder in his freshman campaign.

“The description of those guys was always feeder, dodger, and shooter. They complemented each other and moved toward each other as their careers went on.”

But Hubbard will stand out to Tierney as having a sniper’s mentality. “We would talk about the strengths and weaknesses of the other goalies,” said Tierney, who was inducted in the Hall of Fame himself in 2002. “He told me after he graduated that he shot at the strengths. He said he knew if he could beat them there he would kill them on their weaknesses.”

The feats of Hubbard and running mates Hess and Massey helped strengthen Princeton’s stature in the lacrosse world.

“Scott Bacigalupo ’94 and Kevin Lowe ’94 were the faces of Princeton lacrosse when we turned the corner,” said Tierney of the pair who were inducted in the Hall of Fame in 2010 and 2009, respectively. “Hubbard, Hess, and Massey were the faces when we gained legitimacy.”

Tierney is not surprised that Hubbard is the first of the trio to get the call for the Hall of Fame.

“Since Jess continued his career in MLL and was on a world championship team, I thought he was clearly the first one to get in,” said Tierney.

“It kind of rekindles what we all knew and how great they were.

Hess should get in but Massey tends to get overshadowed.”

Hubbard, for his part, believes his selection to the Hall of Fame speaks to the greatness of the Princeton program and what it has achieved since the early 1990s.

“I went to Kevin Lowe’s induction and he had a chip on his shoulder,” said Hubbard, who will be formally inducted into the Hall of Fame on October 20 along with Brian Dougherty, Roy Colsey, Jen Adams, Kelly Amonte Hiller, Tim Nelson, Cindy Timchal, and Missy Foote.

“He thought Princeton hadn’t got the respect it deserves. He said you will be seeing a lot more of us in here. It is a tremendous honor; I look at the list and they are all guys I admired and looked up to in the game.”

And there is no question that Hubbard belongs on any list of the greats of the game.

PROMOTIONAL EVENT: Megan Griffith, right, and Melanie Moore survey the action in a game for the Princeton University women’s basketball team. Griffith, a former Columbia hoops standout who had been serving as the Director of Basketball Operations, was recently promoted to assistant coach for the Tigers, replacing Moore, who left Princeton to join the staff at the University of Michigan. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

As Megan Griffith wrapped up her high school basketball career 10 years ago and considered her options for college ball, playing in the Ivy League wasn’t high on her list.

“I wanted to stay in the area for college basketball,” said Griffith, a native of King of Prussia, Pa.

“I am from outside the Philadelphia area and I wanted to go somewhere my parents could watch me. I wasn’t looking at the Ivies but then a Columbia assistant saw me in late July and became interested. It was my best opportunity.”

Griffith headed to New York City in 2003 and made the most of her opportunity at Columbia, captaining the Lions for three seasons, earning All-Ivy honors in 2006 and 2007 and becoming the eighth player in program history to score more than 1,000 points in her career.

For Griffith, the Columbia experience was transformative on several levels.

“I had to learn to juggle a lot of things, academic course load, basketball, and the city,” said Griffith.

“I learned a lot about myself. Basketball is a good platform for life lessons and learning to stick with it.”

After graduating from Columbia in 2007, Griffith stuck with basketball, playing three years of professional ball in Europe, Finland, and the Netherlands.

But deciding to put her playing career on hold, Griffith returned to the Ivy League in 2010, taking the post as director of basketball operations for the Princeton University women’s basketball team.

Now, Griffith is going to experience another slice of Ivy life as she was recently promoted to assistant coach for the Tigers in the wake of Melanie Moore’s recent move to the University of Michigan.

Despite engaging in a heated rivalry with Princeton over her college career, Griffith didn’t have to think twice about joining the Tiger program in the operations post two years ago.

“I called my coach from Columbia and I told him I was thinking about stopping playing and I asked him about coaching opportunities,” recalled Griffith.

“He told me that Princeton had the operations position open and he knew that Courtney [Banghart] and her staff are doing some great things and it would good for me to be part of it so I applied. Once I got on campus, I knew I wanted to be part of it. I think there is a special vibe on the Princeton campus. There is a sense of community and support that transcends athletics.”

Griffith liked the vibe she found around the Princeton team. “I got to meet the players that fall,” said Griffith, noting that her Columbia background helped her bond with the players. “They are a great group; they really complement each other. I was always excited to come to work.”

The work, which included handling administrative and logistical duties such as making travel arrangements, film exchanges, managing the recruiting data base, working at camps, and producing the team newsletter, helped Griffith establish her value to the group.

“The coaching staff really allowed me to be part of the team,” said Griffith.

“Game day is great with the competitive environment. It is great to be part of a united front and being right in there giving input.”

For Griffith, the time was right to have more input into the workings of the program.

“When I applied to be director of operations, I was hoping to achieve a coaching position,” said Griffith.

“I am extremely blessed to be in this position. As Courtney said, from day 1 I was applying to be on her staff as a coach. I was hopeful it would happen this way. I feel ready to do this. I am looking forward to coaching and recruiting. I have been on the staff for two years and I have been able to observe things. I am looking to be more instrumental on the court.”

With Princeton having won three Ivy titles in a row and coming off a 24-5 season which included a 14-0 league mark, Griffith sees good things ahead.

“I am excited, each year brings challenges and we have to find the identity of what this team can be,” said Griffith.

“We will have four seniors and some good players coming in. I am confident the seniors can bring things

June 13, 2012

RISING STAR: Princeton University women’s track star Greta Feldman flies down the track last week at the NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. Junior Feldman placed fifth in the 1,500 at the national meet, earning All-American status. It was the latest step in a meteoric rise for Feldman, who just started competing in the event in the spring of 2011. Later this month, Feldman will head to the U.S. Olympic Track Trials in Eugene, Ore. to run in the 1,500. (Photo by Kristy McNeil, Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

For much of her sports career at Haddonfield High School in suburban Philadelphia, track was a sidelight for Greta Feldman, simply a means for her to stay in shape for soccer.

In 2008, though, Feldman had a breakthrough that made her realize that she might have a future in running.

“I was a 400 runner at first; it was not until late in my junior year, that I did the 800,” said Feldman. “I made the New Jersey Meet of Champions in the 800 and I started thinking that I could run in college.”

A year later, Feldman came across the state to Princeton University for college and took some lumps as she joined the Tiger women’s track squad.

“I had to adjust to training and school, Peter [Princeton head coach Peter Farrell] didn’t want to throw too much at me,” said Feldman, whose top highlight as freshman came when she helped the 4×800 relay win the Indoor Heptagonal Ivy League crown.

“He didn’t want me to move up to distance that year. I got injured and was out most of the spring.”

As a sophomore, Feldman tried the 1,500 for the first time and quickly realized that she had found her optimum distance.

“I did the 4×1500 on our spring trip,” said Feldman. “In our first home meet, I ran the 1,500 and I was able to be competitive. That was great.”

That race set Feldman on a path that has resulted in her making great progress this spring as she has mastered her new event Feldman took second in the 1,500 at the Outdoor Heps in early May before taking first at the NCAA East Regionals over Memorial Day weekend. Last week, the junior continued her meteoric rise, placing fifth in the 1,500 at the NCAA Championships in a time of 4:14.76, earning All-American status.

In reflecting on her stunning run this spring, Feldman said she has reaped the benefits of making a commitment to cross country.

“I threw myself into cross country this year and I made an impact there,” said Feldman, who started running with the team in her sophomore year.

“I thought the base would help with 1,500. In the past, I didn’t have the endurance in the last 200 meters of the 1500. My mileage is up. I was doing 40 a week as a sophomore on cross country and I did 65-70 last fall. I am at 40-50 this spring.”

A key moment this spring for Feldman came when she took second in the 1,500 in the Larry Ellis Invitational in late April with a PR of 4:18.86, shaving 1:43 off her previous best time of 4:21.09.

“The Ellis meet was definitely a breakthrough; I saw I can run in a field like that,” said Feldman.

“The 1500 is a lot more tactical than the 800 where you just have to be fast. In some races, you go out slow and in others, you go out fast. Doing our home meets this spring, I saw different things.”

Feldman’s victory at the East Regionals was another eye-opener. “It was my first race in a loaded field like that, a lot of girls had better personal records than I did but I have learned to race and stick with the plan,” said Feldman, who clocked a time of 4:15.00 in the victory. “Winning caught me by surprise; I wasn’t expecting that.”

In her heat at the NCAAs last Thursday, Feldman exceeded expectations again, running a 4:12.73, a
Princeton record, a personal best, and the second-best time in Ivy League history.

“That was great; I went out faster than in regional,” recalled Feldman “That was a big PR for me and it gave me the automatic qualifier for the Olympic Trials.”

While Feldman didn’t match that time in the NCAA final, she liked the way she competed.

“The race plan in final was to get off the line well,” said Feldman. “It was a race that was not about time but about tactics. At 400, I moved to the back which wasn’t good. At 600, the leaders got some separation. With 400 to go, I had some ground to make up. I think I closed well; I had them in my sights.”

Now Feldman has her sights set on staying with the leaders in the Olympic trials which are taking place in Eugene, Ore. from June 21-July 1.

“Coming out of the NCAA race, I would have liked to have done better,” said Feldman.

“I have gained so much confidence in the last couple of weeks. If I had that earlier, I could’ve started from a higher point. For me, the NCAA meet was the big stage. The trials are icing on the cake. I am thrilled to get to compete in Oregon and be around that big time environment. I will be a small fish in a big pond; to be there is unbelievable.”

RUNNING INTO HISTORY: Princeton University track star Donn Cabral heads to the tape last Thursday on his way to winning the steeplechase heat at the NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. The recently graduated Cabral went on to win the title on Saturday, posting a time of 8:35.44 for the 3,000-meter event as he completed an undefeated season in the steeplechase and earned Princeton’s third outdoor National Championship. Cabral will next be in action when he competes in the U.S. Olympic Track Trials later this month in Eugene, Ore. (Photo by Kristy McNeil, Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

After placing second in the steeplechase at the NCAA Championships the last two years, Princeton University distance star Donn Cabral knew he was the hunted one as he competed in the national collegiate meet last weekend.

“I was confident but between Craig Florys of Michigan, Cory Leslie of Ohio State, the Indiana contingent, and Henry Lelei of Texas A & M, there were a lot of runners who wanted to take a shot at me,” said the recently-graduated Cabral. “I was ready to put up a fight.”

Cabral proved to be up to the fight, pulling away for the win last Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa as he posted a time of 8:35.44 for the 3,000-meter event with Florys second in 8:40.66.

In the process, the Glastonbury, Conn. native completed an undefeated season in the event and earned Princeton’s third outdoor National Championship. It was the first crown for a Tiger since Tora Harris won the 2002 high jump, and is the first individual track national title since 1934 when William Bonthron won the mile.

In reflecting on his landmark victory, Cabral was pleased with how he executed under pressure.

“The race plan was sit on the leader and run 70 or 69 second laps which is a comfortable steeplechase pace,” explained Cabral

“With a third of the race to go, I wanted to make a move and spread things out and see if they wanted to run with me. Then I had to hold my focus to the finish. I was really happy with it. Once I started to make a move, my first lap was faster than the next. I wanted it to be a decisive move; I wanted the other people to hurt.”

While Cabral has bigger goals this summer with the summer Olympics on the horizon, he recognizes the importance of the NCAA breakthrough.

“All year I have been telling myself that the Olympic Trials is the race I want to win,” said Cabral, referring to the U.S. Olympic trials which are taking place in Eugene, Ore. from June 21-July 1 with the men’s steeplechase final slated  for June 28 and the top three finishers earning a trip to the London Games.

“But I haven’t ever done this. I was the runner-up the last two years. It isn’t an easy thing to do.”

In order to get the national title, Cabral has put in a lot of hard work. “Over the past few years, I been working out at a 5k pace and using a few hurdles,” said Cabral.

“This year, I have done more work with hurdles and I have been training at faster than steeplechase speed.”

In mid-May, Cabral displayed his speed, setting an American college record of 8:19.14 as he won the steeplechase in the Oxy High Performance Meet at Occidental College.

“That was the biggest confidence builder but there was still a ways to go before the trials and can I keep it going,” said Cabral, who also gained confidence from helping Princeton to wins in the distance medley and 4xmile relays at the Penn Relays in April. “It is good to know I can run an 8:19. I will probably need to run that in the trials.”

While Cabral went on to win the 10,000 and the steeplechase at the Outdoor Ivy League Heptagonal Championships later in May, he wasn’t at his fastest.

“I did get two wins but not the times I had hoped for,” said Cabral. “Completing the triple crown [winning Heps titles in cross country, indoor, and outdoor track] for the team was the big thing. It was less about personal goals and more about team goals.”

Over his Princeton years, Cabral has experienced personal growth away from the track.

“I am such a different person,” said Cabral, who graduated from Princeton on June 5 and was one of five 2012 winners of the William Winston Roper Trophy, the top award for senior male athletes.

“I am more comfortable with who I am. I am more comfortable with my nerdy side. I am a little better at managing time with school work and taking care of things outside of track.”

Cabral is looking to make the most of his time between now and the Olympic Trials, planning to train in Princeton until June 20 and then working out in Portland, Ore. in the days before the steeplechase competition.

“The plan is to be as sharp and fast as possible; the way that has happened for me is with decent workouts,” said Cabral.

“I have been going out slow in the starts of steeplechases and then making a big kick. I want to get into steeplechase pace right off the start. I want to have the finishing speed and the turnover of a miler.”

In order to make the Olympic team, Cabral knows he needs to be sharp mentally.

“I don’t think you can go into this looking to be in the top three; you have to be going in there with the idea of competing for the win,” said Cabral.

“I think that is important; it is bad to go in with a negative focus and thinking you just need to be in the top three. It is much easier to go out there and tell yourself to run for first and not settle for anything else.”

June 6, 2012

PEAK PERFORMANCE: Princeton University senior distance running star Brian Leung displays his form in a race at Weaver Stadium this spring. Leung, a former WW/P-S standout, will be wrapping up his Tiger career this week by competing in the 10,000 at the NCAA Championships at Des Moines, Iowa. It will be the first appearance at the outdoor nationals for Leung, who prepared for his senior season by training last summer in the mountains of Utah. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Brian Leung headed into the mountains to prepare for his final year of distance running at Princeton University.

“This summer went smoothly; a bunch of teammates and I went out to Park City Utah to train and work,” said Leung, noting that there was a core group of 15 Princeton runners engaged in the high altitude training.

“I arrived on campus, pretty fit and ready to go. I definitely bumped up my mileage out there, I was up to 110-120 miles a week.”

But after the high of his summer experience, Leung hit a valley in the latter stages of his cross country season, starting with an Ivy League Heptagonal championship meet that was hit by a freak October snowstorm.

“It was really cold out there in a singlet and shorts; I got pretty sick afterwards,” said Leung, a local running legend during his high school career at WW/P-S.

“It wiped me out for the rest of the cross country. Then I had a weird fatigue in my quads; I didn’t know what it was. I took a couple of weeks off and the doctors diagnosed it as a femoral stress reaction. It took me out for six weeks; I didn’t run indoors.”

With only a few months left in his Tiger career, Leung decided to aim for the summit of college running.

“Coming off the injury, coach [Steve Dolan] and I put together a race plan,” said Leung. “The one goal was to make the NCAAs and run well there.”

Overcoming a slow start to the spring season, Leung achieved the first step of his plan, placing eighth in the 10,000 at the NCAA East regional to make the national championship meet.

This week, Leung will look to accomplish part two of the plan as he competes in the NCAA Championships at Des Moines, Iowa.

At the outset of the outdoor season, though, Leung’s NCAA goal looked like a longshot at best.

“In the first meet during spring break training, everyone was going to run a mile,” recalled Leung.

“I was hoping to go under 4:10; halfway through I realized I wasn’t ready. I ran a 4:24 which is my race pace for 5k. It was frustrating; I was losing to runners I should be beating. The focus was on building base and then gaining speed. In distance running you can’t make up for lost time; being patient was the key.”

Exercising patience, Leung gradually regained his form as he set a personal record of 14:09.82 in the 5,000 at the Larry Ellis Invitational in late April and then placed fifth in the 10,000 at the Outdoor Heps with a time of 29:38.22.

“Every week I was getting stronger,” said Leung. “It helped that I was able to use my teammates as a benchmark. In any other year getting fifth in the Heps would have been disappointing but I was happy with the way I ran there.”

Building on his effort at the Heps, Leung came up big at the NCAA East Regional at the University of North Florida, placing eighth in the 10,000 to book his spot in Des Moines.

“We knew there was going to be a lot of attrition in Jacksonville,” said Leung, who clocked a time of 30:17.64 in making the national meet.

“Even though the race started at 8 at night, it was 85 and humid. I needed to be in the top 12 to make it through to the NCAAs. With two laps to go, I was in ninth and had a good gap so I knew I had wrapped up a spot. It was a fun last 800 meters. It was great to prolong the season and spend two more weeks with my teammates.”

For Leung, competing with star teammate and good friend Donn Cabral has helped him become a better runner.

“We have an interesting relationship; we are roommates but we are pretty competitive with each other,” said Leung, noting that he and Cabral were rivals in regional competition during their high school careers.

“As the years have gone by, he has taken a step up. It has been great to train with each other. We have learned from each other; we make each other better.”

As Leung struggled with injuries at various points of his Princeton career, he has drawn strength from his bond with his classmates. “If I had to sum it up in one word, it would be humbling,” said Leung, reflecting on his Princeton years.

“I haven’t reached all of my goals but being around guys like my room group of Donn, Peter Maag, and Joe Stilin has been great. I have been living vicariously through them at times. I like being part of something larger; you don’t get that in high school. I couldn’t be prouder of what they have done. It is good coming together as a class. We all had a goal of running in the NCAAs; Donn, Joe, Trevor Van Ackeren, and I have made it.”

Now, Leung is aiming for one last goal in his Princeton career. “I am getting sharper; I am getting my legs to feel good,” said Leung, who is heading to University of Wisconsin this fall to study for a masters in public policy and will be able to run for the Badgers as he retains eligibility due to injury layoffs over the last four years.

“I ran 100 miles in the week before regionals and then I went down to the mid-70s. I probably did around 80 this week. As always with NCAAs, the goal is to make All-America; you need to get top 8 for that. There are a couple of guys that are head and shoulders above everyone. But if I am on that day and some other guys are off, I could do it.”

If Leung can reach that height, it would mark one of the more memorable climbs in recent Princeton track history.

HEAVY LIFTING: The Princeton University men’s heavyweight first varsity 8 churns through the water in action this spring. Last Saturday, the Tigers won the petit final at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta to place seventh in the country. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

For the Princeton University men’s heavyweight rowers, their performance last week at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regatta turned out to be a reflection of a transition season for the program.

On Thursday, Princeton enjoyed a productive opening day, advancing all three of its boats, the varsity eight, second varsity eight, and freshman 8, into the semifinals.

A day later, the Tigers fell short in the semifinals and all three boats had to settle for spots in the B final rather than the grand final.

But showing its character, the varsity eight and the freshman 8s both won their petit finals on Saturday while the second varsity took third.

Princeton head coach Greg Hughes liked the way his rowers had trained since competing in the Eastern Sprints in mid-May.

“We changed up the kind of work we do; it was time to make some changes and push,” said Hughes. “We had two weekends without racing; we worked hard.”

While that work paid dividends for the Tigers on the first day of the regatta, the racing didn’t go as well in the semis.

“Both varsity boats did a solid job on Thursday; they did the pieces that they wanted to row,” said Hughes.

“The conditions were tough on Friday; there was a stiff headwind. I thought we could have rowed better. It was a really great battle between our varsity and Syracuse for third (and the last spot in the grand final); they got the upper hand. It was disappointing; our goal was to make it back to the finals.”

Fighting through that frustration, Princeton ended the IRAs on a high note.

“I thought we rebounded well from Friday,” asserted Hughes. “We rowed a sound piece in the B finals; we made the most out of the race. The guys ended the season in the best way they could.”

For Hughes, there were two main lessons for his rowers to learn from the season.

“I hope they take away two things; we made some good progress through the season and then we had to make adjustments to do as well as we did in sprints,” said Hughes.

“The IRAs are tight and close. They know what the top-end speed is and I think they are motivated to achieve it.

Hughes knows that the graduation of such seniors as captain Ian Silveira and Mike Protesto will leave a void.

“It will be sad to not have Ian next year,” said Hughes. “Mike Protesto was on varsity last year. He was dealing with injury this year and didn’t make varsity but he was a real role player. He was the heart and soul of the second varsity. He won our W. Lyman Biddle sportsmanship award and there was no question about it.”

The Princeton rowers will need to put their hearts into their summer training in order to again become championship contenders.

“It is the off season but not time off; they need to get back to work,” said Hughes.

“It’s not just about what you do in the spring; it is an all-time thing. We have six or seven guys going to national camps this summer and only one, Silveira, is a senior. That will help with the development; they need to be with different programs and have different roles.”

While Princeton has the pieces in place to maintain the program’s winning tradition, that doesn’t ensure greatness.

“Talent is potential but potential doesn’t equal success; we talked about that at the end of the season,” said Hughes.

“It is one thing to have talent, it is another thing to take advantage of it and use it. You can’t take anything for granted.”

May 30, 2012

STROKE OF BRILLIANCE: Princeton University men’s heavyweight rowing star Ian Silveira pulls hard from the stroke seat in a race this spring. Utilizing his leadership and skill, senior captain Silveira has set a positive tone for the Tigers. This weekend, Silveira will be looking to finish his Princeton career in style as his varsity 8 boat goes for a national title at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) championships on Cooper River in Cherry Hill. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

Some rowers shy away from the stroke seat and the accompanying responsibility to initiate the cadence for a boat but not Ian Silveira.

“I like the feeling that there is a bit more control,” said Silveira, reflecting on the stroke position which is the rower closest to the stern.

“It sets the rhythm for the rest of the boat; there is a lot of pressure but I like it. I like the feeling of setting the tone and the feeling when the guys really start going.”

This spring, the senior star has been setting the tone in and out of the water as the senior captain of the Princeton University men’s heavyweight program.

“I was honored that my teammates thought highly enough of me; it put expectations on me,” said Silveira.

“You want to set a good example and display a work ethic that others would emulate. I am trying to live up to the standard of the guys who came before me and continue what we have done in the past. The juniors and rest of seniors are helping me out; it is basically a collective effort.”

This week, Silveira and his teammates will be looking to produce a big effort as they go after a national title in the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) championships on Cooper River in Cherry Hill.

Silveira likes the way his first varsity boat has been training as it prepares for the IRA.

“It has been going well; we are carrying a lot of the speed we took into sprints,” said Silveira, referring to the Eastern Sprints where the top boat finished fourth.

“The theme this year is learning and developing and we have been able to do that. I look forward to racing.”

It didn’t take long for Silveira to learn that he loved racing. “From the first practice in high school, I was hooked on it,” recalled Silveira, a native of West Bloomfield, Mich. who went to Orchard Lake St. Mary’s Prep.

“It was completely different than the other sports I had tried. It was not on a field or a court, it was on a lake.”

Showing ability to go with his passion for the sport, Silveira made the U.S. junior 8 and competed internationally.

“I was used to rowing in Michigan and competing against rowers in my region; being on the world stage was a big jump,” said Silveira. “Rowing against kids from all over the world was more exciting than anything; it is fun to race.”

When it came time to row in college, Silveira was excited to join the Princeton crew program.

“I had spent time at Princeton; the juniors selection camp was there so I had an idea what it was like,” said Silveira.

“I liked the way they ran the program, it was the best fit for me team-wise. I also picked the school where I would be most comfortable if anything happened to me and I couldn’t row.”

It took Silveira a while to develop a comfort level with college rowing. “The work load is different; it is definitely a jump in the training load,” said Silveira.

“The workouts are harder; you are recruited and expected to perform. You think you are going to have a lot of time but you are in class from 8-3 and then you have practice. You have to figure out how to balance things; you want to perform in class and on the water.”

Silveira has certainly performed well on the water for the Tigers. By sophomore year, he was ensconced in the stroke seat for the varsity 8, helping the boat place second at the Eastern Sprints. Last year, he helped the Tigers take silver again at the Eastern Sprints and sixth in the IRA national championship regatta.

Over the past two summers, Silveira has honed his skills by competing for the U.S.’s U23 men’s quadruple sculls (M4x), which involves a rower using two oars rather than one as in college sweep competition.

“In high school, I did the single at the end of the year so I’m used to sculling,” said Silveira

“It is something different. It is fun to race in different boats. The first year, we went to Belarus and finished 10th. We finished 4th last year at Amsterdam, it was the best finish ever for the U.S. in that event.”

As Silveira finishes up his career at Princeton, he has been thrust in the role of mentoring a group of younger rowers.

“It has definitely been different working with the young guys; I have thought about things I have never thought about,” said Silveira.

“I was the only sophomore in a boat of juniors and seniors. As a junior, we had a bunch of seniors. Now there are five sophomores on the boat. I am having to remember the lessons I was learning when I was a sophomore and spending more time taking guys under my wing. It is a new challenge.”

The Tigers have faced some challenges this spring, suffering defeats to Harvard, Cornell, and Brown in their final three regular season regattas before the fourth-place finish at the Eastern Sprints.

“I think that the younger guys are dealing with taking lumps; each of the losses showed all of us what we needed to work on to develop,” said Silveira. “At sprints, we displayed how we had taken those lessons.”

Silveira is savoring his final days of work at the Princeton boathouse. “It is bittersweet; it is good to be done with the school part,” said Silveira, a sociology major who is contemplating going to law school after his rowing career.

“Every day I go out on the water, I can count the days left on one hand. It is a little sad having to leave; I have enjoyed the people I have rowed with.”

Utilizing the mentality that has served him well in the stroke seat, Silveira is looking to get the most out of the people he will be rowing with this weekend.

“I have had to learn to adapt and work with others and be a better leader,” said Silveira, who plans to compete with the U.S. U-23 boat this summer with an eye to continuing with the national program through the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

“I have been learning how to manage people’s attitudes and learning what it takes to get people coming from different positions to work with each other and come together.”

GOING FOURTH: The Princeton University women’s open crew varsity eight cruises back to the dock after finishing fourth last Sunday in the grand final of the NCAA Championships at Mercer Lake. The Tigers advanced boats to all three grand finals of the competition as they placed fourth in the team standings. Princeton has now placed in the Top 4 at the last four NCAA regattas. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When Lila Flavin reflects on her Princeton University career, one of the major lessons that comes to her mind centers on mental toughness.

“I think what they say about Princeton is that they have a lot of fight,” said Flavin. “I think I had it going in but I think I have learned how to use it and how to handle moments of pressure.”

Last weekend, Flavin, the senior coxswain for the Princeton University women’s open crew varsity 8, came through with aplomb under pressure as the Tigers competed in the NCAA Championships at nearby Mercer Lake.

On Friday, the native of Cambridge, Mass. piloted the Tigers to a second place in their opening heat as they qualified for the semifinals. A day later, she guided the boat to a second place finish, helping Princeton emerge as one of only three programs in the 16-school competition to send boats to all three Grand Finals.

With a national title on the line in Sunday’s racing, Flavin and the Tigers fought valiantly but came up short as they placed fourth in 6:25.90 over the 2,000-meter course, 7.18 seconds behind winner Virginia and a mere 0.84 behind third-place finisher USC.

With the varsity 4 taking fifth and the second varsity 8 placing fourth, the Tigers ended up fourth overall in the team standings at the regatta.

While Flavin would have liked to have seen her boat take home a title, she had no qualms with how it battled.

“We were just real excited to make the final; we had no idea how it was going to go,” said Flavin.

“The national championship is a whole different league. I think we just went out there to have the best race we could possibly have. We fought really hard. They [USC] just snuck by us but we are happy with it.”

Flavin is happy with how the boat progressed this spring as it bounced back from early season losses to Michigan and USC.

“With this season, I am just going to think about how much we have grown throughout the year,” said Flavin.

“We came in really rough and not really sure of ourselves and we came out really confident and stronger. I will remember that progression.”

For Flavin, guiding the varsity 8 to a national title in 2011 is something that has left an indelible memory. “I will never forget that,” said Flavin. “I learned a lot about what it takes to be at the top and be the best.”

Working with her classmates has helped Flavin learn what it takes to get through the rough times that come with pursuing championships.

“There are not very many of us but we have really had a lot of character and we have helped to keep the team together,” said Flavin.

“I think with any sport, there is a ton of ups and downs. There are a lot of bad days when you don’t want to be there but that’s when it counts. I think we have tried to channel that as seniors.”

Princeton head coach Lori Dauphiny credits Flavin and her classmates with being a steadying force at the boathouse.

“It is a small class but they have a big presence,” said Dauphiny. “This year there was a senior in every boat. Lila, in particular, as a coxswain and having been in that national championship boat last year knows what it takes and she holds them to high standards.”

The Tigers lived up to their high standards on Saturday when they came out of the semifinals with boats in all three grand finals.

“Yesterday was a great day for us in ways that exceeded expectations,” said Dauphiny.

“I wasn’t sure that all three boats were going to make the final. Everyone really stepped up. We worked very hard between the [Ivy] Sprints and the national championship to make it happen.”

Although the varsity 8 didn’t repeat as national champions, Dauphiny liked the way the boat worked on Sunday.

“I thought it was great; I think they are slightly disappointed,” said Dauphiny.

“If you look at our season and where we were compared to those folks in the regular season, we have increased in speed. In the beginning of the season, we lost to Michigan by open water and we also lost to USC. This time around, we were within seconds and tenths of seconds of the top competition. So they were fierce competitors and great racers; I thought our effort was very courageous.”

Dauphiny saw courage in the efforts she got from the varsity 4 and the second varsity 8.

“I thought they did an outstanding job as well,” added Dauphiny. “In the 4, it was a tight field and I think they had some little disappointment as well. They raced hard and I think they improved through the season as well. The 2V is heart-stopping in every race, they basically have taken years off my life. They always come from behind. They are always down off the start and then they slowly work their way back in so I think they are a very confident group.”

With Princeton having now placed in the Top 4 at the last four NCAA regattas, Dauphiny is confident that the Tigers are headed in the right direction.

“I think that shows that we are really building depth,” asserted Dauphiny, who is in her 16th year at the helm of the program.

“In the past, that was something that we struggled with. This year, putting all boats in the finals was one of our goals. When I asked the team what they wanted to do, they responded, ‘we want all boats in the finals at the national championships.’ I think they wanted to go beyond that; that is why there is a slight disappointment. This is the first time in some time that we have put all three boats in the grand final. It has been at least 10 years.”

Flavin, for her part, has relished the time she has put in getting the most out of her boats.

“I have so much respect for the rowers and what they go through,” said Flavin.

“I don’t think there is any other sport like that; being able to be in a boat with them is really inspiring.”

NICK THE QUICK: Nick Miranda races to first in action this spring for the Haverford College baseball team. Miranda, a 2010 Princeton High alum who starred in football and baseball for the Little Tigers, went from a little-used walk-on as a freshman to a star this spring in his sophomore campaign for Haverford. After going hitless as a freshman, the fleet centerfielder hit .352 with 62 hits in 176 at-bats in 2012 and set a Haverford single-season record for runs scored with 48. (Photo Courtesy of Haverford College Sports Information)

Nick Miranda had a modest goal when he took the field for the season opener this spring in his sophomore campaign with the Haverford College baseball team.

“Playing in Florida, I was just looking to get my first college hit,” said Miranda, a 2010 Princeton High alum who starred in football and baseball for the Little Tigers.

It didn’t take long for Miranda to achieve that breakthrough, smacking a double in that first game as Haverford faced Neumann University in Fort Myers, Fla.

The 5’9, 140-pound centerfielder went on to get a lot more hits this spring as he hit .352 with 62 hits in 176 at-bats and set a Haverford single-season record for runs scored with 48.

For Miranda, struggling through a tough freshman season which saw him go 0-for-7 at the plate in 12 games served as the impetus for his heroics this spring.

“I was completely unhappy with my freshman year,” said Miranda. “I was the only guy on the team who didn’t have a hit. I used that as fuel for motivation.”

When Miranda arrived on campus this fall, he was primed to turn some heads.

“For me, it was about getting stronger and faster over the summer,” said Miranda. “I worked on my hitting a lot. I was ready to get after it, I had something to prove.”

Establishing himself as a starter, Miranda savored every game. “I definitely felt along the way I was getting the confidence of the coaches,” said Miranda. “Just being on the field and playing was great.”

With Miranda triggering the offense from the leadoff spot, the Fords produced a great finish, winning nine of their last 10 regular season games and then going on to win the Centennial Conference tournament and compete in the NCAA Division III Mid-Atlantic Regional.

“It was all due to leadership; we had two really good seniors who were the heart and soul of the team and really guided the younger players,” said Miranda, reflecting on the late surge which helped Haverford finish with 25-19 record.

“The Washington College doubleheader in April was big. If we had lost there, we might not have made the playoffs. Our bats really came alive.”

Taking the program’s first-ever Centennial tourney crown produced some memories that will live forever with Miranda.

“That was pretty awesome; beating Johns Hopkins to start was big, we haven’t beaten them many times,” said Miranda.

“It was great; it was our first conference title. We had a lot of support from our alums, everyone was following us.”

For Haverford head coach Dave Beccaria, Miranda’s emergence as a star has been a great surprise for the program.

“We liked his athleticism and competitiveness; he went from a guy who was a freshman walk-on who didn’t play much to an indispensable player,” said Beccaria.

“Sometimes when a guy isn’t playing, you are not sure of how much is sinking in. It is clear now that he was soaking everything up.”

Miranda made his intentions for this season clear from the moment he arrived on campus for his sophomore year.

“It was apparent from the start; Nick was ready to prove something to himself and the coaches,” recalled Beccaria.

“He was competing from day one. He showed up ready to work and play. The way he played and the way he worked challenged the other guys.

Miranda’s competitive fire never waned through the spring. “Nick is a tough out; he is simple but purposeful at the plate,” added Beccaria.

“He hits a lot of balls hard. He is super focused. He shows up completely focused and tunes everything else out. The other guys picked up on it. During our first regional game at the NCAA, we were the away team and before the lineup was announced and national anthem was played, he was in the on-deck circle with helmet on and bat in his hand. The guys said ‘that’s Nicky.’”

In Beccaria’s view, Miranda has only scratched the surface of what he can achieve in his college career.

“The best is yet to come; there are not peaks and valleys with Nicky,” said Beccaria. “We will try to help him get even better; he is going to be a big part of our success.

While Haverford didn’t enjoy the success it
wanted at the NCAA regional, losing two of three games, Miranda saw the
experience as a big plus for the program.

“I don’t think we were out of our league,” said Miranda, who went 6-for-14 in the tourney with two runs and two RBIs. “We played well; it was nice.”

Although Miranda will be spending much of his summer in Asia, he isn’t about to lose his focus on becoming an even better player.

“I will be in China for two months on a study abroad program; I will be able to lift weights and run there,” said Miranda.

“I do have a couple of flaws; I have to work on my arm strength. I don’t want to stop building; I want to improve.”

May 23, 2012

CLOSING SPEED: Princeton University women’s track star sprinter Eileen Moran flies to the finish line in a recent action. Senior Moran ended her Tiger career in style with a spectacular performance earlier this month at the Ivy League Outdoor Heptagonal championships. The native of Homer Glen, Ill. placed first in the 100 and 200 dashes, anchored Princeton to the 4x100 title, and helped the Tigers take second in the 4x400. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Eileen Moran is not the quickest sprinter out of the blocks.

“My start is not the very best; I have trouble with reaction,” said Moran, a senior star for the Princeton University women’s track team.

“I am always trying to catch the other runners in the races. I have to clear my mind in the blocks. If I am thinking too much, I don’t react as well.”

But Moran showed that she can finish in style, producing a spectacular performance earlier this month at the Ivy League Outdoor Heptagonal championships in her final appearance in a Princeton uniform.

The native of Homer Glen, Ill. placed first in the 100 and 200 dashes, anchored Princeton to the 4×100 title, and helped the Tigers take second in the 4×400.

“I could not have asked for a better way to end my career,” said Moran, reflecting on the Heps meet in which she helped earn 38 of Princeton’s 134 points as the Tigers took second to Cornell.

“I thought after the first day of preliminaries that if I could do exactly what I did that day, things would go well. I was crossing off each event. The 4×100 was a highlight; we had been close indoors and we wanted to defend our title.”

Moran took up sprinting as a freshman at Providence Catholic High School and it didn’t take long for things to go well.

“I was pretty successful; I had to learn technical things,” said Moran, who had played basketball and did Irish dancing before focusing on track.

“I qualified for the states in the 400 as a sophomore and placed fifth. The 400 was my best event in high school.”

That success got Moran thinking about competing at the next level. “Once I qualified for states and placed, I started getting letters from college coaches,” said Moran.

“I got a lot of letters as a junior. My top three were Cornell, Princeton, and Notre Dame. I came on a recruiting trip to Princeton and had a great time with the team. It was the first time I had been around a team that was so close.”

It was the positive feeling around the Tiger team that helped Moran develop a comfort level with college track.

“The time we put into training was the biggest adjustment,” said Moran, who was moved from the quarter mile to the shorter sprinting events during her freshman campaign.

“I was used to training hard with my club team in high school. I was trying to balance training and school. We had a really great group of upperclassmen, they always tried to involve us and spend time with us. They really tried to get to know us; it was a fun group to be around.”

For Moran, the breakthrough in shorter sprints came in Indoor Heps in her sophomore season when she took second in the 200.

“I ran against a girl from Columbia (Sharay Hale); she was one of the best sprinters ever in the Ivy League,” said Moran, who clocked a time of 24.67 with Hale finishing first in 24.20. “It was cool to race her.”

As a junior, Moran displayed her coolness under pressure at the Outdoor Heps, fighting off injury to take first in the 100, second in the 200, and help Princeton to victory in the 4×100 as the team  won the meet to complete a Heps triple crown [cross country, indoor, and outdoor].

“I was really surprised by that meet; I spent a lot of time in the training room that year because my hamstring was acting up,” said Moran.

“I was really nervous going into the meet; we had the triple crown on the line. I didn’t want to hurt the team. Somehow I got through it. The week before I felt out of shape; I was running times that I hadn’t run since high school.”

This year, Moran stepped into a new role with the Princeton team, serving as a captain.

“I was honored; the team votes for it so to be elected was exciting,” said Moran.

“I was happy to have the responsibility. I try to lead by example; I don’t want to be super bossy. These kids are between 19 and 22, I want to let people do their own things.”

Princeton women’s track assistant coach Thomas Harrington, who specializes in the sprints and hurdles, is not surprised that Moran emerged as a team captain.

“Eileen worked hard,” said Harrington. “She could demand that her teammates work hard because they can see the results she got from putting in extra time.”

Harrington was proud of the results Moran achieved in her final Heps this spring.

“She came to compete at that meet,” recalled Harrington. “In the past we have been strong in the distance events but this year we needed the sprinters to step up. I said ‘Eileen you are our leader and you have to lead by what you do.’”

While Moran may not be in the lead out of the blocks, she uses technical acumen to outpace her foes.

“She is really good at the drive phase, the first 30 or 40 meters of the race,” explained Harrington, noting that Moran used that technique to pull way from the competition in the 100 and 200 at the Heps.

“If a runner has a sustained drive phase, it allows you to hit top-end speed later in the race when others are breaking down. Eileen stays down in drive phase for 30-40 meters and then comes up and is hitting max speed at 80 meters and then she chews up the other runners.”

In Harrington’s view, Moran has gotten the most out of her potential as a runner.

“I told her the goal every year was to get higher on the podium; she totally maximized her talent,” added Harrington.

“She learned all the things she needed to know. If I said run into a wall she would say which part. I had to grow as a coach, she made me a better coach. I had to find new ways to push her.”

Moran, for her part, has used that coaching to develop a greater self belief.

“I would say I am more confident; I still get nervous before meets but I am more confident in my abilities,” said Moran.

“I know what I am capable of; a lot of it comes from the coaches, telling you if you follow this training, you will get to this result.”

As a result, Moran leaves Princeton with program records in the indoor 60 (7.57) and 300 (40.36) in addition to being part of record-setting 4×100 (46.03)

4×200 (1:40.15), and 4×400 (3:39.96) relays.

“It is exciting; it is cool because Peter Farrell [Princeton women’s track head coach] keeps track of records and every time someone breaks one, he gives the history of the person who had it and talks about where they are now,” said Moran.

“He usually calls them about the new record. You feel like you have become a piece of history.”

And by finishing her career in style, Moran has established herself as one of the best sprinters in the program’s history.

FEELING THE PULL: Katie Baker, center, pulls hard from the stroke seat in a race this spring in her senior campaign for the Princeton University women’s open crew third varsity 8. Baker, a former star athlete at Stuart Country Day School, went from a walk-on rowing neophyte to a mainstay of the Tiger women’s open crew program during her college career. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

During her sports career at Stuart Country Day School, Katie Baker liked to keep busy, starring at field hockey, basketball, and lacrosse.

Entering Princeton University in the fall of 2008, Baker looked into club field hockey, lacrosse, ultimate frisbee and varsity crew as ways to fill her athletic fix.

The Princeton Junction native ultimately decided to devote her considerable energy to rowing.

“I was doing rowing in the morning and field hockey in the afternoon,” recalled Baker. “It was very tiring, I decided I had to pick one and I went with crew.”

Having never rowed before, Baker faced some major challenges in adjusting to her new sport.

“The conditioning was the toughest part, I had to adapt to the idea of always conditioning,” said Baker.

“The first time I rowed it was very exciting and very new. It was very hard to get it; I had the fear of falling into water.”

Overcoming those fears and clearly getting it, Baker has emerged as a mainstay for the Princeton women’s open program, helping the Tigers win the Ivy Sprints team title earlier this month as she ended her college crew career on a high note.

For Baker, coming close to a title as a freshman helped cement her commitment to rowing.

“In my freshman spring, we didn’t have enough for a freshman so I was on a freshman 4,” said Baker.

“We got second at Eastern Sprints; that was exciting. I was getting used to it; I was much more confident than when I started. I was less worried that I would do something to catch a crab (a stroke that goes bad).”

As a sophomore, Baker’s increasing confidence and skill level led her to be moved to the vital stroke seat, the rower sitting closest to the stern whose cadence sets the rhythm for the boat.

“It was a lot more about getting better and faster,” said Baker, reflecting on her sophomore campaign.

“I was in the third varsity 8. I became a stroke; it was exciting. They talked about me doing it for freshman 4 and I was terrified. Once I tried it, I really liked it. You get to think more about how to use power rather than just rowing. You focus on what the boat needs and how you can help.”

In 2011, Baker got a firsthand experience with a powerful crew, toiling alongside a first varsity 8 that went on to the win the grand final at the NCAA Championships.

“It was awesome to train with them; it was great to watch that happen,” said Baker, who went to the NCAA regatta with the varsity 4.

“I think it is completely true that you feel like you are pushing the top boat. You have to have someone to race everyday to be able to race.”

For Baker, a big part of her senior year has been savoring every day at the boathouse.

“I definitely wanted to embrace all of it instead of just going through it,” said Baker.

“I wanted to really experience things; enjoying being part of the team and being on the water.”

Baker experienced plenty of success on the water this spring, stroking the third varsity 8 to an undefeated season, culminating with a first place finish at the Ivy Sprints.

“It definitely came together more in the spring; people were being moved around before that,” said Baker, in assessing the boat’s superb season.

“We were always fast; we never won a race by less than eight seconds. Even when it was windy and rough, I never doubted anyone. We had trust and confidence in each other.”

The level of trust throughout the program helped the Tigers prevail in the overall team standings at the Ivy Sprints.

“It was great, our goal was to win as a team,” said Baker, who will be cheering on her teammates on the first and second varsity 8s and varsity 4 this weekend as they compete in the NCAA Championships at Mercer Lake. “To have every boat medal is great. Crew is so hard but so worth it when you win.”

In the final analysis, the bonds that Baker developed with her classmates may be the most worthwhile aspect of her crew experience.

“We have all shared the same things,” said Baker, who is looking to teach and coach at a prep school after graduation.

“We had hard days where we helped each other and we had the experience of a national championship. I have always been a committed person but this is a whole new level of commitment. You really have to have a tenacity. Having a group like that and that kind of structure is extremely rewarding.”

JERSEY STRONG: U.S. women’s soccer star Carli Lloyd controls the ball last week in a training session at Princeton University. Lloyd, a New Jersey native and former Rutgers standout, has been enjoying the national squad’s training camp at Princeton’s Roberts Stadium, which is running from May 10-25. The U.S. team is gearing up for a May 27 game against China in Chester, Pa. and the upcoming Olympic Games. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

During her All-American soccer career at Rutgers University Carli Lloyd enjoyed some fierce battles against local rival Princeton.

“There was probably the most amount of yellow cards during our games,” said Lloyd, a 2005 Rutgers alum who has been playing with the U.S. women’s national team since graduation.

“It was an intrastate rival; it was a battle. You knew every time coming out that it wasn’t going to be an easy match. It was a good rivalry that we had against them. Princeton was a really strong team.”

For the last two weeks, Lloyd has been feeling at home on enemy territory as the U.S. national squad has been based at the Princeton soccer facilities for a training camp in preparation for a May 27 game against China in Chester, Pa. and the upcoming Olympic Games.

“This is great; this is a top-notch facility,” said star midfielder Lloyd, a 5’8 native of Delran standing on the sidelines of Roberts Stadium last Thursday after a morning training session.

“I think all the people working at Princeton have treated us really well; they have done  anything for us. Our hotel area is great. It is a perfect set-up. I think Pia [U.S. head coach Pia Sundhage] is really happy about it and hopefully we’ll have some more camps here in the future.”

After undergoing a grueling camp in Florida last month, Lloyd and her teammates are fine-tuning things during their stay at Princeton.

“It was a tough two-week camp in Florida but we made it through,” said Lloyd.

“This camp is a little bit longer but because there is a game attached at the end of it, I think that makes it a little bit easier. It’s tough with the roster cut so it is a pretty important camp. There is a lot going on; there is a lot of preparation before we move on to the next camp.”

With the U.S. team capturing international attention last summer in its dramatic run to the World Cup final where it lost to Japan in a penalty shootout, the players are hoping to shine in their next major competition.

“We didn’t get the result we wanted to at the World Cup and any time we can bounce back, and not so much have a second chance, but have another big event to show ourselves on the world stage, that’s great,” said Lloyd.

“We are going to waiting another three years after this Olympics for the next world cup. I am super excited. You never want to take anything for granted, you want to take it one game at a time. It is not going to be easy.”

It is going to be easy for the U.S. to get excited about playing in the English venues, which are among the most storied in world soccer.

“I think it is a privilege to even be considered to be able play in those stadiums,” said Lloyd, who was a key player on the U.S. gold
medal team in the 2008
Beijing Games.

“Wembley is such a prestigious stadium. Coming off a World Cup in Germany where they did a phenomenal job, I think we are going to get that same kind of vibe coming to London. They are pretty excited about soccer there.”

U.S. head coach Sundhage likes the vibe she is getting at the Princeton camp.

“Everything I have heard about Princeton has been fantastic; I wonder if it is that good but just look around with the turf and the real grass, it is hard to tell the difference,” said Sundhage, reflecting on the camp which was slated to run from May 10-25.

“I am very happy with the fact that we chose to stay here; they have been treating us well and it is a good feeling to be around this area.”

In Sundhage’s view, her players have been thriving in the Princeton environment.

“They are competing very well; I think the intersquad game that we played the other day was one of the best I have ever seen,” said Sundhage.

“They are really doing a good job to compete against each other; if we do a good job of that, we can win against any team in the world. They look very good.”

Lloyd, for her part, knows it is going to require a full team effort for the U.S. to defend its Olympic crown.

“I think it is going to take every one of us, all 18 players,” asserted Lloyd, who has 131 caps and 34 goals in her career with the national team.

“I don’t think there is a single star player on this team that is going to win it for us. We have got great talent. We have a great attacking front six and a solid back four and good people coming off that bench. We just have to play our game. We have to take some risks and we know we may give up some goals but we just have to score more than the other teams.”

The 30-year-old Lloyd is primed to make a big contribution to the U.S. attack.

“I am feeling really good; I am the fittest I have ever been,” said Lloyd, who has eight goals in 12 appearances this year for the U.S.

“I think my role has changed which had given me a little more freedom. Since Shannon Boxx is holding in the center midfield, I can run around and create things and be that playmaker and make things happen and get myself in and around the box for scoring opportunities.”

And having the opportunity to train at Princeton has proven to be a good fit for Lloyd and her teammates.

May 16, 2012

HELD OFF: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Jeff Froccaro fights through a hold in action earlier this season. Last Sunday, junior star Froccaro scored two goals but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 6-5 to fifth-seeded and defending champion Virginia in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. The Tigers ended the spring at 11-5 overall and 6-0 in Ivy League regular season play as they rebounded from a 4-8 campaign in 2011. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

During their NFL championship run in the early 1960s, the proud Green Bay Packer players used to say they never lost a game, they just ran out of time.

As Princeton University men’s lacrosse head coach Chris Bates reflected on his team’s 6-5 loss at fifth-seeded and defending champion Virginia last Sunday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, he had a similar feeling.

“If the game had gone a minute longer, we would have been ahead,” said Bates, whose team rallied from a 5-2 halftime deficit. “It was a matter of time until we broke through; we had momentum.”

With his team coming off a deflating 15-7 loss to Yale on May 7 in the championship game of the Ivy League tournament, Bates could sense that his players were regaining momentum as they went through practice last week.

“The mood was confident, upbeat, and positive as it should have been,” said Bates. “I thought we were where we needed to be.”

The proud Princeton defense was back to where it needed to be against the Cavaliers as it stymied Virginia’s high-octane attack.

“We were very uncharacteristic the week before,” said Bates, whose team had been giving up 6.85 goals a game before the Yale loss. “They rose to the challenge and the capabilities of who they were playing.”

The Tiger offense was not up to the challenge in the first half, repeatedly misfiring and making some costly miscues.

“I thought the key to the game was our missed shots and our offensive decision-making,” said Bates, whose team scored on just two of its 15 shots on goal in the opening half.

“We had some dropped shots and turnovers. I attribute a lot of that to Virginia’s defense, they played some zone and some man.”

Princeton was hurt by two defensive lapses as it yielded goals in the waning moments of both the first and second quarters.

“They dominated play early and we held them to two goals,” said Bates. “We score and everything seems to be going well and then they get a goal with nine seconds left in the quarter. The goal at the end of the half haunted us.”

Senior goalie Tyler Fiorito haunted the Cavaliers as he made 12 saves and controlled the crease area.

“I thought Tyler was spectacular in the cage,” asserted Bates of tri-captain Fiorito, who ended his career with a total of 624 saves, second best in program history.

“If you are going to win a game like that, you need your goalie to play well. He did everything in his power to help us win. He anticipates plays; he causes turnovers. It is a real bonus to have that in a goalie.”

Even though Princeton was trailing 5-2 at the half, Bates thought the Tigers had a great chance to pull out a win. “At halftime we challenged them,” recalled Bates. “We told them we were not out of this game.”

Controlling tempo in the third quarter, Princeton scored two unanswered goals to draw within 5-4 heading into the final 15 minutes of the contest.

“Bobby [Lucas] was getting face-offs and we started to get a rhythm,” said Bates, whose team ended up outshooting the Cavaliers 19-8 in the second half. “They started to turn the ball over.”

After falling behind 6-4 with 7:07 left in the contest, Princeton fought back to set up a nailbiting finish.

“Tom [Schreiber] did his thing to get us to 6-5,” said Bates, who got two goals and two assists from Schreiber on the day with Jeff Froccaro scoring two goals and Forest Sonnenfeldt adding one.

“On the last possession, we had plenty of time. We put our best playmakers and shooters out there. We had three shots with two of them at point blank.”

After the loss, Bates had a hard time as he addressed his players. “I was choked up; I was not prepared for it to be over,” said Bates, whose team ended the season with an 11-5 record.

“This group of seniors is special to me and the program with everything they endured and how they helped shape a culture. I was sad for them and their families to see it end.”

With Princeton having rebounded from a 4-8 campaign in 2011, Bates believes that change in culture will endure.

“The pieces are in place; we are losing three great players in Tyler, John Cunningham, and Chad Wiedmaier along with 11 other terrific seniors,” said Bates. “But there is lots of optimism and lots of hunger. We have three-quarters of the team coming back.”

In order to get back to national title contention, the Tigers will have to learn to get over the hump in tight games. In addition to the narrow loss last Sunday, the Tigers fell 10-8 to Johns Hopkins, 9-8 to North Carolina, and 10-9 to Syracuse this spring.

“It takes some intangibles and some execution,” said Bates. “You have to handle the pressure of big games. You have got to execute, make plays, and take care of the ball, ground balls, and face-offs. It also comes down to the character in the room. We need to make strides to be more game ready and situation ready.”

While the clock may have run out too soon on the Tigers last Sunday, Bates will long remember the character his players displayed in helping his son Nick and him carry on after the death of his wife, Ann, last November.

“It has been a privilege to be around these guys,” said Bates. “It has been great to come out everyday and focus on the group and making them better. It has been therapeutic for Nick and me. These guys rallied around me and my family. I will never forget that; it has meant so much.”

OPEN SEASON: Members of the Princeton University women’s open crew celebrate after the Tigers won the title at the inaugural Ivy League Sprints last Sunday at Cooper River in Cherry Hill. The Tigers piled up 76 points to edge runner-up Radcliffe by three points at the regatta with Yale taking third and Cornell finishing fourth. (Photo Courtesy of Ryan Samson/The Ivy League)

When Princeton University women’s open crew head coach Lori Dauphiny  looks back on the inaugural Ivy League Sprints, one image, in particular, will come to her mind.

“Every kid from Princeton who competed came away with a medal,” said Dauphiny, reflecting on the event which was held last Sunday at Cooper River in Cherry Hill. “That is really cool; that doesn’t happen too often.”

The Tigers piled up 76 points to edge runner-up Radcliffe by three points at the regatta with Yale taking third and Cornell finishing fourth.

Dauphiny, though, would have liked to see her varsity 8 rowers with gold draped around their necks rather than the bronze they earned from coming in third behind winner Radcliffe and second place Cornell.

“Overall I thought they rowed a good race but we were disappointed,” said Dauphiny, whose top boat clocked a time of 6:22.06 over the 2,000-meter course with Radcliffe at 6:17.74 and Cornell at 6:20.53. “We thought we had a possibility of winning the race and we fell short.”

While the Tiger varsity 8 entered the competition with a 7-0 record in Ivy regular season races, Dauphiny knew it wasn’t a powerhouse.

“This boat is not the most consistent; we had a solid regular season,” said Dauphiny. “We went undefeated in the Ivy League but we lost some races outside of the conference. The team know its strengths and weaknesses; it takes time to develop.”

In Sunday’s racing, the top boat showed it can address weaknesses on the fly.

“At Ivy sprints, they were a little frenzied in the heat; it was not our best race,” recalled Dauphiny.

“We talked about it and made changes in our cadence for the final and we executed. We know they are responsive; they are working on skills and racing better.”

The Princeton second varsity 8 displayed its racing prowess, winning its grand final by overcoming Brown down the stretch.

“The second varsity also had a very good regular season; it is a boat that tends to come from behind,” said Dauphiny, whose second boat clocked a winning time of 6:27.95 with the Bears coming in at 6:31.21.

“They are slower to get going; they gain speed and finish strong and that is what they did on Sunday. They got a better start than usual. They were trailing Brown for much of the race but went through them.”

Putting the final touches on an undefeated season, the third varsity produced a dominating effort, covering the course in 6:38.49, more than 10 seconds ahead of runner up Brown.

“They got off to a good start,” said Dauphiny. “If a race like that can be comfortable, they had it with open water at the end.”

The varsity four wasn’t comfortable with its second place finish as it got nipped by Radcliffe by just over two seconds.

“The boat felt it had an opportunity to win so there was some disappointment,” said Dauphiny. “They rowed a good race but fell short.”

In Dauphiny’s view, winning the team title says good things about the overall strength of the program.

“It should be a help for the future, it shows development and depth,” said Dauphiny.

With the NCAA Championships being held at nearby Mercer Lake from May 25-27, Dauphiny is hoping the combination of proximity and depth will help Princeton be a contender.

“It is definitely not a disadvantage; it’s wonderful to be close to home during final exams and not be traveling,” said Dauphiny, noting that the competition utilizes a team format involving the varsity 8, second varsity 8, and the varsity 4.

“We are excited to have another chance. It is nice that the whole team is recognized; maybe we have a shot at doing better in the team standings.”

LESSON PLAN: Princeton University women’s water polo head coach Luis Nicolao instructs his players in a game earlier this season. Last weekend, the Tigers gained some valuable lesson as they took sixth in their first appearance at the NCAA Championship. The Tigers went 1-2 in the competition to finish the season with a 29-6 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For the Princeton University women’s water polo team, its first-ever trip to the NCAA Championship proved to be eye-opening on several levels.

“No doubt there was a lot of excitement; it was a tremendous learning experience,” said Princeton head coach Luis Nicolao, reflecting on the 8-team competition which took place last weekend at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex.

“We had never gotten this far. We also had to deal with the hurdles of handling academic responsibilities on the road.”

The sixth-seeded Tigers faced a big hurdle in their first round contest last Friday as they played third-seeded USC.

“They are just so strong; it was great experience going against them,” said
Nicolao, whose team fell 14-2 to the Trojans, the eventual runners-up to champion Stanford. “They are physical, smart, and fast; they make you pay for every mistake.”

While the Tigers didn’t play their smartest game in a consolation contest against Iona the next day, they were able to prevail 9-5.

“We have seen them a few times so we knew it would be a tough game,” said Nicolao, who got three goals from sophomore star Katie Rigler as the Tigers outscored the Gaels 3-0 in the fourth quarter to earn the victory.

“You want to win at NCAAs. We didn’t play our best but we were able to pull away in the fourth. We missed some easy shots but we really played well

In the fifth place game against Loyola Marymount on Sunday, the Tigers sputtered down the stretch as they fell 15-11.

“That was the hardest game to take,” said Nicolao, whose team pulled to within 12-11 in the fourth quarter after trailing by three goals for much of the second half.

“We had our chances; we missed opportunities both offensively and defensively. You have to consider the quality of opponent and the fatigue from the weekend. We played hard.”

Learning some hard lessons over the weekend should serve as motivation going forward for a Tiger team that is only losing three seniors.

“Getting the taste of this and seeing how exciting it is, set the bar higher,” said Nicolao, whose team finished the season with a 29-6 record.

“They want to get back there and do better. The girls are all driven. We talked on the bus ride back from the airport about doing that little extra to be better.”

In any event, it has been a special ride for Nicolao this spring. “The group came together,” asserted Nicolao, who is in his 14th year overseeing both the men’s and women’s water polo programs at Princeton.

“Last year we lost the one-goal games; this year, we were winning them. We have a good foundation in place for Princeton water polo. We will have a target on our backs next year but we are excited to get going again. The girls can be proud of what they did.”

May 9, 2012

DOGGED PURSUIT: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Tom Schreiber, right, gets harassed by Yale defender Peter Johnson last Sunday in the Ivy League Tournament championship game. The Bulldogs pulled away to a 15-7 victory over the Tigers to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Later that evening, Princeton found out it will get a chance to pursue its dream of a national title as it received an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney. The Tigers will head south to play at fifth-seeded and defending national champion Virginia (11-3) on May 13 in an opening round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Tyler Fiorito acknowledged that the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team didn’t take care of business when it hosted Yale last Sunday afternoon in the Ivy League championship game.

Knowing that a win could be its only route into the upcoming NCAA tournament, Princeton got overrun by a sizzling Yale team, falling 15-7 to the Bulldogs before a crowd of 1,422 at Class of 1952 Stadium.

In a post-game press conference that had the feel of a wake, a red-eyed Fiorito tipped his hat to Yale, which has now won nine straight games and improved to 11-4.

“They are a good offensive team,” said senior goalie and tri-captain Fiorito, who made just four saves on the day, a far cry from the 13 stops he piled up when Princeton edged the Bulldogs 10-9 in five overtimes in their regular season meeting on March 24.

“They are playing with a lot of confidence and they have some good inside guys. I think they held the ball and brought it behind the net and really attacked us from there. They weren’t taking too many outside shots and they were patient with the ball. They finished their opportunities today.”

Fiorito thought that Princeton might be finished for the year as the loss dropped the Tigers to 11-4 and put them firmly on the bubble for a spot in the 16-team NCAA field.

“We had our chance today, we had it in our hands,” said Fiorito, who was named last week as the Ivy League Player of the Year after helping the Tigers go 6-0 in regular season league action.

“It didn’t go our way; I think it is disappointing for us. We’ll look back at this as a lost opportunity if this is it. We fought hard.”

About seven hours later, however, things went Princeton’s way as the Tigers received an at-large bid to the NCAA tourney, where they will play at fifth-seeded and defending national champion Virginia (11-3) on May 13 in a first round contest.

Princeton head coach Chris Bates knows that the Tigers will have to take some lessons from the Yale defeat in order to beat Virginia.

“It is a tough locker room to be in right now, I don’t think any of us were prepared for this,” said Bates, whose team fell behind 4-0 in the second quarter but rallied to trail just 7-5 early in the third quarter before Yale put the game away with a decisive 6-0 run.

“I give Yale a ton of credit. I thought they played hard; they made plays for themselves. At the end of the day, I don’t think we did what we needed to do to win a big playoff game.”

Bates’ heart went out to his seniors who took the setback to Yale hard.

“I am most disappointed for our seniors who have done everything possible to shape a culture and win games like this,” said Bates, whose Class of 2012 features tri-captain Fiorito, John Cunningham, and Chad Wiedmaier.

“We are not ready for this to be over. I am proud of these guys; I love these guys.”

Bates didn’t love what he saw offensively from his team on Sunday. “I thought Yale controlled the tempo of the game, they wanted to shorten the game and have long possessions,” said Bates, who got two goals and two assists from Alex Capretta in the loss to Yale with Mike MacDonald chipping in two goals and the trio of Forest Sonnenfeldt, Jeff Froccaro, and Kip Orban adding one goal apiece.

“That gets an offense out of a rhythm; we never felt good. We never had the ball moving. Our legs never got under us offensively to gain some momentum and then you do score, if you are not winning the face-off, you have to play defense and recharge the batteries again. That is a challenge.”

In Bates’s view, his team is up for the challenge posed by Virginia. “We can play and beat anybody in the country,” asserted Bates, whose team could get a rematch with the Bulldogs as the winner of the Princeton-Virginia clash will face the victor of the Notre Dame-Yale opening round contest in the NCAA quarters on May 20 in Philadelphia. “I don’t think anyone in the locker room has a doubt; we know we can.”

Fiorito, for his part, has no doubt that the Tigers can do some damage in the NCAA tourney.

“I think we are a great team,” said Fiorito. “I think every time we step on the field, we are going to bring it. I think a lot of teams would fear us. We are a tough team. I think if they put us in there, we would do well. If we get in, we are going to make a little run here.”

Chad Wiedmaier is leaving quite a legacy as he wraps up his career with the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team.

Last week, the 6’1, 200-pound native of Chatham became the first Princeton men’s lacrosse player to be a four-time first-team All-Ivy selection with Cornell’s Max Siebald being the only other four-time first-team pick in league history.

Earlier this spring, senior defenseman and Tiger tri-captain Wiedmaier was named as one of 10 finalists for the Lowe’s Senior Class Award for men’s lacrosse. The award recognizes excellence in what is called the “4 C’s” of classroom, competition, community, and character.

While those accomplishments are special, Wiedmaier realizes that such honors mean that his time at Princeton is fleeting.

“It is bittersweet, I know that no matter what, I am going to be out of here really soon,” said Wiedmaier, who spent last summer helping young people in Uganda, working with Fields of Growth to help the Africans learn lacrosse.

“It hasn’t really hit me emotionally. I know mentally it is about to happen. I don’t think I will really feel it until the last whistle blows.”

While it looked like Princeton may have blown a chance to go for a national title after losing 15-7 to Yale last Sunday in the Ivy tournament championship game, Wiedmaier and the Tigers, now 11-4, will hit the field again as they received an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament and will play at fifth-seeded Virginia (11-3) on May 13 in an opening round matchup.

As Wiedmaier and his teammates faced Brown last Friday in the Ivy semifinals, they knew the stakes were high.

“It is my last chance,” said Wiedmaier. “We knew if we didn’t win tonight that we would be done for the year probably.”

The semis matchup was tricky since Princeton had routed Brown 13-2 in late March and realized the Bears would be hungry for revenge.

“We embarrassed them the last time we played them so we knew they were going to give us everything they have got,” said Wiedmaier.

“Their backs were to the wall, the only way they were getting into the NCAA tournament was winning the whole tournament.”

Sure enough, an inspired Brown team gave the Tigers trouble, taking a 4-3 lead in the second quarter before Princeton went on a 4-0  run to end the half on the way to a 9-6 victory.

“They were spinning us around inside with their inverts, we calmed down a little bit and zoned up inside,” explained Wiedmaier, who was later named to the All-Tournament team. “Once we started seeing that, it all made sense.”

The Tiger defensive unit has calmed most attacks this spring as it ranks sixth nationally in scoring defense, giving up 7.33 goals a game.

“There is a ton of chemistry there, not just the seniors but the shortsticks and middies,” said Wiedmaier, reflecting on a season which has seen him scoop up 32 ground balls and produce a team-high 33 caused turnovers.

“We have just gotten more and more comfortable as this year has gone on. Against Brown, the first time we played them we may have slid once — it was just individual defense. But tonight and recently, especially after we lost to Syracuse, we have been a sliding team on defense and we have been pressing on that a lot more. That’s what is going to pull us through.”

Coming off a frustrating 4-8 campaign in 2011, the Tigers have utilized an upbeat approach in rebounding to make it through to the NCAA tournament.

“You can just tell the vibe with our whole team,” said Wiedmaier. “We have been playing very loose lately and that is when we play our best. It is just a lot more fun this year than last year.”

If Wiedmaier and the Tigers can have more fun in the NCAAs, that would burnish his already special legacy.

ON THE MOVE: Trina Salcido encourages her Princeton University softball team from the coaching box in 2011. Last week, Salcido stepped down from her post as the head coach of the Tiger softball program. In her five years at the helm, Salcido guided Princeton to an overall record of 81-136 and a 47-53 Ivy League mark. She coached the program to the 2008 Ivy title in her debut season. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

For Trina Salcido, entering into married life means that she is going to take a break from another family.

After five years as the head coach of the Princeton University softball team, Salcido stepped down from her post last week.

Salcido, who is engaged to Rutgers women’s swimming head coach Phil Spiniello with a wedding date set for August, is going to miss the daily contact with her brood on the diamond.

“It is special to be part of their four years and see them mature and grow as people; it is such a valuable role,” said Salcido.

“It is rewarding to see them fail and succeed at practice and helping them develop. The gift of daily contact is great.”

In reflecting on her tenure, Salcido pointed to the deep bonds she developed with her coaching colleagues as another highlight.

“I will miss the relationships I have built with the other coaches at Princeton, both assistant and head coaches,” said Salcido, who served as an assistant with the program for three years before taking the helm for the 2008 season.

“It has been great to sit beside them and to be able to go into their offices and draw perspective from them on where Princeton has been and where it is going. I am inspired by them and feel part of something bigger. It is a core group that believes in the same goals and shares best practices. Everyone is trying to help each other.”

In 2011, Salcido gained a different perspective on things when freshman player Khristin Kyllo died of natural causes.

“Knowing her for two years in the recruiting process and in her fall here is really why I coach,” said Salcido.

“Khristin was a great kid. Losing her was the hardest thing in my life. I never had to deal with a tragedy like that. Both of my parents are still alive and I have three sisters. I have become so close to her family; it is a gift to have a relationship like that. When you get a life and death perspective, you learn to appreciate each day and each moment. You see that things are bigger than winning or losing.”

Salcido did enjoy some winning moments in her tenure, guiding Princeton to an 18-2 Ivy mark in 2008 that stands as a record for regular season league victories.

“We really struggled the year before and we were able to turn it around,” said Salcido, reflecting on that 2008 campaign that helped her produce an overall record of 81-136 and a 47-53 Ivy League mark. “It was an inspired year.”

In Salcido’s view, the program is positioned to enjoy some big years. “I love the foundation that is in place; we are going to have numbers,” said Salcido, who guided her 2012 squad to a 14-32 overall record and 8-12 in Ivy play with five of the league losses being by one run.

“When I came here we had 13 players. There will be 19 players next season for the first time. We have depth of talent at more positions. We have depth in the bullpen, there will be four or five pitchers and three catchers. It creates opportunities for competition and for more people to step up. It gives a coach more options in games. You can also weather injuries. The new coach is going to be able to hit the ground running.”

RIGGED UP: Princeton University women’s water polo player Katie Rigler prepares to fire the ball in recent action. Sophomore star Rigler, a native of Fullerton, Calif., will be making a special homecoming this weekend as the Tigers compete in the NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex. Rigler, the team’s leading scorer with 69 goals, will look to come up big as the sixth-seeded Tigers (28-4) face No. 3 USC (21-5) in a quarterfinal matchup on May 11. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

For Katie Rigler, exhibiting good pitching form on the baseball diamond helped put her on the path to water polo stardom.

“A business client of my mom’s saw a picture of me pitching in a baseball game and he asked if I had any interest in trying water polo since he figured I would know how to throw a ball,” recalled Rigler. “I decided to give it a try and instantly fell in love with the sport.”

But Rigler, a native of Fullerton, Calif., was not an instant success at her new game. “At first, I did not know where I was supposed to be in the pool and got excluded from almost every possession on defense,” recalled Rigler.

“About the only thing I knew how to do was shoot hard. Eventually I got the hang of the basics and could focus on the individual aspects of my game.

A key step in Rigler’s development came when she decided to play for the Huntington Beach Club team that was coached by Natalie Benson, a two-time Olympic water polo star.

“Natalie Benson, in my opinion, is the best women’s water polo player to ever play and getting the chance to pick her brain and learn from her was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Rigler, who went on to star for Rosary High and compete for the USA junior national team.

“She brought a level of passion for the game that was actually contagious for me. My mindset and commitment to water polo completely changed during my time at Huntington Beach — losing wasn’t an option anymore and I began to expect more out of myself than just having fun.”

Seizing the opportunity to join the Princeton University women’s water polo team in 2010, sophomore star Rigler will be looking to help the Tigers pursue a title as they compete in the NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship this weekend at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex.

While sixth-seeded Princeton, now 28-4, faces an uphill battle at the competition, starting with a quarterfinal match-up against No. 3 USC (21-5) on May 11, Rigler believes the Tigers can’t be satisfied merely by making the NCAAs.

“We can’t be complacent with where we are,” said Rigler. “We need to keep looking forward and hope to improve. Although we have had much success this season, it will be disappointing if we don’t continue to play well in front of such a large crowd.”

SoCal native Rigler has special motivation to play well in San Diego. “I am beyond excited to come back home,” said Rigler. “My whole family will be coming and most of my water polo friends from home play on the teams we are competing against.”

In reflecting on her Princeton career, Rigler acknowledged that it took her a while to feel at home during her debut season.

“Freshman year is really tough for any athlete; the hardest transition I found to be was figuring out my role on the team,” said Rigler.

“I did not feel comfortable trying to take over as an offensive leader right away; however, at the same time I did not want to be complacent and lose confidence. Another hard transition was the length of the season compared to the short two-month high school season. By the end of the season, I was completely exhausted.”

As the season went on, Rigler’s transition was eased through the team’s special chemistry.

“Getting to know my teammates was the highlight of my year,” asserted Rigler, who scored a team-high 56 goals in 2011 as the Tigers went 18-11 and took fifth in the Eastern Championships.

“Despite a disappointing end to the season, I enjoyed every second of it. We had so many different personalities on the team that practice and especially traveling was always entertaining. It was also nice to have a pretty successful season individually. I was really nervous about how well I would play against college girls so it was a relief to do well.”

As Rigler and the Tigers headed into the 2012 campaign, they were optimistic about doing well.

“Although we were disappointed to lose six seniors, we were so excited to gain just as many freshmen,” said Rigler.

“All of the new freshmen are so goofy and bring tons of energy and excitement to the team that it was hard not to be hopeful for the new season.”

Pulling out some exciting wins early in the season helped Princeton get on a roll.

“There was a lot more confidence with this team,” said Rigler, who has scored a team-high 69 goals so far this season and is one of 10 Tigers with at least 21 goals.

“I still can’t believe how many big games we trailed in and came back to win. Our team never gave up. I think much of this is due to our depth. We can constantly keep bringing in fresh players to wear down our opponents.”

In order to win the Easterns crown and earn the program’s first trip to the NCAA Championship, the Tigers had to pull through some close games, rallying to beat host Brown 7-6 in overtime in the semifinals and then edging Maryland 6-5 in the title game.

“The Brown game was a testimony to our team’s energy and depth; after halftime we got fired up and came out strong to eventually tie the game,” said Rigler, reflecting on a game which saw Princeton trailing 5-2 in the third quarter.

“Many of our players, including myself, were struggling that game and our bench came up huge. Camille Hooks had the game of her life and scored both the tying and game winning goals. We did not fold over in the midst of adversity. Instead we came back even stronger and finished with a win.”

The Tigers needed to be strong down the stretch to get the victory over Maryland as they scored two goals early in the fourth quarter to take a 6-4 lead and then held off a spirited charge from the Terps.

“I was feeling really confident about winning the game going into halftime,” recalled Rigler.

“Our biggest struggle all season was staying strong the first half and we accomplished that against Maryland. Although it was a big game, I felt really calm most of the game. The final minute or two brought out some nerves because we were so close to winning a championship. Other than that I think our whole team felt really confident and under control the entire game.”

Rigler raised her game at the Easterns, scoring a total of seven goals over the weekend on the way to being named tournament MVP.

“Winning the MVP award was definitely an honor,” said Rigler. “There are so many talented players and I felt really blessed to be chosen for the award. I think now it just means I have to work that much harder to hopefully defend it next year.”

The Tigers face a big job in trying to topple USC this Friday. “We have a really tough matchup against USC in the first round that most people are predicting to be an easy win for USC,” said Rigler.

“However, we hope to play the same game we have played all year and maybe surprise some people.”

But no matter what happens this weekend during Rigler’s homecoming, she believes there are plenty of big games in Princeton’s future.

“This is the most exciting part of our team,” asserted Rigler. “We are only going to get better. We have another big freshman class coming in next year with only three seniors leaving.”

May 2, 2012

ALEX THE GREAT: Princeton University men’s lacrosse star Alex Capretta heads to goal in recent action. Last Saturday against visiting Cornell, senior midfielder Capretta scored a career-high five goals to help the Tigers post a 14-9 win over the Big Red. Princeton will now host the 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. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

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.

HOOK SHOT: Princeton University women’s water polo player Camille Hooks fires the ball in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, freshman star Hooks scored three goals, including the game-winner, as Princeton edged host Brown 7-6 in overtime in the semifinals of the Eastern Championships in Providence, R.I. A day later, Hooks and the Tigers nipped Maryland 6-5 to win the title. The 13th-ranked Tigers, now 28-4, earned the No. 6 seed in the 2012 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship and will face third-seeded USC in the quarterfinals on May 11 at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It didn’t take long for Luis Nicolao to realize that his 2012 Princeton University women’s water polo team might be something special.

“From day one, it has been a fun group to coach,” said Princeton head coach Nicolao. “All year, this group has been confident. We have won a lot of close games.”

Last weekend, Tigers knew they were in for some tight contests as they competed in the Eastern Championships in Providence, R.I. at Brown University’s pool.

“I tell the girls that when you get to Easterns, every game is a challenge,” said Nicolao, who is in his 14th season overseeing both the men’s and women’s water polo programs at Princeton. “Everyone is playing for their lives.”

The Tigers proved to be up for the challenge, topping Harvard 9-6 in the quarterfinals and edging host Brown 7-6 in overtime in the semis to earn a shot at Maryland in the title game. Exuding its trademark confidence, Princeton avenged a regular season defeat to the Terps, winning 6-5 to earn the program’s first trip to the NCAAs.

The 13th-ranked Tigers, now 28-4, earned the No. 6 seed in the 2012 NCAA Women’s Water Polo Championship and will face third-seeded USC in the quarterfinals on May 11 at San Diego State’s Aztec Aquaplex.

In the game against Harvard, it looked like Princeton might have to wait another year to make it to the NCAAs, as it fought hard but was deadlocked 3-3 at halftime.

“I told them to keep playing their game,” recalled Nicolao. “It has been our M.O. this year. We come out slowly and then we rally. I think that is a testament to our depth. We are able to wear teams down.”

Princeton sophomore star Katie Rigler got her shots to fall, scoring four goals to lead the way for the Tigers in the win over the Crimson.

“Rigler always has the top attention of the other teams,” said Nicolao of the native of  Fullerton, Calif., who was later named the  MVP of the CWPA Eastern Championship and to the all-tournament first team. “She always gets the top defender. She is always going at it and battling.”

In the semifinal contest against host Brown, the Tigers found themselves in an uphill battle.

“Our shots were not falling and their crowd was going wild,” said Nicolao. “Midway through the third quarter we were down 5-2 and I made wholesale changes. I put in five fresh bodies and they got it back to 5-5.”

Freshman star Camille Hooks came up big to help Princeton survive the bears, scoring with eight seconds left in regulation to knot the game at 6-6 and force overtime and then scoring the game-winner with 2:07 remaining in the first extra period.

“Hooks had the game of her life,” asserted Nicolao of the Beverly Hills, Calif. native who had three goals in the contest. “She is a steady, smart player. She never gets rattled and she made some huge shots.”

The Tigers faced a huge challenge in the championship game as they looked to turn the tables on a 14th-ranked Maryland squad that beat Princeton 7-6 in the regular season game between the teams.

“We talked about coming out better than we did before against them,” said Nicolao, noting that the Tigers trailed the Terps 7-1 in that March 31 contest. “Maryland comes out fast; they had Michigan down 3-0 the night before in the semis.”

With Princeton tied 3-3 at half with the Terps, Nicolao sensed that his squad was primed to pull out another close victory.

“The girls believed in themselves; we had the better play in the first half but the shots weren’t falling,” said Nicolao. “At half, there was a feeling that we are going to get this.”

The teams were locked in a 4-4 stalemate heading into the fourth quarter and Princeton seized the momentum as Taylor Dunstan and Brittany Zwirner found the back of the net to give the Tigers a lead they never relinquished.

“We got two goals on counter attacks early in the fourth quarter and then it was hold-your-breath time,” said Nicolao, who also got two goals from Rigler in the win with senior goalie Kristen Ward making 13 saves. “We kept playing great defense.”

While the win was a great moment for Nicolao and his program, he experienced some mixed emotions in the wake of the triumph.

“It was so exciting but it was also bittersweet,” said Nicolao. “I am lifelong friends with the Maryland coaches [Carl Sayler and Serela Kay] and I saw the look on their faces. I have been on that side and I know what it’s like. I am so thrilled to win it; I am so happy for the girls. We can’t stop smiling today.”

Having endured some tough defeats in the Easterns helped Nicolao motivate his players.

“It has been a tough road; it has been a long haul,” said Nicolao, who last guided the Tiger women to the Eastern title in 2000 and an appearance in the Collegiate National Championships, the predecessor to the NCAAs.

“We have lost some tough games in the semis. We won two of three games this weekend by one goal. It is hard to get to this point, I told them to go out and make the most of the moment.”

Nicolao is looking for his players to make the most of their opportunity as they compete in the NCAAs.

“We have to play great defense; we are going to be seeing great opponents,” said Nicolao. “We have to be relaxed but not just happy to be there.”

But no matter what happens in San Diego, Nicolao will have many happy memories of the 2012 campaign.

MULLING IT OVER: Princeton University baseball star Sam ­Mulroy is at bat in a game earlier this spring. Last weekend, Mulroy and his teammates fell just short of winning the Ivy League’s Gehrig Division title, going 3-1 against Cornell when they needed to sweep the doubleheaders to pass the Big Red in the division standings. Senior Mulroy ended his career on a high note this season, leading the Tigers in batting average (.351), homers (eight) and RBIs (32) as Princeton finished the spring at 20-19 overall and 13-7 Ivy. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Sam Mulroy’s eyes were red and his uniform was streaked with dirt, signs of the valiant but ultimately unsuccessful fight waged by the Princeton University baseball team last weekend as it looked to earn a spot in the Ivy League Championship Series (ILCS).

Coming into Friday’s action, Princeton had a 10-6 league record and needed to sweep two doubleheaders from Cornell, 13-3 in league play, to pass the Big Red and win the Ivy’s Gehrig Division title.

In the opener of a twinbill at Ithaca on Friday, senior star Mulroy slammed a homer and had two hits and two RBIs to help Princeton win 13-3. Sparked by a magnificent 14-strikeout effort from junior pitcher Zak Hermans, the Tigers eked out a 1-0 win in Game 2 to stay alive.

In Game 1 on Sunday at the friendly confines of Clarke Field, the Tigers rode the shutout pitching of Matt Bowman and some clutch hitting from Steve Harrington and Blake Thomsen to prevail 6-0 and set up a winner-take-all showdown in the nightcap.

In the pivotal game, Princeton jumped out to a 1-0 lead on a first inning homer by John Mishu. After Cornell answered with a run in the top of the fifth, the Tigers forged ahead 2-1 an inning later on a Mike Ford RBI single. The Big Red took a 3-2 lead in the seventh on a Matt Hall homer.

With its season on the line heading into the bottom of the ninth, Princeton scratched out a run on a bunt single and a throwing error to tie the contest at 3-3 and force extra innings. Ben Swindford struck the decisive blow, smacking a solo homer in the top of the 12th that proved to be the game winner for Cornell as it held on for a 4-3 victory and the division title, advancing to a matchup against Dartmouth in the ILCS.

Despite the disappointment, Mulroy was still proud of the character displayed by the Tigers as they fought to the final out.

“We came to play all four games,” said Mulroy. “We battled, we scrapped. I think the last game is indicative of the whole series. We had to come back a couple of times and we just came up short which is really too bad.”

While it was a bad ending for the Tigers, Mulroy was able to put his stellar career in perspective.

“It is weird; I am proud of what we accomplished over my career but at the same time, you hate to see it end, especially like this,” said Mulroy, who led the Tigers this spring in batting average (.351), homers (eight) and RBIs (32).

“I have mixed emotions. For right now, I wished we could have won. As coach [Scott] Bradley said afterward in the huddle, there are a lot of years where 13-7 is good enough. It just happened that this year Cornell got off to a hot start and won enough games to hold us off; 13-7 is the second best we have done in my four years and is nothing to hang your heads about.”

Playing at catcher, center field and third base, Mulroy did his best to help the Tigers in any way possible.

“It has been a lot of fun,” said Mulroy. “This year with Tyler coming in, he deserved to catch as much as he did. I am happy to be in the lineup wherever. I am fine being behind the plate because I like to be in on every play, I like being in center field and running around a little bit.”

Mulroy is hoping to stay in the game a little bit as he has his eye on a career in professional ball after graduation from Princeton.

“At this point, it is a bit of a waiting game because the [Major League Baseball] draft isn’t for another month,” said Mulroy, a 5’11, 205-pound native of Bethesda, Md. “It is something I have always wanted to do and I am going to try to make it work.”

Princeton head coach Scott Bradley like the way his club worked its way into the decisive contest.

“It was great to be able to play out these games that mean this much instead of playing out a string when one loss would have put us in the situation,” said Bradley. “I am proud of them.”

The Tigers, though, just couldn’t string together enough clutch hits to pull off the sweep.

“It is hard to beat a good team four times in a weekend,” said Bradley, whose club finished with a 20-19 overall record. “Our pitching was just unbelievable. We struggled with our bats; we couldn’t score runs when we needed to.”

It will be hard for Bradley to deal with the loss of Mulroy and his classmates, Andrew Whitener, Tom Boggiano, Stephen Elmore, and Ryan Makis.

“It is a great group and they play hard,” asserted Bradley, who held a Senior Day ceremony at home plate after the game.

“They play hard and they care. They have a passion for baseball at Princeton. We are going to miss them desperately; that is for sure.”

Mulroy, for his part, is certainly going to miss playing for the Tigers.

“It has been awesome,” said Mulroy, who ends his Princeton career with 25 homers, the second most in program history.

“It is an honor to have played four years with these guys on this field and for these coaches. I couldn’t be happier with the way the four years went.”