Tuesday, April 30, 2019

After Perfection

TigerBlog has two pairs of black Princeton-issue sneakers that are not exactly identical, though they're very similar.

When he left for Cornell for lacrosse Friday, he put on one pair of them - or at least he thought he did. It wasn't until he got to the hotel in Ithaca that he realized that he'd actually taken the left sneaker of one pair and the right sneaker of the other pair.

TB isn't sure if the most amazing thing is that he did that in the first place or that nobody all weekend noticed. On the other hand, maybe people did notice but were just too polite to say anything.

It's not like he had one black sneaker and one orange or something ridiculous. But they did not match. He's not even sure how he did that. 

That was one fascinating thing about TB's weekend.

Another was the NFL draft.

TigerBlog was following the draft on an app that would denote the player selected and then immediately assign a letter grade from A to F for the pick. C'mon now. How in the world can anyone know who will succeed and who won't.

For all of the coverage of the draft and for everything that goes into the picks, the reality is that what, half of the first round picks will never become stars? And half of the third rounders will?

The Giants selection of Duke quarterback Daniel Jones with the sixth overall pick sums the whole thing up perfectly. Jones might be great. Jones might be a bust.

Nobody will know this for a few years though.

You can't judge a draft on the night of the draft. You have to wait to see how it plays out.

Yes, it's fun to mock players when they're picked. And fans get into it.

Still, none of it matters. Will Jones be better than the other quarterbacks who were picked later, especially Ohio State's Dwayne Haskins? Maybe. Maybe not. TB has no idea.

TB does know that Jones was originally going to come to Princeton before he changed his mind and went to Duke.

Now, imagine how this might have played out for the Tigers. Jones is the sixth pick in the NFL draft. But what if he had come to Princeton?

Well, the Tigers couldn't have been any better with him than they were without him. They were perfect without him this past year, going 10-0 and putting together the best offense in the history of the Ivy League - 47.0 points per game and eight games with at least 40.

And each of the last three years, a Princeton quarterback has won the Bushnell Cup as the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year, John Lovett in 2016 and 2018 and Chad Kanoff in between.

It's weird to think that way, but the No. 6 pick in the draft might not have helped Princeton.

As for Lovett, he signed a free agent contract with the Kansas City Chiefs. His teammate Stephen Carlson signed with the Cleveland Browns as a tight end; the Browns already have Princeton alum Seth DeValve on the team.

Carlson was a wide receiver at Princeton, but he has an NFL tight end's body and is at his best near the goal line. In fact, he is third all-time at Princeton with 16 TD receptions.

 He caught 51 passes for 683 yards and five touchdowns last year on the 10-0 team, and he is also eighth all-time in receiving yards with 1,632 and 10th in receptions with 125.

As for Lovett, he could be a real NFL gem if given the chance. TigerBlog was really impressed with how New Orleans used Taysom Hill a year ago, as a quarterback, runner, receiver and special teams player. Lovett can do all of those things.

TB doesn't think Lovett was ever on special teams, but he did everything else on that list. He's an incredible short yardage guy who can throw or catch a pass. To have that varied of a skillset is rare. TB knows that Kansas City has a lot of quarterbacks, but they didn't sign Lovett to be a classic QB. They don't exactly need one of them.

TB loves his chances.

If you've seen Lovett lately, you might have noticed that he certainly looks like an NFL player. As in he's gigantic.

Princeton was perfect a year ago. The reward for these two is what's coming after perfection.

Monday, April 29, 2019

And Women's Lacrosse Makes 10

Tess D'Orsi was flying down the left side. Elizabeth George was flying down the right side.

The Princeton women's lacrosse team was flying towards an Ivy League championship. Princeton was flying towards its 10th Ivy title - and 12th overall title - of the academic year.

A day in Ithaca that started out with snow showers and an excruciating loss for the Tiger men's lacrosse team didn't end too badly.

The Princeton women's lacrosse team defeated Cornell 18-15 to win its sixth straight Ivy League championship and earn the No. 1 seed in this weekend's Ivy League tournament. Of the 33 goals in the game, none was prettier than this one:
TigerBlog was in the press box at Schoellkopf Field watching both ends of the doubleheader. The goal that George scored seemed preordained as she sprinted down the field, even before D'Orsi got her the ball perfectly. And when Elizabeth George is coming at you full speed, you don't have much of a chance to do anything about it.

While that goal seemed inevitable, this sixth-straight championship did not.

Princeton won its Ivy opener back on March 2 over Columbia 19-1 and then jumped out to a 9-2 lead in 12 minutes against Brown in its second Ivy game three weeks later. From there, the wheels came off, Brown battled back and Princeton left Sherrerd Field shocked by a 12-11 defeat.

The road to an Ivy title at that point was going to be anything but smooth.

The good news for the Tigers was that they knew on that day that if they won their last five, they'd have that sixth straight championship. The bad news was that to do so, Princeton was going to have to win on the road at Dartmouth, at Penn, home against Harvard, at Yale and lastly at Cornell.

Given that Dartmouth and Penn are Top 20 teams and that Cornell is a fierce rival, this was not going to be easy. And it wasn't. Maybe that makes this one especially sweet.

In fact, Princeton would win all five of those games. Of those five wins, three would be by two goals and one would be by three. No, this wasn't easy.

Princeton first needed a great play by Kyla Sears on a loose ball and then feed to Kathryn Hallett for the late game-winner in a 14-12 win at Dartmouth. Then there was the matter of the three non-releaseable two-minute yellow cards in the final eight minutes, including two that overlapped, which led to the game-winning goal by George while the Tigers were still down a player in a 13-11 win.

Then it was 14-12 over Harvard. Then 19-4 over Yale. And finally Saturday, it was Cornell, and the need to win once again away. As it turned out, the need to win on the home field of the other three teams in the Ivy League tournament.

Princeton did so, running out to a nine-goal lead in the second half and then having to hold off a furious charge by the Big Red. When it was over, it was the sixth-straight title and 15th in program history, all led by head coach Chris Sailer.

Next up is the Ivy League tournament at Columbia, where Princeton will be matched again with Cornell, the fourth seed, Friday at 5, after Dartmouth and Penn play at 2.

For Princeton, it was also Ivy League championship No. 10 for the 2018-19 academic year. It's always a goal for the Tigers to reach double figures in an academic year, and now it's happened again.

It's also the 12th team championship, as two other Princeton teams who compete in non-Ivy leagues also won this year. For the complete list you have:
fall Ivy champs - football, men's cross country, men's soccer, women's soccer
winter Ivy champs - women's basketball, women's hockey, men's indoor track and field
spring (so far) - women's tennis, men's golf, women's lacrosse

There have also been championships for men's water polo and men's volleyball.

If you're looking for a really good measure of sustained athletic success, it's this: Princeton has now reached double figures in Ivy championships in 26 different academic years. Harvard has done it 10 times. No other Ivy team has ever done it.

Congratulations to all of Princeton's champions for this academic year.

And to the women's lacrosse team.

That one was not easy. 

Princeton has now reached double figures in

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Greatness Of Kevin Lowe

Records, as they say, are meant to be tied.

Or at least that's how it is with the record for points in a career for Princeton men's lacrosse.

Kevin Lowe started his career with a goal and two assists against Johns Hopkins in 1991 and ended it with an overtime goal to beat Virginia in the 1994 NCAA championship game. That last goal gave him 247 career points, and that number has spent 25 years as untouchable.

It's not that great players didn't take their best shot at it. Ryan Boyle came the closest, finishing with 232. There were four other players who reached 200 points, and that group is an extraordinary one - Jon Hess, Jesse Hubbard, Mike MacDonald and Tom Schreiber. None of them had more than 215, which means none of them came all that close to Lowe.

Now, though, that magic number of 247 has been equaled. It's not stunning - it's been obvious this would be happening for almost three years now.

With his 10 points against Harvard last weekend, Princeton junior Michael Sowers now has tied Lowe with 247 career points. With his next point, Sowers will be in sole possession of the record, and with every one after that, he will begin to put the record so far out of reach that it'll be similar to what Bill Bradley did in men's basketball back in 1965.

Just as in Bradley's case, nobody will ever approach what Sowers is doing.

The numbers that Sowers is putting up are insane. He has the highest points per game average in Division I in the last 38 years (and the fifth best ever), and when it comes to assists, his per game average is fourth all-time and the best in 35 years.

When it comes to single-season scoring at Princeton, he is first, second and third. That's also ridiculous.

It took Sowers 41 games to get to 247. It took Lowe 60. Of those 101 games the two have played between them, TigerBlog estimates he was at probably 85 of them.

He also estimates that only one person has been to more of those games than he has, and that's Bryce Chase, the longtime member of the program who has seen more Princeton men's lacrosse than anyone.

"The way I judge people in sports," Bryce says, "is how do they make the people around them better. Kevin Lowe was the best here at making people around him better. Well, Kevin and now Michael. Ryan Boyle is the smartest lacrosse player I've ever seen. Kevin and Michael are the best at making the people around them better."

TigerBlog has spent the last three years chronicling Sowers' achievements, and as such, he's also spent a lot of time writing about Lowe as well. As in, "Sowers is on pace to catch Lowe" or "Sowers is the fastest to 100 points since Lowe." That kind of stuff.

Now that Sowers has caught Lowe, TB wanted to make sure people don't forget how great a player Kevin Lowe was.

When TB and Bryce were talking about their memories of Lowe's playing days here, they both remembered the same play, where Lowe, falling out of bounds along the sidelines, threw a 25-or-so-yard pass for an assist. 

What else does TigerBlog remember about Kevin Lowe as a player, other than that he remains the only player ever to score an overtime game in the NCAA and Major League Lacrosse championship games?

First, he is the smoothest player TB has ever seen. There was never any wasted motion or effort ever. It's one of the first things TB noticed about him. Every movement was perfectly efficient.

Second, there was his vision. He could see everything. He was a high school quarterback (and safety) and point guard, and he could see everything.

TB remembers him clearly, his head up at all times, always feathering the right pass to the right player at the right moment.

In many ways, Lowe is a bit overlooked as a player, possibly because he wasn't the flashiest player ever.

"He could make it look effortless," Bryce says. "The game would end and you'd say 'well Kevin didn't have a great game.' Then you'd look and he had one and four."

TigerBlog called Lowe earlier this week to talk about how Sowers tied his record, what he thinks of Sowers, if he expected to have his record last as long as it did.

It's always good to talk to him. These days, he has three kids, the oldest of whom is a high school freshman and lacrosse player. Lowe has spent a great deal of time coaching his kids through the years.

"Sowers is a scoring machine," Lowe says. "It was pretty clear that he was going to get there. It was just a matter of when. I've seen him play live several times. He's quick. He's aggressive. He's bold. He's fun to watch."

The game was different when Lowe played. Princeton played a slower pace, and the Tigers often took three, four, five or more minutes off the clock on possessions when they had the lead in the fourth quarter.

"I can count the number of fast break goals I scored on one hand," Lowe said, laughing. "It's different now. It was a crawl to 10 goals back then. We'd get up and then we'd put the clamps on."

They're certainly different players. Lowe was 6-1, 180 as a player, which makes him about five inches taller than Sowers. Lowe wasn't as quick as Sowers, and he couldn't change direction like Sowers can (but then again, it's possible that nobody else who's ever played can do that).

They both, though, were pure quarterbacks of an offense. Get the ball to them, and good things are likely to happen.

As Bryce said, their ability to make everyone around them better is their most defining characteristic. That an extraordinary vision. They share both of those qualities.

For now, they also share a record. Sowers has a chance tomorrow to take sole possession of the record when the Tigers play at Cornell. They need a win by at least three goals to reach the Ivy League tournament, and well, you're probably bored of reading about the rest of the craziness surrounding the tiebreakers.

So for today, you can read about Kevin Lowe. For his part, Sowers says that he's met Kevin Lowe: "I spoke with him after the fall banquet and after a few games. He's a great guy. Unfortunately, I've never seen any video of him as a player."

There are probably a lot of people who haven't.

You can get a sense of some of how he played HERE. He's No. 16. 

It's been 25 years, after all, since Kevin Lowe set his record. It stood for quarter-century, and it took an extraordinary talent to catch it.

But that doesn't take away from how great a player Lowe was.

"Michael is an amazing player," Lowe said. "He's got a long way to go too. He's going to get well past 300 points. That's not a number a lot of guys will ever get."

TigerBlog was honored to have Lowe be such a huge part of his introduction to this sport all those years ago.

And it's because he saw him play so much that he can really appreciate what it is that Sowers has done.

TigerBlog has told everyone who would listen that Sowers was going to destroy the record. He also said it wasn't just anyone's record.

It was Kevin Lowe's.

There haven't been too many players anywhere who have ever been better than he was.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

A First Home Run And A Second NCAA

Well, that's what TigerBlog gets for not staying up until 2 am or so watching the Yankees-Angels game Tuesday night.

TB wrote about Mike Ford, the Princeton alum and 2013 Ivy League Pitcher and Player of the Year who is in the early stages of his Major League career, with the New York Yankees.

When TB wrote that entry, the Yankees had not yet started their game in Anaheim against the Angels, and Ford had one Major League hit. To that point, he'd been walked intentionally twice and had one hit, which TB presumes is a rarity.

Anyway, TB went to sleep without considering what might happen in the game in California. When he woke up, he saw that he'd missed quite a lot for Ford.

First, he hit a single. Then he followed that with another hit, giving him his first multi-hit game, and he did it in style, smashing a home run over the centerfield fence.

You can see the home run HERE. For those who think John Sterling's home run calls are cute and clever and creative (as opposed to tired and irritating), you can hear what he came up with for Ford.

If you watch the video, you'll see how Ford is trying to play it cool, even though you know he just wants to smile 10 times wider than he's permitting himself to in the moment. 

Congratulations to Mike Ford on his first Yankees home run. How many undrafted guys stick it out for seven years in the Minors before getting their first shot and end up homering?

It's a great story, one that TB would have included yesterday had he stayed up much, much later than he did.

As for today, the big story in Princeton Athletics is the men's volleyball team's NCAA tournament opener at Barton College in Wilson, N.C.

TigerBlog didn't know much about Barton, so he looked on their website to see what he could learn about the Bulldogs. For starters, he found out that Barton is a Division II program in most sports.

He also found out that like Princeton, Barton didn't lose any football games last season. For that matter, Barton hasn't lost in a long, long, long time.

In fact, the last time Barton lost a football game, Princeton's best player was named Dick Kazmaier. It turns out that Barton is reviving football after dropping the sport in 1950.

If the football team is anything like the men's volleyball team, it'll be competitive in no time. This is Year 8 of the men's volleyball program for Barton, and the team will be making its second NCAA appearance. 

Like Princeton, Barton advanced to the NCAA tournament by winning its conference championship in five, defeating King 17-15 in the final game to take the Conference Carolinas title. Barton and King have tied for the regular-season championship three straight years.

Barton, who is 25-4, has played two EIVA teams this year, losing to George Mason and defeating Harvard. The Bulldogs have a 12-man roster, and five of those players are from Europe - three from Greece, one each from Norway and Serbia.

Of those 12 players, by the way, 11 are between 6-3 and 6-8 and half are either 6-4 or 6-5. The 12th player is 5-8.

Exactly half of Princeton's 18-man roster is from California. There are also 14 players at least 6-4, including 6-11 George Huhmann, the EIVA Player of the Year and tournament MVP (he's from Missouri).

There are also two players from Puerto Rico and two Texans. The rest of the roster is one player each from Hawaii, Florida and Pennsylvania.

The winner of this match heads to Pepperdine Tuesday for the next round in the seven-team event. Hawaii, the top seed, and Long Beach State, the second seed, have byes into the semifinals. You can watch Princeton-Barton HERE, with a 7:30 start time.

The entire tournament takes little more than a week, with the national semifinals a week from today and then the final a week from Saturday.

Princeton, by the way, has moved into the national rankings at No. 13 after it dominated the EIVA this year. It's Princeton's first appearance in the rankings since 2015.

It's Princeton's second appearance in the NCAA tournament ever and first since 1998.

It happens tonight.

Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Once It's On The Resume

TigerBlog isn't quite sure what Ross Tucker's career goal was when he came to Princeton.

He doubts it's what it turned out to be - media megastar. If you follow the NFL or college football, then you've probably heard or seen Ross Tucker or TV or heard him on the radio.

Or maybe you're one of his Twitter followers. If not, you can follow him now, and if you time it right, you can be his 200,000th follower.

Now that he's wondering, TigerBlog looked it up. Ross was a politics major at Princeton, and he wrote his senior thesis on gender equity and Title IX. 

TB saw yesterday an announcement that Ross has been added to the Philadelphia Eagles preseason television broadcasts. He's already done a ton of NFL stuff on the radio, and he has a lot of experience broadcasting Ivy League football on television.

He's very good, very engaging. He analyzes the game really well, and he does so as if he's your friend from next door who invited you over to watch.

Maybe it's because TB has known him for a long time - does this count as name dropping? - but he feels like very few people on TV do a better job of letting their actual personality come out while they're broadcasting. He doesn't force anything. It's just a very natural presentation. 

Ross is a 2001 Princeton grad who was started out as a defensive lineman his freshman year and then became an offensive lineman his last three years. How good was he?

There's this from the release about his hire:
"Tucker enjoyed a seven-year NFL career as an offensive lineman."

When TB read that, it reminded him of a conversation he had with former Princeton men's basketball coach John Thompson III after he took Georgetown to the Final Four in 2007.

Once it's on the resume, TB told him, it stays there forever.

It's the same with Ross Tucker, NFL vet.

And it's the same with Mike Ford.

Perhaps you remember Ford from 2013, when he was both the Ivy League Player of the Year and Pitcher of the Year, making him the only Princeton player ever to achieve that double. He's also the only Ivy League player ever to win those two awards plus the Ivy Rookie of the Year Award, which he won in 2011.

It took Ford seven seasons in the minors before he got called up to the New York Yankees last week. He started the season at Triple-A Scranton-Wilkes Barre, where he had five home runs and 14 RBIs - as well as a .897 slugging percentage and a 1.364 OPS - in just 39 at-bats.

Those numbers got the Yankees' attention with all the injuries they've had.

Since then, he's had his first Major League hit - a double - and he's scored his first two Major League runs.

No matter what happens from here, he'll always know he's played in the Major Leagues. That's on the resume forever as well.

TigerBlog is, of course, struck by the fact that almost any Princeton alum in a professional sport automatically gets him rooting for that team, except Ford. It's still the Yankees, after all.

Meanwhile, the NHL playoffs continue along without the Detroit Red Wings, Vancouver Canucks and Ottawa Senators. As a result, the three Princeton seniors who made the NHL debuts this spring with those teams are back on campus, working on their theses and finishing their classes to graduate on time.

That part is as extraordinary as playing in the NHL.

Ryan Kuffner went from setting the program record for career goals to playing for the Red Wings. Josh Teves went straight to the Canucks.

Max Veronneau went on to the Senators, where he scored two goals and had two assists.

Now they're back at Princeton, back in classes and doing their independent research.

It has to be a fairly interesting perspective, going from playing your senior season to spending a few weeks traveling around on charter flights and staying in first class hotels while achieving what presumably is their lifelong dream and then coming back to being just another student at Princeton.

TigerBlog saw them at the men's lacrosse game against Siena, he thinks, when they came to see hockey teammate Luke Keenan make his lacrosse debut. They looked like any other college, students, which, of course, they are.

Again, though, no matter what happens, they'll always be NHL players. That'll be on their resumes forever.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

A Pressure-Filled PK And A Pressure-Filled Eagle

You think the 2019 Ivy League men's golf tournament was close?

The Northwestern women's golf team once finished tied for first at the Big Ten tournament three times in four years. At least that's what John Mack - you remember him as a 10-time Heps champ and Roper Trophy winner in 2000 - texted yesterday.

TigerBlog takes his word for it.

He's still fascinated that a three-round, five-player tournament can end up 875-876, the way the league men's tournament did Sunday, when Princeton edged Columbia for the title.

TigerBlog didn't watch any of The Masters - and he can't remember if he ever heard who won, because it didn't seem to get much coverage - but his sense is that the golfers in a tournament like that know exactly where they stand at any given moment. In the Ivy League tournament, it's not as easy to keep track of where the leaderboard is as it evolves TB presumes.

In fact, he remembers the only time he ever covered the Mercer County high school boys' golf tournament, back in his early newspaper days, and one golfer holed out from the fairway on the 18th to win - only he had no idea until about an hour later that he'd won, because nobody had totaled scores yet.

Whether or not the golfers were tracking the live stats over the weekend, they knew they were in a close match. And they had to know every shot mattered. 

There were a total of five eagles in the entire three rounds of the tournament. The last one came from Princeton's Jack Roberts, who finished at plus-14, tying him for 26th.

He also had the biggest shot of the tournament, with his eagle on the par-5 17th Sunday. If that's just a birdie, there's a playoff.

Speaking of Jack Roberts, he's now a two-time Ivy League champion this academic year. Roberts is also a member of the men's soccer team, and he was one of the Tigers who made a penalty kick in that epic 14-rounds of PKs in the NCAA tournament loss to Michigan.

That's a pretty amazing double. A pressure-filled PK and a pressure-filled eagle.

As for the rest of it, TigerBlog emailed Will Green, the men's golf coach, with three questions:
1) did you know stroke-by-stroke how close it was?
2) what was the shot that Roberts eagled on 17?
3) did you know you’d won as soon as the last group left the course or was there a delay while they counted the scores?

He'll let Will have the last word for today:

1) I knew as soon as Columbia posted their score that it was going to be really close, but also knew we had the par-5 17th to help us. I wasn’t sure where Yale stood, but had been getting hole-by-hole updates from parents, so I thought we were ahead. Then Yale’s Zinsner birdied 18 and Yale’s Nicholas birdied 17, so I couldn’t be sure any longer. It wasn’t until Sam Clayman (playing in the next to last group) got up-and-down on 18 that I knew we had Columbia beaten, and was kind of sure we had Yale beaten too. Had to get confirmation about where Nicholas stood (playing in the last group) before I could be sure. So, it literally came down to the last group. 

2) Jack Roberts birdied 16, which is a really tough par-4, to get to 3-over. At that point, I think our five players were E, +2, +2, +3 and +3. Jack fanned his drive into the right trees (for the third day in a row), so I went down to help talk him through his shot. He had two choices: chip out sideways and try to hit a long iron close, or gamble and try to hit a shot through some small branches in front of him. He was going to have to go under one big limb right in front of him, and then over a tree about 20 yards away. He had 220 yards to the green. He asked me what I thought, and I said that the rest of the team was either right where he was or a little better, so we could take our chances and hope we get lucky, knowing the rest of the team was going to finish strong. Jack pulls 8-iron, thinking he could get the trajectory he wanted so that even if it hit some limbs, they would be small enough that the ball would advance up close to the green and he could just try to get up and down for birdie.

He made an abbreviated swing and follow through, and the ball somehow found its way under the first tree and through the second without touching a thing. From there, it was just a question of how close he could get it to the green. Again, he was 220 yards away. That’s usually a 3- or 4-iron for most people. He hit 8-iron, and somehow it made its way all the way to the green, about 20 feet away from the hole. One of the most incredible shots I’ve ever seen. And, to have the composure to then bury the putt for eagle? So clutch! When the putt fell, Jack let out a “let’s go!!!!” that I’m sure the rest of the team could here.

3) We knew when Sam made his par at 18 that we had beaten Columbia, and we knew that Max Ting’s score wasn’t going to matter. Just needed to know where James Nicholas stood. When we got confirmation that he was 1-over on the 18th tee, we knew we had it won, so we didn’t have to wait.

Monday, April 22, 2019

A Banner Weekend

TigerBlog stood behind the volleyball court at Dillon Gym Saturday night on the side closest to the front door.

At one point he glanced over his shoulder, saw the orange and black signs hanging from the railing and heard the words of women's basketball coach Courtney Banghart in his head: the goal is always to hang a banner.

If you go into Dillon today, you'll see that the banner labeled "EIVA Champions" still lists just one year, "1998." So does the NCAA tournament banner.

They'll both need to be updated.

The men's volleyball team thrilled a packed house Saturday night, outlasting Penn State in the EIVA tournament championship in five sets, taking the final one 15-13. The Tigers dominated the league from start (they were the preseason favorite) to finish (regular-season champs by three games and tournament sweep), winning the second title in program history and advancing to the second NCAA tournament in program history.

It was a banner weekend for more than men's volleyball at Princeton. The Tigers also won Ivy League championships in two other sports, closing out a second-straight perfect women's tennis season with a 4-0 win over Yale and taking the Ivy men's golf tournament by a single stroke over Columbia.

TB will start with men's volleyball.

It gets warm in Dillon when it's filled, and it was hot Thursday night for the semifinals and then Saturday for the championship match, as Princeton and Penn State battled back and forth for nearly three hours before the Tigers closed it out.

Oh, and not only does it get warm. It gets really, really loud there too.

The energy level built at the same pace as the drama, and it was tense and hopping as the fifth game rolled around. Princeton played from ahead all night, winning Sets 1 and 3 and then being in control of the fifth set.

At the same time, it never really got anything close to comfortable, right up to the end, when Princeton took the point that would be the difference between a championship or what essentially would be overtime.

George Huhmann, the 6-11 junior, added tournament MVP to his EIVA Player of the Year award.

The prize for the win is an NCAA tournament spot, and the selections that were announced yesterday afternoon will see Princeton head to North Carolina to take on Barton College Thursday. The winner of that one will then go across the country to Pepperdine a week from Tuesday.

The two Ivy championship teams from yesterday will also compete in the NCAA events for their sports.

The women's tennis team finished up 7-0 in the league with the win over Yale. TigerBlog watched the last 45 minutes or so of the match, and it was clear that Princeton was in control. Sometimes in tennis, things change quickly, as a team that won the first set in a few matches suddenly loses the second. This time, it was all Princeton.

The championship was the 15th all-time, of which five have come in the last six years.

As for men's golf, TigerBlog finds it extraordinary that the tournament can be decided by a single stroke, as in Princeton 875, Columbia 876. Of course, it was just as remarkable as four years ago, when Princeton was on the losing end of a one-stroke difference.

Think about it. Princeton and Columbia separated by just one stroke after 875 shots over three rounds by five golfers? What are the chances of that happening once, let alone twice in five years?

And this was one year after Princeton and Harvard women went to a playoff. Maybe it's not as rare as it would seem.

Princeton's Evan Quinn finished second at 217, one shot ahead of his teammate Sam Clayman. For all five Tigers, though, any one shot would have made all the difference.


Anyway, for Princeton, that's nine Ivy League titles and 11 league titles so far this academic year. For the record, the Ivy champs are football, men's cross country, men's soccer, women's soccer, women's hockey, men's indoor track and field, women's basketball, men's golf and women's tennis. Men's water polo and men's volleyball also won their league titles.

Still left to be decided are softball, women's lacrosse, both outdoor track and fields and three crews.

Those are all in front of Princeton.

This weekend? It was a banner one for the Tigers in three sports.

That makes for a pretty good weekend.

Friday, April 19, 2019

A Gutsy Win

TigerBlog learned a rule from women's lacrosse during his podcast with Chris Sailer from yesterday.

He couldn't figure out why all the yellow cards in the last nine minutes of Princeton's game against Penn Wednesday night were non-releasable until she told him that all yellow cards after your fourth as a team become non-releasable.

It's a good rule, if you think about it. Of course, it's easy to say that now, after the way those last nine minutes played out.

In the moment, it seemed like the non-releasable yellow cards were going to be the Tigers' undoing in a hugely important Ivy League game. Instead, they revealed just how tough this women's lacrosse team can be.

How big a game was it? The winner would be tied for the first with two games left. The loser would be a game back, in need of help to get a share of the championship. 

TigerBlog is a big fan of the analytic models that predict win probability at any given moment of a game. So what would it have been after Penn tied the score at 11-11 with 5:13 to go?

You also have to keep in mind that 4:13 earlier Princeton led 11-8 and had shut Penn out for the entire second half to that point. It seemed like Princeton was on the verge of putting the game away - and then it all changed quickly.

First Penn scored, 58 seconds after Princeton's third yellow card, which was still releasable. Princeton 11, Penn 9.

Then Princeton was called for a fourth yellow, the first non-releasable one, and Penn scored again, this time 20 seconds later. Princeton 11, Penn 10.

It only got worse after that.

Princeton was called for another yellow with 6:05 to go. And then another after that with 5:38 to go. Now Princeton was going to be down two players for 1:33 and then one player for 27 more seconds after that.

And this time it took Penn just 25 seconds to score. Princeton 11, Penn 11. And still 1:08 of being two players up for the Quakers.

What would the win percentage model say that point? Penn 90 percent?

Instead, Princeton did what you have to do to win a huge game. Actually, the two things. First, it made the smallest play at the biggest moment, as Nonie Andersen made it her mission to earn the draw control. That was the biggest play of the game. Had Penn gotten possession, the train was already rolling downhill in a big way.

Penn had scored three straight times on yellows, averaging 34 seconds to do so. Princeton had to have the ball, and Andersen made sure Princeton got it.

But now what? Well, that's the second thing. Princeton made the toughest play when it was needed most.

Princeton had 90 seconds of possession, which meant that Princeton could try to kill off all of the remaining penalty time for both penalties with no time to try to score, or try to run an offense and risk turning it over.

Princeton executed perfectly, running out the first to get back to just one player down and then scoring a stunning goal, as Elizabeth George took a feed from Kyla Sears and almost threw it through the goal. Such shots are best described as "angry." Princeton 12, Penn 11.

For George, it was goal No. 6 on the night, tying her career high.

Andersen then got the next draw and, after Tess D'Orsi scored in an empty net with 39 seconds left, the one after that. Princeton 13, Penn 11. Final.

You could play that game out from when Princeton got the card to go two players down a lot of times, and Princeton wouldn't win too many of them. But they won the only one that will actually count.

Sailer used the word "gutsy" to describe it afterwards. It's the perfect description.

The win improved Princeton to 4-1 in the league, tied for first with Dartmouth and Cornell, who play Saturday in Hanover. Princeton has a quick turnaround to play Yale Saturday in New Haven and then is in Ithaca next Saturday against Cornell.

Should Princeton win out, it would be at least Ivy co-champion and would definitely be the No. 1 seed in the Ivy League tournament at Columbia. Should Princeton lose twice, though, it could still miss the Ivy tournament (if Dartmouth beats Cornell or if Cornell beats Dartmouth but Dartmouth then beats Yale, Penn beats Columbia and Harvard and Brown beats Harvard and Columbia).

As for the Princeton men, they're home tomorrow at 1 against Harvard. If you're a Princeton fan, then you need Princeton to win that game and Brown to beat Cornell in Providence, which would make next week's Princeton-Cornell game an Ivy tournament play-in game.

If Harvard beats Princeton and Cornell beats Brown, then Princeton is eliminated. If Princeton wins and Cornell wins, then Princeton can still get in with a win at Cornell, depending on how much Cornell would beat Brown by and then what Princeton's margin of victory over Cornell would be.

Anyway, it's a huge weekend for both lacrosse teams.

For the women, it'll be three days after a great win, an improbable win, a gutsy win.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Championship Chasing

As TigerBlog said a week ago, his longtime friend and colleague Craig Sachson has left the Princeton Department of Athletics, where he worked for 19 of the last 21 years, including the last 17.

It's been weird this week, with Craig's office just dark. It's sort of like he's on vacation, only he isn't. Well, actually he is, but he won't be coming back here after it ends.

TigerBlog shared his thoughts about Craig HERE one week ago.

For today, TB has another link to share with you, and it's THIS one. It's the goprincetontigers.com preview of tonight's EIVA playoff doubleheader at Dillon Gym.

It starts at 5, when Penn State and George Mason meet in the first semifinal. It continues at 8, when the top-seed and regular-season champion Tigers take on St. Francis.

The second link that TB left for you is significant for two reasons. First, it has all of the information you need for tonight's playoff volleyball at Dillon.

Second, it figures to be the last story Craig will write for goprincetontigers.com. That sounds sort of sad, right?

Maybe he'll write a guest blog or two at some point, but writing a story fort the website? Not sure that'll happen again.

Still, he insisted on putting together the preview, which is good, since his Princeton volleyball knowledge is beyond extensive. It also got TigerBlog wondering how many stories Craig has actually written for GPT.

The answer is: a ton.

Meanwhile, back at the volleyball itself, this is the first time Princeton has hosted the tournament. Princeton won the regular-season title by three games over Penn State and George Mason and brings the league's Player of the Year (George Huhmann, who stands 6-11, is Princeton's tallest athlete and has the perfect last name for headline writing) and Coach of the Year (Sam Shweisky).

Huhmann, by the way, also lettered in basketball and cross country in high school.

The championship match will be held Saturday at 7. The winner gets the league's NCAA tournament bid.

Princeton has made one NCAA tournament appearance, back in 1998.

The men's volleyball team isn't the only one playing for a championship this weekend.

The men's and women's golf teams will be competing at the Ivy League tournaments this weekend, both of which are in New Jersey. The men tee off at the Hidden Creek Golf Club in Egg Harbor, while the women are at the Ridge at Black Brook in Ringoes.

The Princeton women have won the last two Ivy titles, destroying the field two years ago and then going from third after Day 1 to second after Day 2 to winning on Day 3 last year. Actually, the Tigers won on Day 3+ a year ago, since the tournament went to a playoff against Harvard.

While TB is talking about championship chasing, there's the women's tennis team.

Princeton enters the final season of the round-robin schedule at 5-0 in the league, one up on 4-1 Harvard and Yale. Princeton is home against Brown Saturday and then Yale Sunday.

A win over Brown would mean at least a share of the league championship. A sweep means an outright title.

Should Princeton win an Ivy title, that would be two straight and five in six years. And 15 overall. 

This is also a big home weekend in softball, when Princeton hosts Harvard for three.

The Tigers are part of a very crowded Ivy League race as the league starts to head for home. How crowded?

There are eight Ivy League softball teams, and five of them have either nine or eight wins right now.

Princeton is part of the eight-win crowd at 8-4, one game back of 9-3 Harvard and Columbia. Penn is at 9-6, and Yale is at 8-7.

The math is obvious with Harvard here, with two Saturday and one Sunday. First pitch is at 12:30 both days.

The goal in Ivy League softball is to get into the top two in the regular season, which gets you into the league championship series, which is where the NCAA at-large bid gets determined. Columbia would have the tiebreaker head-to-head over Princeton after having taken two of three earlier this season.

The forecast for Princeton for the weekend is iffy but not awful, so hopefully the softball - and the nearby golf - aren't affected.

After all, there are championships on the line.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

A Big Game On Franklin Field

You have to go back to 2009 to find a year that neither Princeton nor Penn won the Ivy League women's basketball championship.

When it comes to the Princeton and Penn in women's lacrosse, you need to go back even further than that to find a year that neither of them earned at least a share of the Ivy League women's lacrosse title. You have to go to 2005, actually.

That's a lot of dominance in two women's sports.

As Princeton and Penn renew their rivalry in women's lacrosse tonight on Franklin Field, they'll be doing what they usually do. They'll be playing for first place in the Ivy League.

The game starts at 6, by the way, and you can watch it live on ESPNU.

As tough as it is to believe, the lacrosse regular season is already winding down. That's one difference between women's basketball and women's lacrosse.

In women's basketball, Princeton began its season on Nov. 6 with a win over Rider and ended it on March 23rd with a loss to Kentucky in the NCAA tournament. That's more than four months worth of a season.

That's 137 days, to be exact, from start to finish. In women's hockey, where Princeton won the Ivy League this year and Penn doesn't have a team but does have a nice rink, the Tigers began the season on Oct. 19 at Wisconsin and ended on March 16 in the NCAA tournament at Minnesota. That's 148 days start to finish.

The women's lacrosse season began on Feb. 16, which was 60 days ago. There are now only 10 days left in the regular season, followed by hopefully the league tournament and NCAA tournament.

For that matter, if you start on Feb. 16 and go through the Sunday of Memorial Day weekend, when the women's NCAA championship game will be played, that's just 99 days.

So yeah, lacrosse season goes by quickly.

The Ivy League women's lacrosse race is jam-packed at the top right now, with Cornell and Dartmouth at 4-1 in the league and Princeton and Penn at 3-1. There are only nine league games left to be played, with the game tonight and then two full weekends of four games each the next two weekends.

By the time the four teams at the top have played their next games, there's a guarantee that there will be only two teams with one loss and two with two losses, since Princeton and Penn play tonight and Cornell is at Dartmouth Saturday. 

Princeton finishes the season with games at Yale Saturday and Cornell a week from Saturday. Should Princeton win those three, it would have at least a share of the league championship and would be the No. 1 seed in the Ivy tournament, which will be May 3rd and 5th at Columbia.

The Tigers aren't guaranteed a spot in the tournament, though, so there are all kinds of scenarios that could play out between now and then.

For tonight it's Princeton-Penn, which is always special in any sport, but especially women's lacrosse.

Princeton is the highest-ranked team in the league at No. 11, while Penn is one spot back at No. 12. The game will mark the second time in a week that Princeton will have to contend with a Rosenzweig sister who is in the top 15 in the country in scoring, first Loyola's Liva, who had two goals and two assists in Princeton's 14-10 win over the Greyhounds and now Penn's Gabby, who leads the league in scoring.

Princeton's Kyla Sears is third in the league in scoring, one of three Tigers in the Ivy's top 10, along with Elizabeth George (fifth) and Tess D'Orsi (10th). In terms of goals scored, D'Orsi is fourth.

As for Sears, the sophomore has at least one goal in every game of her career and now, after 31 goals, is closing in on 100 for her career, with 96 entering the game tonight. 

It's a busy day at Princeton in addition to the women's lacrosse game. There's a softball doubleheader against Lehigh, the alma mater of Tiger head coach Lisa Van Ackeren, and the baseball team is home against Rider. Both of those start at 3.

It's also Day 1 of four straight days of track and field on Weaver Track.

TB isn't sure you'll be able to get from softball and baseball to Philadelphia for women's lacrosse, but you can see the lacrosse game on ESPNU.

It's a big one. First place in the league is on the line, and both teams are thinking about playing well into May.

Plus it's Princeton-Penn.

Just like women's basketball, in Ivy women's lacrosse, it's always huge.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Senior Day

TigerBlog Jr.'s car needs to be inspected in April in Pennsylvania.

The only problem is that the car is in Connecticut, at Sacred Heart University, which isn't anywhere near where it needs to be inspected. TigerBlog, out of the goodness of his heart, said he would take TBJ's car back from Sacred Heart's game against St. Joe's Saturday to get it inspected and leave TBJ his car, on two conditions: 1) TBJ's car be cleaned out and 2) TB's car needs to be in the exact condition he left it with his son when he returns it.

TigerBlog should have included two other things on that list: 3) it needs to not be almost completely out of gas and 4) perhaps make sure the "low tire pressure" light isn't on.

Anyway, that's what happened when TB took the car Saturday. It was clean. It had no gas. And the front passenger side tire needed air.

Oh well.

TigerBlog was at SHU Saturday because it was Senior Day for the men's lacrosse team, of which TBJ is a four-year member. TB wrestled long and hard with the decision of whether to go to Senior Day or to go to Dartmouth for the Princeton men's lacrosse game before deciding the right thing to do would be to go to Sacred Heart.

Actually, he asked the men's lacrosse coaches last week before the game at Stony Brook what they thought, and they unanimously said he had to go to Senior Day.

As he considered it, TigerBlog never really considered what Senior Day meant, mostly because of what his own experience has been with it through the years here at Princeton across any number of sports. Senior Day has always been, well, a pain, since he's often had to write a script, or read the names on the PA, or both.

Senior Day has always been something that's messed with the timeline for starting the game. From a logistical standpoint, it's been an inconvenience.

That was before he was actually part of one from the other side, as a senior parent, the way he was Saturday. Now his whole view of it has changed.

The Senior Day at Sacred Heart was the same as the ones he's seen at Princeton. Before the game began, the seniors and their parents lined up alphabetically, captains at the end, and then they walked out to the middle of the field to be greeted by the coaching staff. Nothing special, right?

Well, not exactly.

For TigerBlog, it was a reminder of what college athletics - his profession for the last 30 years - is about. It's about educating young people while they compete in the sport they love to play, and the extraordinary life lessons that they learn while they're doing it.

It was a reminder that each athlete has a unique experience, with different levels of success or failure, with different outcomes.

Look at TBJ. He was SHU's starting goalie as a freshman, when he was named a member of the Northeast Conference All-Rookie Team. He was a backup as a sophomore who got thrown into a game late in the year when the starting goalie was injured, and he responded with a performance that earned him NEC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

But he's a goalie, and, like a quarterback, only one usually plays. All the time. And so for TigerBlog Jr., he's spent a lot of time on the bench his last two years.

Hey, that's how life is some times. You have to work through it and be ready if your time comes, and you have to understand that it might not ever come again. And you have to do whatever you can to make your team better, which in the case of the backup goalie means seeing a lot of shots in practice.

Not everyone wants to tough it out. TBJ did, and he will draw on that experience often as his life unfolds.

And there he was at Senior Day Saturday, as much a part of the team and his class as anyone. And he did get in on Senior Day though. He made a save and didn't allow a goal and played the final five minutes of his team's 19-4 win over St. Joe's.  

Afterwards there was a dinner for the seniors and their parents. And a reminder of what it means to be part of a team and what college athletics can do for young people.

It came from Jake Wilson, a senior who hasn't played much in a career shortened by injuries. He was asked to say a few words during the dinner, and he took about 30 seconds to sum it up all so perfectly.

He talked about how they came from all over to be part of Sacred Heart lacrosse. And then he said this:

"When we look back at our four years here, we're all going to wish we could do it all over again."

It was so true. And, as TB said, so perfect.

They would all do it all over again.

So would all of the athletes who have competed here at Princeton all these years. And for all of those who made it to Senior Day, TigerBlog apologizes for viewing it as an inconvenience, or something that messed up the timeline.

It's so much more than that.

It's emotional. It's rewarding. It's stunning, as everyone always says the same thing - those four years went fast.

And more than anything else, it's a reaffirmation of what that team, and whatever group of athletes who are in that particular class, mean to each other. 

TigerBlog never really considered any of that before. 

He'll never look at Senior Day the same way again. 

Monday, April 15, 2019

Playoff Volleyball Comes To Dillon Gym

TigerBlog remembers very little about the men's volleyball team's trip to the 1998 NCAA tournament.

Other than that it was in Hawaii of course.

Manish Mehta was the men's volleyball contact back then. He knew nothing about the sport when he got here, but like anyone else who came into contact with then-coach Glenn Nelson, he was hooked quickly. TigerBlog would try to explain Glenn Nelson to you, but that wouldn't be easy. Just sort of a picture a really, really, really laid back guy who was also intensely competitive and never at a loss for the perfect comeback to whatever it was you said.

Today, by the way, Manish works for the New York Daily News, where he covers the New York Jets. TigerBlog wonders how often Manish brings up his time as the Princeton men's volleyball contact in NFL press boxes.

That 1998 trip to the NCAA tournament is the only one in Princeton history.

The men's volleyball team became a varsity team in 1997, which made it one of five teams to reach varsity status at Princeton in the 1990s. The other four were women's golf in 1992, men's water polo in 1996, women's water polo in 1997 and women's lightweight rowing in 1998.

The current edition of the men's volleyball team has taken a big step in the direction of a second NCAA tournament appearance, and regardless of what happens, the Tigers have succeeded in doing something that no other Princeton men's volleyball team has done before.

Princeton knocked off St. Francis (Pa.) Friday night and in the process did two things. First, it avenged its only EIVA loss of the season. Second, it clinched the EIVA regular-season championship, a first in program history.

Along with that regular season title comes the right to host this week's EIVA playoffs, which will be in Dillon Gym for the first time. From there the winner of the tournament advances to the NCAA tournament.

Winning the tournament won't be easy, of course.

The semifinals Thursday will see Penn State take on George Mason at 5, followed by Princeton and St. Francis at 8. The winners will play Saturday at 7. 

George Mason has perhaps the most incentive of any of the four teams, as a year ago the Patriots were the No. 1 seed and the host, only to lose to fourth-seeded Princeton in the semifinals. Princeton, of course, has its own motivation, as the Tigers got to the final last year only to fall in four games to Harvard.

The 2019 Tigers started the year in a unique place as well, as the preseason favorite in the EIVA poll. Even with that extra pressure, Princeton went through the regular season in control from start to finish, with only that loss to St. Francis on the road back on March 2, after the Tigers had already won their first six EIVA matches. 

Princeton came into the weekend with a two-game edge on Penn State and St. Francis, meaning the Tigers needed one win to clinch the regular-season title. On the other hand, Princeton couldn't count on getting any help if it got swept, since both opponents would be heavy favorites against NJIT in their other matches this weekend.

As it turned out, Princeton took care of things quickly. This is from the game-story Friday night:
The Tigers hit .360 in the opening set and .562 in the second set to grab a 2-0 advantage, but Saint Francis rallied in the third to keep its slim hopes for hosting the EIVA playoffs alive. The Red Flash grabbed a late lead in the fourth, but Princeton came back to even it at 23-23. Freshman Brady Wedbush gave Princeton match ball with a solo block in the middle of the court, and then he teamed with sophomore setter Joe Kelly for the home court-clinching block to end a 25-23 win.

Volleyball at Dillon Gym is a lot of fun. Playoff volleyball at Dillon Gym will be on another level, TB presumes.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Does Elmer Have The Record?

Joseph Elmer Weisheit Jr. was a politics major from Baltimore who graduated from Princeton in 1942.

He went on to become the president of a title company and passed away in 2005, which would have made him around 85 at the time of his death. He was survived by his wife Jacquelin.

While at Princeton he was a member of the ROTC, which presumably meant that he had to have had some service in World War II, though TigerBlog could find no mention of that anywhere he looked. He also played two sports, football and lacrosse.

In fact, he was the leading scorer on the 1942 men's lacrosse team, finishing the year with 19 goals, 22 assists and 41 points on a team that went 7-1 and was voted the USILA national champion. The NCAA tournament was still a few decades away.

Princeton opened the 1942 season with a game against the Montclair AC, which TB presumes to be the Montclair Athletic Club. Of course, in the year-by-year results for men's lacrosse that TB inherited long ago, it says the Manhattan Athletic Club.

Why bring all this up now?

Well, back in that game against whatever team that was, ol' Elmer had himself a four-goal, eight-assist day. That's 12 points, and that's been listed as the school single-game record in those same records that TB inherited.

He never really gave it much thought until Tuesday night, when Michael Sowers had six goals and five assists against Siena, giving him an 11-point night. Back in the 1970s, David Tickner and David Heubeck both had 11-point games as well.

So here's a question: Does Elmer's game against the Montclair Athletic Club count as the school record, or did Sowers tie Tickner and Heubeck for the school record?

TB tried to do some research in the archives, and he came across a folder entitled "Pre-1950s Lacrosse." When he looked inside, the first thing he saw was the 1967 lacrosse prospectus, but hey, he thought that was funny.

He looked through the folder and found stats from 1942, handwritten on a piece of yellow paper. It was there that it said "Montclair AC," by the way, not "Manhattan AC."

But what was the Montclair AC team? It certainly wasn't a four-year college. Or was that what Montclair State was competing as at the time?

TB will do more research. But suppose that wasn't a four-year college? What does that mean for the records?

In the meantime, Sowers continues his assault on other parts of the men's lacrosse record book tomorrow at Dartmouth. Both teams are looking for their first Ivy League wins, and Princeton is looking to win out like it did last year and hoping to get into the Ivy League tournament.

Sowers, for his part, now has 230 career points, which leaves him in third place all-time at Princeton, behind only Kevin Lowe (247 points) and Ryan Boyle (232). Here's their career games played:
Lowe - 60
Boyle - 57
Sowers - 39

What he's doing is extraordinary, and barring anything unforeseen, he will put so much distance between himself and everyone else who has ever played here that nobody will ever approach his scoring record. In fact, it'll be similar to what Bill Bradley has done in men's basketball.

As for women's lacrosse, Princeton begins a run of four Ivy games in 15 days. Win them all, and the team has itself a sixth-straight league title.

It starts tomorrow with a home game against Harvard, which just happens to be the final home game of the year. Already. What the heck?

In addition to Senior Day, it's also going to be a celebration of the 1994 team, which won the program's first NCAA championship. This is the 25th anniversary of that.

Princeton went 16-1 in 1994, avenging a 12-10 loss to Maryland in the regular-season finale with a 10-7 win over the Terps in the championship game. Princeton defeated Virginia in OT in the semifinals on a Lisa Rebane goal, assisted by Amory Rowe. Rebane, actually, scored the game-winning goal in all three of Princeton's overtime games that year.

These are familiar names to TigerBlog. So are the ones of the other stars of that team - Jenny Bristow, Abigail Gutstein, Erin O'Neill, Kim Simons. He covered a lot of Princeton women's lacrosse in the early 1990s, and he remembers seeing them play.

In addition to lacrosse, there's the usual amount of events for a spring weekend. You can see it all HERE. Most of what is being played is on the road, though the men's volleyball team is home.

The Tigers take on St. Francis and Penn State tonight and tomorrow, and a win in one of those matches gives Princeton the outright regular-season title and the host role in the EIVA playoffs next week. Princeton has never hosted the tournament.

And, lastly, as you read yesterday, today is Craig Sachson's last day at Princeton. Men's volleyball coach Sam Shweisky has worked closely with Craig for a long time, and he sent TB some words that he was hoping TB would put up from him about Craig.

So for today, Craig's last day, TB will leave you with this, from Sam:

Craig and Sabrina came walking down into Stephens fitness center last week together which was odd. They came down together and down to the weight area. Surprised and excited to see them both I said “Hi guys – working out?!” Like ripping off the Band-Aid quickly so as not to drag out the inevitable pain, Craig blurted out “I’m leaving.” It took a minute to sink in. Perplexed I cocked my head to the side not fully understanding the gravity or entirety of his statement. He had to repeat it “I am leaving.”  Craig’s face was serious, he wasn’t joking. It knocked the wind out of me.

For the past 10 years I have been coaching at Princeton, I have lived through different athletic trainers, different athletic administrators, different admissions liaisons, and even transitioned through different athletic directors. But we have always had the same Sports Information Director. In some ways it is an unsung role, behind the keyboard, with little glory, but in many ways it is the lifeblood of the program and the emotional support the staff needs. Craig’s stories told more than the facts, they emoted what the team was going through. In good years and bad, Craig spun a tale to fit what needed to be said, what our small fan base of parents and recruits needed to hear and most importantly what we needed to hear about ourselves. He always kept us optimistic and grounded in reality at the same time. With the right amount of humor (“Princeton is heading into Penn State this weekend as the favorite…wait a minute what?!”), and historical context Craig has been an instrumental part of Princeton Volleyball for the better part of the past two decades. Being able to pull from that historical context and knowing the history of our program first hand is invaluable. Having known and worked with Glenn gave Craig insight into the history of our program that is impossible to explain if not lived. 

SID’s don’t pop out of the womb knowing the difference between a kill, dig, or a block. But after nearly 20 years of covering volleyball Craig understood more about the intricacies of our game than some volunteer coaches! But it wasn’t just that Craig knew the game or our guys he also knew how to play therapist when needed. A phone call in the office the Monday after a difficult loss or an in Jadwin session talking through lineups and difficult personnel decisions. I am not sure ‘Coach Therapist’ is ever in an SID job description, but Craig filled it 10-fold. 

To say we will miss Craig would be an understatement. I loved looking forward to his preview stories and postgame write-ups. And after a big win on the road I knew that he was one of three people that would be most proud of me (my mom and Sabrina being the other two). In the end all I can say is thank you Craig. Thank you for everything you have given to Princeton, to Princeton Athletics, and to Princeton Volleyball. You have been a huge part of our journey and you will be sorely missed. You were and always will be one of our most valued and appreciated Team-around-the-Team members.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Thank You, Craig Sachson

TigerBlog has two bad knees and one bad shoulder, and a large part of the reason why is also a large part of what has been his absolute favorite thing about working here all these years.

When he first started working here, TB was a lunchtime basketball regular. As time went on, he was faced with two realities: 1) his inside game wasn't working against 20-something football coaches anymore and 2) he was a terrible foul shooter, so when his team lost, he'd often be on the sidelines for the next game because you had to make a foul shot or two to keep playing if you'd been on the losing side.

He's not sure when or why he turned to squash, and he's not sure exactly how he and his colleague Craig Sachson first came to play lunchtime squash. He just knows that all of those matches that the two would end up playing against each other would become something very, very special to him.

When they first started playing, they didn't even know all the rules and etiquettes of the game. They assumed that the person who lost the previous game would serve first in the next one, because that seemed like it would be a nice way to play.

Eventually, under the watchful eye and encouragement of Gail Ramsay (still the women's squash coach) and Bob Callahan (the late, great former men's coach), TB and Craig became pretty good players. They were definitely fairly evenly matched, and week after week, often playing five times a week, they would battle it out on E level.

They would keep track of who won each day, and then whoever won more days in a week was the one who "Won the Week." The victor got nothing other than the satisfaction.

If they had kept score all-time, TB would guess Craig won around 55-60 percent of the time they played. It was, though, great exercise, great fun and great camaraderie.

TigerBlog thought they would play forever. They didn't, largely because of TB's two knee surgeries and creaky shoulder, which forced him away from squash and into riding his bike.

He also thought they would work together forever. They won't be.

Craig's last day at Princeton is tomorrow.

Craig Sachson was a 21-year-old sportswriter and recent graduate of The College of New Jersey when TigerBlog was in need of hiring interns 21 years ago. He called his friend Mark Eckel at the Trenton Times and asked him what he knew about Craig, because TB had noticed that the stories that Craig was writing were always good.

Mark's response was that "the kid never speaks." TB called him anyway, explained that he had a job for him if he wanted it and invited Craig up to campus to check it out.

He was an intern for two years and then, after spending two years at Cornell, was TigerBlog's first hire after he took over the leadership of the Office of Athletics Communications in 2002. Craig has been here ever since, and he has now spent 19 of the last 21 years working with TigerBlog.

Craig had no idea what athletic communications entailed when he first came here. Now? There aren't too many people anywhere who have done it better.

Or impacted more student-athletes.

Craig has been the sport contact for 12 of Princeton's 37 teams for the last 17 years. Those teams are: football, men's and women's volleyball, men's and women's squash, wrestling, men's and women's swimming and diving and all four rowing teams.

If you think about the size of those rosters and the years he's done this, there can't be many people who have been the person responsible for publicizing more athletes in the Ivy League, or maybe anywhere, than Craig.

And know this about Craig: He cared about every single one of them. He wanted to know them and their stories, so he could tell their stories best. Whoever they were. Whichever of his rosters they were on. He knew them all. 

And yes, he's an outstanding writer. And yes, he's done a great job through the years of going from a novice to an expert on everything that came up in the profession, from publications and media relations to the web and social media, to video production and podcasting.

The quality of his work has always been tremendous. His reliability has also been tremendous.

None of that is what actually defines him.

Nope. For TB, Craig is defined by the relationships he's created here, with the athletes, with the rest of the staff and especially with the coaches.

TigerBlog has never worked with anyone longer than he's worked with Craig Sachson. Now Craig is leaving, off to take a job outside of athletics, off to be able to take on a new professional challenge and give him a greater opportunity to be with his wife Jess and children Maddie and Mason.

College athletics is not an easy grind. Athletic communications is challenging in a lot of ways, not the least of which is the time required on the nights and weekends. To have someone do it for as long as Craig has is rare.

TB understands it. He told the people who called for a recommendation that they'd be fools not to jump at the chance to hire someone like Craig.

When Craig first told TB he's leaving, it didn't seem real. Now that his last day here is closing in, it's sort of hard to come to grips with it, to imagine Princeton Athletics without him.

TB will remember all kinds of things about Craig. He'll remember how he hired him in the first place, how much fun he made the office from Day 1 when he was an intern, how much he latched on to this place, how he started to build those relationships.

He'll remember his dry humor, his unbelievably dry humor, and all the times they laughed together. He'll remember the long conversations he'd have with coaches, who would sit in his office and talk about the smallest minutia of an upcoming game or the state of their program and do so with such great passion.

He'll remember how he followed the Philadelphia 76ers through their lean times, being on board with the Process long before anyone else was. He'll remember the time he came to see TigerBlog Jr. play youth basketball and leaned back against the wall, accidentally turning all the lights in the gym out.

He'll even remember FB Craig, the office nickname that he may have given himself for when the stresses of football season would bubble up.

He'll remember the great job he did covering Princeton Athletics, for sure. And he'll remember how, just like when he was an intern, he made coming to the Office of Athletic Communiations not a job but something fun.

Mostly, he'll remember those squash matches, hundreds of them, actually more like thousands of them, all of those hours when it was just the two of them on a court, talking, laughing, competing fiercely, as Craig pretended to listen to or care about whatever youth lacrosse tournament or game TB was boring him with.

TB can never thank him enough for all he's done here, all of the great work he's put in, all of the people whose lives here he touched and made better.

TB thought it would last forever. Now Craig is leaving. Like he said, TB understands, and he wishes him the best.

It's just that it won't be the same without him.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Muffet, Will You Marry Geno?

Did you follow the whole storyline from the women's basketball Final Four about whether or not the coaches would be friends if they weren't such competitors?

It started with Kim Mulkey, the head coach of the team that would win the championship, Baylor. Mulkey had said this earlier in the tournament:
“Sure. Listen, we would all be best friends if we weren’t coaching," Mulkey said. "Hell, some of us may be married to each other if we weren’t coaching, right? You have the same interests, you know. But when you’re coaching your respective universities, it’s not like you’re kissing your sister and loving on them every day. Usually type A personality coaches butt heads from what we do for a living. You know, it’s the nature of the successful coaches, not just in women’s basketball. You can go to pro football. You know, it may come across as personal sometimes, but honestly if we weren’t doing what we’re doing, we’d all be best friends. I really believe that.”

From this, the question then made its way to Notre Dame's Muffet McGraw:
“Kim Mulkey was in here saying, if we weren’t all competitors trying to go for the same thing, we’d probably be all friends. She said some of us would probably even be married. I know you’re married, I know Geno is married, but do you think you two would have a normal relationship if you weren’t competing every year for the same thing?”

Geno, of course, is UConn's Geno Auriemma. McGraw then responded this way:
“Well, there’s a question I didn’t expect,” she said. “I think being from Philly, Geno and I have a lot in common, especially with Jim Foster as a very good friend of both of us. I could see us being friends, but I could not see us being married. So the answer is no, if he’s proposing."
Then it made its way to Auriemma. His response was this:
“You think Tom Izzo has to deal with this crap? I don’t think so. I don’t think Coach K has ever been asked a question like that at the Final Four. I don’t think Dean Smith or anybody else has ever been asked a question like that.

"I appreciate you asking it, but I think the issue around women’s basketball to me that I find a little bit disconcerting is the attention is always taken away from the game and the players, and it’s turned onto the personalities of the involved coaches. God forbid, one coach is a man, the other coach is a woman, there always has to be some kind of friction, tension, all that other stuff. Like I wouldn’t marry me either. What’s the big deal? I know me better than anybody else knows me.

"I think it’s crazy. It’s like when you watch a game on TV, a women’s basketball game, they talk more about the shoes that the coach is wearing. Who gives a damn? Really, c’mon. Let’s get over that. We want to be taken seriously. Let’s talk about sports, let’s talk about the game. Let’s not talk about the other nonsense that’s on TMZ. If we want to be taken seriously, let’s act seriously.”

His comments are pretty good. It's important to remember that this wasn't the case of a reporter who was trying to be gossipy. This was something that Mulkey sort of made into a story, even if she meant it in a good way.

The bottom line is that there still exists a lot of sexism in sports, as hard as that might be to believe in 2019. You need look no further than the number of times that women's athletes, world class athletes, are referred to as "girls" or read the comments under stories like the one about how ESPN accidentally released the women's NCAA basketball bracket a few hours early. For that matter, there's zero chance that would ever happen for the men's tournament.

On the other hand, the women's NCAA Final Four has grown into a major event, played in sold out arenas year after year, with the kind of national media attention that would have been unthinkable not that many years ago.

TigerBlog's earliest days in college sports media shaped for him the importance of equality. He has said this many times before, but there were many nights at Rider and TCNJ (then Trenton State College) that he would be the only one covering the women's end of the doubleheader - and he's very glad he did.

When he came here, he found a place that also embraced equality, and again, he's very glad he did.

Still, there's a difference between equity from the inside of an organization and having the public embrace women's teams. As TB has also said many times, of all the great things that Courtney Banghart has done with the Princeton women's basketball team, the one that she doesn't get enough credit for is the way her success and her style of play led to a dramatic increase in male fans.

The women's lacrosse team is home tonight against Loyola at 7 in a matchup of Top 15 teams. The Tigers then host Harvard Saturday at 1.

During the game Saturday Princeton will be recognizing the 1994 NCAA championship team on its 25th anniversary. TB's colleague John Bullis has put together a video with highlights from that 1994 final and interviews with players from that team, and it's going to be worth seeing when it's released.

TigerBlog wrote stories about that 1994 championship team. He remembers a team with tough competitors who played hard and believed in themselves and their coach. Actually, the same was true of the men's team that year, which also won the NCAA title.

Did the men care more? Was it a bigger deal to them? Nope.

It's no secret that the sporting public still prefers to watch men's sports more than women's sports, but the world continues to change in this respect. And none of that takes away from the quality and competitiveness of women's athletics or from how important it is for girls to have the same opportunities as boys.

Hopefully the media guys into that and stops caring if Geno and Muffet would ever be married.

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

The Roberts Brothers

The Princeton men's lacrosse team is home tonight at 6 against Siena in the final non-league game of the season.

And before TigerBlog talks about that, he saw a story yesterday about a 17-foot, 140-pound python that was found in the Florida Everglades. Within the story, there was a picture of four guys who were holding it.

Can you imagine stumbling upon that snake? And then actually holding it? What the heck?

The whole idea creeps TigerBlog out to no end. Seriously. He'd have to do a lot of hand-washing after touching that thing.


Anyway, back to lacrosse.

TigerBlog was at Stony Brook Saturday for the Tigers game there, and he walked from the hotel to the stadium in the morning (about a mile) for the team's walkthrough. He got there when the Stony Brook football team was finishing up a spring practice, and he watched a little of that.

It actually was more of a scrimmage, of which TB saw the last two plays. When it ended, the parents who had been watching started to walk out of the seating area, and TB overheard a conversation in which one of them pointed to where a poster was hanging from a pole.

Essentially, it had been a football poster in the fall, and her son had been on it. When another parent asked about it, her husband said "it's lacrosse season."

TigerBlog noticed on the poster that after the game against Princeton, Stony Brook had only three more games left. At first he figured it had to mean home games, but no, Stony Brook had just three more regular season games to play after the game Saturday.

Nothing flies by faster than lacrosse season.

For Princeton, extending this men's lacrosse season means repeating what happened a year ago, when the Tigers won their final five games after a 3-5 start. Princeton was 0-3 in the league in 2018 and then beat Stony Brook, Siena, Dartmouth, Harvard and Cornell, finishing 3-3 in the league and tying Brown and Penn for third place.

Unfortunately, Princeton did not win the tiebreakers, having lost to both, and missed the Ivy tournament.

This year, Princeton got out to a 3-6 start, again losing to Penn, Yale and Brown to go to 0-3 in the league. After tonight's game, Princeton will be at Dartmouth Saturday, home with Harvard April 20th and then at Cornell April 27th.

Princeton's task is to do again what it did last year and then hope to have the tiebreakers this time.

Princeton would beat Stony Brook 14-4 Saturday in a game in which the Tigers would get five points each from Michael Sowers, Chris Brown and Emmet Cordrey. For Sowers, he moved into third place all-time at Princeton with 219 career points, behind only Kevin Lowe (247) and Ryan Boyle (232). Keep in mind that 1) Lowe and Boyle are two of the greatest college lacrosse players of all time and 2) Sowers is only a junior.

The real story Saturday night was the Princeton defense, which hounded Stony Brook into 4 for 45 shooting. Sophomore goalie Erik Peters had his best career day, with 13 saves and a .765 save percentage of the game.

George Baughan did what he does, which is wipe out his guy, and Andrew Song had a goal as he moved back to his regular longstick midfield position from close defense. Mike Morean had two goals in transition as a shortstick defensive midfielder, meaning Princeton's defense almost outscored Stony Brook's offense.

The best part of the game, though, was the Roberts brothers, Aran and Cathal, both of whom started alongside Baughan on defense. For Cathal, a freshman, it was his first career start.

TigerBlog isn't sure how many teams have ever had two brothers start together on defense in a Division I lacrosse game. It's probably happened before.

What he doubts has ever happened before is having two brothers start together on defense who were born and raised in Dublin, Ireland, like the Roberts brothers were.

They grew up playing hurling, a sport that is sort of a very violent version of field hockey. They hadn't played lacrosse at all before moving to California when Aran was a high school freshman, but they obviously took to the game quickly.

It was great to see the two of them get a chance to play together. It was even better to see Cathal have three caused turnovers and two ground balls and be a strong physical presence.

There's a lot still to play for in this men's lacrosse season. Tonight's game against a very-improved Siena team doesn't impact the league race, but then again, there aren't that many games left, and they're all big.

Another lacrosse season is flying by.

The part where the two brothers from Ireland got to start alongside each other was pretty special.

Monday, April 8, 2019

The Ultimate What-If Guy

TigerBlog starts today with congratulations to an old friend.

Melanie Moore, an assistant women's basketball coach at Princeton from 2007 through 2012, during Courtney Banghart's first five seasons. Since leaving Princeton she has been an assistant coach at Michigan, until she was hired as the head coach at Xavier Friday.

Mel will do a great job in Cincinnati. She was part of Courtney's staff during the turnaround of the program, going from 7-23 to 14-14 and now 10 straight postseasons since, including eight NCAA tournaments in that time, the first three of which came in Mel's last three years.

Beyond being a great coach and the kind of competitor who would have been the first person Courtney called when she became a head coach, Mel is also as nice as it gets. Her presence adds Xavier women's basketball to TigerBlog's approved list of teams to root for moving forward.

Congratulations to her and her family. TB is very happy for her.

Sticking with the basketball theme, that's a really tough way for a team to lose a game, especially an NCAA tournament semifinal game. TB is of course talking about Auburn.

Was that a foul at the end? Nope. Not in that spot it wasn't. Sorry. It just doesn't work that way. Was that a double-dribble? Yup.

Ask yourself this question - had no foul been called there on Auburn, would there have been outrage the other way? Of course not.

TigerBlog wasn't rooting for anyone in the game, and he really wasn't all that interested. In fact, he completely forgot it was Final Four Saturday.

Still, he can't help but feel for Auburn. How can you not?

What he will say is that he was incredibly impressed with the poise and the composure that the head coach - Bruce Pearl - and his players showed after the game. This was especially true of Samir Doughty, who was called for the foul.

TigerBlog was driving back from the men's lacrosse game at Stony Brook Saturday night with Cody Chruschiel, his broadcast partner, and they were listening to the Michigan State-Texas Tech game as they drove. When it was over, the postgame show included a number of people, including Bill Walton, who perfectly summed up the situation, saying that he was very impressed with the composure of the Auburn coach and players, even if "they obviously didn't mean a word of what they were saying."

That's about right.

So tonight it's Virginia-Texas Tech for the title. At the end of last year's NCAA tournament, TigerBlog picked Virginia to win this year's tournament - except that was in men's lacrosse, something he'll stick with at this point and apply to men's basketball. 

Well that's Xavier women's basketball and NCAA men's basketball, so TB will stay with basketball for the rest of today. Or at least baskeball/baseball overlap.

Among those in attendance on a 70-degree April Sunday at Princeton baseball was the athlete that TigerBlog has said is the most universally loved of any he has seen at Princeton. If you polled Princeton fans, his approval rating would be somewhere around 100 percent.

TB speak of Chris Young, the former Princeton baseball and men's basketball player who only played for two years as a Tiger before being drafted and then pitching for 14 years in the Major Leagues. He is the ultimate "what-if" guy at Princeton, which adds to his mystique. So does his larger than life persona, fueled by being 6-11.

Would Young have been an NBA player for that had he focused on that sport? Nobody will ever know. How good would he have been at Princeton in the 2001 and 2002 seasons? Nobody will ever know. Will he have reached 2,000 career points? Nobody will ever know.

It wouldn't have been that much different than if Bella Alarie had turned pro in a different sport after her sophomore year.

The fact that Young is so well thought of by Princeton fans even after not playing his final two years speaks to his likeability. He was always approachable, always had time for everyone, always had a kind word.

He was always the very best of what Princeton Athletics always wants to be. He was a great athlete and someone who valued the quality of the education he was getting, respecting it to the point of finishing his senior thesis while riding buses in the minors so he could graduate on time.

Young was at the game with his wife Liz and their three kids. Liz was a women's soccer captain at Princeton.

His Major League career included a World Series championship with the Kansas City Royals, in which he was the winning pitcher in Game 1, a Comeback Player of the Year Award and an All-Star Game appearance. These days he works for Major League Baseball on player relations, rules to improve the game and other such areas.

To TigerBlog, though, he'll always be the dominant basketball big man who outplayed more than one future NBA player while at Princeton. And the college kid who lifted a very young TigerBlog Jr. up on his shoulders to allow him to shoot a basketball into the hoop on a side court at Jadwin.

TBJ was thrilled that day. The same was true for any Princeton fan who came in contact with Chris Young.

Nothing will ever change about that. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

How Do You Pronounce That Award That I Won?

The Princeton women's lacrosse team has two different former players who are serving as the ESPN+ color commentators for the team's home games.

Jeff O'Connor, by the way, is the regular play-by-play guy. You've heard him on Princeton men's and women's hockey as well. He's very, very good.

The two former players are Christa Samaras and Rachael Becker DeCecco, and they are also really good. They know the game inside and out, and they explain it easily, in a friendly style that works really well for both of them.

It's not easy to just pop someone who used to play a sport into the announcer's chair. There have been many more times than it hasn't worked than it has. In the case of these two, they're just naturals. 

They also happen to be two of the most accomplished players in women's lacrosse history, which doesn't hurt their credibility as announcers.

Samaras spent nearly 20 years as the all-time leading scorer in Princeton history. DeCecco doesn't have stats approaching that, but then again she played defense.

Between them they have six first-team All-America honors. Six. That's insane.

DeCecco was with O'Connor for the call of Princeton's 15-6 win over Villanova Tuesday night. Before the game, DeCecco asked TigerBlog a simply question: How do you pronounce "Tewaaraton," the award given to the top player in men's and women's lacrosse each year?

"You should know," TB responded.

And she should, considering she is Princeton's only winner of the award and the only defender, male or female, ever to win it.
The women's lacrosse team will be on ESPN+ again tomorrow, though it won't be the Princeton announcers. This time, the Tigers are on the road, heading to Dartmouth for a big Ivy League game.

Princeton is 1-1 in the league, with a win over Columbia and a loss to Brown. Dartmouth is 3-0 in the Ivy League and the winner of six straight games overall, so this is clearly a big one for the Tigers, winners of five straight Ivy League titles.

Princeton and Dartmouth, by the way, are the two highest scoring teams in Ivy League women's lacrosse. And Princeton's Kathryn Hallett enters the game with 99 career points as she looks to become the fourth current player to reach 100.

The first Saturday in April features 26 Princeton Athletic events, many of which are going to help shape league races, Ivy and otherwise.

For instance, the men's volleyball team is home against Harvard tonight (7) and then Sacred Heart tomorrow afternoon (5). TigerBlog wonders if he is the only person who has Princeton gear and Sacred Heart gear, by the way.

Right now, Princeton is alone in first place in the EIVA standings, which means that the Tigers could end up hosting the league playoffs in two weeks, something that has never happened before. Before that, of course, there's the matter of this weekend and then another home weekend, against St. Francis (Pa.) and Penn State.

Princeton is 9-1 (its lone loss is to St. Francis), followed by 8-2 Penn State and 7-3 St. Francis and George Mason. Harvard is 5-5 and desperately looking to get into the top four.

Volleyball matches are held in Dillon Gym, and all regular-season volleyball is free.

Who else is home this weekend?

There's track and field (Sam Howell Invitational), baseball (three games against Columbia), men's tennis (Dartmouth), men's golf (Princeton Invitational) and men's heavyweight and lightweight rowing. Princeton by the way is ranked No. 1 in lightweight rowing now after defeating defending national champion Columbia.

Admission to all those events is also free. And the weather is supposed to be perfect.

TigerBlog will be out on Long Island for the men's lacrosse game at Stony Brook, which faces off at 7 tomorrow night. Princeton is then home Tuesday at 6 against Siena.

Princeton is in a very similar situation to a year ago, when the Tigers were 3-5 and then won five straight to tie for third in the league. This year, should Princeton be able to do the same, then unlike last year they almost surely would be in the Ivy League tournament.

And that's your spring weekend for Tiger sports. There's something for everyone, and all of the ones at Princeton are free.

How can you beat that?