Friday, May 29, 2015

Friends And Friendships


TigerBlog looked around the tent at the Grad College last night and saw friends - but not friendships - about to go their separate ways.

It's the inevitability that comes with a graduation that is looming less than a week away. TigerBlog sees it each year under the same tent. Four years, gone in the blink of an eye.

This time, it's the Class of 2015 that will be heading off Princeton's campus and into whatever their next chapter holds for each of them.

The occasion last night was the 18th senior awards banquet, now officially called the Gary Walters ’67 Princeton Varsity Club Senior Awards Banquet.

As is always the case, the banquet is on this Thursday in May, followed in short order by Reunions, Class Day and then graduation. The banquet is the start of a long weekend sprint in which the members of that particular class go from business-as-usual teammates and undergrads to alums in a matter of hours.

And then, after that weekend sprint, they're off. Friends, with friendships that will endure.

It's the best part of Princeton University, and especially Princeton Athletics.

They come here when they're 18, from all over the country and outside the country, completely unaware of how special their time here will be. They leave four years later, having since figured out how special this place is, and with a rock-solid foundation of friendships that will never end.

TigerBlog saw a reinforcement of that Monday at the NCAA men's lacrosse championship game, where Princeton's 1997 team was honored, 18 years after they graduated.

And he saw another reinforcement of that last night at the banquet, in the form of an incredible speech from Jason Garrett, the 1988 Bushnell Cup winner as the Ivy League football Player of the Year and the current head coach of the Dallas Cowboys.

Garrett, who accepted the Citizen Athlete Award for outstanding contribution to sport and society, was so good that it was almost enough to get TigerBlog to root for the Cowboys over the Giants next year. Almost. But not quite.

Like the 1997 men's lacrosse team, Garrett was all about the enduring friendships and teammates that he found while at Princeton, including the one with his center, current Princeton head coach Bob Surace.

Garrett was hilarious at times, and at others he tied that humor into really hard-hitting messages. It was a great combination.

For instance, the former quarterback was talking about all of the great reasons that go into choosing to attend Princeton. In his case, he said, it was because "they threw the ball a lot."

Fairly simple.

Garrett told another story about his last preseason game when he was attempting to make the Cowboy roster as a player. He talked about how Troy Aikman, the starting quarterback, wasn't even dressed for the game and was instead eating a hot dog on the sideline.

He talked about how he went out for the second half, starting on his own 2 yard line. And how the huddle had 11 players - him, nine others trying to make the team and one established starter, Kevin Gogan, who was stuck playing with the group.

How did Garrett describe Gogan? If he walked into this tent, Garrett said, then everyone would immediately think he was the biggest person they ever saw. He was 6-8, 350 pounds. He had a giant head and giants hands.

And as Garrett said, instead of being part of that drive he would much rather "be eating hot dogs too."

Oh, and he called the red-headed Garrett "Red Ball."

And that's where the story took a turn. Garrett talked about how the offense put together three or four first downs and got across midfield. He was feeling pretty good about things during a timeout, and when he came back onto the field, he said he was going to show what a great leader he was. And so he asked the team what snap count they wanted to go on.

That's when Gogan took over.

"Hey Red Ball," he said, "you're the quarterback. You pick the snap count."

The moral? All great teams need leadership. And when you're in a leadership role, Garrett said, you lead. When you're the leader, grasp the mantle of leadership.

It was brilliant.

He also talked about Fred Samara, the men's track and field coach, who worked with Garrett before the NFL combine, when he was trying to improve on his  40 time. What did Samara tell him? You suffer from "finish line anxiety."

Don't worry about the finish line, was the message. Just run.

Garrett was a great part of the banquet, but he wasn't the only part.

This year, unlike years past, there were finalists announced for the Roper Trophy and von Kienbusch Award in advance. The one winner of each award, for the top male and female athletes, were then announced last night.

The finalists were all featured in two videos - produced by John Bullis - that featured comments from each athlete's coach and some highlights of the athlete, with voiceovers that chronicled their accomplishments.

And then, when those were over, the winner was announced. Women's basketball player Blake Dietrick for the women. Men's lacrosse player Mike MacDonald for the men.



Men's tennis player Zack McCourt gave the keynote address, representing the senior athletes. There were other award winners as well, with Tiana Woolridge of the women's volleyball team and Andrew Mills of the men's soccer team honored for service with the Art Lane Award and sprint football player Chris McCord honored for academic achievement. Tara Christie Kinsey, the outgoing Associate Dean of the College, won the Marvin Bressler Award for her work with Princeton's student-athletes.

With that, another banquet had come and gone. It was the first for Mollie Marcoux as Ford Family Director of Athletics, who took over as the host from Gary Walters, who had done so for the first 18.

To TigerBlog, the banquet is always a great measure of time, the sign that another academic year has essentially ended, another trip around the calendar complete.

For TigerBlog, there will be other years at Princeton, other banquets. At least he has no reason to suspect there won't be.

For the senior athletes, they're time as Princeton undergrads are ending for good. They'll all be leaving campus next week.

Friends, heading in all kinds of directions.

Friendships, etched in stone forever.

And that was what the banquet is always about.

Last night was no different. 

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Winding Down

Okay, this really isn't about lacrosse, even if it starts with the final lacrosse top 20 poll of the season.

TigerBlog saw it yesterday. Princeton was 15th.

That's not what stood out though. The poll had 20 teams in it, with their rankings, record and last game. And there it was, national champion Denver first and then 19 teams who all lost their last game.

TigerBlog isn't sure what that's surprising to him. Most teams lose their last game. They have to, or else they'd be the one that won the championship.

It's just that TigerBlog never really noticed it in black and white like that before. One winner, and 19 others who lost their last game.

It seems pretty harsh. Unforgiving.

Not every team loses its last game, of course. Some teams win but don't reach the postseason.

In college basketball, basically everyone loses at the end, because basically everyone is in a conference tournament. Only the Ivy League doesn't have a conference tournament.

TB isn't going to look it up, though he assumes not every team in every conference reaches the conference tournament, meaning it's possible that there are a handful that win their last game.

There was one Ivy League men's basketball team that won its last game of the 2014-15 season. Care to guess which of the eight?

Columbia, Cornell, Brown, Yale and Penn all lost their last regular season game. Yale also lost the league play-off game for the automatic bid.

Dartmouth lost in the first round of the CIT. Harvard lost in the first round of the NCAAs.

That leaves Princeton, who defeated Penn in its last regular season game to end the season. That means that Princeton and Duke, at a minimum, won their last game of the season.

What other Princeton teams won their last games? 

He remembered that men's soccer did, getting a share of the Ivy League title with its 1-0 win over Yale.

Women's volleyball did. So did softball. And that's it.

TigerBlog is talking about games here. Head-to-head, someone won, someone lost.

It's not so bad losing the last game, though. In most cases, it means that at least that team got to the postseason. Even the women's basketball team, who won its first 30, lost its last one.

There are no more games in 2014-15 for Princeton Athletics. That doesn't mean that there are no more competitions.

There are six teams who are still competing, all four rowing teams and both outdoor track and field teams. This is a huge weekend for all six.

For the rowing teams, this weekend is the national championship weekend.

For the women's open crew, that means a trip to Sacramento for the NCAA championships. Princeton is one of three schools to have reached all 19 NCAA women's rowing championships, along with Brown and Washington.

The men's heavyweights and lightweights and the women's lightweights will be much closer to home, competing at the IRA championships in West Windsor. That's the next town from Princeton, which is good, because both men's teams could have big weekends.

Then there's the NCAA track and field regionals. Those are taking place in Jacksonville.

At stake is a trip to the final athletic events of the year, the NCAA track and field championships in Eugene, Ore., in two weeks.

Princeton will have 22 athletes competing in Florida this weekend.

And that will be it for the 2014-15 season for Princeton Athletics.

Oh, there's also the little matter of the senior athlete banquet tonight. It's official name is the Gary Walters ’67 Princeton Varsity Club Senior Award Banquet.

Among the highlights will be the appearance by Dallas Cowboys' head coach - and former Princeton quarterback - Jason Garrett, who is accepting the Citizen Athlete Award for contribution to sport and society, and the announcing of the Roper Trophy and von Kienbusch Award for the top senior male and female athletes.

This year, finalists for both have been announced. For the Roper, it's between five athletes: Quinn Epperly of the football team, Sammy Kang of the squash team, Cody Kessel of the volleyball team, Mike MacDonald of the lacrosse team and Cameron Porter of the soccer team. For the von Kienbusch, it's between Blake Dietrick of the basketball team, Lindsay Graff of the tennis team, Lauren Lazo of the soccer team and Erin McMunn of the lacrosse team.

More on that tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Still Teammates

TigerBlog isn't quite done with lacrosse for the 2015 season just yet. Had it not been for Bill Tierney and his seventh NCAA title, TB would have started yesterday where he starts today.

Princeton's 1997 team was on the turf at Lincoln Financial Field Monday afternoon, honored at halftime as the winner of the NCAA's "Champion of Champions" contest. TigerBlog came down out of the press box to say hello and take a picture of the team.

It's amazing how many players are so instantly recognizable after 18 years. They all have the same exact faces.

One thing that is difficult for TigerBlog all these years later is to remember who was on what team. Was he a freshman in 1997? Didn't he play in 2001? Hadn't he graduated by 1996?

Their faces, though, are the same as ever.

The 1997 team went 15-0 and defeated Maryland 19-7 in the final. The 12-goal margin is still the largest in an NCAA championship game.

And there they were Monday. On the field, together again.

There were 48 players on the team in 1997, and 40 of them were on the field Monday in Philadelphia. They were joined by former assistant coach David Metzbower, now an assistant at North Carolina. And athletic trainer George O'Neil and Bryce Chase, who are both still with the program.

And TigerBlog, of course.

After the brief ceremony at midfield - which included remarks from captain Ben Strutt - the team came off the field and posed for a few pictures. Then it was time to leave the field, as the teams were coming back for the second half.

Did the 1997 team just scatter? Head back upstairs to their seats and their families?

No.

First they gathered in a huddle. Then someone - TigerBlog thinks it was Jon Hess - yelled "1-2-3," to which everyone else responded "let's go Tigers."

It was a wonderful moment. It was the kind of moment that sends shivers down TB's spine.

It was, to him, what Princeton Athletics is all about. Here was a group of men 18 years removed from playing together, and yet they were still teammates.

"1-2-3." "Let's go Tigers."

That could have been any moment of the 1997 season. End of a practice. Start of the second quarter against Rutgers. Any time.

And here they are now, what, in their late 30s, approaching 40, and they've never forgotten who they are to each other.

Princeton Athletics. A great experience for four years. A greater experience for a lifetime.

Okay, more lacrosse stuff.

There were three disputed goal calls in the championship game, which, if you forgot, Denver won 10-5 over Maryland.

If you're a Terp fan, by the way, you can be excused for not being a Tierney fan, now that your team is 0-3 against him in NCAA finals.

Denver had two disallowed goals in the game. One was on an interference on the goalie call that preceded the goal. One was a call that the Denver player left his feet on his own and ended up in the crease. One was a Maryland goal that stood when it was very close to being an in-the-crease violation before the shot.

Of those three, two were Denver goals that didn't stand and one was a Maryland one that did.

TigerBlog has seen the replay of all three plays a bunch of times now. He thinks the interference on the goalie should have been a goal. He thinks Maryland should have been no goal. He thinks the in-the-crease was close and could have gone either way. The fact that that goal also came as time expired in the third quarter added a did-it-beat-the-buzzer dimension to it.

What's TB's point?

He's glad that there's no replay.

The refs made the calls. The game moved on. They didn't affect the outcome.

Had there been replay, the game would have stopped, the refs would have spent forever reviewing the microscopic calls and nobody would be any closer to knowing whether they were right or wrong anyway.

Beyond that, the refs would be hesitant to make calls, fearing what replay might show.

This way is so much better. Make a call. Move on. Do not destroy the flow of the game.

Of course, replay in lacrosse is inevitable. It's coming. The "get it right no matter what" argument will win out.

Except that's not what happens. There is no right or wrong on any of those three calls. The 10 best lacrosse refs could look at those three replays for an hour each and might come back with a 5-5 vote on each call.

Plus, one thing that is obvious is that the Denver player who scored the disallowed goalie interference goal was 100% slashed as it happened, with no call. Nothing is worse than having replay not give you a definitive answer to the situation that is permissible to review while an obvious uncalled penalty has to be left uncalled.

Anyway, that's TB's take on replay in lacrosse.

What else?

Maryland's women won the championship Sunday night, which meant that a Maryland win in the men's game would have meant that the Terps would have matched Princeton's 1994 feat of sweeping  both championships. That, of course, did not happen, so the 1994 Tigers stand alone still.

Speaking of the women's game, Maryland ended the semifinal by stalling the final 7:20 or so and the final by stalling the final three minutes or so.

There are no timing rules in the women's game, so stalling is a great tactic, especially if you can do it, much like the "four corners" pre-shot clock basketball strategy was a winning one for Dean Smith.

What it doesn't make for is good theater. There wasn't one person in the press box at the men's Final Four who enjoyed watching it, and in fact it drew nothing but universal scorn.

This isn't what you want from your showcase event. TigerBlog won't pretend to know enough about the way the women's game works to say how the rules should be tweaked and what would be effective.

He does know that if the women's game is trying to market itself, it needs to do something. He's never talked to Princeton women's coach Chris Sailer about this. Actually, next time he sees her he will.

And that, it appears, is it for 2015.

TigerBlog will remember it for how cold it was all spring. He'll remember the epic performances of Kip Orban and Mike MacDonald and the ridiculous way Zach Currier plays lacrosse. He'll remember the agonizing realization that Princeton wasn't going to be in the NCAA tournament when the selections were being announced.

He'll remember that he wanted to tweet something like "great job by Sergio Perkovic with four goals as Notre Dame tied Denver in the semifinals. It still left him 12 goals back of Orban." TigerBlog is bitter that Orban wasn't first-team All-America.

He'll remember a fairly entertaining NCAA tournament across the board that lacked a truly great game, which is fine, since the 2015 NCAA tournament was all about Bill Tierney and the history he made by taking Denver to the title.

And he'll remember working at his 21st Final Four in 24 years.

Barring something unforeseen, he'll be back next year, again at the Linc.

Hopefully Princeton will be there with him. He will start 2016 optimistic about that, as he always does. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Bill Tierney, The Greatest Ever


Bill Tierney is kneeling.

TigerBlog is in the Lincoln Financial Field press box. He's across the field and on the other side of the field from the Denver bench, and his job is to input the stats for the game.

He's focused on that task, yet he continues to glance down to see Tierney, in his familiar kneel. And TigerBlog chuckles, in a barely audible way.

He's seen this a million times before, Tierney as he kneels. He has picture after picture of it on his computer.

He can't help but think back to all the times he's seen this before, all of the great days he and Tierney have had together, all of the great Memorial Days he had with Princeton lacrosse.

Now TigerBlog's mind wanders a bit more, between entering stats. So much of TB's life the last two-plus decades has been spent in the sport of lacrosse. So much of his children's lives have been spent in the sport of lacrosse. So many of the friendships TigerBlog has made have been because of the sport of lacrosse.

And none of it would have happened had it not been for Bill Tierney.  

Now the game has ended, Denver 10, Maryland 5. TigerBlog is trying to wrap up the stats, email the game files to where they need to go, all of the stuff that happens when a game ends. As he does this, his phone is in his pocket.

It's set on vibrate. It buzzes. It's buzzes again. Over and over and over.

By the time he checks it, he's heard from 11 different people, and they all have basically said the same thing. Bill Tierney is the greatest coach ever.

TigerBlog can't begin to use enough superlatives to explain what exactly Tierney accomplished yesterday.

Sure, he won his seventh NCAA Division I title, the most ever by a head coach. He's also the only coach in Division I history to win a men's lacrosse championship at two different schools.

But that's not even half the story. It's not like he won a championship at Johns Hopkins and then went to Syracuse. It's not like he won at Duke and then went to Virginia.

He did it in the hardest way possible. He did it in a way that no other elite lacrosse coach has ever shown the courage to attempt, let alone accomplish. Would any other coach who has won an NCAA championship give up all of his current institutional advantages, move 2,000 miles west and start from scratch, while running the risk of failing?

Maybe they would, but they haven't.

So let's go back to 1987.

Tierney left Hopkins - where the Blue Jays won two NCAA titles in his three years as an assistant - to become the head coach at Princeton.

It had been 20 years since Princeton had won an Ivy League championship. The team had never played in the NCAA tournament. Princeton was an after-thought, a non-factor in the national lacrosse landscape.

Enter Tierney. He told his first recruiting class that it would win a national championship, and then he went out and did, defeating Syracuse in 1992. It was his fifth year at Princeton.

By the time he left after 22 seasons, he had won six NCAA titles, played in eight championship games, reached 10 Final Fours and took home 13 Ivy League championships.

Then, after the 2009 season - a year Princeton had been ranked No. 1 nationally during the season -he shocked the lacrosse world and headed west, to Denver.

When he arrived, he took over a team that had only been Division I since 1999. It had made two NCAA tournament appearances, both after winning the long-defunct Great Western Lacrosse League. It's only two NCAA games were both losses, both against Maryland, neither all that close.

This is what he inherited. It would take him one more year than it did at Princeton.

And now here's what he's done in six years with the Pioneers: six years, six NCAA tournament appearances, four Final Fours and now one NCAA title. Add it together and it's a total of seven NCAA titles, nine finals, 14 Final Fours.

No one else in the sport can match it. Add in the degree of difficulty of doing it at two places had no reason to expect to play for national championships when he arrived and it's just extraordinary.

So why is he so successful? Why has he been able to do this?

Yes, he's an extraordinary X's and O's guy, but so are a lot of other coaches. That doesn't explain it, even if Tierney has made some of the most copied innovations in the sport.

If you asked TigerBlog to explain Tierney's success, he would say two things. First, Bill Tierney is able to manage an individual while managing the overall organization at the same time better than anyone he's ever met.

TigerBlog knows this first-hand. In his 20 years of working with him at Princeton, Tierney had a way of making TigerBlog feel like what he was doing was essential to the success of the program. If he could make his athletic communications contact feel that way, what must it be like to be one of his players?

And second? Once you are one of his guys, you are one of his guys forever, and you are left with a feeling that you never, ever want to let him down, never want to fail to live up to his standards and expectations.

Again, TigerBlog knows this first-hand. He remembers one time in his 20 years of working with him that he got that look from him (after he made a joke in one of those NCAA tournament pregame meetings), the one that said "what are you doing?" That was a long time ago, and it still gives TB the shivers to think about it.

Tierney said after the game that he didn't want them to put on his tombstone how many national titles he won. He wanted them to put on his tombstone that his players loved him.

Think they do?

The NCAA honors the team that won the championship 25 years earlier at each championship game. The NCAA vacated the 1990 title that Syracuse won, so there was no team to honor.

As a result, the NCAA had a contest to determine the "Champion of Champions," which allowed fans to essentially vote for the greatest team ever. The winner was Princeton's 1997 15-0 team.

So there were the Tigers, 40 out of 48 of them from the team that won 18 years ago, on the field in the final minutes of the first half, waiting to be honored at halftime.

As the final minute of the first half ticked down, Denver was up 5-3, Maryland ball. As the final 10 seconds wound off the clock, the members of the 1997 Princeton team leaned out a bit, as if they were on the sideline of their own game. Then Maryland's Henry West let a shot fly, one that was headed into the net, only to have Denver goalie Ryan La Plante knock it away as time expired.

As La Plante made his save, the entire Princeton contingent cheered. In fact, they almost exploded onto the field.

Why wouldn't they?

Their coach was that much closer to another NCAA championship. They were his players, sort of cousins to the ones who were about to win their own championship.

They were his players, and they love him. Still. All these years later. His haters - and he has plenty of them - will never understand that.

So, yes, they'll be able to put that on his tombstone.

They can also put that he is, without question, the greatest coach the sport of lacrosse has ever known.

What he did yesterday leaves no doubt about that.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Thoughts On All-America And Final Four No. 21

When TigerBlog updates the men's lacrosse record book, he's going to put down that Kip Orban was a 2015 first-team All-America.

He was, right? He was first-team All-America. Had to be.

After all, he led all Division I midfielders in goals with 45. No other middie in Division I had more than 40.

He did this on a team that was ranked in the top 15 most of the year and would be all accounts have been the next team in the NCAA tournament. For that matter, Princeton would have been in had Johns Hopkins not won the Big Ten tournament - instead, the Blue Jays did, and now they're in the Final Four.

Orban also had a .413 shooting percentage, an incredible number for a player who almost never took a shot anywhere near the goal. His 45 goals were the Princeton single-season record for a middie - nine more than Josh Sims, who had the next-best season, with 36 in 2000.

Oh, and as his coach said, every opponent who played Princeton started out knowing it had to stop Orban and fellow senior Mike MacDonald. TigerBlog will get to him in a minute. 

So yeah, Orban was first-team All-America. At least in TigerBlog's book he was.

Unfortunately, to paraphrase Feech Lamana to Paulie Walnuts in a classic moment of "The Sopranos," TigerBlog's book doesn't mean, well, anything in this case.

When TigerBlog first saw the list, he figured Orban and MacDonald weren't going to be as high up as he wanted them to be. And he was right.

Orban was a second-team All-America, which is still a great accomplishment, especially for a player who flew so far under the radar his first three years.

Of course, Orban deserved to be first-team. TigerBlog gets that it's not just about numbers, but hey, Orban's were so off the charts that in this case they speak for themselves.

There were four first-team All-America midfielders: Chad Tutton of North Carolina, Myles Jones of Duke, Connor Buczek of Cornell and Sergio Perkovic of Notre Dame. TigerBlog will say that Orban should have been picked before any of them except Jones, whose ability to feed really sets him apart.

More Orban numbers: His 45 goals are 9.5 more than the average of the four first-team picks, who had 35.5 per man. And his shooting percentage is .107 better than the that of Tutton, the best of the first-teamers.

As for MacDonald, TigerBlog will say that this is a very, very strong year on attack. MacDonald set the Princeton single-season record for points with 78, beating out Hall-of-Famers and first-team All-Americas to do so. He is also fifth in Division I in points per game and sixth in goals per game.

Should he have been first-team? A case could be made.

MacDonald ended up as an honorable mention All-America. There were 13 attackmen who earned first-, second- or third-team honors, and there were 12 more who earned honorable mention.

The honorable mention group is really, really impressive, which shows you what a strong year it was at the position. Honestly, TigerBlog isn't sure what order he would have put them all in, but it seems to him that breaking the Princeton record for points in a season at least warrants third-team All-America.

The men's lacrosse season ends this weekend in Philadelphia with a Final Four that begins tomorrow with Denver and Notre Dame in one semifinal and Maryland and Hopkins in the other. \

TigerBlog will be there, for his 21st Final Four in the last 24 years. For the record, the three he missed were 1995, 1999 and 2003.

He'll be part of the official stats crew for this Final Four, for the 11th straight year. The Division II and III finals will be Sunday, and the DI championship game will be Monday.

It's one of his favorite weekends each year, and he's been lucky to see some of the greatest lacrosse games ever on some of these Memorial Day weekends.

This will be the 21st Final Four for TB, and the 14th that will feature a Bill Tierney-coached team. TB was there with Tierney for 10 of them with Princeton, and now Tierney has taken Denver to the big show for the fourth time in his six years there.

The Pioneers have a lot going for them as they head to Philadelphia, starting with the best face-off man in the country in freshman Trevor Baptiste. Add to that an offense that can be unstoppable, especially man up, and a very good defense anchored by a goalie who can be as good as anyone, and that's a pretty good blueprint for success.

Notre Dame, though, is the No. 1 seed. The Irish just held Albany to just 10 goals, or seven below the Danes' average. Notre Dame also has scorers of its own, including two first-team All-Americas.

Denver has never made it past the semifinals. Notre Dame has never won a championship. One of them is guaranteed to play Monday.

The other semifinal has Maryland, the top defensive team in the country, against a Johns Hopkins team that lost to Princeton in February and has six losses but is playing as well as anyone, witness its seven-game winning streak.

TigerBlog is obviously rooting for Denver (though his stats will be completely impartial, don't worry). It would be an incredible accomplishment for Tierney to win an NCAA title at a second school, especially one in the West.

Oh, and he stumbled on an interesting note this week. The record for points in a career at Princeton is 247, held by Kevin Lowe, who graduated in 1994. The record for points in a career at Denver is also 247, held by current senior Wes Berg. He needs one point this weekend to get the all-time Tierney record.

TigerBlog thinks he'll get it, and a lot more. He likes to Denver to win it all. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Banquet Forecast

TigerBlog likes to say that the average temperature of the annual senior awards banquet is 70, since it seems like it's either 90 or 50.

He hadn't looked at the 10-day forecast for Princeton until just now, and he chuckled when he saw that the forecast for the banquet one week from today is for a high of 93. For the record, TigerBlog will take the under on that one and is predicting a pleasant, comfortable evening.

This year's banquet - the 18th such event - will be unlike any of the others in many respects.

For starters, it has a new official name: The Gary Walters ’67 Princeton Varsity Club Awards Banquet.

To TigerBlog, this is fitting. As someone who has been around for all 17 banquets to date, TB knows better than anyone that this event was Gary's from the start. His fingerprints have been all over it since Day 1.

It was his idea. He saw its growth. He was always the voice on the night of banquet.

Gary engineered its evolution from its small beginnings in Jadwin Gym to what it is now, a wonderful night of celebration of Princeton Athletics and the graduating seniors, with a crowd well over 500, in a pristine setting at the Grad College.

So that's one way this year's banquet will be different.

The other is that Gary is no longer the Ford Family Director of Athletics. His replacement, Mollie Marcoux, will be presiding - is that the right word? - over her first banquet.

Mollie herself is a former von Kiensbusch Award winner, after her career in soccer and hockey here. She was the lone winner in 1991.

She is, in fact, the second Princeton AD to have won one of the two major departmental awards. Royce Flippen shared the Roper Trophy in 1956.

There will be some subtle changes instituted by Mollie this year, such as only having one senior give a keynote address as opposed to two in years past.

Oh, and there will be one major one. A major, major one.

In the past, the Roper and von Kiensbusch winners were announced at the banquet. There could be one winner. There have been as many as seven.

This year, there will be a radical change.

The Department of Athletics will be announcing the finalists for the two major awards today. At the banquet, there will be one winner of each announced.

It's sort of like the Academy Awards, right? Everyone will know the nominees. Nobody will know the winner.

There will be four women and five men who will be finalists. At the banquet there will be a video feature with highlights and the accomplishments of each, and then the winner be named.

There will be other awards given.

The Class of 1916 Cup to the letterwinner with the highest GPA. The Art Lane Citizen Athlete Award, given to an undergraduate (or more than one) for outstanding contribution to sport and society.

And then there are the Bressler and Citizen Athlete Awards.

By the way, all of these awards, other than the Roper, von Kienbusch and Class of 1916, were Gary's brainchild.

There's a long description of the Bressler Award on the Princeton Varsity Club website. Basically it goes to a member of the University community who has done a great deal for the athletes.

This year's winner is Tara Christie Kinsey, the outgoing Associate Dean of the College. Trust TigerBlog. This is a very deserving winner.

Then there's the Citizen Athlete Award. This one goes to an alum for outstanding contribution to sport and society.

And this year's winner? Dallas Cowboys' head coach Jason Garrett. 

TigerBlog has the same feeling at each PVC banquet. Another year come and gone already? He's sure he'll feel the same way when he gets to the Grad College one week from tonight.

On a perfect late spring evening, right?


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

At The 30th

It was 30 years ago today that TigerBlog was given a diploma by the University of Pennsylvania.

Graduation then at Penn was held in the Philadelphia Civic Center, a building that no longer exists. That's one way of knowing that it's been awhile since you've been in college. The building for the ceremony is gone.

It was a Monday, TB remembers. It was a pretty nice day.

When it was over, TigerBlog went back to his dorm room - in one of those three high rise buildings that you see up in the distance if you're at the Penn athletic facilities - and started packing up.

He had a Volkswagen rabbit back then, and he couldn't fit all of his stuff into the small car. When it got to be full, he just threw everything else in the garbage.

He can still remember getting rid of this small wooden stool. He liked it, but it wouldn't fit in the car. Plus, it wasn't very functional. It just seemed like a waste to get rid of it though.

Then TigerBlog left Philadelphia, heading north on 95. Somewhere shortly after he got on the highway, he had the rather chilling thought of "now what?"

Sure, he was working at the newspaper then. He'd already been there for two years.

Still, he wasn't thinking of that as a full-time, lifelong career. He wasn't sure what he was going to do.

He started out at Penn with the idea of going to law school, but that never panned out. He stumbled into sportswriting and liked it, but he figured there was something else out there for him when he actually, well, grew up.

That was 30 years ago. He remembers it so well, the feeling of being able to do anything, go anywhere, start down any path.

Now it's 30 years later.

Had there been a test back on graduation day and he was asked this question: What do you think you will wear to your 30th reunion here, he's pretty sure he would not have written down "a Princeton Athletics shirt."


Yes, but that's what he was wearing when he walked on the Penn campus last weekend. It wasn't quite a coincidence. Yeah, he did it to be a bit of a contrarian.

Somewhere along the line, TigerBlog went from having spent more time on the Penn campus in his life to having spent more time on the Princeton campus, even after living on campus for four full years. Whenever it was, it was long after TB's allegiance shifted from red and blue to orange and black.

TigerBlog connected with two his Penn friends, Charlie Frohman and Rob Lustrin. They spent the afternoon walking around the campus, doing what people do at a reunion - talking about old times, people they knew, stories that may or may not have been exactly how they remembered.

The three walked into Steinberg-Dietrich Hall, the home of the Wharton School of Business, of which both Charlie and Rob are grads. They walked in and saw a classroom on the right, and all three said the same exact thing, that they had had Legal Studies in there.

Charlie is a wildly successful businessman, and he gave an interesting answer to TB when he asked him if he uses what he learned in that building in his day-to-day work. Charlie's answer was that he learned to be successful among a highly competitive, high achieving student population and that that left him prepared to be successful in business as much as the academic side.

Rob, a lawyer, pointed out that he uses the stuff he learned in law school every day.

The three met a man who was back for his 65th reunion, which made him about 87 years old or so, though he looked 10-15 years younger. He glanced at the "Princeton Athletics" logo on TB's shirt and said "who let you in here?"

Penn is a great university. TigerBlog had a very good experience at Penn. It's just that he didn't feel like he was one of "them" at his 30th. Nope, he thought more like he was one of "us."

Princeton is just a different kind of place. And at no time is this clearer than during Reunions (the ones with a capital R).

Just out of curiosity, but does anyone think that any alum is showing up at Reunions next week wearing a shirt from another school? Just a hunch, but no.

This campus just feels different when the alumni are back. There is an energy and excitement, a sense of loyalty here that just isn't easily matched by other schools.

So, Princetonians, that's something you shouldn't take for granted when you're here next week. Or ever.

It's a dynamic that TigerBlog has never fully understood, this eternal loyalty to the school, the unbreakable identification with each specific class.

To those who are graduating this year, perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea to write down where you think you'll be in 30 years.

To those coming back for their 30th - or 20th or 25h or 10th or whatever - wear the Reunion stuff.

And remember that your college is a little different than the others. In a pretty special way.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Remarkable Fred Samara

If you were to walk into TigerBlog's office - and the door is always open - you could walk to the other two offices that make up the Office of Athletic Communications without having to go back out into the hallway.

The OAC ends at the third office. There's a wall there, and head men's basketball coach Mitch Henderson is on the other side of it. Next to Mitch is compliance assistant Kelly Widener.

There was a time that the OAC actually extended all the way to the end of Widener's office. The OAC had four desks in its back room, plus a little side storage area and then another office that opened out into the hallway, an office that was once the home of Princeton's marketing director.

The entry way into the back offices then was the size of a door opening, though there was no actual door there. TigerBlog's office has a door that he can close to shut himself off from the rest of the OAC, though he rarely does.

Anyway, there was a little height chart that was on the inside of the frame to the non-existent door to the back room. It actually was just a pencil mark and then a person's name, there to denote the height of basically anyone who wanted to be included.

About eight feet off the ground somebody scribbled "Ben, age 12."

The "Ben" in question was Ben Samara, who wasn't quite eight-feet tall at the age of 12 but who certainly was tall.

Ben is the son of Fred Samara, the longtime coach of men's track and field at Princeton. Ben was a regular in Jadwin Gym as a kid.

Ben Samara has lived his whole life around Princeton track and field. And he certainly was a kid when TB first met him. A big kid, but a kid.

TigerBlog learned yesterday that Ben is now the head track and field coach at Princeton High School. His father is still the head coach at Princeton University.

Where did TB learn this?

In the video interview with Samara on goprincetontigers.com.

It's an interesting Q&A with Samara, who is tied for the longest current tenure among head coaches here, with, of course, Peter Farrell, the women's track and field coach who started here on the same day in 1977.

Has Fred slowed at all lately?

Well, Princeton won 11 Ivy League championships this academic year, and Fred won three of them - in cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field. It's the "triple crown" of Ivy League track and field championships, and only two coaches have ever pulled it off.

Here's your hint - the both started at Princeton on the same day.

Farrell has done it twice with the Princeton women. Samara has now done it seven times with the Princeton men.

The video piece on Samara is a very interesting, somewhat revealing look into the man who has overseen so much success during his time here. He talks about his coaching philosophies, his own experiences as an athlete (including the 1976 Olympic Games), his mentors who helped develop as an athlete and many other subjects, including Farrell.

Samara's resume at Princeton is unbelievable.

He has coached 38 Heps team championship teams between the three sports. He has coached NCAA champions. He has coached Olympians.

For TigerBlog, the big question is how does the fire stay lit as long as it has for coaches like Samara and Farrell. When TigerBlog asked the same question of Bill Tierney, his answer was that each year is its own challenge.

Perhaps the same applies to Samara and Farrell.

Track and field is grueling, perhaps the most grueling of any college sport. It's even more grueling for the coaches than the athletes, TB supposes.

It is one meet after another, and each one requires the coach to figure out whom to put in what event, what point of the season it is for each athlete, what the expectations are for each come the important meets. And then one championship event leads directly into the early-season of the next sport, with little time to recharge. To do this year after year, and to do it at the consistently high level that Princeton track and field has achieved, is even more startling.

As TigerBlog watched the video, he couldn't help but wonder how many athletes have competed for Fred Samara and if he and Peter have coached more athletes than anyone else ever to coach at Princeton. It's likely, with large squad sizes combined with long, long tenures.

TigerBlog sees them every day, the two track and field coaches. They walk by his office one way and then back again. They stop in more than most.

They'll come in just to hang out, Peter more than Fred. With Peter, it's a daily occurrence.

Fred stopped by yesterday. He sat down for a few minutes, joked a little, and then was on his way.

After all, the NCAA regionals are coming up in little more than a week. And then there are the NCAA championships. And then it'll start again.

Another year. Three more championships on his record.

And then another year. And another challenge.

For the remarkable Fred Samara.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Unofficial Champ

TigerBlog wants to talk all about the last episode ever of "Mad Men," which aired last night, ending the show's seven-season, 92-episode run.

And here's everything TB knows about it: The show as set in the 1960s, everyone smoked and it was about advertising.

TigerBlog never watched any of those 92 episodes all the way through. He probably saw less than 60 minutes of the show total.

Contrast that with Derek Jones, Princeton's outstanding men's basketball play-by-play announcer and all-around good man.

Each Sunday night, Derek has tweeted update after update, and he tweeted last night at 8:00 about how he was ready for "one more go-round."

When TB texted Derek about the show before it aired, this was the response he got:
"It's my favorite show ever. Own each season on DVD. I'm definitely very pumped for the finale. My only hesitation about the show tonight is there are  so many ways the finale could end that it may be disappointing. Hope it's not a Sopranos finish."

TigerBlog has never watched "Mad Men." He knows people who have never watched "The Sopranos" or "Homeland" - (at least the first two seasons of "Homeland" - and he always says the same thing: "How could you have missed that? Those are the greatest shows ever."

Well, those two, plus "Hill Street Blues." And "Breaking Bad."

In reality, people go their own way when it comes to TV shows.

For some, they saw a few minutes of "The Sopranos" and it didn't click, in much the same way that TigerBlog never got into "Mad Men" or any number of other shows.

TigerBlog has gotten into "Parenthood," which just ended its six-season run on real TV. He doesn't know a soul who watched it at any point of those six years, and in all honesty he's not sure he ever heard of it.

He stumbled onto it on Netflix, and he zoomed through the 13 episodes of Season 1. This leaves him 90 episodes away from being done. That seems like a lot.

So anyway, if you were into "Mad Men," TB hopes the last episode was tremendous.

These days, there are an endless number of choices for TV shows, between Netflix and on-demand and all. It's not like it was when TB was a kid, when a show was on Tuesday at 8 or Thursday at 10 and that was that, either you saw it or didn't.

TB can't figure out why he takes to some shows and never gets past the first 15 minutes of the first episode of others. He'll consider that while he tears through the next five seasons of "Parenthood."

Maybe in some way, contemporary television and contemporary Princeton athletes have something in common. There's something for everyone.

Princeton has 38 sports, which compete in wildly different ways, venues, cultures and all. The sport-by-sport drop-down menu on goprincetontigers.com is like the Netflix menu, right?

Anyway, of those 38 sports, all but five compete for an Ivy League championship. The five that don't are men's water polo, women's water polo, women's lightweight rowing, sprint football and men's volleyball.

And of those 33 sports, all have crowned a champion for the 2014-15 academic year. The last three were decided yesterday, when Yale won the men's heavyweight rowing, Cornell won the men's lightweight rowing and Brown won the women's open rowing.

Princeton finished second in heavies, second in women's open and third in men's lightweights.

With the end of the Ivy League seasons, the unofficial all-sports points championship
is now, well, official.

And this year, for the 28th time in 29 years, the winner is Princeton.

The Tigers had 208 points, outdistancing Harvard, who had 190.5. The Crimson had won last year, ending Princeton's 27-year winning streak. No other school had more than 137 points.

Princeton finished with 11 Ivy League championships, one more than Harvard. The next-best was four.

Princeton's 11 Ivy championship teams, for the record, were: men's soccer, field hockey, men's cross country, men's indoor track and field, women's basketball, men's swimming and diving, women's swimming and diving, men's outdoor track and field, men's lacrosse, women's tennis and women's lacrosse.

And that's that for the Ivy League in 2014-15.

And as for "Mad Men?" Here's Derek's take on the finale:

"When I originally watched the ending, I didn’t like it. I thought it was too vague in the vain of 'The Sopranos' finish. However, after sitting on it for a bit, I thought it was a good show. It’s evident Don went back to advertising at some point and came up with the 1971 Coke commercial for McCann Erickson.

"My biggest problem with the last show was how they used Don throughout it. His ex-wife is dying of cancer and his kids clearly need him, but he is off driving cars and going on yoga retreats. I would have liked to have seen him actually go back home on the show tonight and deal with the issues instead of the audience needing to assume that he did so.

"Overall, I thought he worked it out in the long run. The show’s two most important characters are Don and Peggy. Don’s interactions with Peggy were always meaningful and typically led episodes to important moments and that was the case again tonight.

"As a whole, the main characters mostly received appropriate conclusions at that moment in time. 

"For whatever reason, it seems like shows struggle with the series finale and coming up with a finish that satisfies the fans. However, I thought this did the trick and was a rather reasonable conclusion to the series.

"I’ll definitely miss it."

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Pep Rally

What one thing could an adult see that would immediately turn that adult back into a child?

Before TigerBlog answers, let him say that perhaps he's not the right one to ask this question, given the fact that even into his 50's, he 1) thinks the perfect drink for any social occasion is Yoo-Hoo, 2) loves when he's flipping through the channels and stumbles on the start of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, especially one with Yosemite Sam and 3) can recite Dr. Seuss books from memory.

So let's go with the assumption that he's talking about normal adults here.

So what is it that can transform a normal adult back into a child? He asks this in a good way. Not a brat. And he doesn't mean immaturity. Into a young, optimistic, wide-eyed child?

And the answer is:

The ice cream truck.

C'mon, admit it. Go ahead. It's okay.

You get a bit nostalgic when you hear the bell ring on the truck, before you can ever see it in your neighborhood. It takes you back to when you were a kid and you'd hear those same bells, and you had to run to find your mother and get a dollar or two before the truck passed by your street.

Then, when the truck stopped, you looked at the menu on the side, with the pictures where everything looked so cool and inviting. And then? You got the same thing you always got. 

Yesterday afternoon around 4 in the apron outside of DeNunzio Pool and Jadwin Gym, the ice cream truck stayed parked and nobody needed to get any money from a parent. Nope, this time it was free.

The occasion was a bit of a pep rally, one to celebrate the success of Princeton's spring athletic teams and to give the women's lacrosse team a send-off as it left by bus for the short trip to Trenton-Mercer Airport, where its charter flight to Raleigh-Durham waited to take the Tigers to the NCAA quarterfinals against Duke.

The big winner from the ice cream truck appeared to be the vanilla ice cream between the two chocolate chip cookies. Or the snow-cones.

Luis Nicalao, the water polo coach whose own women's team competed in the NCAA tournament a week ago, stared longingly at the big picture of an ice cream sandwich on the side of the truck. TigerBlog knows for a fact that multiple people went back for seconds.

It was a nice pep rally, a celebration of a very good spring. It was a light moment for the women's lacrosse team, but when the bus pulled away, the trip became all business.

Princeton is 16-3 and playing at its very best when it needs to most. The Tigers defeated Fairfield and No. 6 Stony Brook last weekend on Long Island to reach the quarterfinals.

Princeton has won eight straight, finishing its 7-0 run through the league and winning the Ivy League tournament along the way. Of the five Ivy League teams to play in the NCAA tournament between the men and women, the Princeton women are the only ones to make it through the first weekend.

Erin McMunn enters the game tied with Lindsey Biles, a 2005 grad, for second all-time at Princeton with 221 career points. It'll take a pretty big effort to catch Crista Samaras for first, as she has 270, but still, with all of the great players who have ever played at Princeton - three NCAA championships and 23 NCAA tournaments worth - to be second is extraordinary, especially when you consider she is the career leader in assists.

Princeton and Duke are both led this season by players who have 70 points, both on 49 goals and 21 assists. For Princeton it's Erin Slifer. For Duke it's Kerrin Maurer.

Slifer, by the way, has 98 career goals. Olivia Hompe has 115 points, making her the fourth sophomore in program history to reach 100 points.

The teams have two common opponents, as both have beaten Georgetown and both have lost to Virginia. Duke has a loss to Johns Hopkins, just as Stony Brook did, for whatever that's worth.

Duke is 14-3 in NCAA games in Durham. On the other hand, Duke is 6-8 in NCAA quarterfinal games.

 The all-time series is close, with Duke up 9-8. They've played twice in the NCAA tournament, and each has won once, both in overtime. The Blue Devils defeated Princeton 10-9 in two overtimes two years ago.

Duke had a first-round bye and then defeated USC 17-9 in the second round to get here.

The game starts at 1 tomorrow. It should be in the 90s.

For the winner there is a trip to the Final Four next weekend in Philadelphia.

Should Princeton get there, it would deserve an even greater send-off than yesterday, something better than an ice cream truck.

Oh wait. There is nothing better than that.