Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Week To Remember

It's been quite a few days around these parts, what with the going-away party for one athletic director and the introduction of the new one.

TigerBlog was thinking about the transition from Gary Walters to Mollie Marcoux.

Actually, before he gets to that, he also noticed that autocorrect changes "Mollie" to "Millie," which left him wondering how many times he's going to change it before his phone gets the point.

Anyway, the first person at Princeton to have the designation of Director of Athletics was Ken Fairman, who first assumed that title in 1941 and then held the position until 1973. He actually oversaw Princeton's sports teams beginning in 1939, when his title was graduate manager of athletics.

According to the Princeton Companion - a great reference tool by the way - the athletic administration at Princeton began in the 1800s as an "every man for himself" arrangement - with the emphasis on "man." Each team had a captain, and the captains made all of the administrative decisions.

Then, in 1890, the teams all came together under one athletic umbrella, eventually with oversight from the faculty. This lasted until 1937, when the athletic department - under the leadership of graduate manager of athletics Asa Bushnell - was formed.

Fairman's 32-year run as Director of Athletics is the longest in Princeton history. He was replaced in 1973 by Royce Flippin, who among other things, emailed TigerBlog yesterday about a matter completely unrelated to anything to do with the change in athletic directors, though it did mean that in one day, TB heard from three of the five people to hold the title in 73 years.

Flippin was the AD until Bob Myslik replaced him in 1979 and then ran the department until 1994, when Gary Walters took over.

The first four people to hold the position held it for an average of more than 18 years, with Flippin's tenure the shortest and Fairman's the longest. Should Marcoux hit that average of 18 years, then she figures to be TB's final boss.

TigerBlog remembers his first conversation with Gary Walters after they both started at Princeton, and he remembers that it was sort of like a reverse job interview, where Gary asked him all kinds of questions about his background, his future plans, where he saw himself in 10 years, that sort of thing. He also told him he was lucky that he was hired in between Myslik's last day and his first, because he never would have hired a Penn guy.

What TB would really like to do is go back to that moment and ask Gary about his future plans, about where he thought he would be in 10 years. Or if he thought he'd still be the AD in 20 years.

Now those 20 years have flown by. And now it's Mollie Marcoux's time to take over.

What will her future be at Princeton? Will there be a big party for her in 2034 after her 20 years, and if so, will it be in Jadwin Gym, or will it be in the new facility that she spearheaded?

With such a massive changing of the guard, it's easy to think in such big-picture terms these days.

At the same time, the games keep going.

There was a huge one last night, when Princeton beat Penn 9-5 in women's lacrosse. With the win, Princeton has the inside track on at least a share of the Ivy League title and a chance to host the Ivy League tournament.

In fact, Penn has been the only host of the Ivy women's tournament in the four years the event has been held. Now, after the win last night, Princeton would host the tournament with either a win Saturday against Dartmouth (on Sherrerd Field at 1) or a loss by Penn in any of its final three league games - against Columbia, Cornell and Brown.

Princeton is now 5-1 in the Ivy League, followed by Penn at 3-1. Harvard and Cornell have two losses each; Dartmouth is 2-3.

A win Saturday would also mean at least a share of the league title. Another team that can clinch a share - or even an outright - league title this weekend is the women's tennis team.

Princeton is currently 5-0 in the league, with two matches left. The Tigers are at Cornell (0-5 in the league) tomorrow, and a win there would mean at least a share of the Ivy League championship.

Then there is Sunday, when Columbia is at Princeton. The Lions are in second place at 4-1, and they play another 0-5 team, Penn, Friday. Should both Princeton and Columbia win, then the match Sunday would be something of a showdown, though not winner-take-all.

Columbia has already lost to Yale, who lost to Princeton. There can still be a three-way tie for the title, or Princeton can win it outright. There's also the NCAA bid at stake.

On the one hand, it's a week that in many ways is historic in Princeton athletic history. The end of the Walters era, so elegantly celebrated Saturday night. And the arrival of the new AD, the first woman to hold the position.

On the other hand, it's just another week in mid-April, which means big games with big stakes. This weekend, they're coming to campus, for women's lacrosse Saturday and women's tennis Sunday.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Ford Family Director Of Athletics Mollie Marcoux

The Office of Athletic Communications in Jadwin Gym used to extend further back then it does now, into a back room that is now the office of men's basketball coach Mitch Henderson.

It's the OAC that TigerBlog first walked into a quarter century ago, the one with the little office to the side, behind the printer, which itself sat back by in spot off to the right, wedged in along with shelves loaded with binders, old photos, paper, cardstock and anything else that people couldn't figure out where to put.

Straight ahead as you entered the back room were desks that snaked around the area. To the left were file cabinets, old green ones, probably purchased in the 1940s.

That back room was part office, part playroom. He can still see Kurt Kehl, then the OAC's director, arms raised in triumph, as he hit a nerf ball with a plastic club to win another round of OAC golf.

It was in that room that TigerBlog, then still in the newspaper business, used to pull out his radio shack word processor and write stories about the Trenton State College football luncheon while waiting for a Princeton game to start or a Princeton athlete to come by to be interviewed.

It was in that room that he first began to know the people - and the culture - of Princeton Athletics.

It was in that room that he first met one of his all-time favorite Princeton athletes, Mollie Marcoux.

This was back in, what, 1989. Mollie was a student-worker in the OAC, not to mention a fierce soccer and hockey player. TigerBlog is pretty sure that Bob Surace was the first Princeton athlete that he ever wrote about; Mollie Marcoux might very well have been the first female Princeton athlete he ever wrote about.

Certainly she was one of the first he got to know outside of the athletic arena, as she was a fixture back then in OAC. She was a down-to-earth, friendly, easy-going college student.

And there were the Surace and Marcoux yesterday, the two of them, one the head football coach and the other being introduced as the next Ford Family Director of Athletics at Princeton.

Mollie Marcoux will be the fifth person to hold the title of Director of Athletics at Princeton and like her four predecessors, she is a Princeton alum. Unlike her four predecessors, she will be the first woman to be the AD at Princeton.

And that speaks volumes about the University.

When TigerBlog's alma mater named a non-alum as its new athletic director, TB's first thought was that he couldn't imagine that the new AD at Princeton would be a non-alum. And he was right.

At her press conference yesterday, Mollie was asked one question about being the first woman AD at Princeton, and it was really a non-issue, other than the historical nature of the moment. Had she not been a Princetonian, though, TB imagines that more than one question on the subject would have been raised.

Mollie Marcoux is as Princetonian as it gets.

She came to Princeton from her hometown of Ithaca, and she made immediate impacts in soccer and hockey, earning her a place in, of all places, Rolling Stone magazine, which came to Princeton to do a feature on top women athletes of the time. Mollie's picture appeared on the page opposite then-Florida State volleyball player Gabrielle Reece.

She graduated cum laude from Princeton. She wrote her senior thesis on women's athletics. And she worked in the OAC. What could be better?

In the 24 hours leading up to today's announcement, TigerBlog heard so many people guarantee so many different people would be the next AD that it got to be comical. It's definitely him. It's definitely not him. It's a woman. It's a man. Every person swore up and down that the source was in the know.

In the end, the first TB heard of the name of his new boss was when he clicked on the release from the communications office to put on just before she was introduced on the main floor of Jadwin.

TB's reaction? He smiled, and went immediately back to the back room at Jadwin, and to the stories he'd written about her through the years. He texted the news to Kurt, who has spent 12 years working with the Washington Capitals and Wizards and who used the same word to describe her that TB had already used to a few former colleagues - awesome.

Kurt also related the story of the photo shoot from Rolling Stone, which was done on a frozen Lake Carnegie, which almost unfroze because of a generator that nearly melted the ice and sent Mollie into the water.

TigerBlog remembered writing about Mollie for the PVC News when she first had started on Chelsea Piers, in the marketing department, as he recalls. She worked her way up to executive vice president and executive director, with hundreds of people working under her.

And there she was yesterday, coming back to Princeton, much like her predecessor Gary Walters did 20 years ago.

She spoke with passion in her introductory remarks about all the things that make Princeton and Princeton Athletics so special and about how she's honored to be back to lead those efforts. She smiled and laughed. She talked about the coaches and how much she's looking forward to working with them.

She conveyed - oozed - a love of Princeton Athletics, and that's requirement No. 1 for this position. Her energy and charisma were obvious to everyone who had come to meet her, from coaches and athletics staff to student athletes to media members, and it resonated with everyone.

At one point, TigerBlog walked up to her, unsure if she'd remember him. Instead, she smiled, said his name and gave him a hug.

He took that as a sign that he hasn't changed much in 25 years.

Mollie Marcoux has. She's no longer a college student. Her job at Princeton is no longer updating records and clipping newspapers in the OAC.

It's running the athletic department, and that's not an easy task.

TigerBlog is excited to work with her. For her, actually.

It will be interesting, that's for sure. TigerBlog started at Princeton on the same day as Gary Walters, and very few people who work in the Department of Athletics have been there longer than TB, which means that very few have been through an athletic director change before.

That's still a few months away though.

Yesterday was about meeting the new AD, forming first impressions, getting a sense of who will be taking over this summer.

Or, in TigerBlog's case, remembering the first impression that was formed all those years ago, the impression that this was a young woman destined for great things, a young woman whose destiny has brought her all the way back to that same building, ready now to lead that department for the foreseeable future.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Flying High

FatherBlog was on a flight from Brazil to JFK Friday overnight into Saturday.

TigerBlog heard from him Sunday and assumed that the flight had been routine. In fact, FB was most of the way through their phone conversation before he mentioned that his flight had to make an emergency landing in Norfolk.

Perhaps you heard about his flight? A warning light came on in the cockpit indicating a possible fire in the cargo area, which prompted the pilot to spray a chemical that extinguishes fires. He then brought the plane to Norfolk.

FatherBlog and the other 241 passengers then had to wait nearly eight hours before another plane arrived to take them to JFK. TB supposes that they also had to wait for someone to clear the chemical off their luggage.

TigerBlog asked his father all the normal questions. What did the pilot say? Was everyone panicking?

FB reported that the pilot came on the intercom and informed everyone of the possibility of a fire. He said that when the plane landed in Norfolk, everyone was told to assume a crash position.

Was he scared? He said he wasn't. He also said everyone on the plane was pretty calm.

He also said that there was no customs office at the Norfolk airport, so they had to wait for hours for someone to be brought in to process everyone once they got off the plane, which meant they were sort of quarantined for awhile.

FatherBlog grew up in a working class area of Brooklyn. He went to Boys' High and then didn't go to college, instead going off to work. He spent two years in the Army during the time between Korea and Vietnam, and he was stationed in Germany during that time.

Since there wasn't much to do - or at least that's how he tells it - he had the opportunity to see a great deal of Europe in his free time. It was then, TB has always imagined, that his father was hooked on a lifetime's love of traveling.

FatherBlog worked hard and built up his own insurance business, to the point that he was able to pursue that love every since TB can remember. TB can't even begin to guess how many miles FB has flown in his life, how many international trips he's made, but it's a big, big number.

His favorite destination is the French Riviera. He's been everywhere, though. Seriously. Everywhere.

Eastern Europe. Central Europe. Western Europe. Israel. Russia. Japan. China. South America. He vacationed in both Turkey and Greece while they fought over Cypress in 1974. He's actually seen way more of the world than he's seen of the United States.

He went to the Vatican once during, of all times, Passover, something he referred to as "a yontov with the Pontiff." For those not versed in Yiddish, "yontov" means "holiday.

Back when TB was a kid, he and BrotherBlog would head off to sleepaway camp, first at a place called Camp Toledo for five summers and then one more at another one, Camp Echo.

During those summers, TB's parents would sometimes go on three-week vacations. TB remembers one took them to Australia, New Zealand, Tahiti and he believes Fiji.

TigerBlog would love to go to Australia and New Zealand, though he's a bit intimidated by how long the flight is. He'd definitely have to go with someone with whom he could have a long, long conversation. Or someone who brought sleeping pills.

For at least one Princeton undergrad, the trip to New Zealand isn't a vacation, it's a commute home.

That would be Julia Ratcliffe, the hammer thrower on the women's track and field team.

Ratcliffe, a sophomore, had a huge weekend for the Tigers at the quad meet with Vermont, Monmouth and St. John's. It was there that she put up a performance that stamped her as possibly the favorite when the NCAA championships roll around.

In fact, her top four throws this weekend all went further (farther?) than anyone else has thrown so far this outdoor season.

Her performance earned her the Division I Women’s National Athlete of the Week award by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. It was the first time a Princeton athlete has ever earned that honor.

Ratcliffe was the Ivy League champion in the hammer throw last year, and she earned second-team All-America honors with an 11th place finish as the NCAA meet.

The outdoor Heps are still nearly a month away and will be held at Yale. The NCAA championships are still two months away, and will be held in Eugene.

That's 3,000 miles from Princeton and 7,000 miles from New Zealand.

That makes it 10,000 miles from here to New Zealand? Well, it's not exactly a straight line, so it's more like 9,000 miles.

Still, that's pretty far.

TB will definitely need to bring someone he likes to talk to if he ever makes that trip.

Monday, April 14, 2014

From The House On Gordon Street

By Saturday evening, the back of Jadwin Gym had been transformed into an elegant ballroom that bore no resemblance to the athletic venue it usually is.

TigerBlog has seen this before, many times actually. This occasion was different.

This time, it was to celebrate Gary Walters and his 20 years as Director of Athletics at Princeton. It was more than a party. It was a celebration in every sense of the word.

And so there was Jadwin, all dressed up. Only this time it wasn't the elegant ballroom. This time, it was a time machine.

It took TigerBlog throughout his own 20 years at Princeton, what with he and Gary having started on the exact same day. And it took him back further, back when he was in the newspaper business covering Princeton, when he first spoke to Gary Walters, back when he wrote a story in 1990 on the 25th anniversary of the 1965 Final Four men's basketball team.

And it went back earlier than that. It took TB back to a place that he can picture even if he's never been there. It took TB back to Reading, a city in Pennsylvania that he's actually never been. It took him all the way back to where this story actually began.

It took him to the house on Gordon Street.

It was here that Gary Walters grew up, in a house that TigerBlog can see, a house that he figures was probably like the house Ralphie grew up in on Cleveland Street, in "A Christmas Story." That's where the time machine finally settled, and then it told the story of Gary Walters moving forward from there.

It's quite a story indeed.

Reading is a blue collar place. Princeton is a place of privilege and in many cases old money. Gary Walters comes from neither.

Back in September, when Gary told the department that he was stepping aside at the end of this academic year, he did so on the Dillon Gym court where he had played all those years ago. The occasion this time was the first departmental meeting of the year, and it was coincidence that it happened to be held in Dillon.

When Gary spoke, he talked about how his father dropped him off, almost 50 years to the day, maybe 50 yards away.

The celebration Saturday night was called a "Roast and Toast," but mostly what it became for TigerBlog was another chance to think about the journey that Gary has made from that courtyard in 1963 to the dais in a dolled-up Jadwin in 2014. And what an extraordinary journey it in fact has been.

Here he was, the same kid from Reading, only now completing his 20-year run in charge of the athletic department. Here he was, a completely self-made man whose career included runs as a coach, television commentator, business executive and finally college administrator - educator, in fact. 

With another basketball great, Frank Sowinski, as the evening's host, Gary's story was told again Saturday night, this time by his closest friends, like the amazing Chris Thomforde, who gets better every time TigerBlog hears him speak and who was already off the charts the first time. Thomforde was a basketball teammate at Princeton who shared, among other things, the cover of Sports Illustrated with Gary back in 1967. He's a religious man and an educator, Thomforde is, and if you didn't know that, you'd think he probably had a long career in show business.

University President Chris Eisgruber spoke, ignoring his prepared words and instead speaking with great passion directly from the heart. Cynthia Cherrey, the University VP for Campus Life, offered her congratulations as well.

And there was Pete Carril, Gary's high school teacher and basketball coach. In one of the better moments of the night, a letter that Carril had written to Gary when he was a freshman at Princeton was read, and it was clear that the letter had definitely helped Gary make the adjustment from wide-eyed Reading boy to Princeton man. 

And there was Peter Roby, the Northeastern AD who played for Gary at Dartmouth. And Larry Lucchino, the president of the Boston Red Sox and a former teammate as well, one whose playing time was derailed by the fact that he could never beat Gary Walters out for the point guard spot.

And by former colleagues, like Erin McDermott, the University of Chicago AD. Erin, who spent 13 years working with Gary at Princeton before leaving a year ago, gave a nearly perfect speech in which she incorporated dozens of Gary's favorite sayings - Garyisms, as it were - to both Roast and Toast her former boss. It was hilarious and heartwarming all at the same time, and that's not something easy to accomplish.

There were more than 50 others who spoke on video, including Bill Ford, who spoke about how the theme of "Education Through Athletics" inspired him to endow Gary's position. Another former teammate, Bill Bradley, one of the greatest college basketball players of all time, spoke of a move of Gary's that he tried in vain to copy - even if the video showed his executing it as Gary had. It didn't matter. Bradley's message was clear - Gary was a great player, a great teammate and even in 1965 as an undergrad, passionate about Princeton.

Each segment of Gary's life was introduced by a short video, and then there was the big video at the end, the one that ran 18 minutes and included comments from so many colleagues, friends, Princeton coaches.

It began with a tongue-in-cheek part in which several Princeton coaches talked about how they weren't even aware after all this time that Gary had even played basketball at Princeton, including the Speedo-clad water polo coach, Luis Nicalao. It ended with several thank-yous from many different people with many different connections to Gary, ending finally when Carril said as only he can "I don't want to thank him for anything."

In addition to the formal program, there was also a 90-minute cocktail hour before and an equally as long party after.

TigerBlog saw so many people he hasn't seen in years. Bill Carmody was there. So was Jamie Zaninovich of the Pac 12, who came all the way from California. And Bradley AD Mike Cross, who came from Peoria. And Hank Towns, the former equipment manger, who came from Trenton.

John Thompson III was there. So was Steve Kanaby from the Colonial Athletic Conference. Kanaby told TB when he left Princeton, oh, three years ago that he would check in every week; this was the first time that TB had heard from him since. But that's okay, because it was like he'd never left.

Janet Dickerson, the former Campus Life VP, was there. And Guy Gadowsky, the former men's hockey coach who is now at Penn State and who had to make the four-hour drive back after the party and yet didn't want to leave quite yet.

There were former basketball players. Friends from Reading. People who had played for him at Union and Dartmouth.

They came back by the hundreds to see Gary, to celebrate with him. It reminded TB of another Christmas movie, not the one with Ralphie but the one with George Bailey.

And that's when TB really put it all together. Gary is Princeton's George Bailey.

Oh, he may have actually left a little more than the real George Bailey, but he's always come back. As a student. A coach. And ultimately as AD.

And this was like the final scene in the movie, when George was in trouble all those Christmases ago in Bedford Falls. They all came back.

It was time to celebrate Gary Walters and what he had meant to all of them, what he had done for all of them, and so back they came, no questions asked. They dropped everything, just like they had for George.

If anyone has ever loved a party, it's Princeton's George Bailey. He worked the room, hugging, shaking hands, laughing, smiling.

This was different though. This time, TB could sense that his boss for the last 20 years was a bit overwhelmed by it all. When it was his turn at the microphone, he said he was "speechless," and he really was. For a few seconds. Then he was able to speak. Hey, it's Gary. He can always speak.

When it was over, Gary had posed for a picture with practically everyone there. TigerBlog got his picture taken with Gary as well, just the two of them.

Gary put his arm around TB, who reciprocated, as both smiled. Then Gary walked away, and TB couldn't help but smile even more as he watched him move on to the next person, the next group, fully aware that they had come back for one reason only - to be with him on his big night.

Gary Walters, like George Bailey, deserved it. He's given so much of himself to the University, to Princeton Athletics, to all of the people in the room, and now they were hear from him.

And TB was left to observe the obvious.

Gary Walters has had a great run at Princeton, 50 years-plus, 20 years as the AD. Gary Walters has done amazing things since his beginnings, way, way back at the house on Gordon Street.

Gary Walters has had a wonderful life.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Pre-Tournament Begins

TigerBlog isn't sure if Tuesday night's Princeton-Lehigh men's lacrosse game was the most exciting in Division I this season or just the second-best one played that day.

If you thought Princeton's 10-9 double overtime win over Lehigh was wild, what with the whole tying it with 2.7 seconds left in regulation and all, how about the Sacred Heart-Holy Cross game? Sacred Heart trailed 11-3 in the fourth quarter - the fourth quarter - and then ripped off eight goals to tie it and before winning 12-11 in overtime.

So what's better, a relatively unheard of comeback or a game that goes to two overtimes without ever having either team lead by more than one?

In the case of Princeton's game against Lehigh, the score was tied at 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 7-7, 8-8 and finally 9-9.

Getting to 9-9 wasn't exactly easy.

Princeton trailed 9-8 with 1:10 to go, Lehigh with the ball, out of a timeout. TigerBlog always thinks the team with the ball in that situation hurts itself by calling timeout, since the defense can come out the timeout ready to pounce on the ball, rather than scrambling while play is ongoing.

In this case, the Tigers doubled the ball and trapped it in the corner, gaining possession and clearing it to Tom Schreiber, whose shot was saved by Lehigh's outstanding goalie Matt Poillon. The game might have been over there, except that Poillon's outlet pass shorthopped its target near midfield, allowing Schreiber and Will Reynolds to converge and get it back. Schreiber's next shot hit a foot in front of the goal and bounced back near midfield, where Mike MacDonald picked it up and got it to Kip Orban, who beat Poillon and the clock with 2.7 seconds to spare to send it to overtime.

And then another overtime.

And then Schreiber got the ball free about 10 yards in front of the goal after slipping a screen and, well, he was never going to miss from there. And he didn't.

For Princeton, it was a great win. Hopefully for the Tigers it doesn't become the highlight of the year.

With three weeks to go in the regular season, Princeton is trying to make its push for the two big tournaments, first the Ivy League one and then the NCAA one. This weekend starts the three-game pre-tournament.

The schedule has Princeton at home tomorrow (1) against Dartmouth, a team that beat the Tigers in Hanover 10-9 last year in a game that did a great deal to haunt Princeton come NCAA selection night.

Next week is a trip to Harvard, who just happens to be the last unbeaten team in Ivy League men's lacrosse. And then it's off to Long Island to take on Cornell in what is called the Battle of Bethpage April 26.

Right now, Harvard is 3-0, followed by Cornell at 2-1, Penn and Yale at 2-2, Princeton and Brown at 1-2 and Dartmouth at 0-3. This weekend starts the sorting out, with Yale at Brown tonight and Harvard at Penn tomorrow, in addition the Tigers and Big Green and a non-league game of Cornell and Hofstra.

It's actually tough for a Princeton fan to know which teams would help the Tigers by winning. Princeton obviously wants Lehigh to win out and at least get the Patriot League final against Loyola.

Princeton has already beaten Penn and Hofstra, so the better they do, the better Princeton's win is. On the other hand, a Penn loss to Harvard means Princeton's win isn't as good as it would be if Penn keeps winning, but it could help Princeton get into the Ivy tournament and make a potential win over Harvard be better should the Tigers pull that off next week.

The same logic applies to Hofstra-Cornell. The win over Hofstra gets better with a win over Cornell; a Cornell win gives Princeton a top 10 or even top 5 opponent to go against on Long Island. 

And it's probably better for Princeton if Brown beats Yale, since Yale figures to be battling Princeton for an at-large NCAA bid should neither get the NCAA bid. But then that all depends what would happen after that, as Brown still has to play Cornell and Yale still have to play Harvard.

Princeton can solve all of its own problems by winning out.  It desperately needs a win against Dartmouth after a season where two wins (Hofstra, Manhattan) were followed by two losses (Hopkins, Carolina) and then two more wins (Penn, Villanova) and then two more losses (Yale, Brown) and now two more wins (Rutgers, Lehigh).

Princeton has never lost consecutive games to Dartmouth and is 30-1 all-time in Princeton against the alma mater of head coach Chris Bates.

That game is not the only home event this weekend.

The men's golf team hosts the Princeton Invitational tomorrow and Sunday, and there is home women's tennis against Harvard (tomorrow) and Dartmouth (Sunday), home men's and women's track against Monmouth, St. John's and Vermont (fairly random group) and men's lightweight rowing against Cornell.

By the way, speaking of golf, TigerBlog hasn't played since 2000 or so, but he'd like to get out at least once this summer. He's adding that to his other goal of catching a fish.

It's still spring, though. It's actually early spring, but time is running out on the lacrosse season.

The game Tuesday was a great one. The one tomorrow is a huge one, the first of at least three in a row.

Princeton is hoping for much more than that.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Reeling It In

TigerBlog has never caught a fish. He's been fishing. He's just never caught a fish.

Both of his children have.

Miss TigerBlog, back when she was still Little Miss TigerBlog, once got a fish on the end of her line on a riverbank. She was maybe three or four at the time. When she felt the fish on the line, she got so scared that she turned and ran away from the water, and in doing so dragged the fish out of the river and up onto the bank, without ever actually reeling it in.

TigerBlog Jr. has caught a few fish. He had caught a small one when MTB added a new dimension to the time-honored way of fishing, and then he answered hers with a bigger one of his own. TB is pretty sure they were trout.

As for himself, TB came up empty, even though he was fishing in a stocked river. He's pretty sure the fish were mocking him by the end. "Can you believe this guy? Maybe we should just in his boat and then jump out." That sort of thing.

Maybe this summer he can try it again. Certainly there has to be at least one fish out there that TB can get without having to order it off the menu.

TB is pretty sure that in the five or so times he's been out, he's had a fish or two on his line, only to let it get away. He did reel in a wooden plank one time, fought it hard all the way to the boat. TBJ still makes fun of him for that.

Hooking the fish is only part of it. Getting it all the way in is the problem. Maybe MTB's way is the best way.

The women's lacrosse team had a big one hooked last night. Unfortunately, it got away at the end.

Reeling one in among the top four teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference isn't easy.

The top four teams in the ACC are North Carolina, Maryland, Syracuse and Boston College. Oh, and what are the odds that you could have gotten in, say, 2000, that of those four school, Maryland would be the one NOT in the ACC within 15 years.

Anyway, those four also just happen to be ranked 1-4 in this week's Brine Division I women's lacrosse media poll.

And those four combined are 33-1 in non-league games, with the only loss among them a 7-5 UNC loss to Northwestern, who is ranked fifth.

Princeton hosted Maryland last night on Sherrerd Field, which has now seen two games in two days, with a combined score of Princeton 18, Other Guys 18, with two great one-goal outcomes. The men rallied to tie Lehigh with 2.7 seconds left and then win it in the second overtime. The women were not as fortunate, as they came up just short against No. 2 Maryland 8-7.

Princeton led 4-1 early and 5-3 at halftime. It was 7-6 Maryland when Alexandra Bruno tied it with 4:54 to go, but Maryland won it on a free position goal with 1:39 to go.

Had Princeton been able to reel it in, it would have been a great confidence - and resume - building as the season heads down the stretch.

Regardless of the outcome, Princeton can't focus too long on it. Not with the Ivy League race where it is.

Princeton is one of what appears to be six teams in the hunt for four spots in the Ivy League tournament with three weekends left in the regular season. This one is a huge one. Well, they all are.

Actually, it's a huge eight-day stretch for the Tigers.

Penn is currently 2-0 in the league. Princeton and Harvard are both 3-1, followed by Brown, Dartmouth and Cornell all at 2-2.

Princeton is at Harvard Saturday and then home against Penn Wednesday and Dartmouth next Saturday. And that's it for the Ivy League portion of the Tigers' schedule.

The regular-season winner gets the designation of Ivy champ and gets to host the tournament.

The winner of the Ivy tournament gets the league's automatic NCAA tournament bid.

Those are the big prizes that are still in the water, waiting to be reeled in.

A win last night would have been great. The biggest games are still to come for the Tigers. There are a lot of tiebreakers to determine seeds, host and participants in the case of ties.

Win all three Ivy games and Princeton is the league champion (or co-champ) but definitely the tournament host. It doesn't get less complicated than that.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Buy Me Some Peanuts And Crackerjack

The outlook wasn't brilliant for the Mudville Nine that day ...

You recognize that? It's the opening line from a very famous poem/story.

Then there's Katie Casey or Nelly Kelly.

Katie Casey was baseball mad. Nelly Kelly loved baseball games.

Those are the alternating first lines of another famous song, from two different versions. They have different verses but the same choruses.

The Mudville Nine? They lost that day, 4-3. They had a chance in the ninth inning to pull it out, of course. They were down a run with two out and none out before Flynn and Blake hit back-to-back singles, bringing up the big man himself, mighty Casey.

In modern day baseball, Casey would have been on his second or third team by now and be locked into a long-term, $100 million deal. He'd hit a lot of longballs, strikeout a lot, rarely run hard out of the box and be essentially inaccessible to the local fans.

Back in 1888, he was the hometown hero.

Anyway, TB doesn't have to look up what happened next: "Oh somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright. The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light. And somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout. But there is no joy in Mudville. Mighty Casey had struck out."

Or is it has?

As for Katie and Nelly? Well, they were the kind of dates that you always wanted to find, the ones who wanted to be taken to the Polo Grounds, as opposed to the art museum. Not that TigerBlog doesn't enjoy a good impressionist exhibit or anything.

The common chorus for Katie and Nelly?

It starts out: "Take Me Out To The Ballgame." Perhaps you've heard it.

It has to be up there with "Happy Birthday," "My Country Tis Of Thee" and the Star Spangled Banner an as the most universally known songs in American history. And "Born to Run."

TigerBlog loves both slices of Americana.

"Casey at the Bat" was actually a newspaper column from 1888, written by either Earnest Lawrence Thayer or Earnest Thayer Lawrence. TB never gets that straight.

"Take Me Out To The Ballgame" came out 20 years later. Frank Deford, a Princeton alum, wrote a story in 1988 suggesting that Katie Casey was the daughter of Casey from Mudville. TigerBlog didn't know that until he saw it on Wikipedia. He already knew the rest.

He also knows that in the movie "The Naughty Nineties," Dexter Broadhurst (Bud Abbott) sings "Take Me Out The Ballgame" as part of a vaudeville routine, presumably before the song was written. Sebastian Dimwiddle (Lou Costello) interrupts him with questions about the St. Louis lineup, which of course has Who on first, What on second and I Don't Know on third.

TigerBlog would rather watch "Who's On First" or reread "Casey At The Bat" rather than actually watch Major League Baseball right now. It's a little early in the season for it.

Plus, there's so much lacrosse on TV and the web all the time now, who has time for baseball?

It's even too early for TigerBlog to work up a good hate for the Yankees yet. He's on the Phillies bandwagon (it's like rooting for Tom McCarthy), but that train probably isn't going anywhere this year.

If anything, TB will keep early-season tabs on Princeton's four Major Leaguers.

There's Chris Young, making a comeback with the Seattle Mariners. Young pitched two innings in relief, striking out two and not allowing a baserunner in his first appearance.

There's David Hale, who pitched five shutout innings in his first start of the year for the Braves. He got a no-decision, but he's establishing himself as a legitimate Major Leaguer.

There's Will Venable, who is an established Major League with a history of getting off to slow starts and then heating up. He's had 21 at-bats and is hitting just below .200 early on for the Padres, but he will start putting up power and speed numbers relatively quickly.

And there's Ross Ohlendorf, who has yet to pitch this year for Washington Nationals.

Those four are TB's main interest in baseball right now.

And the current Tigers, who host Monmouth today and then play 10 league games in eight days, beginning with four at Columbia this weekend.

It's still the National Pastime, even if lacrosse is closing fast.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Away From The Spectacle And Money

So TigerBlog was wrong. Again.

Kentucky didn't beat UConn 76-64 in the NCAA final. Instead, UConn beat Kentucky 60-54 to cap a fairly memorable run to the NCAA title.

TigerBlog had long since fallen asleep by the time the Huskies won their championship. Guess he'd seen the Chris Webber commercial once too often for his brain to stay focused. Or maybe it was that commercial with the hamster as the father in the French family, the one that says "you're not nearly cool or smart enough to understand what we're doing here, so just take our word for it that we are so clever and creative."

The NCAA final was a great spectacle, the end of a tournament filled with wonderful games throughout. And UConn clearly earned its championship, right? The Huskies were on the verge of being knocked out in their first game before tying St. Joe's late and winning in OT, but from there no game was closer than five, UConn beat the No. 1 overall seed (Florida) and a No. 2 seed (Villanova) by 10 and beat the two teams with the most momentum (Michigan State and Kentucky).

Still, there were three things about this NCAA tournament that nag at TB.

First, it's complete and total proof that the regular season means little in college basketball. UConn finished third in the AAC. It got swept by SMU. It also got hot at the right time.

In college basketball, that's all that matters.

Second, there is the wild over-commercialization and spectacle that the NCAA championship has become. It's more like the Super Bowl, with 80,000 people in a football stadium. Did you see how far away from the court some of those 80,000 people were? And for astronomical prices, on top of that.

Finally, there's the whole one-and-done mentality. It may be legal and it may be effective. It's also unseemly in the world of college athletics.

Kentucky played eight players in the NCAA championship game. Of those eight, seven of them are freshmen and the other is a sophomore. Imagine how good they'll be when those freshmen are seniors, right?

Well, of course they'll never be seniors. That's the whole one-and-done idea. Come to college for a year and then go to the NBA.

TigerBlog doesn't blame any of those seven Kentucky freshmen. What choice do they have? The way the rules are currently written - by the NBA, not the NCAA - they can't go straight from high school to college.

But really, what does anything that happened last night have to do with education? It had a lot to do with money, that's for sure, and that's what's driving the whole paying athletes/unionization talk. Ironically, the Northwestern football players who started the union movement aren't looking for payment, just improved benefits.

Still, what the average member of the sporting public - or worse, lawmakers - see is the obscene amount of money that last night generates and how none of it is going to the players. How UConn coach Kevin Ollie - by all accounts a good guy - is underpaid because he only makes a little more than $1 million per year, while there was a story that TB saw yesterday that suggests that UConn star Shabazz Napier often goes to bed hungry because he doesn't have any money to buy food.

Tonight's women's championship game is fascinating on many levels as well. The UConn women are 39-0 and the Notre Dame women are 37-0, and they meet in Nashville for the title.

Of course, for years, they both couldn't be undefeated, since they were both in the Big East. Now? Notre Dame is in the ACC and UConn is in the AAC. And why? Because despite already having one NCAA basketball championship and on the verge of the other, UConn's football team wasn't attractive enough to anyone in the game of conference realignment.

Oh, and there's the whole angle of the two coaches, UConn's Geno Auriemma and ND's Muffett McGraw, who apparently don't like each other. If TB happened to be cynical, he'd suggest that the whole lack of civility angle was fabricated to generate additional interest in the game.

TigerBlog likes the NCAA tournament. He liked it more when it was played in arenas by teams loaded with seniors, not freshmen, at a time when a player like Napier wasn't the exception but the rule.

Maybe it's because back then, TB wasn't working in college athletics quite yet. Maybe it's because he does now that he hates to see all of the good things clouded by the money and the spectacle that unfortunately is the face of college athletics.

TigerBlog has a few things to get done today.

He needs to write a preview story about the baseball team's game against Monmouth tomorrow and mostly get ready for tonight's men's lacrosse game against Lehigh. You can see that game at 7:30 on ESPNU, by the way.

Princeton and Lehigh, by the way, disagree on the history of the series, as Lehigh has games against Princeton in 1940 and 1941 in its record book that Princeton does not have in its. Maybe they were played. Maybe they weren't. Lehigh thinks Princeton won both of those, so it's not like the Mountain Hawks are padding their stats.

Either way, it's been awhile since Princeton and Lehigh have played. For schools located a little over an hour apart, it seems like they could have played at some point in those 64 (or more) years.

They meet tonight as Top 20 teams who are hoping that their seasons extend into the NCAA tournament, though both have work to do to get there.

TigerBlog would much rather be at a game like this one than at the men's basketball Final Four. He's happy to stay far away from the spectacle and money.

He's not 100% sure what that says about him, other than that he's working at the right school.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Kentucky By 12

Just in case you haven't heard it a thousand times already, the narrative for tonight's NCAA championship game goes something like this: "the two great Cinderella stories, UConn and Kentucky."

It's a seventh seed (UConn) versus an eighth seed (Kentucky), though it's hardly what you would think of when you talk about the great Cinderellas in NCAA history. You know, like Villanova in 1985.

Now that was a Cinderella.

In some ways, the 1985 Villanova team is roughly the same as this Kentucky team. For awhile, it wasn't a guarantee that either would even be in the tournament. Then, once in the tournament, there were all kinds of close games for both.

Villanova in 1985 won its first three NCAA games by two, three and four points. Kentucky won its four regional games by seven, two, five and three points and then beat Wisconsin by one in the national semifinal.

Kentucky has been on a wild run this NCAA tournament. The Wildcats have played in three unbelievable games, three of the best NCAA tournament games in recent memory, with wins over Wichita State, Michigan State and Wisconsin. You could argue for awhile over which of those games was the best, but all three were epics.

It's just that Kentucky should never have been an eight seed. Not with this collection of talent. Somehow, this Kentucky team lost 10 games this year.

Maybe it's because of how many freshmen start, five to be exact. Maybe it just took this team longer than it might have guessed to become fully acclimated with the pace of the college game and the chemistry of playing with each other.

Now? The overwhelming talent is showing.

TigerBlog had a final of Kansas and Creighton, and his logic was pretty spot on. A team led by a marquee freshman and a great supporting cast against a team that is led by a senior who is carrying them all the way. He just had the wrong freshman (Andrew Wiggins instead of Julius Randle) and the wrong senior (Doug McDermott instead of Shabazz Napier).

The final, TB assumes, will be like the last few UConn games, where TV will fixate on Napier's mother in the stands and show her at least 15 times. What goes through the directors' mind with all the shots of one player's mother? One is fine.

TigerBlog can't imagine Kentucky doesn't roll to this win. He doesn't think the game will be within 10 points when it's over. He'll go Kentucky 76, UConn 64 as a prediction.

He also hopes that if it is close, the refs stay out of it at the end. He's not optimistic about that. And can there be no replay reviews? Is that asking too much?

TigerBlog recently saw the "30 For 30" on the Big East, the highlight of which was the 1985 season, the one where the Big East sent three teams to the Final Four - Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's.

The best part of that season was the sweater that Lou Carnesecca wore during the Big East tournament the replica of it that John Thompson (not the Princeton John Thompson) wore for the final.

And the line that the Princeton John Thompson had after last year's Big East tournament, when he said that he would have preferred that Syracuse not leave "all this, for a few more dollars."

TigerBlog will make another prediction for the championship game - Bill Bradley's record for most points in a Final Four game will stand.

Bradley, back in 1965, scored 58 points against Wichita State in the consolation game, something that used to be played between the two semifinal losers. As an aside, the NCAA refers to the "losers" as "non-advancing," presumably so as not to have to call someone a loser.

Princeton defeated Penn State and North Carolina State to reach the 1965 East Regional final in College Park, Md., where the Tigers destroyed heavily favored Providence 109-69.

Princeton's run to the championship ended with a 93-76 loss to Michigan, who in turn lost to UCLA in the final. Meanwhile Princeton came back to defeat Wichita State 118-82 in the consolation game.

Bradley had scored 41 against Providence in the regional final. For the tournament, he averaged 35.4 points per game and earned Most Outstanding Player honors.

Nobody will come close to his 58 points tonight.

TigerBlog doesn't think UConn will come all that close to Kentucky.

Of course, he hasn't been right about too many predictions lately.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Hoping Your News Is Good News

Back when he was a kid, the primary access to daily current events was either through the newspaper or the news on TV.

The preferred newscast in TB's house was the Channel 7 news from New York City, with anchors Roger Grimsby and Bill Beutel. Grimsby was a grizzled, somewhat sarcastic announcer, one who ended every newscast with his signature sign-off: "Hoping your news is good news."

It's a rather simple saying, and yet it has a ton of optimism to it. Hoping your news is good news.

It applies to the world of college athletics, certainly. As the late, great, certainly quotable Al McGuire  - he was the basketball coach who won an NCAA title at Marquette in 1977 and then went on to a long career in broadcasting - said when asked about the challenges of coaching in college: "just when you think you have everything under control, one of the cheerleaders ends up pregnant."

TigerBlog talks all the time about the perils involved in college athletics. Hey, you put that many strong-willed, competitive, adventurous young people together, and you just hope for the best when it comes time to make decisions.

Anytime TB reads a story about decisions gone bad among college teams, he never (okay, almost never) experiences schadenfreude, which, by the way, is a great word. Nope. He always (okay, usually, depending on the school) thinks "thankfully that wasn't here at Princeton."

Anyone in college athletic administration who thinks it can't happen on his/her campus is fooling him- or herself.

Princeton's athletic administration spends a ton of time stressing to coaches and directly to athletes the importance of making good decisions. It's like parenting. You can do it all you want. When it gets to be key decision time, all you can do is hope it sunk in.

Like Grimsby said, you can hope your news is good news. You also have to be proactive about doing everything you can to make it happen, and then you have to just hope for the best.

And you can be happy when you're on the right side of the news.

Princeton certainly was this week, in the form of hockey player Jack Berger.

It seems that Berger connected with a local six-year-old through one of Princeton's "Skate With the Tiger" events and made such an impression that the boy - Colin Doan - wanted to try playing hockey.

Eventually, his mother sent a video of the boy as he was telling people he wanted to be just like Jack Berger to Princeton men's hockey coach Bob Prier, who forwarded it to Berger. Eventually, Berger showed up at Colin's school as a guest reader, and it just so happened that Berger read to the class of kindergarteners one of TB's favorite authors: Dr. Seuss.

The episode was recounted in the Trentonian earlier this week, and it made for the kind of story that any school craves.

TB was first made aware of it by Daniel Day from the communications office. Dan tweeted it on the main university account and wanted to make sure TB saw it, while also commenting that he loved stories like that. And who wouldn't?

TigerBlog has never met Jack Berger. He's certainly heard a lot about him though.

He strikes TB as one of those too-good-to-be-true-where-do-these-people-come-from types that make working at Princeton pretty special. It's also something that TB never takes for granted.

Way back when when he was in the newspaper business, TB wrote that about Chris Mooney, then a Princeton basketball player and now the head coach at Richmond. It applied then, and it's applied to so many of the athletes TB has seen through the years here.

Berger is no exception.

The captain of the hockey team, Berger is on his way to medical school at some point, after he exhausts his opportunities to play professionally. As the story about Colin shows, he certainly has a big heart. He's a tremendous public speaker, and he has a natural leadership and presence to him.

He's exactly the kind of person you want out there in the public, like at a "Skate With the Tigers" night.

In Jadwin Gym there's often a great deal of talk about how Princeton's athletes are the best ambassadors for the program. Let them out in the community, and everyone responds. TB has seen it any number of times.

The Jack Berger/Colin Doan relationship is a perfect example, but it's hardly the only one.

They don't do it for the publicity. They do it because it's a great thing for college athletes to do, especially at a school like Princeton. They do it because they're role models and they understand that.

They do it because that's just how they are.

Certainly Jack Berger is. When he's involved, the good news appears to follow.