Tag Archives: Monday column

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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