Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Women Of Baker Rink

TigerBlog has no idea what the exact number of teams Division I schools field on average.

He did a few quick searches and didn't come up with a number, though he's pretty sure it's in the 17 or 18 range.

Princeton? There are 38 varsity teams here. That's a lot.

It's one of the best parts of working here, for TB at least. And he gets that not everyone would want to be a part of a department where the emphasis is on broad-based participation, as opposed to football and men's basketball at all costs.

Hey there's a lot to be said for that. As TB said Monday, college football can do something for a campus that nothing else can.

And to be honest, it was a lot of fun to take it all in Saturday afternoon, as Princeton put away Yale to clinch at least a share of the Ivy League championship in football.

Still, TB couldn't live with a steady diet of a department - or even a school - run by the football and/or men's basketball program.

He's seen more than one person come through Princeton or the Ivy League who didn't agree with him and left for jobs in that other world.

TB? He's still here.

The lure is the sense that all athletes are created equal, or as equal as they possibly can be. Their experiences all matter to the people who work here. The department does not revolve around revenue that can be squeezed out of the football team.

To achieve things like that, you need the football coach to get it. The one here clearly does.

TB couldn't imagine having to deal with a football coach who not only had the gigantic ego (again, Princeton's current coach nor either of his two predecessors that TB dealt with have ego problems) but also the ability to do whatever he wanted. And by whatever he wanted, TB is talking about the ability to get rid of, among other people, athletic communications people who don't fall into line.

There's nothing like that here.

TB loves to see the different athletes, with their different backgrounds and perspectives, all congregate under the heading "Princeton Athletics." His sense is that it's normal for some teams to look at others and say "they get everything," but for the most part, he also feels like they appreciate the commitment that the department and University have made to their program too.

It's fun to follow a team when it's on a big run. Maybe TB got that from Harvey Yavener, but he definitely appreciates the significance of events within the context of their sport, rather than some artificial tiering of sports.

Take the women's hockey team, for instance.

Princeton was picked to finish seventh in the ECAC. Through the not-exactly-early-anymore stage of the season, Princeton is actually in fourth.

Beyond that, Princeton is receiving votes in the national polls, which rank 10, not 20 teams. In fact, Princeton is 12th in one poll and 13th in the other by total votes.

Last weekend wasn't an ECAC weekend, but it was still big for the Tigers, who beat New Hampshire and tied seventh-ranked Boston College.

The tie with Boston College actually ended a four-game winning streak, though Princeton is still unbeaten in five. The Tigers are 5-2-1 overall and 4-2-0 in the ECAC.

The difference for Princeton has been the freshman class, which has given quality and depth to the team. Defensively, Princeton allows nearly one fewer goal per game this year than it did last year.

Of course, the fast start doesn't mean that the Tigers can relax.

The ECAC has four ranked teams, and Princeton plays two of them before Thanksgiving.

The first of those games is tomorrow afternoon at 3 (before the men play Quinnipiac at 7), when eighth-ranked Clarkson and its 10-3-2 record come to Baker Rink. After playing St. Lawrence (also 4-2-0 in the league) Saturday at 3, Princeton is home Tuesday against 10-1-3 Quinnipiac, ranked sixth.

The ECAC also has No. 3 Cornell and No. 5 Harvard, both of whom have defeated Princeton this year. The turning point for the Tigers, though, might have been that Cornell game back on Nov. 1.

Princeton lost to Harvard 4-0 in its second game of the year, after opening with a win over Dartmouth. The Tigers then fell behind 5-0 to Cornell after the first period but then scrambled back, eventually losing 5-4.

The team has not lost since.

TB has had many conversations through the years with those from the other side, the one where it's all football and basketball all the time. When he tries to tell them about all the other sports, all the great things that these teams do, he often gets mocked.

He's okay with it.

TB gets it.

That's what makes Princeton unique and special.

It's that a championship football team and an up-and-coming women's hockey team can both be a part of the culture.

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