Friday, November 16, 2018

Ice And Fire


TigerBlog had a pleasant surprise yesterday morning, when he learned that Derek Jones would be the ESPNU play-by-play voice of the St. Joe's-Wake Forest men's basketball game at the Myrtle Beach Invitational.

Jones, the longtime voice of Princeton men's basketball, was making his ESPN debut, and TB was very happy for him. Jones' Princeton partner, Noah Savage, will also be doing some games this year on ESPN networks. In fact, Noah's debut is as a sideline reporter at a tournament in Charleston at which John Thompson III is the color commentator.

Derek and Noah have been a great broadcasting team for Princeton, so it's not that surprising to TB that they're getting this chance. Princeton has a long history of being the starting point for broadcasters who have made it very, very big, including Howard David, Mike Mayock, Tom McCarthy and John Sadak - it's great to see Derek and Noah as they get this chance.

The trickle down from the fact that they're both out of town is that tonight's men's basketball game at Lehigh on WPRB and the TuneIn app will feature Patrick McCarthy and, probably, TigerBlog. The "probably" part is that he may go instead to women's hockey at home against Colgate.

That game, with a puck drop at 6, is the "Black Out Baker" game, with free admission and the goal of having the biggest crowd ever for Princeton women's hockey. If you do go, you'll see a Princeton team off to a 3-0-1 start in the ECAC against a team that lost in NCAA championship in overtime last year and is 3-1-0 in the league to start this year.

TigerBlog's newest Princeton Athletics colleague Jess Deutsch suggested that a good slogan for the weekend here would be "Ice and Fire." It starts with the "Black Out Baker" game on the Hobey Baker Rink ice, and it concludes Sunday night at 7:30 in front of Nassau Hall with the Big Three football championship bonfire.

Princeton's epic football season comes to end tomorrow when the Tigers host Penn at 1 on Powers Field. The bonfire was secured last week when Princeton added a win over Yale to its earlier win over Harvard, and Princeton is already assured of at least a share of the Ivy League football championship no matter what happens tomorrow.

On the other hand, there's still a whole lot to play for against the Quakers. Obviously.

If you've been following Princeton football at all this year, you might be aware of the fact that this team is currently 9-0 and that no Princeton team has gone undefeated since 1964.

Also, Princeton is 6-0 in the league, while Dartmouth is 5-1 and hosting 0-6 Brown. Should the heavily favored Big Green win, then Princeton would need to beat Penn to finish as the league's outright champ for the first time since 1995.

Princeton will be chasing all sorts of records in this game, team and individual. Among them, the Tigers need 11 points to tie the program and league record for points in a season (437 by the 2013 team) and Jesper Horsted needs five receptions to tie the all-time program record of 193, set by Kevin Guthrie, who has held it since 1983.

There are also obscure records, like most first downs rushing in a season. The record is 145, set in 1968; Princeton has 134 so far this year. That's an average of just short of 15 per game, so an average day will give the Tigers that long-sought record.

As for the Quakers, if you think this game will be easy, you're fooling yourself. Penn is 6-3 overall and 3-3 in the league, tied with Harvard and Yale for third place.

Beyond that, Penn allows just 18.6 points per game and is, well, Penn, so beating this team is never going to be taken for granted.

Of course, this is the first time that Princeton has ended its season against Penn. For each of the last 28 seasons prior to this one, Princeton ended its season against Dartmouth. Not to assume anything, but it's fascinating that it could have been a 9-0 vs. 9-0 game, except the schedule just happened to change this year.

Hey, Penn doesn't care if its shot at unbeaten Princeton came in Week 8 (like it used to be) or Week 10 (like it is now). For the Quakers, it's probably more special to have this shot to spoil the Tigers' dreams of perfection.

There will definitely be ice tonight (and tomorrow, when Cornell is here at 3) and fire Sunday (bonfire at 7).

Will there also be perfect?

You can find that out in between. 

Thursday, November 15, 2018

The H.G. Levine Broadcast Center

TigerBlog starts today by wishing the men's soccer team good luck tonight at Michigan in the opening round of the NCAA tournament.

He also wants to congratulate Kevin O'Toole on being named the Ivy League Player of the Year. O'Toole, a sophomore, came back from injury to either score or assist on more than half of Princeton's goals during its run to the league championship.

TB has always said he won't feel old until there is a Princeton athlete who has a parent whom TB covered here back when he or she was an athlete. It's coming true this year, as men's lacrosse freshman Jack Crockett is the son of former Princeton football player Todd Crockett, whom TB wrote about while he was still in the newspaper business.

At least that loophole can keep him younger for awhile, since there still hasn't been an athlete here whose parent was here after TB was first a Princeton employee.

Kevin O'Toole is in his own category. Kevin's mother Nancy went to high school with TigerBlog (well, she was a few years behind him, but they were there at the same time at one point). Nancy herself was a soccer star, first in high school and later at William & Mary.

This makes Kevin the only Princeton athlete ever who had a parent who went to high school with TigerBlog.

The field hockey team doesn't play in the NCAA semifinals until tomorrow. The cross country championships are Saturday.

What do all of these events have in common, beyond just high stakes? None of them are being televised, and all of them are able to be watched. The men's soccer game, for instance, starts at 7 and can be seen HERE.

The days have long since passed when a television network needed to come in and produce an event for it to be viewable. These days, there's just an assumption that if a game is being played, it can be seen online somewhere.

Princeton's ability to provide that service to its fans is about to skyrocket, and it's because of a gift from Steven Mayer of the Class of 1981. Because of Steve's generosity, Princeton will be building the H.G. Levine Broadcast Center, which will, among other things, have a spot for podcasting.

The Levine Broadcast Center will become the home of Princeton's production and multimedia efforts. It will be a dedicated spot in Jadwin Gym that will transform into a center with a studio, two broadcast centers and an editing area.

From the release:

The broadcast center will be located in Jadwin Gym and will feature a studio for live and on-demand content, two broadcast control rooms and an editing station. The center will be connected via fiber to Princeton Stadium and to most of Princeton’s other athletic venues through the existing IP network, greatly enhancing the live and in-venue production capabilities from multiple sites. In addition, these productions will be network quality, enabling them to be transmitted to and then aired on all ESPN platforms, including Princeton’s digital partner ESPN+ as well as ESPN linear networks, and on select regional sports networks. 

In addition to live game productions, Princeton will also be able to greatly expand the quality of its creative and on-demand content. The broadcast studio, the first in the Ivy League, will include two sets, a news desk and also a sit-down interview area, along with a green screen for video and still images. The news desk will be portable, which will allow for game-day programming directly from the venues themselves, such as courtside at basketball.

The Levine Broadcast Center will also be the control room for the brand-new videoboard that debuts during the 2018-19 basketball season in Jadwin Gym.

This will be a huge addition to Princeton Athletics.

TigerBlog loves to do the podcasts he does, but his current podcast studio is actually just his office down on E level of Jadwin. It's pretty low-frills, with two mics and his laptop, which he plugs into a mixer. To sound proof the room, TB puts his phone on mute, turns off the fan on his desk and takes his office phone off the hook.

TigerBlog and his colleague John Bullis were filming a video Tuesday in advance of the coming Tiger Athletics Give Day (that would be Tuesday, Nov. 27, with much more on that to come in the next two weeks). To do this, TB had to reserve the Zanfrini Room and then Bullis had to carry a bunch of equipment up to C level and set it all up. When they were done, he had to take it all down and bring it back downstairs. For sound proofing, he had to hope that the squash players and fencers didn't make too much noise.

Ah, but this should be changing soon,

And a lot more.

From an Athletic Communications standpoint, it's all about storytelling, and this will enable Princeton to do that in a much more efficient, much higher quality manner.

This, of course, translates directly to student-athlete experience, which is what this is all about. To that end, Steve Mayer deserves a very big thank you.

Construction will be beginning soon, and it should be completed in the late spring. It'll be up and running for the 2019-20 academic year.

TigerBlog can't wait to see it and to see the impact it has.

Princeton, as TB always says, breeds a strong level of loyalty, with alums like Steve Mayer who want to give back and ensure that the current and future generations who compete here have the best opportunities that they can. None of this stuff happens accidentally.

It's just another sign that Princeton is a very, very special place. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

A 100 Percent Chance

Courtney Banghart met with TigerBlog yesterday for the weekly episode of "The Court Report."

In addition to talking about how the season has started out for the Tigers, Courtney also mentioned she was a four-time high school state tennis champion in New Hampshire. TB is pretty sure he had no idea about that.

She also talked about the video in which Bella Alarie dunked a volleyball with her left hand.
Well that's pretty impressive, no?

Alarie, as you probably know, will be missing the first few games of the season due to a preseason wrist injury. The video suggests that she is sort of ready to get back at it, something that Courtney talked about on the podcast.

You can hear the whole thing HERE. By the way, Courtney and her team are home tonight at 6 against Seton Hall in their first game on Carril Court this season. It'll also be the debut of the videoboard for the women.

Princeton defeated Rider in its opener and then lost Sunday to George Washington. After tonight's game, Princeton plays at Penn State Sunday - you can see that one on the Big Ten Network - and then flies off for some pretty strong competition in Cancun over Thanksgiving weekend, as in DePaul, Syracuse and Kansas State.

Also, you might as well get out to Jadwin tonight, since that is the only home appearance for the Tigers in November. The next home game is Dec. 2, when Davidson will be here.

There aren't a ton of home events this weekend. There are two women's hockey games, with home games Friday against Colgate (6) and Saturday against Cornell (3). The women's hockey team, like the men's team, is currently 3-0-1 in the ECAC.

And, of course, there is that giant one Saturday, when the football team hosts Penn at 1 with a chance for the first perfect season by a Princeton team since 1964. The weather for Saturday is looking good, with sunshine and a high in the upper 40s.

Between now and then, there is a 60 percent chance of some snow, the first of the season. And a 100 percent chance of NCAA competition.

There are four Princeton teams who are competing this week in NCAA events, not to mention a fifth (women's soccer) did so a week ago and a sixth (men's water polo) is playing this weekend for its own shot.

The first NCAA competitor this week is the men's soccer team, who will be at Michigan tomorrow at 7. There's an 80 percent chance of precipitation in Ann Arbor for tomorrow, but a 100 percent chance that the Tigers don't care. The chance to be in the NCAA tournament? Dress warm and go play.

The winner of that game will advance to Sunday's game at Notre Dame, the seventh seed.

A day after the Princeton-Michigan game, there figures to be good weather in Louisville partly cloudy), the site of the Division I field hockey Final Four. The forecast is for no chance of precipitation and temps near 50 and a 100 percent chance that Princeton is the only team in the field that has never been in the ACC.

Princeton earned its second Final Four trip in the three years that Carla Tagliente has been head coach with a 2-1 win over Harvard Sunday on Bedford Field, and in all, Princeton will be making its eighth trip to the Final Four. The Tigers are the only Ivy League team ever to win the NCAA title, something they did in 2012.

The semifinal matchups will have top-seeded North Carolina take on Wake Forest and third-seeded Princeton take on second-seeded Maryland. Princeton lost to Maryland 5-4 in overtime earlier this season after building a 4-1 lead.

The Princeton-Maryland game starts at 3:45 in Kentucky. The final is Sunday at 1.

Then there are the NCAA cross country championships Saturday in Madison, Wisc., where there is 40 percent chance of snow showers in the morning and a 100 percent chance that this would be the best weather Princeton has run in for awhile.

Both the men and the women have qualified as team for the finals after their performances at the NCAA regionals last week, where the Princeton men won and the Princeton women finished second. The top two in each regional advanced automatically.

The men also won the Ivy League Heptagonal championships, while the women finished second. Both the regionals and Heps were run on miserable days, with heavy rain (it was also in the 30s for the regional) that turned the courses to mud. Princeton has showed incredible resilience to get through those conditions and perform at the level that it has, and the result is a chance to run against the best.

This was the goal for each when the season began, to get to the places where they're playing this weekend. The key now is not to just be satisfied with getting there. 

TB is 100 percent sure that they're not thinking that way.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Honoring Jim Barlow

From TigerBlog's seat about 25 or so feet away, it looked like Jim Barlow was blushing a bit.

The occasion was the 44th Trenton Select Committee awards dinner Sunday afternoon, and Barlow, the head coach of men's soccer at Princeton, was the main honoree. Speaker after speaker came up to talk about Barlow the coach and Barlow the person, including Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan, a classmate of Barlow's while Tiger undergrads.

In addition, former Seton Hall coach Manfred Schellscheidt, a member of the national soccer Hall of Fame, and current Rider head coach Charlie Inverso spoke about Barlow. Well, they were mostly Inverso's words, though they were read by local sportswriting legend Rich Fisher, since Charlie was on the bus back from Fairfield after his Broncs won the MAAC tournament title.

In fact, Fish did a great job of delivering Charlie's words, mixing in some of his own humor with Charlie's to make a great tribute for Barlow. Then it was up to Chris Barlow, Jim's brother, to introduce him. Again, the humor and the sentiment were combined to paint a picture of Barlow to the room.

And from where TB sat, as he said, he thinks Barlow was blushing. If nothing else, Barlow was clearly uncomfortable being the center of attention, which speaks as much about him as any of the words that were being said about him.

TigerBlog is sure of that. TB and Barlow have spent a lot of time together through the years, and TB thinks he knows him pretty well.

Of everyone who works in the Department of Athletics, TigerBlog has known Jim Barlow the longest. Back before they both were at Princeton. Back before TB was covering Princeton in the newspaper business. Back before he worked at a local paper where Barlow was a contributing writer.

Nope, TB and Barlow go all the way back to Hightstown High School, where TB first wrote about Barlow when he was a high school soccer player. Even all these years later, TigerBlog knows exactly what he thought about Barlow when he was younger - there's something obviously special about this guy.

Jim Barlow is as high a quality human being as anyone TigerBlog has ever met. As the speakers took to the podium, there was good-natured joking about his legendary rule following and how he's an authority on NCAA rules. There was one story after another about Barlow's integrity, his humility, his passion for soccer, his sense of responsibility to those who have played for him - and every word of it was true.

So how would TB sum up Barlow? Easy. He cares. In a world where not that many people really honestly care, Jim Barlow does.

There are a lot of other things TB could say about his longtime friend. He's smart. He's funny, in an understated way. He's thoughtful, both in the "generous" and "deep-thinking" senses of the word. He is extremely loyal.

What he's really great at is building relationships with people, all people, any people TB has ever seen him around.

That's because he cares. He doesn't ask how you're doing looking for a cursory "fine." He wants to know how you are, and if you're not okay, he wants to know how he can help.

He's as genuine as it gets.

And all of this is why he was so uncomfortable about the attention Sunday night.

The Trenton Select Committee dinner came one day after Barlow's team locked up the 2018 Ivy League championship and one day before the NCAA selection show, which was yesterday. Barlow's team has come such a long way since it opened its season getting swept in the Midwest by Southern Illinois-Edwardsville and Bradley, and the result was an outright championship and a return trip to the Midwest, to take on Michigan Thursday in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The winner will advance to take on seventh-seeded Notre Dame in the second round Sunday.

Princeton is an easy team for which to root, largely because of its coach. Don't think that his good nature makes him any less competitive. Not in the least.

Finally on Sunday evening, it was Barlow's turn to speak. He gave much of the credit for his success to those around him, especially his assistant coaches through the years, including current associate head coach Steve Totten.

Barlow, in typical fashion, also said that he wasn't sure he deserved all of the praise that had come his way. He also spoke about something that he was proud of, and it was very telling.

He mentioned the wide variety of guys who come to his program - from all over the country and the world, high school All-Americas and walk-ons, guys with racial differences, guys with political differences, guys with religious differences, guys of different sexual orientations, guys who play a lot for four years and guys who hardly get on the field. And he talked about how he usually has a roster of around 30.

And for all of that, he said, very few of his players have ever walked away.

That is something to be proud of, no doubt. It made TB wonder if Barlow ever considered how much of the credit for that situation he himself deserves, that he has created.

Barlow sat at the front table, with his brother and his wife PK, with whom he has formed a fairly perfect partnership. In the audience were people from Princeton, and from every other part of his soccer life in Mercer County.

They were there to honor a man who has touched everyone of them in the way that he does. Certainly TigerBlog wouldn't have missed it.

For one night, Jim Barlow would just have to deal with being uncomfortable. It was for a good cause, after all.

Monday, November 12, 2018

And That's 9-0

Before TigerBlog gets to the Princeton's 59-43 win over Yale in football Saturday afternoon that clinched at least a share of the Ivy League championship and a bonfire, he'd like to first recognize any and all veterans out there.

There is a long history at Princeton University and in its Department of Athletics of military service. There are many who have lost their lives in the service of their country, including the great Hobey Baker himself.

TigerBlog once wrote a story about a hockey/lacrosse/lightweight football player named Tyler Campbell, who died in Southern France in 1944. You can read it HERE.

Campbell Field, the practice field next to Princeton Stadium, is named for him.

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the end of World War I, a war that killed 10 million soldiers and eight million civilians. Nearly one-quarter of the male population of France was killed in those four years.

MotherBlog spent a lot of time working with veteran's organizations, and TigerBlog met a lot of people who were in wheelchairs after their service, especially from Vietnam. TB's level of respect for military members is extraordinarily high, and he knows how much is owed to them, historically and today.

As for the football game, well, it was certainly a wild one. TigerBlog wondered how much Princeton had left after its very physical and very emotional 14-9 win over Dartmouth a week earlier in a matchup of teams that came in unbeaten. The challenge was to come back on the road at a huge rival in the 141st meeting between the two.

Princeton came into the game allowing just nine points per game and was just one week removed from maybe the best defensive performance that the Tigers have had in decades. Yale scored 43 points, not to mention 595 total yards.

And yet for all of that offense, Princeton was in control the entire way. And why? There were two reasons.

First, there was the matter of the fact that it was 21-0 Tigers after a little more than four minutes had been played. Or 28-0 before Yale scored. Or 42-7 in the second quarter. Yale deserves credit for not quitting, but the Bulldogs never got closer than the final margin of 16 the rest of the way.

The defense gave up yards and points, but it also made every big play it needed to, whether it was to end drives while Princeton built the big lead or get a few stops it needed to keep Yale from getting too close. 

It was 7-0 Tigers after one play, which, if you read Friday's blog, was very reminiscent of the 1995 Princeton-Yale game, the last time Princeton had entered a game at 8-0.

If you didn't read it and don't want to click HERE, TigerBlog will give you the very brief recap: Princeton's Brock Harvey ran 92 yards for a touchdown on the first play, and Princeton lost 21-13.

As Collin Eaddy took the handoff from John Lovett and started his way down the field on Princeton's first play Saturday, TigerBlog thought "go" and "oh no, it's 1995 all over again" at the same time. That continued for 75 yards, the length of Eaddy's run for the first touchdown scored in the game.

Neither Princeton nor Eaddy were remotely close to being done.

In fact, there'd be 13 more touchdowns to follow for a total of eight by Princeton and six by Yale, and there'd also be another 191 yards and two more TDs on the ground from Eaddy alone.

Added together for Eaddy it came to 266 rushing yards, or the fifth-best single-game total in program history. And Eaddy wasn't the only one who had a big game on the ground.

In fact, Princeton had three backs go over 100 yards for the game - Eaddy, Ryan Quigley (113 and two touchdowns) and Lovett (110 yards and two touchdowns).

The teams combined for an extraordinary 1,229 yards of offense, and usually when that happens, both teams are getting big chunks through the air. Somewhat fascinatingly, Princeton came within two yards of the school record for rushing yards in game (as a team, Princeton ran for 489 yards; the record is 491, set in 1957 against Columbia) while Yale set the record for passing yards in a game against Princeton with 465.

Princeton was a rushing machine in the game as the offense simply imposed its will on the Bulldogs. It seemed like every running play was going to go the distance, or at least get another first down. In fact, the 489 yards came on 56 attempts (nowhere close to the record of 85, against Dartmouth in 1968), which means an average of 8.7 per carry. That's extraordinary.

Princeton was doing this with an offensive line that was consistently opening big holes and a trio of backs who knew how to take full advantage of them. It was actually somewhat beautiful to watch.

When it was over, Princeton was 9-0, with one more game, next Saturday at home against Penn. Should Princeton win that one, it would complete the first perfect season the program has had since 1964.

No matter what happens next week, Princeton has already clinched at least a share of the championship. There will also be a bonfire, courtesy of a Big Three sweep of Harvard and Yale.

This has been an amazing season for the Tigers, and one of the best parts is the way it is a complete team effort. It's not just one player or one unit that's been carrying the team.

It could be Jesper Horsted and Stephen Carlson. It could be the defense. It could be anyone at any time.

This past Saturday, it was an unstoppable rushing offense, one that started on the first play and didn't let up until the Tigers got to 9-0.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Lessons To Be Learned

It was Nov. 11, 1995, when a 2-6 Yale team came to play an 8-0 Princeton team in Palmer Stadium.

Yale kicked off, and Princeton took the ball on its eight-yard line.

Up in the old, open-air, wooden pressbox, Kurt Kehl, who had TigerBlog's job before TB did, had a prediction for the first play from scrimmage.

"Brock is going to run it all the way for a touchdown," Kehl said.

What happened next? There was Harvey, the Tiger quarterback, off on a 92-yard sprint. 7-0 Tigers in a flash - and a less-than-humble Kurt Kehl, basking in the knowledge that he had called it.

At that moment, sitting in that long-gone stadium, TB is pretty sure he thought the odds of a Princeton win were about 100 percent. Instead, Yale stayed close, took the lead late and then recovered a fumble in the end zone in the last minute to win 21-13.

TigerBlog read a story about that game online yesterday in the Hartford Courant archives. It actually made him wonder if, back in 1995, that Courant writer Dom Amore ever considered that someone would be reading it on a computer - and could just as easily on a phone - 23 years later as he chronicled the game.

The story had some facts in it that were lost to TB through the years. First, it mentions that it rained during the game, something TB has no memory of. Second, Yale punter John Lafferty pinned the Tigers inside the two three times in the game. When TB read that yesterday, he said, almost audibly, "oh yeah." Also, Yale quarterback Chris Hetherington, who would go onto a long NFL career as a fullback, had missed the previous three games; TB thought he'd been out all season before playing against Princeton.

One thing that made TB laugh was that Amore wrote that Princeton could still win the outright Ivy League title with a win the next week at Dartmouth. As you know, Princeton did win that outright championship - with a 10-10 tie against the Big Green in the last year ever before overtime.

The 2018 Princeton Tigers are 8-0 as they prepare to head to Yale for tomorrow's game, the 141st between the rivals. Only Lehigh and Lafayette have been playing each other in football longer.

Princeton has been 8-0 eight times in the last 100 years. The seventh was that 1995 season.

There are some lessons to be learned from that 1995 game that apply to tomorrow. What are they?

First, take absolutely nothing for granted. This Yale team is 3-2 in the Ivy League, which means that it is playing to stay alive in the league race, something that a Princeton win ends for the Bulldogs. So there's that.

Second, you don't think Yale is dying to end Princeton's perfect season? Consider this quote from the Courant story:
"We wanted to win this game so bad," said senior quarterback Chris Hetherington, who rushed and passed for 229 yards and 12 of Yale's 21 first downs. "We came in here excited. We were huge underdogs, but we had nothing to lose and we played with emotion all game. . . . This will go down in history."

So that's the first lesson. The second is that it's very, very, very hard to win the game after the "big game." Princeton was physically and emotionally pushed to the limit a week ago against undefeated Dartmouth before rallying for a 14-9 win.

Back in 1995, Princeton defeated Penn 22-9 to get to 8-0. Here's the first paragraph from the late, great William Wallace in the New York Times after that story:
Princeton deposed Pennsylvania today as the monarch of the Ivy League and took a giant stride toward the championship that the Tigers last won outright in 1964.

The win last weekend was tremendous, but it wasn't the actual championship game. It was necessary if Princeton is going to win the championship, since TB doesn't think Dartmouth will lose in its last two games (at Cornell, home against Brown), or at least Princeton has to approach it as if Dartmouth won't lose.

There's no time to have an emotional letdown heading into this weekend. 

In addition - or should that be "thirdly," - Princeton knows that there can still be a mathematical four-way tie with Princeton, Dartmouth, Yale and Penn, who is also 3-2 in the league. Princeton knows that it can get at least a share of the championship even with a loss, but the lure of the outright title is great.

Just as Princeton saw in 1995, closing that out is not going to be easy.

Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Changing Leaves

TigerBlog often rides his bike through Smoyer Park, a small park in Princeton that has soccer fields, baseball fields, a playground and a pavilion.

As you pedal through the park and then out the back, there's a small lake on your left, one that's framed with a bunch of trees. It's a very pretty spot.

When TB was there last week, literally 10 days ago, the trees had just started to change colors. When he was there this week, there was no green left, only a variety of autumnal colors that made it an ever prettier spot.

TigerBlog's thought? That was quick.

It's the same thought he has about crossover season. A few weeks ago, there was a hint that the leaves of the athletic schedule, as it were, had started to change.

At first it was just women's hockey. Now? It's everywhere, with pretty everyone, and it's making for an extraordinary few weeks around here.

If TB's math is good, then Princeton has 15 teams who will be competing this weekend. Or maybe 16. He's counted three times and keeps coming up with one or the other. The point is that it's very busy.

In truest crossover fashion, there are:
* four teams competing in NCAA events - field hockey at home, women's soccer at Texas Tech and both cross country teams at Penn State
* three teams playing for possible Ivy League championships as the regular season winds down - men's soccer and football at Yale, women's volleyball home against Harvard and Dartmouth
* two teams playing their season openers - men's basketball against DeSales tomorrow night on Carril Court, men's squash at Virginia Saturday
* three other teams who are competing at home for the first time this year - men's hockey against Union and RPI, men's and women's swimming hosting the Big Al Invitational

There are others who will play as well. The women's basketball team opened its season at Rider Tuesday night and now heads to George Washington Sunday afternoon. The men's and women's tennis teams are on the road. So too is the women's hockey team, with games at Syracuse Saturday and Sunday.

And, if TB is right this time, that adds up to 16 teams. And a few hundred athletes.

Princeton plays two home men's basketball games in November, the one tomorrow night and then the Wednesday before Thanksgiving against Fairleigh Dickinson. The Tigers are also at Lehigh a week from tomorrow and Monmouth the Saturday after Thanksgiving before ending the month at Maine.

There will be seven more games in December, including flights to Duke and Arizona State, St. John's in the Garden, George Washington and St. Joe's in Jadwin, Iona in Atlantic City and Lafayette on Lafayette's home court.

As for the women, it's an eight-game November, including two ranked opponents among the three opponents in Cancun during Thanksgiving weekend. The home opener against Seton Hall is this coming Wednesday, and that is the only November home date. December will bring Davidson, Quinnipiac and Marist to Jadwin.

In other words, basketball season will be very challenging very quickly for both teams.

Courtney Banghart talked about some of her team's early challenges, including playing without injured Ivy Player of the Year Bella Alarie for a time to start the year, and the opportunities that present themselves, in this week's episode of "The Court Report."

She also talked about the differences between being a first-year head coach 11 years ago and being a veteran coach now. You can hear it HERE.

Then there's the men's hockey team.

The Tigers are 1-1-1 on the young season, with an opening 4-2 loss at Penn State and then a road trip that resulted in a 7-1 win over Dartmouth and a 4-4 tie with Harvard. There are way worse starts a team could have.

Princeton is the defending ECAC champion (doesn't that sound good?) and the preseason pick for second in the league. The Tigers will sneak up on no one, which is fine, and there are already a lot of good signs for this team.

First, there's the 11-goal ECAC weekend, which, coupled with the two goals against Penn State, leaves Princeton second in Division I in scoring offense at 4.33 per game. Princeton, who also has the top power play in Division I to date, is known for its ability to score.

Second, there's the 1-2-3 punch of Ryan Kuffner (leading Division I in goals per game, as he did last year), Max Veronneau (second in Division I in assists per game) and Josh Teves (third in DI in assists per game).

The men's hockey team is a fun one to watch. The Tigers host Union tomorrow night, and if you recall, Princeton hadn't beaten Union since 2009 until the ECAC quarterfinal a year ago, when the Tigers swept the series in two straight.

The games this weekend are Princeton's only two at Baker Rink until December, as the Tigers play seven of their first nine away from home. After that, nine of the next 10 will be on home ice.

By then, all the leaves on the trees will have fallen. For this weekend, there's still some spectacular color to be seen, as well as a lot of Princeton Athletics.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

NCAA Tournament Time

TigerBlog was watching the Oklahoma-Texas Tech football game Saturday night, and he couldn't help but think that it looked like Lubbock was a fun place to watch a game.

As it turned out, it was a wild one, a game that ended up 51-46 Oklahoma. TigerBlog was rooting for the home team that night, the Red Raiders.

At the same time as he watched the football game on TV, he also had the Princeton-Penn women's soccer game on ESPN+ on his iPad. He never really considered at the time that these two locations would be colliding a few days later.

The Princeton women's soccer team needed to win that game against Penn to get a share of the Ivy League championship and a spot in the NCAA tournament. A tie wouldn't have been good enough, let alone a loss.

And win Princeton did, a 1-0 victory accomplished on the 43rd goal of Mimi Asom's amazing career. Asom is third all-time in goals at Princeton now, behind only Tyler Lussi and Esmeralda Negron.

She's had a bunch of big goals in her career, and the one against Penn was up there with any of them, especially when you factor in the stakes of the game and the fact that Penn had given up only four goals the entire year prior to that. That's extraordinary.

When that game was over, Princeton had its third Ivy title in the four years that Sean Driscoll has been head coach. And the Tigers had a return trip to the NCAA tournament.

The NCAA pairings for women's soccer were announced yesterday, and where would the Tigers be headed? TigerBlog expected Rutgers, or someplace else that required a bus.

And where did they end up? On the way to Lubbock, to take on Texas Tech (Friday, 7 Eastern). It appears that the soccer field is on the other side of the road that wound around above the football stadium, something TB saw on aerial shots during the football game.

If you remember a year ago, Princeton had a great run through the NCAA tournament, defeating, Monmouth, North Carolina State and then, most impressively, 21-time champion North Carolina to get to the quarterfinals. It was the second-best run in program history, after the 2004 team reached the Final Four, something no other Ivy school has ever done.

Texas Tech went 13-5-2 overall and 5-3-1 in the Big 12. The Red Raiders have never lost an NCAA game on their home field, the John Walker Complex, and in fact they have never even given up a goal in those four games.

On the other hand, the last home NCAA game for Texas Tech was in 2015. Princeton and Texas Tech have never met.

As TB said, Texas Tech looked like a fun place to see a game, and apparently a somewhat welcoming place. Consider what head coach Tom Stone had to say: "We are excited to welcome Princeton to Lubbock and the campus of Texas Tech. After their terrific NCAA run last year, we are well aware of their quality and recognize we have to be at our best for this opening round game to be able to move on."

While the women's soccer team travels 1,700 miles to Texas, the field hockey team will be traveling about 1,700 feet from its locker room in Caldwell Field House for its NCAA tournament. It's the third NCAA appearance in three years for head coach Carla Tagliente, who has taken the Tigers to one Final Four and one quarterfinal the first two years.

Princeton takes on Virginia Friday at noon in the first of two games on Bedford Field, followed by two teams who have already played the Tigers this year - Penn State (whom Princeton defeated) and Harvard (who beat Princeton). The winners play Sunday at 1 for a spot in the Final Four next weekend in Louisville.

That loss to Harvard kept Princeton from the Ivy title, but it hasn't changed what a remarkable year it's been for Princeton. In fact, the Tigers are the third seed in the tournament, which is an amazing accomplishment for a team that didn't have an automatic bid.

It's a testament to what kind of season it's been. Princeton has played 10 ranked teams and nine NCAA tournament teams, and included in that run are wins over Duke and UConn, in addition to Penn State.

Princeton field hockey has been a fixture in this tournament. This will be the 14th straight appearance for the Tigers, who won the 2012 NCAA title, again the only time an Ivy school has done so.

Virginia is 9-9 on the year, but hey, don't be fooled by that at all. UVa has also played a tough schedule, and there are no pushovers at this time of year.

When players come to compete in women's soccer and field hockey at Princeton, this is the time of year they have in mind. Both teams have exciting opportunities coming up at the end of the week - even though they have vastly different travel arrangements to make.

Again, it's Princeton at Texas Tech in women's soccer Friday at 7 Eastern. It's Princeton at home against Virginia Friday at 12 in field hockey.

It's NCAA tournament time for those two programs. Again.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Colvin In The Clutch

TigerBlog was asked yesterday if the Princeton-Dartmouth football game was really as good as he was saying.

The answer is, of course, yes. He likened it to a baseball game where the visitors got three in the top of the first, the home team got those three back in the bottom of the first, the visitors got a run on an error in the top of the third and then it was all strikeouts from there until the bottom of the seventh, when the home team left the bases loaded, and then the bottom of the eighth, when the home team finally pushed across the runs it needed.

If you want one more look back at the Tigers 14-9 win, TB's colleague Craig Sachson put THIS together yesterday. It's his compilation of the 10 plays that helped decide the outcome, and it's definitely worth reading.

The football game was huge, no doubt. It was also not the only huge event from this past weekend .

In fact, seven Princeton teams played games over the weekend, and not one of them lost. The record was 10-0-2, broken down this way:
* football, men's soccer, women's soccer, field hockey: 1-0 each
* women's volleyball, men's water polo: 2-0 each
* men's and women's hockey: 1-0-1 each

That's an incredible weekend, especially given how big some of those games were.

TB will start with a men's soccer question: How good has Jeremy Colvin been in the clutch this year for the men's soccer team?

The other day against Penn, he scored not one but two overtime goals. And this was in a game that was sudden death.

Okay, the first goal was disallowed by an offsides call. That one came three minutes into the overtime.

So what did Colvin do? He scored one that wasn't waived off four minutes later. Princeton 2, Penn 1.

For Colvin, it his fifth game-winning goal of the year, of which three have now come in overtime. Or four in OT, if you count the one that the officials didn't.

TigerBlog was next to the official's evaluator, who had called it offsides well before Colvin scored - and then thoughtfully explained why as he praised the officials who made the call. When TB saw Princeton head coach Jim Barlow on the field after the game, he told him that his opinion of the call went way up after Colvin scored again.

TB knows he was joking a bit, but think about how clutch a player has to be to already have two OT goals, then score another one that's waived off and then four minutes later score again anyway. And this wasn't just another game.

Princeton is in first place in the Ivy League, and this was the second-to-last game of the season. The Tigers were one point ahead of Columbia, meaning that this was no time to give away two points after Penn had tied it with six minutes to go. For the Quakers, by the way, that was to be expected - Penn has played 15 games this season, and of those, there have been 11 that have gone to overtime.

Colvin's goal pushed Princeton to 5-0-1 in the league and mathematically eliminated everyone else except for Columbia. As for the Lions, their game against Harvard this past Saturday started at 7, after the Princeton win. Once the Tigers had defeated Penn, Columbia needed a win to prevent Princeton from clinching the Ivy's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

The first score of that game TB saw when he checked it was 1-1, but Columbia got a second-half goal to win 2-1 and push the league race to the last weekend. The schedule has Princeton at Yale and Columbia home against Cornell.

This time, though, the times are reversed. Columbia plays at 1 and the Tigers at 4, so Princeton will know exactly what it needs to do. Here are the scenarios:

* if Columbia wins, then Princeton needs to win to win the championship and the league's automatic bid. A loss or tie would give both prizes to Columbia
* if Columbia ties, then Princeton would win the outright title with a tie or win. A loss by Princeton with a Columbia tie would still mean a co-championship - and the automatic bid for Princeton
* a Columbia loss gives the outright title and the automatic bid to Princeton before it ever plays a second against Yale

Anyway, that's where it stands with men's soccer. There's so much else going on, including the NCAA tournament for field hockey and women's soccer, and TB will get to that later this week.

Oh, and by the way.

Tonight? It's opening day of basketball season, as the women are at Rider at 7. 

Monday, November 5, 2018

Thoughts On A Great Football Game

If you saw the Princeton-Dartmouth football game Saturday afternoon, then you probably had the same thought as TigerBlog once the first 11:36 of the game had been played.

To review quickly, Dartmouth took the ball and went 74 yards on 14 plays in 7:10, 7-0 Big Green. Princeton then took the ball and went 75 yards on 12 plays in 4:26, 7-7.

At that point, TB was thinking that this was a game between two teams who came in averaging 85 points per game between them and that they could end up making a serious run at beating that number. He never saw coming what was actually going to happen next over the remaining 48:24.

By the time it ended, Princeton had a huge 14-9 win in a game that matched two 7-0 teams and surpassed any reasonable expectation in terms of drama, not to mention toughness.

Is it the best Princeton football game TigerBlog has seen in all his years with the Tigers? Possibly. He'll revisit that later, when the emotions of the day have worn off.

TB knows what emotion he had after the first Dartmouth drive. He thought Princeton was never, ever going to stop the Big Green and that the only way that Princeton was going to win was to be a little more unstoppable offensively.

After the first Princeton drive, he felt better, liking Princeton's chances in what he was convinced was going to be an offensive explosion from both teams. If you recall, the 2017 game in Hanover finished 54-44 Dartmouth.

So what happened next? Well, here were the combined results of the remaining drives: 10 punts, one safety, three turnovers on downs, one fumble and one interception. Oh yeah, and one touchdown, the game-winning one, on the second rushing touchdown of the day from John Lovett, with 6:33 to go in the game.

After the 150 yards the teams had on those first drives, there would be 373 more yards of total offense between the two. That's it. And 91 of those came on one of the most extraordinary drives you'll ever see.

Princeton took the ball on its own three, and then eight minutes later, the Tigers turned it over on downs at the Dartmouth six, still down 9-7 (after two amazing catches from Jesper Horsted, of course). And yet, the whole game changed with that drive. As someone said to TB later, Princeton won the game on the drive that failed.

That drive did two things. First, it flipped the field over. Second, it was the first sign that the Princeton offense had worn down the Dartmouth defense enough to score the touchdown it needed. That winning score came on the next drive, ending a four-play, 34-yard drive the next time the Tigers had the ball.

Of course, it was the defense that got the ball back for the offense, with a three-and-out that went run for no gain, incomplete pass, run for no gain, punt.

Yeah, the Princeton defense was great.

Dartmouth would finish with 213 yards of total offense. That means after the 75 of that first drive, the Big Green would go for just 138 the rest of the way. Dartmouth had six first downs on that first stroll down the field; there would be just seven more the rest of the way.

This game was won by the Princeton defense, no doubt about it. If you want to go back to last year, when Jared Gerbino rushed for 202 yards and four touchdowns, then Princeton gave up 61 points to Dartmouth in 72 minutes - and then two (on a safety that had nothing to do with the defense) in the next 48.

Had Dartmouth scored again, with the way Dartmouth's defense was playing, it might have been enough. Every time the Princeton defense went on the field, it knew it had no margin for error at all.

This isn't something that the Tigers have had much experience with this season, when six of the first seven games were total blowouts and the only close one - Harvard - was a game in which the Tigers never trailed.

This time, Princeton was down 9-7 and the points and yards weren't coming easily. It put the pressure squarely on the defense each possession, knowing that Dartmouth's defense was putting up scoreless innings as well, and each time the defense responded.

After the game, Princeton head coach Bob Surace compared it to "Rocky." To TigerBlog, it was more like the big game in "Remember the Titans," where the defensive coach tells them "not another yard."

The Princeton offense has gotten a lot of attention this year, and it's been deserved. It's been led by Lovett, the dynamic quarterback whose persona comes across in everything he does on the field. There's the uniquely talented receiver Horsted and his partner Stephen Carlson, as well as a deep army of running backs and a veteran offensive line.

The Tigers have put up yards and points in lightning fashion, and it's led to the lopsided scores you've seen all year.

Lost in all that is a defense that has allowed just nine points per game, second best in the country. It's a great defensive unit, and that's exactly how they play, as a unit. They have some of their own big names - Fossati, Johnson, Floyd and others - but they don't have that superstar defender.

Hey, on that key three-and-out, the two running plays for no gain featured tackles by four different players - Jay Rolader and Tom Johnson on the first and Jeremiah Tyler and Joey DeMarco, while the pass in between was broken up by a fifth player, Mark Fossati.

What they have is an army of guys who play hard at all times and are utterly relentless. They're their own version of the "No Name Defense," the one that the 1972 Miami Dolphins rode to a perfect season.

Speaking of perfect seasons, Princeton is 8-0 with two weeks to go. If you're already excited about next weekend, Princeton is at Yale Saturday at 12:30. After that will be a home game against Penn.

In case you haven't looked at the standings, there is Princeton at 5-0, Dartmouth at 4-1 and then Yale and Penn at 3-2 each. The next two weeks will not be easy.

TB will have more on that later in the week.

He leaves you today hoping that he did justice to what that game Saturday was, an extraordinary slugfest by two superior defenses, with just enough big plays by the Princeton offense to pull out what is a huge win. It was up there with any game Princeton has played in the last 30 years.

What it wasn't was a championship game. It was just a step towards one.

The challenge now is to dial it back up for the next two.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Almost Kickoff

Click Here To Buy Princeton-Dartmouth Football Tickets   

Once again, let TigerBlog remind you of the schedule at Princeton tomorrow:

* field hockey against Penn at noon
* football against Dartmouth at 1
* women's hockey against Harvard at 3
* men's soccer against Penn at 4
* women's soccer against Penn at 7

And once again, let him remind you of the stakes (factoring out women's hockey, which still has four months or so left in its season):

* field hockey can win a share of the Ivy title with a win and Harvard loss to Columbia; Princeton is also playing for a chance to host the first rounds of the NCAA tournament
* men's soccer can win the Ivy League title and get to the NCAA tournament with a win and a Columbia loss or tie (there are still two games left in men's soccer, so Princeton would also win the big prizes with two wins, regardless of what anyone else does)
* women's soccer get a share of the Ivy title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament with a win; Penn gets the outright title and NCAA bid with a win or if the game ends in a tie

Got it? Getting annoyed because TigerBlog is repeating himself? He wouldn't keep saying it if he didn't think it was important.

As for the football game, it's No. 20 Dartmouth, coming in with a record of 7-0, against No. 14 Princeton, also coming in at 7-0. Dartmouth has actually won 10 straight dating to last year; Princeton has won 10 straight in which John Lovett has played.

It's the first time in Princeton Stadium history that there will be a November football game between unbeatens, and its Princeton's first time playing such a November game since 1993, when the Tigers lost 30-14 at Penn.

Actually, there have been five previous games since the formalization of the Ivy League where unbeatens will have met in November. Here is the list:
1964 — Princeton (7-0) def. Yale (6-0-1), 35-14
1965 — Dartmouth (8-0) def. Princeton (8-0), 28-14
1968 — Harvard (8-0) and Yale (8-0) tied, 29-29
1993 — Penn (7-0) def. Princeton (7-0), 30-14
2001 — Harvard (7-0) def. Penn (7-0), 28-21

Of that group, one is possibly the most famous game in Ivy football history, the 29-29 1968 tie between Harvard and Yale that prompted the famous Harvard Crimson headline of "Harvard Defeats Yale 29-29" after the Crimson rallied from 29-13 down with two minutes left (and 22-0 down earlier).

The other four games featured one close one and three relatively one-sided ones. There's an assumption that big games like this will by definition correspond to close games. It's not always the case.

So what can you expect from the game tomorrow?

In its most simplistic terms, you're looking at two of the very best defensive teams in the FCS. Both are especially strong against the run - and both are great at running the ball themselves.

Also, both are led on the ground by gigantic quarterbacks. Princeton's John Lovett you already know. Dartmouth's Jared Gerbino you met a year ago.

Lovett stands 6-3, 230. Gerbino is 6-4, 230. Those are two big bodies.

Lovett is third in the league in rushing yards per game at 101.3. Gerbino is fifth, at 94.8. Lovett averages 7.7 yards per carry, best among anyone in the league with more than 15 attempts. Gerbino averages 7.3.

If you want to break the game down to one thing, there will be a huge edge to whichever of those two has the better day.

A year ago, when Dartmouth outslugged Princeton 54-44 in Hanover, Gerbino went for a ridiculous 202 yards on 32 carries, scoring four TDs. If he does that again (especially the 32 carries part), yeah, Dartmouth would be fine with it.

Of course, this game is about more than just those two. Both teams have weapons everywhere. There's Dartmouth's Derek Kyler, who leads the nation in passing efficiency and completion percentage (73.7 percent). There's Princeton's Jesper Horsted and Stephen Carlson, either one of whom could catch 10 passes and score three touchdowns. Or there's Dartmouth's Isiah Swann, who leads the country in interceptions. Who's second? Princeton's TJ Floyd. Princeton has Charlie Volker, who has at least one touchdown in eight straight games and multiple touchdowns in four straight games, with three a week ago in a 66-0 win over Cornell.

And none of that takes into account the offensive and defensive lines both teams have, or their depth, or how they've manhandled pretty much everyone all year. Comparative scores favor Princeton, but that means nothing tomorrow.

There will still be two weeks remaining in the season after this weekend, so nothing is set in stone for the winner. Still, this is the game that pretty much everyone in the Ivy League has been pointing to since it become apparent early on that these were two teams who were going to have special years.
Now they meet on Powers Field. Maybe if they played 10 times, they'd split, but they only play once, so there's only this one shot at each other.

Maybe it'll be decided simply by the fact that one team is just better and can't be stopped by the other. Or maybe it'll come down to some play, some formation, some idea that neither team has shown yet this season because it hasn't had to.

It's a huge game, that's for sure. Will it also be a great one?

You'll find out tomorrow.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

More For Super Saturday

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How was your Halloween, that most Princetonian of all holidays?

You know. Orange and black.

Princeton has been dressed in orange and black since the 1880s. Halloween in its current form doesn't date back much further than that.

Halloween itself is considered to have evolved from religious holidays in Ireland and Scotland dating back centuries. It wasn't until after the mass immigration of the Irish and Scottish in the 1800s that it came to this country, and by the early 20th century it pretty much looked like it does today. Or yesterday.

At least that's what it said on Wikipedia.

TigerBlog made it through Halloween without having a single piece of candy. That's because he's not capable of having a single piece. If he had one, he'd have to have about 100 or so, and he knows he shouldn't have 100 mini-Kit Kat bars, so he didn't start at all.

Maybe one day, when he's the old guy always walking his dog by his beach house as he said yesterday, he can add in sitting on his porch on Halloween and giving out candy to the kids who come by.

With Halloween over, it is now November. You can tell by the 70 degree weather in Princeton today, by the way.

It'll be even warmer tomorrow, with a chance of a thunderstorm. Then the forecast for Saturday is a high of 59, with morning clouds giving way to sun.

In other words, perfect weather for the Super Saturday around here. Hey, if you're a fall sport, your hope is to be playing big games into November, and that's certainly going to be the case around here.

To review, there are five games on Princeton's campus Saturday, one women's hockey game against Harvard at 3 and then four other games that will directly impact Ivy League championships and/or NCAA tournament spots and seeds.

Going chronologically, you have:

* field hockey at noon against Penn (free)
* football at 1 against Dartmouth (tickets required, click the link above)
* men's soccer at 4 against Penn (free)
* women's soccer at 7 against Penn (free)

By the time Saturday ends, three of those teams can be Ivy champs (or two eliminated and one needing help next week), with two headed to the NCAA tournament (or one eliminated with the other needing help to get in) and the third pretty much a lock (though without a championship), while the fourth could have taken a giant leap in the direction of its own championship (or needing help that might not come).

In other words, these games are all huge. And there aren't too many Saturdays that come along like this one.

TigerBlog ran through all of the scenarios Monday, but he can give you a quick refresher:

* field hockey - needs a win over Penn and a Harvard loss to Columbia to get a share of the title. Actually, Penn is in the same situation as Princeton, since both are 5-1 in the league, a game behind 6-0 Harvard, who has already beaten Penn and Princeton and has the automatic NCAA bid. Princeton is about as sure a thing as there is for an at-large bid and still has a good chance at hosting for the first two rounds next weekend.

* men's soccer - a Princeton win over Penn and a Columbia loss at Harvard means that Princeton would clinch the outright Ivy title and the NCAA tournament bid. A Princeton win over Penn and a Columbia tie at Harvard clinches at least a share of the title and the automatic bid, since Columbia could still tie Princeton in the standings but Princeton has defeated Columbia. Any other scenario for this weekend means the championship and automatic bid won't be decided until next week. Oh, and Cornell and Dartmouth are still mathematically alive for the outright title and NCAA automatic bid.

* women's soccer - this one is the easiest. A Penn win or tie and Penn wins the outright title and the league's automatic bid. A Princeton win and the teams share the championship

* football - and then there's football. There are still three weeks left in the Ivy League football season, so nobody can clinch a championship yet. Then again, this is a game between 7-0 Princeton and 7-0 Dartmouth, both of whom have dominated the league this season (obviously) except for close wins against Harvard for each. It's the first time since 1993 that Princeton has played a game this late in the season when it's been unbeaten, and the only other time that the Ivy League has seen such a game since then was back in 2001, when Harvard beat Penn.

So you have all of that down?

TigerBlog, as you may have expected, will have much more on the football showdown tomorrow.

For now, you can get back to your Halloween candy. Enjoy a Three Musketeers for TigerBlog.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The Build Up To The Big One

Click Here To Buy Princeton-Dartmouth Football Tickets 

TigerBlog is wondering how many people who will be at the football game Saturday on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium between 7-0 Princeton and 7-0 Dartmouth were also at the 1993 game at Franklin Field between 7-0 Princeton and 7-0 Penn.

Whatever that number is, TigerBlog was one of them. That game, as you've probably heard by now, was the last time Princeton reached this point of the season unbeaten with a game against a fellow unbeaten.

The last time that happened in the Ivy League was in 2001, when 8-0 Penn played 8-0 Harvard, also at Franklin Field. TB was not at that game, a 28-21 Harvard win.

He'll get back to football shortly.

First, as TigerBlog has said many times before, among his retirement goals is to someday be known as "that nice old guy who's always out walking his dog." By his beach house, of course.

He envisions a medium-sized dog, by the way. Not some giant dog.

Earlier this week TigerBlog mentioned his colleague Macall Martin and her dogs. They are the biggest dogs there are, at least he thinks they are.

The first time he wrote about them, he called them "Great Danes," but then he wasn't sure he should capitalize the "G" and the "D." Actually, it looked correct, but then he thought maybe that was because he's seen the University at Albany written about so often. The Albany Great Danes.

As it turns out, the dogs are also Great Danes, not great danes. But cockapoos are just cockapoos and poodles are just poodles, not capitalized.

TigerBlog has always been great at grammar, but not as great at spelling and, apparently, capitalization. He also was never really great at remembering what all those other words about words meant.

You know? Like what are two consecutive words used together that have opposite meanings? Like "deafening silence." Those are oxymorons. Onomatopeia refers to words that sound like their meaning, such as "crash." He never can keep those straight.

Then there are homophones. Those are two words that are spelled differently and mean different things but are spelled the same. Like "hear" and "here."

TB will now demonstrate in a sentence: Courtney Banghart, the women's basketball coach, talks about, among other things, how long it took her to go from being a Dartmouth athlete and coach to being all in on Orange and Black in the current episode of "The Court Report" podcast, which you can hear HERE.

TigerBlog's own timeline went from being a Penn student to a Penn fan to someone who covers Princeton somewhat objectively to someone who rooted for Princeton to someone who works at Princeton. He started rooting for Princeton somewhere very shortly after he started covering Princeton, long before he started working here.

It was definitely all completed by that 1993 football game. Actually it was completed a few years before that, possibly the first time TB interviewed Bob Surace, who was then a center for the team and who now is its head coach.

Back at the 1993 Princeton-Penn game, TigerBlog remembers a lot about that day, and the week leading up to it, for that matter. There was a great deal of hype leading up to the game, as much as any game that TB can remember. He certainly did his part, writing about it every day the week before in the Trenton Times.

Back in those days, Princeton had a weekly media luncheon for each week of the football season. TB isn't exactly sure when those stopped exactly, but it was maybe 10 years or so ago. He does know that in all the ones he went to, the one before that Penn game was by far the most crowded. 

As for the game, Terrance Stokes, who went from Trenton High to Penn, set the Quaker single-game rushing record, going for 272 yards on a rainy day in a 30-14 win by the home team. Princeton never really got into a rhythm in that one and seemed to be a step off the whole time. Stokes had the most statistically wild game TB has ever seen, with 136 rushing yards in the first half and 136 more rushing yards in the second half.

Why talk about all this now, other than the fact that it's the last time Princeton had a game like this one? That game has nothing to do with this one. Not one of the players who will play Saturday was even all that close to being born yet in 1993.

Mostly, the game coming up Saturday got TB thinking back to the build up to that 1993 game. It was, as he said, unlike the build up to any other game he's seen with Princeton football.

Much of that can't be repeated, not with what's happened to the newspaper business, for instance. This week there will be videos and social media posts by both schools, a sign of these times as much as the media lunch was a part of those times.

But the emotions are the same.

There's this huge game at the end of the week. Each day it gets a little closer and the energy continues to build for it. 

In that respect, it's 1993.

Maybe TB would remember it differently had Princeton won that one. Maybe not.

Either way, what he remembers most about that game is how exciting it was to have an event like that.

The feeling right now, still a few days out, is the same.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

A Super Saturday On The Way

Click Here To Buy Princeton-Dartmouth Football Tickets

Ross Tucker, the Princeton alum and current football media star, tweeted something interesting yesterday.

Ross, a TigerBlog favorite, was a longtime NFL offensive lineman. He mentioned that his last snap was in 2007, and yet he had been a teammate of both starting quarterbacks in last night's Monday Night Football game - New England's Tom Brady and Buffalo's Derek Anderson.

That's interesting, especially since it's 11 years later. There can't be many players who last played in 2007 who were teammates with two current NFL starters.

In other NFL news, the Giants are the worst team in the league and TigerBlog is fine with that. Oh, and it's not Eli Manning's fault, so don't blame him. Maybe the team needs to see what it has with rookie Kyle Lauletta, but it's hardly Eli's fault that the team is awful.

And Taysom Hill continues to be the most exciting player in the league. And Pat Mahomes is really, really good. Will it be a Chiefs-Rams Super Bowl?

That's your NFL update.

Speaking of football, you're probably already aware that their is a huge game coming up on Powers Field this Saturday.

It'll be 7-0 Princeton and 7-0 Dartmouth in football, with kickoff at 1. The game features the only two people in Ivy football history to win championships as both players and head coaches - Princeton's Bob Surace and Dartmouth's Buddy Teevens.

As TB said, it's a huge game Saturday at Princeton.

It's just that it's not the only huge game at Princeton Saturday. In fact, there are a lot of them, as it turns out.

The day starts with field hockey, where Princeton hosts Penn, hoping for a win and a Harvard loss to Columbia to get a share of the league championship. Harvard, regardless, will have the league's automatic NCAA tournament bid after its win over Princeton, but the Tigers - with wins over teams like UConn, Penn State and Duke - is a near lock for an at-large bid. 

The football game will not decide the league champion, at least not right away. The winner of that game will still have two more to go, so the loser is not eliminated.

There is a championship game of sorts that will be taking place Saturday evening, as the second game of a soccer doubleheader with Penn in which both ends will have major championship implications.

The women's game starts at 7, and when it's over, the Ivy League's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament will belong to one of the two teams. Penn is currently 5-0-1 in the league and has clinched at least a share of the league title, but Princeton is 4-1-1, which makes the math relatively simple here.

Princeton can obviously tie Penn with a win, which would leave both at 5-1-1. If that were to happen, Princeton would get the league's automatic bid to the tournament by virtue of having defeated Penn.

On the other hand, a Penn win or tie means an outright title - and the NCAA bid - for the Quakers.

By the way, Penn and Princeton rank 1-2 in the Ivy League in scoring offense and scoring defense. The Quakers have allowed just four goals all year, including just one goal in the last 10 games. In fact, Penn gave up two goals in a 4-2 win over Navy and two in all of its other games combined, including one in the Ivy League (against Yale).

That's the challenge for Princeton. Win and advance. Lose or tie? Then it's hope for an at-large bid that, with an RPI that will be around 30, is very much up in the air.

The men's soccer race is a week behind the women's, which means that there are two games to go. Princeton sits alone in first place with 13 points at 4-0-1, after huge wins against Columbia and Cornell, including 2-0 over the then-22nd-ranked Big Red in Ithaca this past Saturday.

Columbia right now has 12 points at 4-1-0, followed by Cornell at 3-2-0 (nine points) and Dartmouth at 2-1-1 (eight points). The other four have been mathematically eliminated.

Princeton plays Penn at 4 Saturday and then travels to Yale next Saturday. The simplest formula for the Tigers is to win both, and they will definitely win the championship.

There are all kinds of other combinations that get Princeton to the finish line, including going 1-1 in the last two if Cornell beats Columbia in their season finale. On the other hand, two Columbia wins (the Lions are at Harvard this weekend) would mean Princeton would have to win its last two to win the championship.

So that's your Saturday menu of on-campus Ivy events. Four of them, with all four directly impacting championships or postseason.

Yeah, maybe TigerBlog will have a little more on this as the week goes along.

Monday, October 29, 2018

High Drama, Coming This Saturday To Powers Field

The "Beat The Tiger" promotion on the Princeton Stadium videoboard Saturday asked the question of how many different Halloween candies you can name?

The contestant came up with 19. The Princeton football player on the board came up with 10 or so. Contestant wins.

Up in the PA booth, TigerBlog and his colleague Macall Martin talked about their own favorites. TigerBlog mentioned the wildly underrated mini-Three Musketeers bars, not to mention Kit Kats and peanut butter cups.

TB pointed out to Macall that he doesn't like peanut butter but does like peanut butter cups, and she said that she thinks that's a common phenomenon. She also said she's okay with peanuts but not walnuts.

At one point, Senior Associate Athletic Director Kellie Staples came by with a bunch of candy, but more the fruity kind than the chocolate kind. TigerBlog definitely prefers the chocolate kind.

The Princeton Stadium music director is DJ Darius the First. TigerBlog knew him first as Darius Young, who was a great three-sport athlete at Princeton High School back when TB covered high school sports. Darius was in the booth next to TB and Macall, and he wandered over to grab some of the candy.

There were other conversations too. TigerBlog told Macall the story of his friend from freshman year at Penn who came back from a class one day and announced that he'd met the woman he was going to marry - even if he didn't know her name yet. Oh, and it turned out that they had the same last name. And oh, they ended up getting married.

Macall talked about her husband and their two Great Danes. And how she used to work at Oregon State. Later on Macall's fellow marketing staff member Thelma Hughes came up.

It was like a little party up there.

As for the game on the field? Well, like each Princeton football game on Powers Field so far this season, there really wasn't much drama there. Nope. For the fourth time this year, Princeton put away its opponent early, leaving only the final score to be determined. There hasn't been a dramatic moment beyond the middle of the second quarter or so.

And all that will change with the fifth game on that field this year. That one comes up Saturday at 1, when 7-0 Princeton and 7-0 Dartmouth meet. It won't decide the Ivy League championship yet, not with two weeks remaining, and it'll be tough for whoever wins to come back the next week. The game after the big game is never easy.

Still, this is the first time in 25 years that there's been a matchup of unbeaten Ivy teams this late in the season involving Princeton and second time overall, after unbeatens Penn and Harvard played late in 2001. A look ahead to the weather forecast suggests 57 and sunny, which would be just perfect for a game like this.

There will be plenty of time to talk about the game coming up this week, and TigerBlog definitely will be doing that. First, though, there was the matter of Princeton-Cornell from this past Saturday.

The final was 66-0 Princeton, which made it the most points Princeton has ever scored in an Ivy League game. It also makes it the second time in four home games this year that Princeton has scored 66 points, after a 66-7 win over Lehigh earlier this year.

Here are the halftime scores from Princeton's four home game so far this season:
Princeton 30, Monmouth 9
Princeton 31, Lehigh 7
Princeton 28, Brown 0
Princeton 45, Cornell 0

What does that average out to? Princeton 33.5, Opponents 4.0.

Against Cornell Princeton led 21-0 after first quarter. By the end of the game, Princeton had outgained Cornell 504-243, with 358 of those yards on the ground.

Princeton had 13 drives against Cornell and nine of those ended in touchdowns. The first half drive chart went this way: punt, TD, TD, TD, TD, TD, TD, FG.

That's wildly impressive.

The best part about this Princeton team is that it's so balanced. The Tigers can beat you in a lot of ways, on both sides of the ball. There's depth, especially since the starters have rarely played into the late third quarter, let alone the fourth.

The result of all of this has been seven straight wins, with very little in the way of drama. The game at Harvard provided some, but Princeton never trailed and was mostly in control in a 29-21 win.

Week 8 will be completely different. There may be 66 points scored, but they won't all be by one team.

No, these are two teams that have put themselves in position to play a game like this. Dartmouth, like Princeton, hasn't really come close to losing yet this year either, with the closest game also Harvard, this past Saturday, by a 24-17 count.

TigerBlog will have much, much more on this coming showdown as it gets closer. Of course, a lot of it just speaks for itself

It's 7-0 Princeton and 7-0 Dartmouth.

The drama is on its way to Powers Field.

Friday, October 26, 2018

What Was That Again?

TigerBlog has been trying to remember something all week, and for the life of him he just can't.

What was it?

His memory is one of his strengths. For whatever reason, he can rattle off high schools and hometowns of Princeton athletes from when he first started here, nearly 30 years ago. Even this week, he was asked what high school Jason Doneger, a lacrosse player from the Class of 2005, attended, and TB replied "Lynbrook, of course."

Final scores of games. Stats. They all are in there, floating around, waiting to be recalled at a moment's notice.

Hey, he can even give you all of the Presidents in chronological order, in addition to all of "The Cat In The Hat" and pretty much every line from "Casablanca."

And yet this week, there's just been something he can't remember.

So yeah, what was it? Was it something he's been meaning to talk to you about?

Was it Heps cross country, coming to Princeton tomorrow morning? No, that wasn't it.

But hey, while he brought it up ...

Princeton's West Windsor Fields will be the site for the Heps cross country championships, with the women's race at 11 and the men's race at noon. The winners of each race will be crowned the Ivy League champions of 2018, the first teams to earn championships in this academic year.

Of all of the events on the Ivy League sports calendar each year, there are few that TigerBlog likes more than Heps cross country. The atmosphere is that of a big party, with tents and alums and fans of all eight schools there for the start and the finish.

And the competition is intense. It's not just about who wins the individual championship. It's about the runner in 15th who nudges past two others to get to 13th and dramatically change the team outcome.

Both Princeton teams are ranked this year nationally, and both will be very much in the hunt this time around as well.

So no, that wasn't it.

Was it Ivy League soccer? No, TigerBlog talked a lot of about that earlier this week. Both Princeton teams are in Ithaca to take on Cornell, and both of those games are huge as both head there knowing that they will win an Ivy League championship simply by winning out - the women with two games left and the men with three.

Nope. It wasn't soccer.

Football? Well, TB hasn't really talked much about that this week, but he knew he'd be bringing it up today.

You can go to the Heps races and then head over to the football stadium, where Princeton and Cornell kick off at 1.

Just as the Princeton soccer teams know that they'll win a championship by winning out, so too do Princeton's and Cornell's football teams.

As you are probably aware, Princeton and Dartmouth are both 6-0 with four weeks left in the season, and they meet next Saturday on Powers Field. What you might not also realize is that Cornell is 2-1, with only a league loss to Yale and wins over Harvard and Brown.

Yale is also 2-1 in the league, but if Dartmouth wins out, Yale cannot get a share of the championship. That leaves Princeton, Dartmouth and Cornell as the only teams that can win a title without any help, and those three all have the other two on their schedule the rest of the way.

By the way, as TigerBlog has said before, he's never been a fan of when people say teams "control their own destiny," since nobody controls destiny. It's destiny, so it's going to happen no matter what.

Princeton and Dartmouth rank 1-2 in the league in scoring offense (Princeton first, Dartmouth second) and scoring defense (Dartmouth first, Princeton second). Cornell is fifth in offense and seventh in defense.

In fact, Cornell doesn't rank in the top half of the league in scoring offense, scoring defense, total offense, total defense, passing offense, passing defense, rushing offense or rushing defense. You know what that means?

It means Cornell is a dangerous team. Its numbers don't jump off the page, but the Big Red has learned to win.

Cornell was 4-18 in a 22-game Ivy stretch from 2014 through an opening loss to Harvard last year. Since then, Cornell is 5-4 in its last nine league games, one of which was a win over Princeton last year.

Princeton is coming in off five blowout wins to start the year and then one last week that the Tigers had to tough out before knocking off Harvard 29-21. It was the kind of test Princeton figures to have more of in the last four weeks of the season, beginning with tomorrow's game.

In other words, it'll be two teams playing to put themselves in championship position tomorrow, with kickoff at 1 on Powers Field.

Maybe by then TB will have remembered what it is he forgot.

What was it? Yeah, it'll come to him eventually. 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Welcome To Crossover Season

Welcome to the early days of crossover season.

There are two of these each year, the fall/winter one, which is a bit daunting, and its evil cousin the winter/spring one, which takes daunting to another level.

These are the toughest times for those who work in college athletics in any capacity. There are teams playing for championships and other teams starting out their seasons, and they all have needs from everybody, such as athletic trainers, the equipment staff, the event staff, marketing and even communications.

Each year it seems that the seasons overlap a bit earlier. Of course it's great when you have successful teams, even though that makes the crossover last a little longer.

TigerBlog recently did a fall podcast with Chris Sailer, the women's lacrosse coach, which you can listen to HERE. During the podcast, Chris talked about how fall lacrosse has changed for her program in her time here, which was very interesting, but she also mentioned how her team is getting ready for its opener, which will be Feb. 16 at home against Temple.

At that point TB mentioned that the season used to start on March 1, and Chris said that it actually used to start on March 15 at one point.

In addition to home women's lacrosse that day (the men open their season Feb. 16 but at Monmouth), the men's basketball team will be home against Dartmouth, after hosting Harvard the night before. That will be Princeton's third of six Ivy League weekends in basketball.

That should give you a sense of what the crossover is like.

It's not as long or with as many teams in the fall/winter, though it certainly gets busy enough. It started last weekend, when the women's hockey team opened its season with a strong showing at No. 2 Wisconsin, falling 4-3 and 3-0 to a team playing its fifth and sixth games.

The women's hockey team is home this weekend, playing if you can believe it, the first ECAC weekend of the year with games tomorrow against Yale (6) and Saturday against Brown (3).

In true crossover fashion, your weekend of home events includes those two games, Week 7 of the football season (Princeton vs. Cornell at 1 Saturday) and Ivy League Heptagonal cross country championships (Saturday, with the women at 11 and the men at noon).

The men's hockey team opens its season tomorrow night as well, traveling to Penn State to take on the Nittany Lions and former Tiger head coach Guy Gadowsky. The men's hockey team is entering its own crossover season, and it has nothing to do with the time of year.

Princeton has crossed over from being an underdog to a favorite, and the Tigers now have to deal with heightened expectations. Ron Fogarty, like Gadowsky did when it was his time a decade ago, has done a remarkable job in putting Princeton men's hockey on the national landscape.

In a very short time, Fogarty has taken a team that was 12th out of 12 in the ECAC and turned it into the league champion. If you recall last year, Princeton tore through the ECAC playoffs, defeating the top three seeds along the way to the title and NCAA tournament berth.

Princeton has now won three ECAC men's hockey championships - in 1998, 2008 and 2018. There isn't a player on the team now who is content to let a bunch of kids who are just learning to skate now grow up and keep the streak alive in 2028.

No, Princeton has tasted success, and it has the team now to build on that. And TigerBlog isn't the only one who has noticed.

Princeton was picked 12th in the league two years ago. Last year it was seventh, TB believes, when the Tigers were a fun upstart who could possibly scare a team or two but wasn't really considered a real threat.

This year? Princeton is preseason No. 2 in the ECAC. There isn't a national poll that doesn't include the Tigers. There are those who have projected a Frozen Four appearance.

The reason for the optimism starts with four players - the three who figure to be in the NHL at this time a year from now (Max Veronneau, Josh Teves, Ryan Kuffner) and the goalie who was the MVP of the ECAC tournament as a freshman (Ryan Ferland). Those four are not the only pieces in place of course.

And so the big question now is how will Princeton handle such prosperity and expectations? Every team Princeton plays knows it's playing an NCAA team from last year. Everyone will want a shot at the Tigers.

That is, however, a fun position to be in for a team. At least it's better than being an afterthought.

Baker Rink has always been a fun place to watch a game. This year, it'll be even more so. The home opener is against Union and RPI on Nov. 9 and 10, after a trip to Harvard and Dartmouth next weekend.

It's crossover season already.

For Princeton men's hockey, that'll be the case even after fall sports are done.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Peak Performance

The Princeton women's soccer team moved back into the national Top 25 this week, checking in at 24th.

The Tigers appear to have righted themselves after a 0-0 tie with Dartmouth and a 3-2 loss to Brown that seemed to derail the team's chances of an Ivy League title and a return to the NCAA tournament. As you remember, Princeton reached the NCAA quarterfinals a year ago, defeating 21-time NCAA champion North Carolina in the Round of 16.

The loss to Brown came on Oct. 6, and it left Princeton at 1-1-1 in the league. The Tigers rebounded to beat Columbia and Harvard - who had been unbeaten and tied for first - and so here's where things stand now in the league:

1. Penn 4-0-1 (13 points)
2. Princeton/Harvard 3-1-1 (10 points)
4. Columbia 3-2-0 (9 points)

Princeton has games remaining this weekend at Cornell, who is 1-11-1 overall and 0-5-0 in the league. On the other hand, no game is ever a gimme.

After that would be a regular-season ending game at home against Penn on Nov. 3. Penn is at home against Brown this weekend.

There are still a lot of permutations for the league championship and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but this is a true statement: If Princeton and Penn both win this weekend, then the game in Princeton Nov. 3 would decide who goes to the NCAA tournament. It would be Princeton with a win; it would be Penn with a win or tie.

Harvard, in this scenario where Princeton and Penn both win this weekend, could still get a share of the league championship with Princeton or Penn (but not both). In either case, Harvard would not get the tiebreaker for the automatic NCAA bid.

Of course, as TB said before, no game is a gimme. If Princeton loses to Cornell, for instance, it has no chance at a championship unless Penn also loses, regardless of what Harvard does.

Princeton, with an RPI of 26, is still very much in the running for an at-large bid should it not get the automatic bid.

In other words, much like TigerBlog said about the men's team yesterday, the women's team has reached the fun stage of the season.

How do teams get to the fun stage? How do individual athletes put themselves in positions to win championships?

When TigerBlog started working at Princeton, there were no strength and conditioning coaches. TB wasn't paying that close attention to how it all worked, but his sense is that the team coaches were responsible for putting together some sort of program for their players to follow.

That seems laughable today, doesn't it? Princeton long ago added a strength and conditioning coach, and then another one. Today Princeton has six strength and conditioning coaches, and training has become as much a science as anything else.

The man who really built Princeton strength and conditioning is Jason Gallucci, who was that second coach hired in the department and who, TB believes, took over the department one year later. Now, 17 years later, he has taken on another endeavor, one that has taken athletic performance here and upped it a few levels.

Jason is now the Director of Performance for the Department of Athletics. Jason oversees what is now known as Princeton Tiger Performance, and the "PTP" section of was launched yesterday.

There's a lot to see on that webpage, and there's a lot going on in the area of performance science. You can read a brief description of the program and see the video announcing it HERE.

This is a top priority of Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan, and you can see in the video just how passionately she feels about the program and its benefits.

From the story:
With a values-based, holistic approach, the program integrates strength and conditioning, athletic medicine, sports nutrition, sports psychology, sports science, leadership development, and supportive campus resources. Based in Jadwin Gymnasium, PTP aims to create the environment and education platforms to help student-athletes reach peak performance in athletics, academics and in life.

As Ford Family Director of Athletics Mollie Marcoux Samaan says, the key to Princeton Tiger Performance is that it's not just about physiology. It's tying athletic performance to the values of the department, which are clearly outlined in the "Be A Tiger" program.

Princeton has 1,000 varsity athletes, all of whom benefit from the Princeton Tiger Performance initiative. The goal is to tie all of this to the umbrella of "Education Through Athletics" and "Competitive Excellence," which is really what this is all about.

For teams like the women's soccer team, who has two championship-defining games in the next two weeks, and all 37 of Princeton's teams, it's the latest in an evolution that 20 years ago didn't even include a strength coach.

Today, Princeton Athletics has peak performance down to a science.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Welcome To the Fun Part

Since the temperature around here has dipped into the 30s for the first time, TigerBlog might as well start today in Miami.

Specifically, he's talking about the game this past Sunday in South Florida between the Miami Dolphins and the Detroit Lions, a game that left him somewhat conflicted.

Jim Barlow, the head coach of the Princeton men's soccer team, is a huge Dolphins fan. John Mack, a member of the Old Guard and a track athlete from a long long time ago, is a huge Detroit Lions fan.

Okay, John isn't really a member of the Old Guard. TigerBlog just likes to tease him that he might as well be. John is actually from the Class of 2000, and he was a 10-time Heptagonal track and field champ and Roper Trophy winner.

As it turned out, the Lions won. It doesn't seem like that long ago that Detroit was getting run over by the Jets on opening night and then were 0-2 and 1-3. Now the Lions are 3-3 and seem to be pointed in the right direction.

On the other hand, it also doesn't seem like that long ago that Miami was 3-0 and playing at New England with a chance to go three games up on the then-1-2 Patriots. Now? New England is 5-2 and in first place. Miami is 4-3 and barely clinging to the race.

That's how it works in sports.

Barlow, who saw his beloved New York Mets struggle through the season, is due a good run by the Dolphins here. As for his own team, well, it doesn't seem that long ago that the Tigers started playing their season at all, and now here they are, with three regular season games to go.

It also doesn't seem too long ago that Princeton was down 2-0 to Dartmouth in its Ivy League opener.

Going back further, Princeton was 1-3 to start the year before going 3-1 in its final four games before the Ivy season started. Then, back on Sept. 29, Princeton fell behind Dartmouth by that 2-0 score before rallying to tie that one 2-2.

It was a huge moment for the team.

Since then? Princeton is 4-0-1, which includes three straight Ivy wins. Now, with three weeks left in the race, Princeton is the only unbeaten team in the Ivy League.

Not that it's time to celebrate a championship or anything. No, there's a long way to go before that can happen - and as Barlow knows, things can change quickly.

Princeton is 3-0-1 in the league, followed by Cornell and Columbia at 3-1-0. Princeton has already beaten Columbia, and next up is a trip to Ithaca to take on the Big Red. Columbia and Cornell meet in the final game of the regular season.

The Tigers then finish the season at home against Penn and at Yale. There are too many possible combinations still with the number of games left, and clearly they're all huge.

That Princeton is in this position is directly related to its ability to win close games, something that all of its games this year have been, at least until this past Saturday, when Princeton defeated Harvard 3-0 on Sherrerd Field.

In that game, Kevin O'Toole continued his remarkable Ivy League run, scoring twice and assisting on the third goal. The performance earned him the league's Player of the Week award.

O'Toole, a sophomore, was injured for the beginning of the season, but he has come back to be a huge difference maker for Princeton. In fact, Princeton has scored seven goals in the Ivy season and O'Toole, a sophomore from Montclair, N.J., has either scored or assisted on five of them.

Princeton has been opportunistic all season. The Tigers also did exactly what is necessary in Ivy League soccer to be in the race - they got off to a good start, even if the very beginning of that start didn't quite appear to be promising, down 2-0.

Now Princeton is assured of playing meaningful games in November, which is the goal when the season starts.

Cornell is also a team on a roll, having won eight of nine, with the lone loss in that stretch against Yale two Saturdays ago. Cornell's schedule is also tough, with Dartmouth and Columbia still to go.

Princeton's 10 points are one better than Columbia and Cornell. Yale and Dartmouth, both 1-1-2, have five points each. It's not quite a three-team race, but the rest of the league is definitely chasing those three.

For Princeton it's a great position to be in, the chased that is.

Of Princeton's last 31 games dating to the start of last year, a total of 26 have been either one-goal games or ties. A game like last Saturday's 3-0 win is a total rarity for Princeton men's soccer.

A team gets toughened when it goes through that, when every game - and the entire season - can change quickly.

Princeton has three weeks left to have that pay off in a big way. It won't be easy, but this team has earned the chance to try.

This is the fun part.