Monday, May 18, 2009

Eugene Osovitz And The Long Walk Back

There's a red brick path that goes from the Shuart Stadium field back around Margiotta Hall and then to the steps that lead directly into Hofstra's men's lacrosse locker room, or in Saturday's case, the locker room that Princeton used at the NCAA quarterfinals. The sign next to the path says that it is the "Walk of Champions."

At around 4:45 Saturday afternoon, after a 6-4 loss to Cornell in the NCAA quarterfinals, it was about the loneliest walk any of the Princeton players have had to make.

TigerBlog was standing in the grassy area between the path and a fence lined with kids who were asking the Princeton players for sticks, gloves, anything like that. One by one the Princeton players walked by, almost all in silence, stunned by how quickly it gets away and by the finality of it all.

It all took TigerBlog back to Manalapan High School, in November of 1979 or 1980. The last football game of the season had just ended, and a player named Eugene Osovitz (not sure TB spelled that right) who was either in TigerBlog's class (which would have made it 1980) or a year older (which would have made it 1979) was standing against a brick wall near the entrance to the gym and the locker room. He had his uniform on, without his helmet, and he stood there for what seemed like forever. It's an image that is seared into TB's memory.

The significance has never been lost on TigerBlog; namely, it is very, very difficult to take the uniform off for the last time. TB has flashed back to Eugene Osovitz many times since, when he has seen players after their last game.

For Princeton men's lacrosse, the game Saturday got away in the first 3:36, when Cornell scored twice. As TB said Friday, a quick early lead changed the entire game and left Princeton in catch-up mode. It grew to 5-1 at halftime, which put Princeton in the near-impossible position of having to make up huge ground against a team that was great at maintaining possession.

The Tigers almost did it. The defense played with ferocity in the second half and held one of the nation's best offensive teams to a single goal for the final 30 minutes. Unfortunately, that goal was too much to overcome.

And maybe if Mark Kovler's play at the end of the third quarter had taken 3.9 seconds instead of four seconds or if Chris McBride's laser to start the fourth quarter had found the goal instead of Jake Myers' goalie stick, then it would have been 5-4 instead of 5-3 and Princeton would have been able to do it. Instead, it is Cornell who plays Virginia this weekend in the Final Four.

The Class of 2009 is a unique one in that every single player contributed, and for multiple years. It will be a tough group to replace, from likely first-team All-America Mark Kovler through the other seven. In fact, the toughest to replace might be the two least heralded - shortstick defensive middies Brendan Reilly and Josh Lesko.

Still, with an offensive nucleus led by the McBride cousins and a defensive nucleus led by goalie Tyler Fiorito and defensemen Chad Wiedmaier and John Cunningham, as well as an army of young players ready to assume bigger roles, it's likely that Princeton will be a factor again next year and beyond.

None of that helped Princeton, and especially its seniors, Saturday afternoon. Had it been possible to measure the sheer frustration of knowing that it had gotten away and there was no way to get it back, that number would have been off the charts.

Everywhere TigerBlog looked, he saw players who had done so much to bring Princeton lacrosse back in the last 12 months, players who had been such great representatives of the program, players who will be missed moving forward.

And, sadly, he also saw Eugene Osovitz again, one weekend too soon.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Not to take anything away from the substance or sentiments of this post, but would it be possible for Sports Info to list the names and seatings of the rowers in their post-race write-ups? I realize that rowing is a team sport, and virtually ignored in many circles, but for those who care about the sport-- and the athletes-- it would be nice to know who powered the boats, who won the medals (or lost), etc. Granted, unlike baseball, basketball, football, etc., there aren't many stats in the sport-- but still, is a simple listing of who was in which seat that difficult to come by?