Tag Archives: Monday column

Women’s soccer completes Ivy sweep, earns NCAA bid

In 2010, the Penn women’s soccer team visited Roberts Stadium with the Ivy League title and an NCAA tournament bid on the line. A win would have given Princeton the conference title, but the Quakers’ defense held the hosts scoreless, grinding out a 0-0 draw that clinched Penn’s ticket to the postseason and ended the Tigers’ campaign.

The two teams returned to Roberts Stadium on Saturday with the roles reversed — and Princeton got revenge. This time, the Tigers only needed a draw to secure the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but they got even more, beating Penn 4-2 for their 11th straight win (tied for the nation’s second-longest active streak).

“We know every year that at the end of the year, we’re going to be playing Penn,” midfielder Caitlin Blosser ’13 said. “We didn’t want to share the title at all — we wanted to win it outright.”

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Jen Hoy ’13 has scored 17 goals in 17 games. (Photo: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communications)

Many of this year’s Tigers could remember the heartbreaking end to the 2010 season, as eight of Saturday’s starting 11 were upperclassmen. Princeton’s Class of 2013 leads the team from all areas of the field — forward Jen Hoy ’13 entered the weekend ranked second in the nation with 1.06 goals per game, midfielder Rachel Sheehy ’13 is tied for the league lead with seven assists, Alison Nabatoff ’13 is one of the league’s top defenders, and Claire Pinciaro ’13 directs the back line from goal — and those seniors didn’t want to be the first class since 1999 to graduate without an Ivy title. “They’re the ones who really put things in place for us to have a good season,” head coach Julie Shackford said.

It was a sophomore, however, who provided a critical spark against Penn. Lauren Lazo ’15 gave the hosts some breathing room in the 13th minute, drilling a hard shot into the left side of the goal, and she hit almost the same part of the net again 30 minutes later to extend the Tigers’ lead to 2-0. Early in the second half, Hoy got a breakaway, drew the goalie off her line and then deftly passed to Lazo, who found the empty goal to complete her hat trick.

Saturday’s finale capped a stellar Ivy League season for Lazo, who scored eight goals in seven conference games. With opposing defenses often keying on Hoy, the sophomore showed a knack for springing free at the right time to find the ball in shooting range. “She’s just a gamer. The more competitive the game is, the tighter the game is, the more she can find a way,” Shackford said.

Penn scored twice in the second half, crossing from the left side to set up each goal, to make the final stretch of physical, loosely-officiated soccer more interesting. But with seven minutes left in regulation, another Hoy breakaway led to a wild sequence with the ball bouncing around the box; it ended up at the foot of Blosser, who drilled it into the net from 20 yards away.

“We gathered ourselves after their two goals … and we refocused ourselves on getting that last goal,” Blosser said. “We pretty much knew it was over at that point.”

The Tigers will learn their next opponent when the NCAA tournament bracket is released at 4:30 this afternoon. Princeton certainly has momentum on its side after completing the fifth 7-0-0 season in Ivy League history. The last team to accomplish that feat? The 2004 Tigers, who went on to reach the Final Four.

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

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

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The comeback: Princeton football stuns Harvard, 39-34

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

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Sprint football falls in showdown against league newcomer

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

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Women’s volleyball continues undefeated run in Ivy play

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

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

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

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Syracuse hands No. 3 Princeton field hockey its first loss

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

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Reid ’13, defense show promise in Princeton football opener

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

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Princeton and Harvard finish 2011-12 tied with 10 Ivy titles each

As six boats traveled 2,000 meters in the men’s heavyweight grand final of the Eastern Sprints on Sunday, Harvard opened up a sizeable lead on most of its competitors – not a surprise, considering the Crimson eight was undefeated on the year and had won the last two Sprints titles. The surprise was that Brown would not fall off of the pace. Brown – which had lost three of its six races this season, including one against Harvard – edged the Crimson by 0.3 seconds, taking the Sprints title and surprising many rowing enthusiasts.
 
As a Princeton sports junkie, I was captivated by this result as well, though for a slightly different reason: Brown’s victory denied Harvard the Ivy League heavyweight rowing title. With wins in Sunday’s other races, men’s lightweight and women’s crew, Harvard increased its conference championship count to 10. One more title – say, in men’s heavyweight crew – and the Crimson would have had 11, topping Princeton.
 
But the Bears pulled off the upset, and Harvard finished with 10 championships, tied with the Tigers. It wasn’t quite the dominant performance of last year – when Princeton claimed 15 titles and nobody else had more than seven – but if finishing first in 30 percent of sports marks a decline, the athletic department is in pretty strong shape. (The rest of this year’s list: Cornell 6, Yale 3, Brown 2, Penn 2, Dartmouth 1, Columbia 1.)
 
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The national-champion men’s squash team was one of Princeton’s 10 Ivy League champions in 2011-12. (Photo: Courtesy Office of Athletic Communicaitons)
Three of this year’s titles, in fact, came in sports that were not among last season’s 15: men’s fencing, men’s squash, and men’s lacrosse. In other words, Princeton won at least one championship over the last two years in more than half of the 33 Ivy League sports. (And remember that these standings do not include non-championship sports such as men’s and women’s water polo, in which the Tigers reached the NCAA Championships this season.)
 
Princeton will sit atop the unofficial all-sports standings for a 26th straight year, though Harvard will make it much closer than usual (less than 10 points, if my math is correct). To make a run like that, which started before I was born, a program needs a deep base of talent across all teams. Here is the complete list of Ivy League sports in which Princeton teams finished last this year: football (tied with Columbia, which the Tigers beat) and wrestling (tied with Harvard, which the Tigers beat).
 

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With team effort, Princeton earns another men’s track triple crown

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Adam Bragg ’15, left, placed second in the pole vault, while Eddie Owens ’15 was third in the steeplechase, leading a list of strong performances by Princeton’s supporting cast at the Ivy Heptagonals. (Photos: Courtesy Athletic Communications)
The 2011-12 season was a charmed one for the men’s track and field team. Princeton shattered numerous program and Ivy League records and cracked the national top 10 in cross country en route to Heptagonal championships in the fall and winter seasons. In the context of this success, as well as Princeton’s No. 24 national ranking in the outdoor season (the next Ivy League team, Cornell, was ranked 59th), one could have thought that the final leg of an Ivy League triple crown was just a formality.
 
But records and rankings are determined by a handful of top runners. Heptagonals is a two-day, team-wide marathon with 22 different events. Having star athletes capable of winning events is certainly a boost, but Ivy League track championships are often determined by which team has more finishers in second, third, and fourth place. Heading into this weekend’s championships, HepsTrack.com actually projected Cornell to win a close competition.
 
Instead, Princeton secured its second straight triple crown with plenty of room to spare, collecting 193 points to Cornell’s 161.75. After winning the last six Ivy League championships, the men’s track and cross country teams are at their highest point since the turn of the century, when they won three straight triple crowns from 1998-2000.
 
Certainly, many of Princeton’s top athletes performed to their billing at Penn’s Franklin Field this weekend. Donn Cabral ’12 won the 10,000-meter race and hammered the field in the steeplechase, while Conor McCullough ’15 outdistanced his competition by 40 feet in the hammer throw, joining three other Tigers as individual champions.
 

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Men’s lacrosse beats Cornell to claim Ivy championship

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From left, Princeton men’s lacrosse captains Tyler Fiorito ’12, Chad Wiedmaier ’12, and John Cunningham ’12 hoist the Ivy League trophy after the Tigers’ 14-9 win over Cornell. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
In recent history, shared Ivy League titles have been the norm in men’s lacrosse, as six of nine championships from 2003 to 2011 were split between two or more teams. Another norm has been a Big Red champion, as Cornell had won at least a share of the title each year in that span. Entering Saturday night’s annual matchup against Princeton, the Big Red had a chance to extend both of those streaks.
 
Instead, the Tigers owned the game from the opening minutes, hammering Cornell 14-9 to finish as the undisputed Ivy League regular-season champion for the first time since 2002. Aside from a victory at Yale that took five overtimes to decide, Princeton dominated the Ancient Eight, outscoring the other five teams by a total score of 71-26.
 
“This was a big goal for us – we didn’t want to share it,” head coach Chris Bates said after beating Cornell. “If we lost today, it wouldn’t feel good sharing it with the team that beat us.”
 
The biggest difference between the two teams came inside the crease. While both squads took 20 shots on goal – including a fair number of attempts from several yards away – Princeton won by five goals thanks largely to the play of star goalie Tyler Fiorito ’12, who made 11 stops and finished conference play with a .680 save percentage (nobody else in the league was above .500).
 

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In another big game, women’s lacrosse tops the Big Green

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Freshmen Erin McMunn, left, and Annie Woehling played key roles in Princeton’s 12-9 win over Dartmouth. (Photos: Courtesy Athletic Communications)
The women’s lacrosse team has had its share of highs and lows in recent seasons. But the Tigers certainly do not back down from pressure – in several must-win situations over the last three years, Princeton has played its best games.
 
Entering the final game of the 2010 regular season, the Tigers had lost three straight games by a combined 16 goals, but they beat Dartmouth – which was ranked in the top 10 nationally – in overtime to qualify for the inaugural Ivy League Tournament. Last season, Princeton toppled Penn in Philadelphia before beating Harvard to win the conference tournament, snatching the automatic bid for NCAAs; the Tigers then extended their season once more with an 11-10 victory over James Madison in the first round.
 
And on Saturday, when a loss would have knocked Princeton out of postseason contention, the Tigers handed No. 8 Dartmouth its first Ivy League loss of the season with a 12-9 victory at Class of 1952 Stadium.
 
“We knew we had to win this game … but the one thing we didn’t want to do was to come in thinking that we had to win and focusing on the negative aspects of it,” said midfielder Cassie Pyle ’12, who scored four goals. “We wanted to think of how big an opportunity it was for us. I think that mindset was really what kept us so calm throughout the game.”
 

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Improved pitching puts softball on the list of Ivy contenders

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Pitchers Liza Kuhn ’13, left, and Alex Peyton ’13 have led Princeton to a 6-6 start in Ivy League games. (Photos: Courtesy Athletic Communications)
Entering Ivy League play in 2012, the softball team had a 3-16 record, worst in the conference, and carried an eight-game losing streak. After finishing tied for last in 2011 and 6-14 in Ivy play the previous season, the Tigers probably weren’t feared much by their upcoming opponents.
 
But Princeton opened conference play with a sweep of Dartmouth and took three of four games on a road trip the following week, ending an Ivy League weekend with a record above .500 for the first time in three seasons. Even after dropping three of four games to Penn on Saturday and Sunday, the Tigers are 6-6 in the conference and at least on the list of contenders – a major improvement over what their non-league performance predicted.
 
“Our preseason schedule is difficult, trying to play as great of competition as we can,” head coach Trina Salcido said. “We knew it was going to prepare us and help us to be sharper when we came into the Ivy League.”
 
If the season ended today, Cornell would meet Harvard in the Ivy League Championship Series for a third straight year; the Big Red is 10-2 in conference play and the Crimson 11-1. If anybody is going to crash that party, the most likely contender is Penn, sitting at 8-4 after its visit to Princeton. But the Tigers are still alive and may even control their own destiny entering the final weekend of the season, when they will play four games at Cornell April 28-29.
 
Princeton’s success has been fueled by an improved pitching staff: After finishing seventh in earned run average in league play last year, the Tigers have cut their ERA by nearly a run and a half, currently ranking third at 3.67. Much of the development has come from within, as Liza Kuhn ’13 and Alex Peyton ’13 have logged most of the key innings. Before losing twice this weekend, Kuhn had won four of her previous six starts, though her most impressive performance may have come in a loss at Brown, when she threw nine shutout innings and was one out away from a tenth before allowing a homer to the league’s best hitter, Stephanie Thompson, and eventually losing 2-1.
 

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Men’s track and field standouts rewrite the record books

When Conor McCullough ’14 launched a hammer throw that landed 242 feet, 10 inches away at Weaver Stadium on Friday, he shattered the Ivy League record by more than eight feet – a record he had set two weeks earlier. In other words, it was business as usual for the men’s track and field team, which has erased an astonishing number of rows in various record books in 2012.

The Tigers’ magic started in the indoor season, which culminated in a third straight Ivy Heptagonals championship. McCullough set a league record with a weight throw of 76 feet, 1 inch at the Harvard-Yale-Princeton meet Feb. 11, which held up as the nation’s longest toss of the indoor season. The same weekend, Donn Cabral ’12 and Joe Stilin ’12 set conference records in the 5,000 meters and 3,000 meters, respectively.

The list goes on: Peter Callahan ’13 became the third Ancient Eight runner ever to break four minutes in the mile – and he was very nearly joined by Stilin and Cabral later in the season. The distance medley relay set yet another league record March 4. Several other meet and program records have been reduced to footnotes in a historic season for the Tigers.

“This is an exciting time of the season, and it’s an exciting year in general for us, because we’re having so much success,” Cabral said. “We’re making sure to enjoy the big PRs [personal records], but we want to stay hungry for the big meets at the end of the season as well.”

Not only did McCullough’s weight throw at the Sam Howell Invitational set a league record, it is currently the farthest mark in the nation by a good seven feet. The sophomore reportedly had another throw that landed two or three meters beyond his record-setting toss, but he fouled ever so slightly on that attempt.

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Scouts are watching as Princeton baseball begins title defense

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Matt Bowman ’13 was rated as the top pro prospect in the Ivy League by Baseball America. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
As right-handed pitcher Matt Bowman ’13 dominated Harvard on Sunday afternoon, a half-dozen men with clipboards stood underneath the netting behind home plate. As the professional scouts flared their radar guns with every pitch, Bowman gave them a show, striking out nine batters and allowing only one meaningless run in a seven-inning complete game, the best Ivy League pitching performance of his career.
 
The poor weather and uncertain schedule likely prevented more scouts from visiting Clarke Field this weekend, but the Tigers should see their share of them this season. Bowman, who also has pro potential as a shortstop, was rated the Ivy League’s top prospect before the season by Baseball America; catcher Sam Mulroy ’12 ranked second and southpaw Michael Fagan ’14 was fourth.
 
Historically, it’s not unusual for Princeton’s program to draw scouting attention; two years ago, people routinely came to see Dan Barnes ’11, who was drafted and signed by the Toronto Blue Jays after the season. But the number of scouts watching the Tigers in this decade pales in comparison to the early 2000s, the golden era of Princeton baseball talent.
 
The Ivy League is not exactly a baseball hotbed; the Ancient Eight champion has drawn a four-seed in the NCAA Regionals every year since the four-team regional system was instituted in 1999.
 
But the Tigers of 2003-04 were not typical Ivy League teams. In 2004, Princeton traveled to Old Dominion for its very first game of the season; as usual, its opponent was already warm after starting a couple weeks earlier. The Monarchs’ Friday starter was a well-known right-hander with a blazing fastball who would be the second overall pick in that June’s draft – you might know him as the 2011 American League MVP, Justin Verlander. Princeton hammered Verlander for 10 runs and 11 hits in five innings, including two homers in the first frame.
 
At the NCAA Regionals in June, the Tigers stunned host and No. 1-seed Virginia in the first round, as Ross Ohlendorf ’05 recorded 26 outs while allowing only two runs in a 4-2 victory.
 
“We were a pro team at that point,” Bradley says. “Those teams, physically, were unbelievable with their speed and athleticism. We went to regionals, and we would have more pro prospects than whoever we were playing against.”
 
Ohlendorf and outfielder Will Venable ’05 have both spent the last four years in the major leagues, while catcher-turned-pitcher Tim Lahey ’04 made the Phillies’ roster but never appeared in a game – and they weren’t even the best pro prospects on those Princeton teams.

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Even in the year of Lin-sanity, Princeton leads the Ivies

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The national-champion men’s squash team is one of eight Ivy League championship winners for Princeton in 2011-12. (Photo: Courtesy Athletic Communications)
Last week, Harvard’s student newspaper, The Harvard Crimson, ran a piece describing 2011-12 as “A Historic Run for Harvard Sports.” While reading about how Harvard is now “King Midas of the Ivy League,” thanks to its success in college and professional sports, I couldn’t help but remember one thing: In the middle of possibly its best athletic year ever, the Crimson has won five Ivy League championships. Princeton has eight so far, with a few more likely coming in the spring.
 
(In case you’ve lost count, Princeton’s Ivy titles are in field hockey, men’s cross country, men’s squash, men’s fencing, women’s fencing, women’s basketball, men’s indoor track and field, and men’s swimming and diving.)
 
This isn’t exactly a new phenomenon. Last year, Princeton won 15 Ivy League titles, setting a conference record. (Harvard had five, two behind Yale.) The year before, the Tigers took 12. According to the athletics department, Princeton has placed first in the Ivy League all-sports points standings for 25 consecutive years. (For the breakdown by program, check this PAW graphic.)
 
Sure, Ivy League titles aren’t the only measure of success. Harvard drew national attention largely for dominating the two marquee sports, football and men’s basketball. But Princeton’s fingerprints were all over the latter story: The Tigers erased Harvard’s national ranking in February, then gave the Crimson a bid to the NCAA Tournament with a victory over Penn a month later. (And let’s not forget what happened the last time these two teams met on a neutral court.)
 
Princeton also provided perhaps the most dramatic triumph in any Ivy League sport this year, coming from behind to end Trinity’s streak of 13 national squash championships.
 
Admittedly, Harvard’s sports success has not all come at the collegiate level. With three players currently in the NFL and Jeremy Lin tearing up the NBA, Crimson alumni have been making plenty of national headlines. But Princeton can claim three pretty good marquee-sport professional athletes as well, including one in a major market. Ross Ohlendorf ’05, now with the Red Sox, might not match the hype of Linsanity (Ross-steria?), but he, Will Venable ’05 (an outfielder for the San Diego Padres), and Chris Young ’02 (who last pitched for the New York Mets) have been solid major-league baseball players for several years.
 
This spring, Princeton expects to be among the Ivy League’s top contenders in men’s track and field, baseball, men’s and women’s lacrosse, men’s and women’s tennis and various crews. Some Tigers likely will compete for national championships in a few of those sports.
 
All of which highlights one apparent truth: Top to bottom, this is still Princeton’s league.

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Women’s basketball: In a game of ‘alternating currents,’ Kansas State made the last charge

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While Princeton worked to contain star forward Jalana Childs, pictured, Kansas State’s other forward, Branshea Brown, responded with a career-high 22 points in the Wildcats’ 67-64 win. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
Bridgeport, Conn. – Moments before the women’s basketball team’s NCAA Tournament game against Kansas State on Saturday, head coach Courtney Banghart looked much more nervous than usual. Playing not as a long-shot underdog but in the proverbial first-round toss-up game, 9-seed vs. 8-seed, Princeton came in with the highest expectations of Banghart’s seven trips to the Big Dance as a player and coach.
 
And in the opening minutes, the Princeton players seemed tense as well. Showing a lack of poise and patience early on, the Tigers committed sloppy turnovers and gave up open shots, allowing the Wildcats to take a 5-0 lead that could have been twice that. Sitting in nearly the same spot from which I watched Princeton’s previous two tournament games, all I could think was, “Oh no, it’s happening again.”
 
Last March, Princeton brought a team of tournament-tested players to Maryland, where they faced fifth-seeded Georgetown in the first round. After scoring first, the Tigers were blitzed by a 22-3 Hoyas run that virtually ended the game before the second media timeout. Two years ago, in Tallahassee, Fla., Princeton lasted a little bit longer, but a 13-2 run by sixth-seeded St. John’s turned a one-possession game into a comfortable lead midway through the first half.
 
But this year, things were supposed to be different. With the highest seed and first national ranking in Ivy League history, these Tigers were supposed to be tougher to keep down. And, as it turned out, they were: Princeton responded with a 12-2 run on Saturday, taking a five-point lead at the 12-minute mark.
 
“Before the game, Coach Banghart kept reminding us that it doesn’t matter what happens in the first three minutes, we’re going to be out there for the full 40 minutes,” guard Lauren Edwards ’12 said. “It took us a few minutes to get into our rhythm, but when we finally did, we played well and executed our game plan.”
 
After the Tigers loosened up, the contest became, as Banghart said, “a game of alternating currents.” Kansas State scored seven straight points to re-take the lead, Princeton grabbed the advantage back with four points of its own, and so the rest of the game went. The Wildcats held a four-point lead at halftime, but the Tigers flipped it with a 10-2 run, taking the lead when center Devona Allgood ’12 ripped a missed free throw from a defender’s hands and laid it in while being fouled.

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Kessel ’15 lifts men’s volleyball; women’s hoops waits for NCAA seed

After finishing 3-19 last season, the men’s volleyball team has been right around .500 all season, remaining at 6-7 overall and 5-5 in EIVA play even after losing two games last weekend. A few factors have led to the Tigers’ resurgence, but none has been larger than the arrival of Cody Kessel ’15.
 
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Cody Kessel ’15 (Photo: Courtesy Athletic Communications)
The standout freshman has been Princeton’s go-to hitter from day one, leading the team in kills in 10 of its 13 matches and ranking third in the EIVA with 3.67 kills per set. Though he grew up in Colorado – where boys’ volleyball is not a sanctioned high school varsity sport – Kessel grew up with the game through his father John, who works for USA Volleyball and often was Cody’s teammate in the summers, playing two-on-two volleyball on grass or sand courts.
 
“I really got good when I started playing doubles in the summer …  that was the biggest influence on my game,” Kessel said. “You get a lot of touches playing the two-man game – you come back indoors, and your skills are better.”
 
Like most top players, Kessel hit mostly from the strong (left) side when he was younger – it’s an easier target for young setters to aim for, so good hitters get the most opportunities there – but with the Tigers, he has been swinging from all over the court, performing particularly well from the opposite side.
 
“Without him, our offense would be pretty much nothing. It would be very stagnant,” setter Scott Liljestrom ’12 said. “He can hit literally every set on the court, so that gives us a whole lot of versatility, and it really balances out our offense.”

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Frey ’13 leads wrestling at EIWA Championships; men’s swimming seniors earn fourth Ivy title

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Garrett Frey ’13, in black, was the EIWA runner-up at 125 pounds. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
If the wrestling team had any home-mat advantage at this weekend’s EIWA Championships, it came in a strange form. Accustomed to competing in Dillon Gymnasium, the team instead joined 13 other schools in cavernous Jadwin, where no current Tigers had ever competed in a college meet. The thousands of fans were split well between the 14 squads, with a large Lehigh contingent the most vocal group in attendance.
 
But for head coach Chris Ayres and the rest of the Princeton wrestling family, those details were secondary. In bringing the EIWA meet back to Jadwin – which was once a regular host of the championships but had not held it since 1987 – the Tigers made a statement that their program, once nearly left for dead, is committed to being a real threat again.
 
“It’s more than what I expected. It took everybody in the department to pull this off effectively, and to get that support is amazing,” Ayres said. “I feel really privileged to be a part of the athletic department and the University. They really didn’t have to do this – we haven’t done it in 25 years, it’s not a thought on their minds – but they’re people who do the right thing, and it was time.”
 
The Tigers represented their program ably on the mats as well, led by Garrett Frey ’13 and Dan Kolodzik ’12, each of whom performed well enough to qualify for the NCAA tournament. This year will mark the first time Princeton has sent multiple wrestlers to nationals since 2001.
 
Frey, seeded second at 125 pounds, lived up to his ranking this weekend. None of his first three matches lasted the full time, as the junior earned a technical fall in his first bout and pinned his next two opponents to reach Sunday’s championship, where he dropped a close decision to top-seeded Frank Perrelli.
 
Kolodzik also had punched a ticket to the NCAAs by Saturday afternoon, solidifying his bid with an 11-3 victory over Navy’s Bobby Barnhisel in the quarterfinals. Though he lost to two-time national champion Kyle Dake (Cornell) in the semis, he went on to take a career-best fourth-place finish.
 
But not all of the Tigers ended the meet as happily. Chris Perez ’15 and Adam Krop ’14 competed in large braces after badly injuring their right knees in February. Krop, clearly not at full strength, managed to win his first match, but re-injured his knee when he was taken down hard by eventual champion Matthew Mariacher (American University) late in his quarterfinal bout and hobbled off of the mat.
 
Perez also defeated his first opponent, but not long after Krop’s injury, Perez aggravated his own knee on the same mat and had to be carried off of the surface. Both young wrestlers conceded medical forfeits in their final matches, casting a disappointing shadow over what had been very successful seasons.
 
“This day’s been really hard, watching them sitting in the corner and wondering what’s going to happen next,” Ayres said. “We pulled the plug on both of them – they both wanted to continue, but it just wasn’t the right thing. They just have so much pride, they want to represent the University and themselves, and they don’t want to quit.”

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Three-peat champion women’s basketball dominates with defense

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With blowout victories over Harvard and Dartmouth this weekend, the women’s basketball team clinched a third straight conference championship and became the nation’s first team — men’s or women’s — to officially secure a trip to the NCAA Tournament. That Princeton won the league title is not much of a surprise, but how it has happened should raise eyebrows.
 
The Tigers are 38-1 in conference play over the past three seasons, and their dominance has reached new heights this year. All but one of Princeton’s Ivy League triumphs have come by at least 25 points (see graph), and its average margin of victory in conference play is a whopping 32.9 points per game, far and away the most dominant performance this league has ever seen. The current point differential record for a 14-game season is held by 1996-97 Harvard, at +22.1. (The 2010-11 and ‘09-10 Tigers rank second and third.)
 
“It’s crazy,” head coach Courtney Banghart said. “I told them, don’t take that for granted — this is because of how you practice. It’s pretty special.”
 
Even with the conference crown in hand, Princeton still has something to play for. The difference between 14-0 and 13-1 would likely mean at least one seed line, maybe two, when the NCAA Tournament brackets are released in two weeks, which will be very important for a program looking for its first March Madness victory. But if recent results are any indication, closing strong will not be a challenge for the Tigers, even with two of their toughest games of the season coming next week at Yale and Brown.
 
Don’t be fooled by the gaudy scoring numbers: Princeton’s true strength lies at the defensive end. With a pressure-oriented defense and players who take advantage of opportunities in transition, the Tigers play fast-paced games, which lead to more scoring chances for each team. Their 78 points per game have come on an average of 72.4 possessions — still impressive, but hardly other-worldly. The offense revolves around a crazy ability to rebound; the Tigers have grabbed an unheard-of 49 percent of their own misses in league play (a normal rate is in the low 30s).

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Men’s squash roars back to shock Trinity and win national title

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Princeton ended Trinity’s 13-year reign as national champion. (Photo: Courtesy Athletic Communications)
When I arrived at the Jadwin squash courts on Sunday, about 45 minutes before the national championship match began, I knew that my only chance to actually see any squash being played would be to grab a seat right away and stay there no matter what. I settled for a spot near the left side of Court 3, which also offered a view of the neighboring court’s scoreboard. As it turned out, I picked the perfect place.
 
Sure enough, the crowd was standing-room-only well before the match began, as bystanders piled three rows deep behind the seats (and shorter fans were left to suffer). Each time I thought people couldn’t be packed any tighter, more came. Princeton had the home support, but the Trinity dynasty travels quite well, and plenty of fans were wearing blue and gold and cheering at inconvenient times.
 
Since nobody alone could see more than a small piece of the story as it was being written, text messages flew through the C-floor of Jadwin, relaying news of a 3-0 victory by Tyler Osborne ’15 to the outer courts and a 3-2 squeaker by Clay Blackiston ’12 back inside as Princeton took an early 2-1 lead. But in the second shift, the tone shifted. Fans on the outer courts said No. 2 Chris Callis ’12 had to win; inside, he lost in five. When Samuel Kang ’15 fell in four excruciatingly long games, Trinity was up 4-2 and needed only one more win to retain its crown.
 
New players brought a new wave of energy. Dylan Ward ’14 continued a stellar season, winning games two, three, and four easily at No. 7, while No. 1 Todd Harrity ’13 took care of business in three. That left only Kelly Shannon ’12 and Reinhold Hergeth, as hundreds and hundreds of people converged on my Court 3 for a glimpse of the action.
 
Shannon, who missed the early part of the season with a shoulder injury, has an appearance that is more “baseball catcher” than “squash player.” But his incredible hands make up for any shortcoming in agility, and after falling behind 8-4, the senior blitzed back to win the first game 13-11. He dominated the second game as well, including a behind-the-back volley to win a late point that seemed an omen of good fortune.
 
But Princeton’s seniors, including Shannon, knew better than to assume anything. In 2009, the last time the Tigers reached the championship — and the last time it was held at Jadwin — Mauricio Sanchez ’09 was ahead 2-0 in the deciding match before Trinity’s Baset Chaudhry pulled off a shocking comeback. Seven times in the last 13 years, the Tigers faced Trinity in the finals; seven times, they came up short.

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Men’s basketball upsets Harvard, women’s hoops dominates

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As Ian Hummer ’13 and the Tigers celebrated, fans stormed the court. Harvard, ranked No. 25 entering the weekend, has lost 23 straight at Jadwin Gym. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
For one night, the men’s basketball team was back in the spotlight.
 
While 2011 was Princeton’s year — the 8-0 start to Ivy League play, the buzzer-beater in the Ivy playoff, and the last-second finish against Kentucky — 2012 had belonged to Harvard. The Crimson won its first eight games and brought a 21-2 record into Jadwin Gymnasium on Saturday, dreaming of a perfect Ivy League season after sweeping the first half of conference play.
 
Most eyes were on the nationally ranked visitors, who could have avenged their playoff loss and taken a nearly insurmountable lead in the Ivy League by completing a road sweep of the league’s traditional powers, Penn and Princeton. But in front of the ESPNU cameras, the Tigers — sitting at just 3-3 in league play — stole the show. After trailing by five points at halftime, Princeton evened the game early in the second period, setting the stage for a back-and-forth slugfest that had 5,266 fans — the largest crowd at Jadwin in almost exactly two years — constantly on their feet. After 10 minutes of tense action, the Tigers smacked Harvard with a 13-3 run late in the game and held on for a 70-62 victory.
 
Whether or not Princeton is the second-best team in the Ivy League will be determined in the next four weeks; Penn and Yale have better records and head-to-head victories, though Princeton will be at home for both rematches. But after handing Harvard four of its first last five Ivy League losses — and winning 23 consecutive meetings at Jadwin Gymnasium — it seems clear that the Tigers are the Crimson’s toughest matchup.
 
Princeton has gone through its share of struggles offensively this season, and against a Harvard defense that came in allowing just 53.6 points per game — third-fewest in the nation — it seemed likely that the Tigers would struggle. Instead, they dropped 70 points on 61 possessions, one of their best performances this year. The method was familiar to any Jadwin veteran: Cut to the hoop.
 
“Harvard likes to get up into the passing lanes, and that’s when our backdoor offense is huge for us,” point guard T.J. Bray ’14 said. “A lot of stuff was open backdoor tonight.”
 

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Win over No. 1 Yale puts men’s squash in the national title picture

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Tyler Osborne ’15 and the Tigers notched an 8-1 victory over No. 1 Yale Feb. 4. (Photo: Beverly Schaefer)
On the C-floor of Jadwin Gymnasium, the men’s squash team’s national championships are listed on a banner, which was last updated in 1993. Since then, the Tigers have claimed eight individual titles and reached the team championship match eight times; still, Princeton has not won the team trophy, often playing the role of bridesmaid during Trinity’s current streak of 13 titles.
 
Many think this year’s Tigers – two of whom were not even alive for Princeton’s last national championship – might be able to add a line to that banner. The team entered the season ranked No. 3 nationally, and a very young No. 1 Trinity squad seemed vulnerable, especially after its 252-match win streak came to an end at then-No. 2 Yale last month.
 
The Tigers faltered against their first top opponent, losing 7-2 at Trinity Feb. 1, but they got a chance to recover against the new top (Bull)dogs this weekend. A determined Princeton squad won three of the first four matches, but after suffering 5-4 losses to Yale in each of the last two years, the hosts could not afford to cede any momentum.
 
Playing at the No. 8 spot, Steve Harrington ’13 – who is also a regular on the baseball team, a rare two-sport combination – won the first two games but fell behind 8-2 in the third. With many of his teammates from the diamond watching, Harrington won six straight points and then staved off multiple game balls before finally winning 14-12.
 
Moments later, No. 1 Todd Harrity ’13 clinched the upset with a 3-0 match that took roughly as long as Harrington’s final game. Princeton went on to sweep the remaining pairings for a dominating 8-1 victory, earning pole position for its first Ivy League title in four years.
 
In two weeks, Princeton will get another chance to snap its 19-year national championship drought, a path that will likely include rematches with the Bulldogs and Bantams. In all three Princeton-Yale-Trinity matches so far, the home team came out on top – and the championship tournament will be held at Jadwin Feb. 17-19.
 
“We know that these are our courts,” Harrington said. “We’re going to have a target on our back, but we’d like to do it at home.”
 
Quick takes
 
  • Two levels higher in Jadwin, the WOMEN’S BASKETBALL team took care of business against Brown (57-45) and Yale (72-47) this weekend, remaining undefeated in conference play. Led by a suffocating, high-energy defense, Princeton could become just the fifth team in Ivy League history to go 14-0, making its juniors and seniors the first players to do so twice (they were 14-0 in 2010). Next week: The Tigers visit second-place Harvard at Lavietes Pavilion, the site of their only Ivy League loss in the last three seasons.

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