Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The House That Es Built

TigerBlog knows that he parks in Lot 21, and he knows the lots above the football stadium are 4 and 25. Lot 15 used to be where the new chemistry building is going.

Other than that, TB isn't 100% sure which lot is which. He's pretty sure, though, that the lot that used to be near Class of 1952 Stadium before construction of the new neuroscience building was Lot 20, and that it's possible that the lots across the circle are 16 and 23.

While he's not certain what lot he parked in the other day before the women's soccer and field hockey games that began the 2010-11 home season of Princeton Athletics, he is sure that it's only a short walk from there to Roberts Stadium or Class of 1952, so in that vein, he's not sure what all the fuss is about for having to take a few extra steps.

TB is sure that as he walked to the fields, the first car to come by him was driven by men's basketball coach Sydney Johnson, who was bringing his family to the games. When TB got to Roberts Stadium, he also saw head football coach Bob Surace and his family.

Having the head football and men's basketball coaches attend other sports is one of the great things about Princeton Athletics. To be sure, this is probably not unique to Princeton, but there are probably more Division I schools than not where the head football and men's basketball coaches would consider themselves to be way above something like that.

Someone else TB saw at Roberts Stadium Sunday was Esmeralda Negron, who according to goprincetontigers.com was the No. 2 female athlete at Princeton in the last decade. As a senior, Negron led Princeton to the 2004 NCAA Final Four in women's soccer, something no other Ivy League school has accomplished before or since.

These days, Negron is an assistant coach at Seton Hall, and her team fell to Princeton 3-1 Sunday.

TigerBlog tried to think of other Princeton alums who had gone on to coach against the Tigers and their former head coach, and he came up with two quickly: Armond Hill in basketball when he was the head coach at Columbia in 1995-96 and Pete Carril was still the Princeton head coach and Julie Shaner when she was an assistant coach at Penn in women's lacrosse and annually coached against Chris Sailer. There are probably lots of other examples, but TB couldn't think of them off the top of his head.

Negron scored 47 goals for Princeton, more than any other male or female ever to play for the school. Her 112 points are 18 more than any other male or female player ever has had at Princeton; her 52 points as a senior are 21 more than the next-highest total by a woman and eight more than the men's record.

She also had a knack for scoring big goals, including four in overtime. Her two biggest were probably the one that proved to be the game-winner in the NCAA quarterfinal win over Washington at Lourie-Love Field and one in OT against Harvard several weeks earlier, when Princeton scored to tie the game late in regulation and then won it in overtime, ending a huge jinx at home against the Crimson and propelling the Tigers to their big NCAA run.

She finished her career as a two-time Ivy League Player of the Year and a first-team All-America, a rarity for an Ivy League women's soccer player.

Negron's new team plays its home soccer games on the outfield of the baseball field; Princeton's Roberts Stadium, on the other hand, continues to be a jewel of a soccer facility and a huge draw for the Tiger men and women.

With no ticket sales, it's difficult to say exactly how many people were in attendance, but it was a pretty good crowd for the Princeton-Seton Hall game. There aren't too many venues that can rival Roberts Stadium for college soccer or simply to watch a game, with all of the seats so close to the field, with the facility still in pristine shape and with the near perfect sight lines, especially behind the goals. It didn't hurt that the weather was perfect.

One thought TB had when watching Negron leave Myslik Field was that in many ways, Roberts Stadium is somewhat The House That Es Built, or at least The House That Es Did A Lot To Help Get Built.

Lourie-Love was a "charming" place, with charming in this case meaning "historic and with a lot of memories but also with decaying wooden bleachers and no amenities." Princeton's runs to the 1993 men's Final Four and 2004 women's Final Four took place on that field, which will always make it a special place in school athletic history.

It was the women's run especially that helped convince the University administration, led by President Shirley Tilghman, that a new facility was warranted, and it was a huge reason why the momentum for a new facility was finally able to take hold.

On a team filled with stars, Negron was the most important player. Now, wearing the visiting blue of Seton Hall, she was walking off a field at a stadium in which she never got to play on the short end of the score.

"Losing stinks," she said.

Negron is one of TB's favorite Princeton athletes of all time, and her team senior year is one of his favorite teams (TB was the women's soccer contact back then). The senior class from that team has produced several lawyers, scientists, businesswomen - and one Division I assistant coach.

Their legacy is of one of the most successful teams Princeton has ever had, and there are pictures of them on the plaza and banners that hang recalling their biggest wins and accomplishments.

Included in that list has to be Roberts Stadium itself, which was in its all its glory on a perfect Sunday afternoon, when it welcomed home one of its greatest alums. She left unhappy at the score - but Esmeralda Negron can at least take some solace in seeing what she and her teammates helped achieve.

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