Monday, March 26, 2018

It Goes Without Saying

Princeton had two national champions this past weekend.

It goes without saying that any time TigerBlog can start out with that sentence, it's pretty good.

Actually, why is it that when people say "it goes without saying," they always say what they were going to say anyway. Shouldn't they just say "it goes without saying" if it doesn't need to be said?

Or is that a way of reinforcing something obvious? It goes without saying, but it's still going to get said anyway.

Anyway, TigerBlog will be the first to admit he knows very little about fencing. He does know that the Princeton fencing team is very close-knit and takes a great deal of pride in the incredible success that the program has had under head coach Zoltan Dudas.

One of the things that TB likes most about Princeton Athletics is the way the men's and women's teams for any given sport are supportive of each other. TigerBlog can't count the number of times he's been at a big game for one team where the stands are filled with players from the other.

It's a little different with the fencing teams. The NCAA championships are a co-ed event, with scoring for women's and men's teams that factor into who wins one combined title, so the two are teammates more so than any other teams at Princeton.

TigerBlog has seen that closeness first-hand any time he's walked past the fencing room, on C level of Jadwin. The closeness of the two teams is just obvious.

It's even more obvious in any Ivy League or NCAA celebration picture that TB has seen. And there have been a lot of them.

Dudas has coached Princeton since the 2006-07 season. Between the two teams, he's produced 11 Ivy League championships, not to mention seven straight NCAA top four finishes before this season, as well as the 2013 NCAA championship.

He also had three individual weapon NCAA champions prior to this year - Jonathan Yergler (epee in 2012), Eliza Stone (saber in 2013) and Anna Van Brummen (epee last year).

That number nearly doubled this weekend this past weekend, when Maia Chamberlain won the saber and Kasia Nixon won the epee. Both are sophomores.

HERE'S much more information on their championships, including two great celebration pictures.

Not that you can tell by the weather, but the winter at Princeton is now over. At least in athletics.

It ended this weekend, with the two NCAA championship that Chamberlain and Nixon won. And with the men's hockey team's appearance in the NCAA tournament.

When TB watched the selection show a week ago, a lot was made of the fact that a four seed had beaten a one seed each of the last seven years. Princeton was a four seed, one that a lot of people thought would be able to extend that streak.

And why not?

Princeton came into the NCAA tournament on fire, having reeled off six wins in the ECAC tournament en route to the championship. Princeton needed the automatic bid to get to the NCAA tournament, so that pressure was on the Tigers for every game they played along the way.

The ECAC championship weekend was one of the most special in program history. Princeton had previously won the league title in 1998 an 2008, so, you know, it goes without saying that keeping alive that 10-year streak was a pretty cool statistical coincidence.

It also goes without saying that Princeton wanted to keep the ride going as long as possible. Perhaps it was a bad omen when two No. 4 seeds beat No. 1 seeds, as Air Force took out St. Cloud State and BU beat Cornell.

It wasn't to be for Princeton though. Ohio State won 4-2, as the Tigers broke up the shutout with two late goals.

You want to hear a great quote? Here's what Princeton coach Ron Fogarty had to say afterwards:

"Obviously the game didn't go our way," Fogarty said. "And the pain, the feelings are going to be temporary for guys, but the things that they did this season are going to be unforgettable for our fans, our alumni and for themselves. For these two seniors [David Hallisey and Matt Nelson] to have four wins and five wins [as freshmen and sophomores], a game under .500 [a year ago] and get to this stage and hoisting a trophy; not many teams get to do that. They've done something special. They don't have that feeling right now, but they'll soon look back at this game and realize to get here is very difficult and they did something spectacular for Princeton University."

That's pretty good.

Fogarty did a great thing late in the game, with his team behind 4-0. He put Ben Halford, a senior, in goal, replacing ECAC tournament MVP and freshman starter Ryan Ferland, and he left his other seniors on the ice. Hallisey and Nelson responded with goals.

The last thing Fogarty wants now is to be a once-every-10-year wonder, of course. The majority of his team comes back, including major pro prospects Max Veronneau, Ryan Kuffner and Josh Teves.

Princeton will go into next season even hungrier than this year. It's not easy to make a run like Princeton did. Once you get a taste of it, you want it more.

There will be no sneaking up on anyone anymore for Fogarty and his Tigers. They don't want to go back to hoping to get home ice for the first round every now and then. They want to be a factor year after year. Next year will be fascinating.

At the same time, no matter what, the 2017-18 season was extraordinary. Princeton went 12-3-1 down the stretch and played one very exciting game after another. They were confident. They were poised. They were talented.

They did things probably few people outside their locker room figured they could. What they accomplished together was incredible.

They should be extraordinarily proud of themselves.

Of course, that goes without saying ...

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