Wednesday, February 20, 2019

That's 400

The first time TigerBlog saw Chris Sailer coach a game, it was 1) the 1980s and 2) not lacrosse.

It was 1989, so still technically the ’80s. It was on Gulick Field, which then was a pristine grass field above Lourie-Love Field and which today is Plummer Field, a turf practice field that's part of Myslik Stadium.

Back then, Gulick was the home of Princeton field hockey and women's lacrosse. It's unfathomable these days to consider that high level Division I field hockey was played on a grass field, but it was.

Also back then, Chris Sailer was an assistant field hockey coach as well as the head women's lacrosse coach, and TB was a sportswriter who covered a lot of women's sports. He's pretty sure that the first Princeton women's lacrosse game he covered was during the 1990 season, when he saw Princeton defeat Lehigh 18-5.

That was win No. 28 at Princeton for Chris Sailer.

TigerBlog was there Saturday, about 50 yards from where Gulick Field once sat up on a hill, at Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Stadium, which long ago became the home for Princeton men's and women's lacrosse.

This time, Princeton defeated Temple 16-7 to open the 2019 season. The win was Chris Sailer's 400th.

The record book says that Sailer is the second Division I coach and the fifth overall to reach 400 wins in women's college lacrosse. The only women's coach in Division I with more wins than Sailer is Navy's Cindy Timchal, who won her 508th game this past Sunday.

The all-time record, by the way, is 514, held by Sharon Pfluger at the College of New Jersey. Fascinatingly, two of the five coaches to reach 400 wins have done so at Mercer County schools less than 10 miles apart.

Between the women and men, there are three Division I coaches, including Duke's John Danowski, who have gotten to 400 career wins. Sailer is the only one to get all 400 wins at one school.

Princeton was a combined 6-33 in the three years before Chris Sailer became the head coach, back in 1987. She went 3-9 her first year, including 1-5 in the Ivy League.

A year later, Bill Tierney would arrive at Princeton, also inheriting a lacrosse program that showed no signs of what was about to come. He too would have a tough first year, going 2-13.

Nearly 20 years later, Courtney Banghart would come to Princeton to take over a similarly struggling women's basketball team and go 7-23 in her first year.

Sailer and Banghart got to .500 in Year 2. Tierney got one win below .500 in Year 2. In Year 3? All three made the NCAA tournament. Sailer went one better, reaching the Final Four for her first time.

Today Sailer's resume includes three NCAA championships, 14 Ivy League championships (including five straight) and 25 NCAA tournaments. She's also in the US Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

TigerBlog has written this before, but his belief is that Chris Sailer is the best female coach in Princeton history. 

Princeton last year won the Ivy League championship, the Ivy League tournament championship (her unprecedented fourth) and a game against Syracuse in the NCAA tournament to reach 399 career wins. The 2018 season ended with an NCAA loss to Boston College, who would be the runner up.

That Sailer would get to 400 Saturday became pretty obvious when it got to be 3-0 early and 10-2 at halftime. From there, it become something of a Chris Sailer celebration, with t-shirts and Chris Sailer faces and a lot of loyal alums in attendance.

Afterwards, Sailer was typically humble when she talked to the media, in this case Bill Alden of Town Topics and Joe O'Gorman of the Trentonian, who both also have been there for a lot of Sailer's wins.

She talked about the great players and shared the credit with all of her assistant coaches. She talked about the University and how honored she's been to represent it all of these years. She mentioned how much she's enjoying her current team.

That was outside the team rooms at the far end of the facility. Then she walked back towards where the current team and parents, and her alums and fans, were still waiting for her.

TB walked with her for those 100 or so yards. He could tell how happy she was.

Even if he couldn't, the huge smile gave her away. Getting to 400 is special. Getting all 400 at Princeton is even more so.

She had every right to be beaming.

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