Monday, February 6, 2017

Milestones For Luis And Courtney

TigerBlog forgot to mention his Super Bowl prediction Friday, so he'll put it here instead.

New England 34, Atlanta 28 in overtime.

Hey, how about that? He hit it right on the nose.

Actually, his pregame prediction would have been 35-24 Atlanta, with the logic that it would be high-scoring and that Atlanta would win. That didn't turn out exactly right, though it seemed like it for awhile.

The Super Bowl was unquestionably a great game, no matter which team you wanted to see win. It was an epic comeback by New England, and Tom Brady was at his absolute most astonishing for the fourth quarter and overtime.

And after New England scored that touchdown late in the fourth, was there any doubt that the Pats would get the two-point conversion? At that point, Atlanta's only chance was to win the coin toss for the OT, since there was absolutely no way New England wasn't marching down the field for the winning TD if it got the ball first, which is exactly what happened.

As with any great comeback, the team that lost had to help it along, and Atlanta did just that, with some head-shaking calls when it could have put the game away. Still, sometimes you just have to shake your head and marvel at greatness, even if you'd never in a million years root for Brady or his coach.

As a result, Atlanta still hasn't won a Super Bowl. Still, to the fans of the Falcons, don't fret - there will always be more sunsets to watch and songs to sing.

TigerBlog asked his son for his pregame prediction, and his response was "any team but New England." Good answer. New England is hard to root for, after all.

The second-best game of the NFL season was the one that wasn't played, and that was the would-have-been AFC championship game between New England and Oakland, had Raider quarterback Derek Carr not broken his foot late in the season.

You know who would have really loved to see that game? Princeton water polo coach Luis Nicolao. Luis is, you guessed it, a Raiders fan.

Luis has been the men's and women's water polo coach at Princeton since 1998. That's a pretty busy schedule. Nearly 20 years of coaching two college teams, one season after another. That's recruiting two full teams as well, by the way.

The current women's season has just begun, and the Tigers have someone on their team who is as much a must-see athlete as there is in college sports right now. That's any sport. Any conference. Any level.

That person is, of course, Ashleigh Johnson, the Olympic gold medalist who is back in goal for the Tigers this spring. Princeton began its season Saturday, winning twice, and then added a third win yesterday.

The second win Saturday was win No. 800 for Nicolao, who now has 421 wins with the women and 380 with the men. That's a lot of wins, and not a lot of losses - his record between the two is now 801-302.

If you're a regular Princeton sports fan, you probably haven't been to too many water polo matches, though you probably rooted for Johnson big-time in the Olympics last summer. Because of that, you probably don't know much about Luis Nicolao, so TigerBlog will tell you.

One, Luis is a graduate of the Naval Academy. Two, he has a very low center of gravity literally and figuratively. He is a very, very strong man, someone who always has the best interests of his players, his program and Princeton Athletics in mind.

He's humble and dedicated, and he's pretty much universally liked at Princeton. He has coached a few hundred athletes here, and his alums are, like their former coach, extremely loyal. In short Luis is just a good guy, someone Princeton has been lucky to have as its water polo coach all these years.

He's a regular visitor in TB's office, and his visits are always welcome. They're a reminder of one of the very best things about working in Princeton Athletics, and that's being at a place where people like Luis Nicolao walk in, talk for a few minutes, share a few laughs and generally make the day a little better.

Luis now has 801 wins, or 600 more than Courtney Banghart, who also reached a major milestone this weekend (and who, by the way, is a fan of the Patriots and especially Brady).

It was a big weekend for the women's basketball team, who beat Dartmouth and Harvard to get over .500 in the Ivy League race and vault itself back into the thick of the race for the Ivy tournament. There was also a big alumni reunion Saturday night - this is another program that breeds loyalty.

In recent years, it's also breeded success. As in six NCAA tournament appearances in the last seven years, with five Ivy League championships mixed in, not to mention the first at-large bid in Ivy basketball history.

This run by Princeton has showcased that Courtney Banghart is one of the greatest coaches the Ivy League has ever seen. That's not just in basketball, by the way. She is one of those rare coaches who is a force, one who can transform a program not just through its on-court success but also for what it does to the profile of the sport itself.

TigerBlog has said this a million times, but it's worth repeating. Pre-Courtney? Women's basketball crowds were much smaller and had little appeal to men and boys. The last few years? The crowds are large, and the gender breakdown is probably close to 50-50.

Let TB focus on the on-court success for a moment though.

The win over Dartmouth was No. 200 for Banghart, who has spent her entire career at Princeton (though like Nicolao, she's had chances to move to other schools, only to turn them down to stay here). Courtney was already the all-time leader in wins by a Princeton women's basketball coach, having surpassed the old record of 163, set by Joan Kowalik.

So yes, No. 200 is a big milestone.

But how about a little bit more perspective? How about these two nuggets.

First, Courtney's record is now 201-82, which is a .710 winning percentage (Luis is at .726). On the other hand, Courtney was 16-37 before the Tigers won the final five games of her second season, after going 7-23 her first year (2007-08) and then 9-14 to start Year 2.

Since then, her record is 185-45, which means Banghart has won more than eight of every 10 games since the 2008-09 season reached its last five games. That's .804 to be exact.

The other nugget?

Here's the list of Princeton basketball coaches who have ever reached 200 wins:
1. Pete Carril (514)
2. Cappy Cappon (250)
3. Courtney Banghart (201)

That's it. And really, not much more needs to be said.

So congratulations to Luis Nicolao and Courtney Banghart. They're now 1,002-384.

That's a lot of winning for two coaches.

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