Friday, May 25, 2018

Runners, Throwers, Jumpers, Rowers - And Bryce

TigerBlog went to visit Bryce Chase in the hospital the other day.

Bryce, the longtime consigliari of the men's lacrosse team and a 1963 alum, had a nasty spill on his bike last week. It was an in area that TB had been in a few days earlier and thought was slippery.

Turns out, unfortunately, that he was right.

Bryce ended up with a steel rod in his leg, from his hip down, after breaking his femur. When TB saw him, he was in good spirits, with his primary concern to ready to go for his 55th Reunion.

Peter Farrell was there as well, with his wife Shane.

The longtime women's track and field coach is probably the perfect person to have come visit you in the hospital. He stops by. He genuinely cares about what happened to you. He can relate and talks about the time something like that happened to him.

And he tells funny stories. Lots of them.

Like the one he told Bryce, about how he went to see former Princeton (and U.S. Olympic) track and field coach Larry Ellis once when Ellis was about to be discharged, only Ellis didn't want to leave because they were about to serve lunch.

Peter said he offered to buy him a hamburger after the left.

The more TigerBlog thinks about it, the more he thinks Peter should take up hospital visiting as a second career, now that he's retired.

Peter was in TB's office earlier, and he talked about how it's odd for him this time of year, with nothing to do, as opposed to the 39 years he spent coaching his team, when this time of year meant getting ready for the NCAA regionals and then the championships.

The Princeton Athletic year is winding down quickly. Before it ends, there are as many as three weekends of competition left, including this one.

This weekend will see Princeton have teams in two sports compete, interestingly enough, an hour apart on the west coast of Florida. 

Princeton will be sending 25 athletes to the NCAA track and field regionals, which will be held in Tampa. The Princeton women's open rowing team will compete in the NCAA championships, which will be in Sarasota.

The list of Princeton track and field athletes, their events and the times they compete can be found HERE.

Kennedy O'Dell and Joey Daniels have qualified in two events. O'Dell will be in the hammer and the shot put; Daniels will run the 110 hurdles and be in the 4x100 relay.

The goal of all of these athletes is to reach the NCAA championships, which will be in two weeks in Eugene, Ore.

The women's open rowing team is one of three to have reached the NCAA championships each year since the current format began in 1997.

TB doesn't know a lot about rowing, so he'll copy and paste what his colleague Craig Sachson had to say about the championships:
The Tigers who competed at the 2017 NCAA Women's Rowing Championships didn't exactly hide the distaste for their performance — not immediately after, not during the preparation for the 2018 season, and not during another successful spring on Lake Carnegie. They didn't run away from it. They owned it, and they vowed to be better because of it. The early 2018 results — a 13-1 regular season, a third straight Ivy League title, and two gold medals at Ivies — indicate that Princeton did grow from that weekend. But the three days that the Tiger women's rowing team has long awaited have finally arrived.

That's pretty good stuff. HERE is the rest of what he has to say.

Good luck to the runners, throwers, jumpers and rowers.

Also this weekend are the NCAA lacrosse championships, with the men in Foxboro and the women at Stony Brook.

TigerBlog will be at the men's again. It'll be his 23rd Final Four in 26 years.

His predictions for the weekend? Well, the top four seeds reached the semifinals on both sides. In fact, the four teams that have reached the Final Four on the men's side are the top four teams in the Inside Lacrosse preseason poll.

So who will win?

Maryland is the top seed on both sides, but TB will go in a different direction. He likes fourth-seeded Boston College, maybe because 1) the Eagles beat Princeton, 2) the Eagles then beat Stony Brook.

As for the men, TB can see of the four teams as the last one standing. He'll go with Yale, though. The Bulldogs aren't going to beat themselves, and they have a lot of experience and a lot of confidence. 

Whoever wins, TB wants to see Princeton there next year, on both sides.

And he wants to see Bryce out of the hospital as soon as possible.

Thursday, May 24, 2018

And The Nominees Are ...

Can it really be time for another Gary Walters ’67 Princeton Varsity Club Awards banquet?

Well, technically it isn't time yet. There are still seven days to go until the banquet, which is a week from tonight at the Grad College.

And yet really? Basically a whole year has gone by already?

TigerBlog used to measure time by the Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey) kickoff luncheon, the one where the former school president would say every year "I predict all of our teams will be undefeated this year."

Each time TB went to one of those, he'd think to himself "how has another year gone by already?"

Now he has that same feeling for the awards banquet here. It seems like yesterday that John Thompson was speaking, and yet that wasn't even last year, that was two years ago already.

The first PVC banquet was held in Jadwin Gym. It was a really small gathering, one to which TB was not invited. It's the only one of the banquets he's missed, and the one coming up next week will be the 21st.

Gary, the former Ford Family Director of Athletics, has been at every banquet. TB doesn't think anyone else has. Maybe a head coach who's been around that long. TB will look into it.

The evening has certainly evolved a great deal from the days of a handful of people in Jadwin. Now it's a huge event, one that requires nearly year-round planning.

TigerBlog is a big fan of the format of the last few years, where finalists for the Roper Trophy (outstanding senior male athlete) and von Kienbusch Award (outstanding senior female athlete) are announced in advance, with the winner named at the banquet.

In fact, those announcements are coming today. New this year will be a roll out of the finalists on Princeton's athletic social media outlets beginning at 11 with the women and then the men at 2, and then the list of finalists will be on

The first banquet announcement came yesterday, with the story about the 2018 winners of the Class of 1967 Citizen Athlete Award and the Marvin Bressler Award.

Let's start with Marv.

First of all, Marv has been gone for nearly eight years now. He was 87 when he passed away, after a long career as a sociology professor here and as the person who can be called Princeton's first Academic Athletic Fellow.

TigerBlog always liked Marv, from the time he first met him at some Princeton men's basketball game, or afterwards in Conte's, about 30 years or so ago. Marv loved to talk and loved to listen and loved to challenge you based on what you said and then loved to follow up your follow up, and so on.

The award that is named for him goes each year to someone who does what Marv did, and that's offer any and all support for Princeton's athletes. In Marv's words, as he'd often say, he viewed his role as offering "an adult" to the students, "an adult they could go to when they needed an adult."

This year's winner is DovWeinryb Grohsgal. Marv would approve.

Dov has worked tirelessly on any and all matters related to Princeton's athletes from his former spot in the Office of the Dean of the College. And by tirelessly, TigerBlog feels like that can be used literally, since he doubts Dov ever sleeps much.

TB emailed Dov the other day for something small. It was past 10 when TigerBlog sent the email; it was about 10 minutes later that Dov got back. Then he followed up again first thing in the morning.

Then there is the Class of 1967 Citizen Athlete Award winner. This award is given to someone for outstanding contribution to sport and society.

This year's winner is Denna Laing. You've probably heard of her story.

Denna is a 2014 grad who was an All-Ivy League and ECAC All-Academic women's hockey player while at Princeton. She was good enough to play in the women's professional leagues, and she was playing in the Women's Winter Classic in Foxboro when on New Year's Eve 2015 she suffered a spinal cord injury that has left her in a wheelchair since.

That, though, is not what defines her. No, it's her spirit, which continues to amaze anyone who meets her, hears her speak or simply learns about her.

She continues to attack her situation, exploring any and all options that could help her one day walk again. And in the meantime? She continues to live her life.

For instance, she completed the Boston Marathon, pushed in her chair by former NHL star Bobby Carpenter. She works. She continues rehab. She travels.

Mostly what she does is inspire. And serve as a role model for others who are faced with the same daily challenge she is.

TB's colleagues at the PVC asked Denna for a picture to use, and she sent back one of her being honored by the Christopher and Dana Reeves Foundation. She's dressed up, in her chair, her hand at the control. Her head is turned slightly, and she is smiling, or perhaps laughing at something someone else has just said.

Hey, that picture alone is inspirational. There's an obstacle here? A huge, catastrophic one?

Keep fighting.

But don't let it beat you. There's still a lot to smile about.

The current Ford Family Director of Athletics, Mollie Marcoux Samaan, mentioned that she thinks that Denna's athletic training has helped her, physically and mentally, to deal with what has happened.

Citizen athlete. Think there's anyone who fits the description of that award better?

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Diamond Reflections

The NCAA softball tournament has been on television a lot lately.

It seems to get good ratings. Oh, and speaking of TV, Princeton men's hockey was featured on the show "Billions" last weekend.

TigerBlog has never watched "Billions." He's almost done with "Nurse Jackie" and will need a new show, so maybe he'll try to get into "Billions."

He certainly likes three of the main characters - Paul Giamatti, the guy who was Brody on "Homeland" and the woman who was Jax's wife on "Sons of Anarchy."

This is Season 3 for "Billions;" maybe TB will get there some day. TB isn't sure how Princeton hockey ended up playing the New York Islanders (acted as, not competed against) in the most recent episode of the show.

Maybe the producers of the show said they'd reach out to whichever team won the ECAC championship this year, and that, of course, was Princeton.

Anyway, back at the NCAA softball tournament, the most recent games on TV were those from the Super Regional, which is a great idea, by the way. There are four-team regionals to start the NCAA tournament in softball (and baseball), and that plays down to 16 teams. Those 16 teams then play a best-of-three series called the Super Regional, and that leaves the eight teams who advance to the College World Series for both.

Of the 16 teams that made it to the Super Regional in softball, the breakdown by conference was this: nine from the SEC and five from the Pac 12. And Florida State and Oklahoma.

That means that all 16 were Southern or Western teams and that two conferences were dominant. Is that good for the sport or not?

TigerBlog hasn't watched much of the NCAA softball tournament. He hasn't watched much Major League Baseball this year either. What baseball he has watched has been the Philadelphia Phillies, mostly to listen to Tom McCarthy.

Princeton has two alums in Major League Baseball right now, both of whom are pitchers.

There's Matt Bowman, of the St. Louis Cardinals, who basically can pitch every day. This is Year 3 for him in the Majors, all with St. Louis, and he's already made 151 appearances, with 143 innings pitched.

And there's Danny Barnes of the Toronto Blue Jays, who was recently recalled to the Majors. He also can pitch a lot and he's also done so as well in his three years in the Majors, with 91 appearances and 97 innings pitched.

Neither Bowman nor Barnes has ever started a Major League game, but hey, as analytics move along, maybe they will. Reliever Sergio Romo of the Tampa Bay Rays started Saturday and Sunday, pitching one inning Saturday and two Sunday.

TigerBlog has long believed that the strategy of having designated pitchers for the seventh, eighth and ninth innings is ridiculous, because it requires all of them to have a good day for the team to win. And he's always thought the closer was the most overrated position in sports - and the only one where strategy is dictated by stats.

The big news about Princeton baseball recently, though, was about a former pitcher, Chris Young, who was hired for a front office position with Major League Baseball. His title is impressive: Vice President, On-Field Operations, Initiatives and Strategy.

From the release:
"Young will work with MLB's Baseball Operations and Umpiring Operations Departments on issues affecting play on the field, including the application of playing rules and regulations, on-field standards and discipline, pace of play and other special projects. Among his duties will be ensuring that ballpark and field alterations meet MLB standards; working on MLB's pace of play and game presentation initiatives; advising on on-field disciplinary issues; assisting with negotiations with umpires, players and Minor League Baseball; participating in issues regarding player safety, on-field equipment and wearable technology; and having a role in official scoring reviews submitted to MLB."

Essentially, he'll be giving the former player's perspective on rules and other issues while also working on discipline matters.

Young, of course, was a basketball and baseball player at Princeton, one whose Tiger career ended after just two years when he signed a professional baseball contract. Young went on to pitch for 13 seasons and had a great career whose highlights included an All-Star game appearance, a Comeback Player of the Year Award and, of course, a World Series championship in 2015 with the Royals in which he was the winning pitcher in Game 1 after a phenomenal relief appearance in extra innings.

If you did some polling, you'd find that fewer people anywhere would have a higher approval rating than Chris Young would among Princeton fans. He was a fan favorite from Day 1, and the fact that his career ended after two years only enhanced that, with its "what might have happened" feel to it.

Certainly TigerBlog is a big fan. He still remembers how dominant a basketball player he was, what a big show all of his starts on Clarke Field were - and the day that the 6-10 Young lifted up a three-year-old TigerBlog so he could toss a basketball ball into a one of the side hoops at Jadwin.

Now that he's no longer a player, Young is entering the next phase of his career. Where will it go from there?

Well, it could be Commissioner Young. Governor Young. Something like that.

What? You didn't get the reference? 

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Goodbye Milena

 It's been four years since TigerBlog did his countdown of the top 25 Princeton men's lacrosse players he'd seen in his first 25 years with the program.

By the way, this has nothing to do with lacrosse, so if you get turned off by the lacrosse stuff that TB does, don't worry. You can keep reading.

Anyway, as he got into the top five, a few people reached out to him to ask him who would be No. 1. Again, this has nothing to do with lacrosse.

He still has one email that he received on the subject. It said this:
No way you are doing co-number 1's. There aren't co-Dons. 

Exactly. There was Don Corleone and then there was the next Don Corleone and that was it.

Who sent him that email? Milena Flores. It's Milena in a nutshell. In fact, if TB had to describe Milena, it would be this way:
1) healthy saracasm
2) amazing work ethic
3) huge heart
4) incredible loyalty
5) dry sense of humor
6) very competitive

All of these are really good qualities. Add them together, and you're left with an incredibly special person. 

If you've been following Princeton women's basketball since the arrival of Courtney Banghart 11 years ago, then you know that she has taken a team whose history included some really good teams and really good players and built it into a national figure in the sport.

You've seen the roster turn over time and again, only to continually restock with great players after great players. Just when you thought that the team had peaked, here comes the next wave, and that continues to the present time.

She's had different athletic trainers, different athletic communications contacts, different strength and conditioning coaches, even two different Ford Family Directors of Athletics.

She's had different assistant coaches. Different Directors of Operations.

In fact, there have been two people who have been with Courtney the entire time. One is Angie Brambley-Moyer, the strength and conditioning coach.

The other has been Milena.

For every step the program has made, Milena has been there with Courtney. It started in Year 1, when they went 7-23 together. It continued from there, with nine straight postseason appearances, six Ivy League championships and seven NCAA tournament appearances.

Most recently, Princeton went 24-6 and won the Ivy League championship and tournament championship before advancing to the NCAA tournament. By the way, if that seems like a great season - and for pretty much any team it would be - look at Princeton's last nine years.

During that time, Princeton is 218-56. That averages to 24.2-6.2, which makes last year sort of average by Princeton women's basketball standards.

If Courtney is the lead singer of Princeton women's basketball, then Milena has spent 11 years on the lead guitar.

And now she's leaving Princeton.

TigerBlog came around the corner the other day on his way downstairs to E level to find Milena as she walked the other way. It was then that she broke the news to him that she was leaving coaching, heading home to the Seattle area.

If you're looking at the greatest assistant basketball coaches in Princeton history, you have Bill Carmody on the men's side and Milena Flores on the women's side.

Actually, if you're looking at the best assistant coaches that Princeton has had since TB has been here across all sports, Milena is in the top five. Maybe the top three. There are a few he can think of that he'd put up there with her, but there's really only one who is definitely ahead of her, and that's former men's lacrosse assistant David Metzbower, who is in his own universe.

It's not always easy to be an assistant coach, and it requires your ego to be checked at the door. When you're the assistant coach, you don't always get your way. You advise and you suggest and you bounce ideas around, but ultimately it's the head coach's decision.

Courtney will head into next season with an overall record of 232-93. Milena will leave Princeton with a record of 0-0.

At the same time, Princeton women's basketball wouldn't be what it is and wouldn't have become what it did without Milena. And beyond what can be measured in wins and championships, she's also had an enormous effect on the personal growth of the players who have come through the program and helped to give so many of them a great experience, one they will cherish forever.

And now it's time for the next chapter of her life.

Princeton will be losing someone who was universally liked here during her 11 years. She's someone who supported every team here, every athlete who represented Princeton. Almost all of her recent texts to TigerBlog, for instance, involved lacrosse.

She's also been TigerBlog's friend for 11 years. They've had a million conversations, about everything and nothing. Most of them involved laughter, the understated kind of course, but there were also serious moments as well.

Mostly it's just been good to know that she was around. 

TigerBlog has gone to a lot of women's basketball games since Courtney and Milena arrived. Some of his biggest memories of Milena will be all the times in the minutes before the games that he walked over to her as she sat on the bench watching warmups.

If she was nervous before a game, she never showed it. She was easy to talk to even in those moments, and she'd give him a pregame rundown on how she expected the game to go, who on the other team scared her, what she thought Princeton could do well.

Then she'd always say something funny, probably a little sarcastic, and then it would be game time. In an instant the intensity would be there, the competitive drive that is the mark of every great coach.

And then, when it was over, win or lose, she'd be back to the same soft-spoken Milena she always has been.

TigerBlog wishes her luck as she moves on. And he'll miss her.

There haven't been too many better people ever to walk into Jadwin Gym than Milena Flores.

Monday, May 21, 2018

Elegance, Grace and Heroes

So where do you start after the first weekend in awhile without any Princeton events?

As you know from Friday, there were no Princeton athletic events this past weekend. The last time that was the case was mid-January, during first semester exam break. The time before that? August, before the academic year began.

So what to talk about on a Monday after that?

How about fairy tales?

You probably heard about, and quite possibly got up early to watch, the Royal wedding in England. From what TB read, there were 30 million Americans who watched, which he figures is about the same as watched the NCAA lacrosse quarterfinals as well. Okay, he's kidding.

From what TigerBlog knows about the groom, he has been a real asset to his country and someone easy to admire, with his time as a military pilot and later someone who has worked with and made a real difference for wounded veterans.

TB also understands the lure of the fairy tale story. Palaces and carriages and princes and princesses and all that.

And TB will admit that he went to a party when Harry's parents got married. It was around 4:30 am or so in New Jersey, back in July of 1981. The real lure were the pre-dawn pancakes and French toast.

After all, this country was born from a rebellion against that very same monarchy. It's foundation was on the concept of equality, not that there is a all-powerful King or Queen.

Then again, TB does like the Netflix series "The Queen," which is about the early days of Queen Elizabeth's reign.

Either way, as you might guess, TB wasn't all that into the wedding coverage this weekend. No, this weekend, he preferred to find his elegance and grace - and heroes - a little closer to home. He'll start with the elegance and grace and then get to the heroes.

This past Saturday was prom night for Miss TigerBlog. It concluded a busy week that saw her high school sports career end as well.

The prom at MTB's high school is a nationally recognized big deal. It's way, way, way over the top.

One of the highlights is the way the prom-goers arrive. No, not in limos. In floats, in a parade.

The students work hard on the floats, and the parade each year is a special moment. This year's parade almost didn't happen because of the rain and the threat of thunderstorms, and even into the early afternoon the school wasn't sure whether it would happen or not.

Eventually the rain slowed enough so that the parade could happen. It was way nicer than TigerBlog thought it would be.

The theme was something along the lines of a special place. One float was Hawaiian. MTB's was Santorini, a Greek Island. There were floats decorated as places all over the world. It got TB to thinking about what he would have done, and it was pretty easy to come up with the answer: Greetings From Asbury Park.

With each float that came by, there were more and more local princes and princesses, all with their own style - their own elegance and grace. The floats pulled up to the front of the building, where there was a red carpet, and the local royalty took their turns, beaming, if a bit damp.

For TigerBlog, it was much more interesting than the Royal wedding.

Oh, and the heroes of the Tiger-free weekend? Well, they weren't quite Tiger-free.

A few hours after MTB returned post-prom, TigerBlog was on the campus of his alma mater, for the Million Dollar Bike Ride. It's an event that in its first five years has raised more than $6 million dollars for what are known as "orphan" diseases, or diseases that affect relatively few people and have little to no treatment or drug options because the cost to develop them would far outweigh the profitability.

That's understandable - unless one of those orphan diseases hits home. And that's the case of Derek DiGregorio, the nearly 21-year-old who suffers from Ataxia-telangiectasia, a brutal disease that attacks the immune system and eventually leads to all kinds of other diseases. The prognosis is grim.

This was the hand that the DiGregorio family was dealt. Steve, known to most as "Digger," was an assistant football coach at Princeton under Steve Tosches, and he has been a long time high school teacher and coach since. He and his wife Nadia have three sons - Derek, an older son named Zack who just graduated from Penn and a younger son Aaron, who will be a sophomore at Franklin & Marshall.

The family has been dealing with the A-T disease for more than 10 years now. None of them had ever heard of it before it came into their house.

So what did they do to fight this disease, one with no cure and little hope, one that afflicts so few people that the overwhelming majority of the world has never heard of it?

They counter-attacked, that's what they did. They've done anything and everything to raise money, and in doing so they've enlisted an army of supporters, most notably Howard Levy, Princeton's all-time leading in field goal percentage for men's basketball and a longtime assistant coach at Princeton before he became the head coach at Mercer County Community College, and his wife Riva and kids Lior, Mia and Noa.

TigerBlog has been amazed by their strength through this entire fight. He's told you that many times before.

And so when they said to be at Penn at 6:30 am on a Sunday, TB was there. So was Mitch Henderson, the head men's basketball coach at Princeton. And Steve Verbit, the associate head football coach. And the rest of the group that has supported the DiGregorios and Derek.

It really wouldn't have mattered what time or where. The whole group would be there. They'll do whatever they can to try to win this fight.

Derek was there, in his wheelchair. He's a Princeton High School graduate and an MCCC student. He's funny. He's got a sharp wit. Zack DiGregorio may be a bit more sarcastic, in a good way, but Derek has his moments too.

More than anything else, he just wants to be one of the group of young adults who are part of this fight, with his brothers and the Levy kids and the others who are part of all of these events. He doesn't want anyone making a fuss over him.

Neither to his parents.

They just want to keep fighting, as hard as they can, with everything they do.

TigerBlog rode for 13 miles with Digger yesterday morning. They talked about the usual stuff. Kids. People they both know. Funny stories. They were, for that entire time, just two old friends out for a ride.

But really, it was so much more than that. It was another opportunity to raise a few more dollars and to call a little more attention to this disease, because that's the hand they were dealt and all these years later they still have no other option but to keep going.

Heroic, isn't it? 

Friday, May 18, 2018

It's Always A Good Time To Talk About Lacrosse

You know TigerBlog. He'll talk about lacrosse any time you want.

And hey, why not now? There are no Princeton athletic events this weekend. Nobody plays.

There are still the NCAA track and field regionals and championships and the rowing national championships to come. Princeton had 27 athletes qualify for the track regionals, including a Princeton-record 21 male athletes.

The regionals aren't until next weekend

When was the last time Princeton had an event-free weekend? It was the weekend of Jan. 20-21, in the middle of first semester exams.

Before that? It was Aug. 18-19.

Yeah, weekends without athletic events a rarity around here.

Of course, TigerBlog would prefer to still be playing, perhaps like Ivy League rivals Cornell and Yale are doing, in this weekend's NCAA men's lacrosse quarterfinals. The same is true of the Princeton women's team, who had an unfortunate matchup with Boston College in the second round of last weekend's NCAA tournament.

TB and Chris Sailer talked about that and a lot more on the third episode of "The Chris Sailer Show." You can hear it HERE.

This weekend is the quarterfinals for both men and women. The best game of all of them could be one between a four seed and a five seed, as Stony Brook takes on Boston College. Those two are only 40-1 between them, and Stony Brook, the fifth seed, is the consensus No. 1 team in the country.

A week ago, TigerBlog gave you his Final Four predictions on the men's side of Denver, Johns Hopkins, Yale and Maryland, and all four won. TB will stand by them, but honestly it wouldn't shock him if all four won or all four lost.

The easiest guide to rooting for the remaining eight teams is this: Root for Bill Tierney. That would be Denver.

Tierney, you already know, won six NCAA championships here at Princeton and then went to Denver and won another. Princeton had never been to the NCAA tournament before Tierney's arrival; he went to 18 in 22 years here. Denver had been to one NCAA tournament prior to Tierney's arrival there and that game was a loss; he has been to the NCAA's all nine of his seasons with the Pioneers.

It's possible that TigerBlog has mentioned once or maybe even twice that he considers himself a Bill Tierney fan. That part notwithstanding, can anyone name another coach who has done what Tierney has done, which is to take over two programs that were not in the national conversation at all at the time and then win NCAA championships with both?

The men's side might not have a team matchup quite like the women's one, but it does have what might be the most fascinating individual matchup TigerBlog can ever remember. It'll be the one between Denver face-off man Trevor Baptiste and Albany face-off man TD Ierlan.

No face-off man in college lacrosse history has ever won more face-offs than Baptiste, who has won 1,143 face-offs in his career. He's taken 1,592, which means he's won nearly 72 percent.

He has pretty much singlehandedly tilted the field in Denver's favor. When you watch Denver play, you see the other team get mentally demoralized as Denver scores and gets the ball back, and scores and gets the ball back.

Who could possibly match up with him? Well, Baptiste - a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist for the second straight year - is actually second in Division I right now in winning percentage. Ierlan is first.

Ierlan has won a ridiculous 83.4 percent of his face-offs. Baptist has "only" won 76.5 percent of his.

The sports world loves to talk about head-to-head individual matchups in team games, as if one player can go against a player on another team with no other factors in the game. This is particularly absurd when it comes to starting pitchers and starting quarterbacks.

TigerBlog can't think of anything quite like this Baptiste-Ierlan matchup. They will go head to head, and while other factors, such as wing play, will help determine who wins the face-offs, they are as close a direct matchup of the two best at what they do as you'll find anywhere in a team sport.

Also, it's very likely that the winning team will be the one whose face-off man wins more than the other.

TB can't think of anything else that can compare to this.

He'll also stay with his Final Four picks from a week ago. As he said then, he'll be shocked if all four win. Really every game is a toss up.

Oh, and one last Princeton note heading into the weekend. Justin Guterding of Duke is second in Division I in points per game.

He needs 17 in his team's game against Johns Hopkins to catch Michael Sowers of Princeton for first.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

A TImeline, Of Sorts

To Bart Kalkstein, a loyal TigerBlog reader, yes, the Office of Athletic Communications has been relocated to E level of Jadwin Gym.

Bart left a comment yesterday after TB wrote he now works 50 feet from the tennis courts on E level that asked if those 50 feet were vertical. No, they're not.

The OAC, which spent somewhere around 45 years on the balcony level, has been downstairs for more than two years now. It's a great space, next to the wrestling room, and it comes with the added bonus of including Brian Fitzwater, the world's most laid-back IT guy ever. Having Fitz there is good for 1) getting premiere service for computer needs, and 2) laughs.

There are no windows in the OAC though. On many days, TigerBlog won't see the light of day from the time he arrives until it's time to leave. He's gotten used to it.

When TB went upstairs yesterday around 1, he saw a three-on-three basketball game that was just breaking up. He asked Fiona McKenna, who graduated last year after playing women's hockey and who now is working for the Princeton Varsity Club, if she was any good at basketball, and she replied with one word: "no."

Brad Pottieger, who works in Room 1 of Jadwin, chimed in that Fiona had scored five of the seven points in the last game, so perhaps she was selling herself short.

It's been awhile since TigerBlog played lunchtime basketball, but he's still played more than most of the people who play these days. Every day the email comes from Cody Osgood of the business office to ask who is in, and that's the email list that TigerBlog actually started and the email that he used to send out, before John Mack took it over and before Mack passed it off to Jon Kurian, who then sent it to Cody.

TigerBlog used to keep a list of people he'd played with during lunchtime basketball at least once. It was a really long list, one that stretched out past 200 names.

It included people like Pete Carril, Bill Carmody, John Thompson and Joe Scott, all of whom would be Princeton head men's basketball coaches. It featured an ex-NBA player - Armond Hill - and an ex-NFL player - the guy who was the assistant football coach whose name TB can't remember right now.

There were athletic communications people. There were administrators (TB can think of at least seven people who played who went on to become either athletic directors or conference commissioners). There were athletic trainers. There were assistant coaches. There were even people from the other side of campus who just happened to wander in one day and just kept coming back, like this one guy named James who had some connection to the psychology department and who called way too many fouls, including the rarely-seen-in-pickup-basketball call of a charge.

Why bring all this up now?

Well, two reasons.

First, it's because he was thinking about basketball after Courtney Banghart texted him to tell him that Blake Dietrick had made the roster of the WNBA's Atlanta Dream.

Dietrick, of course, is one of the all-time greats of Princeton women's basketball. She was the 2015 Ivy League Player of the Year after leading Princeton to a 31-1 record and the first NCAA tournament win in program history.

Getting to the WNBA is quite an achievement.

And second, he was thinking about what it means to work in one place for a long time, something he thought about when he saw the story about the Harvard men's tennis coach, Dave Fish, who is retiring after 42 years with the Crimson.

As near as TB can figure, Princeton has never had a coach who went 42 years, though it has one now (Fred Samara) who is finishing Year No. 41.

Mostly, though, that story got TB to thinking about what it means to spend your entire career in one place. First, it's not for everyone. There are people who come and go each year, either to get out of the college athletics business all together or to go someplace else.

The ones who stay do so because they buy into the school and its values and love the opportunity to be a part of it and to represent it. That's what's kept TigerBlog here all this time.

When he saw the story about Coach Fish, it made him wonder how many people at Harvard he'd worked with in that time. Or how many people Fred Samara has worked with here.

Or how many TB has, for that matter. It's a lot. But it's also an actual number out there. TB wonders what it is.

The list of people he's played basketball with alone is huge.

They're not just names on a spreadsheet though. They're a timeline, of sorts, a timeline of the decades spent working here.

And the ones who have helped make it special.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

47 In 4

If you like thunderstorms, then this was the place to be yesterday.

TigerBlog loves a good thunderstorm. He's certainly in the right area for them, since they're a staple of Central New Jersey throughout the summer.

If you like rain, then apparently you'll want to be in Princeton the next few days too.

TigerBlog likes the peaceful kind of rain, the kind that is soothing to listen to - even in the middle of the night - or look out at from a covered porch or something. This is different than, say, standing in it and getting soaked.

After yesterday's massive thunderstorms, the forecast is for rain every day through Monday. It probably won't come to that, or hopefully won't, anyway.

One thing the rain won't do is mess up the athletic schedule around here this weekend. That's because, for another academic year, every home event has come and gone.

TigerBlog can't remember the first athletic event he went to at Princeton. He wonders how many he's gone to in all. It's probably a pretty high number.

He does know that he was still in the newspaper business when he covered Princeton High School boys' tennis in the New Jersey state tournament. The Little Tigers, as they are known, had to play in Jadwin Gym because of rain outside, and the last two matches were played on the courts on E level.

Today, 35 years later, TigerBlog's office is about 50 feet or so from where those courts are. Could he have imagined any of what was to follow way back then, when he was watching those tennis matches? Never.

When TB was in the newspaper business, he used to think that he'd go through one more yearly run and then get a "real" job. While he moved to Princeton long ago and he'd say he has a "real" job, he has spent his entire career in athletics.

And when you work in college athletics, not all months are created equally. There are the busiest times of year - early November, February/March especially - and then there are the times that are quieter.

This time of year is hardly quiet, not with the Gary Walters Princeton Varsity Club Banquet up soon, along with Class Day, Commencement and Reunions.

On the other hand, there are no more home events for the 2017-18 academic year. The only remaining events for the year are NCAA track and field regionals and finals and the national rowing championships.

Every other team is done.

The Ivy League still has the baseball championship series this weekend between Yale and Columbia, which would have been a series between Yale and Dartmouth had Harvard not come from six runs back to knock off the Big Green 18-17 in the regular season finale the other day.

TB isn't sure if Columbia will be considered Ivy co-champ with Yale if it wins the baseball series. That's how it worked in softball, where Harvard was considered the co-champion with Dartmouth after finishing second in the regular season.

Regardless, TigerBlog does know regardless of what happens in baseball, Princeton will finish with 11 Ivy League championships and no other Ivy school will reach double figures.

This is the 25th time Princeton has had double figures in Ivy titles. Among the other seven Ivy schools, only Harvard has ever reached double figures in an academic year, something the Crimson have done 10 times.

This is the end of Mollie Marcoux Samaan's fourth year as Ford Family Director of Athletics. TB hasn't talked to Mollie about this, but his sense is that she feels a special bond with the Class of 2018, who came to Princeton at the same time she did.

During her tenure, Princeton has now won 47 Ivy League championships. The second-best total during that time is Harvard with 38. The third-best total by an Ivy school? That would be 17.

Princeton has had 23 different teams win at least one Ivy League championship the last four years. One of the 10 who did not, by the way, is men's hockey, which didn't win an Ivy title but did win a much bigger prize, the ECAC championship this year, which also meant an NCAA tournament berth.

Incredibly, 15 Princeton teams have won at least two, and seven have won at least three. Two - men's indoor track and field and women's lacrosse - have won four.

The challenge never changes, of course. The goal is always to give the athletes here the opportunity for a championship experience.

There are, of course, no guarantees about that. No team in any sport, any year, is handed an Ivy League title. Every single one of them requires a lot of hard work, a lot of dedication and usually a favorable bounce here or there.

That's why nobody around here ever takes any of it for granted.

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Six Of The Last Eight

Were TigerBlog a coach, he probably wouldn't be a "win one for the Gipper" kind of coach.

Pete Carril had a great quote - of course he did - about pregame pep talks. It came after his team beat UCLA in the opening round of the 1996 NCAA tournament, and it perfectly captures something TB has always believed about sports.

To paraphrase Pete: "You can give the greatest pep talk in the world. Win one for the Gipper. And none of it matters if the guys you're talking to don't believe they can win the game."

It's so true. TB has believed this forever. So many games, especially close games, are decided because one team is positive it's going to win and the other isn't.

TB would be more of a sports psychologist type of coach than the Kurt-Russell-as-Herb-Brooks-before-the-US-played-the-Soviets type. And that doesn't mean he wouldn't be super competitive or intense.

TB isn't sure why he started thinking about this topic yesterday. It did get him wondering about the different styles of the various Princeton head coaches.

Who are the emotional ones? Who are the ones more like TigerBlog?

And specifically, what is an average pre-race speech by Lori Dauphiny like?

Dauphiny is the women's open rowing coach at Princeton. This past Sunday she coached her team to the Ivy League championship, which happened to be her ninth during his tenure. It also happened to be her sixth in the last eight years and third straight.

Her resume also includes two NCAA championships, in 2006 and 2011. She's also never failed to take her team to the NCAA championships, dating back to the very first one, back in 1997. Princeton has been in the top five nine times and has made 16 of 21 grand finals, all under Dauphiny's watch.

Her entire bio is impressive, including the parts about all of her alums who have gone to the Olympics and have won medals there. You can read it HERE.

The 2018 Princeton first varsity 8 boat led wire-to-wire, for the season and for the Ivy League championship race. The Tigers are unbeaten this year against Ivy opponents, and the Tigers never trailed in the race that mattered the most, the one for the league title Sunday on the Cooper River in South Jersey.

Princeton led by a half-second after 500 meters and then by two full seconds at the midway point, 1,000 meters. In the end, Princeton won by nearly three seconds over second-place Yale.

Princeton also won the second varsity 8 race, its first win since 2012. Here's what Dauphiny said when it was over:
"The 2v beat all odds. They had a rocky season but they never gave up and in the end it all paid off. Their race was exactly that; they never gave in even when four seats down on the leader. They really stepped up and took on the challenge. I couldn't be prouder of them and the team."

That sounds like Dauphiny.

The next step for the women's open team is the NCAA championships, which will be held in Sarasota, Fla., in two weeks.

The men's national championships will be held one week later and much closer, at Mercer Lake. The heavyweights finished fourth in the first varsity race at Eastern Sprints this past weekend, while the lightweights were second in the first varsity.

One of the things that's always fascinated TigerBlog about working in Princeton Athletics is the incredible difference between sports that exist here. Whenever there's a head coaches meeting, TigerBlog finds himself looking around the room, wondering how one coach got into one sport and another got into another.

There are common denominators though. All coaching is very much about identifying talented players, teaching them whatever X's and O's happen to apply and putting them in position to be successful. And motivating them.

So where does Lori Dauphiny fall into that camp? What is the secret for all of her success?

There's another head coaches meeting later this week. Maybe he'll ask her there.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Striking 12

When college websites first started to offer the function known as "live stats," TigerBlog was against it.

You know what live stats are.  When a game is going on, the in-game stats are constantly updated, going directly from being inputted into StatCrew to a webpage where fans can follow along.

TB felt like it was irresponsible of him to promote something like that, something whose function was to keep people glued to their computer screens to follow a game that wasn't on TV or the radio. It was like promoting sitting on the couch watching TV all day instead of going outside.

This, of course, was before the smart phone came along.

Since then, TB has probably checked the live stats on his phone from more college games than anyone else in the world. It's second nature now.

If there's a game, in basically any sport from any college league, TB assumes there's live stats. They're great - at least since they became mobile.

The Princeton women's lacrosse team had its NCAA tournament opener against Syracuse Friday. Miss TigerBlog had a game of her own, a game that, in fact, was the last of her four years on her high school's home field, the one she'd played on for both field hockey and lacrosse.

Afterwards, some of the parents - not TigerBlog, so he can't take credit for any of it - organized a very nice postgame tailgate. As it unfolded, the women's lacrosse game was in overtime, and TB followed along on the livestats.

On his phone, the screen showed the words "Princeton" and "Syracuse," and each had "11" underneath. Then there was the time and the situation, along with recent plays as they were added.

The obvious beauty of live stats is that you can follow the game without watching. The hidden beauty is that you can see what play gets entered and picture it unfolding in your mind.

During the majority of the game, TB had looked every now and then just to see the score. Princeton was up big. Then Syracuse came back and took the lead. Then Princeton would tie it.

Now in overtime, TB looked around every 30 seconds. He also kept hitting "refresh," even though he knew it refreshes itself.

Each time he looked, both teams still had "11" under the names. This, in many ways, was a more suspenseful way to follow a game than actually watching it.

The first three minutes of overtime went by. No goal. The next three. No goal. As he said, it got more and more dramatic.

At some point, it would strike "12" for one of them. And eventually, there it was, under the "Princeton."

It turned out to be a Colby Chanenchuk goal, and an Allie Rogers assist. The result was a first-round NCAA tournament win, and it was the 22nd time that Chris Sailer had taken Princeton past the opening round.

Unfortunately for Princeton, the clock struck 12 on the season two days later. The opponent in Round 2 was a Boston College team that is seeded fourth but could easily be seeded No. 1 and could be the eventual champion, a BC team that defeated Princeton 16-10 yesterday, improving to 20-1 on the year.

Of course, BC is hardly assured of even reaching the Final Four. That's because the women's tournament seedings resulted in having arguably the two best teams at No. 4 and No. 5. That fifth-seed is Stony Brook, the only unbeaten team in the country and winner of every one of its games by at least four goals. The Seawolves were a unanimous No. 1 team in both major polls, only to end up at No. 5 because of the seeding criteria.

It makes for what might be the best quarterfinal matchup any NCAA tournament has seen, a matchup of teams who are a combined 40-1 and who both presumably have chips on their shoulders about where they're seeded. Stony Brook, by the way, beat Penn 18-5 in the second round yesterday.

As for Princeton, it was a season that ended at 13-6 after a 4-4 start. Princeton won yet another Ivy League championship, and yet another Ivy League tournament championship.

The Tigers featured a freshman goalie (Sam Fish) who took over in midseason and ended up as a second-team All-Ivy League selection and a freshman (Kyla Sears) who was the team's leading scorer (64G, 83 Pts, both of which are freshmen records and the second-highest single-season totals overall in program history).

Sears is one of three returning first-team All-Ivy players, along with Ivy tournament MVP Elizabeth George and Alex Argo. Sears, George and Tess D'Orsi all scored at least 40 goals, and all three are back.

In other words, Princeton seems set for another run at it next season.

As TB said last week, you can always count on Chris Sailer.

You know who else you can always count on? Women's open rowing coach Lori Dauphiny.

More on that tomorrow.