Rookie Sanner, sophomore Porter pace men’s soccer’s surge

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Thomas Sanner ’16, top, and Cameron Porter ’15. (Photos: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)
Almost every time the men’s soccer team has scored this season, one particular player has been involved. The first two goals of the year, which gave the team a 2-1 victory over Seton Hall? Assisted by Thomas Sanner ’16. Princeton’s next score, the difference in a 1-0 win at Villanova? Scored by Sanner. In all, Sanner has scored or assisted on eight of the Tigers’ 10 goals this year — and one of the other two was an own goal by Rider.
 
Not bad for a rookie who, one month ago, wasn’t even sure how much he’d see the field this season. “I was hoping I would get a chance to play, but nothing like this,” he said. “This is like a dream; it doesn’t get any better.”
 
The freshman continued his impressive streak on Saturday, when Princeton bested defending league co-champion Dartmouth 2-1 at Roberts Stadium. Sanner scored in the first half and assisted Cameron Porter ’15 on the game-winner in overtime, ending his first taste of Ivy League competition on a stellar note.
 
“I was hearing all week about how [league play] is just a different level, a different intensity,” Sanner said. “It’s just more physical, the game’s faster … but it definitely makes it more fun.”
 
With a 6-foot, 3-inch frame that he still hasn’t quite fully grown into, Sanner doesn’t look like a speedster when he runs. But several times Saturday evening, he outsprinted the Dartmouth defense to control a deep pass — most notably in the 17th minute, when he ran onto a long ball played by his brother, Matt Sanner ’13, and deposited it in the net.
 
“He’s just a pure center forward. … He’s comfortable with his back to the goal, he can pass, he makes good runs, and he’s got such a big frame that when he does have possession of the ball, it’s hard for defenders to get around him and poke it away,” head coach Jim Barlow ’91 said. “We thought he had the potential to be a guy that could contribute right away, [but] I don’t know that any of us thought he’d be doing this well so early.”
 

 
Sanner’s strengths are complemented almost perfectly by Porter, a creative and aggressive player who ruthlessly attacks opponents one-on-one. He put those skills on display in overtime on Saturday, driving from the left side of the box, slipping past a Big Green defender and uncorking a powerful shot from inside the six-meter box that bounced off the goalie and into the net.
 
Princeton’s young attack might be even stronger if Julian Griggs ’15, who scored two goals in seven games, had not suffered a season-ending ACL injury against Fairleigh Dickinson last weekend. Still, the Tigers are peaking at the right time, having scored eight goals in four games after an early run of three straight shutouts. “In the first few games of the year, we couldn’t seem to get in sync offensively,” Barlow said. “It just took us a little time to get everyone on the same page, to get the timing of their movements together and to get a better feel for when to take off behind a defense.”
 
After the Big Green answered Sanner’s goal with one of its own in the 38th minute, the Tigers endured nearly an hour of frustration. Princeton outshot Dartmouth 12-4 from that point forward and held a 17-7 advantage for the game, but Big Green goalie Noah Cohen kept his net clean with several saves — until Porter broke through with his eighth and final shot, giving the Tigers their fourth straight win and setting off a raucous celebration.
 
“That was one of the best efforts, from start to finish, that I think a Princeton team has put on the field since I’ve been coaching, certainly since we’ve had the new stadium [which opened in 2008],” Barlow said. “It would’ve been a real shame for our guys to not get three points and the win.”
 
Quick takes
 
It’s a good time for Princeton soccer. WOMEN’S SOCCER also beat Dartmouth 2-1 at Roberts Stadium on Saturday, extending its own win streak to four games and improving to 2-0 in league play. After missing the previous three games with a leg injury, Lauren Lazo ’15 headed in the game’s first goal and scored a second less than four minutes later from the edge of the penalty area. So far, 2012 is looking less like last year — when both soccer teams struggled to sub-.500 records — and more like 2010, when the men’s team won the Ivy League and the women played for a title on the season’s final day.
 
Last time FOOTBALL played at Columbia, in 2010, it didn’t go very well — Princeton was humbled 42-14. On this year’s trip to Manhattan, the Tigers got revenge, winning 33-6 and snapping a nine-game losing streak. Connor Michelsen ’15 had a solid game under center, but Quinn Epperly ’15, playing most of the second half, was even better, completing seven of 10 passes with a 44-yard touchdown. (Of course, the Tigers’ leader in touchdown passes is still kick holder Tom Moak ’13, who threw an improbable TD after a botched field-goal snap for the second consecutive week.) And the Tigers’ front seven was as good as ever, sacking Sean Brackett five times and allowing only 1.3 yards per carry to a strong rushing team.
 
Despite losing several key seniors, including Olympian Donn Cabral ’12, it looks like MEN’S CROSS COUNTRY hasn’t missed a beat. The Tigers entered the weekend ranked 17th nationally, and they’ll probably move up this week, as they topped three higher-ranked squads with a second-place finish at the Notre Dame Invitational. Alejandro Arroyo Yamin ’14 placed a team-best 10th overall. WOMEN’S CROSS COUNTRY finished eighth at the same meet, with top-25 performances from Greta Feldman ’13 and surging sophomore Emily de la Bruyere ’15.
 
FIELD HOCKEY is well on its way to an eighth consecutive Ivy League title after thrashing Columbia 8-0. An upcoming stretch of five straight home games begins with a marquee matchup on Tuesday, when the No. 3 Tigers host No. 4 Maryland in what has become something of a rivalry since the two schools met in the 2009 NCAA Final Four. Princeton knocked off a No. 1-ranked Terrapins team in 2010 but lost 6-2 in College Park last year.


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Kevin Whitaker ’13 is an economics major and Daily Princetonian sports editor.