Monday, December 31, 2018

Best of 2018 Part II

Remember Friday, when TigerBlog gave you Part 1 of the countdown of the top stories of 2018?

Well, he had this to say:
Because there are only nine events, TigerBlog feels confident that he can go ahead with his list of the top stories in Princeton sports for the last 12 months. If something happens in those nine events to shake up the list, then TB will amend it later.

And so now, for the first time since he's been doing this, TB needs to do some amending. Actually, there are two things to amend.

The first is that the women's hockey team tied Merrimack 1-1 yesterday, with the tie preserved by Rachel McQuigge's save on a penalty shot in overtime. The tie extended Princeton's unbeaten streak to 13 games, which moves the 2018-19 Tigers into sole possession of the record for the longest such streak in program history. When TB wrote Part 1, the current Tigers were tied with the 2015-16 team.

So that was the small one. The other one was a bit bigger.

The men's basketball team defeated 17th-ranked Arizona State 67-66 Saturday in Tempe, knocking off a team that had in its previous game defeated then-No. 1 and unbeaten Kansas on the same court. It was an incredibly impressive performance by the Tigers, even more so considering Myles Stephens was out injured.

The win was Princeton's first over a Top 20 team since the 1996 NCAA tournament win over UCLA. It was accomplished behind 21 points from Devin Cannady, who was one of four Tigers in double figures, and then two very clutch free throws from Richmond Aririguzoh for the winning points with 24.8 seconds to play.

That win definitely belongs on the list of the big stories for 2018. The question is where?

TigerBlog gave you Nos. 6-11 Friday in this order:

No. 11 - the men's lightweight rowing team finishes second nationally 
No. 10 - the women's hockey team ties the school record for unbeaten streak while moving up the national rankings
No. 9 - Michael Sowers breaks his own single-season scoring record 
No. 8 - the men's track and field team completes another "triple crown" and starts its run for another
No. 7 - Leslie Robinson has Princeton basketball's first "triple double" 
No. 6 - the reliable women of spring were again reliable

TB would put the men's basketball win Saturday at No. 11.

So where does that leave the top five? TigerBlog said before that choosing between the top two stories is not easy. In fact, were he doing the top stories in Princeton Athletics for this decade (coming 12 months from now by the way), then this year's top two would both be in the top five and could even still be 1-2.

He'll get to that shortly. In the meantime, here's the top five:

5. the remarkable wrestling resurgence continues
This is really two stories in one, combined under the heading of the continuation of the wrestling resurgence. Princeton finished third at the EIWA meet and qualified four for the NCAA championships, including Matthew Kolodzik, who was an EIWA individual champ and then a third-place finisher at the NCAA meet, earning All-America honors. Oh, and Kolodzik is the No. 1-ranked 149-pounder this season. As for Princeton, the Tigers began the 2018-19 season by ending an 18-match losing streak to Lehigh and a 14-match losing streak to Rider and finished the 2018 portion of the schedule with a fifth-place finish at the prestigious Midlands tournament, where Kolodzik and Patrick Brucki won the team's first individual championships. This team had a great 2018; it's a team that could have a better 2019.

4. the fabulous fall
Where to start with Princeton's fall season of 2018? Princeton had eight teams in their championship season this past fall, and this was the scoreboard: five champions, two runners-up, one third-place. The five champions were football (unbeaten season), men's soccer (down 2-0 in the first league game, rallied to get a tie and then five straight wins), women's soccer (dramatic win over Penn on the final night of the season to get the title and NCAA bid) and men's cross country (in a word, dominant; in another word, untouchable) in the Ivy League and men's water polo in the Northeast league. One of the runners-up was the field hockey team, which made it to the NCAA Final Four by avenging its regular-season defeat against Harvard. The other runner-up was women's volleyball, who had won three straight Ivy titles before finishing one game back this year. The third-place team was the women's cross country team, which shrugged that off to win the NCAA Regional and then finish 21st nationally. Princeton is currently ranked seventh in Division I in the Learfield Directors' Cup standings, measuring the best overall athletic programs based on NCAA tournament participation and success. By any measure, the Fall of 2018 was extraordinary for Princeton.

3. a pair of NCAA fencing champions
Kasia Nixon and Maia Chamberlain won NCAA individual fencing championships a few minutes apart, giving Princeton two of the three women's weapons champions. Princeton became the second women's team ever to win two individual weapons in the same year, after Notre Dame did so in 2017. Nixon's win in the epee was Princeton's second straight after Anna Van Brummen won it in 2017, making Princeton the second school after Penn State in 2010 and 2011 to accomplish that feat. Nixon was sixth in her weapon entering the final two rounds of qualifying, but she moved into fourth place to advance to the semifinals before winning two more matches and the title. Chamberlain earned All-America honors for the second straight time after being a semifinalist in 2017.

And so that brings TB to the top two. These two are clearly the football team's 10-0 season and the men's hockey team's dramatic run to the ECAC championship and the NCAA tournament. The question is in which order?

TB has thought about this a lot.

The football team went 10-0 this year, for Princeton's first perfect season since 1964. The Tigers became the highest scoring team in the history of the Ivy League, and the fact that Princeton had the two offensive Bushnell Cup finalists - winner John Lovett and runner-up Jesper Horsted - was also a first.

At the same time, it's possible that the team was better defensively than offensively. Almost no game was competitive, with two major exceptions, a 29-21 win at Harvard in which the defense kept Harvard from ever really making it a game until the very, very end, and the game against Dartmouth Nov. 3.

In that game, both teams came in at 7-0, and Dartmouth took the opening kickoff and marched down the field for a touchdown. From there, Princeton's D completely wiped out the Big Green, whose only other points came on a safety. And Princeton needed every stop it got before rallying for a fourth-quarter TD and a 14-9 win in what was an epic game.

As for the men's hockey team, the Tigers finished seventh in the ECAC regular season and then blew out Brown in the opening round twice to reach the tournament quarterfinals. Waiting there was second-seeded Union, a team that was 17-0-3 in its previous 20 games against the Tigers. What happened? A Princeton sweep to advance to the semifinals at Lake Placid.

First up was top-seeded Cornell, whom the Tigers beat 4-1. That left third-seeded Clarkson, and Princeton looked all the world like it was going to win before the Golden Knights scored with 6.4 seconds left to force overtime.

With all the momentum against them, the Tigers stormed back anyway, winning the championship on Max Becker's goal with 2:37 gone in OT. The magical run ended with a 4-2 loss to Ohio State in the NCAA tournament opening round, but what Princeton did was amazing.

So who was more amazing?

You can make a case for either. The men's hockey team won more games in the ECAC tournament last year than the seniors on the team won the entire year as freshmen.

The football team was unbeaten for the first time in 54 years, but it was also only two years removed from its last Ivy title. The men's hockey team had last won the ECAC title 10 years earlier, but it was also only two years removed from being 12th in a 12 team league.

It's a tough choice, since these are two of the most impressive accomplishments TB has seen at Princeton. He's tempted to leave it at that and let everyone make their own conclusions, but he won't.

He comes down to this: Beating the top three seeds in the tournament and winning the final after giving up that late goal, coupled with where the program had been when the current players came in, is the deciding point for him.

TB has it this way:
2. Football
1. Men's hockey

Have a great, safe New Year's Eve. And hopefully 2019 will be a great year for everyone who competes for, coaches at and simply roots on Princeton Athletics.


Anonymous said...

The athletics department does a terrific job taking and featuring pictures which capture the exact moment of Orange and Black victory.

The featured shot accompanying the Arizona State basketball story is particularly provocative because the four expressions on the four Tiger players are so different. From left to right, they are:

Devin Cannady: "This is **AWESOME**!! I'm gonna take one more step and then launch myself airborne into a Mitch Henderson-esque iconic photographic pose."

Jerome Desrosiers: "I knew we had it in the bag the whole time. Cool."

Sebastian Much: "What. . . just. . . happened? I think it was good, so I'll raise my right arm."

Jaelin Llewellyn: "College basketball seems to be going well so far."

Mike Knorr said...

Wake Forest was ranked 19th when Princeton beat them in the Jimmy "V" Classic in December of '97.