Friday, May 22, 2015

Thoughts On All-America And Final Four No. 21

When TigerBlog updates the men's lacrosse record book, he's going to put down that Kip Orban was a 2015 first-team All-America.

He was, right? He was first-team All-America. Had to be.

After all, he led all Division I midfielders in goals with 45. No other middie in Division I had more than 40.

He did this on a team that was ranked in the top 15 most of the year and would be all accounts have been the next team in the NCAA tournament. For that matter, Princeton would have been in had Johns Hopkins not won the Big Ten tournament - instead, the Blue Jays did, and now they're in the Final Four.

Orban also had a .413 shooting percentage, an incredible number for a player who almost never took a shot anywhere near the goal. His 45 goals were the Princeton single-season record for a middie - nine more than Josh Sims, who had the next-best season, with 36 in 2000.

Oh, and as his coach said, every opponent who played Princeton started out knowing it had to stop Orban and fellow senior Mike MacDonald. TigerBlog will get to him in a minute. 

So yeah, Orban was first-team All-America. At least in TigerBlog's book he was.

Unfortunately, to paraphrase Feech Lamana to Paulie Walnuts in a classic moment of "The Sopranos," TigerBlog's book doesn't mean, well, anything in this case.

When TigerBlog first saw the list, he figured Orban and MacDonald weren't going to be as high up as he wanted them to be. And he was right.

Orban was a second-team All-America, which is still a great accomplishment, especially for a player who flew so far under the radar his first three years.

Of course, Orban deserved to be first-team. TigerBlog gets that it's not just about numbers, but hey, Orban's were so off the charts that in this case they speak for themselves.

There were four first-team All-America midfielders: Chad Tutton of North Carolina, Myles Jones of Duke, Connor Buczek of Cornell and Sergio Perkovic of Notre Dame. TigerBlog will say that Orban should have been picked before any of them except Jones, whose ability to feed really sets him apart.

More Orban numbers: His 45 goals are 9.5 more than the average of the four first-team picks, who had 35.5 per man. And his shooting percentage is .107 better than the that of Tutton, the best of the first-teamers.

As for MacDonald, TigerBlog will say that this is a very, very strong year on attack. MacDonald set the Princeton single-season record for points with 78, beating out Hall-of-Famers and first-team All-Americas to do so. He is also fifth in Division I in points per game and sixth in goals per game.

Should he have been first-team? A case could be made.

MacDonald ended up as an honorable mention All-America. There were 13 attackmen who earned first-, second- or third-team honors, and there were 12 more who earned honorable mention.

The honorable mention group is really, really impressive, which shows you what a strong year it was at the position. Honestly, TigerBlog isn't sure what order he would have put them all in, but it seems to him that breaking the Princeton record for points in a season at least warrants third-team All-America.

The men's lacrosse season ends this weekend in Philadelphia with a Final Four that begins tomorrow with Denver and Notre Dame in one semifinal and Maryland and Hopkins in the other. \

TigerBlog will be there, for his 21st Final Four in the last 24 years. For the record, the three he missed were 1995, 1999 and 2003.

He'll be part of the official stats crew for this Final Four, for the 11th straight year. The Division II and III finals will be Sunday, and the DI championship game will be Monday.

It's one of his favorite weekends each year, and he's been lucky to see some of the greatest lacrosse games ever on some of these Memorial Day weekends.

This will be the 21st Final Four for TB, and the 14th that will feature a Bill Tierney-coached team. TB was there with Tierney for 10 of them with Princeton, and now Tierney has taken Denver to the big show for the fourth time in his six years there.

The Pioneers have a lot going for them as they head to Philadelphia, starting with the best face-off man in the country in freshman Trevor Baptiste. Add to that an offense that can be unstoppable, especially man up, and a very good defense anchored by a goalie who can be as good as anyone, and that's a pretty good blueprint for success.

Notre Dame, though, is the No. 1 seed. The Irish just held Albany to just 10 goals, or seven below the Danes' average. Notre Dame also has scorers of its own, including two first-team All-Americas.

Denver has never made it past the semifinals. Notre Dame has never won a championship. One of them is guaranteed to play Monday.

The other semifinal has Maryland, the top defensive team in the country, against a Johns Hopkins team that lost to Princeton in February and has six losses but is playing as well as anyone, witness its seven-game winning streak.

TigerBlog is obviously rooting for Denver (though his stats will be completely impartial, don't worry). It would be an incredible accomplishment for Tierney to win an NCAA title at a second school, especially one in the West.

Oh, and he stumbled on an interesting note this week. The record for points in a career at Princeton is 247, held by Kevin Lowe, who graduated in 1994. The record for points in a career at Denver is also 247, held by current senior Wes Berg. He needs one point this weekend to get the all-time Tierney record.

TigerBlog thinks he'll get it, and a lot more. He likes to Denver to win it all. 

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Banquet Forecast

TigerBlog likes to say that the average temperature of the annual senior awards banquet is 70, since it seems like it's either 90 or 50.

He hadn't looked at the 10-day forecast for Princeton until just now, and he chuckled when he saw that the forecast for the banquet one week from today is for a high of 93. For the record, TigerBlog will take the under on that one and is predicting a pleasant, comfortable evening.

This year's banquet - the 18th such event - will be unlike any of the others in many respects.

For starters, it has a new official name: The Gary Walters ’67 Princeton Varsity Club Awards Banquet.

To TigerBlog, this is fitting. As someone who has been around for all 17 banquets to date, TB knows better than anyone that this event was Gary's from the start. His fingerprints have been all over it since Day 1.

It was his idea. He saw its growth. He was always the voice on the night of banquet.

Gary engineered its evolution from its small beginnings in Jadwin Gym to what it is now, a wonderful night of celebration of Princeton Athletics and the graduating seniors, with a crowd well over 500, in a pristine setting at the Grad College.

So that's one way this year's banquet will be different.

The other is that Gary is no longer the Ford Family Director of Athletics. His replacement, Mollie Marcoux, will be presiding - is that the right word? - over her first banquet.

Mollie herself is a former von Kiensbusch Award winner, after her career in soccer and hockey here. She was the lone winner in 1991.

She is, in fact, the second Princeton AD to have won one of the two major departmental awards. Royce Flippen shared the Roper Trophy in 1956.

There will be some subtle changes instituted by Mollie this year, such as only having one senior give a keynote address as opposed to two in years past.

Oh, and there will be one major one. A major, major one.

In the past, the Roper and von Kiensbusch winners were announced at the banquet. There could be one winner. There have been as many as seven.

This year, there will be a radical change.

The Department of Athletics will be announcing the finalists for the two major awards today. At the banquet, there will be one winner of each announced.

It's sort of like the Academy Awards, right? Everyone will know the nominees. Nobody will know the winner.

There will be four women and five men who will be finalists. At the banquet there will be a video feature with highlights and the accomplishments of each, and then the winner be named.

There will be other awards given.

The Class of 1916 Cup to the letterwinner with the highest GPA. The Art Lane Citizen Athlete Award, given to an undergraduate (or more than one) for outstanding contribution to sport and society.

And then there are the Bressler and Citizen Athlete Awards.

By the way, all of these awards, other than the Roper, von Kienbusch and Class of 1916, were Gary's brainchild.

There's a long description of the Bressler Award on the Princeton Varsity Club website. Basically it goes to a member of the University community who has done a great deal for the athletes.

This year's winner is Tara Christie Kinsey, the outgoing Associate Dean of the College. Trust TigerBlog. This is a very deserving winner.

Then there's the Citizen Athlete Award. This one goes to an alum for outstanding contribution to sport and society.

And this year's winner? Dallas Cowboys' head coach Jason Garrett. 

TigerBlog has the same feeling at each PVC banquet. Another year come and gone already? He's sure he'll feel the same way when he gets to the Grad College one week from tonight.

On a perfect late spring evening, right?


Wednesday, May 20, 2015

At The 30th

It was 30 years ago today that TigerBlog was given a diploma by the University of Pennsylvania.

Graduation then at Penn was held in the Philadelphia Civic Center, a building that no longer exists. That's one way of knowing that it's been awhile since you've been in college. The building for the ceremony is gone.

It was a Monday, TB remembers. It was a pretty nice day.

When it was over, TigerBlog went back to his dorm room - in one of those three high rise buildings that you see up in the distance if you're at the Penn athletic facilities - and started packing up.

He had a Volkswagen rabbit back then, and he couldn't fit all of his stuff into the small car. When it got to be full, he just threw everything else in the garbage.

He can still remember getting rid of this small wooden stool. He liked it, but it wouldn't fit in the car. Plus, it wasn't very functional. It just seemed like a waste to get rid of it though.

Then TigerBlog left Philadelphia, heading north on 95. Somewhere shortly after he got on the highway, he had the rather chilling thought of "now what?"

Sure, he was working at the newspaper then. He'd already been there for two years.

Still, he wasn't thinking of that as a full-time, lifelong career. He wasn't sure what he was going to do.

He started out at Penn with the idea of going to law school, but that never panned out. He stumbled into sportswriting and liked it, but he figured there was something else out there for him when he actually, well, grew up.

That was 30 years ago. He remembers it so well, the feeling of being able to do anything, go anywhere, start down any path.

Now it's 30 years later.

Had there been a test back on graduation day and he was asked this question: What do you think you will wear to your 30th reunion here, he's pretty sure he would not have written down "a Princeton Athletics shirt."


Yes, but that's what he was wearing when he walked on the Penn campus last weekend. It wasn't quite a coincidence. Yeah, he did it to be a bit of a contrarian.

Somewhere along the line, TigerBlog went from having spent more time on the Penn campus in his life to having spent more time on the Princeton campus, even after living on campus for four full years. Whenever it was, it was long after TB's allegiance shifted from red and blue to orange and black.

TigerBlog connected with two his Penn friends, Charlie Frohman and Rob Lustrin. They spent the afternoon walking around the campus, doing what people do at a reunion - talking about old times, people they knew, stories that may or may not have been exactly how they remembered.

The three walked into Steinberg-Dietrich Hall, the home of the Wharton School of Business, of which both Charlie and Rob are grads. They walked in and saw a classroom on the right, and all three said the same exact thing, that they had had Legal Studies in there.

Charlie is a wildly successful businessman, and he gave an interesting answer to TB when he asked him if he uses what he learned in that building in his day-to-day work. Charlie's answer was that he learned to be successful among a highly competitive, high achieving student population and that that left him prepared to be successful in business as much as the academic side.

Rob, a lawyer, pointed out that he uses the stuff he learned in law school every day.

The three met a man who was back for his 65th reunion, which made him about 87 years old or so, though he looked 10-15 years younger. He glanced at the "Princeton Athletics" logo on TB's shirt and said "who let you in here?"

Penn is a great university. TigerBlog had a very good experience at Penn. It's just that he didn't feel like he was one of "them" at his 30th. Nope, he thought more like he was one of "us."

Princeton is just a different kind of place. And at no time is this clearer than during Reunions (the ones with a capital R).

Just out of curiosity, but does anyone think that any alum is showing up at Reunions next week wearing a shirt from another school? Just a hunch, but no.

This campus just feels different when the alumni are back. There is an energy and excitement, a sense of loyalty here that just isn't easily matched by other schools.

So, Princetonians, that's something you shouldn't take for granted when you're here next week. Or ever.

It's a dynamic that TigerBlog has never fully understood, this eternal loyalty to the school, the unbreakable identification with each specific class.

To those who are graduating this year, perhaps it wouldn't be a bad idea to write down where you think you'll be in 30 years.

To those coming back for their 30th - or 20th or 25h or 10th or whatever - wear the Reunion stuff.

And remember that your college is a little different than the others. In a pretty special way.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Remarkable Fred Samara

If you were to walk into TigerBlog's office - and the door is always open - you could walk to the other two offices that make up the Office of Athletic Communications without having to go back out into the hallway.

The OAC ends at the third office. There's a wall there, and head men's basketball coach Mitch Henderson is on the other side of it. Next to Mitch is compliance assistant Kelly Widener.

There was a time that the OAC actually extended all the way to the end of Widener's office. The OAC had four desks in its back room, plus a little side storage area and then another office that opened out into the hallway, an office that was once the home of Princeton's marketing director.

The entry way into the back offices then was the size of a door opening, though there was no actual door there. TigerBlog's office has a door that he can close to shut himself off from the rest of the OAC, though he rarely does.

Anyway, there was a little height chart that was on the inside of the frame to the non-existent door to the back room. It actually was just a pencil mark and then a person's name, there to denote the height of basically anyone who wanted to be included.

About eight feet off the ground somebody scribbled "Ben, age 12."

The "Ben" in question was Ben Samara, who wasn't quite eight-feet tall at the age of 12 but who certainly was tall.

Ben is the son of Fred Samara, the longtime coach of men's track and field at Princeton. Ben was a regular in Jadwin Gym as a kid.

Ben Samara has lived his whole life around Princeton track and field. And he certainly was a kid when TB first met him. A big kid, but a kid.

TigerBlog learned yesterday that Ben is now the head track and field coach at Princeton High School. His father is still the head coach at Princeton University.

Where did TB learn this?

In the video interview with Samara on goprincetontigers.com.

It's an interesting Q&A with Samara, who is tied for the longest current tenure among head coaches here, with, of course, Peter Farrell, the women's track and field coach who started here on the same day in 1977.

Has Fred slowed at all lately?

Well, Princeton won 11 Ivy League championships this academic year, and Fred won three of them - in cross country, indoor track and field and outdoor track and field. It's the "triple crown" of Ivy League track and field championships, and only two coaches have ever pulled it off.

Here's your hint - the both started at Princeton on the same day.

Farrell has done it twice with the Princeton women. Samara has now done it seven times with the Princeton men.

The video piece on Samara is a very interesting, somewhat revealing look into the man who has overseen so much success during his time here. He talks about his coaching philosophies, his own experiences as an athlete (including the 1976 Olympic Games), his mentors who helped develop as an athlete and many other subjects, including Farrell.

Samara's resume at Princeton is unbelievable.

He has coached 38 Heps team championship teams between the three sports. He has coached NCAA champions. He has coached Olympians.

For TigerBlog, the big question is how does the fire stay lit as long as it has for coaches like Samara and Farrell. When TigerBlog asked the same question of Bill Tierney, his answer was that each year is its own challenge.

Perhaps the same applies to Samara and Farrell.

Track and field is grueling, perhaps the most grueling of any college sport. It's even more grueling for the coaches than the athletes, TB supposes.

It is one meet after another, and each one requires the coach to figure out whom to put in what event, what point of the season it is for each athlete, what the expectations are for each come the important meets. And then one championship event leads directly into the early-season of the next sport, with little time to recharge. To do this year after year, and to do it at the consistently high level that Princeton track and field has achieved, is even more startling.

As TigerBlog watched the video, he couldn't help but wonder how many athletes have competed for Fred Samara and if he and Peter have coached more athletes than anyone else ever to coach at Princeton. It's likely, with large squad sizes combined with long, long tenures.

TigerBlog sees them every day, the two track and field coaches. They walk by his office one way and then back again. They stop in more than most.

They'll come in just to hang out, Peter more than Fred. With Peter, it's a daily occurrence.

Fred stopped by yesterday. He sat down for a few minutes, joked a little, and then was on his way.

After all, the NCAA regionals are coming up in little more than a week. And then there are the NCAA championships. And then it'll start again.

Another year. Three more championships on his record.

And then another year. And another challenge.

For the remarkable Fred Samara.

Monday, May 18, 2015

The Unofficial Champ

TigerBlog wants to talk all about the last episode ever of "Mad Men," which aired last night, ending the show's seven-season, 92-episode run.

And here's everything TB knows about it: The show as set in the 1960s, everyone smoked and it was about advertising.

TigerBlog never watched any of those 92 episodes all the way through. He probably saw less than 60 minutes of the show total.

Contrast that with Derek Jones, Princeton's outstanding men's basketball play-by-play announcer and all-around good man.

Each Sunday night, Derek has tweeted update after update, and he tweeted last night at 8:00 about how he was ready for "one more go-round."

When TB texted Derek about the show before it aired, this was the response he got:
"It's my favorite show ever. Own each season on DVD. I'm definitely very pumped for the finale. My only hesitation about the show tonight is there are  so many ways the finale could end that it may be disappointing. Hope it's not a Sopranos finish."

TigerBlog has never watched "Mad Men." He knows people who have never watched "The Sopranos" or "Homeland" - (at least the first two seasons of "Homeland" - and he always says the same thing: "How could you have missed that? Those are the greatest shows ever."

Well, those two, plus "Hill Street Blues." And "Breaking Bad."

In reality, people go their own way when it comes to TV shows.

For some, they saw a few minutes of "The Sopranos" and it didn't click, in much the same way that TigerBlog never got into "Mad Men" or any number of other shows.

TigerBlog has gotten into "Parenthood," which just ended its six-season run on real TV. He doesn't know a soul who watched it at any point of those six years, and in all honesty he's not sure he ever heard of it.

He stumbled onto it on Netflix, and he zoomed through the 13 episodes of Season 1. This leaves him 90 episodes away from being done. That seems like a lot.

So anyway, if you were into "Mad Men," TB hopes the last episode was tremendous.

These days, there are an endless number of choices for TV shows, between Netflix and on-demand and all. It's not like it was when TB was a kid, when a show was on Tuesday at 8 or Thursday at 10 and that was that, either you saw it or didn't.

TB can't figure out why he takes to some shows and never gets past the first 15 minutes of the first episode of others. He'll consider that while he tears through the next five seasons of "Parenthood."

Maybe in some way, contemporary television and contemporary Princeton athletes have something in common. There's something for everyone.

Princeton has 38 sports, which compete in wildly different ways, venues, cultures and all. The sport-by-sport drop-down menu on goprincetontigers.com is like the Netflix menu, right?

Anyway, of those 38 sports, all but five compete for an Ivy League championship. The five that don't are men's water polo, women's water polo, women's lightweight rowing, sprint football and men's volleyball.

And of those 33 sports, all have crowned a champion for the 2014-15 academic year. The last three were decided yesterday, when Yale won the men's heavyweight rowing, Cornell won the men's lightweight rowing and Brown won the women's open rowing.

Princeton finished second in heavies, second in women's open and third in men's lightweights.

With the end of the Ivy League seasons, the unofficial all-sports points championship
is now, well, official.

And this year, for the 28th time in 29 years, the winner is Princeton.

The Tigers had 208 points, outdistancing Harvard, who had 190.5. The Crimson had won last year, ending Princeton's 27-year winning streak. No other school had more than 137 points.

Princeton finished with 11 Ivy League championships, one more than Harvard. The next-best was four.

Princeton's 11 Ivy championship teams, for the record, were: men's soccer, field hockey, men's cross country, men's indoor track and field, women's basketball, men's swimming and diving, women's swimming and diving, men's outdoor track and field, men's lacrosse, women's tennis and women's lacrosse.

And that's that for the Ivy League in 2014-15.

And as for "Mad Men?" Here's Derek's take on the finale:

"When I originally watched the ending, I didn’t like it. I thought it was too vague in the vain of 'The Sopranos' finish. However, after sitting on it for a bit, I thought it was a good show. It’s evident Don went back to advertising at some point and came up with the 1971 Coke commercial for McCann Erickson.

"My biggest problem with the last show was how they used Don throughout it. His ex-wife is dying of cancer and his kids clearly need him, but he is off driving cars and going on yoga retreats. I would have liked to have seen him actually go back home on the show tonight and deal with the issues instead of the audience needing to assume that he did so.

"Overall, I thought he worked it out in the long run. The show’s two most important characters are Don and Peggy. Don’s interactions with Peggy were always meaningful and typically led episodes to important moments and that was the case again tonight.

"As a whole, the main characters mostly received appropriate conclusions at that moment in time. 

"For whatever reason, it seems like shows struggle with the series finale and coming up with a finish that satisfies the fans. However, I thought this did the trick and was a rather reasonable conclusion to the series.

"I’ll definitely miss it."

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Pep Rally

What one thing could an adult see that would immediately turn that adult back into a child?

Before TigerBlog answers, let him say that perhaps he's not the right one to ask this question, given the fact that even into his 50's, he 1) thinks the perfect drink for any social occasion is Yoo-Hoo, 2) loves when he's flipping through the channels and stumbles on the start of a Bugs Bunny cartoon, especially one with Yosemite Sam and 3) can recite Dr. Seuss books from memory.

So let's go with the assumption that he's talking about normal adults here.

So what is it that can transform a normal adult back into a child? He asks this in a good way. Not a brat. And he doesn't mean immaturity. Into a young, optimistic, wide-eyed child?

And the answer is:

The ice cream truck.

C'mon, admit it. Go ahead. It's okay.

You get a bit nostalgic when you hear the bell ring on the truck, before you can ever see it in your neighborhood. It takes you back to when you were a kid and you'd hear those same bells, and you had to run to find your mother and get a dollar or two before the truck passed by your street.

Then, when the truck stopped, you looked at the menu on the side, with the pictures where everything looked so cool and inviting. And then? You got the same thing you always got. 

Yesterday afternoon around 4 in the apron outside of DeNunzio Pool and Jadwin Gym, the ice cream truck stayed parked and nobody needed to get any money from a parent. Nope, this time it was free.

The occasion was a bit of a pep rally, one to celebrate the success of Princeton's spring athletic teams and to give the women's lacrosse team a send-off as it left by bus for the short trip to Trenton-Mercer Airport, where its charter flight to Raleigh-Durham waited to take the Tigers to the NCAA quarterfinals against Duke.

The big winner from the ice cream truck appeared to be the vanilla ice cream between the two chocolate chip cookies. Or the snow-cones.

Luis Nicalao, the water polo coach whose own women's team competed in the NCAA tournament a week ago, stared longingly at the big picture of an ice cream sandwich on the side of the truck. TigerBlog knows for a fact that multiple people went back for seconds.

It was a nice pep rally, a celebration of a very good spring. It was a light moment for the women's lacrosse team, but when the bus pulled away, the trip became all business.

Princeton is 16-3 and playing at its very best when it needs to most. The Tigers defeated Fairfield and No. 6 Stony Brook last weekend on Long Island to reach the quarterfinals.

Princeton has won eight straight, finishing its 7-0 run through the league and winning the Ivy League tournament along the way. Of the five Ivy League teams to play in the NCAA tournament between the men and women, the Princeton women are the only ones to make it through the first weekend.

Erin McMunn enters the game tied with Lindsey Biles, a 2005 grad, for second all-time at Princeton with 221 career points. It'll take a pretty big effort to catch Crista Samaras for first, as she has 270, but still, with all of the great players who have ever played at Princeton - three NCAA championships and 23 NCAA tournaments worth - to be second is extraordinary, especially when you consider she is the career leader in assists.

Princeton and Duke are both led this season by players who have 70 points, both on 49 goals and 21 assists. For Princeton it's Erin Slifer. For Duke it's Kerrin Maurer.

Slifer, by the way, has 98 career goals. Olivia Hompe has 115 points, making her the fourth sophomore in program history to reach 100 points.

The teams have two common opponents, as both have beaten Georgetown and both have lost to Virginia. Duke has a loss to Johns Hopkins, just as Stony Brook did, for whatever that's worth.

Duke is 14-3 in NCAA games in Durham. On the other hand, Duke is 6-8 in NCAA quarterfinal games.

 The all-time series is close, with Duke up 9-8. They've played twice in the NCAA tournament, and each has won once, both in overtime. The Blue Devils defeated Princeton 10-9 in two overtimes two years ago.

Duke had a first-round bye and then defeated USC 17-9 in the second round to get here.

The game starts at 1 tomorrow. It should be in the 90s.

For the winner there is a trip to the Final Four next weekend in Philadelphia.

Should Princeton get there, it would deserve an even greater send-off than yesterday, something better than an ice cream truck.

Oh wait. There is nothing better than that.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Race To The Finish

The Princeton men's track and field team won the outdoor Heps championship this past weekend, as you probably know by now.

Fred Samara, the men's track and field coach, led his team to the "triple crown" of championships in cross country and then indoor and outdoor Heps for the seventh time. No other men's program has ever done it, not even once.

Princeton's women have done it, twice actually. No other women's program has ever done it.

For Princeton, the men's outdoor title was the 11th Ivy League championship of the academic year. Harvard won the women's Heps, giving the Crimson 10 Ivy titles.

For Princeton, it's the 22nd time reaching double figures in Ivy titles in an academic year. For Harvard, it's the eighth time.

No other school has ever done so. Princeton, by the way, holds the record, with 15 in 2010-11.

This would be the fourth time Princeton and Harvard have both reached double figures in the same year. The other three were 1982-83, 1988-89 and 2011-12.

Princeton won six Ivy titles in 2013-14. The last time Princeton went consecutive academic years without reaching double figures? That would be 1991-92 and 1992-93.

Princeton has now reached double figures eight of the last nine years.

The Ivy League crowns a champion in 33 sports, and 30 of those champions - plus co-champions, in some cases - have already been won.

There are three remaining, and all three will be contested this weekend, all on the water, for that matter.

It's Sprints week for men's rowing and Ivy League championship week for women's rowing.

There is one prohibitive favorite in the three races, and that is the same team as last year - Brown's open women. Of course, a year ago, Brown didn't win as the prohibitive favorite.

No, a year ago, Princeton's women won and won fairly handily for that matter. Don't think that's escaped Brown's attention, by the way.

The top-seeded Bears already own an eight-second win over Princeton, the second-seed. The regular-season margin last year was three seconds, and Princeton then won at the Ivy championships by more than four seconds, so that was more than a seven-second turnaround.

On the men's side, the lightweight favorites are Cornell and Columbia, followed by Princeton.

The men's heavyweights? That field is the most wide-open, with Yale as the top seed, followed by Princeton and Harvard, with a Brown team that is lurking.

TigerBlog doesn't really know much about rowing. His colleague Craig Sachson does. Here are his previews:

Click here for women's open
Click here for men's heavyweight
Click here for men's lightweight

The end of the Ivy League sports season will also see the end of the chase for the Ivy League's unofficial all-sports points championship. This championship is not recognized officially by the league, and it awards points depend on finish in either the Ivy standings or championship competition, depending on how the league crowns its champ, depending on the sport.

There are eight points for first, seven for second and so on. In the case of ties, points are split, so two teams that tie for second both get 6.5.

Depending on whether you're Princeton or Harvard, you can word the history of the all-sports championship differently.

For Princeton, you can say your school has won 27 of the last 28. For Harvard, you can say your school won last year and is the defending champion.

Relax, Princeton fans. The Tigers have essentially locked up the 2014-15 championship.

Essentially, but not mathematically.

Princeton has a 12.5-point lead over Harvard entering the rowing championships. That means that Harvard can win all three boats and have Princeton finish fifth in all three and the Tigers would still win the overall points title.

How? Because Harvard would get eight points for first and Princeton would get four points for fifth. Multiple it by three, and Harvard would get 24 points to 12 for Princeton, a 12-point swing that would leave the Tigers still up by a half-point.

Of course, TigerBlog doesn't want to jinx anything.

On the other hand, it's not a real thing anyway.

Meanwhile, TB will go back to dealing with the idea that the 2014-15 Ivy League sports year is about to end, about 10 minutes after it seems like it began. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Athletic Mortality

On a night that tugged at his emotional core, TigerBlog remembered back to the first time he ever used his GPS.
  
It wasn't that long ago. At least, looking back on it this morning, it doesn't seem that long ago.

It was March of 2012. He was headed to Kennett Square, outside of Philly, to see TigerBlog Jr.'s first high school lacrosse game. The GPS took him this way and that way, on one country road after another, until TB was sure he was completely lost and would miss the game.

Then, there it was, on his left. The field.

TB remembers the day. It was cold, but not freezing. Mostly what it was was windy. Very, very windy. He remembers a wind that whipped at him from right to left across the field. TigerBlog wore Princeton Lacrosse sweats and a Princeton Lacrosse jacket, and the home fans thought he was a coach there to scout a player.

He remembers the game too. TBJ was small at the time, about 10 inches shorter and 40 or 50 pounds lighter than he is now. He was a kid still, playing on a team with a big senior class. A boy goalie on a team of men.

The first quarter didn't start out too well. The first shot went in. So did the second and the third. His team trailed 5-2 at the end of the quarter, and he had made two saves.

He settled down, though. He would allow only three more goals the rest of the way and finish with 11 saves, including one in the final seconds to preserve a 9-8 win.

After he made the last save, he hurled the ball down the field as time expired. He was mobbed by the rest of his team, and TB has a video clip of the play, right down to the massive fist pump TBJ gave.

Yeah, it seems like yesterday.



It actually was yesterday when TBJ's high school career ended, with a 10-5 loss in the district tournament.

He made 15 saves last night, giving him 901 for his career. His 901st might have been his best, as he sprinted back to the crease after a turnover and dove fully extended to slap the ball away just in time.

TBJ played 3,470 minutes in goal for his high school team. That's more than 57 hours. He allowed 545 goals and made the 901 saves. He was lucky - he never got hurt, and his team won a lot more than it lost.

And then it was over. In a blink, he went from a boy to a man (all 6-1, 190 pounds of him), from a freshman to a senior about to graduate.

Gary Walters, the former Ford Family Director of Athletics, used the term "athletic mortality" on numerous occasions. TigerBlog isn't a huge fan of the word "mortality" in this situation, because of its connotations of death.

At the same time, he's never come up with a better one.

TBJ is one of the lucky ones. He'll be playing in college next year, at Sacred Heart University, or, as TB likes to call it now, "America's Team." Hopefully his college experience will leave him as fulfilled as his high school experience was.

Fulfillment, though, is something that needs to be digested over time. Last night was not about feeling fulfilled. It was about feeling the end of something.

It was a night for tears, actually. From the seniors. From some of the parents (for the record, TB did not cry).

TigerBlog has seen this phenomenon at Princeton for more than a quarter of a century. Of all the dynamics he has seen here, this might be the one that sticks with him the most.

He's seen it so many times. Princeton athletes, playing in their final game, knowing they'll never put the uniform on again.

He's seen tears. He's heard curses from some whose last game didn't go the way they would have hoped. He's seen Princeton athletes meet the media with great composure and say all the right things. He's seen slammed lockers and broken equipment and long hugs from teammates who know they will never again compete for Princeton.

He's been there for celebrations too. Of championships won. Not league championships, which usually are followed by competing in the postseason. TB is talking about NCAA championships.

The worst is being in the locker room with the responsibility of having to get someone to talk to the media after a career-ending loss. One of the toughest male athletes TigerBlog has known at Princeton asked him if his eyes still looked too red from crying.

You'd think the best is being in the locker room after a national championship. Even then, though, there is the finality of it for the seniors.

TigerBlog remembers those seniors from Princeton's NCAA men's lacrosse championship teams. They too were wrestling with their athletic mortality, knowing that no matter what, their time as a Princeton athlete was behind them.

It's even worse because very, very, very few seniors end their careers with national championships. Almost every college athlete loses the last game in a postseason championship tournament - or never makes it to the postseason.

For all of these athletes - except for the tiny percentage who go on to play professionally - it's the end of a lifetime spent playing a competitive team sport. Yes, many will play again on a club team or a rec team or in unlimited or pickup games, but it'll never be the same.

It's not easy to handle all at once, this athletic mortality.

For athletes, and for their parents, who have spent the majority of their kids' lives taking them to and from games and watching them develop into athletic and academic studs who could then play at a school like Princeton. For them, the end brings a different kind of void.

As for last night, TigerBlog Jr.'s team had a huge senior class. At one point in the game, all 10 players on the field were seniors - with others who played a lot not on the field at that moment.

For all of those seniors, four are going to play in college - Grant Toller at NJIT, Michael Major at St. Joe's and Andre Puleo at Cabrini, in addition to TBJ. And that's a lot. For the rest, last night was the end of their competitive lacrosse careers, though one - Michael Kirby - will play Division III soccer at DeSales.

TigerBlog focused on TBJ during the final seconds, the game hopelessly lost by then. The ball was on the far side of the field. TBJ looked straight down for the last 20 seconds. When the final horn sounded, he went to the ground, sitting, taking in the unforgiving nature of the final horn.

When the game ended, TBJ told TB that the bus from school had dropped them off but not stayed and that he needed a ride back.

The two got into TB's car, just as they have been doing after lacrosse games since TBJ was in second grade and TB was his coach, just as they did when TBJ first volunteered to play goalie at the end of that year, just as they did when he became a full-time goalie in third grade.

They've spent hours driving back after lacrosse games. Ironically, TBJ's youth career - and TB's coaching career - had ended on the same field exactly four years earlier.

This ride was different. For one, TB was driving his son back to school to get his car, where he'd parked it earlier.

Life is about taking a series of steps, clearing a series of hurdles. Once they're cleared, it's on to the next. As the hurdle is cleared, focus shifts to the next one.

Every now and then, though, there are hurdles that make you look back on them even as you're crossing them.

Last night, for TBJ, was one of those. He's lucky. He is not yet facing his athletic mortality, as Gary always said, as so many Princeton seniors now are, as so many generations of Tiger athletes have as TigerBlog watched and wondered what it was like, what was going through their minds.

Now he has a pretty good understanding of it. Maybe not exactly, but close.

This was it for TBJ's high school days. There's always been an innocence to all of this - "little kids playing ball," TB's friend Jack has always called it - and now that's gone.

TigerBlog knew it. TigerBlog Jr. knew it. Neither really said anything about it. TigerBlog thought about the right words, but they escaped him.

In the end, all he said to his son was that he was proud of him.



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Recapping Round 1 Of A Tournament Without Princeton

TigerBlog was midway through the North Carolina-Colgate men's lacrosse game Sunday when he finally drew the line.

It was, after all, his seventh NCAA lacrosse game of the weekend. All on TV. None in person, which is where he'd rather have been, had Princeton been in the tournament.

So where to start with the eight games that made up the first round of TigerBlog's favorite NCAA tournament?

Let's start with the Ivy League, which went 0-3 in the first round as Cornell lost to Albany, Yale lost to Maryland and Brown lost to Denver.

The performance of the league has led some to question whether or not there should have been three Ivies in the tournament or if the Ivy League should have had multiple bids this year after a similar 0-3 record a year ago. TigerBlog finds this thinking ridiculous.

First of all, saying the Ivy League didn't deserve the three teams it had in the tournament means that there was another team that should have been there. In this case, the next team in the tournament would have been Princeton, another Ivy team.

Performance in the tournament does not equate to a justification of getting a bid. It's about who else should have had one.

An even bigger reason to TigerBlog why the Ivy League shouldn't be looked down on in this tournament is that he thought from the first time he saw the draw that it should have been done differently. And this isn't about Princeton's exclusion.

If TigerBlog had to take the teams that were selected and seed them and match them up, he would have changed the bottom three seeds. The first five were fine - No. 1 Notre Dame and No. 2 Syracuse could have been in either order, followed by Carolina, Denver and Duke.

From there, TigerBlog would have had Albany six, Yale seven and Maryland eight. Cornell wouldn't have been seeded.

Why? Because TigerBlog believes a team's overall body of work, to use the committee chair's words, should count more than head-to-head results from February. Yes, those games matter, but they shouldn't matter nearly as much as they do.

Cornell's win over Albany - in an ice storm in Dallas on Feb. 28 - was what got the Big Red a home game. By the end of the season, Albany, winner of nine straight, was playing as well as anyone.

So, in the matchups, Cornell would have been at Albany. The result would probably have been the same, but it wouldn't make it look like the seeded team lost and that it was an upset.

And a side note on Albany-Cornell: the goal by Great Danes' goalie Blaze Riorden was extraordinary on a lot of levels, not the least of which was the velocity he had on his shot. Didn't see it? Click HERE.

As for the rest of the matchups, Virginia should have been at Denver. Brown should have been at Maryland. Hopkins should have been at Yale.

Brown and Yale? Those would both have been 50-50 games.

Oh, and speaking of Virginia, the Cavs were run off their home field by Hopkins, losing 19-7 in a game that wasn't nearly that close.

As a reminder, Virginia was 0-4 in the ACC and unbeaten outside of it prior to the Hopkins game. Of UVa's 10 non-league wins, seven were: Loyola, Drexel, St. Joe's, VMI, Richmond, Rutgers, Georgetown. That's one top 20 win - Georgetown.

The other three were: Hopkins 16-15 in OT, Cornell 15-14 and Penn 12-6.

Princeton, who didn't get in, had a 16 -15 win over Hopkins in OT, a four-goal win over Cornell (and a five-goal loss) and a six-goal win over Penn. Princeton had one more top 10 win than UVa did, with its wins over Cornell and Yale.

Princeton and Virginia had very, very similar resumes. Princeton didn't get in. Virginia got in - and was a seed who played at home.

Why? Because UVa is in the ACC.

Speaking of the ACC, Virginia lost big at home and Duke lost big at home. The top three seeds all won, but they aren't going to be judged by getting past Round 1.

If all three remaining ACC teams making it to Philadelphia for the Final Four, then the league will have solidified its claim to being by far the best league in lacrosse. To do so, it will require Syracuse to beat sizzling Johns Hopkins, Notre Dame to beat even more sizzling Albany and Carolina to beat a Maryland team that can throw a blanket over anyone and who already owns a win over the Tar Heels.

Oh, and one more thing about Round 1.

Yale lost 8-7 to Maryland and may or may not have tied it on a shot from Michael Keasey that may or may not have gone in in the final 20 seconds.

Keasey's shot beat Terps goalie Kyle Bernlohr and hit the pipe, dropping either into the goal or just outside of it. The officials said it was no goal.

It was close.

In college lacrosse, there is no replay except in the NCAA tournament and only to determine if a shot was out of a player's stick prior to the end of a quarter. TigerBlog wants to keep it that way.

First of all, if there had been replay in the Yale-Maryland game, it wouldn't have changed that call, because it was so microscopic one way or another. And if replay were to be introduced, it would be like college basketball, where the flow of games are completely destroyed by replay reviews.

Besides, TB doesn't want to see replay unless it can be used to review judgement calls as well, like the one that gave Yale possession after a Conrad Oberbeck shot on the possession that led Keasey's shot.

So there you have Round 1. TigerBlog is looking forward to this weekend to see how it shakes out and of course the Final Four next weekend.

And the 2016 tournament. Hopefully with Princeton in it.

Monday, May 11, 2015

Sunday's Best

Princeton's top athlete yesterday was, well, TigerBlog isn't quite sure.

Where to start? How about on Long Island.

TigerBlog thought the Princeton-Stony Brook women's lacrosse game was at 1, not noon yesterday.

When he put the video for the game on, there were six minutes to play. Guess what TB never saw? If your answer was "the ball in a Stony Brook stick," you'd be correct.

Princeton defeated Stony Brook 8-4 in the second round of the NCAA tournament, advancing to the quarterfinals this coming weekend against Duke.

The Princeton-Stony Brook game was even at the half at 3-3 before the Tigers scored the first three of the second half. When TB turned the game on, Princeton was up 6-4 and had possession with six minutes to go.

And then with five. And four. And three. And two. And one.

Never in that time did Stony Brook get possession, though the ball was on the ground a few times.

Women's lacrosse does not have the timing rules that men's lacrosse has. It doesn't have any timing rules, for that matter.

You can argue whether or not the sport needs it. What you can't argue is that Princeton was surgically efficient in killing the clock.

Princeton has several opportunities to go to the goal but instead chose to maintain possession. Eventually, in the final 30 seconds, Princeton did score - and then scored again.

Hey, if you can possess it the way Princeton did, why shoot? In that case, shooting is going to bring about a few outcomes, most of which weren't better than simply having the ball and keeping the clock running.

A miss? A save? Stony Brook could get the ball back.

A goal? There'd be a draw control, and Stony Brook could again get it back. The Seawolves, for that matter, would have taken that in a heartbeat, down 7-4, three or four minutes left, draw control.

So Princeton held it. And held it. And ran out the clock on a team that had beaten Northwestern and Florida, had been 18-1 and was the sixth seed in the tournament.

Princeton's usual suspects on offense are Erin Slifer, Erin McMunn and Olivia Hompe. In the game yesterday, the Tigers instead got four goals - half of their offense - from freshman Abby Finkelston.

Before yesterday, by the way, Finkelston had five goals for the year.

Surely Finkelston was Princeton's top performer yesterday, no?

Well, not so fast.

Stephen Soerens was so fast, fast enough to give the men's track and field team the Ivy League Heptagonal championship, by a razor-thin margin.

Soerens won the decathlon, sprinting to the win in the 1,500 to put him over the top. It also put Princeton over the top.

The Tigers were supposed to win, but Cornell had some other ideas. In fact, the Big Red led by as much as 22.5 points with eight events to go.

Cornell still had the lead after the 4x400 relay. That left only the 1,500 for the decathlon, and Soerens needed to win it to get the 10 points that Princeton would need.

Soerens and Bryan Oslin went 1-3 in the 1,500 and finished 1-4 in the decathlon. The two gave Princeton 14 points for the event, six better than the eight Cornell got from Austin Jamerson's second-place finish.

The Tigers would win by 3.5 points - 163.5-159. Had Soerens not won the decathlon, then the points in that event would instead have been 12-10 for Princeton, and the final score of the entire competition would have been 161-159.5 in favor of Cornell.

So surely Soerens was the top Tiger Sunday, no?

Well, not so fast.

Yes, Soerens and Finkelston won. And yes, Ashleigh Johnson did not.

But how much better could someone be than Johnson, the goalie for the women's water polo team?

Johnson made 22 saves in Princeton's 6-5 loss to UC-Irvine in the fifth-place game at the NCAA championships.

Twenty-two saves? Is that a lot?

Well, it ties her own program record and bettered the old NCAA tournament single-game record of 18.

And for the three-game tournament? Johnson made 50 saves, an NCAA record.

The old record? Well, it was 40. Johnson destroyed that.

So who was the top Princeton performer of Sunday?

TB isn't sure.

How about a three-way tie for first?