Tuesday, March 31, 2009

By the Slimmest of Margins...

The Princeton softball team stands at 7-11 overall and 2-2 in the Ivy after its first weekend of Ivy League play. While the 7-11 partially represents the Tigers annually getting off to a late start compared to most other teams and challenging themselves by playing schools from warmer climes with much more outdoor practice, standing at 2-2 after splitting doubleheaders with Yale and Brown isn't where the Tigers wanted to be.

Princeton hadn't lost a game to Yale since 2004 and Brown since 2001, teams Princeton has two games against annually. Both came by one run, a theme that has befallen the Tigers all too often this season.

Of the last 16 Princeton softball games, 11 have been decided by a single run. Seven of those games have gone against the Tigers. That's one more hit with runners in scoring position, a ball dropping for a double instead of a single, any number of mini-situations that could have tipped it another way.

There are only a few Princeton teams that know first-hand about having had so many nailbiters in 2008-09. Logically, the soccer teams know about sweating it out; the men's team had 11 of its 17 games (65%) decided by one goal or end in a tie, while the women's team had 13 of 17 decided by one goal or end all square (76%). The hockey teams were up there in total number of one-goal games and ties, with the men having 12 such games (of 35) and the women also 12 (of 31), but that's out of a much greater number of games.

While soccer has long had the criticism that it doesn't have enough offense to keep fans who are used to 100-point basketball and 35-point football games interested, the same kinds of things have been long held about softball. It's all about the pitchers and small-ball, and most of the games end up 1-0 because there's hardly any offense.

Not true.

Last season, softball had 12 one-run games out of 49. At no time in the history of Princeton varsity softball, which began play in 1982, have the Tigers had more than nine one-run games in their first 18 (For completeness' sake, those seasons were in 2000, 1998 and 1992). No preponderance of 1-0 games around here.

The Tigers will return to play Wednesday at Class of 1895 Field for a 4:30 single game against Hofstra, which, for the record, has had six one-run games through 24 this season.

The 2-2 Ivy start can be made up. The 20-game league schedule accounts for that, and Princeton won't necessarily need any help as long as it keeps on winning. Cornell stands at 2-0 with two make-up games later today against Yale, while Penn and Columbia are both 1-3 in the Ivy South. Princeton will have two more each against Harvard and Dartmouth next weekend up in New England, along with four more each at Penn, versus Columbia, and home-and-home against Cornell. There's a long way to go.

Speaking of make-up games, Princeton has none this week. A big note of recognition goes out to the grounds crew, headed for softball by Garfield Brown, who worked early and tirelessly to ready the field after overnight rain for Sunday's doubleheader against Brown (and after overnight rain before Saturday's DH against Yale too). Princeton played Sunday, but the three other sites, to the south and the north, had their games washed out. Good job, Garfield.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Vinko Bogataj And Princeton Athletics

For those older than, say, 40, much of your early television sports viewing was done by watching ABC's Wide World of Sports. For those who never heard of it, Wide World of Sports was a pre-ESPN, pre-24 hours of every sport on tv show that focused on a few different events per weekend, ranging from auto racing to gymnastics to hurling in Ireland to cliff diving in Mexico to anything from anywhere. It was a fast-paced format that showed a few events per show and was enormously popular through the 1960s and ’70s into the mid-’80s. Though it actually ran until the mid-’90s, it wasn't the same after cable came along.

The show began with some video clips over Jim McKay's narration, which is seared into the memory of anyone who ever heard it: "Spanning the globe, to bring you the constant variety of sports. The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat. The human drama of athletic competition. This is ABC's Wide World of Sports."

The highlight for "the thrill of victory changed often through the years." The highlight for "the agony of defeat" never did. It was always the shot of the ski jumper who fell off the ramp before taking off and smashed end over end underneath it.

The jumper, Vinko Bogataj, was never identified and became an anonymous symbol of "the agony of defeat" for years. Were this today, his highlight would have never been shown if it weren't an ESPN/ABC event or, if it was, then it would have been shown over and over on SportsCenter and on ESPNEWS while hip anchors tried to coin even hipper phrases while talking about it. The event would have been "broken down" on the Sports Reporters, with an ensuing shouting match between panelists over whether he had made it look worse than it was and whether or not it was worse than a crash in another event and ultimately to how Derek Jeter never would have fallen in the same situation. A few weeks later, ol' Vinko would have won an ESPY and would have appeared at the show with Emily Osment or someone from High School Musical or some other Disney property.

Still, you have to love the ESPN empire, because it has taken us to a time where Princeton fans can watch NCAA hockey pretty much anywhere in the country, as was the case Friday night (this doesn't even count watching Princeton women's water polo, which was televised Saturday morning and caused the start of the Syracuse-Loyola men's lacrosse game to be missed; Loyola fans would have prefered missing the end of that one).

And for Princeton, Friday's night hockey game against Minnesota-Deluth certainly qualifies as "the agony of defeat." The details of the game are by now painfully familiar to Tiger fans. For a look at what happened during postgame drug testing, check out the Ultimate Sports Insider.

TigerBlog was asked Saturday if that was the all-time "agony of defeat" for Princeton athetics. It's definitely way up there, was the response, but it might not have been the most "agonizing" in the last five weeks. Certainly the men's squash loss to Trinity in the national final (also by the same 5-4 score, ironically enough, as the hockey game) was equally as painful.

Agonizing losses have to measured not only in the event itself but also in what slipped away. It would have been hard for Princeton, like it was for UM-D, to turn around and beat a very good Miami team the next night, but the chance for the Frozen Four was there. For men's squash, the opportunity to win a national title was coupled with the chance end your biggest rival's 200-match winning streak.

For TigerBlog, the gold standard of crushing losses has always been the 1998 NCAA men's basketball second-round loss to Michigan State. That game stung because of how it got away from Princeton and because a Sweet 16 trip would have put an even greater exclamation point on that epic season.

The 2002 NCAA men's lacrosse championship game hurt as well, but it is softened by six other wins, including one the year before, and the knowledge that Syracuse was probably the better team during all three of those consecutive years (2000-02) that the teams played in the championship game and that Princeton was fortunate to get the one it did (2001).

Football games against Yale in 1995 (ended Princeton's perfect season bid) and 2005 (cost Princeton a share of Ivy title) don't sting as much since Princeton did win the 1995 title anyway and used to the ’05 Yale loss as huge motivation to win the ’06 championship.

Even the 1989 loss to Georgetown in the NCAA tournament did have the consolation prize of being one of the great games in the history of the sport.

On the women's side, maybe the 1998 field hockey loss to Old Dominion in the NCAA final, by a 3-2 score (not 5-4 at least) is the toughest.

TigerBlog could go back in history to many events that fit the "agony of defeat" category. Still, it does stand out that is that Princeton athletic history has way more great moments than crushing moments. Being able to handle the crushing moments is part of the deal when you play and succeed at the top levels. If Princeton didn't have so many great teams through the years, those teams wouldn't be in position to compete for high-intensity championships.

The "thrill of victory" clip on Wide World of Sports that TigerBlog remembers most is the one of the Kirkland, Wash., Little League team after it won the 1982 Little League World Series over the previously unbeatable Taiwanese (were they really 12?).

In other words, Princeton athletics has had way more Cody Webster moments than Vinko Bogataj moments.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Flipping Off, And Other Thoughts

So, for $132, you can change the way you do business as well (and some other thoughts) ...

* If you read the release on goprincetontigers.com about the men's hockey team's practice day at the NCAA tournament, you might have noticed the three embedded youtube clips as well. This is the first Office of Athletic Communications attempt at incorporating our newest purchase into our day-to-day (or week-to-week) offerings on the Website. The video comes courtesy of OAC contact Yariv Amir, who has enveiled the OAC's newest toy, a $132 flip camera. TigerBlog actually got the idea from ESPNU, which sent a flip camera last week to be given to one of the men's lacrosse players (in this case, Greg Seaman) to chronicle his week prior to the Albany game. As the communications business continues to move away from printed materials and more and more to video that can provide a direct connection to the product, the OAC is trying to keep up. The plan now is to give the flip camera to a different athlete to take on the road each weekend and then post what they come back with. We'll see how it goes, but the potential is there for this to be a pretty good way for Princeton fans to really get to know the athletes.

* In other evolving information updates, it's twitter at http://twitter.com/PUTIGERS.

* Speaking of hockey, the NCAA tournament game against Minnesota-Deluth can be heard live on WPRB FM 103.3 and seen live on ESPNU (a viewing party is being held in the Frist Campus Center) at 9 pm tonight (Friday). Should Princeton win, the second round game will be tomorrow night, at nine as well, on the same radio and TV outlets. In addition, the men's lacrosse game against Yale can be heard on WPRB FM 103.3 tomorrow at 1 from Reese Stadium in New Haven. FInally, the women's water polo match against Bucknell tomorrow at 11 (part of a full weekend of water polo) will be televised live on ESPNU; it's the first women's water polo match for ESPNU.

* Unlike today's sunny and 65 degree forecast, the weather for the weekend is iffy for this area. This could make the Ivy League openers for baseball and softball difficult. One of the great parts about lacrosse (and there are many) is that the game in New Haven will be played tomorrow, rain or not (might be delayed if there's lightning). Baseball and softball are at the mercy of the weather. If it cooperates, you have Yale at Princeton tomorrow and Brown at Princeton Sunday for both baseball (beginning at 12) and softball (beginning at 12:30). Admission is free.

* The first Saturday of the rowing season is tomorrow in another sport that will be unaffected by rain. TigerBlog remembers back to his reporter days when then-women's coach Dan Roock took TB out on the launch to watch the races, which is the best way to do it. Still, even though the land-locked can't see much of the boats on the water, there are few events that measure up to a Saturday of rowing. Each team has its followers. There's plenty of food around. The finish line buzzes every time a race is ending. Princeton hosts races pretty much every weekend, beginning with this one.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

One In A Million

To define Glenn Nelson only as the winningest coach in Princeton athletics history doesn't even begin to define the man that TigerBlog happily worked with for 18 of his incredible 58 seasons at Princeton. Yes, he won; he won a lot. He probably won more than anybody else ever will.

But to those who had the privilege to get to know him, he was about far more than wins.

TB came to Princeton as an intern in 1998 and was assigned women's volleyball as one of his first sports. Having played on a CYO team in the seventh grade, I at least knew the basic rules of the sport, but had no idea what to expect. I walked up to him before a preseason practice, readying myself for entry into the professional world, and introduced myself.

"Cuz, damn glad to meet you."

That was about it. I was ready to discuss his expectations of a media guide. He wasn't; he didn't want one. He knew where he was recruiting, he had contacts and he knew which tournaments to attend. No 20-page pamphlet was going to compare to his ability to find talent, call them and draw their interest. One of the nation's best liberos in the last five years, Jenny McReynolds, said she was asleep when Nelson first called and was too tired to be interested in talking more volleyball.

She got on the phone, was laughing almost immediately and talked almost no volleyball. A couple years later, she was named the CVO.com National Libero of the Year as a member of the Princeton Tigers.

When Nelson got the talent to Princeton, he knew what to do with it. Unlike most coaches, who pace the sidelines during matches, call out where to serve and what plays to run, Nelson teaches his players at practice and expects them to think on the court. He can sit like a mannequin for 15 minutes, watching play and muttering to himself (and those lucky enough to be within earshot), but when he saw something he didn't like... well, everybody in the building heard it. He would stand, scream and sit. Mannequin time again. (He'll go into retirement with thousands of unused timeouts in his pocket and at least one broken cane in the trash can.)

But the man could coach volleyball. His women won 11 Ivy League titles, including two that TB was lucky enough to cover. The 1999-00 champion was a team that featured an undersized outside hitter named Sabrina King, whose contributions to the program over the last decade can neither be understated or unappreciated. The team was sent to BYU, where the Tigers would face the seventh-seeded Cougars.

Before TB left, he spoke with his then-roommate Matt Ciciarelli, who had covered Penn State women's volleyball and was well aware of what elite NCAA volleyball teams were like. We discussed what reasonable expectations were for Princeton and decided that 14 total points (these were the pre-rally scoring days) was a legitimate goal. Now, if you tell almost any coach that you expect them to lose handily in the NCAA tournament, you're not likely to engender any warm feelings.

There isn't a phony bone in Glenn Nelson's body, though. When TB told him that "goal," Nelson thought it was hysterical that two people even had this conversation. Two days later, in the third game of a match Princeton trailed 15-5, 15-5, 11-3, TB was the only nervous person in the building, hoping to see the Tigers get that 14th point.

It came on a long hit from a BYU player. TB smiled and looked towards the Princeton bench, where the realization that this was going to be a quick loss had long been realized. Yet, there was Nelson, pointing in my direction, standing and pumping his fist like his team had just won an Olympic gold.

It is one of many memorable tales that anybody who was lucky enough to really know the man could share. He spent one summer, inexplicably, with an accent he liked from a movie. At the end of the summer, he got rid of it; obviously, three months is about the shelf life for fake accents. He'd rather be on a golf course than almost anywhere, and despite a missed diagnosis on his hip decades earlier that cost him his ability to move without pain, he is money around the greens. His tennis battles with Pete Carril in the bowels of Jadwin Gym, where the Hall of Fame basketball coach hoped a cigar and a drop shot could undo Nelson, were the stuff of legend.

Oftentimes, his hysterical personality and laid-back demeanor masked his coaching brilliance. His teams didn't win titles every year, and undoubtedly there were players who didn't really "get" him, but each man and woman who played volleyball at Princeton over the last three decades graduated with a true understanding of how to play the game.

He deflects attention from himself -- TB can guarantee that he will NEVER read this blog entry -- and his sport is not one that will garner national attention. That doesn't matter. Talk to somebody who Nelson impacted, and you're guaranteed a steady stream of great stories. Princeton Director of Athletics Gary Walters '67 called Glenn the "face of Princeton volleyball," and he's absolutely right.

But he's also the heart and soul of it, too, and there are hundreds upon hundreds of alumni who will be nostalgic upon hearing the news. Whether they are sad he is leaving or happy that he can spend more time working on his long irons, they will recall their own favorite memories of a man who will likely remain atop the victory mountain at Princeton for many years to come.

Thanks, Glenn. You are one in a million. A great coach, a great friend and a true institution at Princeton athletics, you are irreplaceable and unforgettable.

Hit 'em straight.

(To read the official release of Glenn Nelson's retirement, which details his long list of accomplishments as the head coach of both the men's and women's volleyball teams, please click here.)

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Ivy League All-Sports Points Standings

TigerBlog alluded last week to the Ivy League all-sports points standings, an unofficial system that attempts to measure the top overall athletic program in the league in a particular year. The standings are kept by TigerBlog and updated after each season.

Of course, TB wouldn't invest this time if Princeton didn't win it every year, or at least the last 22 years. TB began working at Princeton 15 years ago and as such isn't sure when it was first kept and by whom, though TigerBlog emeritus Kurt Kehl used to refer to it as "the Myslik System," which probably means it had something to do with former AD Bob Myslik.

The standings through the winter this year show Princeton with 130 points, followed by Harvard with 108.5 and then Cornell with 94.5.

It's a simple formula. Teams are awarded eight points for a first-place finish, seven points for second, six for third, etc. Since the Ivy League only breaks ties for purposes of NCAA tournament bids, teams that tie split the points for those spots. In other words, two teams that tie for fourth get 4.5 points each for that sport.

Though Princeton has 38 varsity sports, only 33 sports are recognized by the Ivy League as official league sports (at Princeton that means that men's and women's water polo, women's lightweight rowing, men's volleyball and sprint football are not Ivy League sports). Princeton and Harvard are the only two schools in the league that sponsor all 33 sports; Columbia, with 27, has the fewest.

Most of the other schools are closer to the full 33. Yale, for instance, has 32 (no wrestling in New Haven). Penn, with a great skating rink behind the Palestra, has 31 teams; recreational skaters in West Philly don't have to compete for ice time with the non-existent men's and women's hockey teams.

Teams are awarded eight points and down for sports that have fewer than eight teams, because it wouldn't be correct to penalize the teams that are competing.

The key to Princeton's success is that 1) the Tigers almost always win the most championships and 2) the teams that don't win usually finish in the top three. Through the fall and winter, there are 20 Ivy teams that have already competed. Of those 20 sports, Princeton's team has finished in the top three in the league in 16 of them.

There are many conferences in all divisions that have an official all-sports points standings. At the end of the year, a trophy (often called "the Commissioner's Cup," or something like that) is awarded to the winning school.

The Ivy League office has been very adament in requesting that Princeton use the word "unofficial" when publicizing the standings, and the league itself never mentions the standings anywhere in any fashion. That may change one day, and the Ivy League may have its own official all-around champion, but it won't be before Princeton actually loses one year.

With that in mind, "unofficial" works just fine.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Dr. K

Erin Snyder's last collegiate pitch came on May 20, 2006 at Louisiana State's Tiger Park (not to be confused with the other "tiger park," Class of 1895 Field), closing a career that saw Snyder win two Ivy League Pitcher of the Year awards (2005, 2006), the 2003 Ivy League Rookie of the Year award, three first-team All-Ivy honors and three NCAA tournament berths.

She may never have been more dominant than on the weekend of April 9-10, 2006. That Saturday, she threw a five-inning perfect game while the offense obliterated Yale, 16-0. Snyder got 11 of 15 possible outs via the strikeout, a number that was probably obscured by the 11 runs Princeton's bats put up in just the second inning. The top eight batters in the Princeton lineup each had at least two hits. Clearly, the day belonged to the offense.

Yale's softball sports information director, Tim Bennett, said to TigerBlog that day, "Good luck in the tournament." There were still 10 of 14 Ivy League games left to go.

But Snyder had more the next day, and her efforts are still recognized in the NCAA record book.

The first three Brown batters came up, and all three went down via the K. In the top of the second, same story. In the third, three more Ks. Nine outs, nine Ks.

The bid for 21 Ks ended there, with the first out of the fourth inning ending up in Brianna Moreno's glove in left field. Snyder quickly got back on track, and the next eight outs were Ks.

Entering the last inning, Snyder had 17 strikeouts. TigerBlog remembers joking about how Roger Clemens and Randy Johnson were still in reach with the Major League Baseball record of 20 strikeouts in a game. Of course, they had nine innings to do it.

The first batter of the seventh inning popped up to Cristina Cobb-Adams at shortstop, but the next two were punchouts. The result comes out every year in the record book:

Strikeouts in a Seven-Inning Game
19, Erin Snyder, Princeton vs. Brown, April 10, 2006

That's not the all-time NCAA record, but it's pretty close. Michele Granger from Cal, who went on to pitch Team USA to a gold medal in the 1996 Olympics, got all 21 Creighton Blue Jays swinging in a game in 1991, and all-time NCAA career strikeout leader Monica Abbott from Tennessee, an Olympian in 2008, fanned 20 Liberty batters in 2004. But then there's Snyder, along with Abbott, Angela Tincher from Virginia Tech and Abbott's understudy, Megan Rhodes from Tennessee, with 19 Ks in a game. Tincher pitched in the Women's College World Series, like Abbott's Tennessee team, and also no-hit the U.S. Olympic softball team in an exhibition game. Not bad company.

Yale and Brown haven't been to '95 Field since that weekend. The next year was Princeton's regular return visit to the two schools, and in 2008, the Ivy League opted to make the softball schedule identical to baseball, sending Princeton to Connecticut and Rhode Island again.

There will be no Erin Snyder for Yale and Brown to face this weekend, but the Bulldogs and Bears will have to contend with Michelle Tolfa, who did a remarkable job against No. 4 Stanford last weekend, and a Princeton offense that leads the Ivy League with a .291 average.

Let the Ivy League season begin.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Boog Makes It Big

It was about 20 years ago that TigerBlog rode with Tom McCarthy one Friday night to see Trenton State College open the football season against Southern Connecticut (Trenton State wiped SCSU out). TigerBlog was covering the game for the Trenton Times, and McCarthy was doing the radio for a small Mercer County station.

It was a few years later, when McCarthy was Princeton's football and men's basketball play-by-play man, that TigerBlog brought an out-of-town scoreboard up the rickety old press box steps in Palmer Stadium to the radio/TV booths on the second level and overheard this comment from McCarthy to then-color commentator and now-Philadelphia Channel 6 reporter Walter Perez: "Washington up the middle; gain of three; and Walt, don't even think about eating my cookie."

Then there was Friday, when TB was driving along and put on Westwood One radio's coverage of the first round of the NCAA tournament. And who was the play-by-play man from Miami? Tom McCarthy, of course.

TigerBlog called McCarthy Saturday afternoon, and McCarthy had to cut the conversation short because the Phillies' game was about to start and he had to get on TV, his "day job," as it were.

McCarthy - nicknamed "Boog" a hundred years ago for his resemblence to former Baltimore Oriole first baseman Boog Powell - is on top of the broadcasting world these days. He does the Phils on TV (and is about to receive his World Series ring) and college football and basketball on CBS College Sports. He has previously done radio on WFAN for the New York Mets, a job he left to move to the Phils' TV booth just in time to see the team win its second-ever World Championship.

McCarthy is familiar to Princeton fans for men's basketball and football work for a decade, including two famous calls from 1996: "Gabe Lewullis, off the glass, and the Tigers lead 43-41" and "Bailey sizes up the shot ... his shot is no good, and there will be a new champion in the NCAA."

The Ivy League is unique in many ways, and one of them is a geographical one. Because of the proximity of the schools, no league trip in any sport is done by air. Instead, it's a series of long rides, in the four-six hour range, to and from venues.

TigerBlog spent literally hundreds of hours traveling with McCarthy on Ivy League road trips, not to mention flying all over the country to tournaments in locales including Fresno; Charlotte; El Paso, Texas; Green Bay and Milwaukee (two trips); Ames, Iowa (twice); Bloomington, Ind.; and many others. There was the time when Princeton played at Kansas that then-Jayhawk coach Roy Williams put his arm around McCarthy when his batteries in his tape recorder died during a pregame interview and said "Tom, we've all been there." There was also the time in Honolulu when McCarthy stopped on Waikiki beach and said "hey, that's where the Brady Bunch stayed."

Two months after 9/11, Princeton played at Florida International in Miami. While waiting for the flight in Philadelphia, another passenger went to security to say that a bag had been left unattended. It turned out to be McCarthy's; he was subsequently taken to a special security room before being allowed onboard the plane.

The Ivy League trips usually involved leaving on Friday morning, driving to the site of Friday's game, leaving after the game for the site of the next game, staying over there and leaving Saturday after the game to get home at 2 a.m., 3 a.m. or later.

One night, on the way back from Dartmouth, McCarthy ordered a 20-piece McNugget and McDonaldland cookies, and there were none left upon arriving in Princeton. Another time, McCarthy asked the waitress at Friendly's if there were free refills on the ice cream sundaes.

Then, when his weight peaked at 340 pounds, he did something about. Today, he weighs in the neighborhood of a very healthy 180 pounds, and it's remarkable to see him now versus what he used to look like. With his health, career and wife Meg and four kids, it's all going well for the one known by so many as Boog.

Couldn't have happened to a nicer guy.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hockey Tourney Time

The Princeton men’s hockey team entered Saturday’s ECAC Hockey consolation game against St. Lawrence needing only a tie to solidify its positioning for the NCAA tournament. The Tigers got exactly that and finished the pre-NCAA tournament season ranked 12th in the pairwise rankings, which is the raking system used by the NCAA selection committee in choosing the 16 competitors for the NCAA tournament.

All of the games have been played and we now know the 16 teams that will play in the NCAA tournament and based on a few things we do know, there can be some projections made as to what the brackets will look like when the NCAA selection show airs at 11:30 a.m. on ESPN2.

We know that if a regional host makes the tournament, that team has to play at its home site. We know that the committee will do all that it can to avoid an intraconference matchup in the first round. And we know that the tournament is seeded in bands. There are four one-seeds, four twos, and so on. The committee will not make a three-seed a four to make the bracket work.

So what does this mean? TigerBlog tried its hand at field hockey bracketology, but here TigerBlog will just report what a few other bracketologists have already come up with.

First, the 16 teams that are in:

1 seeds: Boston University, Notre Dame, Denver, Michigan
2 seeds: Yale, Northeastern, Minnesota-Duluth, North Dakota
3 seeds: Vermont, New Hampshire, Cornell, Princeton
4 seeds: Miami, Air Force, Ohio State, Bemidji State

We can place Yale in the Bridgeport Regional since the Bulldogs are a host. The same goes for New Hampshire in Manchester. The other two sites are Grand Rapids, Mich., and Minneapolis. Princeton is bound for one of those two sites since it cannot face Yale in the first round, and UNH is already the three seed in Manchester.

Here is CollegeHockeyNews.com’s projection:

Manchester (Saturday-Sunday)
1. Boston University (1) vs. 4. Ohio State (15)
2. North Dakota (8) vs. 3. New Hampshire (10)

Bridgeport (Friday-Saturday)
1. Denver (4) vs. 4. Miami (13)
2. Yale (5) vs. 3. Vermont (9)

Grand Rapids (Saturday-Sunday)
1. Notre Dame (2) vs. 4. Bemidji State (16)
2. Minnesota-Duluth (7) vs. 3. Cornell (11)

Minneapolis (Friday-Saturday)
1. Michigan (3) vs. 4. Air Force (14)
2. Northeastern (6) vs. 3. Princeton (12)

USCHO.com also has a bracket projection that is very similar. The exception is that USCHO puts the Princeton-Northeastern game in Grand Rapids and the Cornell-Minnesota-Duluth game in Minneapolis. The match-ups are all the same though.

We will find out for sure tomorrow morning when the field is announced.

Friday, March 20, 2009

You Call This Spring?

TigerBlog woke up, looked out the window and saw that snow had dared to fall on the first day of spring in Central Jersey. Snow? It's spring. That's one season away from summer. Nobody wants snow.

In keeping with the uncertainty of seasons, TigerBlog offers some thoughts as winter ends and spring begins:

* as Princeton fans, are we supposed to be rooting for or against Cornell in the men's basketball tournament? We'll leave the whole Dartmouth in the women's basketball tournament part alone, because Dartmouth women's basketball has some strong Princeton ties. But how about it? Are you rooting for Cornell. Or is it a provincial "if we can't be there, we don't want anyone else doing well" or an even more Tiger-centric "our history is the only one we want to see every year on the countdown lists of great NCAA tournament moments?" TigerBlog is unsure of what the proper etiquette is. On the one hand, Cornell coach Steve Donahue is certainly a quality person, and the Big Red come across as nice young men. On the other hand, there is something extraordinarily unique about seeing Gabe Lewullis make his layup every March and knowing that no other school in the league (even Penn) has a moment quite like that one. So, for whom will you be rooting?

* while we're talking NCAA tournament, it was good to see Princeton alum Mike Brennan and the American Eagles push Villanova the way they did. TigerBlog was left to wonder what Villanova had done during the season to warrant playing basically at home (it's not as if 'Nova was a No. 1 seed), and there can be no denying that during the crucial point of the game, the Wildcats got a huge lift from the big crowd. Had the game been at the Verizon Center (or someplace neutral), maybe the crowd would have gotten behind the Eagles instead. Clearly, that was the case in Princeton's win over UCLA in Indianapolis in 1996, when the 32,000 in the RCA Dome united behind the Tigers.

* Princeton fans are used to seeing that the Tigers have won the Ivy League all-sports points standings for X number of years in a row. The streak currently stands at 22. TigerBlog will go a little more in depth about this next week, but through the winter season, Princeton is in first place with 130 points, followed by Harvard with 108.5 and Cornell with 94. Points are awarded based on league placing, with eight for first, seven for second, etc. Disclaimer for the Ivy office - this is an unofficial honor. As for number of Ivy titles won this academic year, Princeton has won or shared seven: field hockey, women's soccer, men's cross country, women's cross country, men's swimming and diving, men's squash and women's squash. Harvard is next with five: football, women's soccer, women's hockey, women's fencing and women's swimming and diving.

* Alicia Aemisegger, the three-time Ivy League championships Swimmer of the Meet, has her two strongest events still to come this weekend at the NCAA championships in College Station, Texas. She will compete for the 400 IM title Friday; Aemisegger reached the 400 IM Olympic Trial final last summer and is a former silver medalist at NCAAs in this event. On Saturday, Aemisegger will swim the mile, where she has already qualified for the final swim with the sixth-best time heading into NCAAs.

* Princeton's ESPN contract calls for a minimum number of events each year, and the Department of Athletics always tries to get ESPN to include something unique as part of that. Next Saturday (March 28), Princeton and Bucknell will meet at DeNunzio Pool in the first women's college water polo match ESPNU has ever televised. For Princeton, it's a good showcase for a quality program, and an opportunity to showcase the pool that will host the NCAA men's water polo Final Four this December.

* The current issue of "The New Yorker Magazine" features a story about lacrosse by Pulitzer Prize-winning author John McPhee, an Academic Athletic Fellow for the men's lacrosse team. McPhee accompanied Princeton on its trip to Spain and Ireland last June (and was TigerBlog's roommate in Spain), and the article touches on his experiences in Europe, as well as some general lacrosse thoughts and his experiences as a player back in his prep school days. The story is unavailable online unless you buy a subscription, which to read this issue alone costs $4.99. It's worth every penny. McPhee will also be part of a Q&A on insidelacrosse.com with IL's Jon Brand. Link to follow.

* With the end of spring break, teams will be returning to campus, so home events will begin again. The baseball team plays its home opener Tuesday against Rutgers at Clarke Field and then the baseball and softball teams play home Ivy doubleheaders against Yale Saturday and Brown Sunday. The women's lacrosse team is home Wednesday against Temple, and there is a full morning of rowing next Saturday as well as the women's water polo match. Hey, spring is here. And the snow appears to be mostly melted.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Back to Albany

The Princeton men’s hockey loaded up the bus this morning and made the three-hour drive north to Albany for this weekend’s ECAC Hockey Championships. The third-seeded Tigers will meet second-seeded Cornell Friday night at 7:30 p.m. in the second semifinal while top-seeded Yale hosts fourth-seeded St. Lawrence in the first game tomorrow at 4 p.m.

For Princeton it is the second straight visit to Albany. Prior to that it had been nine years since Princeton last played in the ECAC Championships, then hosted in Lake Placid. TigerBlog wasn’t around in the Lake Placid days, neither were any of the players, coaches and team staff that accompanied Princeton to Albany last year, save athletic trainer John Furtado, who joined the Tigers in the 1996-97 season.

Last season traveling to Albany was a new experience. As the bus pulled into the loading dock, players were looking out the windows at the TimesUnion Center and wondering about the building where the league’s semifinals and championship game would play out. When the team walked into the building, the players needed to be directed to the locker room area and the route to the ice surface had to be pointed out. TigerBlog set out on a journey of the bowels of the TUC, looking for the media room and familiarizing himself with the route needed for postgame interviews.

While it was a new experience and the first time for the Tigers, the team did not let that phase it. Princeton was the top seed and showed why in a semifinal win over Colgate. The Tigers then continued that the following night with a win over Harvard in the title game.

This year as the bus pulled into the loading dock, the tone was different. Last year there were some happy-to-be-here sentiments. The program was continuing to rise and it was the next step in that progression. Obviously Princeton came to Albany to win, but there was some excitement in merely being here. This year the Tigers came to Albany with a job to complete.

As the players walked off the bus and unloaded the equipment, they knew where to enter the building, knew the way to the locker rooms and knew where to set up. Furtado knew where he needed to set up. Equipment manager Mark Mills knew where to set up the skate sharpener and TigerBlog didn’t wander the building. Even Princeton’s bus driver Robin knew exactly where to park and how to maneuver the bus in the tight parking area.

When the team usually pulls into a road arena, one of the first steps is to walk down the tunnel and see the rink. Not today, the primary focus was on practice. The players went right to the locker room to get ready for practice. Less than two hours later, practice was over and it was back on the bus for the two-minute ride to the hotel and an easy afternoon.

Tonight the Tigers will attend the ECAC Hockey Awards banquet where junior goalie Zane Kalemba will receive the ECAC Player of the Year Award and the league’s Ken Dryden Award as top goaltender.

There will be a morning skate tomorrow at noon and the puck drops tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Mining For Gold

There have been a number of terrific female swimmers who have proudly represented the Orange and Black since the program began during the 1971-72 academic year. One of its original stars was Cathy Corcione, a former Olympian and 1974 graduate who set two national records while winning two Eastern Women's Swimming League titles. (The Ivy League didn't crown its first champion until 1977)

Since then, there has been the likes of 10-time All-America Charlotte Tiedemann '82, NCAA qualifier and Olympic consolation finalist Natalie Wunderlich '93, EWSL Swimmer of the Year and multiple-time All-America Carwai Seto '95 and, more recently, 2005 Ivy Championships Swimmer of the Meet Stephanie Hsiao '05. And there have been plenty more, all of whom have helped Princeton to its 18 Ivy League titles in the last 33 years.

None of those afore-mentioned names have ever won an NCAA championship. One name, who is en route to being at least among the best - if not THE best - swimmer in program history will take another shot at an NCAA title this weekend. Actually, she'll take three shots.

Alicia Aemisegger's resumé speaks for itself already, and she hasn't completed her junior season. She has competed in nine individual finals at the Ivy League Championships, and her biggest opponent has been the meet record each time. She won all nine titles and set Ivy League records more times than not. She is a seven-time All-America honoree and has placed in the championship final (top 8) in five of her six individual events. She was the seventh-fastest American woman last year in the 400 IM -- not in college, not in her age range... in America.

Aemisegger doesn't need an NCAA title to validate her career. That was signed, sealed and delivered a long time ago. But she has a chance this weekend to become only the second woman in Ivy League history (Columbia's Cristina Teuscher, a former Olympic champion) to win an NCAA title when she competes in the 500 free (Thursday), the 400 IM (Friday) and the 1650 free (Saturday). Her veteran head coach, the incredibly successful Susan Teeter, felt great about Aemisegger before they boarded a plane to College Station, Texas, for NCAAs. She felt the weight that she might have felt last year with Olympic Trials on the horizon is off her shoulders, and she thinks Aemisegger could be headed into the weekend of her life.

So what is her best chance? The 400 IM would seem like the natural choice. It's her best event, the one she reached the Olympic Trials finals in 2008, and it's been her best NCAA finish during her career (second, 2007). She will be rested for the first time this weekend, so she shouldn't have any trouble topping her Ivy Championships time of 4:06.15, which is currently sixth-best in the country.

The problem in that event could be Stanford's Julia Smit, the reigning NCAA champion in the event. Aemisegger topped Smit in the 2007 final, but lost to Auburn's Ava Ohlgren (whom she will also undoubtedly see in this final). Smit also topped Aemisegger in the Olympic Trial final and, at the 2009 Pac-Ten Championships, she broke the NCAA record by going 4:01.56.

Is it possible for Aemisegger to win this event? Sure. The Princeton junior is a world-class swimmer, but she is in a ridiculously deep field.

As for the 500 and 1650, both seem like realistic possibilities. Teeter thought the 1650 could be the slightly more likely scenario; Aemisegger is fitter, stronger and more experienced than she's been in the past, and she is seeded sixth in the field right now. The top performer, as she is in the 500, is Georgia freshman Wendy Trott; beyond Trott, the field is pretty grouped from second to tenth, so a rested and pushed Aemisegger could provide the biggest challenge to Trott.

NCAAs work like the Ivy League Championships -- there will be a preliminary session in the morning and a championship session at night. Thus, Aemisegger's first goal each day is to have one of the eight fastest times in her events; the only exception is the 1650, where she is guaranteed to be one of the eight finalists based on her seeded time.

If she can make the championship final in each event, and TigerBlog predicts she will, anything is possible.

One more thing. While Aemisegger is seeking an NCAA championship this weekend, senior teammate and two-time Ivy League Championships Diver of the Meet Katie Giarra basically achieved her biggest goal by reaching nationals. She placed second at last weekend's Zone 'A' championship meet, which allowed her the final spot in the field. After an injury-plagued season in 2007-08, her tireless work ethic pushed her to an exclamation point-style ending to her career. Teeter and diving coach Greg Gunn were both thrilled for Giarra, but more on a personal level than for what it could do for Princeton. Giarra is a long shot to score in the NCAA field, but after watching the hours Giarra put into her craft after fighting back from last year, they couldn't have been happier to see Giarra earn that final opportunity to compete on the biggest stage.

Sometimes, that itself is the gold medal.

I Can See Clearly Now the Rain is Gone... And What I See is the #1 Team in the Country

Every spring, the Princeton baseball team travels to North Carolina and Virginia over Spring Break for a week of games that head coach Scott Bradley often refers to as Spring Training. It's a chance to play every day, try out different lineup combinations and give different pitchers the chance to show what they can do.

It also gives Bradley a chance to set up his weekend pitching rotation because the Ivy League season begins just a week after the team returns to Princeton. And, as might be expected, it seems that every year the Tigers run into rain on their spring trip and usually miss a game.

But this year has been different. The team left campus at 12 noon on Friday and about an hour into its trip learned that Saturday’s doubleheader at Norfolk State would be rained out. To make up for that day the Tigers added a game on Monday, which was a scheduled off day, at Elon. A day later the second doubleheader at Norfolk State was rained out and Princeton was headed to North Carolina.

The Tigers got to North Carolina, but the giant rain cloud over the Middle Atlantic states was still there, raining out the Monday game at Elon. There was good news though, as the weather was breaking and Princeton would be able to get its game in on Tuesday. The only problem was that it would be at North Carolina, the nation’s top-ranked team.

So here’s the situation: After three days of lying around hotels and the bus, the team had to go against the best team in the country. Not an easy task.

For the two days in Norfolk, the team literally sat around a hotel for two days. A few guys found batting cages to go to, but since it never stopped raining, the team was unable to even go through a workout. Unlike most Northern teams, most Southern teams do not have indoor facilities to hit and throw in because they tend to not need them. If the rainouts happened at Princeton, the team could still work in the pit, but there was no such option in Norfolk. On Monday, it looked like there would be baseball played. Princeton traveled to Elon, took batting practice and had the pitchers loosen up, only to see about 10 minutes before the game was set to start, the rains come again.

Back to Tuesday at UNC. TigerBlog has seen its share of St. Patrick’s Day games at Boshamer Stadium. TigerBlog remembers a home run that Ryan Eldridge hit there a few years that probably still hasn’t landed. Tuesday’s game was one not to remember. Princeton was one-hit in a 17-0 loss to the Tar Heels.

“To be honest, we looked like a team that had laid in hotel beds for three days,” said Bradley. “If you look at our last two weeks, we played well at William & Mary two weekends ago. Then we came home and had the guys go through midterms so a lot of practices last week were optional. Then we go on the road, only to have three days rained out. Then it finally gets nice out and we have to face the best team in the country. That is a rough stretch.”

What makes it even tougher is that the Ivy League season starts in a week and a half and Bradley still has a lot of unknowns about his lineup that he hoped would have been answered in the games that were rained out.

“The doubleheader games would have been very useful because it would have given us a chance to split games and run a lot of different guys out there,” says Bradley. “They let us try different lineups. Now that were down to single games, we have less flexibility in who we play.”

It also has had effects on Princeton’s pitching. Bradley had hoped to solidify his weekend rotation with last weekend’s scheduled games at Norfolk State and this weekend’s games at Navy. But the weather definitely has changed that. As a result Bradley tried to work three of his starters into yesterday’s game on limited pitch counts to get them the work they would need to be ready for the weekend.

“The hardest part is definitely managing our pitching with the weekend in mind,” added Bradley. “We got David Hale and Brad Gemberling some work. We also started Dan Barnes, but he had to leave early with some arm discomfort. That could be the result of sitting in a hotel for three days, or it could be a bigger problem and we just don’t know yet.”

David Palms will get the start for the Tigers this afternoon against North Carolina.

“Hopefully we got all the rust out of our systems last night,” said Bradley. “We have a lot of work to do before the Ivy opener.”

Looking ahead, Langford Stuber will start Thursday’s game at North Carolina A&T, Friday’s starter in unknown with Barnes potentially unavailable, Hale and Gemberling will pitch the doubleheader on Saturday and Palms will go again on Sunday.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

It Was 20 Years Ago Today ...

The booklet spent about 15 years sitting in a converted refrigerator that now serves as a storage container. For the last five years, it made its way to a file cabinet. Every now and then it saw the light of day and retold its story, its amazing story, its story that continues to make you smile and shake your head and say "what if ..."

The title is "40 Minutes In March," and those 40 minutes were held 20 years ago today, March 17, 1989. It was on that night, at the Providence Civic Center, that 16th-seeded Princeton took on mighty No. 1-seeded Georgetown in what was supposed to be the last appearance ever by an Ivy League school – or school from any similar league – in the NCAA tournament.

Instead, Princeton pushed the Hoyas to limit, falling 50-49 only when Alonzo Mourning blocked shots by Bob Scrabis and Kit Mueller in the final six seconds. Were either one or both fouled?

"I'll take that up with God when I get there," Princeton coach Pete Carril said.

It can't be called the greatest game in Princeton athletic history, because the Tigers lost. Or did they?

Six years later, Carril won his 500th career game. In the postgame interview afterwards, he was asked to talk about his biggest wins.

"Well," he said, "you have to start with the Georgetown game."

"Uh, coach," Mark Eckel of the Trenton Times said. "You lost that game."

The booklet "40 Minutes In March" chronicles the game with the official box and play-by-play, as well as newspaper clippings leading up to the game and afterwards.

"It figures to be a blowout," Stan Hochman wrote near the end of a great column in the Philadelphia Daily News.

"It's difficult to imagine finding a bigger underdog," the Washington Times wrote.

Nowhere did anyone predict a Princeton win, or even a close game. Why would they?

The days of Princeton and Penn dominance of the league seemed over by the end of the 1980s. Princeton barely won the Ivy League title in 1989, needing a win over Harvard on the final night of the regular season to get back to the tournament in the first place.

The Tigers were 11-3 in the league in 1989 and looked ready to join the three previous Ivy champs (Brown in ’86, Penn in ’87 and Cornell in ’88) by getting blown out in the first round. How bad had it been? Well, those three had lost by a combined total of 120 points, an average of 40.0 per game. There was talk of taking away the automatic bid for the Ivy League and for leagues like it, as the tournament clearly had passed them by.

Certainly the 1989 game wouldn't be any better. Georgetown was the No. 1 team in the country, the Beast of the Big East, led by the freshman Mourning and featuring a pressure defense that had rattled the best teams in college basketball.

Then the game started. Mueller started the scoring with a five-foot hook shot, and the next two Princeton baskets came when Scrabis had back-to-back shots goaltended away. It was 8-4 Princeton at the first TV timeout, and the lead would swell to eight on several occasions, the last of which was when it was 29-21 Tigers are halftime. Princeton repeatedly exploited the pressure defense by going backdoor, and Mueller frustrated the bigger Mourning with his ability to play away from the basket, dribble and pass.

The TV audience began to grow and would become the highest rated college basketball telecast ever on ESPN. Before the game, Dick Vitale had said that if Princeton won the game, he would wear a cheerleader's uniform, and now that was becoming a real possibility. John Thompson III, who had graduated from Princeton a year earlier, was shown repeatedly watching his old team and coach play against his father and the team he had grown up with.

Princeton scored first in the second half to go up by 10, but the Hoyas came back. Georgetown took its first lead with a 7-0 run that made it 39-37 with 10:25 to play, but Princeton would regain the lead on a Scrabis layup. Charles Smith put Georgetown back up, but Matt Lapin answered with a three-pointer with 7:30 to go.

The arena couldn't get much louder, as the overwhelming underdog refused to go away. Neither team would lead by more than two for the final 11:44, and Princeton had its last lead at 49-47 on Jerry Doyle's backdoor layup with 1:55 to play. Mourning then made a pair of foul shots to tie it and one out of two with 23 seconds to play to put the Hoyas up 50-49. That set the stage for the final two Princeton attempts, the block of Scrabis with six seconds lefft and then of Mueller with one second to play.

In reality, Princeton sort of let the game get away at the end, with several chances down the stretch that didn't fall. Princeton didn't play a perfect game, but some of the numbers are amazing. Mueller hhad a nine-point, eight-assist night while playing all 40 minutes. Scrabis led the Tigers with 15 points; he too did not come out. Neither did George Leftwich, who played all 40 minutes and turned the ball over just once. Princeton had 14 assists on 21 baskets while turning it over seven times. Lapin scored 12 points and had four assists in 34 minutes off the bench.

For Georgetown, Smith shot 2 for 12 and finished with four points. The Hoyas had seven assists and 13 turnovers, but they did outrebound the Tigers 35-16. In the end, there was too much Mourning, who had 21 points and 13 rebounds.

The game itself was a beauty, but it's the game's legacy that was probably more important. For starters, it directly led to CBS's decision to purchase the entire men's basketball tournament after ESPN had the opening rounds for years, and that was really the birth of what is now March Madness. It saved the automatic bids for the lower conferences, as the thrill of watching to see if the 15th seeds (they have) and 16th seeds (not yet) can win a first round game against a giant.

More provincially, it was a springboard for the three consecutive Ivy titles that followed as Princeton became a Top 20 team within two more years. It also began the focus on the uniqueness of the Princeton Offense, a term that Carril came to hate, in all honesty.

The start of the 1989-90 season was a marvel, as everywhere Princeton went, fans flocked to see the team that had almost knocked off Georgetown and how they did it. Within 10 years of that game, Princeton had become a national power again; within 15 years the offense had spread to the point where almost every team from the NBA down through college and high school had adopted some of its principles.

It can be argued that Princeton athletics had bigger games than that one against Georgetown. Certainly the win over UCLA in 1996 is remembered with greater fondness. TigerBlog doesn't even remember any mention of Princeton-Georgetown as part of the Carril Court ceremonies that recently concluded.

In its historical context, though, that game is probably the single most important game ever for Princeton athletics.

Years later, TigerBlog interviewed Scrabis on the radio at halftime of a game at Jadwin and offered up the obligatory "were you fouled?" question.

"I don't know about that," Scrabis said. "But I do know that if he hadn't blocked it, it was going in."

Monday, March 16, 2009

Several Shining Moments

While watching a recent show that counted down the greatest finishes in NCAA men's basketball tournament history, TigerBlog realized that three of the Top 10 on the list - including No. 1 - and four of the Top 20 were games that TB had covered.

In fact, TigerBlog has been at way more than his fair share of NCAA tournament games, first as a sportswriter and later as a sports information contact.

Going way back to the undergraduate days in West Philadelphia, TB had a work-study job in the basement of the pychology department making copies of reading assignments (and tests) for huge lectures. This was back before copy machines could collate and staple, so TigerBlog had to make piles for each page and then put the next one on top and so on and so on and finally staple the finished product.

Not that TB had to do this alone. For most of the time, Fran McCaffery also was there, working on the same dull tasks while also serving as a volunteer assistant coach for the Penn men's basketball team. McCaffery will now be taking Siena to the NCAA tournament for the second straight year after also taking Lehigh and UNC Greesboro to the tournament as well.

McCaffery often spoke about his experiences as a player in the tournament.

"There's nothing like it," he'd say. "It's something you'll never forget for the rest of your life. No matter what else happens to you, you can always say you played in the NCAA tournament."

Despite more than a decade of being the dominant inside player at noon hoops games at Jadwin, TigerBlog never quite played in the NCAA tournament. Still, what Fran spoke about more than 25 years ago resonated every time TB picked up a credential or walked into the media room or made the way out through the tunnel to the court. He was 100% on about there being nothing like the tournament (even as TV and the media do their best to destroy it through overhype and overexposure).

It all starts with the selection show. TigerBlog, in sportswriter mode, was invited to watch the show with the 1991 team in the room of Kit Mueller, the great Princeton center. The drama that built for the players and the reaction when they saw their draw is something never to be forgotten.

Obviously, the 1996 win over UCLA ranks as the highlight for NCAA tournament experience. In addition to the win, there was also the next day in Indianapolis. TigerBlog needed to update game notes and stats in the pre-laptop days, which required trying to find a place that had a computer that could be borrowed. Each call started out with "hi, I'm from Princeton basketball ..." and then went met with "that was the greatest game." Finally, it was the headquarters of U.S. Swimming that had a Mac with PageMaker (probably version 5.0 at the time; the software has been out-of-date for years now), and upon arriving, TB and TM (Tom McCarthy, then the radio man) were greated like visiting heads of state. The same was true later that night when a Princeton corporte credit card was used to pay for dinner.

The 1998 tournament still stings because of the loss to Michigan State, though the late-hour revelry in the media hospitality room did match up pretty favorably to the one two years earlier.

As for the pre-Princeton days and the NCAA tournament, TB covered the 1990 tournament at th Meadowlands when Tate George of UConn beat Clemson and then watched as Duke returned the favor two days later.

And then there was the night two years after that. Harvey Yavener didn't want to go to the Spectrum, citing instead the "killler wrap" of college events tht needed to be written that night for the Trenton Times. Intead, he sent TigerBlog, who sat directly behind the Kentucky bench during the 104-103 Duke win that is widely regarded as the greatest college basketball game ever played.

Even for someone who isn't exactly a huge Duke fan, it's impossible not to realize how special a game that was and how lucky TB was to have been there to write about it (two stories, 40 total column inches, about 30 minutes).

TB has two great memories from that night. The first was after Kentucky took a one-point lead with less than three seconds to play and timeout was called. From the seat directly behind the Kentucky bench, TigerBlog was about five feet from Rick Pitino, who spent the entire timeout yelling "no fouls, no fouls." Then, after the great pass from Grant Hill (TB voted for Hill for Most Outstanding Player and not Christian Laettner), Pitino turned to his bench and assistants, as if there was one more move he could make, and then reality settled in on him.

The second memory came as TigerBlog was writing his stories on a folding chair in a hallway outside the jammed media room with his long-obsolete radio shack word processor on his knees. Suddenly, from around the corner, a woman came sprinting by and, never seeing TB, fell face first on the floor after tripping over TB and his chair. "Are you all right?" TB asked, and then realized it was Lesley Visser.

Hey, the shining moments come before the games, during the games and after the games when it comes to the NCAA tournament. And you never forget them.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Thank You For Calling The Tiger Sportsline

Back in the day, when TigerBlog was still working in the newspaper business, one of the great sources of comedy would be then-Princeton media relations director Mark Panus' attempts at updated the Tiger Sportsline.

Back then, the Sportsline was actually an answering machine that was housed in the back of the Office of Atlhetic Communications. It had a four-minute tape, and it needed to be pretty much a four-minute recap, because the machine would not automatically reset for the next caller. For those who used to pay $1.50 to go to the movies, it was like the message on the theater's machine that ran down the movies and start times; when someone would call and hear "Less Than Zero" playing at 7:10 and 9:45 and then hang up, the next caller would get the message from that point forward.

Anyway, on more than one occasion, Panus would completely flip out after getting 3:30 into his message and then make a mistake, causing him to restart. Often, other members of the office would attempt to distract him, which would really make him mad.

When TigerBlog came to Princeton in 1994, the Sportsline had moved up a bit in technology to become part of the University's voicemail system. After endless meetings, it was decided that there would be four mailboxes within the Sportsline, with No. 1 for scores only, No. 2 for schedules of upcoming events, No. 3 for highlights of men's sports and No. 4 for highlights of women's sports. It was also part of early marketing efforts, as the Tiger Sportsline in 1994 was brought to you by a hotel that has changed owners at least three times since: "the Novotel hotel, hospitality with a European touch."

There became all kinds of issues with the Sportsline. Should the scores from Friday night be kept on after games Saturday were played? Should the entire weekend's scores be left up there? How far in advance should the schedule be updated? Is it okay to have multiple voices recap scores and highlights, and if so, what does the first person need to say to welcome callers and what does the last person need to say to alert callers that the call is over? When do the instructions need to be listed: press 1 to start over, press 3 to fast forward, etc.?

Back then, the Tiger Sportsline averaged around 10,000 callers per month. In many ways, it was the only way to get information about many Princeton sports, back before there was a Webpage. If you wanted to really annoy the fan base, the best way was to not update the Sportsline.

The internet, and especially goprincetontigers.com, obviously changed all that. Understandably, as the numbers of page views went up, the number of callers to the Sportsline went down and down.

Today, goprincetontigers.com gets around 1,000,000 page views per month. To put that another way, the Website averages more page views per hour than the Sportsline averages per month.

Actually, that should say averaged per month, as the Tiger Sportsline has officially been retired. By the end, the Sportsline was down to around 10 callers per week.

It's a great testament to the evolution of technology and information. It shows how the world has changed in a short time, that something that could have been such a big staple of the communications world a decade ago no longer exists.

And, to prove that the right decision was made to get rid of the Sportsline, since its demise, only one person has called to complain. In that same amount of time, goprincetongtigers.com has had 21,000 unique visitors.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

All-Ivy ’09 vs. Princeton ’98

The 2008-09 All-Ivy League men's basketball team was released yesterday, and it started TigerBlog down a hypothetical road: How would the five members of the 2009 All-Ivy team have fared against the 1997-98 Princeton team?

The current All-Ivy group includes a great inside-outside scorer (Alex Barnett of Dartmouth, also the Player of the Year), a true point guard who is also an excellent scorer and great foul shooter (Louis Dale of Cornell), a 6' 6" forward who can create his own shot and is one of the great shooters from distance in league history (Ryan Wittman of Cornell), a do-it-all who was among the league leaders in pretty much every category (Jeremy Lin of Harvard) and a burly inside man who can score and rebound (Matt Mullery of Brown).

When the team was first released, TigerBlog thought that group of five would be no match for the 1998 Tigers. With a little more consideration, perhaps that's underestimating the current group. Still, TB is staying with the idea that the ’98 Tigers would have won, as would the 1996 and 1997 Tigers, the 1993-95, 1999, 2000 and 2002 Penn teams and maybe the 2004 Tigers.

There is no question that the 1998 Tigers would have been able to defend the current All-Ivy group. The ’98ers could have used current head coach Sydney Johnson, who graduated a year earlier, to defend either Wittman or Barnett, but current orthopedic surgeon Gabe Lewullis and James Mastaglio would have gotten the assignments. Mitch Henderson would have been able to neutralize Dale, and those three would be the cornerstones of the current All-Ivy offense.

On the other side of the ball, it would have been a mismatch. Princeton won with tremendous offensive balance and 50% team shooting, and there's no reason to suspect any of that would be different. There would have been no stopping Steve Goodrich (remember, he played in the NBA) in the post, and the rest would have flowed from there. Lewullis, Henderson, Mastaglio and Brian Earl (whose Ivy record of 281 career three-pointers will be broken by Wittman next year, as Wittman already has 262 with a year to play) would have been able to do what they did night-in, night-out back in that season, which was the share the ball, share the shots, create for each other and make as many as they missed.

If in fact all of those teams mentioned above could beat the current All-Ivy group, what does that say about the current state of Ivy basketball? Well, it's no secret that Princeton and Penn dominated the league for decades, and the Tigers with a coaching staff that include Pete Carril, Bill Carmody, John Thompson, Joe Scott and Howard Levy during the 1990s into this decade were bringing in great players. The same was true of Fran Dunphy's Penn teams.

The great part about putting dominant basketball teams together is that it doesn't take 20 players. Princeton's 1998 team consisted of two players who were recruited by Princeton and Penn primarily (Earl and Goodrich) and three players (Mastaglio, Henderson and Lewullis) who were somewhat overlooked in the process.

The days are coming when an Ivy League schools fields a team with players like Princeton and Penn did for all those years not so long ago.

In the meantime, it's always fun to remember those great players. Maybe TigerBlog is wrong and is overestimating those teams and the 1998 Tigers specifically.

TigerBlog doubts it, though.

* * *

Speaking of the ’98 Tigers, Sean Gregory, who now writes about sports for Time magazine, recently caught up with Kobe Bryant for a little basketball clinic. It's a nice piece, and Kobe has always appeared to be intelligent and personable, both of which come across in the video.

Still, TigerBlog can't help but think that a better answer for Bryant to the "what do you do in this particular situation" questions that Bones (Gregory's nickname from his Princeton days, when he was "skin and bones") asks him would have been: "well, I'm just better than almost anyone else."

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

A Few Thoughts ...

A few thoughts ...

* tradition at a championship swim meet mandates that the winning coach be tossed into the pool at the end. Princeton's men's swimming and diving team ran (swam?) away from the field to win the Ivy League title last weekend, and Princeton photographer Beverly Schaefer captured the moment when Tiger coach Rob Orr hit the water at DeNunzio Pool. Sometimes, a picture tells the whole story.

* while we're talking coaches who've been thrown into pools following wins, water polo coach Luis Nicolao once was shoved in after a Southern Division title. Usually, the coach anticipates the plunge and removes essential items from his/her pockets. And Nicolao? Well, he forgot to take his Blackberry out of his pocket.

* the women's basketball team defeated Penn by 17 Tuesday night to finish 9-5 in the Ivy League, good for third place and the second better-than-.500 league finish in 10 years for the Tigers. It also represented a five-game improvement from a year ago. The men then defeated the Quakers by three to finish 8-6 in the league and improve by five games as well. It's hard to imagine there have been too many times in Division I when a school had its men's and women's teams both improve by five games in the same season. A year ago, the men's and women's basketball teams were a combined 7-21 in the league; this year they were a combined 17-11. TigerBlog said on the radio all season that 8-6 for the men would be amazing improvement.

* the ECAC men's hockey quarterfinals are this weekend as Princeton hosts Union Friday, Saturday and possibly Sunday, all at 7 pm. The other matchups are Brown at Yale, Rennselaer at Cornell and Quinnipiac at St. Lawrence; the four winners will advance to the single-elimination league final four in Albany March 20-21. It was a wild first weekend in the playoffs, as 12th seed Brown knocked off fifth seed Harvard and 11th seed Rennselaer knocked off sixth seed Dartmouth. The Brown-Harvard series was particularly amazing, as the Bears shut out the Crimson twice after going 3-15-4 and finishing last during the regular season (though they did go 0-0-2 against Harvard). Almost forgotten in Princeton's run to the championship in Albany and NCAA tournament appearance last year was just how close the Tigers came to not making it out of the quarterfinals as Yale pushed Princeton to the limit. As for this year's opponent, Princeton and Union split their regular season games, each winning on the other's ice.

* looking for a game to go to this weekend at Princeton? As it is spring break and basically every spring team will be away, your choices come down to the hockey playoffs and the seventh-ranked women's lacrosse team's game Saturday at 1 at Class of 1952 Stadium against Penn State. According to accuweather.com's five-day forecast, it'll be sunny at 49 Saturday in Princeton, which seems much colder than if it said sunny at 50. So, don't let that one degree scare you away.

* speaking of accuweather, it calls for pretty good weather next week in the general North Carolina/Virginia area. That's good news for the baseball team, which has 11 games scheduled for its spring break trip to those two states, as well as a concluding series at Navy. The baseball and softball teams have spent more than their share of time stuck in hotels watching rain fall during spring break. Hopefully that won't happen this time around.

* the third-ranked Princeton men's team is at Hofstra Saturday at 1 (it'll be 47 in Hempstead), which is going to be about 15 degrees warmer than Princeton's last game in Hempstead two years ago. The Pride is coached by Seth Tierney, the nephew of Princeton coach Bill Tierney, and is ranked 11th in one poll and 12th in the other. Another subplot of the game is that Princeton's first-year assistant coach Kevin Unterstein was the Colonial Athletic Association Defensive Player of the Year for Hofstra last season. Princeton comes into this game 4-0 and averaging 50.5 shots per game, which would be four more than any Princeton team Bill Tierney has coached for a full season. Princeton also has its lowest team shooting percentage of any of Tierney's team (.243) and its highest scoring average (12.25) this decade, proving that shooting percentage can be overrated. It's been an amazing transformation for Princeton offensively, from a team that held the ball looking for the perfect opening to one that fires as many shots as it can. Inside Lacrosse has ranked its Top 10 freshmen so far, and the list includes three Princeton defensive players: No. 3 Tyler Fiorito, No. 4 Chad Wiedmaier and No. 10 John Cunningham. Intererstingly, two of the other seven are Ivy League offensive players: No. 1 Rob Pannell of Cornell and No. 5 Jeff Cohen of Harvard. Those should be great matchups the next four years.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

It's Madness

The Ivy League regular season for basketball ends tonight with three games: a women/men doubleheader at the Palestra between Princeton and Penn and a women's game that sees Dartmouth host Harvard.

Dartmouth has already clinched at least a tie for the league title but needs a win tonight to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament; should Harvard win, there would be a one-game playoff for the bid. On the men's side, Cornell has already clinched the championship and automatic bid.

This is the way it should be. Cornell has clearly established itself since January as the best team in the Ivy League. Dartmouth and Harvard have gone back-and-forth since the same time and come to end neck-and-neck.

What TigerBlog cannot understand is why the Ivy League is the only league that sees the logic in sending the regular-season champion to the NCAA tournament. Yes, it's great to have all those games on TV this week and to see the great celebrations for teams going to the NCAA tournament, but these tournaments in one-bid conferences are missing a bunch of points:

* the real value for a one-bid conference is to have a win in the NCAA tournament; you need your best team to achieve that
* the conference tournament is no longer the only opportunity to get your teams on TV ... almost every conference has multiple games on any number of outlets during the season
* playing three games in three days (or in some cases four in four) doesn't lead to high-quality basketball at the end; instead, it's often rag-tag at the end, which leads to upsets
* the postseason tournaments aren't money makers

Ironically, it's the last one that's going to be the eventual difference-maker. Conferences won't be able to lose money at huge rates for postseason tournaments, and that's when changes will come.

As for the Ivy League, let's look at the men's side and do the math figuring a Princeton win over Penn (it's our blog; let QuakerBlog do this with a Penn win). Also, we're not doing too much of the math with the tiebreakers, since there are ties all over the place. Let's just break the ties alphabetically, which would the eight seeds go:
1. Cornell
2. Princeton
3. Yale
4. Columbia
5. Dartmouth
6. Penn
7. Harvard
8. Brown

The result would be one half of a bracket that has the Cornell-Brown winner against the Columbia-Dartmouth winner, with the Princeton-Harvard winner against the Yale-Penn winner.

Say the final was Cornell against either Princeton or Yale, both of whom have shown that on any given night, they could beat the Big Red. Suppose one of them stole the bid. How would this make sense? Cornell won by three full games during the regular season.

Now, for multiple bid leagues that sell out major arenas and have the conference tournaments help them get extra at-large bids, TigerBlog understands completely. That's why TB is in favor of the Ivy lacrosse tournaments. Ivy League lacrosse is sort of like Big Ten basketball in that regard.

For basketball, though, only the Ivy League has it right. Hopefully it'll never change, just to be like everyone else. Remember what your mother always said: if everyone else was jumping off a bridge, would you do it?

TigerBlog agrees with your mom on this one.

Monday, March 9, 2009

Are You Paying Attention?

Inside Lacrosse's Terry Foy, one of the very capable members of the "new media" that has overtaken the sport, was in the press box late Friday night at UMBC Stadium after Princeton's 6-5 win over the Retrievers when he innocently asked a question that TigerBlog has been wondering about for years.

"Do your guys read what we write about them?" Foy wondered.

His question was asked in the context of a player at Virginia who had been moved of IL's weekly Player of the Year watch and then responded with a huge game. Could that be a coincidence, Foy was wondering, or had he drawn inspiration from being moved off the watch list?

Back in the day, TigerBlog used to wonder if Princeton athletes had even heard of newspapers like the Trenton Times or the Princeton Packet, let alone read them. The local papers were the main - and in some cases only - source of information on Princeton athletes prior to the rise of the Web, and yet there was no indication that these athletes were aware of that fact.

Then the Web came along, and everything did a 180 (TigerBlog used to say "a 360" until realizing that meant a complete circle that brought us back to where we started). Today, word on Princeton athletics exists on goprincetontigers.com and here on its subsidiary blog, as well as countless other sites. A quick search can take athletes to anywhere on the internet, and people no longer care if they're reading the Web version of a newspaper that's printed, a student newspaper, a sport-specific Website or any other source of news.

These days, the feeling is completely reversed. There's no question that Princeton athletes are reading about themselves in any number of places. The Princeton Office of Athletic Communications operates on the assumption that every opposing coach and player is reading every word written about their team on our sites and that Princeton athletes and coaches are doing the same. TigerBlog has heard any number of coaches and athletes make reference to the spin that comes from other schools, just as the opposite is probably true.

The real issue, though, is whether or not there is a correlation between what an athlete reads and subsequent performance. Can an athlete be so slighted by being dropped from a Player of the Year watch list after one down game that he/she can use that as motivation for a huge game the next time? Can an athlete from one school read something on another school's site and use that as part of preparation for the upcoming contest?

It seems a little artificial to think that way. In many ways, if an athlete needs that kind of lift, then the usual motivational factors such as team and pride and competitiveness have failed, which isn't good.

On the other hand, maybe what an athlete or coach reads provides the last little piece needed to put them over the top after all the other factors leave them just short. That would mean that whoever is doing the writing has some power to control the outcome, something TigerBlog has always thought was a ridiculous notion.

But it is a new world. Maybe TB needs to rethink that position. And if it's actually the case, then TigerBlog, and those like TB, have more power than they thought. Maybe we all need to be paid more?

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Ivy Hockey

You may have noticed that the Ivy League recently announced its year-end awards for the 2008-09 men’s hockey season. You also may have noticed that Yale won the 2009 Ivy League championship in men’s hockey with a 9-1 record. Then again, you may not have.

Ivy League hockey has long been one of the things that TigerBlog just hasn’t completely gotten its hands around. Sure, there’s a lot of tradition. An Ivy League champion has been awarded to the top men’s team since 1934 and the top women’s team since 1976. But these days, what does winning an Ivy League championship mean?

The answer is not much, other than bragging rights, a trophy and a banner. While it is nice add the Ivy League Championship feather to any seasons cap, it is hard to given credence to a championship that is awarded based on a subset of games that occur within another league’s season. All six Ivy League teams that compete in hockey are also members of the ECAC, a 12-team conference that also includes Clarkson, Colgate, Quinnipiac, Rensselaer, St. Lawrence and Union.

The last couple of years, it has worked out. This year, Yale was the ECAC Champion and the Ivy League Champion. Last year, Princeton was second in the ECAC and the Ivy League champion. But look at the 2006-07 season. Yale went 6-3-1 in Ivy games to win the Ivy championship, but was 8-13-1 in the ECAC and finished 10th. Conversely Princeton was fifth in the Ivy League with a 3-5-2 record, but sixth in the ECAC at 10-10-2. Also, lets' look at Princeton this year and last. Both year's the Tigers were 14-8 in the ECAC, but last year Princeton was 9-1 in the Ivy League, this year the Tigers were 5-5.

A league championship is something that you fight for throughout the league season. Ask any player and they know exactly where they sit in the ECAC standings as the playoffs approach. They know how many points they need to clinch a first-round bye and they know what they need to clinch home ice. Do they know what they need to do in the Ivy race, other than just win? That’s a good question. All TigerBlog knows is that while it pours over the ECAC standings almost daily, it hasn’t checked the Ivy League standings once this year, except to write this entry.

The same goes for the Ivy League individual awards. TigerBlog knows where to find them, but finding the Ivy only stats of which the Ivy year-end awards are based on isn’t exactly easy. If you go to the Ivy League website to find, them it links you to the stats maintained by the ECAC.

Over the years, TigerBlog has seen some interesting things in the final weekend of the season. One year TigerBlog witnessed Union pull its goalie in overtime of a tie game in the final game of the season. The reason, a win would put them in the final home ice playoff spot, while a tie would not.

Now here’s the problem. Would a coach pull his goalie in overtime of a tie game to clinch a bye in the ECAC playoffs assuming the loss wouldn’t hurt them? Yes. Would a coach pull his goalie in overtime of a tie game to get the final home ice playoff spot for the first round assuming the loss wouldn’t hurt them? Yes. Would a coach pull his goalie in overtime of a tie game to win the Ivy League title assuming the loss wouldn’t hurt them? Yes. But would a coach pull his goalie in overtime of a tie game to win the Ivy League title assuming the loss could hurt his team’s ECAC playoff positioning? No.

How a team does in the ECAC season determines how the teams are seeded for the playoffs and the ECAC tournament is what determines the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. While its true at this point that three Ivy League teams are in position for at-large bids if the season ended today, simply winning the Ivy League doesn’t translate into the postseason, while winning the ECAC does.

All that said, congrats to Yale on its 2009 Ivy League championship. Congrats to Princeton goalie Zane Kalemba on being named the Ivy League Player of the Year, and congrats to Jody Pederson and Brett Wilson for receiving all-league honors.

Also the ECAC playoffs are going on this weekend with three of the series already over. #12 Brown swept #5 Harvard with wins of 1-0 and 2-0, #11 RPI swept #6 Dartmouth with a 3-2 overtime win and a 3-1 win in regulation, and #8 Union swept #9 Clarkson with wins of 5-3 and 7-2.

#7 Quinnipiac and #10 Colgate are knotted up a 1-1 with a third game scheduled for Sunday night. If Quinnipiac wins, Princeton will host Union in next weekend's ECAC quarterfinal series at Hobey Baker Rink. Should Colgate win, the Tigers would host the Raiders.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Live From Baltimore, It's Friday Night

Final 6-5
UMBC made it interesting.

7:49 in fourth
UMBC got one back, so it's 6-3 Tigers. UMBC possession is a huge one, as another goal will make it interesting.

12:20 left in fourth
Still 6-2 Tigers. Princeton with 14 shots in the third quarter after 12 shots in the first half.

End 3
Princeton 6, UMBC 2
Tigers scored the only five goals of the third quarter. Fiorito with nine saves. Barnes 11 for 11 on face-offs.

8:30 left in third
Princeton 5, UMBC 2
The Tigers came out in the third like they did in the first against Hopkins a week ago. McBride started it, and Rich Sgalardi, Jack McBride and Kovler have all followed. Paul Barnes is 10 for 10 on face-offs; remember, TigerBlog said that UMBC has struggled on face-offs this season.

Early third
Princeton 2, UMBC 2. Chris McBride.

Halftime in men's lax
UMBC 2, Princeton 1
A pair of extra-man goals for UMBC have put Princeton down at the half. Without Fiorito, it could have been way worse. Fiorito has made six saves, several of them of the spectacular kind.
Kovler's goal for Princeton is the only score for the Tigers. Princeton did not score for the fina 22:29 of the first half. The Tigers scored 14 goals in each of the first two games.

Final score in men's bball - 58-44 Columbia.

Princeton women win 68-63.

Cornell up 22 on Penn in second half. Ivy title to Big Red.

8 in second quarter in lax ... still 1-0
1 min left in basketball ... Columb

ia up 10.
Going to radio shortly.

12 min in half in lax
Still 1-0. Both goalies playing well. Fiorito has been spectacular.

End first in lacrosse
1-0 Tigers.
Just seven shots for Princeton, who has averaged twice that many per quarter in its first games.
Basketball game is 46-36 Columbia at the under four timeout of the second half. Cornell is on the verge of the Ivy basketball title.

6 min left in bball
Columbia led is double figures at 44-33.
Still 1-0 in lacrosse, as Tyler Fiorito has made three amazing saves.

7:30 to go in second half in bball
Columbia up 41-33.
Still 1-0 in men's lacrosse.
Cornell is pulling away from Penn in basketball.

midway through first quarter in lacrosse
1-0 Princeton.
Mark Kovler scores the goal for the Tigers. Hard shot from up top.

10 min left in second in bball
Princeton back within four.
Men's lacrosse is scoreless after six minutes. Media timeout. Tyler Fiorito made one strong save and was helped by a pipe on another shot.

12 min timeout
Columbia 34-25.
No score in lacrosse.

15 min in second
Columbia run is nine. Lions, 29-24.
Ready for face-off.
Denver has beaten Penn. Brown has beaten Quinnipiac. Those are lacrosse scores.

Early second
Columbia scores a quick five to start the second half to retake the lead.
Princeton is wearing orange in lacrosse; UMBC is in white.
UMBC is ranked sixth in the coaches' poll and eighth in the media poll, though the Retrievers lost earlier this week to Hopkins. Princeton is ranked fifth in both.
UMBC has played in the last three NCAA tournaments. A year ago, the Retrievers ralled from an 11-2 deficit to win the America East title game 14-13 over Albany.

More while waiting on second half
Dartmouth and Harvard women both winning big. The Big Green leads the Crimson by a game; they finish the season with a head-to-head matchup Tuesday.
On the men's side, Yale is up 14 over Dartmouth at the half. Cornell is up five over Penn at the half. If Cornell wins, Yale is eliminated, leaving only Princeton and Cornell.

Still waiting on second half
Women's basketball at half: Columbia 33, Princeton 25.
PA announcements for men's lacrosse just beginning. Face-off is 8:06.

Updated half
Princeton 24, Columbia 20
Princeton beat Columbia by 28 the first time around; this one will be tougher.
Penn still with a slim lead over Cornell late in the first.
More lacrosse info: this is UMBC's third game in six days. The Retrievers, who opened the season with wins over Delaware and Rutgers, beat Colgate here last weekend and then saw their 15-game home winning streak end against Johns Hopkins Tuesday night. UMBC is 20-2 in its last 22 games here; both losses have been to the Hop.

Updated 2 min in first
Princeton up four. Eight for Davis; five for Dan Mavraides.
Men's lacrosse about a half-hour away from face-off. Speaking of face-offs, Princeton's Paul Barnes has won better than 50% of his draws and scored twice against Johns Hopkins. For UMBC, face-offs have been a problem.

Updated 4 min left in first
TigerBlog has maintained all season that eight wins in the Ivy League would represent great progress. Still, if you want to dream big, it's Princeton up five on Columbia and Penn up four on Cornell.
Back here in Baltimore, UMBC Stadium has field turf and stands on just one side of the field. On the far side is a new locker complex for all of UMBC's outdoor teams. Temperatures have to be near 60 still.

Updated 8 min left in first of basketball
Princeton 17, Columbia 15
Tigers take first lead. Douglas Davis with five points to lead balanced group.
UMBC's leading scorer is Peet Poillon, which is actually spelled correctly there. He is an Ohio State graduate who had an extra year of eligibility. There are not many teams that have their leading scorer be a midfielder; UMBC's top three scorers are middies.

Updated 12 min left in first of basketball
Columbia 10, Princeton 9
Meanwhile, here in Baltimore, Princeton will be starting its same lineup as its first two games. This includes leading scorer Jack McBride, who spent three days throwing up and who has not practiced this week.
As for UMBC, it is a very high scoring team, one led by a group of small but sharp-shooting middies. The Retrievers also have one of the nation's top goalies in senior Jeremy Blevins.

TigerBlog welcomes you to UMBC Stadium. The men's lacrosse game against UMBC is about an hour away, while men's basketball is about to tip off in New York against Columbia.

WPRB FM 103.3 (and goprincetontigers.com) will have the men's basketball game until its conclusion (or until it's very, very obvious what that conclusion will be) and then switch immediately to the lacrosse game.

In the meantime, TigerBlog will keep you updated on both, plus the women's basketball game on Carril Court. TB will take you at least until it's time to do radio for men's lacrosse. After that, we'll try to do the double duty, with no guarantees.

The Quiet Foundation

Unless you're on that island in LOST, you can't just experience a flash of light and be whisked into the future. (OK, apparently you can only get whisked into the past on LOST ... TigerBlog admits to spending one confused hour per week trying to figure it out).

Anyway, if head wrestling coach Chris Ayres could get that opportunity, he believes that he'd see a far more formidable Tiger squad on the horizon. After two winless seasons to start his first head coaching tenure, Ayres has guided Princeton to a pair of wins this season, despite forfeiting two weight classes most of the time.

While two wins won't turn many heads, a closer look at the program does reveal hope. Of the eight wrestlers who will compete for Princeton in this weekend's EIWA championships at The Palestra, four are freshmen. One of those freshmen, Kurt Brendel, could earn an eighth-seed after an impressive first year. Another freshman, Daniel Kolodzik, spent about two months, ranging from preseason through mid-December, trying to compete at a weight that really didn't work for him. Since moving to 149, he has begun to show the promise that Ayres believes could make him a potential NCAA qualifier in years to come.

This wouldn't be the first year that Princeton has had multiple freshmen experience success. Last season, 174-pounder Travis Erdman became the first All-Ivy honoree at Princeton since 2005, and 125-pounder Tony Comunale was possibly one turned ankle away from earning an NCAA appearance in his first year. Comunale missed all of this season with injury, so he still has three more years to help rebuild this program.

You can't see the structure of the upcoming wrestling teams yet. With another solid class coming in and the much-needed combination of determination and optimism, Ayres can only imagine what it might look like in 2011 or 2012.

But he can see the foundation. His name is Marty Everin.

Whatever becomes of this program during Ayres' tenure, Everin's contributions must never be overlooked or forgotten. He came to Princeton from Ann Arbor Pioneer High School with a career record of 149-31. He was once one of the bright freshmen, but he sufferered through some dark times: A coaching change. Winless seasons. Injury upon injury. Attrition.

The attrition has occurred gradually and consistently over the last three years, and is why this team started most of its dual matches in an immediate 12-0 hole. Because Princeton couldn't field wrestlers at the 133- and 141-pound weight classes, there was little to no hope that the Tigers could really contend against some of the big boys in the EIWA.

Everin knew that. He knew this team was at the beginning of a rebuilding process when Ayres came prior to the 2006-07 season, but he prepared himself for the best possible season and was elected team captain. He knew it before last season, when an offseason knee injury cost him the year. He could have stayed in school, earned his degree and been finished with the collegiate wrestler's lifestyle (which does not end when practice concludes, because of the consistent weight requirements). Instead, he withdrew and rehabbed so he could give it one final go.

His final go came this season, when he was named captain once again.

"He is the most changed wrestler, for the better, that I've ever worked with in my life," Ayres says. "That includes my time at Lehigh. He listened to us, and then he walked the walk. Sometimes we have to tell guys 100 times before they really hear it. With Marty, we told him once what it would take. He did the rest."

That walk led to a 16-win season and a potential sixth seed at this weekend's EIWA championships. Again, that may not move mountains at schools like Cornell and Lehigh, but it matters here. He was already a leader off the mat and in practice, but now he was showing the talented youth in the locker room that the hard work and dedication Ayres preaches leads to the one thing they all want.


Everin wrestles in a weight class with both the defending NCAA champion, Cornell's Jordan Leen, and a potential NCAA champion in Harvard's J.P. O'Connor. The odds of Everin becoming Princeton's first EIWA champion since Greg Parker '03 are significant. But he could have a run in him, and an upset or two could land him in the NCAA Championships, which would be a Princeton first under Ayres.

Regardless of Everin's outcome this weekend, his greatest contribution to the program has already been planted. If this program continues an upward march over the next three years, names like Brendel, Comunale, Kolodzik and Erdman will be the familiar ones.

And within all of them, the example of Marty Everin will be the guiding force.