Monday, June 1, 2020

Banquet Spirit

TigerBlog knows Katie Reilly well enough to know that she was an outstanding choice to co-host the Gary Walters ’67 Princeton Varsity Club Awards banquet the other night.

He's never met Chris Davis, though clearly he was the perfect counterpart for Reilly during the show.

The two seniors had a great chemistry and brought a lot of energy to the occasion, and that couldn't have been easy to do. For starters, they weren't in the same state, let alone the same room.

Also, there's the matter of the way their senior seasons and academic careers at Princeton ended. Davis, a baseball player, started 86 career games, including all seven the Tigers played this season, and he had no way of knowing that the team's three-game trip to Mississippi in early March would be the last he'd ever play for Princeton.

As for Reilly, she's the kind of success story that has always been one of the best parts of Princeton athletics. She played in just two games her first two seasons and then 11 as a junior, though she hadn't started at all until this season.

Then she started all five games for Princeton in 2020, going from two goals and one assist for her career prior to this year to six goals and nine assists in those five games that would make up her whole senior year. Who knows where those numbers would have gone, but they very likely would have been around 20 goals and 30 assists for the full year.

She grew into a great team leader, one with a great deal of spirit, the kind that inspired her teammates - and made her a great host. Both she and Davis were finalists for the Art Lane Award for outstanding service to sport and society, and Davis would be one of the co-winners, along with Grace Baylis of the field hockey team.

That spirit served them well this spring, when the virus wiped out their last semester and the majority of their seasons. Despite that, they drove on to the finish line, even if it was unfortunately moved on them.

What they took from that experience will serve them well in life.

The virtual PVC banquet was an outstanding show of a little more than an hour, put together beautifully by everyone who worked on it. Special shout-outs go to the multimedia team of Cody Chrusciel and John Bullis, who had to film everything and edit it down to the right length under obviously arduous circumstances.

TB has always like the part at the end of the banquet where each athlete has an action shot in a video. This year, for the first time, there were group shots of the seniors by sport, with video congratulations all around at the end from coaches, administrators, University administrators, professors and Friends. That worked really well too and was very touching.

The banquet video also included award announcements and comments from alums who had previously won the awards, and those also worked really well. It was great to see the faces and hear the words of people like Will Venable, Sandi Bittler Leland, Tiana Wooldridge, Tom Schreiber and Johnny Orr.

The winner of the von Kiensbusch Award as the top senior female athlete was Bella Alarie, which was announced by Bittler, who was the program's career scoring leader for 30 years until Alarie broke the record on what ended up being her final weekend of play. After the award was announced, there was a special additional video piece from Jay Bilas, a Duke teammate of Alarie's dad Mark Alarie.

Bilas, an ESPN basketball commentator now, offered THIS:

It was just perfect.

There was also an appearance by TB's colleague Anthony Archbald, the executive associate AD. His video congratulations started with a very in-tight close up in which he talked about wanting to find the perfect location on campus, one that had a transformational effect on the graduates.

Then he pulled back to show he was at the Wawa. TB laughed out loud at that one.

In the end, the banquet was what it always is, a celebration of the senior class and all of its wonderful accomplishments, combined with a reminder of the values and traditions on which their experience was built. Hearing Celtics' owner Wyc Grousbeck talk about the impact that his time as a Princeton lightweight rower has had on his ever since as he accepted the Class of 1967 Citizen Athlete Award is the kind of thing that really ties all of that together and really resonates.

For the Class of 2020, it was the start of a weekend of celebrations that ended as always with commencement.

It wasn't how any of them wanted - or ever expected - that weekend to go, but hey, they toughed it out under really difficult conditions and deserve all the credit in the world for how they handled themselves in doing so.

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