Tuesday, November 18, 2014


TigerBlog should have taken the buffering as a bad omen.

He clicked on the link for the videostream of the NCAA men's soccer selection show, and it just kept buffering. Every now and then it would stop, briefly, and revealing a team or two or a piece of the bracket.

TigerBlog was sure he'd missed most of the teams. He was also, for some reason, pretty sure it wouldn't have mattered anyway, because he didn't think Princeton was going to see its name called.

TB was in his office on the Jadwin Gym mezzanine. Down on C level of Jadwin, near the squash offices, the men's soccer team had gathered hoping that its 11-3-3 record, 5-1-1 Ivy record, league co-championship and nine game unbeaten streak would have been enough for an at-large bid.

In the end, it wasn't.

It had to be a crushing moment for the team, who apparently had to deal with the same buffering. They got to the Zanfrini Room with such high hopes and left knowing that their season had ended, without getting a chance to participate in the NCAA tournament.

TigerBlog was at Roberts Stadium on Oct. 4 when Dartmouth scored in overtime to beat the Tigers 2-1. The game-winning goal, three minutes into the first overtime, came on a free kick about halfway between the sideline and the box, not far off the end line. The kick was perfectly placed, and there was nothing anyone could have done about the resulting header.

It was one of those moments were everyone froze, because it wouldn't have mattered anyway, because the set up and finish were too perfect.

That was Oct. 4. The loss dropped Princeton to 3-3-2, 0-1-0 in the Ivy League. It would be one month and 13 days later that the Tigers gathered in the Zanfrini Room for the selection show.

They did not lose again in the interim.

Princeton lost its opener 3-2 against an FDU team that went 4-12-2. It was Princeton's first game and FDU's third, and the Tigers led 2-0 before falling in the end. It was sort of what's expected for an Ivy team that is playing catch-up in game conditioning.

Princeton's only other loss was 3-1 to Georgetown on Sept. 17. Georgetown now finds itself as the No. 8 seed in the NCAA tournament.

TigerBlog is not an expert on the NCAA selections for men's soccer. He has no idea if Princeton deserved a spot or not in terms of criteria or anything like that.

He does know that what Princeton did from the loss on Oct. 4 through the disappointment of the selection show was impressive, and not easy to accomplish.

Princeton came all the way back from that loss to Dartmouth to tie the Big Green for the Ivy title. For about 11 minutes Saturday, after Princeton had beaten Yale, there was a hope for an outright championship. Then Dartmouth scored in the 11th minute against Brown and then tacked on two more, and well, that was that.

Princeton couldn't get the automatic bid if it tied Dartmouth, all because of that one game on Oct. 4.

TigerBlog is vehemently anti-Ivy League basketball tournament because he likes the idea that the best team emerges over the course of a 14-game league schedule. He doesn't want to see a team rewarded for getting hot in a tournament and stealing in three days what another team earned in two months.

But he loves the Ivy lacrosse tournament. What's the difference? There are two.

One, basketball is double round-robin. Over 14 games, the best team emerges. Over seven games (or six in men's lacrosse), the difference isn't as pronounced.

Two, in basketball, there is no tiebreaker to determine the automatic bid. If there's a tie, then there's a one-game playoff for the bid.

The only thing that separated Princeton from Dartmouth was a goal on a free kick in an overtime. Princeton paid a huge price for that.

TB would love to see soccer and field hockey add the same four-team tournaments that lacrosse currently has. To do so, of course, the league teams would have to be okay with giving up a regular-season game, and TB has no idea what the league coaches in those sports think about a tournament.

Back when TigerBlog used to work in the newspaper business, every time one of the local teams made it pretty far in a state tournament or in a national tournament for baseball or softball or something like that, when the team finally lost, the requisite "they did great; they have nothing to be ashamed of" story would get written. It was like clockwork.

On the college level, those kinds of sentiments don't really apply. 

In this case, the story of the 2014 Princeton men's soccer team won't include an NCAA tournament bid. On the other hand, maybe that's okay.

The 2009 and 2010 Princeton teams reached the NCAA tournament and lost in the first round. Maybe that disappointment overrides everything else that happened that year. In 2010 Princeton went 7-0-0 in the league; do the players remember that more or the NCAA loss?

For the 2014 Tigers, there will be the disappointment of not getting into the tournament, but that will fade.

The memory of everything else that happened this year will be too strong.

Ivy League champs. A great run to end the year. Unbeaten after Oct. 4. It's possible no other team in the country will be able to make that claim.

Would it have been great to keep playing this week? Definitely.

Does that detract from what this team accomplished? No, not at all.

It was a great season, filled with great moments.

To the 2014 Princeton men's soccer team TigerBlog says congratulations on a job well done.

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