Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Welcome To the Fun Part

Since the temperature around here has dipped into the 30s for the first time, TigerBlog might as well start today in Miami.

Specifically, he's talking about the game this past Sunday in South Florida between the Miami Dolphins and the Detroit Lions, a game that left him somewhat conflicted.

Jim Barlow, the head coach of the Princeton men's soccer team, is a huge Dolphins fan. John Mack, a member of the Old Guard and a track athlete from a long long time ago, is a huge Detroit Lions fan.

Okay, John isn't really a member of the Old Guard. TigerBlog just likes to tease him that he might as well be. John is actually from the Class of 2000, and he was a 10-time Heptagonal track and field champ and Roper Trophy winner.

As it turned out, the Lions won. It doesn't seem like that long ago that Detroit was getting run over by the Jets on opening night and then were 0-2 and 1-3. Now the Lions are 3-3 and seem to be pointed in the right direction.

On the other hand, it also doesn't seem like that long ago that Miami was 3-0 and playing at New England with a chance to go three games up on the then-1-2 Patriots. Now? New England is 5-2 and in first place. Miami is 4-3 and barely clinging to the race.

That's how it works in sports.

Barlow, who saw his beloved New York Mets struggle through the season, is due a good run by the Dolphins here. As for his own team, well, it doesn't seem that long ago that the Tigers started playing their season at all, and now here they are, with three regular season games to go.

It also doesn't seem too long ago that Princeton was down 2-0 to Dartmouth in its Ivy League opener.

Going back further, Princeton was 1-3 to start the year before going 3-1 in its final four games before the Ivy season started. Then, back on Sept. 29, Princeton fell behind Dartmouth by that 2-0 score before rallying to tie that one 2-2.

It was a huge moment for the team.

Since then? Princeton is 4-0-1, which includes three straight Ivy wins. Now, with three weeks left in the race, Princeton is the only unbeaten team in the Ivy League.

Not that it's time to celebrate a championship or anything. No, there's a long way to go before that can happen - and as Barlow knows, things can change quickly.

Princeton is 3-0-1 in the league, followed by Cornell and Columbia at 3-1-0. Princeton has already beaten Columbia, and next up is a trip to Ithaca to take on the Big Red. Columbia and Cornell meet in the final game of the regular season.

The Tigers then finish the season at home against Penn and at Yale. There are too many possible combinations still with the number of games left, and clearly they're all huge.

That Princeton is in this position is directly related to its ability to win close games, something that all of its games this year have been, at least until this past Saturday, when Princeton defeated Harvard 3-0 on Sherrerd Field.

In that game, Kevin O'Toole continued his remarkable Ivy League run, scoring twice and assisting on the third goal. The performance earned him the league's Player of the Week award.

O'Toole, a sophomore, was injured for the beginning of the season, but he has come back to be a huge difference maker for Princeton. In fact, Princeton has scored seven goals in the Ivy season and O'Toole, a sophomore from Montclair, N.J., has either scored or assisted on five of them.

Princeton has been opportunistic all season. The Tigers also did exactly what is necessary in Ivy League soccer to be in the race - they got off to a good start, even if the very beginning of that start didn't quite appear to be promising, down 2-0.

Now Princeton is assured of playing meaningful games in November, which is the goal when the season starts.

Cornell is also a team on a roll, having won eight of nine, with the lone loss in that stretch against Yale two Saturdays ago. Cornell's schedule is also tough, with Dartmouth and Columbia still to go.

Princeton's 10 points are one better than Columbia and Cornell. Yale and Dartmouth, both 1-1-2, have five points each. It's not quite a three-team race, but the rest of the league is definitely chasing those three.

For Princeton it's a great position to be in, the chased that is.

Of Princeton's last 31 games dating to the start of last year, a total of 26 have been either one-goal games or ties. A game like last Saturday's 3-0 win is a total rarity for Princeton men's soccer.

A team gets toughened when it goes through that, when every game - and the entire season - can change quickly.

Princeton has three weeks left to have that pay off in a big way. It won't be easy, but this team has earned the chance to try.

This is the fun part.

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