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DEFENSIVE STAND: Princeton University men’s lacrosse goalie Alex Hewit guards the cage in action last year. Senior co-captain Hewit, who boasts a career goals against average of 6.40, will be a pivotal figure this spring for the Tigers. Princeton starts its 2008 season when it hosts Canisius on February 23.

PU Men’s Lacrosse Boasts Stifling Defense but Offensive Progress Holds Key to Title Run

Bill Alden

It looks like the magic number for the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team this spring is going to be 10.

“We will hold people down if Alex [Hewit] has the year we are expecting at goalie,” said Princeton head coach Bill Tierney. “If we can score in double figures, we should win most games.”

In 2007, Princeton’s failure to be prolific offensively kept a good team from turning into a national title contender.

The Tigers went 10-4, with three of those losses coming by one goal and Princeton scoring no more than eight goals in any its setbacks.

Last spring, Princeton lost to eventual national champion Johns Hopkins and Virginia in overtime by identical 7-6 scores and fell to Georgetown 9-8 in overtime in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

This Saturday, fifth-ranked Princeton will get the chance to show whether it has the makings of a high-powered attack when it hosts Canisius in the season opener for both teams.

With the memory of the heartbreaking defeats fresh in the team’s memory, Tierney is looking for a little extra effort from everyone on the squad.

“Everyone is going to be more active,” asserted Tierney, the Hall of Fame coach who is 218-77 in his 20-year Princeton tenure with six national titles. “Each person has to do one more little thing on the field.”

While it wouldn’t seem like Hewit could do much more for the Tigers, the preseason first-team All-American is on a mission.

“Alex is geared up for his final year,” asserted Tierney of the 5’10, 200-pound native of New Vernon who had a 6.33 goals against average last year.

“He’s already had success but he feels like he has to earn that back through the team’s success. I think he wants to walk out of here as a first-team All-American like he did his sophomore year. He’s a devoted captain and he’s excited for the big games we have early in the season. He wants to show that he can hold those teams.”

The rest of the Princeton defense has the ability and experience to hold most opponents. The unit is led by powerful senior Dan Cocoziello, a 6’0, 230-pound tank who was named first-team preseason All-American and heady junior Chris Peyser.

“We have lost two great defenders in Zach Jungers and John Bennett to graduation,” said Tierney, whose club gave up 6.17 goals a game last season.

“Dan hurt his foot last year and it’s still bothering him but he’ll play through it. Peyser is very underrated; he’s a coach on the field. Jeremy Hirsch is a sophomore; he’ll take Jungers’ spot from last year. Senior Peter Trentman played well when he got in last year. Our successful teams have had seniors step up after not playing a lot in their first three years.”

One of Princeton’s top offensive weapons figures to be junior midfielder Mark Kovler, a second-team preseason All-American pick after scoring 23 goals last year.

“Shooting is his thing but his role has expanded,” said Tierney, whose group of offensive midfielders includes senior co-captain Bob Schneider, senior Peter Striebel, and Mike Gaudio. “He’s a big boy now and he is going to draw a lot of attention.”

The Tigers’ defensive middie unit features short stick stars senior Zack Goldberg and junior Brendan Reilly.

“They are fabulous players,” maintained Tierney, whose corps of defensive midfielders includes Josh Lesko, Charlie Kolkin, and Rich Sgalardi.

“Our two short sticks can cover a lot of people. Tim Palmer, a freshman, is in the mix. Jeff Izant is a veteran who is very athletic.”

Of course, the big question centers around who is going to emerge on attack, particularly with the graduation of Peter Trombino, the first player in program history to have at least 20 goals and 10 assists all four seasons.

“We’re trying to figure that out,” said Tierney, whose team averaged 9.79 goals a game last year.

“We have some experienced players in Alex Haynie (10 goals and eight assists in 2007) and Tommy Davis (18 goals and 17 assists in 2007). Greg Seaman has been a pleasant surprise; he is really slick and nifty.”

The answer to the questions surrounding Princeton’s attack may come from a pair of freshmen, the McBride cousins, Chris and Jack. The highly touted recruits combined for 109 goals last year while playing for the Delbarton School.

“They are young but they will have an impact,” said Tierney, noting that sophomores Scott MacKenzie and Rob Engelke should also see action on attack.

“Their roles will expand as the season goes on. They are two attackers who will go to the net if you don’t pay attention to them.”

Although the Tigers have had an up-and-down preseason as they play catchup with teams who start practice earlier, Tierney likes the mindset he sees around his squad.

“The attitude is great, we have a positive chemistry,” said Tierney. “The captains are great and we have other guys like Peyser and Kolkin who are great leaders.”

Tierney will be looking for those leaders to step up when the Tigers host Canisius.

“They are always tough,” said Tierney, whose club pulled away to an 18-7 win over Canisius in the 2007 season opener.

“We don’t see them and they have a lot of Canadian kids. They some great freshmen and they play with a lot of emotion. We don’t have a scouting report on them so we have to concentrate on ourselves and getting better which is what we need to do right now.”

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