April 4, 2012

SEEING RED: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Charlotte Davis heads up the field last Saturday in Princeton’s 13-12 overtime loss to visiting Cornell. Junior midfielder Davis scored two goals in the defeat to the Big Red which saw the Tigers score two late goals to rally from an 11-9 deficit and force overtime. Princeton, now 4-4 overall and 2-1 Ivy League, plays at Temple on April 4 before hosting Yale on April 7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chris Sailer wasn’t surprised to see her Princeton University women’s lacrosse team locked in a nailbiter against visiting Cornell last Saturday.

“Cornell has nine seniors out there; they have experience and they have had some good wins,” said Princeton head coach Sailer, whose team came into the day ranked 19th in the nation by the Inside Lacrosse media poll while the Big Red was No. 17. “So we were anticipating a competitive game and that is what we got.”

The evenly matched teams were tied 7-7 at halftime. Princeton edged ahead 9-9 with 7:37 into the second half but then gave up three straight goals to fall behind 11-9 with 6:23 left in regulation.

At that point, Sailer called a timeout to settle down her team. “I wanted to give them a little rest; we were doing a ton of running,” recalled Sailer.

“I wanted to give them a couple of plays that we were looking to run. We also talked about what we wanted to get into defensively if Cornell got the ball. We just wanted to get them organized and ready to go for the last six minutes. In lacrosse, you can score a lot of goals in six minutes. We weren’t worried but we knew we had to be prepared for what was coming up.”

The Tigers came up big over the last six minutes of regulation as Cassie Pyle and Sarah Lloyd found the back of the net to force overtime.

In the extra session, Princeton fell behind 13-11 but then got within one on a tally by Barb Previ. That turned out to be the last goal of the topsy-turvy battle as Cornell held on for a 13-12 victory.

“That is tough to go down two goals early in overtime but again it is nothing you can’t recover from,” said Sailer, whose team dropped to 4-4 overall and 2-1 in Ivy League play with the setback.

“We were able to get the one goal off of a nice play but then we just didn’t organize as well as we needed offensively and Cornell took away some of our top kids.”

Cornell’s top player, senior star Jessi Steinberg, made things tough on Princeton as she tallied four goals and an assist.

“We knew she is a quick kid; she has such a good stick,” said Sailer of Steinberg, the second-leading scorer in the Ivy League with 45 points.

“You try to prepare for it and what her moves are but she beat us a couple of times. There was a little missed communication and not getting to those low angle shots. She drops that stick and it is a really good move.”

Princeton senior star Pyle showed some good moves as she scored three goals and played a key role on the defensive end.

“I thought Cassie had a nice game; she came through for us on the attack end,” said Sailer, who got two goals apiece from Lloyd, Erin McMunn, and Charlotte Davis; with Previ, Mary-Kate Sivilli, and Jaci Gassaway each chipping in one tally. “She had a big job because she was guarding Steinberg and was able to get some goals of her own. She has been consistent; she is a tough kid.”

The loss to Cornell was particularly tough to swallow for Princeton, coming on the heels of a heartbreaking 9-8 defeat at Johns Hopkins on March 25 which saw the Tigers squander an early 4-1 lead.

“We have now lost four games by a total of six goals, two of them in OT,” said Sailer, whose team’s other setbacks include a 11-10 double overtime loss to Rutgers and a 12-9 defeat to Duke.

“So I said to the kids, that tells me two things. It means that we are right  there. We could be 8-0, we are competing in all of these games against all of these opponents. But we are just not making the plays when it happens and having the confidence in the clutch to pull out the win.”

In Sailer’s view, her players need to relax more in crunch time in order to start pulling out close games.

“We were talking about that a lot, there are just some things we can focus on in practice, putting them more and more in game situations,” said Sailer, whose team will look to get back on the winning track when it plays at Temple (7-4) on April 4 before hosting Yale (3-6 overall, 0-3 Ivy) on April 7.

“Just little things we will try and change. I just want the kids to remember that it really is just a game and you just have to go out and play. If you are afraid of what might happen then you are not going to be in a good mental state. You have to be willing to make plays and be the hero and risk being the goat. You have to be fearless and play strong.”

HEAVY DUTY: The Princeton University men’s heavyweight first varsity crew powers over Lake Carnegie last Saturday on the way to an opening day win over Syracuse and Georgetown. Princeton’s top boat covered the 2,000-meter course in 6:11.8 to top runner-up Syracuse by 6.7 seconds with Georgetown in third at 6:25.4. In upcoming action, the Tigers host the storied Childs Cup regatta on Lake Carnegie against Ivy League rivals Penn and Columbia. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

Greg Hughes wasn’t expecting anything fancy when his Princeton University men’s heavyweight first varsity started its 2012 regular season campaign by hosting Georgetown and Syracuse last Saturday on Lake Carnegie.

“I was looking for a good, simple, aggressive race,” said Hughes, who is entering his third year at the helm of the heavyweight program.

“We needed to get one under our belts. With so many young guys, they need to compete at the varsity level. We had five or six new guys in the boat. Last year, we had five or six guys who had been in the boat.”

The new kids looked alright as Princeton’s top boat covered the 2,000-meter course in 6:11.8 to top runner-up Syracuse by 6.7 seconds with Georgetown in third at 6:25.4.

“You never take a win for granted,” said Hughes, whose program posted a clean sweep as the second varsity, third varsity, and freshman eight all posted victories. “I liked what happened Saturday but we know we have a lot of work to do.”

Hughes knows that he has some work to do when it comes to figuring out the right combination for his top boat.

“I never set a deadline; it happens when it happens,” said Hughes. “With so many young guys in the mix, it is good to have an open-minded outlook. Guys are still developing.”

Senior captain Ian Silveira, who is a mainstay on the first varsity, has developed into quite a leader for the Tigers.

“Ian has been in the top boat the last few years and he has lots of experience outside of Princeton,” said Hughes of Silveira who has rowed for the U.S. at the U23 World Championships.

“He has raced at a high level; he is a sophisticated racer. He is very competitive and sets a good example.”

Juniors Mike Evans and Brian Wettach have also been setting a good example this spring for the program’s younger rowers.

“They were sophomores in the top boat last year,” said Hughes. “The lineup was largely organized so they could keep their heads down and do as they were told. It has been a transition for them this year. They need to be leaders but not overbearing. They are doing a good job, the younger guys are having a lot of fun with them.”

The Tigers are looking to have fun this Saturday as they host the storied Childs Cup regatta on Lake Carnegie against Ivy League rivals Penn and Columbia.

“It is the oldest cup race in collegiate rowing,” said Hughes, noting that Princeton and Penn have each now won 44 times since the regatta was first held in 1879 with the Tigers having triumphed the last two years.

“We are not usually thinking about history but it brings home the tradition of the sport and how special it is. It started in the 1870s so it is way bigger than we are. It is an exciting piece of the race; we have the chance to do something for those who have come before us.”

March 28, 2012

OVERDUE: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Alex Capretta heads up field in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior star Capretta tallied three goals and an assist, including the game-winning score, as Princeton edged Yale 10-9 in five overtimes. It was the longest game in the history of both programs. No. 11 Princeton, now 5-2 overall and 2-0 in Ivy League action, plays at Brown (3-3 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 31. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team dropped a 1-goal decision to North Carolina earlier this month, Chris Bates pointed to the Tigers’ lack of composure in the clutch as a decisive factor.

After that 9-8 loss to the Tar Heels on March 10, Princeton didn’t have a nailbiter in its next two contests as it cruised to wins over Penn and Villanova.

But last Saturday at Yale, the Tigers got ample opportunity to display their poise as they found themselves in a marathon pressure cooker for the ages as the rivals played into five overtimes, the longest game in the history of both programs.

Showing composure and persistence, Princeton outlasted the feisty Bulldogs as an Alex Capretta goal gave the Tigers a 10-9 win after 18:21 of overtime before 1,057 at Reese Stadium.

A relieved head coach Bates was proud of his team’s resolve as it improved to 5-2 overall and 2-0 in Ivy League play while Yale dropped to 2-4 overall, 0-2 Ivy.

“We are happy to get away with a win and be 2-0 in the Ivy League but we still have room to grow,” said Bates.

“We can put that in our memory bank. We played with good poise. We executed in trying times. It is a good to win a game like that; it gives you confidence.”

At earlier points in the game, it looked like Princeton was going to win with ease. The Tigers jumped out to a 3-1 lead in the first quarter, seemingly picking up where it left off from an impressive 11-4 win over Penn a week earlier.

“We started off well,” said Bates. “We were scoring goals in a flurry which is good. We got three relatively quick goals and then the game settled down.”

The teams went back and forth over the next two quarters with Yale outscoring Princeton 4-2 to make it a 5-5 game heading into the fourth quarter.

Once again, it looked like the Tigers seized the momentum as they reeled off a 4-1 run to take a 9-6 lead with 3:35 remaining in regulation.

“We had another little burst, Alex had two goals and Tucker [Shanley] had one,” recalled Bates.

But then showing the kind of lapse that plagued it earlier in the season, Princeton yielded three unanswered goals as Yale forced overtime.

“It was uncharacteristic of us,” said Bates, reflecting on the waning moments of the fourth quarter.

“They got one in transition and it was 9-7 and you could feel that the momentum shifted. They got some face-offs and scored. They are a good team.”

There were wild swings of momentum in the marathon extra session as the foes combined for 26 shots, seven turnovers, nine saves, and three extra-man opportunities.

“It was frenetic; each period had its own personality,” recalled Bates, whose team outshot Yale 18-8 in the overtimes and 49-38 on the day.

“We had some shots that I was sure were going in. There were a lot of penalties. They dominated one period; we only had possession for 20 seconds.”

In Bates’ view, it was fitting that Capretta notched the game-winner. “Finally at the end, Alex got one,” said Bates of Capretta, who had tallied three goals and an assist in the win, giving him 15 points so far this spring after scoring a total of 10 in his first three seasons.

“He had a good game; he is having a really good senior year. He is playing with poise and under control. It was good to see him get that one.”

The Tigers got a poised effort from senior star goalie Tyler Fiorito. “Tyler took the next step; he made two really big saves,” said Bates of tri-captain Fiorito, who made 13 saves in the game and now has a 7.29 goals against average this season. “There was one in the fourth overtime and one in the fifth. They were All-American saves to keep them from winning the game.”

Bates also tipped his hat to his defensive unit which features such standouts as senior tri-captains Chad Wiedmaier and John Cunningham together with classmate Jonathan Meters and sophomore Rob Castelo.

“It is always a work in progress: I think we have some of the most talented individuals in the country there,” said Bates. “But it comes down to how we communicate and operate as a unit.”

With 11th-ranked Princeton playing at Brown (3-3 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on Saturday, Bates is expecting another nailbiter.

“It is going to be a battle; we had a very close game with them last year (a 5-4 win in four overtimes),” said Bates. “Every Ivy game is up for grabs.”

But with Princeton developing an ability to stay cool under pressure, Bates likes his team’s chances.

“It is a pretty mature group; the leadership is solid and it is not just the captains,” said Bates.

“The guys are growing up. I think we have guys who want to step up and make plays. As evidenced Saturday, the guys are willing to take shots. You need the payoff and we are getting it.”

LIGHT WAVES: Members of the Princeton University men’s lightweight first varsity power to victory in action last spring. The Tigers’ top boat got its 2012 campaign off to a good start as it topped Navy last Saturday. In upcoming action, the Tigers host Columbia and Georgetown on March 31 at Lake Carnegie with the Fosburgh Cup on the line. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton Crew/Tom Nowak)

The 2011 postseason left a bitter taste for a proud Princeton University men’s lightweight program that is used to performing its best when it matters most.

After having swept the Eastern Sprints and the Intercollegiate Rowing Association (IRA) national championship regattas in 2009 and 2010, the Tigers’ first varsity fell well short of a three-peat last spring, taking fourth at the Easterns and sliding to fifth at the IRAs.

While Princeton head coach Marty Crotty wants his returning rowers to learn from last year’s frustration, he is happy to have them put 2011 in the rear view mirror.

“These guys do a good job; they came in here in September and didn’t dwell on what happened,” said Crotty.

“Everybody knows the score. There were things that I got wrong and things beyond our control that led to underperformance. The coaches and individuals had conversations over the summer and put everything to rest. These guys are so driven, they are just looking to make this year’s team and varsity 8 as fast as possible.”

Last Saturday, Princeton’s top boat showed some good speed as it won its season opening regatta, topping Navy in Annapolis, Md., retaining the Joseph Murtaugh Cup in the process.

“I am more nervous about this than any race even though we are now 3-0,” said Crotty, whose top boat clocked a time of 5:57.2 over the 2,000-meter course on the Severn River with Navy more than five seconds behind in 6:02.5.

“You don’t know what to expect because it is the first race. You don’t know how fast you are going to be until they put a crew next to you that is racing for your shirts. The Navy guys are tough, gritty, and always race hard. The course is usually windy.”

Crotty liked the toughness his first varsity displayed as it pulled away to victory.

“We were waiting for something to happen; maybe that’s what suits this boat,” said Crotty.

“Between 300 and 800 meters, we were vulnerable. We made a great move after 800 meters. I got to see something I hadn’t seen, an acceleration they hadn’t shown. It ended up to be a very nice cushion.”

Princeton has seen some great stuff from senior star and team captain Gianthomas Volpe.

“He’s been great,” said Crotty of Volpe, a native of Naples, Italy who has competed for the Italian national program. “He is not very animated, not very vocal. He keeps a very even keel and he leads through his actions. The guys respect him for what he is producing.”

Another senior stalwart, Steven Cutler, has been producing for the Tigers. “Steve is extremely diligent; he is really into his rowing,” added Crotty.

“Like Volpe, he leads by example. He rowed with the U.S. U-23 team all summer. The results he gets performance-wise make him our best starboard rower.”

Two other seniors, Alex Rubert and Nick Bax, are apparently saving their best for last. “Alex is back after a year out of the varsity; he is having the type of year that makes me look bad for keeping him out,” said Crotty.

“Last year, he did fine but I had a lot of options. This year, he is doing everything to put him solidly in the first varsity. He is stronger than ever and he is really tall for a lightweight. We can do things with him that can give the boat speed. Nick is having a very consistent year. In the past, he was very athletic; he produced some good results but was injured a lot. He is illness and injury free this year.”

In Crotty’s view, the result last Saturday was encouraging as the Tigers look to regain their championship form. “Any time you are .01 second ahead and bring home the Murtaugh Cup, that is positive,” said Crotty.

“It is a good starting point. We have 5-6 weeks to work on fitness and gaining tactical proficiency. This crew is only going to get better.”

Princeton will need to get better this Saturday as it faces a big test when it hosts Columbia and Georgetown at Lake Carnegie with the Fosburgh Cup on the line.

“We need to be aggressive off the line and not give anything away,” said Crotty. “Then we need to get to base speed and get to work. In our league, most races are not settled until the last half. I like this group; they take care of business. I really enjoy coaching them.”

March 21, 2012

WILD RIDE: Princeton University women’s basketball star Niveen Rasheed battles past a foe in action this winter. Last Saturday, the junior star and Ivy Player of the Year produced 20 points, nine rebounds and six assists in a losing cause as ninth-seeded Princeton fell 67-64 to eighth-seeded Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament in Bridgeport, Conn. The contest featured six lead changes and eight ties before the Tigers succumbed. The loss to the Wildcats left Princeton with a final overall record of 24-5. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As Princeton University women’s basketball head coach Courtney Banghart broke down her squad’s matchup against Kansas State in the first round of the NCAA tournament, she had the sense that the game was destined to be a nailbiter.

“I figured that was a game where neither team was going to pull away; both teams grind it out,” said Banghart, whose team came into the game ranked No. 24 in the latest national poll.

That analysis was certainly borne out when the teams met last Saturday at the Webster Bank Arena in Bridgeport, Conn. The contest featured six lead changes and eight ties before eighth-seeded Kansas State pulled out a 67-64 squeaker over the ninth-seeded Tigers.

“It was a game of small runs,” lamented Banghart, whose team ended the winter with an overall record of 24-5 and 14-0 Ivy League. “Unfortunately they had their last small run at the end of the game.”

Kansas State started the game with a 5-0 run but the Tigers were undeterred despite having fallen behind early the last two years in the NCAA tournament on the way to lopsided losses.

“It was a confident team all week and it was a confident team on the day of the game,” asserted Banghart. “I told them it didn’t matter how we started, it was going to be a 40-minute game between two good teams.”

The trio of All-Ivy performers, junior Niveen Rasheed and seniors Devona Allgood and Lauren Edwards, weren’t about to let the Tigers get routed this time.

Each produced some dazzling play to bring Princeton to within 31-27 at half and keep the Tigers in the game until the final buzzer.

“I thought our stars played better than their stars but that their role players played better than ours,” said Banghart, who got 20 points, nine rebounds, and six assists from Ivy Player of the Year Rasheed with Allgood chipping in 15 points and 12 rebounds and Edwards adding 15 points.

The Tigers, though, couldn’t contain one of the Wildcat role players, senior Branshea Brown, who scored 22 points and had seven rebounds.

“Brown had career high of 13 points as a sophomore; she was the role player who made a difference,” said Banghart, referring to Brown, who is averaging 5.6 points a game this season.

“We talked about making adjustments but they had her in at the same time as [Jalana] Childs and we didn’t want to take a big off Childs.”

The Tigers got off to a big start in the second half, going on a 12-4 run to take a 39-35 lead. The Wildcats battled back to regain the lead and built a 53-45 cushion with 8:17 remaining. Princeton, though, didn’t fold, reeling off seven unanswered points to get within a point with 6:53 left in the contest. The Tigers couldn’t get over the hump, never regaining the lead on the way to the three-point setback.

“I liked the way we executed in transition; we were keeping with it,” said Banghart, reflecting on her team’s second half effort.

“I told the kids before the game to do what we do and be who we are and don’t get lost in the moment. We showed discipline on defense and in the looks we generated on offense.”

In the final analysis, the Tigers couldn’t generate the clutch plays when they needed them down the stretch against Kansas State, which went on to lose 72-26 to top-seeded Connecticut last Monday in the second round.

“It was a game of possessions; we are kicking ourselves over some possessions we would like to have back,” said Banghart. “There were a few plays that made the difference, they made some shots at the end.”

The tears flowed in the locker room afterward as Banghart addressed her players.

“I think what I liked most about this year’s team is they held themselves to their own standards, no matter what the scoreboard said; they were strong, alone, and fearless,” said Banghart.

“I thanked the team afterward for caring to care. They cared out loud; we didn’t hide our goals. We signed on for this so that is why there is so much heartache afterward.”

While the ending was unhappy, the Tigers showed plenty of heart over the winter as they won their third straight Ivy crown.

“We were able to grow together after the Navy loss,” added Banghart. “We competed well against Top 25 teams. They weren’t happy when we beat Brown by double figures but knew we didn’t play our best. They celebrated each other.”

The squad’s trio of seniors, Allgood, Edwards, and reserve guard Laura Johnson, are a group to celebrate.

“I feel like I grew up with them,” asserted Banghart, reflecting on her seniors, who helped Princeton go 41-1 in Ivy play the last three years as the Tigers posted an overall record of 74-13 in that stretch.

“You look upon certain years as highs and I think they will feel that way when they look back on our time together.”

In Banghart’s view, the program is well placed to keep growing. “It all ended too soon; we hoped we could skip the step of competing well before getting that first NCAA win,” said Banghart.

“It falls on the next group to take that step. If we are building a program the right way, it is someone else’s turn to carry on. We start up again in a few weeks.”

MEMORABLE RUN: Princeton University men’s basketball player Douglas Davis runs up the court in recent action. Last Monday, senior guard Davis, a former Hun School standout, scored a game-high 20 points but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 82-61 at Pittsburgh in the second round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) to end the season at 20-12. Davis’s output in the finale gave him 1,550 in his career as he passed Kit Mueller ’91 at 1,546 to stand second at Princeton in scoring only to the 2,503 points put up in three seasons by Bill Bradley ’65. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

Last week, the Princeton University men’s basketball team started the postseason by giving up 47 points in the first half at Evansville as the programs met in the first round of the College Basketball Invitational (CBI).

The Tigers, though, scored 48 and kept rolling over the last 20 minutes of the contest, pulling away in the waning moments to earn a 95-86 triumph.

“We scored 95 points in a game on the road and we didn’t defend,” said Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson, in reflecting on the win that improved the Tigers to 20-11.

“What I liked most about those points is that a lot of them came off assists. We move the ball nicely and when we do that, you are really hard to guard.”

As Henderson looked forward to his team’s CBI second round matchup at the University of Pittsburgh last Monday, he knew his team had to tighten things up on the defensive end.

“In their wins, they score in the 70; in their losses, they are in the 50s,” said Henderson.

“You really have to defend if you are going to be successful. We are going to work on a lot of different looks because I think they have some talented scorers on the floor.”

Playing at the Peterson Events Center where it rarely loses, Pitt gave Princeton a heavy dose of its offensive talent, jumping out to a 49-25 lead at half.

“We knew when they scored points, they were dangerous,” said Henderson. “A team that makes just over five 3-pointers a game makes nine; we just couldn’t handle that. We can’t give up 49 points in a half and win many games except if you are in Evansville, Indiana.”

While the Tigers put up a fight in the second half, cutting the Pitt lead to 66-55 with 5:58 remaining in regulation, they ran out of gas on the way to a season-ending 82-61 loss.

“I thought we played well in spurts but they were the better,” said Henderson. “They are used to winning games here, we knew that.”

In the wake of the defeat, Henderson tipped his hat to his three seniors, Douglas Davis, Patrick Saunders, and John Comfort.

“We have been playing really good basketball and I am really proud of our seniors,” said Henderson.

“We had a rough start to the season at 1-5 and for us to finish the season winning 9 of 10 down the stretch, that was really important for us especially with what is going into next year. It was an important senior class that chose Princeton when we were down. Doug, Pat, and John chose Princeton and did something to get you back to where you need to be.”

Henderson was particularly proud of Davis, who scored a game-high 20 points in the finale to give him 1,550 in his career. As a result, the former Hun School star passed Kit Mueller ’91 at 1,546 to stand second in scoring at Princeton only to the 2,503 points put up in three seasons by Bill Bradley ’65.

“Doug is now the second all-time leading scorer in the school behind Bill Bradley,” noted Henderson. “He passed a very good player in Princeton basketball history in Kit Mueller.”

Davis, for his part, spread the credit as he reflected on his accomplishment.

“I am definitely proud of it,” said Davis. “It is an honor to be mentioned with Kit Mueller and Bill Bradley but I couldn’t have done it without my teammates so. I am thankful for them.”

Speaking for those teammates, junior star Ian Hummer lauded Davis and his fellow seniors for their contributions.

“Doug is a great player, he is the second all time scorer in Princeton history, that says it all,” said Hummer, who ended the night with 14 points after being held scoreless in the first half.

“He is also a great person off the court. It is a group of seniors on our team that we all love. Patrick and John are great teammates. They didn’t play as much as Doug has but they are still a huge part of this team.”

In view of junior Mack Darrow, playing in the CBI could prove to be a huge boost for the Tigers going forward.

“I think this tournament has been good in terms of being a springboard for next season,” added Darrow, who went 3-of-3 from the three-point range in the loss to Pitt to end up with nine points.

“I know that VCU won this and the next year was in the Final 4. Obviously, you can only hope to replicate something like that. But after our freshman year, we were in the CBI and I think we were close as a group and we won the league the next year. If that could happen again next year, that would be great. I think it definitely has a chance to happen, given the chance to play extra basketball together, it will really help us.”

Henderson, for his part, believes that the experience of playing Pitt and winning down the stretch to earn that opportunity can only help the Tigers.

“That is a good Pitt team,” said Henderson. “We knew the challenges of coming in here and playing well and trying to beat this team. I am just overall happy about the season.”

BIG WEEK: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Jeff Froccaro fires the ball last Saturday in Princeton’s 11-4 win over Penn. Junior attacker Jeff Froccaro tallied two goals and an assist in the victory as the Tigers improved to 4-2 overall and 1-0 in Ivy League play. Froccaro, who scored a career-high seven points on five goals and two assists in a win over Villanova on March 13, was later named the Ivy Co-player of the Week for his exploits along with Harvard’s Jeff Cohen. No. 12 Princeton plays at Yale (2-3 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 24. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Coming off two tough losses and facing midterm exams together with a big game against No. 10 Villanova followed by its Ivy League opener with Penn, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team saw last week as pivotal.

“It was definitely huge because last year this is the week where we started to have a tough time,” said junior star Jeff Froccaro. “We wanted to make sure that we beat these teams and start well in the Ivy League.”

Attackman Froccaro took matters into his own hands, tallying a career-high five goals and two assists in a 14-8 victory over Villanova on March 13 and then chipping in two goals and an assist as Princeton topped Penn 11-4 last Saturday before a sunsplashed crowd of 2,518 at Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium.

In Froccaro’s view, the win over Villanova helped give the Tigers momentum as they looked to turn the tables on a Penn team that beat Princeton 8-3 in 2011.

“I think Villanova was a huge momentum swing for us; we just kind of used all the energy from that game and brought it to this one,” said Froccaro, who was later named the Ivy Co-player of the Week for his exploits along with Harvard’s Jeff Cohen.

“This was definitely a big game; we were mad that we lost last year to them. It was a really, really bad loss for us. We wanted to beat Penn; that was the next step for us. Obviously starting off the Ivy League with a win, that is something that is very important.”

While the Tigers jumped out to a 3-1 lead over the Quakers with Froccaro scoring twice, the game tightened up and Princeton led just 4-3 at halftime.

“We weren’t putting the ball in the back of the net,” said Froccaro. “The coaches were saying keep up the pace and keep working hard and get ground balls and we’ll win the game.”

In the second half, the Tigers picked up the pace, reeling off six unanswered goals over the first 23:58 to build a 10-3 cushion and put the game out of reach.

“We were flying around; the guys felt loose,” said Froccaro, reflecting on Princeton’s second half performance. “The guys were not hesitating to just play to their potential.”

For Froccaro, moving to attack this season from midfield has helped him realize his potential as a scorer.

“It has been different; I played attack in high school but it took a little getting used to,” said Froccaro, who is second on the Tigers in points with 16 on 12 goals and four assists.

“I think I am doing pretty well back there. I am working hard in practice; I am shooting more and luckily the ball has been going in. I am comfortable playing with Tommy Schreiber and Mike Grossman; they are two good guys. We are playing all over the place behind the cage.”

Princeton head coach Chris Bates likes the way Froccaro has been playing in his new spot.

“Jeff is a gamer; he puts the ball in the back of the net,” said Bates, whose team improved to 4-2 overall with the victory over Penn.

“I thought he had some good feeds too. He had one assist but I thought it was a big one.”

The ball movement on attack led to a balanced scoring effort for the Tigers.

“The depth is good; it is good to get Forrest [Sonnenfeldt] back,” said Bates, who got three goals and two assists from freshman Mike MacDonald with Tucker Shanley adding two and Tom Schreiber chipping in a goal and three assists.

“I think overall we pulled away in the second half; I give our guys credit. Tucker [Shanley] came out and gave us a big bump in the second half; he got two big goals which we needed and then Chris White stuck the next one. Will Himler gives us another assist. They locked up Tom [Schreiber] a little bit. I thought their defense was very good but Tom still ends up with four points and settles us down and does a good job.”

Bates was happy with his defense, which held Penn scoreless for a 33:28 minute span from midway through the second quarter into the fourth.

“I think our shortsticks were a big reason for that,” said Bates. “Tyler [Fiorito] has settled down and made some big saves. We got lucky; they hit a couple of pipes and missed the cage a couple of times with good looks.”

Princeton looked good at both ends of the field as it pulled away from the Quakers.

“We are a good team when we get a little buffer,” added Bates, who was happy to see his team put on a good show on an afternoon which saw many alums on hand as Sherrerd Field was officially dedicated.

“I was proud that we came out and executed. We are just trying to get our guys to play in the moment and understand that even when it is a one-goal game, if we continue to do what we do, things will pop. There are times when we try to do too much, too quickly both offensively and defensively. The pressure gets a little bit big and that’s when we make some questionable decisions.”

Dealing with exams and two tough foes last week, the Tigers, now ranked 12th nationally, showed an ability to deal with pressure on multiple fronts.

“We come out of a midterm week so guys were tired,” said Bates, whose team plays at Yale (2-3 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 24.

“They are exhausted and we battled back. This was a big one to start the Ivies off right. We can take a breath and have a week to prepare for a good Yale team. This was a critical week and we feel like we passed the test so far.”

Froccaro, for his part, is proud of how the Tigers took care of business.

“It was really tough having that big weekday game because a lot of guys had midterms on Tuesday,” said Froccaro.

“We just got through it. We are used to having a lot of work and practice so we just kind of grind it out and get the job done.”

CLEAR FOCUS: Princeton University women’s lacrosse senior star Lindsey deButts clears the ball in a game earlier this spring. Last Saturday, All-American defender deButts helped Princeton top Virginia 9-7. The 19th-ranked Tigers, now 3-2 overall and 1-0 in Ivy League action, play at Columbia (1-4 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 21 and at No. 14 Johns Hopkins (6-2) on March 24. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Lindsey deButts is wearing a large knee brace on her left leg and is coming off hip surgery over the offseason but the senior star defender for the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team is not one to complain.

“I think it would be hard to find any senior who isn’t a little beaten up,” said DeButts, who also had hernia surgery in her junior season and didn’t practice until two days before the 2011 season opener.

“I have had a few extra injuries maybe but when you step on the field for a game, you do what you have to do to get through it. I think everyone has some bump or bruise somewhere.”

Last Saturday, deButts fought through the pain to help Princeton edge Virginia 9-7 before a crowd of 1,238 at Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium.

With the teams locked in a 4-4 stalemate at halftime, DeButts and the Tigers knew that they needed to ratchet up the intensity if they were going to come out on top.

“We wanted to pick it up and be a little more aggressive,” said deButts. “We knew that they were going to come out hungry in the second half.”

Princeton showed its hunger, scoring three straight goals to start the second half and putting together a 5-1 run to build a 9-5 lead. Then after Virginia scored two straight goals, the defense held the fort to secure the victory as the Tigers improved to 3-2 overall.

“This was a great complete game for us, I think, at both ends,” asserted the 5‘7 deButts, a native of Alexandria, Va. “The attack had some really nice goals and on defense, we had some great stops.”

In deButts’s view, the win over Virginia was a great confidence builder for the Tigers.

“I think this was a big game for us; we had lost two tough games, most recently the one to Duke (12-9 on March 3),” said deButts, reflecting on the tight rivalry which is now knotted at 15-15 all-time.

“UVa is No. 10 so it was a big game to prove that we are still in this season. The Duke game is behind us now and we are moving forward with this win. We hadn’t won against UVa since my freshman year. Last year we lost by one. Regardless of their ranking, it is always a tough game.”

As the defensive quarterback for the Tigers, deButts feels a responsibility to help the Princeton back line play tough.

“I try to keep everyone composed and keep that talk up,” explained deButts, a two-time All American, who has 11 ground balls and eight caused turnovers so far this season.

“I think today, it was really a team defense. Annie [Woehling] played great in the goal; she had an incredible game and I think that really helped anchor the rest of the team. It really gave us the confidence and we were feeding off of each other. It was a real team effort.”

As deButts looks ahead, she is confident the Tigers can make a good run in Ivy competition.

“The Ivies have become super competitive over the last couple of years; it makes it really exciting and really fun,” said deButts.

“I think we are anxious to get going. We just had Brown and we start in again with Columbia. I think this is a good way to start hitting our stride.”

Princeton head coach Chris Sailer believes the win over Virginia can get Princeton headed in the right direction.

“It is a huge confidence builder for us,” asserted Sailer. “That Duke game was just one we wish we could have another shot at; we let that get away. In our loss to Rutgers, we just didn’t play very well so we are starting to put things together. To come out and compete against a good team that has had some wins against Loyola and Syracuse, I think this is going to do a lot for us.”

Freshman goalie Woehling did a lot for the Tigers in the win over Virginia, making 13 saves.

“Obviously Annie had a terrific day in the goal; she probably had more saves today than she has had all year,” added Sailer of her goalie who came into the day with a total of 16 saves in Princeton’s first four games. “She doubled her save total so that was a huge game.”

In Sailer’s view, the combination of deButts and fellow senior Cathy Bachur also played a major role in containing the high-powered Cavaliers.

“The defense played a really good game; we knew Virginia has a ton of movement, a ton of cuts and we didn’t give them any open looks,” said Sailer.

“Lindsey is so tough; she is playing on a sprained knee right now and you would never know it. She just gets out there and competes. Bachur is just so steady. I thought the defense, as a unit, did really well today.”

The Tiger offensive unit was sparked by the one-two punch of senior Cassie Pyle and junior Jaci Gassaway with the former tallying three goals and an assist and the latter chipping in two goals and an assist.

“Cassie is just so quick; she is really hard to contain,” said Sailer, who also got goals from Charlotte Davis, Sarah Lloyd, Sam Ellis, and Erin Slifer.

“She found her opportunities and took them. Jaci is definitely a leader down there; she calms things down; she calls out plays and is always good for some goals and/or assists. She and Cassie had some really beautiful give-and-go plays today. They were reading the defense really well early and had a couple of really nice goals in the beginning of the game.”

With Princeton finding its game, Sailer is looking for a nice spring. “The Ivy is going to be tough, you look at four or five teams that have a legitimate shot at it and so you just have to be at your best every game,” said Sailer, whose team topped Brown 18-8 on March 10 in its Ivy opener and plays at Columbia (1-4 overall, 0-1 Ivy) on March 21 and at No. 14 Johns Hopkins (6-2) on March 24.

“We have Columbia, we have Hopkins, and then we have Cornell and then we have a few non-conference games in the middle of the Ivies but that is clearly going to be our focus as we move forward. We won the tournament last year; we would like to win the regular season title this time.”

For deButts, the focus is on savoring her last season in a Princeton uniform.

“It is so weird that it is the final year,” said deButts. “I think every game, you appreciate the time out there and you realize that you don’t have many games left. I think all of us are trying to make the most of each game.”

March 14, 2012

DANCE FEVER: Princeton University women’s basketball player Alexis Rodgers, center, high-fives a teammate after the Tigers learned of their NCAA tournament assignment at the team’s Selection Show viewing party last Monday at the Triumph Brewing Company. In its third straight trip to the Big Dance, Princeton (24-4 overall,14-0 Ivy League) has been seeded ninth in the Kingston (R.I.) Region and is facing No. 8 Kansas State (19-13 overall, 9-9 Big 12) on Saturday in Bridgeport, Conn. in a first round contest. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

In her first trip to the NCAA women’s basketball tournament, Niveen Rasheed got caught up in the hoopla of March Madness.

“The last time I played this game, I was a freshman and I will say that I was really excited and star struck,” said junior star Rasheed, recalling Princeton’s 65-47 loss to St. John’s in 2010.

Last year, Rasheed was unable to play when Princeton advanced to its second straight NCAA tourney as she was recovering from an ACL injury suffered earlier in the season.

“It was rough; one of the hardest things to do was to watch my team and watch us slowly lose the game,” said Rasheed, reflecting on the squad’s 65-49 defeat to Georgetown.

With the No. 24 Tigers, 24-4 overall and 14-0 Ivy League, heading to the 2012 NCAA tournament seeded ninth in the Kingston (R.I.) Region and facing No. 8 Kansas State (19-13 overall, 9-9 Big 12) on Saturday in Bridgeport, Conn., Rasheed believes Princeton will take a more business-like approach.

“We all have that common goal, we are not just satisfied by making the tournament,” said Rasheed. “We are hungry to take that extra step.”

In Rasheed’s view, this Tiger squad has what it takes to make that step which would leave it with a likely second round matchup on March 19 against top-seeded Connecticut, who is facing 16th seeded Prairie View in the other game at the Bridgeport site.

“I think this is the team, this is the year,” asserted Rasheed. “I think we prepared ourselves as best we could in the preseason. I am happy with the team that we are bringing into this.”

While Rasheed was happy to be named the Ivy Player of the Year earlier this week, she doesn’t view that honor as an individual achievement.

“It is just a testament to my team,” said Rasheed, a 6’0 native of Mill Valley, Calif. who is averaging a team-high 16.8 point and 8.8 rebounds a game.

“It just shows you how deep we are and how we have so many threats. An honor for me is an honor for my team.”

The team spent last week honing those threats in practice sessions after beating Penn 79-42 in the regular season finale on March 6. “A lot of it was just focusing on ourselves,” said Rasheed, who now has 1,114 points in her Princeton career.

“In the Ivy season, we don’t have the time to focus on ourselves and things we need to get better at. I think we had a great three-four days of practice; we brought in boys to bring a higher intensity and stronger people. We had football players in, they are strong.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart, for her part, believes she got a strong effort from her players last week in their pre-tournament preparation.

“I like the mini camp we had this weekend,” said Banghart, during the team’s Selection Show viewing party last Monday evening at the Triumph Brewing Company on Nassau Street.

“We were really refining who we are. I like where we are but it doesn’t matter where we are today. I hope I like where we are on Saturday.”

Banghart likes the team she is bringing into the tournament. “I have been in the tournament seven times now and this is the first time where I have not really worried about the matchup,” asserted Banghart, who went to the tournament four times as a Dartmouth player and assistant coach. “If our kids show up, we are a really good team.”

The Tigers are facing a good team in the Wildcats, who are coached by Deb Patterson and have posted wins over such powerhouses as Texas A&M, Texas Tech, and the University of Texas this season and feature a talented pair of guards in Brittany Chambers and Mariah White.

“Kansas State has been up and down, they play in a great conference,” said Banghart.

“It is hard to look at their record because they play some of the best teams in the country. They are not going to overwhelm you with athleticism. They are well coached; they have had a lot of success.”

In Banghart’s view, her team should benefit from having gone through the NCAA experience the last two seasons.

“Even for teams that go there every year, there are so many distractions,” said Banghart.

“Everything is regimented; it is really regulated. I hope now that there is excitement, as there should be, but there won’t be stars in our eyes any more.”

Banghart is glad to have star Rasheed in action for the 2012 appearance in the Big Dance.

“Niveen is hungry now; she is experienced now,” said Banghart. “She has been to two tournaments; she watched one. To have a player of that caliber changes your team.”

With Princeton having earned the highest seed given to an Ivy team in the tourney, she believes her squad is poised to show its caliber to the nation.

“This team likes to make history, we were just named today as the first Ivy women’s team to ever be ranked in the Top-25 with a 24 ranking,” said Banghart.

“These guys are striving to go beyond circumstances; they dare to be great and so it is fun to be around it. I hope we can use the experience of the past two years to know how bad it feels to have all the excitement come crashing down after a 40-minute effort.”

Rasheed, for her part, is primed to help Princeton live up to that ranking.

“Never in my mind did I think we would be a Top-25 team; that just shows our hard work,” said Rasheed.

“I am proud of our team; it is awesome to get that national recognition but I have been proud of my team ever since stepping on this campus. We have a lot at stake; we really want to prove ourselves and show that we are not a fluke.”

RECOVERY TIME: Princeton University women’s basketball star Devona Allgood looks to pass the ball in recent action. Allgood was hobbled recently by a hip injury but that has cleared up and she is ready for her final trip to the NCAA tournament. The three-time Ivy League champion Princeton squad (24-4 overall, 14-0 Ivy) has been seeded ninth in the Kingston (R.I.) Region and will be facing No. 8 Kansas State (19-13) in a first round contest on March 17 in Bridgeport, Conn. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

While it has been a smooth ride for the Princeton University women’s basketball team this winter as it posted another undefeated season in Ivy League play, senior star Devona Allgood hit some turbulence last February.

The All-Ivy center suffered a hip pointer, which caused her to hobble through the team’s Senior Night and Ivy title clinching ceremony against Dartmouth and then sit out of practice for a week.

In the team’s last weekend of the regular season, Allgood came off the bench as she looked to get back up to speed.

Starting in Princeton’s regular season finale against Penn on March 6, Allgood showed that she will be at 100 percent come NCAA tournament time, scoring a team-high 12 points as Princeton routed Penn 79-42 to improve to 24-4 overall and 14-0 in Ivy action.

The 24th-ranked Tigers have been seeded ninth in the Kingston (R.I.) Region and will be facing No. 8 Kansas State (19-13 overall, 9-9 Big 12) in a first round contest on March 17 in Bridgeport, Conn. The winner will face the victor of the matchup between top-seeded Connecticut and 16th-seeded Prairie View in a second-round contest on March 19.

A relieved Allgood saw her performance against Penn as proof that she is primed for the postseason.

“It is feeling a lot better; a week of rest really helped so I should be ready to go,” said the 6‘3 Allgood, a native of Huntersville, N.C., who now has 1,162 points in her Princeton career.

“They did a great job of feeding me the ball tonight; everybody has their time when they are feeling it.”

Allgood did feel some deep emotions as she played her final game at Jadwin Gym.

“It is great to be out here; all I can think about is the great four years I have had here,” said Allgood, who is averaging 10.0 points a game this winter and was named last week as a second-team All-Ivy performer, her third straight all-league honor.

“It is bittersweet that I am leaving but there is a season for everything and this one is nearing the end. I am excited that I can continue and that I can play in the tournament too.”

The Tiger are excited about running the table again in Ivy play. “It is not something that happens a lot; it is hard to do,” said Allgood, who helped Princeton go 14-0 in Ivy action in the 2009-10 season and 41-1 in league play over the last three seasons.

“It shows our toughness and it shows that we are not going to be complacent. Ivy schedules are tough, you play back-to-back Friday and Saturday. We have to come hard every single game.”

As the Tigers get ready for their third straight trip to the NCAA tourney, they are fine-tuning their game.

“Right now the focus is on us and making sure that we can do certain things well,” said Allgood.

“We need to make sure that we are still growing and not just settling for where we are right now. We just need to keep working hard at practice, competing and making each other better.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart liked the way Allgood competed over the last three games as she came back from her injury.

“She missed all last week with a hip problem so I thought  we weren’t going to have her,” said Banghart.

“We used her sparingly on Friday and she was so efficient. You hope that she is peaking at the right time. When you took the game away from her for a week, it was like ‘oh god it is over’ so I think she is making every minute count which is exciting. She was sharp all weekend, this is the best Devona has played all year.”

In order to get her team to post another perfect Ivy campaign, Banghart has pushed her players to be sharp.

“Is so rare because it is really hard to do,” said Banghart. “Part of it is sometimes I have to be a little bit crabby to keep them on a standard. Fortunately, there is game film and fortunately, we have got really competitive kids and we are deep. If you are not going to bring your effort, it is no problem because somebody else will. I think that innate competitiveness helps them stay hungry.”

After having fallen to Georgetown in the 2011 NCAA tournament and St. John’s in the 2010 tourney, the Tigers are hungry to get past the first round.

“It is a finite experience; it means a lot to my seniors if they get a win,” said Banghart.

“For this particular team, it is our one shot so I don’t think they feel the pressure of the past two teams not winning. They just realize that with this particular group, there is a chance to win a tournament game. We have had a great non-conference schedule. I just hope that we are good enough on that day to take down whoever it is we get put up against.”

Allgood, for her part, is confident that the Tigers will take advantage of their chance in this year’s tourney.

“We have experience being there so we hope that really shows and that we are not lost in the excitement,” said Allgood.

“I think that we would really like to show our growth. We know what we are capable of and that is what we are trying to prove.”

SENIOR PORTRAIT: Princeton University men’s basketball head coach Mitch Henderson, far left, enjoys the Senior Night ceremony last week with the team’s Class of 2012, from left, Douglas Davis, Patrick Saunders, and John Comfort. The trio of seniors enjoyed a special finale as they helped Princeton beat Penn 62-52 in the March 6 contest. The win improved Princeton to 19-11 overall and 10-4 Ivy League. The Tigers were hoping to keep on the winning track as they competed in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) where they were slated to play at Evansville on March 13 in first round action. (Photo by Stephen Goldsmith)

When Patrick Saunders, Douglas Davis, and John Comfort joined the Princeton University men’s basketball team in 2008, they found a program in transition.

The Tigers went 6-23 the year before they trio arrived and then improved to 13-14 in their freshman seasons.

For Saunders, the lessons learned that freshman year laid the foundation for the success to come as the Tigers have regained their status as an Ivy League title contender.

“When we were freshmen, we had good upperclassmen to look up to, guys like Marcus Schroeder and Zach Finley,” said Saunders, a two-time team captain who will be looking to keep winning as the Tigers compete in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI) where they were slated to play at Evansville on March 13 in first round action.

“So I think it started there and they just taught us how to really play hard and to give everything you have got in every practice and game. I think it was just a continual thing of bringing a culture of hard work.”

That work ethic was on display last week as Princeton beat Penn 62-52 before a crowd of 3,590 at Jadwin Gym on Senior Night for the trio of Saunders, Davis, and Comfort to end the regular season at 19-11 overall and 10-4 in Ivy League play.

Even though the Tigers entered the March 6 contest having been eliminated from this year’s Ivy title race, they were determined to give the Quakers a battle as the latter needed a win to force a title playoff game with Harvard.

In the view of Davis, Princeton had plenty to play for in the latest installment of its bitter rivalry with the Quakers.

“Every time you step on the floor you are trying to win,” said Davis, a former Hun School standout who has helped Princeton go 66-27 over the last three seasons with an Ivy League title and three postseason appearances in that stretch.

“I wasn’t going to feel right to let Penn share the Ivy League title and winning it on our home court. Our rivalry with Penn goes way back. Harvard is good but our rivalry is with Penn. Harvard won the Ivy but Penn wasn’t going to win it on our court.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson liked the way his seniors rose to the occasion in their regular season finale.

“Any time you can get your seniors to play like that, it is very special,” asserted Henderson, who got 12 points from Davis and 10 points from Saunders with junior star Ian Hummer leading the way as he contributed 18 points, 10 rebounds, and four assists.

“I thought Doug was good on [Zack] Rosen. It is a good group. I feel fortunate I could coach a team with seniors like this.”

It was a good feeling for Princeton to beat Penn and thwart its title shot.

“I think when Penn is good, it is good for us,” added Henderson, a 1998 Princeton alum and former Tiger star guard.

“Beating your travel partner and rival has always meant a lot to me. I think it means a lot to these guys too. It is a special game. I have always thought it was a special rivalry and I think it still is, I hope it continues.”

The Tigers are hoping to continue their strong play in the CBI. “These guys are really enjoying playing with each other; they are making each other better,” said Henderson, whose team won eight of its last nine regular season contests.

Davis, for his part, has enjoyed seeing how far the program has come in his four years.

“It just took a lot of hard work,” said Davis, a second-team All-Ivy performer this season who is third on the Princeton scoring list with 1,499 points.

“We all came from schools that won in high school so we wanted to have that translate at the college level and I feel that the upperclassmen really helped mold us into good college players. We were fortunate enough to turn this thing around. It wasn’t just this class, it was the class before us and the guys under us as well.”

MAT QUEST: Princeton University star wrestler Daniel Kolodzik, right, takes control in a recent match. Senior Kolodzik took fourth at 157 pounds at the 2012 Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) championships earlier this month to make the NCAA Championships for the first time in his college career. Kolodzik and fellow Tigers, junior Garret Frey (125) and sophomore Adam Krop (141), will be competing in the NCAAs this week in St. Louis, Mo. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

Daniel Kolodzik thought he had done enough to earn a spot in the NCAA wrestling championships last year in his junior campaign with the Princeton University program.

“Last year, I finished sixth in the Easterns and they only took the top five,” said Kolodzik.

“We crunched the numbers and with the rankings I thought I was going to get an at-large bid but they took some Big 10 guys over me. I don’t know if it was because they came from bigger name wrestling schools than Princeton or they wanted to get more fans. I had a chip on my shoulder all through this season.”

After putting together an All-Ivy League season at 157 pounds this winter, Kolodzik almost didn’t get a chance to compete in the 2012 Eastern Intercollegiate Wrestling Association (EIWA) championships as he got ill days before the event, which Princeton was hosting at Jadwin Gym.

“I was in the infirmary early in the week for a few days with pneumonia,” said Kolodzik.

Fueled by his resolve, though, Kolodzik got out of his sick bed to place fourth in the Easterns, thereby achieving his goal and qualifying for the NCAA Championships which are being held in St. Louis, Mo. from March 15-17.

In reflecting on his big performance at the Easterns, Kolodzik said it definitely helped to be at home.

“It was fantastic, all the alums from my time were there cheering us on as well a lot of the older alums,” said Kolodzik, who will be joined by fellow Tigers, junior Garret Frey (125) and sophomore Adam Krop (141), at the NCAAs.

“It was really exciting to come off the mat and have those guys cheering for you. We have never wrestled in Jadwin before because we always wrestle up at Dillon; it was really cool to be at Jadwin.”

Now Kolodzik is looking to earn cheers in St. Louis at the national competition.

“It is definitely special,” said Kolodzik, who has a 31-9 record this season. “It is good to have some down time to rest and recover. Coach [Chris Ayres] always says it is better to be over-rested and undertrained rather than overtrained and under-rested. As a competitor, you always want to be on the top of the podium. I know that I am going against a tough kid (Maryland’s Kyle John) in the first round. I have a game plan, the focus is on that match. If I win, then the focus is on the next match.”

It took a while for Kolodzik to develop the focus necessary to succeed on the mat at the college level.

“It is a tough adjustment going to college wrestling from high school,” explained Kolodzik, a native of Bellbrook, Ohio who won two state championships during his career with the Miami Valley School.

“In high school, it is a matter of getting to know the sport. In college, everyone knows how to wrestle. It comes down to attitude and mindset. It took two years for me to get the hang of it.”

Over the last two years, Kolodzik has displayed a winning attitude. “In my sophomore year, I had some wins over top-20 ranked wrestlers but I also some bad losses,” said Kolodzik, who posted 25 wins as a junior.

“I leveled off as a junior; I was more consistent. I really figured things out as a senior; experience is big, attitude is huge. I have figured out an approach that works for me. I look at matches as being like fights.”

Kolodzik has enjoyed seeing the Princeton program benefit over the last few years from taking a more serious approach to the sport.

“It has been great; when I came, we were in the second recruiting class and you didn’t see the level of talent in the room that you see now,” said Kolodzik, noting that this is the first time Princeton has sent three wrestlers to the NCAAs to his knowledge.

“It has been great to watch the maturity of the program. Early on, we had guys who were smart but had different interests. Now it is purely a wrestling team.”

For Kolodzik, juggling wrestling with his studies has given him a greater maturity as he heads off into life after college.

“When people are thinking about coming to Princeton to wrestle, we tell them that it is a unique experience, you are doing the hardest sport at the hardest school,” said Kolodzik, who will be applying some of those lessons when he starts working for Royal Bank of Canada in New York City after graduation.

“It is not just a sport, it is a lifestyle. You have to watch your weight and stay in shape all year. You think about wrestling all the time. There is no time to blow off steam. I have come to enjoy the work and not look it as a grind. I enjoy the fight; it is a very fulfilling experience.”

March 7, 2012

DOG BITES: Princeton University men’s hockey player Rob Kleebaum heads up the ice in recent action. Junior forward Kleebaum tallied five points on three goals and two assists last weekend but it wasn’t enough as 11th-seeded Princeton fell 2-1 to No. 6 Yale in a best-of-three ECAC Hockey first round playoff series. The Tigers lost 4-2 to the Bulldogs on Friday and then came back the next day with a 5-4 win on overtime to force a decisive third game. Yale came through in Game 3 on Sunday, topping the Tigers 7-3 as Princeton ended the winter at 9-16-7. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Having gone 0-7-1 in its last eight games with Yale, the Princeton University men’s hockey team had reason to dread its trip to New Haven last weekend to face the Bulldogs in the first round of the ECAC Hockey playoffs.

But Princeton head coach Bob Prier and his 11th-seeded Tigers liked their chances in the best-of-three series with the sixth-seeded Bulldogs.

“I think the guys felt confident going in; we prepared as much as we could,” said Prier, whose team had lost 5-2 to Yale just a week earlier as it wrapped up regular season play.

“We wanted to give them positive reinforcement going into the weekend. We showed a ton of clips where we exposed Yale the last time we played them; we had 13 goal mouth opportunities.”

Unfortunately for the Tigers, Yale took advantage of its chances around the goal in the opener on Friday night, jumping out to a 2-0 lead.

“Our achilles heel all year was that we came out flat,” said Prier. “When we don’t start slowly, we generally win. We need to get that jump and adrenaline going before the game. They came out hard but we played pretty darn well after that.”

With Rob Kleebaum scoring a goal and assisting on a Jack Berger tally, the Tigers narrowed the Yale lead to 3-2 early in the third period. The Bulldogs, though, tacked on an empty net goal to hold on for the 4-2 win.

“We put together the line of Kleebaum, Berger, and Marc Hagel; they are all big, strong guys,” said Prier.

“They really controlled the puck; it seemed like they would have it 40 seconds at a time. They were mucking and grinding; that was a really nice playoff line.”

A night later, the Tigers broke through against the Bulldogs, pulling out a 5-4 overtime win. Princeton built a 2-0 lead after two periods and then weathered a storm in a wild third period before an Andrew Calof tally 33 seconds into the extra session gave the Tigers the win and forced a decisive third game.

“I am really proud of the way the guys played; we really dominated a lot of that game,” said Prier.

“We gave them a 5-on-3 late, that was a matter of a young team being too emotional. Calof elevated the level of his play, we were lucky to have him on that 2-on-1 in overtime. In the last two games, he showed that he can be one of the elite players. He had two goals in each game. He didn’t have his best game on Friday and he really responded. “

In the third game, Princeton fell behind 3-0 midway through the first period and fought an uphill battle from there, ultimately succumbing 7-3.

“I don’t think we played poorly in the first period, they were just really precise on the shots that they did have,” said Prier, whose team ended the season with an overall record of 9-16-7.

“It was back and forth after that. In the third period, we had a 4 x 4 and we pulled the goalie and had opportunities. It was 5-3 and we continued to battle back. They got an empty net goal and then scored on a power play. We fought right to the end.”

For first-year head coach Prier, getting to take the helm of the Tiger program was a special opportunity.

“I was so fortunate to have a group of guys like this to fall into,” said Prier, a former star and longtime assistant coach at St. Lawrence “As far as my personal development, I learned so much.”

Prier acknowledged that he needs to apply some of the newly-acquired knowledge to get the Tigers back on the winning track.

“We were organized but we have to be better organized,” said Prier. “I need to do a better job of managing things from day to day. I learned a lot from what transpired this season. It starts at the top; I could not have worked harder but I need to work smarter.”

In Prier’s view, the Tigers have the talent in place to get back to the top of the ECACH.

“I am very excited about the future, we will have additional competition with a good group of young guys coming in,” said Prier, whose program is losing just three seniors in Hagel, Derrick Pallis, and Brodie Zuk.

“We will have 10 juniors next year; that is a big difference from having 10 sophomores.”

With the Tiger players having adjusted to a different coaching approach, the team won’t have to go through a transition phase next winter.

“Are we all on the same page?- probably not but we will be,” said Prier.

“A lot of kids made progress getting on the same page. There is not a lot of difference between winning and losing in this league. To win consistently, you have to be focused every practice and play consistently. You can’t turn it on like a light switch. You have to have habits ingrained and we have to get there. There is no better group to do it, they are fabulous guys.”

BEDEVILED: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Barb Previ heads to goal last Saturday against Duke. Senior attacker Previ scored two goals in a losing cause as Princeton fell 12-9 to the Blue Devils. The Tigers, now 1-2 and ranked 17th nationally, will open Ivy League action, when they play at Brown (2-1 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on March 10. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

It was a rough week for the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team.

On Wednesday evening, the Tigers fell 11-10 in double overtime to Rutgers and then three days later Princeton came up short again in a 12-9 loss to No. 5 Duke.

But in assessing the loss to Duke on Saturday, Princeton head coach Chris Sailer sees some good weeks ahead.

“I thought we really showed a lot of fight; it was definitely a much improved effort from Wednesday night,” said Sailer, whose team dropped to 1-2 in the wake of the defeat to the Blue Devils.

“I think we are almost there. We just made a few critical mistakes that gave them a goal or took away an opportunity from us.”

The Tigers spent Saturday playing from behind as they battled to overcome those mistakes. Princeton fell behind 5-2 and then fought back to trail Duke by just 6-5 at halftime.

After getting outscored 5-1 in the early stages of the second half, the Tigers mounted another rally, scoring three unanswered goals to get within 11-9. But with Duke controlling possession, Princeton could never get closer than that.

In Sailer’s view, her team ran out of time at the end. “Duke did a great job of stalling the ball, they killed clock,” said Sailer.

“We were able to get out and get a little pressure on them and get a couple of more chances towards the end. We just couldn’t get another score. I was really pleased with the way our kids competed today.”

The Tigers need to fine tune a few aspects of their game in order to get ahead of the competition.

“We have to spend more time on penalty situations; we were 0-for-2 and they were 2-for-2 and that’s the game right there,” said Sailer.

“We had a couple of mistakes on plays, whether it was ground balls around the crease or a slide here or there. And then the draw controls, we have been working on them a lot this week and we are going to continue to. We have to win more of the ones that are on the ground or in the air so that is going to continue to be a focus.”

Sailer liked the focus displayed by senior All-American defender Lindsey deButts.

“I thought Lindsey did well today,” said Sailer of deButts, who had four caused turnovers and two ground balls on the day. “She had some big steals; she really stood out.”

On offense Princeton showed balance as Barb Previ, Sarah Lloyd, and Cassie Pyle scored two goals apiece with Mary-Kate Sivilli, Jaci Gassaway, and Charlotte Davis chipping in one each.

“It was a lot of different people scoring; it wasn’t one person doing all the scoring,” said Sailer.

Promising freshmen Erin McMunn and Erin Slifer also made an impact, showing skill and savvy.

“McMunn had two nice assists; she is definitely fitting in,” added Sailer. “Slifer is a stud through the midfield area; she is mature and very strong.”

With Princeton starting Ivy League play with a game at Brown (2-1 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on March 10, Sailer believes her team will be stronger after taking its lumps this week.

“We are excited to have the whole week to practice before we open our Ivy League season,” said Sailer, whose team is ranked 17th nationally in this week’s Inside Lacrosse media poll.

“We are in the first week of competition; we are going to continue to learn and improve all season long.”

FEELING THE BURN: Princeton University men’s basketball player Jimmy Sherburne puts the pressure on Harvard’s Brandyn Curry in Princeton’s recent win over the Crimson. The emergence of junior back-up guard Sherburne as a key reserve has given a spark to the Tigers. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

As the Princeton University men’s basketball team started this season by losing five of its first six games, junior back-up guard Jimmy Sherburne struggled to find his niche on the squad.

Sherburne got off on a down note this winter, making six turnovers in 23 minutes off the bench as Princeton fell to Wagner in its season opener.

After that inauspicious outing, Sherburne was locked to the bench, playing a total of four minutes in the Tigers’ next five games.

But impressing the Princeton coaches with his defensive prowess and improving on the offensive end, Sherburne has worked his way back into the rotation, emerging as a valuable reserve.

Last weekend, Sherburne showed how far he has come this season. On Friday, he scored six points and had three rebounds in 18 minutes as Princeton topped Yale 64-57. A day later, the 6’3, 197-pound Sherburne contributed six points on two 3-pointers and two rebounds in 16 minutes to help the Tigers rout Brown 81-47.

The victory lifted Princeton to 18-11 overall and 9-4 in Ivy League play and put it in the spoiler’s role. While Harvard finished the weekend at 12-2 in league play to knock Princeton out of the league race, the Tigers could thwart archrival Penn’s bid for a title shot. The Quakers brought an 19-11 overall record and an 11-2 Ivy mark into the foes’ annual regular season finale slated for March 6.

Mirroring the progress made by Princeton this winter as it rebounded from its shaky start, Sherburne has gained a comfort level on the court.

“It sounds like a long time ago,” said Sherburne, a native of Whitefish Bay, Wisc., reflecting on his poor performance against Wagner.

“I have been buying into what the coaching staff wants me to do. Coach [Mitch Henderson] called me a little stubborn this year and I see why he may say that. I think mostly I am starting to feel comfortable with my role.”

In assessing his improvement, Sherburne also credits the help of his fellow players.

“My teammates have faith in me and they are bringing me along too; that has been big for me,” added Sherburne, who has tallied 42 points, 30 rebounds, and 22 assists in 235 minutes of action this winter. “The more I play out there, the more I just feel that I can help out a little bit.”

Princeton head coach Henderson believes Sherburne has turned into a big help for the Tigers.

“If there is anybody on the team who cares about us doing well and winning and what he can do to help, it is Jimmy,” said Henderson.

“I ask him to do a lot of things that are hard to do in practice. I ask him to play on the scout team, I ask him to play important roles for the team and he doesn’t ever say anything so Jimmy is important for us going forward.”

Henderson liked the way his team kept playing hard against Yale as it took a 37-28 halftime lead and weathered a second half storm as the Bulldogs knotted the game at 40-40 with 12:11 remaining in regulation.

“I loved the way we played to start the game,” said Henderson, who got 18 points in the win over Yale from Ian Hummer with T.J. Bray chipping in 10 points, five rebounds, and two assists.

“This is a good Yale team with [Jeremiah] Kreisberg, [Greg] Mangano, and [Reggie] Wilhite. All three guys can score in different ways. We just got away from what we do a little bit. There was a lid on the basket. Mack Darrow’s 3-pointer on that pass from Ian put us up 43-40 and it kind of let the air out of the whole tension we were creating for ourselves.”

Junior star Hummer saw the victory over the Bulldogs as a mirror image in reverse of Princeton’s 58-54 loss at Yale in early February.

“We brought it close up at Yale and they had a few key possessions that put them over the top,” said Hummer.

“We had a couple of plays in this game that put us over the top. We are playing really good basketball. I think if we play as a team, we can make those plays at the end of the game.”

Henderson, for his part, likes the way his team has progressed even as it has fallen out of contention for the league crown.

“We are trying to treat every game as a game that is important to us and our development,” said Henderson.

“As long as we keep doing that I think we are in good shape. We haven’t really talked about what-ifs, I don’t think these guys think about it much. We are just focused on trying to get better.”

For Sherburne, focusing on getting better helped him reach a breakthrough in his Tiger career.

“During the Harvard game at home, I had a moment where I felt like I wasn’t worrying about anything else,” recalled Sherburne.

“I just felt like I was playing and I think that is important for me to just go out there and play. I felt like this is it, this is how I want to feel and it is a good feeling.”

MAN UP: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Mike Grossman flies up to fire a shot in recent action. Last Friday, senior star Grossman tallied two goals and two assists in a losing cause as Princeton fell 10-8 to second-ranked Johns Hopkins. Princeton, now 2-1 and ranked 14th in this week’s Inside Lacrosse media poll, faces No. 8 North Carolina (4-1) on March 10 in the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Mike Grossman and the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team couldn’t find a rhythm offensively in the early stages of their clash against visiting Johns Hopkins last Friday evening.

The 11th-ranked Tigers were outshot 19-7 by No. 2 Hopkins in the first half and found themselves trailing 5-2 at the half.

“I thought we could have come out and played better in the first half,” said senior attacker Grossman, reflecting on a night which saw the Tigers generate zero shots in the second quarter.

“I thought we had jitters; we kept tossing the ball away. I honestly feel like I didn’t break a sweat in the first half, which is a little frustrating.”

The Tigers, though, did make the Blue Jays sweat in the second half, cutting the Hopkins lead to 7-5 at one point and then making a late surge in ultimately falling 10-8 before a crowd of 2,407 at Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium.

Princeton’s formula for getting back into the game was basic, according to Grossman.

“I thought we just had to toughen up and play harder on ground balls and get the ball,” said Grossman, in assessing a second half which saw Princeton outshoot the Blue Jays 29-10 and hold a 16-13 edge in ground balls.

“We just didn’t have the ball enough in the first half and you really can’t win without the ball.”

Once Princeton got the ball, Grossman did some good things with it. “I felt nice when we had the ball,” said Grossman, a 6‘1, 195-pound native of Potomac, Md. who tallied two goals and two assists on the evening.

“I have been playing both attack and coming from the box. Today I was getting a pole more often than not so that was a change. It is just six offensive guys; it works well. They definitely switched up the matchups which was the first time we had seen that but the offense works when we are all moving well together.”

In Grossman’s view, the Tigers, now 2-1, are moving in the right direction. “We know we can play with them, but we beat ourselves which is frustrating,” said Grossman, who has seven points this season on three goals and four assists.

“They are a very good team. It is just one game and it is the third game of the season. There is a long way to go. We showed plenty of promise today.”

Princeton head coach Chris Bates concurred, noting that the Tigers hung in there against the powerful Blue Jays even though they weren’t at their sharpest.

“I thought we did a decent job in the second scratching and clawing; I think Hopkins did a decent job making plays when they needed to,” said Bates.

“We don’t feel like we played well anywhere but we were within striking distance. It is a missed opportunity. There are some positives we can take out of this. It was a B- effort. If we play an A effort, we can go toe-to-toe with anybody.”

Bates likes the effort he is getting from Grossman in his final campaign.

“Mike is a senior; I feel like he is embracing a leadership role and wants to make a play,” said Bates.

“What Michael does isn’t pretty but he has got a great IQ. He has got his head up; he sees the slide and distributes the ball well. We are comfortable at the end of the game putting the ball on his stick. He’s ready to take that next step in terms of being a fourth quarter guy that makes big plays.”

In the game Friday, the Blue Jays came up big in the early stages of the fourth quarter, going on a 4-1 run to build a 10-5 lead.

“I give Hopkins credit; they inverted and they possessed the ball,” said Bates who got two goals from Jeff Froccaro in the loss to Hopkins with Tom Schreiber chipping in a goal and two assists.

“That’s Hopkins and it forces you out of rhythm but then we broke down at times. They capitalized when were a step slow. I thought they shot the ball relatively well.”

With Princeton facing No. 8 North Carolina (4-1) on March 10 in the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Bates is hoping his team will capitalize on another shot at a traditional lax power.

“That is a big stage; I think that will be good for our guys,” said Bates. “They are talented, they are deep and well coached. We’ll start thinking about them in a day or two. I think the guys will be ready. It is team that we have had great games with the last two years. It’s top-ranked team in that venue so I think we’ll be excited to make amends for this one.”

In Grossman’s view, the Tigers’ corp of seniors are ready to lead the way as Princeton looks to get back on the winning track.

“It is a big class, there are 13 of us,” said Grossman. “When we came in here we made it our goal to go to the Final 4 and do whatever it takes to get there and we obviously haven’t done that so that’s the ultimate goal. We feel with so many kids contributing that we know what it takes. We just can’t have the jitters that we had today.”

February 29, 2012

SENIOR MOMENT: Princeton University women’s basketball star Lauren Edwards drives to the hoop in recent action. Last Saturday, star guard Edwards came up big on her Senior Night, scoring a career-high 29 points as Princeton topped Dartmouth 94-57 to clinch the Ivy League title outright and a berth in the next month’s NCAA tournament. The Tigers, now 21-4 overall and 11-0 Ivy, play at Yale on March 2 and at Brown on March 3 before hosting Penn on March 6. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Lauren Edwards is not one to grab the spotlight for the Princeton University women’s basketball team, preferring to go about her business in an understated manner.

But last Saturday, senior guard Edwards took center stage as Princeton hosted Dartmouth, needing a win to clinch the Ivy League title outright and a berth in the next month’s NCAA tournament.

Prior to the game, Edwards and her two classmates on the team, Devona Allgood and Laura Johnson, were honored in the program’s annual Senior Night ceremony.

“It was certainly really emotional, walking up there with my family and seeing where the program has come in our four years,” said Edwards, a native of Los Angeles.

“Seeing how it has transformed into this great tradition of having a great team and a program that really prides itself on working hard, practicing hard, and earning our wins. It is really emotional and it was great to see.”

Riding that wave of emotion, Edwards hit the court and produced one of the greatest games of her career, pouring in a career-high 29 points as the Tigers rolled to a 94-57 win over the Big Green, improving to 21-4 overall and 11-0 Ivy and ensuring a third straight trip to March Madness.

“This was one of my last two home games of the season and I have to give all I have got,” said Edwards, who hit 11-of 16 shots on the evening, including 7-of-10 from three-point range.

“I am probably not going to play after Princeton so this is my last time playing in an organized sport. I love this team and all I want to do is go out with a bang.”

The Tigers were banging in their shots as they ended up going 36-68 (52.9 percent) from the floor.

“I think a lot of the shooters were clicking today, we were sharing the ball well,” said Edwards, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for her weekend which also saw her score 17 points in a 74-44 win over Harvard on Friday.

“Laura Johnson came out and she hasn’t really started much. She starts tonight and came out with a 3-pointer. After that I knew it was going to be a good night.”

One of the greatest moments of the night for Edwards came when she left the game for the final time and hugged each of the Princeton coaches on her way down the bench.

“It was great to whisper a little something in their ear, telling them how they have helped me through the years and how much I have grown because of them,” said Edwards, who now has 1,273 points in her career. “I love them and I love this team.”

Edwards has loved having an impact on her younger teammates this season as a senior leader.

“This is a team that I have to lead now, Devona and I as co-captains and LJ [Johnson] as the other senior,” said Edwards, who is a finalist for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award.

“We had to take control of our underclassmen and teach them the way our seniors taught us. The seniors set the foundation when we came in with this new coaching staff with a whole new system of play, a whole new offense, and a whole new defense. They taught us and we want to play it forward.”

Princeton head coach Courtney Banghart appreciated the leap of faith her seniors took when they decided to join the program.

“They took a big chance on me and the university and on the program and they have only done right by it,” said Banghart.

“I had never coached a college basketball game when they committed and in our first year, we were 7-23 and now this. We have three straight titles, they could become the only class in Ivy League history to have two undefeated seasons. They have done it the right way, they have done it by celebrating each other. They have done it by a great work ethic. They have done it by setting high standards. These are really special people.”

Banghart was thrilled to see Edwards experience such a special game on Senior Night.

“Her parents are here; they came all the way from Los Angeles for this,” noted Banghart.

“I think she is peaking at the right time; she is not the kind of player who likes to stand out in front of everybody. I think she realizes now that the next step for our program is that she does need to step out in front of everybody and it’s nice to see. She did look great tonight, we felt we could get her some open looks and we did and she knocked them down. She is catching fire late; it is the right time for us.”

While another perfect Ivy campaign would be nice, Banghart has her sights set on catching fire in the NCAAs.

“Every game is its own entity and as long as we are making steps forward, I don’t really care about the undefeated record,” said Banghart, whose team plays at Yale on March 2 and at Brown on March 3 before hosting Penn on March 6.

“I care that my team gets better every single day and that we are the better team that day on the opening round.”

For Banghart, the joy of winning the Ivy title is tempered by her desire to see Princeton make an impact on the national stage.

“All my coaching friends say enjoy it,” added Banghart, reflecting on winning the title.

“I say I am trying to but I see such a high ceiling for this team that I want to just keep going. To win one at a school is pretty special but to win three in a row shows the collective effort of this group year after year. We have a great staff; we work hard for it and we want to enjoy it.”

Edwards, for her part, enjoyed the title clinching moment and the post-game celebration which saw the Tigers cut down the net on the basket near their bench.

“It is great; it is not something we take for granted,” said Edwards. “We work hard to get it. We work for every win and every championship. We punched our ticket today; we are pretty excited about that.”

In order to produce an exciting NCAA run, Edwards knows that the Tigers have to keep working hard.

“The last two years we have had to play more athletic teams and we haven’t been able to match their athleticism,” said Edwards, referring to NCAA first round losses to Georgetown last year and St. John’s in 2010.

“This year we want to focus on being able to do that and keeping up our intensity, especially the intensity that we have had in the preseason, playing against top-ranked teams like Stanford and Delaware.”

UPLIFTING START: Princeton University men’s lacrosse players Mike MacDonald (No. 26) and Tom Schreiber, second from left, lead the celebration after a goal last Saturday in Princeton’s season-opening 12-6 win over Hofstra. Freshman attacker MacDonald scored three goals in his college debut while sophomore star Schreiber tallied a career-high seven points on three goals and four assists. MacDonald was later named the Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Week along with Brown’s Nick Piroli while Schreiber was chosen as the Ivy Player of the Week. In upcoming action, No. 11 Princeton hosts second-ranked Johns Hopkins on March 2. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Last spring, Tom Schreiber became the first freshman to lead the Princeton University men’ lacrosse team in both goals and assists.

But while Schreiber earned Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors for his production as he scored 29 points on 16 goals and 13 assists, he didn’t get a lot of help as the Tigers stumbled to a 4-8 record.

Last Saturday in the 2012 season opener against visiting Hofstra, Schreiber again triggered the Tiger offense, scoring a career-high seven points on three goals and four assists.

But this time, the 6’0, 190-pound sophomore got plenty of help as the Tigers pulled away to a 12-6 victory over the Pride as Princeton christened its new Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium before a crowd of 1,222.

Schreiber certainly noticed a difference from last year. “We flowed a lot better; everybody was in the right spots,” said Schreiber, who was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week for his performance.

“Guys were breaking off ground balls. We were getting transition goals. It was a team effort and things went our way finally. We had a lot of assisted goals today. Everyone was moving out there and everyone is moving the ball. It doesn’t matter who is putting it in the net; we are  just happy to put 12 goals on the board.”

Schreiber helped get things flowing for the Tigers as he saw time at attack and in the midfield.

“Like any other player, you love being out there, “ said Schreiber, reflecting on his dual role.

“I did that a little bit in high school; I didn‘t come off the field much. If I can keep in good enough shape, hopefully I can continue to do it and get a lot of looks.”

Over the offseason, Schreiber worked hard to refine the game he showed during his freshman campaign.

“Shooting is one thing I worked on a lot; I struggled with that a little bit today,” said Schreiber. “And just like anybody else, I worked on getting stronger and faster.”

Freshman attacker Mike MacDonald credited Schreiber with being a catalyst of Princeton’s strong effort in the opener.

“Tom Schreiber stepped up and put some in the net,” said MacDonald, who scored three goals in his college debut and was named the Ivy League Co-Rookie of the Week along with Brown’s Nick Piroli. “He kept us calm and kept us going.”

In MacDonald’s view, the offensive effort Saturday is a harbinger of things to come.

“It is still early but I think our offense is going to click,” said MacDonald, a native of Georgetown, Ontario, who starred at Trinity Pawling.

“We have a new system under coach Bates [Princeton head coach Chris Bates] here. We are all working hard everyday with it in practice and I think it is going to go really well.”

MacDonald admitted that it took a while for him to get his game going in his first taste of college action.

“I was a little bit nervous going in there; I threw a couple of balls away at the start,” said MacDonald.

“There were a couple of guys who helped me through it and calmed me down. Coach Bates trusted me and left me out there even when I threw balls away. I think when the nerves calmed down a little bit, it went my way.”

Princeton head coach Bates trusted his offense to fire away. “We talk a lot about generating shots,” said Bates, whose team outshot the Pride 39-20 on the day.

“At halftime we have 17 or 19 shots. We are like OK because that is how an offense gets a rhythm. We backed up the cage and shot it relatively well.”

With Princeton coming off a rough season and having played unevenly in preseason scrimmages this year, Bates was looking to see some fire in his players.

“I saw the emotion; it started with face-offs and ground ball stats,” said Bates, whose squad won 13-of-22 face-offs and had a 28-19 edge in ground balls.

“If we are going to shoot the ball 39 times and out-face-off and out- ground ball teams, we are going to be very good. Defensively I thought we were OK, that will be a work in progress. I think we learned that when the lights go on, we have got some guys who can play.”

There is no question that Schreiber has emerged as a prime-time player for the Tigers.

“Tom is going to make plays but he is going to make other people around him better,” said Bates.

“He is a kid who wants the ball on his stick. At attack, when Michael Grossman had played down there with Jeff Froccaro and Mike MacDonald, you don’t have a real quarterback. With Tom back there a little bit, he is going to get the ball in transition and settle everybody down.”

In Bates’s view, the win should have a settling effect on a program that had its confidence shaken in 2011.

“It is huge; it is relief in some ways,” said Bates, whose team is ranked No. 11 in this week’s Inside Lacrosse media poll and will face No. 2 Johns Hopkins on March 2.

“It is the first one so you just don’t know. You watch us play last week and you think we are OK. You just aren’t sure what you are going to get when the curtain comes up. I thought the energy was really good. We played through mistakes. It was a good way for us to start; it gives them  some validation for hard work. It has been  a lot in the off season and for them to just come and get off on the right foot is a nice relief.”

Schreiber, for his part, believes Princeton is headed in the right direction.

“The coaches just keep pushing us; we did a lot of shooting,” said Schreiber. “We finally got the offense going, we got our confidence up. Once we start scoring early, we got a little momentum.”

PIVOTAL POINT: Princeton University men’s squash player ­Kelly Shannon goes after the ball in recent action. Senior star Shannon battled through injury to help Princeton edge Trinity 5-4 two weeks ago in the College Squash Association (CSA) national team championship, ending Trinity’s 13-year run as national champion. Shannon, playing at No. 4, won his match to break a 4-all tie and clinch the crown for Princeton. (Photo Courtesy of Princeton’s Office of Athletic Communications)

After dealing with a series of injuries over the first three years of his career with the Princeton University men’s squash teams, Kelly Shannon reached the breaking point last winter.

“I was very close to quitting,” said Shannon, who had hurt his back as a freshman and then dealt with a nagging hip problem the next two seasons.

“I went into coach’s office and told him I was not having fun doing this. I was not part of the team, I couldn’t go back to dinner with the other players because I was always rehabbing and icing.”

Shannon decided to stick it out and that turned out to be a fortuitous decision for the Tiger program and squash history.

After returning for his senior campaign this winter and battling through more injuries, Shannon recorded the victory that took down a dynasty, winning the final match as Princeton edged perennial champion Trinity 5-4 in the College Squash Association (CSA) national team championship, ending the Bantams’ 13-year title run.

As Shannon and his teammates gathered before the final at Jadwin Gym on February 19, there was a sense of confidence among the Tigers.

“It was a pretty electric atmosphere; we were all ready, playing music in the locker room and making jokes,” said Shannon, a native of Calgary, Alberta who plays at No. 4 for the Tigers.

“In the past we felt we had the talent to win; we thought we had five wins in us if everything fell into place but we didn’t get ourselves in position to do it. Our win at Harvard in the regular season was huge. We built from there; we were on fire at the end. The biggest difference is that we felt like we earned it, not just waiting for it to happen.”

Even though Princeton was down 4-2 when Shannon took the court for his match against Trinity’s Reinhold Hergeth, he had a feeling that things would turn out OK.

“I actually thought it might go that way,” said Shannon, who was joined in the final shift by teammates Todd Harrity at No. 1 and Dylan Ward at No. 7.

“The biggest mismatches for us were in the final shift, matches that I thought would go our way the majority of the time. I was still nervous but confident.”

Shannon had to work through some nerves in pulling out the first game of his match.

“I came out, the crowd was crazy and the new ball was flying,” recalled Shannon, who fell behind early before rallying to a 13-11 win in game one.

“It was tough to settle in right away. I relied on my match experience. I got into my zone; I was playing my game.

After taking the second game 11-8, Shannon hit a rough patch in the next game.

“I go up 5-0 and then he fights back to 5-5,” said Shannon. “I was getting a little nervous; he made me work hard. He was starting to hit the wall, I didn’t have to do anything special, just tighten up my game.”

As Shannon pulled ahead, he didn’t want to get tighter and tried to take his mind off the gravity of the situation.

“I had in the back of my mind that it was the last match but I wanted to block that out,” said Shannon.

“I blocked it out intentionally but when I saw people come over from Todd’s match, I kind of knew what was going on.”

When Shannon prevailed 11-9 to win the match and the elusive title, he didn’t know quite how to react.

“It was so surreal, I thought I would celebrate more,” said Shannon, who had won his match in the epic 2009 CSA final which saw Princeton drop a 5-4 heartbreaker to Trinity.

“I felt like a weight was lifted. We had talked about this for years. It was hanging over the squash world for 13 years. Now I can breathe again, I wanted it so bad.”

For Shannon, the win made his struggles worthwhile. “I have had a tough college career; I have had hip injuries the previous two years,” said Shannon, who will end his college career this weekend by competing in the CSA individual championships at Amherst College.

“I then had a shoulder injury in the fall and twisted my ankle when I got back from that. I found a routine to keep the hip injury calm. What is key for me is feeling comfortable, getting my timing back, and playing my game.”

Longtime Princeton head coach Bob Callahan was comfortable having the title match resting on Shannon’s shoulders.

“I couldn’t think of another guy I would want out there other than Shannon when it was 4-all,” asserted Callahan, who is in his 30th season at the helm of the Princeton program and last led the Tigers to the national crown in 1993.

“This year, he was all about the team. He cared so deeply; he called me everyday and said what could I do to help the team.”

The win over Trinity touched past and present Princeton team members.

“I got 500 e-mails the next day,” said Callahan. “The former players were so happy, they had been saddled with the losses to Trinity. Mauricio Sanchez (former Tiger star and 2009 Princeton alum) sent me an e-mail, saying it was the happiest day of his life. I think it is wonderful for the program and wonderful for the kids. We had nine competitors, everyone won at least two matches in the tournament.

Like Shannon, Callahan wasn’t sure how to celebrate after the win. “I wouldn’t allow myself to breathe until the last point,” said Callahan. “It was not elation, it was a relief. I could exhale after all these years. Paul [Trinity coach Paul Assaiante] was the first guy to come and give me a hug.”

Callahan has gained a lot of affection for his championship squad. “They showed guts all season and a belief that they could make it happen,” said Callahan, who credited Shannon and classmates Chris Callis, Clay Blackiston, and David Pena with providing inspired senior leadership.

“On one Sunday in 2012, things came together for a bunch of good kids who had been working hard for a long time. They brightened the lives of former Princeton players and supporters.”

The championship campaign has left Shannon with memories that will last for a long time.

“I will never forget this year’s team, not because we won but because we went through so much together,” said Shannon.

“Chris Callis and I were the senior captains and we were going to whip the team into shape but once you get down to it we couldn’t do everything because of schedules and people missing practices. We did do as much as we could. We had mandatory runs for the first time; we did lots of track work and did some tough fitness stuff. We got through the whole thing as a team. Different people stepped up at different times. We came together as a team. The chemistry was there and that is what made the difference.”

SLINGSHOT: Princeton University women’s hockey player Denna Laing heads up the ice in recent action. After spending much of last week in a sling due to a collarbone injury, sophomore forward Laing came up big as the seventh-seeded Tigers faced second-seeded Harvard in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals over the weekend, tallying two goals and an assist in the series. Laing’s heroics, though, weren’t enough as the Tigers fell 5-3 on Friday and 4-3 in overtime the next day to finish the season at 12-15-4 overall. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Denna Laing personified the grit that is a hallmark of the Princeton University women’s hockey team when the Tigers played at Harvard last weekend in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals.

Playing through several injuries, Laing tallied two goals and an assist in the matchup between seventh-seeded Princeton and the No. 2 Crimson.

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal admired Laing’s courageous effort. “I give Denna a lot of credit; she was banged up with a couple of bad ribs and then she hurt her collarbone in practice,” said Kampersal.

“She was in a sling most of the week and then comes out and plays like that. She is a pretty tough kid.”

While Princeton showed its toughness in the series, it wasn’t enough as the Tigers dropped two nailbiters to get knocked out of the playoffs and end the season at 12-15-4 overall.

In the opener on Friday, the Tigers battled back from deficits of 2-0 and 3-1 to tie the game at 3-3 early in the third period only to lose 5-3. A day later, Princeton scored a goal with 1:04 left in regulation to knot the game at 3-3 and force overtime. But the Crimson found the back of the net 17:59 onto the extra session to win the game and the series.

Kampersal was proud of his team’s pluck. “We didn’t start off well and that was a bummer,” said Kampersal, noting that the Tigers found themselves trailing 2-0 after the first period of the opener.

“We played five strong periods after that and stormed back in both games. The kids did a really good job; I think we put a scare into them.”

The Tigers, though, couldn’t close the deal when they had the Crimson on the ropes.

“On one hand, I think we deserved better,” said Kampersal. “But when we had chances to put them away, we didn’t hammer the nail into the coffin. In the overtime, we had three golden opportunities and didn’t score. They had two and they scored on their second.”

For Kampersal, the finality of the loss was heartbreaking. “It is tough this year with the quality of the kids in the locker room,” said Kampersal. “You don’t want it to end. You feel a void the next day and then you have to start to pick up the pieces.”

Over the course of the winter, Princeton pieced together things under trying circumstances.

“I am proud of the way we played this season,” asserted Kampersal. “We were shorthanded the whole year. We played 13 skaters in some games and 14 in others. The kids were resilient. They were flexible with changing positions; everyone contributed.”

The team’s group of seniors certainly made a major contribution this season and over their careers. “The seniors brought a lot of heart and soul; they leave a big void for leadership and as players they really helped us out,” said Kampersal of his Class of 2012 which includes Ann-Marie Elvin, Julie Johnson, Heather Landry, co-captain Charissa Stadnyk, co-captain Paula Romanchuk, Danielle DiCesare, and Rachel Weber.

Going forward, the Tigers
will have a different look without those seniors. “I didn’t have to do a ton of coaching; they were an experienced group,” said Kampersal, who was recently named to serve as the head coach of the U.S. Under-18 women’s national team.

“We will have a younger group next year; we will spend more time on the basics.”

In Kampersal’s view, those younger players have the potential to give Princeton’s foes a hard time.

“If the sophomores have a good summer and stay healthy, they can be a dominant group,” asserted Kampersal.

“We need to get stronger physically; we knocked off the puck at times. We really need to make a commitment to the off-ice training.”

While the result last weekend was disappointing, the Tigers achieved one of their main goals coming into the campaign.

“We said at the beginning of the year that we were not going to worry about results as much this season and worry more about effort and giving your best everyday,” said Kampersal. “If you do that, you can leave the room with your head held high.”

As the Princeton players left Cambridge last weekend, they had every reason to hold their heads high.

February 22, 2012

STEPPING OUT: Princeton University women’s lacrosse star Cassie Pyle strides up the field last year. Senior midfielder Pyle, who had 38 goals and 19 assists in 2011, figures to be a catalyst this spring for the Tigers. Princeton opens its 2012 campaign on February 25 when it plays at Villanova (1-0). (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Chris Sailer didn’t have to wait until this spring to start feeling good about her Princeton University women’s lacrosse team.

“Going back to the fall, we were further ahead at that point than we have been in years,” said longtime Princeton head coach Sailer, a Hall of Famer who has 314 career wins as she enters her 26th year at the helm of the program.

“I feel like we picked up last fall where we left off in the spring. The team has a really good energy about it. There is a positive approach and good intensity in every practice.”

Last spring, the Tigers ended the season on a positive surge that saw them win six of their last eight games, prevailing in the Ivy League tournament and advancing to the NCAA quarterfinals as they finished with a 12-7 record.

As Princeton looks forward to opening its 2012 season with a game at Villanova (1-0) on February 25, Sailer is welcoming back plenty of firepower on attack.

Leading the way will be junior Jaci Gassaway (33 goals and 13 assists in 2011) along with senior Barb Previ (17 goals, eight assists) and junior Sam Ellis (16 goals, 11 assists).

“Jaci has been doing a great job; she will be the leader of the attack group” asserted Sailer, who also plans to use sophomores Mary Kate Sivilli and Grace Bowen in her attack unit.

“We are expecting a big season from her, she continues to get better and better. Previ is a sparkplug; she makes things happen in transition. Her value comes in doing the little things, getting ground balls and helping with the connection game. She sets up her teammates and does things that don’t show up in the box score. Ellis has had some injuries but she is starting to turn it on.”

Promising freshman Erin McMunn figures to turn some heads this spring at attack.

“McMunn is doing great,” asserted Sailer of the native of Westminster, Md. who helped the U.S. win the U-19 World Championship last summer.

“She has incredible hands, she has a sure stick right or left. She has good vision; she is going to make an impact.”

The Tigers boast some impact players in the midfield with senior Cassie Pyle (38 goals, 19 assists), junior Charlotte Davis (27 goals, nine assists), and sophomore Sarah Lloyd (15 goals, 12 assists).

“She is hard to contain one versus one and on defense, her quick feet are a big help,” said Sailer of the second-team All-Ivy performer from  Alexandria, Va.

“Charlotte Davis brings such energy to the team. She is a really competitive player. She has speed and she can score. Lloyd is just getting back from mono. She is looking awesome; she is really fit and confident with the ball. Erin Slifer has been fantastic. She played on the same club team as McMunn, they were quite the pair. She is tall and strong.”

On defense, Princeton features some strong leaders in senior All-American Lindsey deButts together with senior co-captain Cathy Bachur and junior co-captain Caroline Rehfuss.

“Lindsey is the backbone of the defense; she has experience and vision,” said Sailer, noting that deButts is on the mend from a hip injury.

“We need to get her back as soon as possible. Bachur is really solid. We moved Rehfuss to defense from midfield; she can make big plays.”

Sailer notes that sophomores Liz Cutting, Colleen Smith, and Erin Williams are “chomping at the bit” to see more action.

The biggest question mark for Princeton coming into 2012 is at goaltender, where the Tigers are replacing graduated star Erin Tochihara and Sailer is deciding between freshman Annie Woehling and sophomore Caroline Franke as the new starter.

“It is hard to replace Toch, we can’t ask either of them to be Toch,” said Sailer of Tochihara, who ended her stellar career by posting a 10.18 goals against average last spring.

“Annie has the edge right now. She is pretty solid and consistent. She is good out of the cage on ground balls and interceptions. Caroline is good on positioning. She is a lefty which can be a problem for shooters. She is a big, solid kid and plays the angles well. I think they will both see action.”

In Sailer’s view, the team’s success will depend in large part how it plays around its goalie.

“I think this team has good potential,” said Sailer. “The defense has to play well because there is going to be a new goalie no matter what. We have to deny high percentage shots. We also have to put some points on the board; we have an offense that is capable of doing that.”

As the Tigers prepare for their season-opening clash at Villanova, who beat Wagner 16-7 last Saturday in its first action, they are concentrating on themselves more than their foe.

“I feel like in the first game the focus is on you and what you are doing and not the other team,” said Sailer, whose team is ranked seventh in this week’s Inside Lacrosse national media poll.

“Our theme this year is having a mindset where we don’t focus on the outcome or the score but on one play at a time.”

LAST CALL: Princeton University women’s hockey player ­Paula Romanchuk sets up in the crease in recent action. Senior forward Romanchuk and her classmates will be looking to end their careers on a high note as they compete in the ECAC Hockey playoffs. The seventh-seeded Tigers (12-13-4 overall, 10-10-2 in ECACH) will start postseason play when they head up to No. 2 Harvard (20-8-1 overall, 17-4-1 ECACH) this weekend for a best-of-three ECACH quarterfinal series starting on February 24. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Julie Johnson and her classmates on the Princeton University women’s hockey team didn’t get their senior weekend off to a good start.

Hosting Rensselaer last Friday evening, the Tigers fell behind 1-0 23 seconds into the contest.

“That first goal on the first shift puts you back on your heels and kills momentum,” said senior forward Johnson.

The Tigers did answer back as sophomore Denna Laing found the back of the net midway through the first period. With the game knotted at 1-1 after one, the Tigers did some soul searching during the first intermission.

“We rallied between periods,” recalled Johnson. “We knew that we just had to work hard and focus on winning our one-on-one battles.”

Early in the second period, Johnson won a key battle, gaining possession of the puck along the boards and setting up a Sally Butler goal that turned out to be the game winner in a 2-1 Princeton victory.

“I came off the bench and I just tried to play high and read what their defense was doing coming out of their zone,” said Johnson.

“I saw that the puck was coming loose near the boards and I tried to hop on it with speed. I knew Sally was in the slot so I just turned and gave her a little backhanded pass and thankfully she found the back of the net. It was pretty nice.”

While Johnson was happy to get on the score sheet, that was not her main goal in her last weekend of action at Baker Rink.

“This year I have been struggling to get points; it hasn’t been my focus,” said Johnson.

“I am trying to enjoy it; that is the big thing with senior weekend. You come in and try to enjoy it with your team and everyone rallies around each other. It doesn’t matter who gets the points as long as we win.”

The Tigers went on to win a day later, beating Union 3-0 to finish the regular season at 12-13-4 overall and 10-10-2 in ECAC Hockey action. The seventh-seeded Tigers will head up to No. 2 Harvard (20-8-1 overall, 17-4-1 ECACH) this weekend for a best-of-three ECACH quarterfinal series starting on February 24.

In Johnson’s view, Princeton will come ready to play well when they arrive at Cambridge.

“We have some work to do and we owe it to ourselves to play well there next weekend,” said Johnson.

“We have to tighten up a little bit in the d-zone and get the power play going. We need to focus on winning those blue lines. We are so close, it is just doing a couple of little things and we’ll be good.”

Over the course of her career, Johnson has done a lot of things for the Tigers, moving from her natural forward position to defenseman when Princeton has been shorthanded in that area.

“I have been ready to do whatever the team needs me to do,” said the 5’7 Johnson, a native of Calgary, Alberta who has three assists this season and 37 points in her Tiger career of 13 goals and 24 assists.

“This season I feel like I have played that role pretty well. Sometimes I feel lost on defense and I just try to keep things simple back there and work hard to get the puck. On offense, it is just grinding in the corners and the walls and trying to get my teammates the puck.”

Princeton head coach Jeff Kampersal liked the way Johnson grinded in the win over Rensselaer.

“For sure, JJ worked really hard, she was strong on the boards today,” said Kampersal.

“She did a good job for us on that goal, that was a nice shot by Sally over the shoulder.”

While Kampersal was happy to see Princeton get the win, he knows the team has to raise the level of its play of it is going to prevail in the playoff series at Harvard.

“It was definitely nice to get the win today; we played well for two periods but not three,” said Kampersal, whose team split with the Crimson in regular season play, blanking Harvard 3-0 at Baker Rink on January 6 but losing 10-1 in Cambridge on February 4.

“We need to fix coverage in front of the net and we need to fix our power play which is still mediocre at best.”

Kampersal is expecting a powerful effort in the playoffs from his group of seniors which includes Ann-Marie Elvin, Heather Landry, co-captain Charissa Stadnyk, co-captain Paula Romanchuk, Danielle DiCesare, and Rachel Weber in addition to Johnson.

“I would consider them a hockey group in the way they care about the sport,” asserted Kampersal.

“They show up, they play hard. Most of them have been in the lineup most games so very few times have we missed them. They bring a lot of heart and soul.”

Johnson, for her part, has put her heart into the program and has developed some deep bonds with her classmates in the process.

“We were extremely close our freshman and sophomore years and we still are that close,” said Johnson.

“Princeton hockey is a family and these are the girls that you spend every day with. You battle through the ups and downs; it is a special thing to be a part of and it is going to be sad to leave.”

STICKING IT OUT: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player John Cunningham heads up the field in action last spring. Senior longstick midfielder Cunningham brings intensity to a Princeton program that is looking to rebound from a rough 4-8 campaign last spring. The Tigers open their 2012 season when they host Hofstra on February 25. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

This Saturday, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team will christen brand-new Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium when it hosts Hofstra in its season opener.

For the Tigers, playing on the sparkling FieldTurf surface emblazoned with a striking Princeton logo in the middle of the field symbolizes the fresh start sorely needed by a program that endured a nightmarish campaign last spring.

Coming off an inspiring 2010 season that saw the Tigers win the inaugural Ivy League tournament and go 11-5, Princeton stumbled to a 4-8 mark last year with 16 players sidelined by injury at some point in the season.

Princeton head coach Chris Bates believes his players are excited to get rolling in their new digs.

“They are fired up and ready to go,” said Bates, who is starting a new chapter in his personal life, dealing with personal tragedy as his wife, Ann, died last November at age 43 after three valiant fights against cancer.

“It is nice to be out there on the new field; we never practiced on the old one so that shows you what we thought of it. The new one is soft and it will give us a rise. It is nice.”

There is nothing soft about a Princeton defense that features three senior All-Ivy performers and co-captains in goalie Tyler Fiorito, defenseman Chad Wiedmaier, and longstick midfielder John Cunningham.

The rock of the Princeton defense is goalie Fiorito, who has been a starter since his first game as a freshman.

“It is a luxury to have a senior goalie like that,” said Bates of Fiorito, who posted a 7.53 goals against average in 2011 and ended the season with a sensational 20-save effort in a loss to Cornell.

“He gives everybody a sense of confidence. It can be a double-edged sword, he bails you out when you are not playing good defense. There is no secret as to how good he is. We want him orchestrating the defense and being more vocal on the field. We need him to be more of a presence and get out of his comfort zone in the crease.”

Senior defender Wiedmaier is known for closing down foes when he zones in on them.

“As captain, people look to him not just for his skill set but for his preparation,” added Bates, whose team is ranked 14th in this week’s Inside Lacrosse media poll.

“People feed off of that; he is a high energy guy. You can leave him on an island and that allows the defense to slide to other players. He can take the best attacker and neutralize him.”

Cunningham brings a high level of intensity to the mix. “On and off the field, his motor is always running and by that I mean he is always dialed in,” said Bates.

“He elicits the best effort from teammates; he not afraid to bark at them. He is very intense. He has good stick skills and is really good on the ground. On face-offs, he gets the ball for us. He can handle the ball and shoot the ball. He has logged substantial minutes; he gives you good experience.”

The Tigers boast some good experience along the back line in sophomore Rob Castelo and a trio of seniors, Jonathan Meyers, Bill Coughlin, and Mike Flanagan.

“Rob is fiery and a very strong communicator,” added Bates of Castelo  who got off to a promising start last season before suffering knee injury in the second game.

“He understands the game well. He has made great progress with his knee. He looks healthy, you can’t tell that he is coming off an injury. Meyers is very athletic; he has a big presence. He has become a good close defender; he anticipates plays well. Coughlin and Flanagan are two seniors who are seasoned. They are solid with the Xs and Os; they have a good understanding of our team defense.”

Princeton also figures to get some good work in the defensive midfield from sophomores Jack Strabo and Nick Fernandez.

“Jack is so smart; he’s got that energy like the Energizer Bunny,” said Bates, who will also be using Bobby Lucas, Chris White and Peter Smyth in the defensive midfield.

“We have high expectations for Nick. On a team of athletes he stands out; he is so fast. We want to tilt the field. We need to be more creative in transition and create more shooting opportunities. We need to use those athletes.”

One of the team’s stand-out athletes is sophomore midfielder Tom Schreiber, who led Princeton in scoring last year with 29 points on 16 goals and 13 assists, getting named as the Ivy League Rookie of the year and earning third-team All-American honors.

“We are trying to help him take the next step; he lived up to expectations last season,” said Bates.

“He comes into this year ranked as the No. 5  playmaker and is on the Tewaaraton Trophy watch list. That is a lot of stuff for a kid to shoulder; he needs to make other people better. There are times when he is unstoppable, we are trying to get him to relax. The challenge is to surround him with complementary parts. I think we can be good there if we play as a unit.”

Princeton has some good complementary parts in the midfield with Jeff Froccaro (13 goals, 3 assists in 2011), Tucker Shanley (5 goals), Mike Grossman (4 goals, 1 assist), Alex Capretta (3 goals, 2 assists) and Forest Sonnenfeldt (10 goals).

“We have Froccaro going between midfield and attack, he is so savvy around the cage,” said Bates.

“Tucker can be unstoppable at times; he shoots the ball well and has good vision. We are trying to get him to make simple plays instead of trying to make great plays. Mike takes good shots. Alex is a very good finisher. He has a shooter’s mentality and has had a phenomenal spring. We have Forest and him at midfield; he needs to get his hands free to shoot. He is not a ball carrier; he is a shooter.”

In order to generate more shots, Princeton needs to improve in the face-off area as it won 40 percent of its draws last season compared to 50 percent in 2010.

“Bobby [Lucas] and Peter [Smyth] will take the most, they are technically sound face-off guys with different styles,” said Bates.

“Jeff [Froccaro] can give us a look. If he has your number, he can dominate. Freshman Justin Murphy is out for another month; he is a face-off specialist. He may surprise us. He is so focused; he was a wrestler in high school.”

Bates is hoping Princeton’s attack unit will provide some pleasant surprises. “Luke Armour (9 goals, 5 assists) is looking real solid there,” said Bates, noting that senior playmaker Cliff Larkin (3 goals, 6 assists) is currently sidelined.

“Hunter deButts (1 assist) gives us a different look; he is so fast. He has spun around Chad in practice at times. You don’t get wowed by freshman Mike MacDonald but he has a really good lacrosse IQ. He can do the right things on the perimeter. Canadian players are typically good inside and he can put the ball in the back of the net. He has good vision and can carry the ball. ”

Princeton will get a good test on Saturday against No. 13 Hofstra, which opened its season last weekend by beating Sacred Heart 11-9

“It is going to be exciting; they have some knowns and unknowns,” said Bates.

“They lost three senior attackers so they might have a different look. They  have been predictable on offense in the past but very good at it. Seth [head coach Seth Tierney] does a great job, it is a good program.”

Bates is confident that the Tigers can rebound from last year’s struggles to have a great spring.

“We think we can be as good as anybody but we don’t focus on the that,” said Bates, who is in his third season at the helm of the Tiger program.

“The focus is on today and getting each unit to be better. We need to play together at both ends of the field.”

February 15, 2012

CALLIS TREATMENT: Princeton University men’s squash player Chris Callis battles a Yale foe in recent action. Senior star ­Callis, who plays at No. 2 for the Tigers, will look to come up big this weekend as Ivy League champion Princeton hosts the College Squash Association (CSA) men’s national team championships. Second-seeded Princeton, 12-1 overall, will be looking to end top-seeded Trinity’s 13-year championship run.

The last time Princeton University hosted the College Squash Association (CSA) men’s national team championships, the Tigers came within an eyelash of derailing the Trinity College dynasty.

In the titanic 2009 title match that lasted more than six hours, Princeton came within two points of taking the crown before falling 5-4 to the Bantams.

This weekend, Princeton is again hosting the CSA competition and longtime Tiger head coach Bob Callahan believes his team could have what it takes to end Trinity’s 13-year championship run.

Noting the high level of parity in the sport and the fact that Yale snapped Trinity’s 252-match winning streak in January, Callahan sees the 2012 CSA as more wide open than it has been in years.

“Everyone feels excited that it is not preordained; any one of six teams feels that they could win,” said Callahan, whose team is seeded No. 2 behind the Bantams after going 12-1 overall and 7-0 in Ivy League action in winning the program’s 17th league title.

Since Trinity lost to Yale, they haven’t been in that position before coming into this. On the basis of that alone, teams think they have a chance.”

Coming into the season, Callahan wasn’t sure that his team had a chance to be a title contender.

“The biggest question marks were would Chris Callis and Kelly Shannon be healthy,” said Callahan, referring to his senior standouts who have struggled with injuries during their Princeton careers.

“Chris came in ready to go right off the bat, his back was better. Over the fall, he regained confidence and conditioning. Shannon came in healthy but injured his shoulder on our fall trip. When he was coming back from that, he twisted his ankle. He is just getting back in the lineup. We had some good freshmen coming in but you are not sure how good they will be compared to the players they will see in college.”

Callahan acknowledged that he had an ace in the hole with defending national champion Todd Harrity firmly ensconced at No. 1.

“Todd has such a spectacular season last year,” said Callahan of the junior who didn’t lose a single game during the individual championship tournament as he become the first American-born player to win the title in 21 years.

“In just about every match, you can figure that he will win and you only need to win four of the remaining matches.”

After cruising to a 7-0 start this season, Princeton pulled off a spectacular win at Harvard in mid-January.

“That was a huge win for us,” asserted Callahan, pointing out that Harvard had won the preseason Ivy scrimmage and received an added boost from the debut of international star Ali Farag in the January match.

“With all the parity, it has become the year of the home court advantage. The top 6 teams have all been winning their home matches. We went up to Harvard who had Ali Farag and pulled out a win on the road. It was one of the most rewarding wins I have had at Princeton.”

Two weeks later, Princeton suffered its only loss of the season as it fell 7-2 at juggernaut Trinity, who brings a 16-1 record into the CSA competition. Despite the lopsided final score, Callahan drew positives from the match.

“Three of the matches were close, going to five games with 11-9, 13-11, and 11-8 scores in those games” said Callahan, who is in his 31st season at the helm of the program and guided the Tigers to the 1993 CSA Potter Cup national team title.

“If six points go the other way, it could be a 5-4 match. They are a very good team, as always. They have responded very well to the Yale loss with 7-2 wins over us, Harvard, and Rochester.”

Princeton responded well to the Trinity setback, rolling past Yale three days later.

“We played Yale here and won 8-1; we were helped quite a lot by the home advantage,” said Callahan.

“That was a big win; there was a lot of talk about Yale after they beat Trinity.”

That triumph set the table for Princeton to gain the outright Ivy title which they clinched last Sunday with 8-1 victory over Columbia.

“That is my No. 1 goal every year,” said Callahan, reflecting on winning the Ivy crown.

“We got it without sharing, that is a great tribute to our kids. It was great to see the kids rise to the occasion in those matches. We came really close the last two years, it is nice to have something go your way. It was good for seniors to bookend their careers; they won the Ivies as freshman but lost the famous match to Trinity at the CSA.”

Callahan is hoping his players can rise to the occasion this weekend in the friendly confines of Jadwin.

“It is absolutely huge; we hope to be able to take advantage,” said Callahan, referring to the home court advantage.

“It does dissipate as the tournament goes on with three straight matches. Every time you play on the court, you get more comfortable.”

In Callahan’s view, there are four basic keys to success in the eight-team draw at the CSA.

“We need to be ruthlessly efficient in the first round and make every match a 3-game match,” said Callahan.

“You need to get off the court and preserve energy. So efficiency is No. 1 Second is to stay healthy and get as much rest as possible. The third is to have confidence and be optimistic, and the fourth thing is to have a little luck.”

The Tigers have established a blueprint for success which gives Callahan additional cause for optimism coming into the weekend.

“We do matches in three shifts, starting with Nos. 3, 6, and 9,” explained Callahan.

“We have done extremely well in the first shift; we had a 2-1 lead in all of our big matches except for Trinity. They have set the tone; hopefully they can keep doing that this weekend.”

If so, Princeton could use this weekend at Jadwin to make squash history.

HUMMING ALONG: Princeton University men’s basketball star Ian Hummer heads to the basket last Saturday in Princeton’s 70-62 win over No. 21/25 Harvard. Junior forward Hummer sparked the Tigers to victory, scoring 20 points with nine rebounds and six assists. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

For Ian Hummer, the cold front this weekend arrived early when he couldn’t buy a basket Friday night as the Princeton University men’s hoops team hosted Dartmouth.

The junior star went 0-for-11 from the floor with four points on free throws as the Tigers sleepwalked past the Big Green 59-47.

In the wake of his cold shooting, Hummer consulted two former Princeton hoops stars for some tips in order to get back on track.

“I talked to my dad and I talked to my uncle; they just gave me some advice,” said Hummer, whose father Ed was a three-year letterwinner from 1965-67 and ranks 10th all-time in Princeton history with 550 career rebounds while Uncle John was a two-time first-team All-Ivy Leaguer and scored more than 1,000 points in his Tiger career from 1968-70.

“Basically I was rushing all of my shots, not really looking at the basket when I was shooting. They said keep your head up and just take what comes to you.”

A night later, Hummer took it to No. 21/25 Harvard, scoring 20 points with nine rebounds and six assists as the Tigers topped the Crimson 70-62 before a delighted Jadwin Gym throng of 5,266.

“To get that first one to go down was quite a bit different from yesterday, said Hummer, who hit a 3-pointer from the corner 3:20 into the game to break his shooting drought.

“I was a little frustrated yesterday; I just knew that shots were going to come my way.”

Things weren’t quite going Princeton’s way in the early going as it trailed 27-22 at halftime. But with the Tigers down 42-38 with 11:04 left in regulation, they caught fire, reeling off a 21-7 run that broke open the game.

The win lifted Princeton 13-10 overall and 4-3 in Ivy League play while league frontrunner Harvard fell to 21-3 overall and 7-1 Ivy.

In addition, the triumph marked Princeton’s 24th straight win over Harvard at Jadwin Gym since 1989 and was the Tigers’ first home win against a nationally-ranked team since a victory over No. 2 Notre Dame in 1977.

For Hummer and his teammates, those streaks paled in significance to simply beating an arch rival.

“We don’t pay attention to the ranking overall,” maintained Hummer, who starred last year when Princeton edged Harvard in an Ivy title playoff game to earn a berth in the NCAA tournament.

“Harvard has always been a big opponent of ours and we just wanted to come out and play them as hard as we can every time. It is just a great rivalry. We are just happy to come out with the win against a very good Harvard team.”

The Tigers were also happy with the raucous support they got from their fans, who stormed the court to mob the players when the buzzer sounded.

“It really lifts you, it gives you motivation to play well,” said the 6’7, 230-pound Hummer, who recently passed the 1,000-point milestone and is leading the Tigers with 16.7 points and 7.7 rebounds a game.

“We take energy from the crowd both on defense and offense. For them to come down to see us and have another great game with Harvard is special. We love when people come to our games and cheer for us. I think it was a great game for them to come to. Every time we have a packed house, we seem to play really well.”

Princeton head coach Mitch Henderson loved the performance he got from his players as they tightened up the Ivy title race.

“First of all, we are very happy with the win, this is a really good Harvard team,” said Henderson, who got 12 points and four assists from T.J. Bray in the win with Brendan Connolly scoring 11 points and Denton Koon and Mack Darrow chipping in 10 points apiece.

“We knew they have games where it is almost like a fight and they have been defending so well. Up until 12 minutes left in the game it was the same thing for us and then we hit a spurt. I thought it was really spurred by Ian’s play and T.J.”

Henderson acknowledged that his team had to pick things up after its lackluster effort a night earlier against Dartmouth.

“I just didn’t feel like there was much life on the team,” said Henderson, noting that the Tigers trailed the Big Green 11-1 at one point.

“I felt like the team that showed up in the last 12 minutes of this game is a group that is pretty tough to beat. We have played like that at times all year. Ian had six assists and one turnover, that is Princeton basketball. We just keep talking about sharing the ball and making each other better. When we are committed to that, we can be pretty good.”

Sharing the ball led to a balanced attack which saw five Princeton players score in double figures.

“We weren’t going to get much if we didn’t get balanced scoring,” said Henderson.

“We had a really nice contribution from everybody; it was hugely important because when you are playing a good team like that you have to have balance.”

In Henderson’s view, the 6’11, 255-pound junior center Connolly made a big contribution, getting the start instead of Mack Darrow.

“We got some quality minutes from Brendan Connolly; I thought Brendan established a little bit of a swagger for us early which we needed,” added Henderson of Connolly, who also contributed six rebounds.

“I think because Mack and Brendan support each other so much off the floor and on the floor, it is an easy thing to do. I thought it presented a nice matchup for us with Keith Wright.”

While the win Saturday was sweet, Henderson knows that it isn’t going to be easy for the fifth-place Tigers to catch the league-leading Crimson in the Ivy race.

“We have got to go up to their place in a little while; we are pretty focused on what we have got at hand and ahead of us,” said Henderson, whose team hosts Columbia (14-10 overall, 3-5 Ivy) on February 17 and Cornell (10-12 overall, 5-3 Ivy) a day later.

“They are doing a great job and I know they are going to finish the year strong. In terms of league play we have work to do and we need help. I want to build on what happened tonight and take it into next weekend.”

In Hummer’s view, the Tigers are working their way back into contention.

“We dug ourselves a hole in the beginning of Ivy League play,” said Hummer.

“We knew we had to come out as hard as we could tonight. We had a disappointing game against Dartmouth. Even though we won, we didn’t play as well as we should have. We are still in a hole a little bit but it is a little shallower now. We just hope other teams play as well and we can just keep on trucking.”