Friday, May 6, 2016

Lax Thoughts

TigerBlog ran into Matt O'Connor of the men's lacrosse team the other day.

O'Connor was a few days removed from the last game of his Princeton men's lacrosse career. To say it had gone well for him would be an understatement.

O'Connor, a senior goalie, came in at halftime of Princeton's game against Cornell last Saturday and put up the best performance of his career, making 11 saves while allowing two goals as Princeton won 7-6.

It was the last game of the season for the Tigers, who did not reach the Ivy League tournament. At the start of each season, reaching the Ivy tournament is probably the first of several goals.

On the other hand, because Princeton was not going to be in the Ivy tournament, it did make last Saturday's game against Cornell as a pretty good way to go out. Most teams do not win their last game - Princeton did.

And they did so dramatically.

It was senior day, and it was a senior who scored the game-winner, when Ryan Ambler scored his 76th and final goal with four minutes to go. And it was O'Connor, who had started 16 games as a freshman and sophomore, who made it stand up, with five third-quarter saves and then six more fourth-quarter saves.

When it ended, O'Connor lifted his arms over his head in celebration. It made for a great moment.

And a great picture.

Before turning the page on the 2016 Princeton men's lacrosse season, TigerBlog wants to mention a few things.

First, there's Gavin McBride. The junior didn't earn any All-Ivy League recognition after leading the Tigers with 26 goals. Only six players in the league scored more than he did, and all six of them were on one of the all-league teams.

McBride finished the season with at least three goals in five straight games. It's the longest streak at Princeton since Sean Hartofilis did it six straight times in 2001.

You know who else in the Ivy League this year has at least three goals in five straight games? Nobody. Not Dylan Molloy. Not Ben Reeves. Nobody.

McBride has established himself as one of the best - and clearly most consistent - scorers Princeton has had in the last decade or so. He isn't flashy or showy, but he gets open and he finishes.

McBride went from no goals as a freshman to 24 last year, which are the most by any Princeton player as a sophomore who did not have any as a freshman. Austin Sims almost caught McBride this year, finishing with 23 of his own to earn second-team All-Ivy honors.

Sims will spend his summer with the U.S. national U-19 team at the World Championships in British Columbia. That experience will only make him better for his last two seasons - and he already has All-America level talent.

Zach Currier was a first-team All-Ivy selection. The junior will be back next year for one more year of doing what it is he does - which is namely everything. There can't be too many midfielders, if any, who have played more minutes than Currier this year, who faces off, plays on the wings on face-offs when he doesn't, plays in the first and second offensive midfields and often finds himself on the defense end of the field.

Currier put up 31 points this year with 14 goals and 17 assists. He also ranks 10th in the country in ground balls per game; none of the players ranked ahead of him had more than 13 points and only two of those nine reached 10.

When Tom Schreiber played at Princeton, there was a level of excitement every time he touched the ball, because you never knew what he would do next. In Currier's case, that excitement comes when either the ball is loose.

Lastly, TigerBlog wants to say something about Ambler.

The first time TigerBlog saw Ambler play was against TigerBlog Jr., when Ambler was a senior in high school and TBJ was a freshman. TigerBlog introduced himself after the game and explained that he'd be seeing Ambler play a lot in college.

From that day, TigerBlog was impressed with his maturity. Ambler's, not TigerBlog's.

Ambler finished his career 10th all-time at Princeton with 168 points (76G, 92A), and his assist total is seventh-best in program history. Only Ambler, Schreiber, Jon Hess and Dave Heubeck have more than 75 career goals and 90 career assists.

Ambler was a total workhorse in his time at Princeton, and he was the foundation of some really good offenses. He played hard all the time and made the players around him better, which is the best thing you can say about someone who plays attack.

So that's the men's season.

The women's season is still going strong.

Princeton opens the Ivy League tournament against Cornell this afternoon at 4 at Penn's Franklin Field. The host Quakers take on Harvard in the second game.

The championship game is Sunday at 11 a.m.

To the winner goes an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. To at least one and probably two of the others will go an at-large bid.

It's hard to imagine that Princeton and Penn aren't complete locks for the NCAA tournament. Cornell is probably in as well, though if Harvard should win the tournament, it would change things a bit.

Princeton or Penn, in fact, will be in the conversation to host the first two rounds by winning the tournament. Princeton won the Ivy tournament a year ago and has won three straight Ivy League championships.

Princeton is led by goalie Ellie DeGarmo, who was the unanimous Ivy League Defensive Player of the Year. She's also a Tewaaraton Trophy nominee, of which there are 25. A team that is hoping to make a nice postseason run could do worse than be led by such a goalie.

Olive Hompe, like DeGarmo, was a unanimous first-team All-Ivy selection. Also like DeGarmo, Hompe is one of the 25 nominees for the Tewaaraton Trophy.

Just a junior, Hompe has already vaulted past 100 career goals. She has 41 this year, along with 11 assists.

Princeton's other first-team All-Ivy pick was Liz Bannantine, who earned All-Ivy honors for the fourth time, with two second-team and now two first-team selections.

Princeton and Penn are the only two schools ever to host the Ivy League women's tournament, now in its seventh year. Penn defeated Princeton in the regular season this year; Princeton beat Penn in the regular season last year and Harvard and Penn in the Ivy tournament before winning two NCAA tournament games.

The NCAA field will be announced Sunday. This weekend is a good prelude to next.

The Princeton women are still playing, and in many ways, the season is just starting for them.

The Princeton men are not still playing - but they did win their last game. Not too many teams will be able to say that. 

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