Monday, February 3, 2014

A League Touched By Tragedy

Back in October of 2012, Princeton had a Saturday where it beat Harvard in field hockey, football, men's soccer and women's soccer.

After that Princeton sweep, TigerBlog knew that there would be day when the other shoe would fall.

He cautioned about it, even citing one of his favorite movie moments ever, the one at the end of "Patton," when George C. Scott walks on a field in post-war Germany, chest stuck out, all while he voices the warning, that "all glory is fleeting."

The shoe dropped Friday, when Harvard paid Princeton back with a 4-0 night, with Crimson wins in men's and women's basketball and men's and women's hockey. 

The women's basketball race is a big mess right now, at least in the early going of the league season. After last weekend, there are five teams with one loss each - Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Penn and Cornell. Harvard plays Yale this weekend, while Princeton and Penn both play Cornell, so it'll all start to sort itself out.

It seemed like Harvard had made a big early statement Friday night at Jadwin, when it defeated Princeton 78-68, handing the Tigers their first home Ivy loss since 2009. Princeton, who hadn't played in three weeks for first semester exams, came out cold and fell behind by as many as 18 before cutting it to one. Harvard then made all the plays it needed down the stretch.

Then, 24 hours later, the race changed back. Penn, whom Princeton had beaten by 31, turned around and beat Harvard by 29, the final 68-39.

So now what?

Well, Princeton lost to Harvard in the first meeting between the teams last year and in 2011 and went 13-1 both times. On the other hand, both of those losses were in Cambridge, where Princeton will play Feb. 22.

By then, it doesn't figure to be a five-team race. Whoever is left then, TB will be surprised if the list doesn't include Harvard and Princeton, the four-time defending champ.

TB was at the two women's basketball games this weekend.

The game Saturday was against Dartmouth, and it began with a recognition after the starting lineups for Addie Micir, the 2011 Ivy League Player of the Year for Princeton who is now an assistant coach for the Big Green. It was a nice moment, as Micir had her Princeton uniform presented to her by Tiger head coach Courtney Banghart (herself a Dartmouth alum) and Ford Family Director of Athletics Gary Walters.

Princeton would win the game 76-53. Coming up this weekend is a trip to Columbia and Cornell, as the league gets into its full swing.

For any fans, the hope is to have more days like the one in 2012 than the one Friday night. For Princeton fans, there is the consolation of knowing that there have indeed been many more days of winning through the years.

This weekend in Ivy League athletics, though, was not about winning and losing.

It was about a tragedy.

Dartmouth cross country skier Torin Tucker, a junior from Idaho, passed away during a competition in Vermont.

TigerBlog heard about Tucker's death shortly before the women's basketball game against Dartmouth. He wondered if the Big Green players had heard the news, if Tucker had any friends on the women's basketball team.

When TB went to Dartmouth's website, he saw Tucker's picture. He's smiling and wearing his green Dartmouth skiing jacket.

It made TB think to when it was taken. There was a time for all of the skiers to get their pictures taken, and they all wore the green jacket. At least that's what TB assumes.

That's certainly how it works at Princeton. The athletes gather. They laugh. They talk about how their picture on the website is a big deal, "GPT" is what they all call it.

There's an innocence about such moments. They're brought there by being on the same team, and the growing team bond of that moment is calculable, as TB watches it from his office. It doesn't matter which team.

It doesn't matter what their record was the previous season or what it will be the coming season. For that moment, they're teammates, in the prime of their lives, with such glorious futures theirs for the taking.

The last thing that TB or anyone would even consider is that one of the faces in one of these pictures would have it all yanked away so quickly, so randomly. It makes the news that came out about Tucker Saturday so unfathomable, so unbelieveable.

TB can't even begin to imagine what his family is going through right now. What his teammates think. He's experienced the death of student-athletes here - mercifully it hasn't happened often - and it's just a numbing experience.

Ivy League athletics are ultra-competitive. That's the point of them.

Some weekends you win. Sometimes you lose.

Beyond the winning and losing, though, there is a respect for the competition. And a camaraderie that the late Dartmouth SID Kathy Slattery always described as "for the good of the clan."

And that's why this weekend for all of Ivy athletics was about Torin Tucker's tragic passing. It doesn't matter what sport you play, or for what school in the league you play it, or if your team was a winner or loser on the field this weekend.

This tragedy touches everyone in the Ivy League.

Some things are way bigger than the final score.

Along with all of Princeton, TigerBlog wishes the entire Dartmouth community and the Tucker family the best.

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