Author Archives: Kevin Whitaker

Men’s Basketball’s Championship Hopes Shattered On Final Weekend

This year’s men’s basketball team might be the best team in modern Ivy League history not to win a championship.

That’s not an honor it hoped to achieve, of course. Princeton entered the final regular-season weekend with only one Ivy loss, effectively tied with Yale atop the league. But a heartbreaking 73-71 defeat at Harvard left the Tigers’ fate out of their hands. Though they bounced back to beat Dartmouth the following day, the Bulldogs swept their weekend games to win the solo conference title at 13-1.

In one of the strongest Ivy Leagues ever, the Tigers have outscored conference foes by 11.5 points per game. If they beat Penn at home on Tuesday, they will finish 12-2 in league play, a record that would have won at least a share of the title in four of the last five seasons. According to College Basketball Reference’s Simple Rating System, Princeton has been 7.8 points per game better than the average D-I team this season (adjusted for its schedule) — better than all but nine Ivy teams since 1980, all of them champions. Continue reading

Tiger of the Week: Mike Brennan ’94, Big Dance Bound

Mike Brennan ’94 celebrated with his team in Boston March 12. (Courtesy American University Athletics Communications)

Mike Brennan ’94 celebrated with his team in Boston March 12. (Courtesy American University Athletics Communications)

Of the seven Princeton alumni who are Division I men’s basketball head coaches, only one will appear in the NCAA tournament this week — the group’s newest member, Mike Brennan ’94. After spending four years as a Georgetown assistant coach under John Thompson III ’88, Brennan was hired by American for the 2013-14 season, guiding the Eagles to an expectations-defying 20-12 record. Last Wednesday, American won the Patriot League Tournament with a 55-36 victory at Boston University, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The Eagles were given a No. 15-seed when the brackets were revealed Sunday; they will face No. 2-seed Wisconsin on Thursday at 12:40 p.m. ET. Continue reading

Princeton men’s golf finishes strong at NCAA Regional

For five members of the men’s golf team, Princeton’s spring finals period began 2,500 miles away from campus. As those Tigers traveled to the NCAA Regional last week in Pullman, Wash., they studied on the plane; after the completion of Thursday’s first round, many of them sat down in their hotel’s conference room to take exams. “It’s been busy,” said Greg Jarmas ’14, who didn’t have to take any tests during the tournament — but finished three take-home exams the following day.

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Greg Jarmas ’14 (Photo: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)

The quintet in Pullman certainly had better study breaks than the rest of their classmates, however, teeing it up on Washington State’s Palouse Ridge Golf Club for Princeton’s first postseason appearance since 2006. Playing in a field that included No. 1-ranked California and three other top-25 teams, Princeton finished 13th of 14 qualifiers, closing its most successful season in several years.

Only the top five teams advanced to the national championships, which will be held next week in Atlanta; it would have been a massive surprise if the Tigers had been among them, as no Ivy League school has reached the NCAA finals since 1984 and none of this year’s 30 qualifiers are from the Northeast. Any hopes Princeton had were dashed on Thursday, as the top contenders opened with a bang: USC’s Seth Smith set the course record with a 10-under-par 62, and two other teams set school records. More than half the field shot better than par, but Bernie D’Amato ’13 was the only Tiger in red numbers. After one round Princeton was 27 shots off of the lead.

The Tigers performed better in Friday’s windy conditions despite posting a slightly worse aggregate score, as the tournament average was three strokes per player worse than Thursday’s birdie-fest. One of the exceptions to that trend was Jarmas, who recovered from an opening-round 75 to shoot a four-under-par 68 on Friday; only two players scored better in round two. Jarmas, who said some of his drives approached 400 yards on the firm fairways when the wind was at his back, finished the three-day tournament at minus-1, tied for 30th overall.

Princeton saved its best for last, shooting a two-over-par 290 on Saturday, the eighth-best team score of the final round. After a season in which the Tigers placed in the top five six times and won two tournaments — including their 24th Ivy League title — they were glad to end on a positive note.

“I couldn’t really ask for anything more from these guys,” Jarmas said. “We accomplished our main goal of winning the Ivy championship. We didn’t get off to best start here Thursday, but the way we bounced back in the second and third rounds is emblematic of the character we had this season. It’s kind of sad to see it end, but it was a great season, start to finish.”

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With fifth-place finish, women’s water polo turns heads at NCAAs

Twelve months ago, the women’s water polo team was ranked No. 10 nationally and earned the sixth seed at NCAA Championships, where it took on a California power in the first round. As a clear underdog against No. 3-seed USC, Princeton fell behind 6-1 at halftime before losing 14-2.

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Goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson ’16, left, set an NCAA Tournament record with 38 saves. Utility Katie Rigler ’14 was named to the All-Tournament second team. (Photos: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)

Last weekend, the Tigers returned to NCAAs as the sixth seed, again with a No. 10 national ranking, and they again faced a third-seeded West Coast powerhouse. Princeton again fell behind at halftime, 6-2 — and that’s where the similarities ended. Instead of succumbing to another second-half blowout, Princeton allowed only two goals after intermission and scared UCLA with a late rally before falling 8-6.

Head coach Luis Nicolao said he felt this year’s team entered with a different attitude than the one that made its NCAA debut in 2012. “We’re more experienced and deeper,” he said. “Other than three or four bad minutes in the second quarter, we played really well.”

A two-goal loss may not sound like a big deal, but in this case, it was practically historic — it marked the closest any East Coast school has come to knocking off a California team in the first round of NCAAs (the previous best was Indiana’s 8-5 loss to UCLA in 2011). In a sport dominated by only a handful of schools — UCLA, USC, and Stanford have combined to win all 13 national titles, and the runner-up has come from that trio 11 times — Friday’s game indicates that the rest of the nation, and the East Coast in particular, may be catching up.

Many eyes were on Ashleigh Johnson ’16 in her NCAA Championships debut, and she delivered in a big way. A highly touted recruit who turned down offers from several of the California powers, Johnson made nine saves to keep the Tigers close against UCLA — and followed with 15 saves against two goals in a rout of Iona, then 14 saves in a 12-10 overtime win over fifth-seeded San Diego State that secured fifth place.

Johnson’s total of 38 saves broke the tournament record of 36, set by Loyola Marymount’s Rachel Riddell in 2005. Not a bad showing for a rookie.

“She had a great weekend,” Nicolao said. “She allows you to do so much on defense … she’s an intimidating force for opponents.”

Johnson made several big saves down the stretch of Sunday’s fifth-place game, including a tough one to her right side that preserved a 10-10 tie with 1:30 left, but Princeton’s field defense in front of her played an equally important role. Several steals helped the Tigers hold San Diego Sate scoreless for the final 11-and-a-half minutes of play, allowing Princeton to come back from a 10-7 deficit to win in overtime. Jessie Holechek ’15 scored both of the Tigers’ goals in extra time.

After finishing sixth in 2012 and fifth this year, the Tigers can dream of improving even further and doing what no East Coast team has done before — beating one of the three California powerhouses at NCAAs — especially with most of their core returning next season. Getting back to the tournament is no guarantee (Princeton needed overtime to escape the Eastern semifinals in each of the last two seasons), but if they do so, no opponent will feel comfortable with Johnson in the cage.

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Distance dominance leads Princeton to men’s track and field title

At the indoor Heptagonal Championships in February, the Ivy League title came down to the wire. After Princeton mounted a furious second-day rally to erase a 45-point deficit, the lead changed hands twice in the final three races before Cornell edged Princeton by one point, snapping the Tigers’ string of seven straight Heps titles across the track and cross-country seasons.

Last weekend’s outdoor championships featured another Princeton comeback — but not as much drama. After trailing the Big Red by 24 points midway through Sunday’s finals, the Tigers dominated the late events to cruise past their chief rival, 190-162, and claim their third straight outdoor title.

Where did Princeton win the meet? When comparing the Tigers’ points with Cornell’s, one category stands out:

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In Saturday’s 10,000-meter run, Michael Franklin ’13 took first place, followed by Chris Bendtsen ’14 in second, Alejandro Arroyo Yamin ’14 in fourth and Tyler Udland ’14 in fifth, all separated by less than one second; meanwhile, Cornell had no runners in the top six scoring positions. The following afternoon, Franklin claimed another victory in the 5,000-meter run, with Bendtsen finishing third, Sam Pons ’15 fifth, and Cornell again shut out. All told, in the two distance races, Princeton outscored the Big Red 42-0 — much more than the final margin of victory.

It was no surprise that Princeton would be strong in the longest events. The Tigers have historically had a strong distance program, especially in recent years; under first-year coach Jason Vigilante, they won a third straight Heps cross-country title and posted a program-best 11th-place finish at NCAAs in the fall. Still, the degree of dominance was astounding — no team in any other event scored as many as Princeton’s 24 points in the 10,000, and only one matched the Tigers’ 18 points from the 5,000 (Harvard in the shot put).

Cornell entered as a favorite in the polls — at No. 19, it was the only Ivy League team ranked in the top 25 nationally — but Princeton matched the Big Red in most races, helping the hosts overcome Cornell’s advantage in the field events and letting the distance runners shine. Twenty-five athletes scored individual points for Princeton, and another four contributed to high-placing relays. “There’s strength in numbers, and that’s what this meet is about for us as a team,” sprinter Austin Hollimon ’13 said.

Hollimon closed hard after a sluggish start to win the 400-meter hurdles, a race he ran at the U.S. Olympic Trials last summer; he also anchored the 4×400-meter relay to a comfortable victory for his 11th career victory in an Ivy championship race. Princeton swept the standard mid-distance races, as Russell Dinkins ’13 won the 800 meters and Peter Callahan ’13 outkicked the field in the 1,500, his first race since leading the distance medley relay to an NCAA championship two months ago. In the field, Tom Hopkins ’14 won the long jump — despite passing on his final three attempts so he could compete in the 400-meter dash, in which he finished second — while Damon McLean ’14 won the triple jump a week after doing the same at Penn Relays.

Several Tigers, including Hollimon, will likely continue their seasons at the NCAA Regionals in three weeks. But for the seniors, Sunday marked their last races in the tight-knit world of Heps competition. And by avenging February’s close defeat in their home stadium, they couldn’t have gone out on a better note.

“It’s just sweetness, finishing off this way,” Hollimon said. “Everybody doesn’t get a storybook ending to their career. I get a national championship [in the DMR] and a Heps title at home, so I feel blessed for all of this.”

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Former pros discuss the road ahead for NFL draftee Catapano ’13

As a high school football player in Bayville, N.Y., Mike Catapano ’13 believed he could play in the NFL someday. He kept that goal even after choosing to attend Princeton, where only one player had been drafted in the previous two decades. And on Saturday, Catapano’s dream became reality, as he was selected by the Kansas City Chiefs with the first pick of the seventh round in the 2013 NFL Draft.

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Mike Catapano ’13, chosen in the seventh round by the Kansas City Chiefs, was Princeton’s first NFL draft pick since 2001. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

Catapano became the first Princetonian taken since Dennis Norman ’01 in 2001, and as the 201st overall pick, he is the Tigers’ highest selection since Jon Schultheis ’83 was the 182nd pick 30 years ago. But for Catapano, being drafted is only the beginning — now, he’ll have to show the Chiefs’ coaching staff that he deserves to play at the highest level.

The very first practices will be crucial for Catapano, especially as a late-round pick from the Ivy League. Catapano performed well in January’s East-West Shrine Game, a showcase for some of the nation’s top draft prospects, but he still hasn’t been tested as often as some peers from major conferences. “As a seventh-round pick, he’s not guaranteed anything other than his signing bonus,” said Ross Tucker ’01, who played for five NFL teams in seven seasons as an offensive lineman and now works as a pro and college football analyst. “First impressions mean a lot — he’s going to have to show that the level of competition is not too much.”

Princeton head coach Bob Surace ’90, an assistant coach with the Cincinnati Bengals from 2002-09, said all rookies are scrutinized carefully in their first practices, which are usually technique-oriented and conducted without pads. The most important thing a player can do to impress his new coaches, however, is to carry himself like a professional. “Mike will exceed expectations in terms of being on time, being accountable, learning the playbook and all that,” Surace said.

Catapano has already shown he has the physical skills to compete at the NFL level. At Princeton’s pro day last month, the senior bench-pressed 225 pounds 33 times and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.75 seconds, both above-average marks for his position. Still, nearly all former players say the speed of the game is much faster in professional football, and it takes time to get used to that transition.

Kansas City head coach Andy Reid said he plans to use Catapano as an outside linebacker in the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense. The real change in Catapano’s role will likely be smaller than the name indicates; his primary duty will still be rushing the passer — which he did to the tune of 12.5 sacks in 10 games last season — but he may spend a little more time in pass coverage than he did in college. Still, it will be nothing compared to the positional change Catapano made after arriving at Princeton, when the high-school running back who had never played on the opposite side of the ball became a defensive lineman.

The lifestyle of a professional football player is different than that of a college athlete; with the reward of being drafted comes more practice time, more film study, and fewer off-field distractions. “You really have to approach it like a job … [but] obviously it’s a great job,” said Jon Dekker ’06, who played in three games as a Pittsburgh Steelers tight end in 2007. The transition may be even sharper for many Ivy League athletes, who face additional practice restrictions and more intense academic demands in college — but Catapano, who has spent the last two springs focusing on football and is, by all accounts, obsessed with the sport, should be in his element as a professional.

“In the NFL, you notice that while there are a lot of freak athletes, the guys that stay around the longest are the ones who are the most self-motivated and focused on improvement. Those are things that really stood out to me about Mike,” said Harry Flaherty ’11, a former teammate of Catapano’s who spent time in NFL camps as a tight end and long snapper in 2011 and ’12.

Several of Catapano’s former Ivy League foes also turned pro on Saturday. Cornell offensive lineman J.C. Tretter and Harvard tight end Kyle Juszczyk were each selected in the fourth round, giving the Ancient Eight three draftees for the first time since 2001; Penn defensive lineman Brandon Copeland, Cornell wideout Luke Tasker, and Columbia defensive end Josh Martin also signed contracts as undrafted free agents (with the latter joining Catapano in Kansas City). Those players will join an Ivy League tradition that already includes Giants guard Kevin Boothe (Cornell) and recently retired Ravens center Matt Birk (Harvard), who were starters for the last two Super Bowl champions.

“There are enough Ivy League guys that are making rosters, getting starting positions, playing at a high level and signing decent free-agent contracts, that I think more guys should be getting opportunities,” said Tucker, who was the color commentator for most Ivy League football games on NBC Sports Network last season. “It’s really cool to show that you can get an elite education … and still have an opportunity to pursue pro football.”

Update: More good news for Princeton football’s Class of 2013 — free-agent linebacker Andrew Starks signed with the Chicago Bears April 29.

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Tennis star Pecotic ’13 completes another undefeated Ivy season

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Matija Pecotic ’13 (Photo: Kevin Whitaker ’13)

The college tennis career of Matija Pecotic ’13 has been anything but ordinary. In a sport in which most top players are known commodities from the junior circuit, Pecotic is now ranked No. 7 nationally despite coming from the island of Malta — not exactly a hotbed of tennis talent — and having to send coaches his own scouting tapes. The powerful lefty was Princeton’s only recruit in the last decade not to have a page on the recruiting website tennisrecruiting.net; by the end of his freshman year, he was the Tigers’ top singles player. And before matches, Pecotic pumps himself up by listening to quotes from an unlikely muse — former heavyweight boxing champion Mike Tyson.

So it is somewhat fitting that Pecotic’s Ivy League career will end in unprecedented fashion. After going 7-0 in No. 1 singles play for the third consecutive season, the Princeton senior is all but certain to add the 2013 Ivy League Player of the Year trophy to his 2011 and 2012 hardware when the league’s honors are officially announced next week, becoming the first three-time winner in the award’s 27-year history.
“It’s tough to not think about it when you’re playing … you’re only human, and it’s on your mind,” Pecotic said of his third unbeaten season. “You play on different courts, different surfaces, different conditions — that’s probably the toughest part.”

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Women’s basketball falls in NCAAs; Fencing wins national title

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Niveen Rasheed ’13 ended her remarkable Princeton career with an NCAA Tournament loss to Florida State. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

When Lauren Polansky ’13 and Niveen Rasheed ’13 took a recruiting visit to Princeton together in 2008, the women’s basketball team was coming off of a 7-23 season. As the two high school seniors and AAU teammates pondered their college decisions later that fall, the Tigers were destroyed by in-state rival Rutgers 83-35. With both players having other attractive offers, their friends started asking questions: Are you sure you want to go there?

Polansky and Rasheed decided they did, changing the course of Princeton’s program for good. Along with Kate Miller ’13 and Megan Bowen ’13, they formed the core of the most successful Ivy League class ever: Four outright titles, the four best NCAA tournament seeds in league history, 96 wins against 20 losses, and a 54-2 record in conference play.

Those seniors were probably not thinking about all that with 54 seconds left in Sunday’s first-round NCAA tournament game, when Rasheed, Polansky, Miller, and Bowen were subbed out for the final time in their illustrious careers. Instead of reflecting on how they transformed a team that had never reached the tournament into one that expects to be there annually, they watched as time ran out on another chance to take the next step, as Princeton fell to No. 8-seed Florida State in Waco, Texas, 60-44.

Only one Ivy League team has ever won a game in the Big Dance; the Tigers came closest to being number two last year, when they fell to No. 8-seed Kansas State 67-64. But although Princeton drew another single-digit seed this season, Sunday’s game more closely resembled their first trip to the tournament — just as against St. John’s in 2010 (a game that, coincidentally, was held in Florida State’s Tucker Center), the Tigers simply struggled to make shots, making a season-low 25 percent of their attempts from the floor and going 4-for-10 from the free-throw line.

Princeton has been one of the nation’s most relentless rebounding teams for each of the last two seasons, and it lived up to that standard in the tournament, collecting 25 of its own misses while holding the Seminoles to just six offensive rebounds. Thanks to those second (and often third, fourth, and fifth) chances, the Tigers attempted 15 more shots than Florida State, even while committing 19 turnovers, many of them careless. But despite the extra attempts and a similar number of free throws, Princeton was outscored by 16 points, as the Seminoles shot 48 percent for the game.

Defensively, the Tigers showed several different gambits, but most of them kept defenders near the basket while giving Florida State space for mid-range shots — and the Seminoles largely obliged, making 13 two-point jumpers. Still, the Tigers’ defensive performance was good enough to win many games, as they held the nation’s seventh-highest scoring offense to just 60 points on 66 possessions. 

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Believing in Pete, men’s track relay team returns home with NCAA title

“We believe in Pete.”

Those were the now famous words of Austin Hollimon ’13 (famous in Princeton track circles, at least), describing on ESPN3 how he felt while Peter Callahan ’13 raced through the final leg of the men’s distance medley relay led the Tigers to victory at the NCAA Championships March 9. And from the following video, showing hundreds of supporters cheering for Callahan while watching a live stream of the race from Princeton’s campus, it’s clear that Hollimon wasn’t alone:

 

“We were shown that after the race, and I was blown away,” Callahan said. “To see that support here was pretty incredible.”

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Peter Callahan ’13 (Photo: Courtesy Athletic Communications)

There were plenty of reasons for Princeton fans and teammates to have faith in Callahan. As a junior last February, he ran the mile in 3:58.56 at Penn State, becoming only the third Ivy Leaguer ever to break the vaunted 4-minute threshold; the following month, he placed sixth at NCAAs in the same race to earn All-America honors. After winning the mile at this February’s Heptagonal Championships, he anchored Princeton’s distance medley relay to Ivy League supremacy, taking the baton in fourth place before surging past the field in the final lap. And at the beginning of March, Callahan once again finished the DMR in style, helping the Tigers set an Ivy record and qualify for NCAAs.

So when Princeton’s foursome prepared to race in the final Friday event of the NCAA Championships, the experienced Tigers — three of whom had run at an NCAA meet before — knew they had one of the strongest anchors in the field. Michael Williams ’14 kept Princeton in the lead pack in the opening 1,200 meters, Hollimon ran the race’s fastest 400, and Russell Dinkins ’13 followed with one of the fastest 800-meter legs, giving Callahan the baton in third place.

The leaders took the mile out slow, allowing several other teams to bunch up in the lead pack, but Callahan stayed out of trouble. Just before the bell lap, Callahan made his move, sprinting past the leaders — and nobody had enough strength left to catch him, as the senior kept putting more and more distance on the field until the finish line. “I didn’t look behind me to see if people were coming—I just wanted to get to the tape first,” he said.

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Four for four: Women’s basketball wins Ivy title on Senior Night

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The Princeton women’s basketball Class of 2013, clockwise from upper left: Megan Bowen, Kate Miller, Niveen Rasheed, and Lauren Polansky. (Photos: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)

In many ways, the women’s basketball team’s Senior Night on Saturday was just like the Senior Nights of thousands of teams in dozens of sports around the country. Before the game, Princeton’s veterans were honored for their work over the past four years; as their names and accomplishments were announced to the crowd, they brought their families onto the court, posed for pictures, and embraced head coach Courtney Banghart.

Of course, few Senior Nights have ever had as much to celebrate as the Tigers’ Class of 2013. As rookies, that quartet claimed the Ivy title and Princeton’s first trip to the NCAA Tournament; they added three more in following years. As juniors, they were critical in making the 2012 Tigers the first nationally ranked team in Ivy history, and soon they will graduate as the league’s most successful class by almost any standard.

And while most Senior Night festivities end when the game begins, Princeton held an even bigger celebration after Saturday’s final buzzer. With an 80-51 victory over Brown, the Tigers clinched their fourth straight outright Ivy championship — unprecedented in the round-robin era — and officially punched their ticket back to the NCAA tournament.

Fittingly, Princeton’s four seniors all made key plays in the title-clinching victory — and drew the largest cheers while cutting down the nets afterward. “The intangibles they brought are why they’re so successful,” Banghart said. “They have an enormous amount of enthusiasm, resolve, and toughness, and you don’t know that when recruiting them.”

Although the Class of 2013 entered Saturday a perfect 27-0 at home in Ivy League play, and Brown was ranked seventh in the league at 3-10, the Bears led late in the first half thanks to some rare defensive breakdowns. Kate Miller ’13 re-took the lead at the two-minute mark with a long jumper, then swished a three-pointer from nearly the same spot on the following possession; pesky point guard Lauren Polansky ’13 poked the ball free from Carly Wellington for a turnover 93 feet from the Bears’ basket; and Niveen Rasheed ’13 followed up a miss with a two-handed tip-in with 40 seconds remaining. Thanks to their seniors’ contributions, Princeton held a slim 33-32 lead at halftime.

The second half was a completely different game, as the Tigers torched Brown for 47 points on 32 possessions while limiting the Bears to only 19. During a 20-4 run early in the half, the Bears could hardly complete a pass on offense or get a rebound on defense; by the time the four seniors exited as a unit with two-and-a-half minutes remaining, the Ivy League title was well in hand. “We just realized we weren’t playing like ourselves,” Rasheed said. “We’re not going to have our last game at home be a bad one.”

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Led by Hummer ’13, Princeton sweeps weekend and takes Ivy lead

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Ian Hummer ’13’s 23-point, 14-rebound performance propelled Princeton to victory against Harvard. The Crimson also lost to Penn, giving the Tigers sole possession of first place in the Ivy League. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

In basketball, perhaps more than in any other sport, there is an expectation that star players will decide close games. Like most sports clichés, this one contains as much falsehood as it does truth; for every game-winning highlight from Michael Jordan or Christian Laettner, there is another by a player like Robert Horry or Keith Smart, sidekicks who made critical shots.

When the men’s basketball team faced Harvard on Friday night, however, there was no question who the biggest star was — and nobody left Jadwin Gym doubting his influence on the game. In what was effectively a must-win game for the Tigers — a loss would have put Harvard two games ahead with three remaining — Ian Hummer ’13 made the three biggest plays of Princeton’s season, willing the hosts to a 58-53 victory that kept their NCAA tournament hopes alive.

A second-generation Princeton basketball standout — his father Ed ’67 and uncle John ’70 each wore the orange and black — Hummer added to his already robust legacy in Friday’s game. With an old-fashioned three-point play early in the second half, he passed Doug Davis ’12 for second place on Princeton’s all-time scoring list, trailing only Bill Bradley ’65; he also ranks among the program’s top 10 in rebounds, assists and blocked shots, and he’s one good game from adding steals to that list.

But Hummer’s play down the stretch was even more memorable than his milestone. With the Tigers trailing by one point and two minutes remaining, point guard T.J. Bray missed a medium-range shot, but Hummer crossed the lane from the weak side, rose through traffic, controlled the ball with one hand and laid it in softly off the glass, coming down with a 52-51 lead.

Thirty seconds later, with Princeton down by one point once again, there was no doubt where the ball was going. Coming out of a timeout, Hummer outmuscled Steve Mondou-Missi to get extremely deep post position; the Harvard forward had no choice but to foul Hummer, who made both free throws and gave Princeton another one-point lead.

That margin held until the final seconds, when Mack Darrow ’13 missed the front end of a one-and-one. Hummer rose above Mondou-Missi to tap the rebound back toward the Princeton backcourt; as it neared the sideline, Bray slapped it back in play with a full-extension drive, and Denton Koon ’15 collected it, drawing a clock-stopping foul and making both free throws.

Hummer intercepted Harvard’s last-ditch inbounds pass for good measure, sending a crowd of 4,413 home happy and keeping the Ivy League race alive. Hummer’s final line: 23 points, 14 rebounds, and one Ivy League Player of the Year trophy that can be all but engraved already. “He was a monster,” Harvard head coach Tommy Amaker said in the postgame press conference.

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Spring teams fight ‘Jadwin fever,’ one practice (or trick shot) at a time

The life of a spring athlete in the Northeast can be difficult this time of year. Many schools further south and west have already played their first games, enjoying warm afternoons and sunshine after a full winter of practice. But for Princeton and other Ivy League teams, February merely means the continuation of winter: intermittent snowfall, temperatures in the 30s and more time spent training indoors, waiting for the weather to turn so the season can begin.

How do these athletes pass the time while cooped up inside? The men’s golf team came up with a fun solution: a trick-shot video.

 

This video, which has garnered about 2,500 views as of Monday morning, was conceived by Greg Jarmas ’14 and Matt Gerber ’16 and also features Joe D’Amato ’15 and Quinn Prchal ’16 in supporting roles. The foursome filmed their shots near the end of January’s finals period and posted the result earlier this month. “We were hanging around practicing one day, hitting some of those shots, and we thought, we should make a video — it would be fun to make, at least,” Jarmas said.

For a film in which several shots required extreme precision, those four Tigers were able to hole out rather quickly. Jarmas said the recording process took only 1-2 hours a day for a three-day span, serving as a reminder that, to borrow an old PGA Tour slogan, these guys are good. (He added that thinking up new tricks often took longer than executing them, and that the climactic ending — a crazy, Rube Goldberg-esque shot that runs for a full 30 seconds — took two hours to build.) Indeed, if the fall was any indication, Princeton has a promising future ahead — the Tigers won the Ivy match play tournament title in October and will be a strong contender for the official conference championship this spring.

Of course, maintaining that momentum may be hard after the rude interruption of winter. Players can putt in their carpeted practice area by the Dillon squash courts, where their video was staged, and hit into a simulator that projects the ball’s flight path, but there are parts of the real game that can’t be replicated indoors. “It keeps the club in your hand, but there’s no substitute to being able to see the ball fly outside,” Jarmas said.

Baseball and softball players are also suffering cabin fever — or, perhaps, “Jadwin fever” — while being unable to train in their natural outdoor habitats. Ivy League rules allow full in-season practices to begin Feb. 1, but the baseball team had escaped Jadwin only once before last Friday (unlike last year, when both teams were outside early and often after an abnormally mild winter). Meanwhile, most of the nation’s top college teams are well into their seasons; Cal State Fullerton has played eight games already and LSU has played seven, to name two.

Softening the blow is Princeton’s indoor practice area, which pitcher Zak Hermans ’13 called the Ivy League’s best. Despite its unfriendly name — “The Pit” — Princeton’s facility, located at the bottom of Jadwin Gym, has a FieldTurf surface and plenty of netting to catch stray balls. It is spacious enough to contain a full infield for simulated scrimmages, allowing hitters to step outside the batting cages and face live pitching.

There are still limitations, of course — outfielders can’t practice tracking deep fly balls — but in the Northeast, you take whatever opportunities you get. And this weekend, both teams will get vaccinated for Jadwin fever, as the softball team opens its season in Jacksonville while the baseball team visits Maryland. With 3 to 5 doses each weekend through the end of April, as well as occasional mid-week booster shots, Jadwin fever will soon be replaced by spring fever.

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Playoff atmosphere starts early for men’s hockey and ECAC peers

For most teams in the ECAC men’s hockey league this season, there has been no such thing as a comfortable position in the standings. Princeton learned that the hard way this weekend, sliding all the way from third place to seventh with two 3-2 home losses, but such large changes have been common in one of the wildest editions ever of the ECAC. Just look at a chart of every team’s standing after the last nine weekends of conference play:

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(Graph by Kevin Whitaker ’13)

Bear in mind, that crazy graph starts a full month into conference play, by which point every team had played 5-8 games and the standings should have stabilized a bit. Instead, they’ve only become more chaotic. Quinnipiac ran away with the league lead by winning its first 10 conference games, but five different teams, including Princeton, have held second place in the last two months.

Cornell opened the season ranked sixth nationally and was still in fourth place when the calendar turned; after a seven-game losing streak, it dropped to 11th within a month. Harvard was also nationally ranked as late as Dec. 17, five weeks before falling into the basement. On the other side, six straight victories propelled Rensselaer from 11th place to second in a three-week span, an almost unheard-of leap this late in the season.

Those jumps reflect a season of preposterous parity — every team can beat almost anyone, so the standings have formed a tight band right around .500. Entering Friday, the middle eight teams were separated by a mere four points, the difference between a good and bad weekend; even after a relatively orderly week, a four-point range still contains teams two through eight. “It seems like it’s always really tight [in past years], but this is pretty incredible,” head coach Bob Prier said.

If the ECAC Tournament had started last week, Princeton would have been the No. 3 seed, getting a first-round bye before playing a home game in the quarterfinals. If it started today, the Tigers would be seeded eighth, having to beat a solid Brown squad in the opening round for the right to visit national No. 1 Quinnipiac.

Of course, with the standings still so close, Princeton could bounce back as high as second place with a strong showing against Brown and Yale this weekend. With only four games remaining, every team except Harvard is still mathematically in the running for a top-four seed and first-round bye in the ECAC Tournament. “When that many teams are fighting for a bye that late in the season, these are really playoff-type games already,” Prier said.

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With Johnson ’16 in goal, women’s water polo opens 3-1

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Freshman goalkeeper Ashleigh Johnson set a Princeton record with 19 saves in her collegiate debut. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

Ashleigh Johnson ’16 wasn’t given much time to ease into college water polo. Not only was she named Princeton’s starting goalie as a freshman, but her first task was to stop No. 4 Cal, a traditional powerhouse that had scored at least 10 goals in five of its first six games. Facing that challenge at DeNunzio Pool on Friday, Johnson merely set a program record with 19 saves, keeping the No. 10 Tigers in the game until the final minute before losing 7-5.

If her resume is any indication, more record-setting performances may be in store for Johnson. A former member of the U.S. Youth National Team and a three-time Florida state champion, the six-foot goalie has the talent to continue setting records and possibly lead Princeton, which finished sixth at NCAA Championships last spring, to even greater heights.

The Tigers may have lost to Cal this weekend, but the two-goal margin marked their closest game against one of water polo’s elite teams since a 10-9 defeat to UCLA in 2004. Princeton won three games by decisive margins on Saturday, with Johnson making 37 saves on 49 shots, including 18 stops in an 11-7 defeat of Harvard. Several tough foes remain on the schedule, including No. 12 Indiana next week and No. 7 San Diego State and No. 9 Hawaii on one grueling afternoon next month, but if the Tigers live up to expectations, they could challenge last season’s 29-6 record.

If they do so, it will be in part thanks to Johnson, a major recruiting catch for head coach Luis Nicolao. One of the top players in her class, Johnson was pursued hard by West Coast schools like USC, Cal, and UCLA; she said she was “very indecisive” throughout the recruiting process, which likely caused a few sleepless nights for Nicolao and other recruiters, but she ultimately selected Princeton for its academic reputation.

“I think she had a lot of people in her ear,” Nicolao said. “To her credit, she made the decision on her own. I don’t think Princeton was the easy choice, because the academics are very tough and she won’t be majoring in water polo, but she’ll have opportunities here she wouldn’t have at any other school.”

Johnson combines a tall, cage-protecting frame with quick reflexes, adding a dash of anticipation that sets her apart from many other top goalies. She honed those instincts with youth national teams, facing older players in Brazil and Hungary and playing alongside slightly more experienced teammates. “I was always young for my age group, so I would hang out with them and learn everything from them,” Johnson said. “I was like the little sister on the team, and I’d learn what was right and what was wrong.”

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Swimming teams settle for second at H-Y-P, eye different results at Ivies

When the Ivy League swimming and diving schedule is released each year, one regular-season date stands out above all the others: the H-Y-P meet. Harvard, Yale, and Princeton have clearly been the conference’s Big Three in the pool, as one member of the trio has claimed at least a share of the men’s league title in 54 of 55 seasons, and the women’s in 31 of 36 years.

Recently, the H-Y-P meet — like the Ivy League championships — has become mostly an H-P slugfest, with everyone else watching the duel. Princeton or Harvard has won every men’s and women’s crown since 2000, and that streak should continue next month, as both teams from both schools have hardly been challenged by any other Ivy foes.

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Princeton men’s swimming and diving finished second to Harvard in the H-Y-P meet. The Crimson also placed first on the women’s side. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

The biggest meet of the regular season drew big crowds, as former swimmers and family packed the pool this weekend, cheering their school toward Big Three hegemony. The length of DeNunzio Pool was split into three equal sections, one navy blue, one maroon and one orange; naturally, the hosts’ area was the most crowded, with Princeton students and other fans spilling into unoccupied territory, but all three blocks were pretty well filled.

“It was pretty awesome and pretty intense to swim in front of all the alumni and a huge crowd,” said Sada Stewart ’16, a backstroker and individual-medley swimmer with a powerful kick off of the walls. “It was really fun, and it showed me how much of a team and a family Princeton swimming really is.”

It did not take long for Stewart and her classmates to be indoctrinated into the Princeton-Harvard rivalry: The Tigers’ Class of 2016 was ranked No. 16 nationally as recruits last summer, a high honor for an Ivy League school … and tied with the Crimson, which shared that No. 16 ranking. Their first head-to-head meeting decisively went to Harvard, 199-99; the Crimson won 10 of the meet’s 16 events — including four individual victories by freshmen — while Princeton took only three, one of which came when a first-place Harvard relay was disqualified.

The Orange-Crimson fire burns just as hot on the men’s side, especially among upperclassmen. When the three teams’ seniors were honored near the end of the meet on Sunday, Princeton’s swimmers announced their most memorable moment, which was almost unanimously winning Ivies by a mere 5.5 points in 2011. Standing beside them, the Harvard seniors were certainly seething — they were the ones on the short end of that deficit, at their own pool in Cambridge.

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Upperclassmen, sophomore stars lead experienced men’s volleyball team

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Cody Kessel ’15, top, and Tony Ensbury ’15. (Photos: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)
When the men’s volleyball team begins its 2013 season on Tuesday, Princeton will have an unfamiliar asset on its side: experience. After three seasons with at least three freshmen in the starting lineup, this year’s Tigers will rely on several upperclassmen, along with Cody Kessel ’15 and Tony Ensbury ’15 — two star sophomores who earned valuable playing time with national teams this summer.
 
Ensbury started at libero for Princeton as a rookie and leveraged that experience into a spot on the U.S. Junior National Team in August, beating out candidates from more prominent West Coast schools during a month-long training camp. With Ensbury digging up attacks, the U.S. team won the North and Central American junior tournament, its second title in eight biannual competitions dating back to 1998.
 
“It was a lot different than college … it’s high-level and intense, because you’re representing the U.S.,” Ensbury said. “You’re facing people from other countries, rather than friends who played at different schools.”
 
Kessel also got his first taste of international competition this offseason in the Asian Pacific Cup in Japan. The sophomore got to play alongside some professionals on the second-place U.S. team, which included Princeton coach Sam Shweisky as an assistant. “It was good to learn from their experience, the way they approached the game differently than a lot of college players and the tone they bring to the practices,” Kessel said.
 
A high-flyer with volleyball bloodlines, Kessel was named the EIVA Newcomer of the Year in 2012, leading the league with 4.0 kills per set en route to first-team all-conference honors. This year, he’ll be flanked by outside hitter Pat Schwagler ’14, the EIVA’s top rookie in 2010, who returns from a year off to bolster what could be one of the league’s strongest offensive attacks.
 
Princeton’s one area of inexperience is at setter, where the graduation of Scott Liljestrom ’12 leaves a hole in the starting lineup. Davis Waddell ’14, who backed up Liljestrom last year while also playing outside, is expected to take his place; Jeff Stapleton ’14 will also get chances. Both setters will have plenty of targets in Kessel, Stapleton, and middle blocker Michael Dye ’13, the league’s hitting-percentage leader last year.

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Women’s squash looks like a title contender in 5-4 win over Harvard

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Alex Sawin ’14, top, and Nicole Bunyan ’15 notched key wins in Princeton’s 5-4 victory over top-ranked Harvard. (Photos: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)
For the second straight year, a third-ranked Princeton squash team beat the nation’s top ranked squad in an Ivy League contest at Jadwin Gymnasium. The women’s match against No. 1 Harvard on Sunday was closer than the men’s victory over then-No. 1 Yale last February, but the result was ultimately the same — a statement that Princeton is a true national title contender. In front of their home fans, the Tigers won nearly every close match to eke out a 5-4 victory, their first against Harvard since Princeton’s 2009 national championship season.
 
Just as in last year’s meeting in Cambridge — which Harvard, the eventual champion, won 5-4 — the match swung on a comeback at the No. 4 position. Last year, Lexi Saunders ’14 had two match points in the third game before ultimately losing in five; this year, Rachel Leizman ’16 fought off one match ball at 10-9 in the fifth game (on a referee’s decision that was disputed by the Harvard fans) and came back to win 12-10.
 
Leizman’s victory only gave the hosts a 4-3 lead, however, and the score was quickly evened when Amanda Sobhy, one of the world’s top 20 players, dispatched Julie Cerullo ’13 at No. 1. That left the match in the hands of Alex Sawin ’14, who took a 2-1 lead and then won a marathon fourth set, 16-14, to seal Princeton’s upset.
 
“There are always some matches that can go either way, and today they went in our favor,” said Nicole Bunyan ’15. “It was so much fun to watch.”
 
The Tigers don’t really have the typical look of a title contender; they rely less on senior leadership and more on youthful energy. Cerullo, a three-time All-America, is a veteran presence at the top of Princeton’s lineup, but she was the only senior in the team’s starting nine on Sunday.
 
Instead, the Tigers are built on players like Libby Eyre ’14 — who, despite a history of injuries, dove for at least a dozen attempted shots and left the court with bloody knees and knuckles after a four-game loss at No. 2 — and Bunyan, who beat Harvard’s Haley Mendez at No. 3. A British Columbia native who rose all the way from No. 8 to No. 2 in the lineup as a rookie last season, Bunyan relies on fitness and athleticism to grind down opponents such as Mendez, who struggled after a long second game.
 
Cerullo called Bunyan the team’s most “carefree” player, adding, “I don’t think I’ve ever seen her stress out before, and that’s not easy to do at Princeton.” That came in handy on Sunday, when Bunyan blew a 9-5 lead in the first game by losing six straight points; unfazed, the sophomore recovered to win the next three games and the match. “Sometimes I use the first game to just see what’s going to happen,” she said. “I felt like I had a better sense of how [Mendez] played after the first game.”
 

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Top-ranked men’s squash hopes to write another championship story

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The 2011-12 men’s squash team, after winning the national title in February. (Photo: Courtesy Athletic Communications)
The 2011-12 season could have passed as a fairy tale for the men’s squash team. Led by four seniors who had their hearts broken in the national title match as rookies, Princeton returned to the championship at Jadwin Gymnasium and dethroned Trinity, coming back from a 4-2 deficit to end the Bantams’ 13-year streak atop college squash. Teammates and fans leapt onto the court to celebrate the culmination of nearly two decades of close calls.
 
Nine months later, the lights came back on in the C-floor of Jadwin and a new year of squash competition began. With it came one question: How do you move on from a storybook season?
 
For the Tigers, it will start with a new-look lineup. Head coach (and newly enshrined Hall of Famer) Bob Callahan ’77 has replaced the quartet of graduates with underclassmen, including two-fifths of a freshman class that wasn’t around for last year’s celebration and wants one of its own. “Having these guys come in completely changes the feel of the team,” said Dylan Ward ’14, who has moved up several spots to No. 4 this season. “They have really high spirits, and they’re hungry to repeat what we did last year.”
 
Those rookies got their biggest test to date on Saturday, when top-ranked Princeton beat No. 5 Rochester, 7-2. Vivek Dinodia ’16 rolled to a quick win at the No. 9 position, but Michael LeBlanc ’16 followed him with a three-game loss marked by inconsistent play at No. 8. The Tigers will have plenty of time to learn from those matches and tinker with their lineup, as their next contest isn’t until Jan. 12 — but that kicks off a six-week sprint to the team championships, including seven Ivy League contests and a rematch with No. 2 Trinity.
 

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With talent, depth, and Ivy’s top star, women’s basketball sets high goals

When women’s basketball coach Courtney Banghart came out of the locker room after Princeton’s game against Rutgers on Thursday night, she couldn’t hide a huge grin on her face. And Banghart had reason to smile — not only had her team just defeated Rutgers 71-55, Princeton’s first win in the New Jersey rivalry since 1978, but after a few shaky games at the beginning of the season, the Tigers seemed to be finding their groove.
 
“If we had played these guys 10 days ago, we would have lost by 20,” Banghart said after the game. “We had a lot of improvements to make.”
 
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Kristen Helmstetter ’14 scored 14 points in her first start, helping the Tigers beat Rutgers Nov. 29. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
Even during its 12-game head-to-head losing streak, Princeton had given Rutgers plenty of scares over the years, including a fantastically entertaining 54-53 game in 2010 that was decided in the final seconds. This year, the Tigers didn’t put themselves in a position to let another one slip away. Against a team that was still receiving votes in the Top 25 polls, the hosts handled Rutgers’ pressure and rolled to a 26-9 lead out of the gate; Princeton’s advantage reached as many as 25 points in the second half. (“The score doesn’t really tell the story — we crushed them,” Banghart said.)
 
At the beginning of the season, it looked like Niveen Rasheed ’13 would have an even larger role in Princeton’s offense after the graduation of the second- and third-leading scorers from the 2011-12 team, Lauren Edwards ’12 and Devona Allgood ’12. And the reigning Ivy League Player of the Year certainly hasn’t had a bad season, averaging 14.4 points and 8.7 rebounds per game while ranking second in the league in assists. But Rasheed is also shooting just 39 percent from the floor — well below her previous average — and has more turnovers than assists for the first time in her career.
 
The bigger story has been Princeton’s secondary scorers — which is a much deeper group than in past seasons. Rasheed is always a central part of the Tigers’ offense, but the other pieces seem almost interchangeable. At UCLA last Sunday, forward Kristen Helmstetter ’14 played a total of three minutes; in her next game, she started in place of injured guard Nicole Hung ’14 and scored 14 key points against Rutgers. Center Meg Bowen ’13 had a forgettable night on Thursday, finishing with one point and one rebound; against the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, on Sunday, she notched her first career double-double. “This team has shown that on every night, someone else steps up,” Banghart said.
 

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Familiar trends in Princeton men’s basketball’s sluggish start

By now, fans of the men’s basketball team should know not to worry about slow starts. Last year, Princeton won only one of its first six games — losing to undistinguished foes such as Elon and Morehead State — before going on to post 20 wins. And two years ago, the preseason Ivy favorites started the season 2-3 with a couple of puzzling losses before turning it around to reach the NCAA tournament.
 
So it’s hardly surprising that this year’s Tigers, in what has practically become a rite of passage, have struggled out of the gate. In fact, the start of this season is almost a perfect match for 2010-11: After being picked to win the Ivy League, Princeton won a close opener against a strong team (then Rutgers, now Buffalo) but dropped three of its next four, including a back-breaking comeback (then 20 points vs. James Madison, now 18 points vs. Northeastern) and a blowout loss at a top-10 school (then Duke, now Syracuse).
 
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Ian Hummer ’13 (Photo: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)
And these Tigers clearly have the potential to pull it together by the time conference play rolls around, just like their predecessors did. With the league’s best player, forward Ian Hummer ’13, leading a tall and experienced roster, few would be surprised if Princeton fulfilled its preseason expectations and became the last Ivy team standing in March.
 
“[We need to] not get discouraged,” head coach Mitch Henderson ’98 said after losing at Syracuse on Wednesday. “I think we can be pretty good … but we have to bounce back from where we are.”
 
Princeton has shown flashes of that potential several times already this season. The Tigers sped out to a 7-0 lead at Buffalo, a 21-10 lead against Northeastern, and a 12-3 lead against Rutgers in their first three games. But each time, Princeton followed with frustrating stretches to let its opponent back in the game (often with Hummer on the bench — the Tigers have been outscored by 25 points in 39 Hummer-less minutes).
 
At the Carrier Dome on Wednesday, the Tigers instead had their exasperating moments early on. Princeton played the No. 6 Orange even over the middle 20 minutes of the game, but only after starting in a 20-8 hole. “We came out a little flat … I thought we played well at times, but we need to put together a full 40 minutes, and we haven’t done that yet,” Hummer said Wednesday night.
 

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Princeton field hockey beats UNC to win first national title

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Amanda Bird ’14, pictured in an earlier game against Richmond, scored the game-winning goal in Princeton’s 3-2 national championship game win over UNC. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
Before 2012, the field hockey team had a history of November heartbreak. Princeton had reached 11 quarterfinals, five semifinals and two championship games — but it had never won the big one, falling short in the 1996 and ’98 title games.
 
All that changed on Sunday afternoon. Playing against No. 1 North Carolina for the NCAA title in Norfolk, Va., the No. 2 Tigers overcame a pair of one-goal deficits and took a 3-2 lead on a penalty stroke by Amanda Bird ’14. For 10 agonizing minutes, they defended wave after wave of attacks until the last seconds finally ticked away and the long-awaited title was theirs.
 
“I went nuts. I just ran to my teammates to hug them and celebrate with them,” star striker Kat Sharkey ’13 said in an email. “This is such an amazing feeling, to win the national championship with my best friends.”
 
Over the last two decades, Princeton has completely dominated the Ivy League, winning 18 of the last 19 conference titles. Despite a lack of athletic scholarships and Ivy-instituted practice restrictions, the Tigers transcended the Ancient Eight to become a national powerhouse. (Consider this: No other Ivy League team has won an NCAA tournament game since Penn in 1989; Princeton has won 24 in that span.)
 
This year, the Tigers took that hegemony to another level, quickly rising to a program-best No. 2 national ranking while beating up on Ivy opponents with a cumulative score of 45-1. Despite a slip-up against Syracuse on Sept. 23, Princeton entered tournament play with only one loss for the first time in team history.
 

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Break out the kindling: Princeton beats Yale, earns Big Three bonfire

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Will Powers ’15 ran for 54 yards against Yale, and Princeton controlled the game in the second half, winning 29-7 in New Haven. (Photo: Donald Clark)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. — The last time the football team played at Yale with a Big Three bonfire at stake, in November of 2006, Princeton faced an 11-point deficit in the final 10 minutes in a battle of eventual Ivy League co-champions. Star quarterback Jeff Terrell ’07 led a memorable comeback, guiding his team to two late touchdowns and lighting up Cannon Green for the first time in 12 years.

On Saturday, with Big Three bragging rights on the line once again, no such drama was required. Having already used up their fourth-quarter heroics with a 24-point comeback against Harvard three weeks earlier, the Tigers took their first lead shortly before halftime and never relinquished it, pounding the injury-ravaged Bulldogs 29-7 and bringing a bonfire back to Princeton.

For the first 15 minutes of the game, it looked as if loads of firewood might lay dormant for another year. Using a multi-option rushing attack and occasional well-placed passes, the Bulldogs marched into Princeton territory on each of their first three drives, scoring a 14-yard touchdown on their second possession. Meanwhile, the Tigers went three-and-out on each of their first two possessions; only two third-down stops of threatening Yale drives kept their margin at seven points.

But as soon as the teams switched sides for the second quarter, the mood changed. Princeton marched 70 yards down the field in three minutes, led by efficient passing by Connor Michelsen ’15. The sophomore was eventually picked off in the end zone, but after a quick defensive stand, quarterback Quinn Epperly ’15 led a 77-yard touchdown drive on the next possession.

Yale reached the Tigers’ five-yard line in the final minutes of the first half and was poised to take a lead into intermission. But running back Mordecai Cargill attempted a trick pass, running to the right side and throwing back to the left — and cornerback Trocon Davis ’14 was ready for it. Davis snagged the ball at the goal line and ran with it the length of the field for a 100-yard score, the second-longest interception return in Ivy League history.

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With Bendtsen ’14 in front, men’s cross country repeats at Heps

When the Ivy League’s top men’s cross-country runners finished the first lap of the Heptagonal Championships at West Windsor Fields on Saturday, the race was playing out exactly as predicted. Columbia and Princeton each had six runners in the lead pack; the Lions, ranked 10th in the nation, were slightly ahead of the No. 23 Tigers on aggregate, but with the leaders still bunched tightly together and jostling each other around turns, the difference was insignificant.
 
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Chris Bendtsen ’14 won the individual Heps cross country title at West Windsor Fields. (Photo: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)
When the competitors returned to the starting area again, completing their second lap at about the six-kilometer mark, the complexion of the race had changed considerably. Four runners — including two Tigers — had separated themselves from the rest of the leaders, making a charge for the individual title. Meanwhile, several other orange-clad competitors followed close behind in the second group, giving Princeton a clear advantage as most of the Lions fell farther back.
 
And when they came back into view for the third time, Chris Bendtsen ’14 was all by himself, charging down the home stretch through a tunnel of fans and winning the race by more than six seconds. Finishing right behind him was Alejandro Arroyo Yamin ’14; three other Tigers placed in the top 12, giving Princeton its third straight cross country championship and its sixth in seven years.
 
“I didn’t really put a move in until the last 800 meters — my plan was just to stay on the shoulder of the leader as long as I could,” Bendtsen said. “I knew the whole league was coming hard, so I was trying to finish up as fast as I could.”
 
Despite the graduation of Olympian Donn Cabral ’12 and two other top distance runners, Princeton was ranked as high as No. 11 nationally this fall. But the Tigers tumbled in the poll after placing 14th at the competitive Wisconsin Invitational on Oct. 12; after its fifth-place finish at Wisconsin, Columbia entered the conference championship as a slight favorite to most prognosticators.
 

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The comeback: Princeton football stuns Harvard, 39-34

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Roman Wilson ’14 caught five passes, including the game-winning touchdown, as Princeton erased a 24-point deficit in the fourth quarter. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
During Saturday’s football game against Harvard, 10,823 Princeton fans learned how wide a range of emotions they could feel in a three-and-a-half-hour span. At the start of the game, orange flags were flying and excitement was high on campus — the Tigers were 2-0 in the Ivy League for the first time since 2006, on a three-win streak and entering their biggest game in several seasons.
 
And then the game started, and that optimism was quickly laid to waste. Princeton’s defense, the second-stingiest in the nation, was no match for Harvard’s third-ranked offense, which stalled in Princeton territory on its first series before scoring touchdowns on its second, third, and fourth drives. Meanwhile, the Tigers could not solve Harvard’s defensive front, punting on all six of their first-half possessions. Harvard was up 20-0 at halftime, and though the Tigers surged momentarily in the third quarter, the Crimson rebounded to go up 34-10 early in the fourth.
 
Twelve minutes and 45 seconds of game time later, all those struggles were long forgotten. Roman Wilson ’14 caught a prayer of a pass from Quinn Epperly ’15 for a 36-yard touchdown with 13 seconds left, completing a four-touchdown comeback and giving the Tigers a shocking 39-34 victory. The mood inside Princeton Stadium had gone from agony back to ecstasy, as students stormed the field after the final whistle to congratulate the sole leaders of the Ivy League.
 
“It’s an incredible feeling, looking up and seeing all the fans, seeing all the alumni, seeing all my teammates,” Wilson said after the game. “I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet.”
 
One online calculator says that, even after a 59-yard kick return by Anthony Gaffney gave Princeton great field position down 34-10, the Tigers had only a 2 percent chance of coming back to win. In reality, their odds were probably even lower — those calculations assume the teams are equal strength, while Princeton and Harvard sure didn’t look evenly matched for three quarters on Saturday. “I’m glad we don’t play a seven-game series, to be honest with you, because they’re senior-led and they’re that good,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said after his team was outgained by more than 200 yards. “We were lucky to have one more play today.”
 
To overcome the deficit, Princeton had to score at least 24 points in the final quarter — something it hadn’t done in a period since Nov. 23, 2002 — and do so against the league’s second-best defense. Meanwhile, the Tigers had to get quick stops against a Harvard offense that had advanced into Princeton territory in all nine of its drives to that point.
 

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Sprint football falls in showdown against league newcomer

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Senior Night drew a larger than usual crowd, top, but Princeton could not keep pace with league-newcomer Franklin Pierce. (Photos by John O’Neill ’13)
History was going to be made one way or another in Friday’s sprint football game at Princeton Stadium. On one sideline were the Tigers, trying to break a streak of 74 straight league losses and win their first official game since 1999; on the other end was Franklin Pierce, trying to win its first official game ever (albeit in only its third try, as the team debuted this season).
 
With the Tigers coming off of their closest game of the streak — a 32-29 overtime defeat to Post University on Oct. 5 — and with the Class of 2013, unquestionably the team’s heart and soul, playing its final home game, Friday’s contest generated some buzz on campus. In past years, sprint games have usually been attended only by family and the closest of friends; but on Senior Night, quite a few students braved the fall’s coldest evening yet to watch the action (and many others monitored the game from more comfortable locations, via texts or Tweets, in case it got exciting).
 
“That was the best crowd I’ve ever seen in my four years, without a doubt,” tight end/defensive lineman and captain John Wolfe ’13 said. “They helped us a lot … we love having them, and it’s a completely different culture this year. I hope it stays that way.”
 
In the end, though, it was Franklin Pierce that was able to celebrate, letting out a loud cheer after its 21-14 victory was official and lining up beyond the south end zone for a team photo to commemorate its achievement. Meanwhile, the Princeton players stayed in their huddle on the opposite side of the field long after the coaches had left, trying to turn the page after another opportunity had passed by.
 

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Women’s volleyball continues undefeated run in Ivy play

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Lydia Rudnick ’12, top, and Kendall Peterkin ’16 have led 5-0 Princeton to a first-place tie with Yale at the top of the Ivy League standings. (Photos: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)
In 2009, the women’s volleyball team featured a dynamic senior-freshman duo. Outside hitter Sheena Donohue ’10, who led the Ivy League in kills, was the team’s primary offensive threat, while Lydia Rudnick ’13 emerged as a budding star in her rookie season.
 
Three years later, it’s the same story — but after two straight All-Ivy campaigns, Rudnick is now the veteran, with Kendall Peterkin ’16 taking her place as the impressive understudy. Rudnick and Peterkin currently rank first and second in kills per set in Ivy League play, lifting the Tigers to a share of the league lead with a perfect mark through five matches.
 
Donohue and Rudnick both hit from the outside position, while Peterkin plays on the right side, but there are still plenty of similarities — in 2009, Donohue averaged 4.02 kills per set, with Rudnick second on the team at 3.39; so far this year, Rudnick has 4.24 and Peterkin 3.35. Having experienced the situation from the other perspective, Rudnick knows how to help her young teammate thrive. “I looked up to Sheena as a leader, so now that’s what I’m trying to do for Kendall and everyone on the team — try to lead the team and do the best I can to bring energy onto the court every time,” Rudnick said.
 
Rudnick entered the season as one of the preseason favorites for Ivy League Player of the Year, and her early work has done nothing to discourage those thoughts; she led the conference in kills in 2010 and ’11, and she’s on pace to repeat that feat once more. Against Cornell on Saturday, more than half of Rudnick’s attacks resulted in a kill, even as the Big Red loaded up blockers on her side of the court.
 
“Lydia definitely leads by example, and I’m so honored to play with her,” Peterkin said. “She’s such a great player, and I can always learn something from her. I ask her for help or advice, and she gives it right away — she’s a great person to play with.”
 
Peterkin’s presence gives the Tigers a top option from other angles on the court; the rookie consistently hits between blockers from the right side and is also an attacking threat from the back line. Her breakout performance came on Sept. 28 at Harvard, when she notched 27 kills in a tight victory over Harvard, taking over with five kills in the decisive 15-point fifth set.
 

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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.”
 

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Syracuse hands No. 3 Princeton field hockey its first loss

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Kat Sharkey ’14, pictured in action against Richmond, leads the nation in scoring, but she and her Princeton teammates could not convert opportunities against No. 2 Syracuse. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
Offensive firepower is not something the Princeton field hockey team has lacked often this season. Kat Sharkey ’13 currently leads the nation in scoring — just as she did in 2010 — with 17 goals in eight games, on pace for the best single season in Princeton history. And six other players, including Olympians Katie Reinprecht ’13, Julia Reinprecht ’14, and Michelle Cesan ’14, have scored at least nine goals in a season before, giving the Tigers tons of proven options.
 
But on Sunday, all those options were fruitless against a terrific Syracuse defense, which handed Princeton its first loss of the season. The Tigers had their chances to score, but the Orange had more, winning 2-0 even as goalie Christina Maida ’14 made eight impressive saves.
 
No. 2 Syracuse and No. 3 Princeton entered Sunday as two of four Division 1 teams still undefeated, making their meeting the first heavyweight showdown to take place at the newly installed Bedford Field (a picturesque venue that players say they like much better than their former home, the multipurpose Class of 1952 Stadium). From the beginning, the visitors’ defensive strength was obvious: Princeton didn’t attempt a shot until the 11th minute and didn’t earn a single penalty corner in the first half, which ended 0-0.
 
“They were very tough individual defenders, and they prevented us from getting a lot of scoring opportunities,” Sharkey said. “They’re very strong with their tackles, and we didn’t play around that as much as we would’ve liked.”
 
From the opening whistle of the second half, a more intense Princeton press turned the tide, forcing several Syracuse turnovers in the visitors’ defensive area. But the Tigers couldn’t convert, turning two early turnovers into three penalty corners but no goals. Midway through the second period, Syracuse found ways to beat Princeton’s press, and after controlling a long stretch of play, the Orange finally broke through when Leonie Geyer hammered a long shot past Maida off of a penalty corner.
 

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Reid ’13, defense show promise in Princeton football opener

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Princeton’s defense held Lehigh scoreless in the second half, but the Tigers’ comeback attempt fell short in a 17-14 season-opening loss. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
Three and a half minutes were left on the clock as host Lehigh prepared to run a third-down play with the game on the line. A conversion would allow the Mountain Hawks, undefeated and ranked 13th in the Football Championship Subdivision, to run more time off the clock and force Princeton to dip into its well of timeouts; a failure would give the Tigers possession with a chance to win the game. Quarterback Michael Colvin dropped back and threw under pressure — but the ball never got near his target, as defensive lineman Caraun Reid ’13 knocked it away at the line of scrimmage.
 
Though he was relatively quiet for parts of Saturday’s game, Reid has plenty of experience making big plays with his big arms. He batted down three passes and also blocked three kicks last season. He’s also rather adept at using the rest of his body. He recorded eight sacks and 16 tackles for losses in 2011 en route to first-team All-Ivy honors.
 
Here’s the scary part for the rest of the league: That wasn’t even Reid at his best. After missing the final nine games of the 2010 season with a pectoral injury, he had surgery in the off-season, which limited his ability to practice and bench-press that summer. Reid felt the effects throughout the season, but it didn’t show in his play. “I was expecting to have a good season, but not to the extent I had last year,” he says. “It was surprising, because I thought I was really weak.”
 
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Caraun Reid ’13 (Photo: Office of Athletic Communications)
In many ways, Reid doesn’t look like a football player off the field. He dresses well, wears glasses, and is a member of the a cappella group Old NasSoul. But his size is a giveaway — after putting on 20 pounds with a full off-season of lifting, the defensive tackle stands at 6 feet, 2 inches, and 300 pounds — an intimidating figure for opposing linemen.
 
Reid isn’t the only standout senior in the Tigers’ front seven, which looks like Princeton’s biggest strength at this stage. Defensive end Mike Catapano ’13 and linebacker Andrew Starks ’13, the two defensive captains, also have earned all-Ivy recognition in the past. The defense led Princeton’s second-half resurgence Saturday, stopping Lehigh on several other third-down plays and holding the hosts scoreless after halftime.
 
The Tigers’ offense also turned its fortunes around in the second half. Connor Michelsen ’15 was named the starting quarterback — which he knew on Monday but the rest of us didn’t learn until game time — and played all but two series under center, hitting some receivers and overthrowing some others. Running back Akil Sharp ’13 was quiet in the first half, but he eventually found his stride, scoring Princeton’s first touchdown with an impressive 13-yard scamper and fighting for a second score from one yard out.
 

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Tiger of the Week: Donn Cabral ’12

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NCAA steeplechase champion Donn Cabral ’12, shown here in a 2010 race. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
Just hours after last Tuesday’s Commencement ceremony, Donn Cabral ’12 joined five other members of the men’s and women’s track and field teams on a plane to the NCAA Championships in Des Moines, Iowa. On June 9, the final day of the meet, Cabral lined up for the finals of the steeplechase. After finishing second in the event in 2010 and 2011 — to Louisville’s Matt Hughes, who was out of the picture this season after exhausting his four years of eligibility — Cabral stood at the starting line as the unquestioned favorite.
 
But there were still 3,000 meters to be run. How would Cabral handle the pressure of being the man to beat?
 
“I was actually pretty calm about the expectations and the target on my back,” he said. “It went exactly as I expected … I wanted to just sit on the shoulder of the leader, and luckily, nobody was really crowding my space or challenging me too much, so I was able to comfortably stay in that position. We did that for 2,000 meters of the race, and at the 2,000-meter mark, I made a strong move to the front and tried to run away from the pack.”
 
Cabral did exactly that, quickly pulling away from all but one runner and then dusting Texas A&M’s Henry Lelei in the final lap. The Tiger finished in eight minutes, 35.44 seconds, more than five seconds clear of the field, to claim Princeton’s third national championship of the 2011-12 athletics season (joining the men’s squash team and epeeist Jonathan Yergler ’13). Princeton had not won three national titles in a year since 2003.
 
For Cabral, the season is not over yet. He currently is training on campus for an even bigger race on a bigger stage: the Olympic Trials, which begin June 21 in Eugene, Ore. Cabral will be facing extremely difficult competition, but as of right now, he holds the fastest U.S. time this year – 8:19.14, an American collegiate record, which he set at the USATF Oxy High Performance Meet May 18.
 
“It’s been probably 18 months I’ve been pointing toward this one race,” Cabral said. “I honestly can’t wait to be there, and I know that the time is going to fly between now and then. I’ll be on that starting line in no time, smiling and enjoying every minute of it.”
 

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