Thursday, November 29, 2018

Icy Forecast

The fall season for Princeton Athletics officially ended over the weekend, when the men's water polo team lost in overtime in the opening round of the NCAA tournament to George Washington.

Even though TigerBlog has mentioned this before, he'd like to once again quickly remind you of Princeton's athletic success from the fall season.

Excluding golf and tennis, who compete in the fall but have their championship seasons in the spring, Princeton has eight teams who play in the fall. Of those eight, five won league championships, two were runners-up and one was third.

Of the seven teams that could go on to compete in the NCAA postseason events for their sports, six made it - men's and women's cross country (both advanced as teams out of the regionals to get to the national finals), men's and women's soccer, field hockey (Final Four) and men's water polo. The one who didn't, women's volleyball, won the previous three league championships and was named as one of the first four teams out of the field, which would have been an unprecedented at-large bid for an Ivy League team.

And of course, the football team went 10-0.

TigerBlog's sense is that when the first Directors' Cup standings are announced, Princeton will be in the Top 10 nationally.

The Ivy League's unofficial all-sports points standings after the fall can be totaled now that all league play for the season is over. As a reminder, teams get eight points for first, seven points for second, on the way down, and if there is a tie, the team's split the points. For instance, Princeton and Penn were women's soccer co-champs, so both would bet 7.5 points.

Anyway, Princeton finished with 51.5 points, out of a possible total of 56. That's amazing. It's also 12.5 points better than the next-best total, put up by Dartmouth.

So yeah, the fall of 2018 for Princeton Athletics turned out to be extraordinary. At some point, TigerBlog will look up the last time an Ivy school went an entire season without having any teams finish lower than third place; his sense is it hasn't happened a lot.

And that's the fall.

The winter teams have all been competing for awhile, though none are obviously anywhere near the conclusion of their league seasons. In fact, most haven't even started competing against other league opponents.

One team that has is the women's hockey team, which has played six of its 22 ECAC regular season games and 10 of its 29 regular season games. It's not a tiny sample size, and it's enough of one to begin to think that this season could end up being a fairly special one for the Tigers.

Princeton actually gave notice on its opening weekend that it was for real, with two games at No. 1 Wisconsin that the Tigers lost 4-3 and 3-0. Yes they were losses, but Wisconsin had already played for three weeks before that, and competing on that level right out of the gate and giving, as Pete Carril always said, a good account of yourself is not easy.

Nothing that the Tigers have done since has made that trip seem like a fluke. In fact, you know what the Tigers haven't done since then? Lose. Princeton is 5-0-3 in its eight games since that trip.

Princeton has its home-and-home weekend with its travel partner Quinnipiac this weekend. Actually, the men's and women's teams both do, with the women on the ice at Hobey Baker Rink tomorrow night while the men are in Hamden and then a switch of locations for Saturday night.

Princeton is currently unbeaten in the ECAC at 4-0-2, alone in first place as the weekend approaches. St. Lawrence, at 4-0-0, has played two fewer games.

The Tigers are also the No. 10 team in Division I this week in the, which is 1) great and 2) fourth among ECAC teams. Princeton trails No. 3 Clarkson, No. 7 Cornell (whom the Tigers tied 2-2 in their most recent game, back on Nov. 17) and No. 9 St. Lawrence.

There are still four games to be played against Clarkson and St. Lawrence, and none of those are until February, first with two at Baker Rink Feb. 1 and 2 and then a regular-season ending trip to upstate New York three weeks later.

Princeton has gone from the bottom half of Division I in scoring offense last year to the top 20 percent this year, increasing its output by a full goal per game despite playing such a tough schedule. Princeton has two of the top 25 goal scorers in the country - Carly Bullock is third and Karlie Lund is 24th - and two of the top 26 in the country in assists - Sharon Frankel is 19th and Bullock is 26th. Bullock is seventh in points per game in Division I.

For all of that, what's most impressive is that Princeton has played the entire season to date without injured Steph Neatby, who as the starting goalie her first two years played more than 2,700 minutes. Each of her two replacements - Rachel McQuigge, a sophomore who had played one game last year, and Cassie Reale, a freshman - have both earned ECAC Goalie of the Week honors this season.

Princeton plays a Quinnipiac team this weekend that is 3-2-1 in the ultra-competitive league and who is always a tough opponent. The Tigers play only four games in December, with a trip next weekend to RPI and Union and non-league games at home against Merrimack (currently receiving votes in the poll) on Dec. 30 and Dec. 31.

Somewhat amazingly, the game tomorrow against Quinnipiac is Princeton's last home ECAC game until that Feb. 1-2 weekend against St. Lawrence and Clarkson. There will also be a non-league home game Jan. 29 against Penn State.

In other words, you don't have many chances coming up to see the Tigers at home.

With the way the women's hockey team has been playing, it's worth taking advantage of the opportunity while it presents itself. And admission is free. 

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