Thursday, December 31, 2020

The Year In Review Part II

There is nobody who will ever be able to convince TigerBlog that Princeton Athletics would not have won at least one national championship in the 2019-20 academic year.

In fact, there could have been more than one.

Who would it have been? Women's hockey? A wrestler? Men's lacrosse? Men's lightweight rowing? Women's lightweight rowing? Someone else?

Sadly, that will remain unanswerable, just as TB's deep belief that it would have happened will remain unwavering.

As TigerBlog said yesterday, the biggest story of 2020 in Princeton Athletics at everywhere else was the COVID pandemic. It was the virus that limited the 2020 portion of the athletic calendar to slightly more than two months, nearly weeks of which also included the final break for first-semester exams in advance of the switch in the academic calendar.

Princeton has 37 varsity teams, but only 22 of them were able to compete at all in the year 2020. The last time Princeton had fewer than 22 teams compete in one calendar year was 1971, just as women's athletics were getting started.

Still, there were some incredible moments in Princeton Athletics in 2020. And, as TB does on the final day of every year, here are some of the top ones (unlike most years, these are in no order, so you can decide which was biggest):

* the women's hockey team won its first ECAC championship, defeating Cornell 3-2 in overtime on Mariah Koepple's goal 58 seconds into overtime back on March 8. Cornell came into the game as the No. 1 ranked team in the country and played like it in the first three minutes, scoring two quick goals and threatening to run Princeton out of Lynah Rink. Instead, the Tigers toughened from there, as Steph Neatby stopped the final 31 shots she faced and Sarah Fillier and Carly Bullock scored second-period goals to tie it. Princeton would have entered the NCAA tournament at Northeastern the following weekend, and the 26-6-1 Tigers would have had as good a chance as anyone to win the championship.

* the wrestling team defeated Cornell 19-13 on Feb. 9 in Jadwin Gym, and in doing so all of the following happened: 1) Princeton won its first Ivy League title since 1986, 2) Princeton ended Cornell's 17-year run as Ivy champs and 3) the wrestling team made Princeton the first school to reach 500 Ivy League championships. Trailing 10-4, Princeton won five straight matches, clinching it when Travis Stefanik went from down 4-3 with a minute to go to up 6-4 with a takedown with 10 seconds left and then finally 10-4 at the end with back points. When the NCAA championships were cancelled, it left Princeton to wonder if Patrick Glory (EIWA champ, unbeaten on the year) or Matthew Kolodzik (EIWA champ) would have won an individual national title.

* The women's basketball team rolled through the Ivy League, becoming the first team to win all 14 league games by double figures. Princeton, under first-year head coach Carla Berube, went 26-1 overall and had an RPI near the top 10 nationally. There was no NCAA tournament, but Princeton would have been looking at a seed around No. 5 and would have had a legitimate chance to reach the Sweet 16. On what proved to be the final weekend of the year, Bella Alarie broke the 30-year-old school career scoring record and finished her career with 1,703 points before being the No. 5 overall pick in the WNBA draft. Alarie became a three-time Ivy League Player of the Year and Carlie Littlefield, who on the same night that Alarie broke the scoring record reached the 1,000-point mark for her career, was named a first-team All-Ivy League selection for the second time.

* the women's swimming and diving team easily won the Ivy League championship at Brown (Feb. 19-22). The Tigers were led by freshmen Ellie Marquardt and Nicole Venema, who were two of the three high-point Swimmers of the Meet with 96 points each, while Mimi Lin was the career high-point diving champion. The Ivy title was the 23rd for the women's swimming and diving program.

* the men's indoor track and field team won its sixth-straight Ivy League Heptagonal championship, which was also the program's 23rd overall. Princeton had six event winners on the final day of the meet, held Feb. 29-March 1 at Cornell. Joey Daniels won his third-straight 60 hurdles title, this time in school- and meet-record time. Andrei Iosivas, also a wide receiver on the football team, won the Heptathlon and earned Outstanding Field Event Performer honors. 

* Julian Knodt, May Tieu, Daniel Kwak and Alexis Anglade all won NCAA Mid-Atlantic/South Regional titles on March 8 at Duke as Princeton won four of the six weapons and had the runner-up in the other two.

* Reid Yochim and Mark Paolini scored overtime goals to lead Princeton to a sweep of Dartmouth in the opening round of the ECAC playoffs.

* The men's lacrosse team raced out to a 5-0 start to earn a ranking in the top three of every major national poll. The Tigers defeated defending NCAA champion Virginia 16-12 in Charlottesville on Feb. 22, and there were also wins over Big Ten rivals Rutgers and Johns Hopkins. The four-goal win over UVa would actually be the closest game of the season, and the Tigers would score at least 16 goals in each of the five games.

It's up to you to decide what the No. 1 moment of the year was.

That Princeton had that many moments in such a small window tells you a lot about the success that Tiger teams traditionally enjoy.

Lastly, Happy New Year to everyone. Thanks for being such loyal Princeton fans, and here's to hoping that everyone stays safe and healthy.

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