Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Off To Tallahassee

John Mack, the former Princeton men's track and field legend, sent TigerBlog an interesting text the other day.

What? The word "legend" is a little strong? Okay, how about the "very well-liked" John Mack? And he was a 10-time Heptagonal champion and 2000 Roper Trophy winner, so if he isn't quite a legend, he still had a great career here.

Mack also recently celebrated the birth of his third child, a daughter to go along with two sons.

Anyway, John is often texting TigerBlog interesting questions about games, players, coaches of years gone by. This past week, perhaps delirious from lack of sleep and mega-diaper changing, his thoughts turned to TigerBlog, and so he texted this: Who is the best athlete/player on an opposing team that you've seen at Princeton.

TigerBlog has seen a lot of great opponents. He came up with long, long, longtime NBA player Vince Carter, who in two games against Princeton for North Carolina was 11 for 13 from the field - with all 11 dunks.

It was Carter, TB believes, who finished the alley-oop from halftcourt from Shammond Williams that led Bill Raftery on ESPN2 to yelp "I don't think that's what Mr. Jadwin had in mind when he built his gymnasium."

There are plenty of other names TB could add to that list. Maybe he'll revisit this in the summer.

In the meantime, he can tell you the first opposing player whom he completely hated. That would be Ric Beardsley, from Syracuse's lacrosse team.

TigerBlog was new to lacrosse back then. Beardsley was a freshman at Syracuse in 1992, the first year Princeton won an NCAA championship. In Beardsley's four years at SU, Princeton won two NCAA titles (1992, 1994) and Syracuse won two (1993, 1995). In the two years that the Tigers didn't win, it was Beardsley and Syracuse who eliminated them.

Beardsley was a four-time All-America, including firs-team selections in 1994 and 1995. TigerBlog remembers him as brash, confident, cocky - and great. Really, really great. He was the one who personified the Syracuse lacrosse attitude of the time, and TB really hated him for it.

It was a respectful hate, though. Mostly, TB was awed by Beardsley and his on-field presence. He seemed to take over the entire field, as if everything that happened in the game had to get his approval first. As he thinks back, he can't remember any defenseman he's seen on any other opposing team who did that.

TigerBlog has never met Beardsley, but he assumes that Beardsley would be okay with his description of him.

TigerBlog watched a lot of lacrosse this past weekend, which is one of the best of the year, with eight first-round NCAA tournament games, four on Saturday and four on Sunday.

The last game of the opening weekend, like it always does, was the one at Syracuse (due to graduation, the Carrier Dome isn't available until Sunday night). This time, it was the Orange and Yale, and Syracuse would pull out a tough one over the Bulldogs 11-10.

And who was a part of the ESPNU broadcast? None other than Ric Beardsley.

And he was really good. He did a great job of explaining things and questioning decisions with just enough of his personality that it wasn't forced or contrived.

Actually, he broadcasts a lot like he played - some bravado, with a lot of substance behind it.

The Yale-Syracuse game was the last of the weekend. It ended at around 9:50, which left 10 minutes for the NCAA softball selection show.

Princeton earned its spot in the NCAA tournament by winning the Ivy League championship series two games to none over Harvard two weekends ago. It's the second straight year that Princeton has won the Ivy League championship and 19th time overall.

The reward is a 10th appearance in the NCAA tournament. In case you didn't realize it, Princeton has also made two appearances in the Women's College World Series, in 1995 and 1996.

As for 2017, Princeton knew it was in the tournament as it went to its banquet Sunday. The end of the banquet coincided with the selection show.

TigerBlog learned quickly that Minnesota, who is 54-3 and ranked third in the country, would not be a host. Instead, the Gophers were sent to the regional at Alabama, the 16th seed. Minnesota enters the NCAA tournament having won 25 straight games, and the team is 38-3 away from home.

Minnesota's RPI is 12, so TB isn't sure how the team didn't end up playing at home. He'll be rooting for the Gophers though.

The other thing about the NCAA tournament is that every team from the Southeastern Conference will be participating. That's 13 for 13. Of the 16 seeded teams, eight are from the SEC.

That's even better than football, where only 12 of the 14 teams made it to bowl games. It took TB about 10 minutes to figure out that Vanderbilt is the school without softball, leaving him to wonder why that is.

As for Princeton, the Tigers drew a trip to Tallahassee, where it will take on the fourth seed in the tournament, the host Florida State, in the first game Friday at 7 on ESPNU. The other two teams in the region are Jacksonville State and Georgia, and it's a double-elimination tournament.

Florida State will be hosting a regional for the fourth straight year, and the Seminoles also hosted the Super Regional a year ago (and in 2014). This also is the fourth straight season that FSU has won the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Clearly this will be a tough challenge for the Tigers. Only nine schools have reached at least the regional every year since 2000, and Florida State is one of them.

But hey, this is the reward for the season Princeton has had. And a chance to take its shot at one of the elites of college softball. And, unlike basketball or lacrosse or soccer or most sports, there will be at least two games in Florida for the Tigers.

So go Tigers.

And Gophers.

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