Tag Archives: Monday column

Wrestling Returns to Jadwin, Drops Match to Rutgers

Neither the snowstorm nor the onset of winter break prevented a large crowd from trekking to Jadwin Gymnasium Saturday night to see the Princeton wrestling team host Rutgers in what was billed as “a celebration of New Jersey wrestling.” The Tigers fell to the Scarlet Knights, but there were still signs throughout the night that head coach Chris Ayers has his team – which, at 3-1, already has more wins than it did last season – on the right track.

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Adam Krop ’15 (Photo: Office of Athletic Communications)

After a slow start for the Tigers in which Jordan Laster ’17 lost despite escaping a number of tight situations, Adam Krop ’15 brought the crowd to its feet, pinning his opponent in an overpowering display at 141 lbs. and tying the team score. Ayers praised Krop for getting the win after the Tigers lost the match before his at 133 lbs.

“We really thought we were gonna take 133. I think Krop thought that too,” Ayers said. “So for him to come out and ignite things a little bit was what we needed at the time. So he really did his job.”

Krop’s win was especially heartening to Tiger fans given that he had been absent from the mat until quite recently. The knee injury that kept him out for the entire 2012-13 season was just one of several medical issues which have plagued Princeton in the last few years.

In the wake of those injuries, inexperienced wrestlers have been shouldering much of the burden. One example, Abe Ayala ’16, has been proving himself capable all season and did so again Saturday. Wrestling at 165 lbs., Ayala kept his match close with two well-executed escapes and took down his man in the third period to earn a 6-4 win. Though it was too little, too late for Princeton, it gave the crowd much to cheer about.

“Abe’s wrestling well. He’s focused on wrestling and nothing else,” Ayers said. “You can see him out there – he’s made a jump to where he’s not concerned about other things, he’s just trying to score points. That’s it. He’s not thinking about his shape, he’s not thinking that he’s tired, he just keeps wrestling.”

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Football Falls Short of Perfect Ivy Season, but Seniors Celebrate Championship Turnaround

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Princeton football’s Class of 2014, seen here before the Yale game, went from 1-9 seasons in its first two years to an Ivy League title as seniors. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
Refusing to let a season-ending loss at Dartmouth keep them down, seniors from the Ivy League co-champion Princeton football team reflected on a remarkable season in advance of Sunday’s Big Three bonfire. The Ivy title, shared with Harvard, is the Tigers’ first since 2006, when they shared the honor with Yale.
 
“No matter how hard it looks you can always work yourself out of it,” senior defensive back Elijah Mitchell said. “And if you work hard enough you can accomplish the goals you set from the very beginning even if it doesn’t look like you’ll get there at first.”
 
“It’s been a long time coming to a lot of us simply because it would be hard to find a team and a group of guys that have worked harder than we have,” senior running back Brian Mills added.
 
The season has seen an accumulation of records for Princeton football, most of them by quarterback Quinn Epperly ’15. Despite doubts at the beginning of the season over who would start under center, the junior quickly showed that he knew how to score. Epperly matched Doug Butler ’86’s record for single-season passing touchdowns (set in 1983) with 25. Almost half of those touchdowns were to senior receiver Roman Wilson, who caught 11 touchdowns passes this season, matching the record of Derek Graham ’85, also set in 1983.
 
“[The records] are just kind of an added extra. Our main goal is to win, every drive we want to score, so that’s the first goal,” Wilson said. “But those are great. I think they reflect us as a team, where we’ve come and a reflection of the coaches as well.”
 
Epperly also came within one score of Keith Elias ’94’ single-season rushing touchdown record of 19 (set in 1993) with his 18th rushing touchdown of the season coming in the season finale at Dartmouth — a 28-24 loss that ended the Tigers’ eight-game winning streak. His success has not gone unnoticed: Epperly earned Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week honors six times.
 
“I don’t know if I’ve ever had a stronger candidate than Quinn,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said, in reference to Epperly’s chances of taking home the Ivy League’s honor for Offensive Player of the Year, the Bushnell Cup.
 

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Talent, Creativity Propel Football to Ivy Title

Tailback Dre Nelson ’16 scored the first of Princeton football’s eight touchdowns against Yale Saturday. The Tigers lined up in what has now become something of a signature formation with three quarterbacks — Quinn Epperly ’15, Connor Michelsen ’15, and Kedric Bostic ’16 — in the backfield. Though each was a threat to run or throw the ball, head coach Bob Surace ’90 and offensive coordinator James Perry were not satisfied with that level of complexity and instead had the ball snapped straight to Nelson. He ran to the outside and went the distance thanks to a block from third-string quarterback Bostic.

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Dre Nelson ’16 weaves through the defense on the first of his two touchdowns against Yale. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

Nelson added 35 more yards and another score as the game went on. He was one of four Tigers to run for over 30 yards. That stat, and his run, demonstrate the creativity and resourcefulness that have made the difference between the 1-9 Tigers of two years ago and this year’s Tigers, currently 8-1 and guaranteed at least a share of the Ivy League title.

It’s easy to look at the Tigers and see only Epperly, who is having one of the best seasons of any college quarterback and has set innumerable records. Against Yale, however, Epperly accounted for a relatively low percentage of Princeton’s points — he was responsible for only half the touchdowns. His accuracy was good, but not perfect, giving his receivers ample opportunity to show off their skills. Roman Wilson ’14 had 115 yards and a touchdown, making several catches on the sideline with his feet just barely in bounds. Connor Kelley ’15 showed off his athleticism on a touchdown grab when he had to elevate and out-maneuver a Yale defender. The defender was flagged for interference, but Kelley still made the catch.

Plays like that have lifted the Tigers to heights that didn’t seem possible just two years ago. All the players mentioned above were recruited when the Tigers were at the bottom of the Ivy League standings, yet Surace and Perry managed to attract them and have figured out some very original ways to use them.

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Sherburne ’14 Leads Men’s Basketball to Opening Win

“It feel’s good to be back. It’s been a while,” Jimmy Sherburne said with a smile. 

After taking a one-year hiatus due to injury, the senior guard from Wisconsin is back with a bang. In the men’s basketball season opener at home against Florida A&M in Jadwin Gymnasium on Sunday, Sherburne finished second on the team in points with 13, sinking three of five 3-pointers and pushing the Tigers to a 67-50 victory over the Rattlers.

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Hans Brase ’16 attempts a shot in Princeton’s opening win over Florida A&M. Brase scored six points and led the Tigers with 10 rebounds. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

Sherburne’s not the only player who has returned to the team after a long break. Junior guard Ben Hazel and junior forward Dan Edwards are also back on this season’s roster after taking last year off, and the trio’s return couldn’t be more critical. Sunday’s game was the first test for a Tiger team playing without last year’s Ivy League Player of the Year, Ian Hummer ’13.

Hummer’s absence will have a huge impact on this year’s Princeton squad. He led his team last year scoring, assists, blocks, rebounds and offensive rebounds, leaving a large hole to fill by both returning players and new faces, and the Tigers’ freshmen class did not disappoint Sunday. Forwards Pete Miller and Spencer Weisz looked comfortable on the court throughout the game, culminating in dunk from Miller towards the end of the game on a pass from his fellow rookie.

“We got a lot of new pieces this year, a couple of freshmen in the lineup, with Pete and Spencer. Early in the year, especially, it’s important to play the right way and get a new flow,” said junior forward Denton Koon, who had added a team-high 17 points.

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Cross Country Heps: Princeton Men Finish Second, Women Place Fourth

As the men’s cross country team set out to defend its Ivy League title at Saturday’s Ivy Heptagonal Cross Country Championships, the women set out to return to the top. It was an unseasonably warm day at Princeton’s West Windsor Fields, which seemed to suit freshman Megan Curham, the Tigers’ top finisher for the day.

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Megan Curham ’17 placed fourth in the Ivy Heps Championships, helping the Princeton women earn a fourth-place finish as a team. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

Curham placed fourth for the women with a time of 20:26.1 to earn first-team All-Ivy League honors and lead the women’s team to a fourth-place finish overall. This marks the best individual finish by a Tiger since Alex Banfich ’12 placed third in 2011. Curham, a freshman from Warren, N.J., came onto the cross country scene late in high school, but has made the most of her short career. She won the 2-mile run at New Balance Indoor Track Nationals during her senior year, and since coming to Princeton, Curham has led the Tiger women, finishing first on the team in all four races in which she has competed.

“To see how [Megan] has developed here has been amazing,” senior Molly Higgins said. “She’s an incredibly hard worker and … it’s just been unbelievable to train with her and also to watch her race.”

Also scoring for the women were junior captain Emily de La Bruyere, who finished 10th and earned second-team All-Ivy League honors, as well as sophomore Kathryn Fluehr (18th), junior Lindsay Eysenbach (26th), and sophomore Kathryn Little (37th).

Dartmouth won for the women with 38 total points, while Cornell placed second with 66 points, Harvard came in third with 73 and Princeton placed fourth with 95 points.

The No. 15 Tiger men, hoping to defend their title for the fourth consecutive year, fell short in a tight race against No. 10 Columbia. Seniors Tyler Udland and Chris Bendtsen finished sixth and seventh respectively with times of 23:48.6 and 23:49.7, both earning first-team All-Ivy League honors. Senior Alejandro Arroyo Yamin finished 12th, earning second-team All-Ivy League honors. Juniors Sam Pons and  Matt McDonald (16th and 17th, respectively) rounded out the scoring, and junior Eddie Owens was close behind in 19th place. 

“We ran even with them through most of the race, through about 6k, but then they started to separate a little,” Udland said of the competition with Columbia. “We tried to move up around the last 700-800 meters, but it was just a little too much to overcome and close the gap.”

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Epperly-to-Wilson Puts Princeton Over the Top, Again

After a storybook comeback in last year’s Harvard game, the Princeton football team seemed to have used up all its luck. As the Tigers dropped three of their next four games, Quinn Epperly ’15’s lob to the end zone, which was caught by Roman Wilson ’14 for the winning touchdown, looked more and more like a fluke. But one year later, on Oct. 26, the Tigers went to Cambridge and proved that they didn’t need luck to take down Harvard — they had the talent.

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Quinn Epperly ’15, show in action against Columbia, continued his remarkable season with a record-setting win at Harvard Oct. 26. To date, he has thrown for 15 touchdowns and run for 11. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

This year’s game ended in an almost identical fashion to last year’s. Needing to score, Epperly chucked it into the corner of the end zone and Wilson, with a Crimson player right on him, came down with it. Last year’s score put the Tigers up late in the final quarter of a game that ended 39-34. This year’s touchdown ended the third overtime period in a game that saw Princeton put up 51 points to edge Harvard’s 48.

What was striking about Saturday’s game was how different Princeton’s offense looked this time around. With quarterback Connor Michelsen ’15 sidelined by an injury, it was the first time in Epperly’s college career that he took every snap. Last season, he split time with Michelsen against Harvard, and each had his moments. As the tape of the final touchdown shows, however, Epperly’s pass could just as easily have been one of the worst moments of his season. He was under pressure and threw off the wrong foot, leaving it up to Wilson to get around the defender and make an outstanding catch.

This season, the game-winning touchdown exemplified how far Epperly, and Princeton’s offense, has come. Filled with confidence during his best passing game ever — he broke one school record with 37 completions in the game and another with six passing touchdowns — Epperly faked a quarterback dive, selling it completely, and delivered a perfect throw to his favorite target, Wilson.

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With Final Four Team Watching, Men’s Soccer Stays Unbeaten in Ivy Play

When the Princeton men’s soccer team took the field at Roberts Stadium on Saturday, trying to stay undefeated in the Ivy League against Columbia, no one was rooting for the Tigers more than a group of men in the stands who had found themselves in the same position 20 years ago.

The 1993 squad returned to campus, as the program honored the NCAA Final Four team at halftime. That year, when the Tigers reached the semifinals of the national tournament for the first time in history, the only blemish on their Ivy record was a 3-1 defeat to Columbia. The loss meant that Princeton would share the Ivy championship with the Lions.

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Brendan McSherry ’16 (Photo: Office of Athletic Communications)

Two decades later, Columbia and Princeton both entered the match as undefeated Ivy teams, but history did not repeat itself. Sophomore midfielder Brendan McSherry scored his first career goal in the 87th minute, giving the Tigers a 2-1 victory and knocking the Lions out of the top of the Ivy standings.

At an alumni banquet after the game, assistant coach Jesse Marsch ’96 read a letter written by Bob Bradley ’80, the coach of the ’93 squad. Bradley, who was not able to attend because of his obligations as the head coach of the Egyptian national team, said that the Final Four team had a huge role in starting his career at a professional level, and that he always loves reading about the program because Princeton was such a special time for him.

Bradley also stressed how special the history of Princeton’s soccer program is. The Tigers played their first game in November 1906, and their first game against the Lions was a year later. With Saturday’s victory, Princeton’s record against Columbia in over a hundred years of athletic competition now stands at 21-31-9.

Junior defender Myles McGinley said that the alumni offered important advice and emphasized the importance of sportsmanship and playing not as individuals, but as part of a larger unit.

“They talked a lot about taking the ego out of it and putting the team first,” McGinley said.

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Epperly ’15, Michelsen ’15 Lead Football to 3-1 Start

It has been seven years since Princeton football fans have seen their team win at least three of the first four games of the season, and when the Tigers began the season 4-0 in 2006, it turned out to be an exciting year that included a bonfire and an Ivy League championship. 

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Quinn Epperly ’15 (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

Saturday’s 42-26 win over Lafayette gave the Tigers a three-game winning streak as they begin the hardest part of their schedule. Princeton’s impressive offensive attack has been led by its quarterbacks, specifically Quinn Epperly ’15.

Sharing time at the quarterback position last season with Connor Michelsen ’15, Epperly’s most well-known pass came with 13 seconds left to play in the 2012 Harvard game to receiver Roman Wilson ’14 — a touchdown that capped Princeton’s comeback win. This season has been an extension of that success. In the Georgetown game, Epperly became the Tiger to rush for four touchdowns in a game since Keith Elias ’94. Against Columbia, he became the first Tiger to throw for four touchdowns in a game since Chad Roghair ’91. And in the win over Lafayette, he was responsible for five more touchdowns (four passing, one rushing).

“Quinn did some really good things,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said afterward. “I thought he really executed well.”

Epperly and Wilson connected six times for two of Epperly’s passing touchdowns. He also threw scoring passes to receiver Connor Kelley ’15 and tight end Des Smith ’14.

“I think the way our offense is designed a lot of guys are contributing, we’re working extremely hard all practice or all week long in practice, and that’s just how it works. One guy one week will have a breakout game … and anybody can have that type of game at anytime,” Kelley said. “That’s what makes our offense really great.”

Michelsen also has contributed significantly to the offense, leading the team in passing yards this season and driving the Tigers down the field on six of their seven scoring drives against Lafayette. Epperly, a dual running and passing threat, often comes into the game when Princeton reaches the red zone.

“I think that definitely a lot more credit should be given to [Michelsen] than probably is,” Epperly said. “A lot of those drives that I’m scoring on he’s leading down the field and I’m just kind of running it in at the end, so he definitely probably deserves more credit than he’s been given.”

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Tires, Weights, and a Common Goal: Wrestling, Men’s Hockey Teams Face Off in Preseason Competition

All was quiet behind Princeton Stadium just after 9 a.m. on Saturday morning until a pack of muscular, orange-and-black-clad men hurtled around the corner towards DeNunzio Pool like it was the running of the bulls. Those students, from the men’s hockey and wrestling teams (clad in orange and black, respectively), were taking part in their third annual strength-and-conditioning competition, held each fall.

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Members of the wrestling team, top, and men’s hockey team, bottom, competed in conditioning races Saturday morning. The event has become an annual tradition for the programs. (Photos: Jackson Dobies ’14)

The event was sparked by a conversation about preseason workouts, between wrestling coach Chris Ayers and hockey coach Bob Prier. They organized a group workout with an element of friendly competition. Each year, the teams’ coaches come up with exercises designed to test the strength of both groups without giving one too much of an advantage.

“Last year the final event was soccer and obviously hockey’s a team sport so they were a lot better at that,” said Max Rogers ’16 of the wrestling team. “[But] this is our year.”

In addition to the opening footrace, this year’s events included a series of relay races. One involved flipping an enormous tire around a cone and back five times, with a different player pushing it each time. In the second, each player had to push a weight-laden sled around a cone and back. The final challenge was a speed-walking relay race, which may sound relatively easy but was not — each walker carried two giant weights.

“We just want to do stuff that requires teamwork and the guys to get after each other, and also that they get pretty tired doing it,” Ayers said.

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At Home on the Road, Men’s Water Polo Moves to 10-3

For most of the players on the men’s water polo team, flying to Southern California for a three-day seven-game weekend wasn’t a road trip — it was going home. Thirteen of the 20 players on the roster hail from the Golden State, and many of their opponents this weekend were old childhood friends.

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Kurt Buchbinder ’14 (Photo: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)

“Water polo is a pretty small community to start out with, and you’re going home and seeing guys that you played in high school or club. You get to catch up and say hello,” said co-captain and Long Beach native Kurt Buchbinder ’14. “It’s fun just to see where they’re at and how they’re doing. Sometimes you mess with them in the water a little bit more than you would normally, but it’s all in good fun.” 

But that’s where the familiarity for the Tigers ends. Though Princeton is the top-ranked program outside of California, Golden State teams dominate the sport. A California school has won every NCAA Championship title, a streak that spans the last 44 years.

Princeton split its first day of play on Friday, beating Chapman 13-9 and extending its win streak to seven games this season, before falling to its first ranked opponent of the weekend, No. 7 Long Beach State, 11-7.  On Saturday, a 13-5 victory over La Verne was sandwiched between lopsided losses to No. 2 Southern California (22-4) and No. 1 UCLA (15-3).  

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Drew Hoffenberg ’15 (Photo: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)

“We knew that coming out here and playing [Southern California] and UCLA would be hard — they’re ranked one and two in the nation But it’s good to play at a little higher level of competition because playing against better people makes you better next time,” co-captain Drew Hoffenberg ’15 said. “You can see what they’re good at and learn from what they do.”

Princeton swept its final day of play on Sunday, beating Claremont McKenna, 13-9, and Whittier, 8-6. Hoffenberg finished with day with 10 goals — five in each game.

Buchbinder said that the biggest adjustment that Princeton had to make as an East Coast water polo team was to “focus a lot more on the very little things.”

“Whether it’s pressuring the ball or shot blocking, or staying in position, it’s unreal how good they are at the little things and that adds up and really helps them out in the long run,” Buchbinder said. “So we have to focus on protecting the ball and getting to our spots.”

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Multiple Quarterbacks Contribute in Football Opener

Coming into the Lehigh game Sept. 21, one of the major questions Princeton football fans had was who would be starting under center. Despite a full 60 minutes of play in a tumultuous 29-28 loss, that question has yet to be resolved. Quarterbacks Connor Michelsen ’15, Quinn Epperly ’15, and Kedric Bostic ’16 each played a role in the offense during the opener.

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Roman Wilson ’14 caught nine passes for 168 yards and a touchdown in Princeton’s 29-28 loss to Lehigh. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

With a 22-3 lead at halftime, the Tiger offense seemed to be clicking, and the defense able to contain Lehigh’s explosive offensive ability. The second half, on the other hand, told a different story. The Princeton defense was unable to stop the Mountain Hawks from reaching the end zone. The Tigers took back the lead on a 17-yard touchdown rush by DiAndre Atwater ’16 with 8:03 left in the game, but they were unable to convert on 2-point conversion. Lehigh would come back down the field to score once again, giving them the 29-28 lead with 2:45 left on the clock.

Princeton’s last possession ended when a Michelsen pass attempt was intercepted at the Lehigh 37 with 1:50 to go in the game. The Mountain Hawks were then able to gain a first down and run out the clock.

Michelsen, the returning starter, was not the only one taking snaps for the Tigers. Debuting a formation they call Ninja, in which they spread the tackles out to the wide-receiver positions while keeping the center, two guards, and a quarterback and running back in their normal spots, the Tigers aimed to use the abilities of several players to pass, receive, or run. At times the offense positioned Michelsen, Epperly, and Bostic as quarterbacks, running backs, and receivers. (Receivers Seth DeValve ’15 and Connor Kelley ’15 also were high-school quarterbacks.)

 “I think the nature of the quarterback position is changing a little bit, and the high-school athlete is back, whether he’s a runner, passer, all those things,” head coach Bob Surace ’90 said. “We don’t want to have those guys standing next to me the whole game, so let’s utilize them.”

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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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Ellis ’13 leads women’s lacrosse and looks forward to World Cup

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Sam Ellis ’13 will be part of the first team to represent Israel at the Women’s World Cup. (Photo: Shannon Davis)

On Saturday, Sam Ellis ’13 had her fourth collegiate hat trick in a 11-9 victory over Harvard that clinched an Ivy League Tournament bid for the women’s lacrosse team. The senior attacker’s biggest goal of the game came with 1:24 left to play in the first half, when Ellis scored to tie the Crimson at 4-4.

This summer, Ellis will try to build on the success that she has had at Princeton and make her mark in international lacrosse with the Israeli women’s national team. On March 25 the Israel Lacrosse Association announced the 2013 Women’s World Cup roster, made up of 10 Israelis and 10 Americans, one of whom was Ellis. She will play for the squad at the Federation of International Lacrosse’s Women’s World Cup, July 11-20 in Canada. It is the first time that Israel will have a women’s national lacrosse team.

“It’s really cool to play a part in growing a sport, because this is the first team in Israel,” Ellis said. “You’re dedicating your time to this country and doing something for your religion, which is something that’s so meaningful. So I’m in the process right now of getting citizenship so I can be over there and play for the country and do my part to help spread the word for lacrosse.”

But for Ellis, participating in the World Cup means far more than making an impact in women’s lacrosse. Her maternal grandparents, who were Holocaust survivors, met in Auschwitz where they were both interred.

“I know that they would just be so proud.” Ellis said. “They were such strong people to make it through that camp.”

Between the time he got out of the camps and immigrated to America, Ellis’ grandfather played for the German national soccer team. “It is kind of strange that he played, but that’s where my mom says I get my athleticism from,” Ellis said.

Ellis will travel to Israel to train with the team in the first week in July. The squad will then fly to Toronto before their first matchup against Germany on July 11. Ellis said she is excited for the “unbelievable experience” and knows that her grandparents would be happy that she will be a part of the experience.

“I just want to do something for them, in memory of them, and keep their spirit alive,” she said.

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Froccaro ’13 stars in matchup with Syracuse, but Princeton falls short

By Hillary Dodyk ’15

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Jeff Froccaro ’13 (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)

Jeff Froccaro ’13 has led the men’s lacrosse team to its first top-10 ranking since the 2010 season, and the senior attackman had another strong game against rival Syracuse April 6, scoring four of Princeton’s 12 goals, including two in the fourth quarter, and assisting on two other scores. But the Orange spoiled that performance with a fourth-quarter rally, edging the Tigers 13-12.

For Froccaro, a Long Island, N.Y. native, playing lacrosse was a family tradition. He made the switch from baseball to lacrosse in seventh grade, following the path of two uncles who played professionally and introduced him to the game.

He seems to have made the right choice, earning All-Ivy first team honors as a junior and Ivy League Player of the Week honors three times in his career, most recently after he became only the 27th player in the program’s history to reach 100 career points.

“Jeff’s one of the best attackmen in the country and definitely in the Ivy League [and] he has a good effect on the offense. He can calm things down and he’s obviously a really good scorer,” fellow attackman Mike MacDonald ’15 said. “Jeff draws a lot of attention on offense, he usually draws the number one defender from the other team, so he opens up chances for me and Ryan [Ambler ’16].” 

Even with his family history, Froccaro said that playing college lacrosse was not something he thought seriously about until he started getting calls from recruiters as a sophomore in high school. Then it became an opportunity too great to be ignored, especially when Princeton called.

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Starting pitchers lead baseball to 3-1 opening weekend in Ivy play

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Mike Ford ’14 (Photo: Courtesy Athletic Communications)

After beginning the season with a 2-16 record in nonconference games, Princeton baseball stands at 3-1 following the first weekend of Ivy League competition, in which the Tigers split a doubleheader with Yale and swept another against Brown.

In the early spring, Ivy teams head south to play strong teams and, traditionally, get beaten up, so the sluggish start was not completely unexpected. But the Tigers have a long way to go if they want to improve on last year, when they finished second in the Gehrig Division.

For a team that lost star hitters Matt Bowman ’14 and Sam Mulroy ’12 to the Major League Baseball draft and graduation (then the draft), respectively, the Tigers are not looking bad offensively. Leadoff hitter Alec Keller ‘14 is off to a great start, hitting .355, and Mike Ford ’14 has already knocked in 15 runs.

Defensively, starter Zak Hermans ’13, last year’s Ivy League Pitcher of the Year, is in good form, as is Ford, who emerged from a March that was hellish for many pitchers with a 1.36 ERA. Kevin Link ’13 looks strong after notching his first win in a complete game against Yale.

“Hopefully, you don’t even need to go to the bullpen when they pitch,” head coach Scott Bradley said.

Bradley was commenting on the longevity of his starters, but he touched on a larger issue – the instability of the bullpen. Princeton’s relievers have an average ERA of 9.00. With Bowman in the starting rotation last year, Bradley could expect to go an entire weekend – four games – with maybe four pitching changes. This year’s bullpen may not be able to handle much more than that.

Starter Mike Fagan ‘14 has had a rough spring and lasted just three outs in his start against Yale March 30. He was relieved by Cameron Mingo ’16, a moment which may have been a sign of things to come. Mingo’s ERA sits at 2.78 and he allowed no earned runs in five innings against Yale, striking out four. The Bulldogs got three unearned runs off of him, but of the five pitchers Princeton used Mingo was the only one to record six or more outs.

Bradley has said that he wants to use Mingo as a long reliever, but he also said, “The game is going to dictate what we’re going to do with our bullpen.” The Tigers are going to need every starter to go deep into the game, and it’s looking like that could mean some changes to the starting rotation.

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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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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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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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