Monday, May 23, 2016

The Long Walk Up The Steps

TigerBlog is pretty sure that the last time he was at Brown Stadium was for the 2001 Princeton-Brown football game.
They haven't moved the stairs any closer to the press box in the last 15 years.

The Ivy League has eight football stadiums, obviously. There are long walks straight up to the press boxes in three of them - Harvard Stadium, Franklin Field and Brown Stadium.

TigerBlog has been to the other two a bunch of times, since they also host lacrosse in addition to football. Brown, though, plays its lacrosse games on Stevenson Field, which is with the rest of the athletic facilities, about a mile from the football stadium, which is tucked into a residential neighborhood.

Princeton defeated Brown 34-14 in the 2003 football game in Providence, but TB doesn't think he was there. He knows he was there two years earlier, when Brown beat Princeton 35-24, and going back before that, he was at every Princeton at Brown football game in the 1990s.

TB has always liked Brown Stadium, which is a nice place to see a game. It was built in 1925, and if TigerBlog isn't mistaken, it was the newest Ivy stadium until Princeton Stadium was built in 1997.

From 1990 through 2009, Princeton reached the NCAA men's lacrosse quarterfinals every year except for four - and went further most of the time. In fact, Princeton's record of success in that time is extraordinary.

Beginning in 1990, when Princeton made its first ever NCAA tournament appearance, the program won six NCAA championships, reached the championship game two other times, made 10 total Final Four appearances and had a run of 15 quarterfinals in 20 years.

It's one of the greatest runs any Ivy League team has ever had in any sport. It started with the legendary "dynasties are boring" quote as Princeton first started to crash the party with the sport's establishment, and it continued as Princeton became one of lacrosse's great dynasty.

Of the five times that Princeton did not reach the quarterfinals in that time, three of them came in years that Princeton Stadium was the predetermined site for the event. That was in 1999, 2005 and 2007.

TigerBlog knows full well how much effort goes into putting on the quarterfinals. It's fun too, especially if you're the kind of lacrosse fan that TB is.

But it's a lot of work. And it's less fun when your team isn't in it.

When TigerBlog got an email from his friend and Brown colleague Chris Humm saying that he was looking for volunteers for the quarterfinals at Brown Stadium, TigerBlog responded saying he was in. No problem.

And so there he was Saturday, in Providence, back at Brown Stadium, for the doubleheader. And there he was, making the walk up the stairs to the press box, for the first time in 15 years.

Patrick Stevens, one of the top lacrosse writers in the country, tweeted that he had gone downstairs and come back up, this time "without a sherpa." Now that's funny.

The first game was between Syracuse and Maryland. TigerBlog thought Syracuse would win the game, largely because of the edge the Orange had in face-offs and because of how well the SU goalie had been playing since becoming the starter.

As it turned out, Maryland didn't care about either of those things. The Terps, the top seed, rolled past Syracuse 13-7. TigerBlog wasn't all wrong: SU's Ben Williams won 15 of 24 face-offs in the game. It's just that Maryland got better goalie play and, in the most simplistic analysis that TB can offer, was just better.

The second game matched Brown and Navy. This was an already intriguing matchup made even more so with the absence of the Bears' - and college lacrosse's - best player, Dylan Molloy, who injured his foot late in Brown's opening round win over Johns Hopkins.

Navy got an epic performance from goalie John Connors, who made 21 saves, many of them ridiculous, to keep his team in the game. In the end, face-offs meant way more in this one than they did in the first game, as the Bears' Will Gural won 18 of 24.

More than that, he won the face-off each of the times in the second half after a Navy goal cut the lead to one, at 8-7, 9-8, 10-9 and finally 11-10. Each of the first three times, Brown scored on that possession, and Navy would never get possession in the box again after the fourth.

Molloy's status for the Final Four is uncertain. With a healthy Molloy, TigerBlog doesn't see a team that can beat Brown, not even Maryland. Even if he can play, though, Molloy won't be 100 percent. What percentage of Molloy there is, if any, will go a long way to determining who the champion is.

The matchups in Philadelphia this coming weekend will be North Carolina vs. Loyola in one semifinal and Brown vs. Maryland in the other.

TigerBlog's pre-tournament Final Four was Syracuse (wrong), Denver (wrong), North Carolina (right) and Brown (right). 

Princeton has won its six NCAA championships. Cornell has won three, all in the 1970s. No Ivy team has won one since Princeton in 2001.

Brown has been to the Final Four before, back in 1994. Its opponent? Princeton, who knocked the Bears off 10-7.

That was on the way to NCAA title No. 2 for the Tigers. There would be four more to come during that dynasty.

As someone who was there for all of it, TigerBlog can tell you that it wasn't boring in any way.

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