Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Wait Til Next Year

It's possible that Chris Sailer knows more about women's lacrosse than TigerBlog does.

If you listened to the final episode of the 2019 season of "The Chris Sailer Show" last week, you heard Sailer, the Hall of Fame women's lacrosse coach at Princeton, predict a Maryland championship in the coming weekend's Final Four. TB, on the other hand, said he thought Boston College would win.

They were both right that the final was BC-Maryland. TB found it fascinating that the two top seeds got to the national semifinals with one loss apiece, and each had to play the team in the semifinals to whom it had lost.

Boston College, who had eliminated Princeton in the quarterfinals 17-12, won an epic semifinal game against North Carolina, defeating the Tar Heels 15-14 in two overtimes Friday night. Maryland, on the other hand, sprinted away from Northwestern 25-13 in the other semifinal.

TigerBlog was at the NCAA men's championships all weekend, and the Lincoln Financial Field press box was buzzing Saturday about how great the BC-North Carolina game was. It certainly was that, as the Eagles had to rally from 6-0 down to start the game and then, before getting the game-winner, had to get an amazing one-on-one save to keep UNC from the win.

As for the final, well, Sailer was right. Maryland won, topping Boston College 12-10 in Sunday's championship game.

The women's Final Four was played at Homewood Field at Johns Hopkins. Between the semifinals and finals, the two sessions drew 17,941 fans, including a sold-out 9,433 for the final.

If you want a sense of how far this event has come, the first NCAA tournament for women's lacrosse was held in 1982. If you add the attendance for the first nine NCAA finals together it comes to 16,331.

Princeton has won three NCAA championships in women's lacrosse, in 1994, 2002 and 2003. The record book doesn't even list an attendance for 1994, and the 2002 and 2003 games combined drew 7,052.

The quarterfinal game at Boston College this year drew 1,453 and packed the facility on BC's Newton campus. The women's game is definitely on the rise.

The men had a great NCAA tournament, with a record five overtime games, as well as a quarterfinal round that was one extraordinary moment after another. The semifinal games were both outstanding, and the final was a showcase of the team that TB said after last year's tournament would win this year - Virginia.

On the other hand, he did say before the tournament started that he thought it would be Penn State, who fell to Yale in the semifinals. Virginia then beat the Bulldogs 13-9 yesterday in the final.

Virginia was able to overcome Yale's 19 for 25 edge in face-off wins in two ways: building a 48-46 edge in ground balls and hounding Yale into 20 turnovers. Take away face-off ground balls, and UVa's edge off the ground was 45-34. That's the formula, and UVa had the middies and defensemen to make it happen.

The key play of the final came in the second half. It had been 6-2 UVa at the break, but, after scoring twice in the first 30 minutes, Yale scored two more in the first 1:09 of the third quarter, making it 6-4. TD Ierlan then won the face-off, but Virginia's Ryan Conrad took it away and scored, breaking Yale's momentum. In fewer than seven minutes, it was 11-4 Cavs.

The Princeton men's team played both finalists during the season. The Tigers lost both, falling 15-10 to Yale after leading in the third quarter.

As for Virginia, the Tigers lost that game 12-11 in overtime on a shot that TB can still see as it got deflected and redirected and rolled agonizingly slowly into the Tiger net. Neither team ever led by more than two in the game, and it was either tied or a one-goal game for 58:03 of the 60 minutes.

And that was against the team that won the NCAA title.

Princeton was 7-7 this year, with three one-goal losses (UVa, Rutgers, Cornell) and a two-goal loss (Johns Hopkins).

The difference between winning and losing is often very slight. And it builds on itself. Princeton returns a lot for 2020, and it's obvious how good Ivy League lacrosse is these days.

TB, always, an optimist, goes into every season thinking that this will be the year Princeton returns to the big stage. The Final Four will be back in Philadelphia next year; it would be a great place for Michael Sowers to end his Princeton career.

Beyond that, if you're asking TB for a way-ahead l say this - he'll go with Penn State for next year.

Then again, so will everybody else.

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