Thursday, November 8, 2018

The Changing Leaves

TigerBlog often rides his bike through Smoyer Park, a small park in Princeton that has soccer fields, baseball fields, a playground and a pavilion.

As you pedal through the park and then out the back, there's a small lake on your left, one that's framed with a bunch of trees. It's a very pretty spot.

When TB was there last week, literally 10 days ago, the trees had just started to change colors. When he was there this week, there was no green left, only a variety of autumnal colors that made it an ever prettier spot.

TigerBlog's thought? That was quick.

It's the same thought he has about crossover season. A few weeks ago, there was a hint that the leaves of the athletic schedule, as it were, had started to change.

At first it was just women's hockey. Now? It's everywhere, with pretty everyone, and it's making for an extraordinary few weeks around here.

If TB's math is good, then Princeton has 15 teams who will be competing this weekend. Or maybe 16. He's counted three times and keeps coming up with one or the other. The point is that it's very busy.

In truest crossover fashion, there are:
* four teams competing in NCAA events - field hockey at home, women's soccer at Texas Tech and both cross country teams at Penn State
* three teams playing for possible Ivy League championships as the regular season winds down - men's soccer and football at Yale, women's volleyball home against Harvard and Dartmouth
* two teams playing their season openers - men's basketball against DeSales tomorrow night on Carril Court, men's squash at Virginia Saturday
* three other teams who are competing at home for the first time this year - men's hockey against Union and RPI, men's and women's swimming hosting the Big Al Invitational

There are others who will play as well. The women's basketball team opened its season at Rider Tuesday night and now heads to George Washington Sunday afternoon. The men's and women's tennis teams are on the road. So too is the women's hockey team, with games at Syracuse Saturday and Sunday.

And, if TB is right this time, that adds up to 16 teams. And a few hundred athletes.

Princeton plays two home men's basketball games in November, the one tomorrow night and then the Wednesday before Thanksgiving against Fairleigh Dickinson. The Tigers are also at Lehigh a week from tomorrow and Monmouth the Saturday after Thanksgiving before ending the month at Maine.

There will be seven more games in December, including flights to Duke and Arizona State, St. John's in the Garden, George Washington and St. Joe's in Jadwin, Iona in Atlantic City and Lafayette on Lafayette's home court.

As for the women, it's an eight-game November, including two ranked opponents among the three opponents in Cancun during Thanksgiving weekend. The home opener against Seton Hall is this coming Wednesday, and that is the only November home date. December will bring Davidson, Quinnipiac and Marist to Jadwin.

In other words, basketball season will be very challenging very quickly for both teams.

Courtney Banghart talked about some of her team's early challenges, including playing without injured Ivy Player of the Year Bella Alarie for a time to start the year, and the opportunities that present themselves, in this week's episode of "The Court Report."

She also talked about the differences between being a first-year head coach 11 years ago and being a veteran coach now. You can hear it HERE.

Then there's the men's hockey team.

The Tigers are 1-1-1 on the young season, with an opening 4-2 loss at Penn State and then a road trip that resulted in a 7-1 win over Dartmouth and a 4-4 tie with Harvard. There are way worse starts a team could have.

Princeton is the defending ECAC champion (doesn't that sound good?) and the preseason pick for second in the league. The Tigers will sneak up on no one, which is fine, and there are already a lot of good signs for this team.

First, there's the 11-goal ECAC weekend, which, coupled with the two goals against Penn State, leaves Princeton second in Division I in scoring offense at 4.33 per game. Princeton, who also has the top power play in Division I to date, is known for its ability to score.

Second, there's the 1-2-3 punch of Ryan Kuffner (leading Division I in goals per game, as he did last year), Max Veronneau (second in Division I in assists per game) and Josh Teves (third in DI in assists per game).

The men's hockey team is a fun one to watch. The Tigers host Union tomorrow night, and if you recall, Princeton hadn't beaten Union since 2009 until the ECAC quarterfinal a year ago, when the Tigers swept the series in two straight.

The games this weekend are Princeton's only two at Baker Rink until December, as the Tigers play seven of their first nine away from home. After that, nine of the next 10 will be on home ice.

By then, all the leaves on the trees will have fallen. For this weekend, there's still some spectacular color to be seen, as well as a lot of Princeton Athletics.

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