Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Postseason Wonderland

A week that started with snow on the first day of spring and will feature temperatures in the 70s on the third day of spring seems like a good time to do a little wrapping up of the winter.

Hopefully that means the weather too. Not just Princeton Athletics.

The winter has actually extended into the spring, with seven men's swimmers set to compete at the NCAA championships this weekend in Atlanta and 12 fencers ready for head to Brandeis University this weekend for their own NCAA championships.

The fencing championships are a co-ed event, and Princeton has qualified the maximum number of fencers. The other teams to do so are Columbia, Notre Dame and St. John's.

In other fencing news, Katharine Holmes, who will return to Princeton as a senior next year, has qualified for the Summer Olympics. Holmes will compete in the team epee and individual epee events in Rio.

The men's swimming and diving and fencing teams will bring to nine the number of Princeton teams who will have reached postseason competition this winter. That's a lot.

You can read about each individual team HERE.

The wrestling championships were held in Madison Square Garden this past weekend, and Princeton had four wrestlers who competed. Brett Harner, a junior, finished eighth at the 197-pound class, earning All-America honors in the process.

How special was Harner's March?

First he became Princeton's first EIWA individual champion in 13 years when he won his weight class in Jadwin Gym no less. Then he followed that by becoming Princeton wrestling's ninth-ever All-America.

The last Princeton All-America was Greg Parker, who was an NCAA runner-up as a junior in 2002 and an eighth-place finisher as a senior in 2003.

Prior to Parker, it had been 17 years since the previous All-America, Dave Crisanti in 1986. In other words, it's Harner and Parker in the last 30 years.

TigerBlog has said this before, but the job that Chris Ayres and his staff - Sean Gray, Joe Dubuque, Nick Heflin - have done with Princeton wrestling is insane. They have taken a team that could barely fill a lineup and turned into one of the up-and-coming powers in college wrestling.

It's not going to take 30 more years to produce two more All-Americas, TigerBlog is pretty sure.

Actually, Harner reached the quarterfinals, where he lost to eventual champion J'Den Cox of Missouri. Cox had actually beaten Heflin in the NCAA finals two years ago.

TigerBlog's experience has been that the minute the season ends one year, there's an immediate yearning from coaches to get started on the next one. Like the next day.

As time goes on, that initial feeling fades away into the reality that next year is just that, next year. But coaches have that immediate sense of wanting to get going.

TB has seen it enough to know it's more than just one or two coaches. Maybe not all of them. Maybe some need a little time to decompress. But the competitive spirit never goes away. 

TigerBlog hasn't talked to Mitch Henderson about this. If he had to guess, TB would say that Mitch is ready for next year right now.

His team went 22-7 this year, giving Henderson a career record of 96-53. Win No. 4 next year will be win No. 100 of his career. Quick - how many Princeton men's basketball coaches have reached 100 career wins?

Hint - TigerBlog has only heard of three of them and met two of them.

Before the answer, keep in mind that Henderson had only one senior on his team this year, Mike Washington Jr., who for the season played 61 minutes. Contrast that with the women's team, whose great senior class played 3,594 minutes this year.

Also, Princeton returns Hans Brase, a starter and one of the best players on the team who missed all of the 2015-16 season after tearing his ACL in the preseason.

For Henderson, the challenge is to reintegrate Brase into a team that played with a pretty strong rotation and with great chemistry. It's a good challenge to have.

The 2016-17 men's basketball team will be deep and will be fun to watch. That's a pretty good combination. It's enough to be excited about already, even if it's barely into springtime.

Oh, and the Princeton coaches with at least 100 wins?

Pete Carril - 514
Cappy Cappon - 250
Albert Wittmer (1923-32) - 115
Butch van Breda Kolff - 103
Frederick Leuhring (1912-20) - 100

In other words, with a 19-win season, Mitch Henderson would move into third place all-time in wins at Princeton.

Is it time to get started yet? 

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