Thursday, April 14, 2016

All Grown Up

Because you've read every entry TigerBlog has written going back a ways now, then surely you remember the subject from July 27, 2011.

You don't? You can read it HERE.

TigerBlog can summarize it if you don't actually want to click on the link. It's a story about a nine-year-old boy named William and his hero Jack, age 14 or 15. Jack is a lacrosse teammate of William's older brother - and of TigerBlog Jr.

Jack would enter high school a little more than a month after TigerBlog wrote about them. Now it's nearly five years later.

William is the one about to enter high school. Jack is in college, at Dartmouth to be exact.

It doesn't seem that long ago to TigerBlog that Jack and TBJ were in eighth grade. Or even fifth grade. Freshmen in college? Where did the time go?

It's been an interesting spring for TigerBlog. His son is playing lacrosse in college, and many of his former club teammates have been playing against him or against Princeton.

Game after game, TigerBlog has been seeing the kids, er, men, he first met nearly a decade ago, when they were new to playing the sport. At the time, TB figured if one of them made it to play in college that would be a lot.

That's the conversation he had Tuesday on Sherrerd Field, about 90 minutes before face-off of Princeton-Lehigh, with Zach Drake, a Mountain Hawk freshman. It was Zach's father Jim who first introduced TigerBlog Jr. to the club team - it was called "Twist" - he would be part of for seven summers and from which TBJ has taken memories that will make him smile for the rest of his life.

Zach - who hurt his knee in the preseason and is redshirting after surgery -  shared TB's basic opinion that he never imagined how many of those kids would end up playing. He, like TigerBlog, figured that they were far down the lacrosse food chain, never realizing that the area in which they were playing, outside of Philadelphia, was actually one of the most fertile lacrosse breeding grounds in the country.

In a group that was super-serious about lacrosse, Zach was one of the ones who kept everyone loose. Obviously a great player if he was recruited by Lehigh, Zach never seemed to be taking anything all that seriously, even though he really was. He played hard and well, but he did so with a smile at all times. TigerBlog was always amazed at how Zach could contribute all he could on the field during a game while carrying on a running conversation with the parents on the sideline. Not a taunting, check-me-out conversation. More just a running commentary about how the game was going.

Together TB and Zach ran down the list of guys that had played together back when TB wrote about Jack Auteri back in 2011 and earlier and how they were doing now. Grant Ament, who is Penn State's leading scorer. Drew Schantz, who has already established himself as one of the top shortstick D middies in the country as a Notre Dame freshman.

Mike Eveland, a defenseman at Robert Morris. Michael Major, an attackman at St. Joe's. TBJ, of course, a goalie at Sacred Heart. Jake Henze, a middie at Monmouth. Matthew Anderson, a defenseman at Chestnut Hill. Matt Vetter, a middie at Tampa. On and on the list goes.

A game earlier, when Stony Brook was at Princeton, TigerBlog talked to Connor Howell, a Seawolves attackman and the player who had led the club team in career scoring during their summers together. It was good to see him.

How is it going, TigerBlog asks. How did you do in school? What's the lacrosse future? How do you like the team?

He'll have the same conversation with Jack Auteri Saturday, when he and his Dartmouth teammates are here. Jack is sort of like Zach (they won a Pennsylvania state title together at La Salle High in 2013) in that he plays super hard with a super laid-back personality. Jack, a face-off man, was Twist's unofficial captain and leader.

And now he'll be the latest to come and play against Princeton. As it was with Connor and Zach and everyone else TB has crossed paths with this spring, it'll be great to see him.

Princeton doesn't have any Twist kids, though it does have players who played against Twist in summer club events through the years. The game against Dartmouth, in addition to providing TigeBlog with the opportunity to see an old friend, is a huge one for both teams, one of whom will come out of it with its first Ivy win.

The Tigers are coming off a 13-6 win over Zach's team. Princeton's game against Dartmouth is the first of three straight Ivy games to end the regular season.

The goal for Princeton in 2016 is the same as it's always been: reach the Ivy League tournament. It won't be easy, but it is still achievable.

Princeton has played a brutal schedule in 2016, and in fact NJIT in the opener and Lehigh Tuesday night are the only teams Princeton has played this year who haven't been ranked - and Lehigh has been receiving votes for much of the year. 

The Tigers are an optimistic group heading into the stretch drive. Perhaps it's fueled by the fact that some subtle changes have given Princeton a more stable lineup and allowed a few players to start to emerge as stars.

One of them is sophomore Austin Sims, who since he has focused on playing more on offense than two-ways has scored 15 goals in five games, with five straight multi-goal games, something only three other Princeton players have done in the last six years.

Another is freshman Mike Morean, whose emergence as a shortstick D middie has enabled players like Sims to concentrate on offense. Morean, from Colorado, has great speed and tenacity, with a nose for causing turnovers and picking up ground balls.

Zach Currier continues to amaze with his all-around game, one that makes you forget that in addition to everything else he does, he's also second on the team in scoring. Gavin McBride continues to be a very reliable scorer who can play either attack or midfield.

And then there's Ryan Ambler. By the time the year is over, Ambler - who played against TBJ in high school - will be in the top 10 in scoring at Princeton and the top six or seven in assists. He's also one of five players in program history with more than 70 career goals and 80 career assists - the other four are Kevin Lowe, Jon Hess, Tom Schreiber and Dave Heubeck.

Yes, it's been a difficult season for Princeton lacrosse. No, it's ultimate goals are not out of reach.

Three Saturdays. Three Ivy League games.

First, of course, it'll be time to say hello to the latest kid who is now all grown up. He'll be wearing No. 29 for Dartmouth.

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