Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Welcome Home

TigerBlog has seen something in the neighborhood of a million Princeton athletic events in the last 30 years.

Actually that'd be an average of 91 per day, so it's clearly a hyperbole. In fact, TB wonders how many times he's seen Princeton play, and he could probably figure out a reasonably good estimate if he wanted to, which he doesn't. So he'll go the hyperbole root and say a million.

Of all of those games, most are just a blur, grouped together with all the other times TB saw that sport play that opponent. In many cases, TB can remember some particular details of a specific game from a specific year, and even the scores of a bunch of them.

And then there are a group that, for whatever reason, are just, as TB likes to say, seared into his memory.

One of those is Princeton-Harvard women's soccer back in 2004.

Today, TigerBlog is the sport contact for only one sport here at Princeton. In his time here, though, he's been the contact for 14 of Princeton's 38 sports: football, men's basketball, men's lacrosse, men's and women's squash, wrestling, men's and women's water polo, sprint football, all four crews and women's soccer.

Back when Princeton made its run to the 2004 NCAA Final Four in women's soccer, TB was the contact. And Esmeralda Negron was the team's star.

The biggest game of that season, the one that made the NCAA run possible, was the game against Harvard at Lourie-Love Field, which of course no longer exists.

Prior to that game, Princeton had gone a decade without scoring a goal at home against the Crimson, let alone winning one of the games. TigerBlog wrote about this in the pregame notes, and he was accosted by the father of one of the players before the game (in the Class of 1952 Stadium men's room, no less) about how he had psyched the players out.

For more than 89 minutes, TB thought it might be the case, as Princeton outplayed and outshot Harvard nearly three to one but trailed 1-0. Then Emily Behncke tied it in the final minute to force overtime, and Negron scored the game-winner in overtime.

TB can still see both plays as they developed, Behncke with her tying goal from up top and Negron with the finish in OT on a play set up by Diana Matheson.

It was one of 47 goals that Negron would score at Princeton, a total that is a record for both men and women.

The 47th of those goals was the one that snapped a tie game early in the second half of the NCAA quarterfinal game against Washington, a game that became a 3-1 Princeton win and vaulted the Tigers into the NCAA semifinals, the only time in league history that a women's soccer team has done so.

Negron is the greatest women's soccer player Princeton has known, not to mention one of the greatest women athletes the school has produced. She was a first-team All-America, which is a startling accomplishment, considering that there are 325 or so Division I women's soccer programs.

Her knack was scoring goals and doing so in big spots, and her Princeton resume includes more than one overtime goal. And, given their significance, her goal in OT against Harvard and her goal in the quarterfinals against Washington are probably the two biggest goals in program history.

At various times, TB has heard Negron talk about any number of career paths, but she has never been able to walk away from soccer.

Yesterday, Negron was named the new assistant women's coach here at Princeton, after a four-year run as an assistant at Seton Hall. Negron replaces Scott Champ, who left Princeton to become an assistant coach at Arizona State.

An athletic program can never have enough reminders of its great past accomplishments, unless they're a distraction or excuse for not giving full effort in the present. This is especially true at a place with the uniqueness of Princeton.

In Negron's case, having someone with her playing career return to the school as a coach is great for the women's soccer team. Her presence will show the current players what they are capable of accomplishing here, and her time as a player and student here give the current athletes a great sounding board for their own experiences.

Negron is the 17th member of the Princeton coaching staff to have graduated from Princeton, nine of whom are head coaches and eight of whom are assistants.

The rowing program is dominated with Princeton alums, as only three of the 10 coaches in the four crew programs are not Princetonians.

Of the 17 alums who coach here, 15 were All-Ivy League selections as undergrads. Of the 17, four were the Ivy League Player of the Year (TB will give a paragraph or two for those who want to guess).

Having alums who have had that kind of success come back to coach the programs in which they excelled is one of the things that makes Princeton special.

Esmeralda Negron's return to the women's soccer program looks like a perfect fit.

Oh, and the four Ivy Players of the Year: Negron, Jim Barlow (men's soccer), Sabrina King (women's volleyball), Brian Earl (men's basketball).

1 comment:

Karen said...

Welcome home, Es!