Friday, February 27, 2009

Day One Of Swimming Ends During Day Two... And Not Well For Princeton

According to the Ivy League web site, the official ruling has come down on the 200 free relay final from Thursday's opening night of the 2009 Ivy League Women's Swimming & Diving Championships.

Five teams, including Princeton, were disqualified from the race. Five of eight.

From Princeton's perspective, this is what it does. The Tigers won the championship-opening race, which would have scored them 64 team points. Harvard came in third to Princeton and the also-disqualified Columbia, which would have meant 54 team points for the Crimson. Basic math says it's a +10 advantage to Princeton, and based on the final team score through individual events last night, that would have given the Crimson a 6-point lead through five of 21 events.

Instead, Princeton goes from 64 points to 0 points. Harvard jumps to first, which moves its 54 points to 64. That creates a 74-point swing total, which means Harvard's lead (which would have been 6) stood at 80 points through those five events.

A quick search through the last four years showed that five relays total (in a combined 20 events) were disqualified. Each championship meet has a 200, 400 and 800 free relay, as well as a 200 and 400 medley relay. The results of the 400 medley relay were also counted last night, which Princeton won in a team and Ivy League record time of 3:40.99. So at the end of Day One, Harvard held a 72-point advantage over Princeton. will have a full recap following the second day.

X's and O's

When you think of sports and coaching strategy, the first games that come to mind are football and basketball. Somewhere along the line, the idea that the right football and basketball coaches make all the difference became accepted, and the result was huge contracts for professional and high-Division I coaches in those sports.

The reality, though, is that nothing could be further from the truth. Teams for the most part run the same basic philosophies, and actual, genuine innovations are few and far between. The best coaches, by the way, are the ones who have the best players. If there are ones who distinguish themselves above the others, it's the ones who have the ability to impact the mental side of the game. It's about motivating highly paid, highly pampered athletes and getting them to buy into team concepts way more than it's about coming up with a new, previously undreamed of way to play.

What does any of this have to do with Princeton? Well, if you want true X's and O's, check out the three Ivy League championships up for grabs this weekend.

The Ivy League women's swimming championships are already underway after a strange first day that made an unpredictable event even more so. The men's and women's indoor track and field championships will begin tomorrow at Harvard.

TigerBlog covered a bunch of high school swimming way back in the day, and it was amazing to get a feel for how coaches prepared for championship events. The idea is not to figure out how much your best swimmer can win his/her best event; it's to figure out where to put all of the athletes you have to maximize points. In some cases, it's way better to sacrifice winning one event in order to get as many point scorers in other events.

The other interesting part of championship events is that the score doesn't necessarily build in a natural progression to the end. It depends on where your team's strengths are. I've seen coaches who were way ahead or way behind after the first day of competition who already knew that the opposite final result was ahead.

Swimming and track championship events are very similar. They're a collage of color, with each team's staking out its spot in the stands and toughing it out through a long process until a champion emerge.

Before the competition ever starts, coaches can point to one or two spots that have to go their way in order to win or to finish high. Coaches will second-guess themselves up and down if the plan doesn't work out.

TigerBlog often defers to former Princeton and current Georgetown basketball coach John Thompson on many issues. Thompson is often asked about his own coaching philosophies and to whom he has looked in shaping the way he runs his own program.

His first two responses are always "Pops," his Hall-of-Fame father who coached Georgetown for years, and "Coach," who is Pete Carril. His third response is almost always Susan Teeter, who has won 13 Ivy League championships as Princeton swimming coach and who has this X's and O's thing down pat.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Happy Birthday Bob Novak

TigerBlog saw in the newspaper this morning that Bob Novak, the conservative columnist and commentator, turns 78 today. Novak has been battling a brain tumor for the last six months or so, and TigerBlog wishes him well in that fight.

Still, any reference to Bob Novak will always take TigerBlog back to Dec.2 , 2001, when Princeton was playing Maryland in the BB&T Classic at what is now the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C. TigerBlog was on the radio, and as is always the case, on the lookout for a potential halftime guest.

Across the court sat Novak, whom TigerBlog easily recognized from shows like "Crossfire" and "Capital Gang." Figuring he would make a great guest, TigerBlog walked to the other side during a media timeout and had this conversation:

TB: "Mr. Novak, I'm from Princeton radio. Would you like to be on as our halftime guest?"
BN: "No."
TB: "No? Just like that?"
BN: "No."

TigerBlog began doing radio for Princeton basketball in 1990, when David Brody was the play-by-play man (as a side note, TB has since worked at least once with Peter Peretzman, Andy Freed, Tom McCarthy, Andy Castin, Ed Benkin, Ahmed El-Nokali, Peter Haskell, Dan Loney and now John Sadak).

To this day, Bob Novak remains the only person who ever turned down an invitation to be the halftime guest. Others have said "no" because they couldn't do it that day but have done it other times; Novak was the only flat no.

The list of people TigerBlog has interviewed includes three sitting governors, a U.S. Senator, a U.S. Congressman, current professional athletes, active NBA coaches, retired Hall-of-Famers, University presidents, journalists, TV personalities, and pretty much anyone else from any walk of life.

So happy birthday, Bob Novak. Good luck with your health.

And thanks for nothing.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


There are some interesting pieces worth reading about Tiger athletics elsewhere on the Web.

* The men's lacrosse team plays in the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic Saturday at noon against Johns Hopkins at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. Inside Lacrosse's Terry Foy caught up with Princeton freshmen defenders Chad Wiedmaier and John Cunningham in this preview story. Foy waits until the very last sentence to make his key point, which is that it's asking a great deal of freshmen to play well against Hopkins in an NFL stadium in their second game. TigerBlog has always been amazed by the impact that venue has on college lacrosse. Teams play the majority of their games in cozy facilities like Class of 1952 Stadium and then play in giant football facilities for the Final Four and now for regular-season games. It'll be interesting to see how the young players react; TigerBlog was impressed with its first look at them last weekend.

* Speaking of men's lacrosse, Mark Kovler will participate in an Inside Lacrosse chat tomorrow (Thursday) at 1:30 p.m. Hopkins goalie Michael Gvozden will also be on the chat.

* One of the best efforts the Ivy League office each year is its Black History Month coverage, which originated under former communications director Brett Hoover. As part of this year's event, the Ivy office has a Q&A with Princeton women's basketball Director of Operations Carrie Moore. TigerBlog has seen her play at lunchtime hoops in Jadwin, and she is basically unstoppable on the east court.

* TigerBlog's third Harvey Yavener reference in two days takes us to his feature on Alicia Aemisegger from Sunday. Aemisegger and her teammates compete in the Ivy League swimming and diving championships this weekend, and Yav calls her the best college athlete in Central Jersey.

* Dana O'Neil of was Dana Pennett of South Hunterdon High School when TigerBlog met her a long time ago. Since then, she has gone to Penn State and then written for the Trentonian, a paper in Florida, the Philadelphia Daily News and now the most-read sports Website in the world. Back in her Trentonian days, she covered Princeton basketball in the Kit Mueller/Sean Jackson era of the early ’90s. She was in Jadwin Saturday night for the Carril Court ceremonies and filed this effort about Pete Carril. One more Dana O'Neil note - TigerBlog fixed her up with her husband, Princeton athletic trainer George O'Neil.

* Bill Alden writes about the women's hockey team in Town Topics. Your Bill Alden note is that he gave up a career as a lawyer to become a sportswriter.

* Finally, there are these two clips, one from ESPN and one from CNN, that can be linked to through a squash Website. They're both about Trinity's long winning streak, but there are some pretty good shots of the gallery at Jadwin that give you a sense of how nuts it was here the last two weekends. TigerBlog contends the piece would have been better had it been about the end of Trinity's streak, but it wasn't meant to be.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Mind Wanders ...

Thoughts as winter and spring overlap at Princeton ...

* even two days later, it's hard to let go of what happened here at Jadwin Sunday in the men's squash national final. Longtime local scribe Harvey Yavener, a TigerBlog mentor, always said to judge events on their significance within their sport, not on the sport itself. Using that logic, it's really hard to imagine how any championship event in intercollegiate athletics this year can match the Trinity-Princeton match Sunday for sheer, sustained, gut-wrenching drama. Those who dismiss it as "it's just squash" are missing the point. Even though it went against the home team in the end, that match will be remembered by TigerBlog as one of the greatest single athletic contests in the last 20 years of Princeton atlhetics.

* one more thought about the squash match. TigerBlog is filled with respect for the job Mauricio Sanchez did in the No. 1 match that decided the outcome. Under that kind of pressure as a heavy underdog against the top player in the country (and one built more like a linebacker than a squash player), Sanchez rallied from 2-1 down to force a fifth game and almost was able to pull it out.

* Princeton athletics this coming weekend has 19 of its teams competing; that's exactly half of the 38 teams that the University sponsors and more than the average number that Division I schools field in total. It's an insanely busy weekend for Princeton; in other words, it's the kind of weekend that reinforces the institutional commitment to broadbased athletic participation. TigerBlog, back in its Trenton Times days, used to be fascinated when Harvey Yavener (hey, Yav gets two mentions already?) used to rank the coming weekend's events with stars, giving five stars to the best event. Princeton this weekend will have several five-star events:
Ivy League swimming and diving championships for women *****
Ivy League Heptagonal indoor track and field championships for men and women *****
Men's and women's squash individual championships *****
Princeton-Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse *****
Men's hockey vs. Dartmouth/Harvard *****
Women's hockey ECAC playoffs first round vs. Rennsalaer *****
If you're keeping score, Princeton will have about 600 athletes competing this weekend.

* the ECAC men's hockey regular season enters its final weekend, and Princeton has already clinched a first-round bye. That means the Tigers will host a quarterfinal series March 13-15 in a bid to return to the ECAC final four in Albany the following weekend. Yale (home with Cornell/Colgate) leads Princeton (at Harvard/Dartmouth) by two points and Cornell (at Yale/Brown) by three points; Yale, Princeton and Cornell will definitely host quarterfinal series and should all be in good shape for NCAA tournament bids should they win those series.

* were it not for the folks at Inside Lacrosse magaine, the Princeton-Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse game would be coming up this weekend on the Princeton campus. Instead, for the third straight year, Princeton and Hopkins meet at M&T Bank Stadium in the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic (Saturday, noon, ESPNU, WPRB FM 103.3). This year, unlike the first two, the other game of the doubleheader is Maryland-Duke, which replaces Virginia-Syracuse. And just in case you weren't paying attention last weekend, Ivy League men's lacrosse teams went a combined 7-0 in their very early openers. Included in that was a 9-6 Harvard win over Duke and an 18-6 Cornell thrashing of Binghamton. Princeton, for its part, took 60 shots in a 14-6 win over Canisius. The Tigers actually trailed 3-2 at halftime despite having already taken 27 shots, which included five that hit the pipe. Hopkins will be, obviously, a great test for the Tigers, though the Blue Jays are down just a bit from where they were the last few years, owing largely to the graduation of Paul Rabil, whom TigerBlog believes was the best player in the country the last two years.

* how could TigerBlog failed to have predicted that Pete Carril, given an open mic at Jadwin Saturday night during the festivities naming the court in his honor, would not go off-script and come up with something that would become this week's "They Said It" in Sports Illustrated? And yet he did just that, with his line of "first you walk all over me, and then you hang me as well?" when the banners were unfurled. As for the night, it was a who's who of Princeton basketball history at the game and at the reception afterwards. TigerBlog, standing in the back with Sean Gregory and former manager Mike McDonnell, couldn't see the front area where the speakers were due to the large gathering of the 6' 6" and taller crowd. No matter. It was a great night.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

When Sports Is Just Sports

This is the age of 24-hour sports talk radio. It is the age of countless sports web sites, ranging from national news organizations like to sports team web sites to personal blogs.

This is the era of opinions. If you don't have one, and if you can't get a forum to scream it, you aren't making a dent into the modern-day sports world.

From performance-enhancing drugs to coaches who should be fired to salaries and failed role models, there always seems something needing an opinion.

Of course, so few of them have anything to do with the games themselves. For people who love sports -- who genuinely love the thrill of competition -- having multiple options to listen or read about the games seem ideal. But too often, the games play second or third wheel to everything else that surrounds the world of sports. Sometimes, like in the recent weeks of A-RodGate, they don't get to play any wheel at all.

If you were at Jadwin Gym early Sunday afternoon (and late afternoon... and early evening), you were reminded why you loved sports at a young age. For six hours, there were no salary caps to analyze, no coaches fighting for their jobs, no taunting the opposing player because of something a tabloid newspaper discovered about their personal life.

For six hours, the two best men's squash teams in the country did what they were supposed to do. They played squash. They played hard, they played determined and they played for a championship. They thrilled the capacity crowd, which likely topped 1,000 and was extremely enthusiastic for both sides throughout the competition. The roller coaster ride that fans and competitors alike went on won't soon be forgotten by anybody in the building.

Now, many will scoff at the thought of this extremely dramatic six-hour squash match. That's fine. For one TigerBlog writer, a tense ice hockey game captivates like none other. For another, it's a lacrosse game. Maybe you grew up a swimmer, or a rower, or maybe you just always loved baseball or soccer and that was how you were introduced to sports. However you joined the fraternity of passionate sports fans -- and you know you're one if you deal with the same stomach knots that this TigerBlog contributor currently has, two hours after kids from all around the world played a sport he had never heard of a decade ago -- here's hoping you can wade through the rough waters that often surrounds the games we love and find an afternoon like the one today at Jadwin.

This one won't be dissected, sewn up and dissected again by a thousand columnists and talk-show hosts, desperately seaching for somebody to blame. Honestly, it's more likely to be made fun by a national organization, and the only reason it would reach that far is because of the magnitude of Trinity's 202-match win streak. (When you're sport shares the name with a vegetable, it sets up for easy, lazy one-liners.) That's fine to TigerBlog; when you were there, when you watched it unfold, when you lived the highs and lows, you don't need anything else.

Congratulations to Trinity and to Princeton for the six hours of competition Sunday. Others can and will congratulate Trinity only for its 11th straight national title, and those will be justified credits. But to applaud only the destination discredits the journey, and it is the journey -- the game -- that we all once loved.

And hopefully we allow ourselves to love again.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Ball's In His Court

The athletic facilities at Princeton University feature names that basically fall into three categories.

There are the ones named for benefactors who donated money for the facility as an acknowledgment of the role that their own athletic experience played in their development (Roberts Stadium, Powers Field, DeNunzio Pool, Weaver Track, Shea Rowing Center).

Then there are the ones that are named for Princeton athletes who died tragically young (Jadwin Gym, Myslik Field, Baker Rink). There are also some named after classes (Class of 1952 Stadium, Class of 1895 Field). The lone outsider is Clarke Field, home of Princeton baseball, which is named for the longtime coach.

This Saturday, a renaming ceremony will occur that completely falls outside the pattern, as the game court at Jadwin Gym officially becomes "Carril Court." The change is, of course, to honor Hall-of-Fame basketball coach Pete Carril, who won 514 games and 13 Ivy League championships in 29 years on the Tiger bench.

It is only fitting that if one facility is to be named differently, it is after Pete Carril. In the history of Princeton athletics, there has never been any one else remotely like him.

He was born into what he often has called "poverty," the son of a steelworker in Bethlhem, Pa., who according to the son "never missed a day in 40 years." Taking that work ethic, he came to a University where privilege and wealth are often the rule – "basketball is a poor man's game," he'd say, "and my guys have three cars in the garage." – and he spent 29 years here as sort of the conscience of the institution.

On his court (long before it would bear his name), priviledge was earned one way - through hard work. He could be gruff, salty. TigerBlog has seen him more than once rip his own shirt off his body during a practice, with the two sides dangling like an unzipped sweatshirt.

His premise was that he and his guys (as he'd call them) wouldn't use any perceived limitations as an excuse. Through hard work, they'd be able to compete, to win, to be the best they could be, to give in his words "a good account of ourselves." He'd scoff at those who said his teams were successful because of the system, choosing instead to talk about how his players could dribble, pass, shoot and defend. "It's a simple game," he'd say. "You pass. You cut. You go backdoor once in awhile. You guard your guy." Or, when asked once what the difference in a game was, he calmly said "they have guardable players, and we guarded them."

TigerBlog has written more about Pete Carril than any other subject, been around him in the context of a newspaper reporter, a radio announcer, a sports information contact and, since he left Princeton, in the unofficial role of media liaison for those looking to get in touch with him. TigerBlog has heard him say things to players that were so inspiring and at other times so caustic that either could move the recipient to tears. "God blessed me the day that kid walked into my life," he said of one player. "If I asked everyone in this locker room to write down one word that best describes you," he said to another player, "I'd get back 15 pieces of paper with the word a------ written on them."

Of the 50 funniest comments TigerBlog has ever heard, Pete Carril probably said 25 of them. Some of them are legendary postgame comments. Some are rated R, or way worse.

Others were while traveling. One time on a plane back from an in-season tournament, TigerBlog sat in the middle seat of three. Directly in front were assistant coach Bill Carmody on the aisle, Coach Carril in the middle seat and an elderly gentleman at the window. Carril and Carmody were working on a crossword puzzle, while the elderly man peered over their shoulders. "10 down should be "so-and-so," the old man said. "Hmmph," Carril sneered. "14 across should be "so-and-so," the old man said. Again, Carril snarled. "7 down should be ..." Before the old man could finish, Carril, then somewhere around 65 years old, cut him off and said "Yo, Pops, when I want your help, I'll ask for it."

Pete Carril is the without question the most charismatic person TigerBlog has met. All conversations end when he enters the room. His voice lingers after he's gone. He's a kindler, gentler person these days than he was 25 years ago, 15 years ago even. Still, he sees through the phony, has no time for it. "There's a difference between working hard and pretending to work hard," he said once during a game, and then followed up by pointing to the other team and adding "and that team is pretending to work hard."

He's come a long way from Bethlehem, from his days as a high school coach. He's not a tall man. He never played a minute of professional basketball. He never reached the NCAA tournament's quarterfinals, let alone Final Four, let alone a championship.

The overwhelming majority of his life was spent riding on buses, not flying on charters. He carried his own bag. He didn't wear a fancy suit. He didn't have one eye on his current job and his other on the next career move.

Yet there he is in Springfield, in the Hall of Fame, as much a member of that exclusive club as anyone, as Magic and Bird and Jordan, as Russell and Cousy and Wilt, as Dean Smith and John Wooden.

Tomorrow night, Princeton will step away from the norm to honor Pete Carril by naming a court after him. Many of his former players will be on the court with him at halftime.

Like many of those former players, TigerBlog could live to be 100 and will never forget Pete Carril, his legacy, his words, his work ethic and what TigerBlog learned just by being around him for so long.

More than anything, though, TigerBlog will remember him for daring to expect the best of his guys, daring them to want to achieve, defying them to forget any excuses. "What good is being Spanish," he'd say, "if you can't chase after windmills?"

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Weekend? What Weekend?

If you want to make a prediction for an MVP for Princeton athletics for the coming weekend, how about Karen Malec? Or maybe Steve Kanaby? Or Tom O'Neill? Maybe it's some combination of Garfield Brown, Brad Cabral, Matt Conti, Jay Hulick, Whistle Madill, Paul Merrow, Mark Mills, Elysee Nicholas or Jim Ogden?

Of course, they're all hoping you don't notice any of them. That'll mean everything has been smooth as silk.

The above names comprise Princeton's events and facilities staffs. To say they have a busy weekend ahead is an understatement.

Here's a slice of what's happening here this weekend:

* Friday night men's basketball vs. Harvard at 7 in Jadwin Gym
* Friday men's squash national championships in Jadwin Gym and Dillon Gym, pretty much all day
* Friday night men's hockey vs. Brown at Baker Rink at 7
* Saturday men's lacrosse vs. Canisius at 1 at Class of 1952 Stadium
* Saturday men's squash all day
* Saturday women's water polo at DeNunzio Pool all day
* Saturday men's basketball vs. Dartmouth at Jadwn Gym at 6
* Saturday men's hockey vs. Yale at Baker Rink at 7
* Sunday women's water polo all day
* Sunday men's squash final in the afternoon
* Sunday men's track meet at Jadwin beginning at 9 a.m.

And those events don't even take into account two other items worth noting:
* Alumni Day is Saturday, meaning a luncheon for a few thousand at Jadwin from noon to 2
* Saturday night is the Carril Court event, and there are prep issues for that as well

These events don't happen accidentally. The set up for one basketball game is enormous, let alone the need to incorporate cleanups and additional set ups. The addition of the Alumni Day luncheon just adds to the stress, as basketball set up can't begin until that event ends. And the track meet Sunday means that cleanup and breakdown from basketball can't wait until Monday.

All of this is done with totally uncompromising deadlines, since the next event has to start when it says it will. And the lacrosse and hockey games means that staff is more spread out.

TigerBlog doesn't envy the job of the facilities and event people. By comparison, how hard is keeping stats, writing a story, talking on the radio?

They're a very dedicated group, and they operate in the shadows, only called out when something goes wrong. So TigerBlog is calling them out now, to commend them on the job they do and do hope they have a nice weekend. Rest can wait until Monday. Oh wait, no it can't. The next group of tasks will be waiting.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Of Fake Coyotes And Instant Replay

TigerBlog likes to check out the baseball field and the practice fields that surround it and see the interaction between the fake coyotes and the geese.

After years of trying to keep the geese (and their by-product) off of those fields, the idea of the fake coyote emerged. The point is that the geese are petrified of the coyotes and will stay away from them, which they do. It's fascinating how none of the geese will get within a few hundred yards of the fake coyotes.

"For the first three weeks we had the fake coyotes, we didn't see one goose," says Tom O'Neill, Assistant Athletic Director for Facilities. "Then one brave goose came back, and the rest followed."

Now, if you go out to the fields, you'll see hundreds of geese huddled together hundreds of yards from the fake coyotes. Why the geese don't figure out that the coyote doesn't flinch when they come by and therefore must be either sleeping or made of cardboard is another story.

To keep the geese off all the fields would require many more additional fake coyotes (expensive) or constant moving of the few fake coyotes already on staff (labor intensive). In other words, it's an idea that works well but has it's limitations.

All of this brings us to the idea of instant replay in college basketball. Like the fake coyotes, replay is a well-intentioned idea. Unlike the fake coyotes, it's falling way short.

The Princeton-Penn game Tuesday night featured two prolonged stops for instant replay reviews.

The first came in the first half, when the officials huddled for more than three minutes to see if Tyler Bernardini's long shot was worth two or three and would thus make the score 8-2 or 9-2 Penn. This discussion came during the first media timeout, which meant that the delay didn't abnormally impact the flow of the game.

The same cannot be said for the second one, which came with 8:43 to play in the second half. At first it appeared the discussion was whether or not Patrick Saunder's long basket seconds earlier was a two or three as well. Instead, it became about a flagrant foul that would called against Penn's Conor Turley.

This delay lasted seven minutes and did have a huge impact on the flow of the game. It also served to heighten tensions among the players on the court, which led to a very frenetic restart in which both teams wasted possessions with emotional decisions.

There are all kinds of issues with video review, in all sports. For starters, it's intent is a good one - to overturn bad calls with visual evidence. The problems, though, far outweigh the good points.

Forget the NFL, where instant replay has caused officials to become tentative because they know the call they make on the field is going to stand if the video doesn't show the microscopic evidence needed and caused coaches to use challenges in moments of desperation.

In college basketball, here are some obvious problems:

* the reviews artificially stop the game
* the refs become too large a part of the game
* judging when the clock should have stopped and how much time should be on it doesn't take into account that 1) the clock stops not when the infraction/basket/violation occurs but when the whistle blows and the clock operator stops the clock and 2) dealing in 10ths of seconds is ridiculous
* the results are often insignificant ... For instance, if Bernardini's shot had been a two or three, it wouldn't have impacted the game, even a game like last night's, because it makes the supposition that nothing would have changed after that. Even if Saunders' shot had been called a two instead of a three, the game might very well have gone to overtime or Princeton might even have had to do things different down the stretch, resulting in a win in regulation.
* the calls that have the biggest impact on the game (whether a foul should have been called or not or should have been a charge or block) are not reviewable

TigerBlog's biggest complaint is that there are different rules from one game to the next. Princeton's game last night was on TV; its games this weekend are not. The rules for the Penn game, then, are not the same as the rules for Harvard/Dartmouth. If the same situations come up this weekend, the refs clearly would make decisions and abide by them and the game would go on without disruption.

Summing it all up, TigerBlog is pro-fake coyotes and anti-replay in college basketball. If there has to be replay, though, how about limiting it to the final two minutes of a game?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Men's Basketball vs. Penn

Final: Penn 62, Princeton 55

:27.8 OT: Penn 60, Princeton 53
The masses are leaving Jadwin as the Quakers look to have the game in hand. Finley's 14 rebounds are a career-high, and Patrick Saunders was one rebound from a double-double.

1:10 OT: Penn 57, Princeton 53
Zach Finley's double-double is only his second of his career after he achieved one against Seton Hall last season.

1:47 OT: Penn 57, Princeton 53
Penn only has nine second-chance points tonight, but those three were huge by Zack Rosen off the offensive rebound.

3:49 OT: Penn 52, Princeton 51
As Tyler Bernardini splits his free throws, Zach Finley ended regulation with 10 points and 13 boards, making him the only Tiger this season with a double-double.

End regulation: Penn 51, Princeton 51
Finley isn't iced and Penn comes up empty on the last possession. The Tigers are 0-1 this season in OTs, and four of the last 10 Penn-Princeton meetings have gone to OT.

:23.8 2nd: Penn 51, Princeton 50
Penn will try to ice Zach Finley between his potentially game-tying free throws. He's got 12 rebounds, the most for any Tiger this season.

1:23 2nd: Penn 51, Princeton 49
After Saunders' block, another rookie comes up big as Davis gets a three and a steal.

2:14 2nd: Penn 49, Princeton 45
Saunders makes up for the miscue with a big block, and a clean one too. Marcus Schroeder heads to the line...

2:39 2nd: Penn 49, Princeton 45
Princeton's 18 th turnover comes at a costly time after two free throws made it a two-possession game. Patrick Saunders, under tough defensive pressure, had the ball go off his foot and out of bounds. Down six (or seven) points at this juncture would be tough for the Tigers the way this game has been going.

4:05 2nd: Penn 45, Princeton 45
All that's missing from this Penn-Princeton matchup is the calendar reading March and the teams sitting in first and second place in either order. Intense! Patrick Saunders leads the Tigers with 11 points, matching his career high set in his home state at Dartmouth a few weeks ago.

6:15 2nd: Penn 45, Princeton 43
The ESPNU stat man next to TigerBlog pointed out that the only other game in which Pawel Buczak fouled out this season was also televised on ESPNU. The good news for Buczak is that no more games this season will be on "the U."

7:45 2nd: Penn 45, Princeton 41
Patrick Saunders went to the line to shoot the two lonely free throws with no one around him and converted both. The Penn coaches were protesting that Mavraides' initially going to the line was an uncorrectable mistake. Either way, it's two points for the Tigers.

8:43 2nd: Penn 45, Princeton 39
The foul on Conor Turley of Penn has been ruled a flagrant foul, which is what the referees were determining. Dan Mavraides can't convert on his first free throw with no one around him, but he'll have another try.... after yet another officials' conference. What would they do if the TVs weren't here?

8:43 2nd: Penn 45, Princeton 39
The officials have gone to the monitor again to look at a recent foul. It reminds TigerBlog of an NFL game, except there's no hood for the refs to hide under. Also like in an NFL game, the players (and coaches, thanks to the proximity of the monitor to the Penn bench) are peeking/listening for an early answer to the refs' question.

9:06 2nd: Penn 45, Princeton 36
Princeton calls its one full timeout of the game as Penn has its largest lead at nine. It's still only single digits, but the Tigers have scored just five points this half. Princeton has been whistled for 18 fouls to this point, and the season high is 27 against Lehigh. That, at least, was a Princeton win.

10:27 2nd: Penn 43, Princeton 36
Penn missed the front end of a 1-and-1, but Pawel Buczak was whistled for his fifth foul for pushing on his way to the rebound. It's only the second time Buczak has fouled out this season. The other one was the first game of the seven-game win streak on Jan. 3 vs. UNC Greensboro.

11:01 2nd: Penn 43, Princeton 35
ESPNU just showed highlights from Penn's 90-80 1994 NCAA Tournament win over Nebraska at the Nassau Coliseum. The Tigers, however, remain the last Ivy team to win an NCAA Tournament game, in 1998 in Hartford over UNLV in the first round.

13:00 2nd: Penn 41, Princeton 35
Penn is outscoring Princeton this half 12-4.

14:45 2nd: Penn 38, Princeton 33
For those of you who aren't watching or can't watch ESPNU, the network just did a video pack on Princeton's turnovers, which now number 15. The last one came out of the break and led to a Penn bucket. The Quakers are now up five.

16:40 2nd: Penn 34, Princeton 33
Princeton's lead, once 11, is gone. The last time Penn led was 9-7 in the first half.

Halftime: Princeton 31, Penn 29
It's still very much a game, as Penn has ended the half on an 11-2 run to close it to two. The big stat of the half is Princeton's 12 turnovers. That wouldn't be on pace for Princeton's highest turnover game of the season (that distinction goes to the 26-turnover game vs. South Carolina in December), but it's still many more than the Tigers have had on average during the recent seven-game win streak. And those points-off-turnovers that TigerBlog pointed out before have jumped from zero to seven just since the mention of it with 6:20 to go in the half.

1:00 1st: Princeton 31, Penn 26
Princeton led by 11 at the most, 29-18, and since then it's been an 8-2 run for the Quakers. Princeton's four-game losing skid against rival Penn isn't over yet.

3:12 1st: Princeton 29, Penn 22
Princeton has been scoreless for nearly three minutes.

3:59 1st: Princeton 29, Penn 20
We've reached the last media timeout of the half at the first possible moment, one second inside of 4:00 to go. Princeton still has the lead, but can they keep up the 55.6% shooting from the field and 75% shooting from beyond the arc?

6:20 1st: Princeton 28, Penn 18
No points off turnovers yet for Penn, a stat that plagued the Tigers at Yale last Friday. The Tigers have seven turnovers to Penn's five.

7:37: Princeton 26, Penn 15
Rookie John Comfort has hit two three-pointers in a game for the first time in his career.

9:06 1st: Princeton 18, Penn 14
"The Comfort Zone" as PA announcer Bill Bromberg says, John Comfort, hits a three.

9:45 1st: Princeton 15, Penn 11
Zack Rosen's bucket ends a 13-0 Princeton run.

12:20 1st: Princeton 10, Penn 9
It's an 8-0 run for the Tigers, who have their first lead on a Patrick Saunders three. The substitutions have been frequent for both teams.

14:20 1st: Penn 9, Princeton 7
It's a 5-0 run for the Tigers, who get a Davis three and a Buczak bucket, followed by an offensive foul on Penn's Jack Eggleston.

15:25 1st: Penn 9, Princeton 2
And it stands, a three for Penn's #3.

15:25 1st: Penn 6, Princeton 2 (for now)
We have our first TV review of the Jadwin Gym season. Two of the stripe-shirted fellows are reviewing whether Tyler Bernardini's three-pointer was indeed a three.

17:03 1st: Penn 4, Princeton 2
Pawel Buczak gets Princeton's first basket. Buczak, Dan Mavraides, Zach Finley, Douglas Davis and Marcus Schroeder are starting, making this the third starting lineup Sydney Johnson has used. Finley is in where Kareem Maddox had been.

17:42 1st: Penn 4, Princeton 0
Whew! It's been a busy evening so far for TigerBlog, and it's only just begun. Media members are shoulder-to-shoulder on the opposite side of the court from the Princeton benches, along with all the unanticipated quests that come with them. But, TigerBlog is ready to go.

219 ... And Counting

TigerBlog was finishing up a pregame radio interview with Pete Carril prior to the start of a Princeton-Penn basketball game at the Palestra in the early ’90s. We were standing on one of the ramps that go from the concourse to the floor, underneath the stands.

"This is where we met," TigerBlog said to Carril. "Don't you remember? You were coaching, and I was chanting 'sit down Pete' with the rest of the Penn fans."

Carril gave one of those clenched grins with a rhetorical "right" as a response. Then it was off to work for him for one of the 61 games he would coach against the Quakers. Fittingly, it was more than he would coach against any other team.

Princeton and Penn meet tonight at Jadwin Gym (7 pm, ESPNU, WPRB FM 103.3) in the 219th meeting in a wonderful rivalry. The first meeting was on Valentine's Day in 1903, and the teams have met at least twice a year every year since.

TigerBlog, back in his days as QuakerStudent, jumped on the bandwagon back in the early ’80s. Tonight's game will be the 38th straight and 55th overall for TigerBlog in the rivalry, which has been experienced as a student at Penn, a "neutral" journalist and an administrator at Princeton.

The Penn-Princeton games rank among TigerBlog's very favorite days of the annual athletic calendar, up there with Princeton-Syracuse lacrosse, Giants-Cowboys and the days that the Yankees and Duke basketball are eliminated.

Our friends from ESPNU asked for a little research on the greatest moments in the rivalry, and it wasn't until then that it became obvious that the last 30 years or so are the glory days for these two. Yes, the teams have dominated the Ivy League from the beginning, as one or the other has represented the Ivy League in the NCAA tournament every year since 1963 except for four (1968, 1986, 1988, 2008).

Still, the greatest games have been recent ones. Maybe it's because TigerBlog has seen them first hand, but consider these moments:

* Princeton 50, Penn 49 (1999) - Princeton trailed 29-3 after a 29-0 Penn run, 33-9 at halftime and 40-13 at the first media timeout of the second half before rallying for the win behind Brian Earl, Mason Rocca, Gabe Lewullis, Chris Young and Ahmed El-Nokali.

* Princeton 68, Penn 52 (2001) - John Thompson's first team, a huge underdog when the season began, completed a fairy tale run by racing past the Quakers in the second half. Nate Walton's line: nine points, eight rebounds, seven assists, six steals.

* Princeton 78, Penn 72 in overtime (1998) - Princeton had already clinched the Ivy title, but Penn put up a spirited fight on its home court. When it was over, Steve Goodrich had scored 30 points on 11 of 13 shooting (after missing his first two shots) and Princeton was 26-1, the best record in Division I.

* Princeton 63, Penn 56 in overtime (1996) - Perhaps the greatest single moment (from the Tigers' perspective) in the history of the rivalry as Princeton won in overtime in the Ivy League playoff game at Lehigh. Princeton had lost eight straight to the Quakers, including a 14-point loss four nights earlier at the Palestra, but the Tigers gutted this one out after blowing a big lead and having Penn force OT on Ira Bowman's three-pointer with 10 seconds left. Sydney Johnson hit a huge three-pointer in the final minute of overtime and then added a steal and a pair of free throws. And just as the media was getting ready to write about the game, Pete Carril announced he was retiring.

That list doesn't even include great Penn moments, of which there have been just as many. For Penn fans, the night in 1990 that Hassan Duncombe tipped in a missed foul shot at the buzzer will always be special; for TigerBlog, it was the last game in the series that wasn't seen in person. TigerBlog was covering Trenton State-Glassboro State (which now would be TCNJ-Rowan) a few miles across the river in South Jersey, or at least covering as much of the game as could be seen from the sports information office, where the Princeton-Penn game was on the radio.

So forget that neither team is in first place right now. It's still an epic event anytime these two get together.

And before they do so yet again, one more little story:

After that loss to Penn in 1996 to force a tie for the championship and the one-game playoff, Carril came into the tiny interview room on the Palestra's east side.

“Do you think they have your number,” he was asked.

“I don’t believe in that,” he replied.

“Yeah, but sometimes a team just has your number,” the interviewer repeated.

“I don’t believe in that stuff,” the coach repeated.

Again, the question was asked. A third time the coach shrugged it off.

Frustrated, the interviewer gave up.

Then a different question came from a different reporter.

“What can you do differently in the playoff game to win?” the coach was asked.

Now the coach paused. A grin came across his face.

“Nothing,” said Pete Carril, “if they have our number.”

Monday, February 16, 2009

Squash, A Look Back and Ahead

If you were near Jadwin Gym Saturday afternoon, you might have noticed that throngs of people were heading into the building. If you were on the balcony, you might have noticed that you kept hearing noise coming from somewhere below.

Jadwin Gym hosted a wild scene Saturday, when Trinity edged Princeton 5-4 to win its 199th straight match. The gallery on C level was jammed with fans from both schools to the point that seeing the action on any of the three courts was nearly impossible.

And that was nothing compared to what awaits. Princeton and Trinity will be back at it this coming weekend as Princeton hosts the CSA national men's team championships, and the two will be favored to meet in a rematch for the title Sunday afternoon.

Meanwhile, the women were up in Cambridge last weekend for the Howe Cup, which is the women's national team championships. Princeton won for the third straight time, edging host Harvard 5-4 as Amanda Seibert rallied to win the final two games of her match at No. 1.

The championship, which gives Princeton a team or individual national champion for the 23rd straight year, was well-earned even before Sunday's thriller. The Tigers had to overcome a huge challenge from Trinity in the semis, winning 5-4 after Kaitlin Sennatt fought off a match ball and went on to win.

If you shrug all this off as "well it's only squash," TigerBlog says you couldn't be more wrong. Princeton had 38 varsity teams, and few are set up for drama the way squash is.

For starters, the spectators are right on top of the players, who are out on a court one-on-one with nowhere to hide. Also, you need to get five wins, and the point at No. 9 counts just as much as the one at No. 1.

Mostly, though, you can't run out the clock in squash. You have to win every point, and the momentum can - and does - change so quickly. Time and again, matches that seemed to be over in the third or fourth game head to a dramatic fifth. Time and again, games that seem over at 8-2 are reversed.

The success of the Princeton teams - and more importantly the desire of coaches Bob Callahan and Gail Ramsay to help their sport expand on a more egalitarian level - has led to a huge jump in lunchtime squash in the Jadwin. The exercise factor, coupled with the competitive nature of the game, makes it perfect for players on all levels throughout the athletic department.

TigerBlog has seen all of the novices play for the first time. They come out cocky, talking about how great they were at racquetball, and then they can't believe how much they get wiped out chasing the little black ball all over. Football coaches. Assistant women's soccer coach Scott Champ. Administrators. They're all drifting from lunchtime basketball to try squash.

But that's for during the week. For this weekend, the level of play goes all the way up to the top floor. It'll be a zoo on C-level.

It's worth the trip.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Lorin Maurer, 1978-2009

When she walked past the door of TigerBlog HQ yesterday afternoon, like she had a million times before and figured to a million times again, Lorin Maurer paused, smiled and kept going. She never said a word; TigerBlog didn't say anything back to her.

Who could have ever have imagined it would be the last time we'd ever see her?

Lorin Maurer was killed late Thursday night when Continental Connection Flight 3407 crashed near Buffalo. She was heading there for the wedding of her boyfriend's brother (her boyfriend was not on the flight); she was just 30 years old.

TigerBlog knew Lorin since she first started working here in 2005. We've worked together any number of times on all kinds of projects. As with any people who approach projects from different angles, we had our disagreements and clashes, but for the most part we were on the same page.

She was young and full of life. She had accomplished a great deal in her young life, and sadly, much of that was learned while writing her obituary. The last time TigerBlog ever saw her summed her up perfectly. Nothing to say? Flash a smile, and let that speak for you: "Hello; hope you're doing okay; I'll see you another time."

So what to make of all this? How do you make sense of the fact that a 30-year-old just starting out, with so much energy and zest, is gone like that? How do you rationalize the fact that you were just in the same meeting the day she died, that you have another meeting scheduled with her on Monday? How do you figure that you came to HQ figuring to work on a lacrosse program and that you wrote a youthful colleague's obit instead?

The first reaction is that you never know what's coming down the road, so you have to stop every day to appreciate whom you have and what you have. But that should all be obvious. It's not something we all do enough of, but Lorin's passing isn't going to change that.

She had a great many friends here at Princeton, not only in the athletic department but also in development and with alums throughout the country with whom she interacted. She was well-liked and well-respected for the job she did.

TigerBlog thought for awhile about something profound to say, some inspiration to draw from her death. In the end, what is there to say?

She was here yesterday, so alive. She's gone today. It's beyond sad.

That's all there is to say.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Where Is The Future?

Back in the old, old days of the 1990s, TigerBlog decided to make the move from covering Princeton (and others) for the Trenton Times to working for the University in the Office of Athletic Communications.

There was no internet yet, so the only vehicle to get the Princeton message out was to go through the media. Great effort was made to shape the presentation from Princeton's perspective, but there was really nothing we could do if the media chose to go in a different direction.

The explosion of the internet has changed everything. TigerBlog has tried to stay as out-front or at least current with the latest ideas (such as TigerBlog), and the Website, like those of our colleagues throughout the league and the country, are full of great content for fans.

In many ways, this has enabled us to bypass the media, much of which either does not exist anymore or has been scaled way, way down. TigerBlog's memories of working in the newspaper business are tremendous. The Trenton Times in the late ’80s and early ’90s featured some great personalities in its sports department, writers like Harvey Yavener and Mark Eckel who are well-known to Princeton fans and desk people like Rick Freeman, Harry Chaykun and Bob Tennent who are not. Together, the sometimes dysfunctional group put out a newspaper every day, regardless of holidays, weather, mechanical difficulties, anything. Every day they'd start from scratch; every day you'd be able to go into the local convenience store or bagel place or deli and pick up the paper.

From TigerBlog's point of view, there was no better way to work when you were in your 20s. Be at a game in the afternoon or at night. Write your story afterwards. Work the desk sometimes until 2 a.m. Eat late night in any number of Trenton restaurants. Sleep late. See your work on display.

Sadly, that's a world that has largely disappeared. The Trenton Times, like newspapers everywhere, barely resembles what it used to be. The two local cable companies who broadcast most of our home football and basketball games for years and years don't exist at all. When TigerBlog first came to Princeton, the postgame interview room at men's basketball was jammed every night. These days, there's plenty of room as only the usual diehards still exist.

Still, the thirst for information has never been greater, with so many different avenues available to get it to the end user.

The media middle man has largely been eliminated. It's been years since we've had to go through a reporter to try to get someone's story told; in fact, we'd much prefer people come to to read about Princeton athletics.

And yet, some of the ways that we produce information remains unchanged. Specifically, we're talking about game notes and media guides. The debate about media guides is a huge one in college sports, touching on issues not only of the value of the publication as a media or recruiting tool but also on sustainability (the new catchphrase for anything environmentally friendly, such as not printing thousands and thousands of pieces of paper) and sheer cost.

Game notes are a different story. Most game notes produced in sports information offices take the form of pithy headings with one or two sentence nuggets that get updated over and over and over again in the event a media person would like to use them. TigerBlog spent considerable time, for instance, constantly updating Princeton lacrosse goalie Alex Hewit's career goals-against average and save percentage in games decided by one or two goals or more; no one ever used it.

So maybe there's a better way to get this information directly to those who want it (fans) and need it (what's left of the media). And a more efficient way, one that saves time and dollars. And then once that is identified, what else could we do to get more and more information out there?

As the days of heading Caesars in Chambersburg for a post-midnight dinner continue to fade further and further away, this profession is heading in a different direction. It's a fascinating one, and it's one with unknown potential. We'll do our best to make it happen.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Sweating Out The Anthem

TigerBlog Jr. was nine when he started playing the saxophone. From the first time he tried to make a sound come out of it, he said his goal was to play the national anthem at a Princeton men's basketball game.

TigerBlog had heard his version of the anthem about a million times through the years, ever since the day he printed the sheet music off the internet. His first few months were barely listenable and hardly sounded like the song. As time went by, he got to the point where he was pretty good - most of the time. He still had his missed notes, which on the saxophone, come across in a somewhat screeching fashion.

Still, he thought he was ready, and who was to argue with an 11-year-old with his mind so firmly set on something?

So there he was Friday night, ready to go before the Princeton-Cornell game at Jadwin Gym. He was also there in his official capacity as a Tiger ballboy, and his ballboy partner Matt offered these encouraging words on the way to the game: "$20 says you mess it up."

When we first came into the gym, he did a practice run, which brought track practice to a halt. It was a nice rendition, and when it was over, TigerBlog was left to wonder if he had another good one in him when the stands had people in them.

Then it was off to the almost two-hour wait until the game clock read "0:00" and it would be show time. To TigerBlog, it seemed to take two years; for TB Jr. and Matt, it was business as usual. They went to get the pizza from the Jadwin Jungle. They hit the Backcourt Bistro. They shot around. They played pop-a-shot.

As the final minutes ticked away, the two boys sat on the Princeton bench, as they always do, dribbling a ball between their legs, like any other night. Then the horn sounded. It was time for the anthem.

TigerBlog, who was on the press row opposite the court as TB Jr. went out onto the court, could hardly breathe. From the countless times hearing the song, TigerBlog knew there were three spots in the anthem where TB Jr. sometimes struggled.

Then he was introduced (TigerBlog had instructed PA announcer Bill Bromberg to mention that he was a ballboy to explain why he was wearing shorts and a t-shirt), and then he was off. He cleared the first spot easily; the next was the part where the song goes "and the rocket's red glare ..."

What TigerBlog had forgotten was that the Cornell fans all yell "RED" as loudly as they can when the word comes up, and so they did. Still, TB Jr. kept going, without flinching (all the while with his foot tapping).

He had one more big hurdle to clear, the part that goes "yet wave." Nailed that one as well. Then it was on to the finish without missing a note. TigerBlog could exhale; TB Jr. smiled and got a pat on the back from men's basketball coach Sydney Johnson and a nice ovation from the crowd.

Then Princeton went out and knocked off Cornell, ending the Big Red's 19-game Ivy winning streak.

After the game, TB Jr. admitted he'd been nervous, so nervous that "I thought I wasn't going to be able to stand up." It wasn't half as nervous as his father had been.

So forgive TigerBlog for a little self-indulgence. It wasn't one of the 40 greatest moments in Jadwin history - unless you happened to be related to the kid who played the anthem.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Coming From Behind

The finish of Saturday night's Princeton-Cornell men's hockey game continues to be talked about around campus. The finish was one for the memory books as Princeton scored with 36 seconds and 18 seconds left on the clock to overcome a 1-0 deficit and leave Ithaca with a 2-1 win and two more points in the ECAC standings.

There were many factors that made it so unbelievable. First, the game was played at Cornell. There is no more daunting a crowd to face then the one at Cornell. The atmosphere in the building is electric in support of its home team, and it is no wonder that Cornell is so good at home. Cornell goalie Ben Scrivens made a great save 10 seconds before the tying goal, which got the capacity crowd off its feet and bowing in awe to the save he had made. The building was as loud as it had been for the whole game, but 10 seconds, a faceoff win, and two passes later, the air began to deflate from the crowd's balloon. Eighteen seconds and an odd-man rush later the balloon was empty.

Second, Princeton had not been able to put a puck past Scrivens in the previous 153 minutes of game time dating back to last season, although the people in attendance at Baker Rink on Feb. 23, 2008 sitting at the press box end of ice would disagree. Either way, it had been a long time since Princeton had scored on Scrivens and it looked like another shutout was coming before the late goals.

Third, hockey is just a sport where the team that scores first and enters the third period with a lead usually wins. In the last two years worth of Princeton games, the team that scores first is 48-12 and teams leading entering the third period are 45-7. So comebacks in the third period, let alone ones in the last minute, just are not everyday occurrences.

It is easy to say that the win is one of the best comebacks in Princeton hockey history. While TigerBlog hasn't been around for all of them, it agrees.

What defines a comeback for the ages is the deficit overcome and the time period needed to do it. Saturday's comeback was epic because it happened so late in the game, not because of the deficit. Cornell scored its goal midway through the second period. Had Princeton evened the score late in the second and won it in the third, it wouldn't be the story it is now.

Monumental comebacks have both elements, the big deficit and the short time duration. For example, just a few weeks ago, Yale trailed Colgate 4-0 with five minute gone in the third period before scoring five goals in a span of 14:36 including overtime to win 5-4.

Princeton has had a few attempted comebacks like that in the last two years that fell just short. Last year at Union, Princeton trailed 4-0 before scoring three extra attacker goals in the final seven minutes in a 4-3 loss. Then this season, after falling behind 4-0 to Mercyhurst, Princeton scored four goals to tie the Lakers with 2:01 left in the third only to have Mercyhurst rebound and scored two more goals 22 seconds apart and win 6-4. How Princeton felt that night, is probably similar to how Cornell felt on Saturday.

Monday, February 9, 2009

As Weekends Go ...

... the one that just ended wasn't too bad as far as Princeton athletics was concerned. If you wanted to pick the Princeton "Team of the Week," your task wouldn't be easy.

Where do you start?

* the men's basketball team swept Cornell and Columbia by a combined 48 points. The weekend began with a wire-to-wire win over the Big Red, who had won 19 straight Ivy games and nine straight overall this season, and ended with a 28-point win over the Lions. Princeton held the two to 76 points total, making this the best defensive weekend by the Tigers since 1984. Princeton is also the lone unbeaten team in the league, followed by one-loss Cornell and two-loss Dartmouth. Every other league team has at least three. There's still a long way to go in the league race, as Tiger head coach Sydney Johnson and his players reminded the media both nights. Still, this weekend also saw two good, vocal, excited crowds who came to Jadwin to root for a very likeable team and came away with a great time both nights.

* the women's basketball team also went 2-0, doing the road sweep to move over .500 in the league at 3-2, behind only 5-0 Dartmouth and 4-1 Harvard. The Princeton men and women were a combined 7-21 in the Ivy League a year ago; they've already matched that win total in going 7-2 to start this season.

* the women's squash team did something this year that it didn't do last year when it won the national championship - it won the Ivy title. Not that it was easy. Princeton and Harvard, both unbeaten, squared off Sunday afternoon as a large crowd made the decision to stay indoors at Jadwin rather than take advantage of the nice Central Jersey weather. Princeton edged the Crismon 5-4, giving the Tigers five Ivy League titles.

* the men's squash team did something that had never happened before in the glorious history of the program. The 2009 Tigers swept Harvard 9-0 to win the league title for the fourth straight year, a first. Princeton now has 20 Ivy League championships. It was a dominating performance for a team that is squarely focused on the CSA national championship at Jadwin in two weeks, where a fourth-straight Princeton-Trinity final is a possibility.

* the women's swimming and diving team completed a perfect Ivy League regular season by defeating Columbia. It was the 23rd straight Ivy win for the Tigers (the league champion is crowned at the league championship meet). Perhaps lost in the result was that Princeton's Alicia Aemisegger broke the Columbia pool record for the 200 IM, a record formerly held by Cristina Teuscher, who won a bronze medal in that same event at the 2000 Olympics.

* the men's swimming and diving team stayed unbeaten with a win over Navy. As an aside, TigerBlog always finds it interesting when Princeton beats Navy in either swimming or crew.

* the women's hockey team gave head coach Jeff Kampersal his 200th win Friday night with a 3-1 win over Colgate and then rallied twice to come up with a tie against Cornell to stay tied for the fourth and final home spot in the upcoming ECAC playoffs. The last two weekends of the regular season will decide whether the Tigers are home or away.

* the winner of "Team of the Week" might just be the men's hockey team. Princeton defeated Colgate on Cam Ritchie's overtime goal Friday night, and that game was dull compared to what happened at Lynah Rink Saturday. Princeton had lost 1-0 to Cornell earlier this season at Baker Rink, and it was looking like it'd be another 1-0 Cornell win as Princeton pulled the goalie in the final minute. Princeton looked to have tied the game, only to have the referees rule that the puck had not crossed the line, but the Tigers came right back, tying it off the face-off with 36 seconds left to play. Then, when it looked like overtime was inevitable, Princeton scored again 18 seconds later to win it.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

The Amigos

Perhaps you've seen the movie "The Three Amigos." It came out in 1986 and starred Steve Martin, Chevy Chase and Martin Short. The plot, according to, was "Three unemployed actors accept an invitation to a Mexican village to replay their bandit fighter roles, unaware that it is the real thing."

Somehow, it got passed over during Oscars night.

Anyway, sometime after that movie was filmed, there were three baby boys born in three different continents. Mauricio Sanchez, Kimlee Wong and Hesham El Halaby grew up, respectively, in Mexico, Malaysia and Egypt. The odds of them meeting someday weren't great.

The odds of them forming the foundation of the greatest run in Princeton men's squash history weren't all that spectacular either.

Yet on Sunday, Feb. 8, they earned three of Princeton's nine wins in a sweep of Harvard to clinch the program's 15th Ivy title overall, the fourth in a row and the 20th straight Ivy League win overall. Princeton had never won four straight Ivy League titles before Sanchez, Wong and El Halaby, nicknamed "The Amigos" by head coach Bob Callahan, took their first classes on campus.

Princeton hasn't lost a title since.

Their incredible success probably hasn't garnered its just due for a handful of reasons. First of all, it is squash ... and as much as TigerBlog hates to admit it, college squash mania hasn't hit the nation yet. Timing didn't help; it's impossible to follow the greatest collegiate player of all time (and a virtual rock star on campus), Yasser El Halaby. And while Princeton has won four straight Ivy titles, it has also played in three straight national finals against Trinity, and it's 0-for-3.

All those are true, but none should tarnish the legacy of these three great players, as well as a number of talented current and former players who helped win one or several titles. The first goal for any team on campus is to win the Ivy League title. To do it four straight years is an incredible feat, which the field hockey team can attest to after winning its fourth straight title in the fall.

Winning a national title would be a wonderful ending, but Trinity isn't your average championship team. The Bantams haven't lost since the Clinton administration, and they'll bring a 198-match win streak to Jadwin next Saturday for a potential preview of the following Sunday's national final. The Amigos have come as close as anybody to breaking the streak; twice, they were part of 5-4 losses, and once all three pulled out wins in a national final.

But Trinity will be there for the next two weeks. For one night, it is proper to honor the Amigos and their historic run through the Ivy League over the last four years. It is a run of dominance that will be tough to match anytime soon, and it was led by three young men who have quietly added their championship touch to an already proud program.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Men's Basketball vs. Columbia

Final: Princeton 63, Columbia 35
Princeton allows the fewest points to an Ivy League opponent in 10 years, since giving up 33 to Yale in 1999.

3:58 2nd: Princeton 55, Columbia 28
Princeton is poised to be over .500 for the first time since Nov. 19, 2007. The Tigers were 2-1 at that point before struggling and have finally climbed out of the hole a six-game losing streak this season dug.

7:10 2nd: Princeton 47, Columbia 22
Last game against Cornell, Princeton held the Big Red to 41 points, the lowest for any Tiger opponent since Rice in January 2007 (28 points). Princeton looks to be headed to beating the Cornell total tonight.

11:31 2nd: Princeton 40, Columbia 19
The Tigers have a 21-point lead, and again they're doing it with no player with more than eight points. Similarly last night, Princeton ended with four players in double figures and none with more than 15. Douglas Davis, the leading scorer on the season, had just two points last night and has the same amount again. That bodes well for when Davis warms up again.

Halftime: Princeton 27, Columbia 11
The Tigers finished with 42.9% shooting for the half. They've been above 40% from the field for the game in five straight contests. Even after missing their first 13 shots, the Lions didn't warm up too much. Not including the slow start, Columbia is shooting 29%. With it, they're at 16.7%. Princeton is compounding that by winning on the glass, compensating for losing the turnover battle 9-6.

2:27 1st: Princeton 23, Columbia 11
No sign of a Tiger letdown yet. Columbia hasn't warmed up too much from its frigid start and neither have the Tigers, but the status quo has been good enough so far.

6:15 1st: Princeton 17, Columbia 9
Both teams have warmed up and Dan Mavraides has hit a couple of key threes to open Princeton's lead.

10:47 1st: Princeton 9, Columbia 2
Columbia breaks its drought on its 14th shot. The Princeton student section offers a Bronx cheer, but they shouldn't be too haughty. It's still only a seven-point game and very early.

11:54 1st: Princeton 9, Columbia 0
Patrick Saunders breaks a 4-minute scoring drought with two free throws. Still, the Tigers are shooting just 33.3%. Columbia is 0 for 13 from the field.

12:59 1st: Princeton 7, Columbia 0
Princeton is fortunate the Lions are still at 0% (0 for 12) from the field as the Tigers are shooting a relatively cold 33.3% (3 for 9).

14:00 1st: Princeton 7, Columbia 0
Princeton is winning the rebounding battle 9-6 and losing the turnover category 4-2, so how is it 7-0? Columbia has missed its first 11 field goal attempts.

15:30 1st: Princeton 7, Columbia 0
It's early, but the Tigers are looking great so far, up by a touchdown.

18:50 1st: Princeton 2, Columbia 0
Pawel Buczak has Princeton's first points a night after he matched his career high with 15.

20:00 1st:
Princeton will have the same starting lineup for the eighth straight game: Pawel Buczak, Dan Mavraides, Marcus Schroeder, Douglas Davis and Kareem Maddox. Let's hope the Tigers can build on last night's exciting win over Cornell.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Men's Basketball vs. Cornell

Final, Princeton 61, Cornell 41
It's been an impressive one for the Tigers, but there are 11 games to go. Still the Tigers can enjoy this one for a night until Columbia comes in tomorrow.

2:30 2nd, Princeton 53, Cornell 41
Pawel Buczak has matched his career high with 15 points, and Kareem Maddox has eight. That's his most since the Lehigh game on Jan. 7.

3:07 2nd, Princeton 51, Cornell 41
This one's not over yet. Three minutes and 10 points for a team like Cornell is far from impossible, but the Tigers have showed something holding the Big Red at bay so far this half.

3:35 2nd, Princeton 51, Cornell 37
This lead matches Princeton's largest at 14, and Dan Mavraides has joined Pawel Buczak in double-figures with 12 points. Louis Dale is the only Big Red with 10 or more, and he has 10.

6:52 2nd, Princeton 47, Cornell 37
Buczak leads the Tigers with 13 points, but Dan Mavraides has provided nine huge points to bolster his reigning Ivy Player of the Week status.

10:10 2nd, Princeton 39, Cornell 31
Three three-pointers for the 6-10 center Pawel Buczak? Believe it.

12:04 2nd, Princeton 34, Cornell 31
Meanwhile, the Tiger women are holding their lead in Ithaca, which now stands at 13 with 9:38 to go.

12:04 2nd, Princeton 34, Cornell 31
There's no doubt the Tigers want this one. Pawel Buczak dives for a loose ball at center court and calls timeout, avoiding giving the ball back to the Big Red via the possession arrow. The Tigers will have three timeouts the rest of the way.

12:49 2nd, Princeton 34, Cornell 31
Princeton has six fouls to Cornell's three as Nick Lake picks up his third. Lake and Finley (four) are the only players on either team with as many as three.

13:55 2nd, Princeton 34, Cornell 31
We have our first technical fouls of the season at Jadwin Gym, a double-technical on Princeton's Zach Finley, who now has four fouls, and Cornell's Geoff Reeves, who now has two fouls.

16:00 2nd, Princeton 32, Cornell 29
It's a three-point game now, and this stretch will be a huge test to see where the Tigers are. Will they turn back the Cornell run?

17:50 2nd, Princeton 32, Cornell 24
Dan Mavraides cans a three. Will it be a temporary stop to Cornell's run or the resumption of Princeton's first-half surge? Mavraides now has six points.

18:00 2nd, Princeton 29, Cornell 24
It hasn't started out well for the Tigers after the break. They've missed their first two shots and Cornell has made its first two.

Halftime, Princeton 29, Cornell 20
If you told most Tiger fans that Princeton would be up on Cornell by nine at the half, they'd take it, no questions asked. But Princeton's largest lead was 14, and a good team like Cornell is sure to have a second-half run in them. The Tigers are leading on the stat sheet as well, with rebounding (15-11) and turnovers (5-8) being particularly key. Princeton has 14 points off Cornell turnovers. Cornell has just one point off Tiger turnovers.

1:00 1st, Princeton 28, Cornell 17:
The Tigers have to be wary of a little Cornell run to end the first half. Cornell's Louis Dale converted an and-one opportunity and Princeton committed a turnover at the other end. The Tigers got the rebound, however, and are still up by 11.

2:02 1st, Princeton 25, Cornell 14:
No signs of letting up for the Tigers as Sydney Johnson calls a timeout.

3:11 1st, Princeton 22, Cornell 13:
While the Tiger men have expanded their lead, the Tiger women have seen some of their lead slip away in Ithaca. What was a 12-point lead is now four.

4:11 1st, Princeton 22, Cornell 13:
There's a buzz in Jadwin Gym as the Tigers are on a 6-0 run. That's big in a low-scoring game like this one where confidence can play a huge role. The Big Red have won 19 straight Ivy League games, of course, so it'll be interesting to see if the Tigers can keep their foot on the pedal.

6:07 1st, Princeton 16, Cornell 13:
Another three from Buczak for his first-ever game with two three-pointers, and Princeton's lead is three.

6:55 1st, Princeton 13, Cornell 11:
Remember that turnover stat? It's even at 4-4 now, and as a result, we're in a two-point game.

7:51 1st, Princeton 13, Cornell 8:
Nick Lake hits a long, long two to restore Princeton's five-point lead. He has one field goal in each of the three Ivy League games.

9:35 1st, Princeton 11, Cornell 8:
While we have a moment, TigerBlog would like to give a shoutout to Princeton ballboy Greg Price, who didn't miss a note in his saxaphone rendition of the national anthem. He's 11 years old, and he didn't even get rattled when Cornell fans yelled "RED!" during the "rockets' red glare" line. Good job, Greg.

11:24 1st, Princeton 11, Cornell 8:
We've reached the second timeout on the floor. Turnovers seem to be the key stat so far in a tight game, with Cornell committing four to Princeton's two.

13:00 1st, Princeton 9, Cornell 4:
Pawel Buczak hits his fifth three-pointer of the season (he's 5 for 14) to put the Tigers up five. Not a bad rate for a 6-10 center.

15:26 1st, Princeton 4, Cornell 4:
Princeton took a 4-0 lead on back-to-back baskets but have missed back-to-back shots as Cornell tied it up.

The matchup between the last two Ivy-undefeated teams is about to begin. It's the usual starting five for Princeton: Douglas Davis, Marcus Schroeder, Kareem Maddox, reigning Ivy League Player of the Week Dan Mavraides and Pawel Buczak.

Anyone Here Remember John Mack?

The picture is almost 10 years old now. It shows a track runner, ripped like no other, heading into the turn during a 400-meter run. He obviously has a huge lead already.

The picture is of John Mack, 10-time Heptagonal track champion and winner of the 2000 Roper Trophy as Princeton's top male senior athlete

Now, a decade later, he is an Associate Athletic Director at Northwestern University. His picture, though, still hangs in TigerBlog HQ.

For a few days last week, the picture wasn't in its usual spot on the wall. Instead, it sat on a desk, in fuller view of anyone who came in the door. Almost everyone who came in and saw it asked the same question: "Who is that guy?"

It's quite striking that TigerBlog should be in the minority of those who work here in the Department of Athletics who remember John Mack as an athlete. TigerBlog was further struck by what it says about college athletic departments in general.

Here at Princeton, there are many, many more new faces than there are veterans. It's the nature of the business. Most of the staff positions or assistant coaching positions are more for those starting out on their career journeys. They work here for a year, two years, three years - and then move on.

It speaks to the issues of institutional memory. Princeton is officially dedicating the game court in Jadwin Gym "Carril Court" in honor of the hall-of-fame basketball coach. TigerBlog has been struck that almost no one working on the event was here when Carril was.

Princeton is fortunate that it has as many people who have been here for as long as they have, even though that number isn't huge. These are people who have done a great deal for the University and the department through the years, largely behind the scenes. People like Karen Malec in event operations. Stephanie Sutton in the ticket office. Jeff Graydon in facilities. Nancy Donigan in awards. Carol Weston in support.

Phyllis Chase, the travel coordinator, is another. Each year Phyllis brings her camera to the holiday party and makes a collage of pictures, which she then hangs in her office. If you go back just a few years, you're immediately struck by how many of the people in the collage are no longer working here.

TigerBlog, one of the veterans, takes seriously the role of keeping the Princeton athletic legends alive, and not just externally. Those who are newer here need to know about those who came before them.

Even John Mack.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

The Big Red Machine

The Princeton men's basketball team hosts Cornell tomorrow night at 7. The Big Red come in having won 19 straight league games and looking to become the first Ivy team ever to sweep the Penn/Princeton trip in consecutive years.

Cornell is a very good team, obviously. The Big Red bring a nine-game winning streak into the game (Princeton has won five straight), during which the team is shooting 53% from the field at better than 47% from three-point range. For the year, Cornell averages 74 points per game.

It's a very balanced team, with a seven-foot inside presence in Jeff Foote, who has twice been the Ivy Player of the Week this year, complementing what TigerBlog believes is the two best players in the league in Louis Dale (14.8 ppg) and Ryan Wittman (18.7 ppg). Making it all go is Steve Donahue, a fine head coach who once had this exchange with TigerBlog after a game in Jadwin:

Donahue: "Is that your son?"
TigerBlog: "Yes."
Donahue: "It's great when they like sports."
TigerBlog: "My daughter isn't as into it. I'm taking her to see 'Disney Princesses On Ice' tomorrow."
Donahue: "I saw that in Syracuse. It was pretty good."

Princeton is catching Cornell at the right time, with its league home opener that follows a nice sweep at Dartmouth and Harvard last weekend. TigerBlog is looking forward to seeing how the Tigers fare against the league's prohibitive favorite.

At the same time, TigerBlog can't help but wonder how this Cornell team would have matched up against the best Ivy teams of the last 20 years. How would this Cornell team match up against, say, the Princeton teams of 1991, 1996-99 or 2004? How would Penn's teams of 1993-95, 1999 or 2000 have done against this Cornell team?

For that matter, how would those teams all have done against each other?

TigerBlog will take the Tiger teams from 1996-97 and 1997-98.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

It's The Pit

A look out the window from TigerBlog HQ shows a quick reminder that it snowed yesterday. This was the big, thick snow, the kind that gathers on branches and weighs the trees down. When the sun came out this morning, the result was a reminder that nature has its very heavy moments.

Unless you're a baseball or softball coach. In that case, all you have is a frozen field covered with about 3-4 inches of snow. In any event, it's unlikely that either Clarke Field (home of Princeton baseball) or 1895 Field (home of Princeton softball) is going to provide much of a practice facility for either team prior to Feb. 27, when the baseball team opens at UNC Greensboro and the softball team opens at Chattanooga.

So where do you go? How about four floors below the main court at Jadwin Gym?

Down on E level sits "The Pit," which is beyond the indoor tennis courts. The Pit offers the baseball and softball teams batting cages, pitchers' mounds and most importantly a full-sized infield. It's not quite like being outside, but it does offer the opportunity for indoor intra-squad games and for pitchers and hitters to get in the preseason work they need.

Still, this figures to be another year when the first time the teams are on a real field will be warmups before the first game.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Great Expectations

This was an actual conversation from yesterday:

Old alum: "What's up with the hockey team? They're struggling."
TigerBlog: "You mean the 15-6 hockey team?"

It's amazing how some success can change expectations. Princeton's men's hockey team is five seasons removed from a 5-24-2 season and three years away from 10-18-3. A year ago, when Princeton won the ECAC tournament and advanced to the NCAA tournament, the Tigers were 12-9 after 21 games.

This Princeton team has also had to deal with a stretch where it played no games in 20 days, six games in 13 days and then no games in 16 more days.

Now that exams are over, Princeton is heading to the heart of the schedule, with a run of five straight Friday/Saturday games prior to the ECAC tournament that began last week at Yale and Brown and continues with a huge trip this weekend to Colgate and Cornell.

Princeton is currently tied with Dartmouth for third in the ECAC with 18 points, three behind co-leaders Yale and Cornell. Every team in the league has played 14 games to date.

Behind Princeton and Dartmouth is Quinnipiac in fifth with 16 points. The top four teams get a bye in the ECAC first round.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Lucky 13

There are 13 teams in Division I men's basketball who are still undefeated in their league. Princeton, after its dramatic sweep at Dartmouth and Harvard, is one of them.

Cornell, which has won 19 straight Ivy League games and has defeated its four Ivy opponents by an average of 21 points per game this year, is one of the others. Princeton and Cornell meet Friday night at Jadwin Gym (7).

The only other leagues with two teams still unbeaten are the Big East, with Louisville and Marquette, and the Big 12, with Oklahoma and Kansas.

For those with short memories, Princeton won its first two league games a year ago as well, defeating the same two opponents (although at home) before winning just once more the rest of the year.

It's hard to imagine this year's team not improving on that mark. It starts with that fact that players like Pawel Buczak and Kareem Maddox are much improved over last year and that Marcus Schroeder has toughed out some difficult times to become a true leader. Then add in Douglas Davis, who showed again Saturday at Harvard how he can erupt quickly for points.

And then there's Dan Mavraides. A year ago, Mavraides had 11 points for the season. He's topped that figure four times on Princeton's current five-game winning streak, during which he's averaged 13.2 per game. That includes a three-point effort against Concordia, without which his average goes to 18.3.

Princeton will still be a big underdog to Cornell Friday night, but the turnaround of Tiger basketball appears to be heading in the right direction. And now there's more of a reason to come to Jadwin than just free cake.