Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Going For 200

The official cereal of TigerBlog is Corn Flakes, which accounts for about 85% of the, oh, 10 million boxes of cereal TB has eaten in his life. Almost all of the rest has been Rice Krispies, though there have been brief flings with Golden Grahams, Frosted Cheerios, Apple Jacks and a few others.

As an aside, why do the cereal manufacturers insist on packaging their products inside plastic bags that cannot be opened without completely ripping apart the front, ensuring the cereal either falls into the bottom of the box or all over the counter when you try to pour it out?

Anyway, there was TB this morning, eating his Corn Flakes and reading the newspaper, when whose giant picture should be all over Page 1 of the sports section but Princeton High senior girls' soccer player Chantal Celestin?

Chantal is the older of Ron and Annette Celestin's two daughters, along with C.C., a freshman at Princeton High. Ron Celestin has been part of the women's soccer coaching staff at Princeton since 1995, Julie Shackford's first season as head coach.

Shackford has won 157 games at Princeton, more than any other men's or women's soccer coach in school history. Prior to that, she started the program at Carnegie Mellon and won 42 games there, giving her 199 for her career.

With one more victory, Shackford will become the 40th coach in Division I women's soccer history to reach the 200-victory mark for a career. Her winning percentage of .657 prior to this season ranked 34th all-time (TB didn't feel like adding up every active coach in the same general area as Shackford, so we'll go with the beginning of the season). The accomplishment is more impressive considering that at Carnegie Mellon her teams played only 15 games per year, and the 17 regular-season games Ivy schools play are also fewer than the rest of D-I.

Her first attempt at 200 wins comes Saturday afternoon at Brown. Milestones, by definition, usually fall fairly randomly in the history of an athlete or coach or team, and this time will be no different.

For Shackford, her biggest win is No. 157, the one that put Princeton into the 2004 NCAA Final Four. It is the only time an Ivy League team has reached the women's soccer Final Four and the only time any Ivy League team has reached the Final Four of a 64-team NCAA tournament, and it is the equal of any great athletic accomplishment at Princeton in the last 25 years or so.

Other big wins include 102 (first Ivy League title for the Tigers in 18 years), 116 (first NCAA win at Princeton for Shackford), 152 (2004 OT win over Harvard) and 195 (OT win over Penn for last year's Ivy title, the program's fifth in the last nine years).

They're all random numbers, but they were all huge wins, certainly bigger than No. 200 will be. Still, a milestone like the 200th win for a coach is as good a time as any to reflect on the coach and the program.

Princeton has had some great head coach-assistant coach combinations since TB has been around, combinations that were notable not only for their success but also for their ability to sustain it over many years. The two most notable, of course, were men's basketball with Pete Carril and Bill Carmody (17 year together) and Bill Tierney and David Metzbower in men's lacrosse (20 years together).

Now in its 15th season, the Shackford-Celestin combination is Princeton's second-longest current matchup of a head coach and an assistant coach (Bob Callahan and Neil Pomphrey in men's squash have been at it two more years). They were introduced at Ft. Dix, of all places, by current religion professor and Academic Athletic Fellow for the men's soccer team Jeff Stout, when Shackford was new to Princeton and recruiting at a tournament there and Celestin was working with his ODP team. Celestin, who had coached Princeton High to a state championship as its boys' coach, has been together with Shackford ever since.

As with any other head coach-assistant coach combination, their roles are much different, and it is Shackford (like Tierney, with whom she was very close) who has been the national Division I Coach of the Year, the one whose name appears in the NCAA record books, the one who talks to the media after the game, the one who speaks at the coaches' luncheons.

She is the first to credit her entire coaching staff for her success, including current assistants Scott Champ and Julio Vacacela and all of her former assistants. It's part of being a good head coach.

Still, there is a special closeness between Shackford and Celestin, forged over the years they've been together. They've seen each other through good times and bad, big wins and tough losses, deaths in the family, births of children and even the stroke that Celestin suffered two years ago.

Win No. 199 for Shackford came Monday night, when the Tigers defeated American 1-0 at Roberts Stadium. As is the case after most home games, Shackford's children Kayleigh, Keegan and Cameron hopped the fence to get onto the field, as did C.C. Celestin. For about the next half-hour, the three Shackford kids, all strong youth players, shot on C.C., who towered over them as the goalkeeper. Chantal stood off to the side and watched.

No. 200 will be a nice accomplishment, but ultimately it's just a number. Decades from now, when they look back on their time together, Shackford and Celestin will probably remember moments like after the game Monday night, when five kids who have literally grown up together as their parents rebuilt Princeton women's soccer and turned it into a national power played soccer on a practice field, a next generation united by their parents' unbreakable bond.


Anonymous said...

GOOD LUCK JULES! I was proud to have you as a teammate, thankful i have you as a friend, and honored to have you as a colleague...stats aside you have left your mark on so many!! Best wishes, Jill

Anonymous said...

Great story all the way around...reading your blog never ceases to capture my attention!

C.C. said...

love it