Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Roar Forward

TAGD website

So TigerBlog was going back into the archives to see what he's written in the past about TAGD – that's Tiger Athletics Give Day, which is a 24-hour giving day that just happens to be today.

This year's version is Year 8 of TAGD, which has been an overwhelmingly successful endeavor that has achieved and exceeded any of its goals. It has raised a considerable amount of money, which goes directly to student-athlete experience. It's connected and reconnected former teammates. It's been just plain fun.

TB figured he'd go back to the beginning, to see what he thought of it back in 2014. The first TAGD grew out the 150th anniversary of the first Princeton varsity athletic event, which was a baseball game against Williams on Nov. 22, 1864. 

Princeton won that game 27-16, something that obviously isn't a normal baseball game score. Of course, the first football game was won by Rutgers over Princeton 6-4, which also happened to be the final score of the 2004 Iowa-Penn State game (Iowa won). Scoring four points in a football game almost never happens, since it requires to safeties and nothing else. There was one NFL game ever where a team scored exactly four points, and it was done by the 1923 Chicago Cardinals (they were in Chicago Cardinals before St. Louis and Arizona) in a 10-4 loss to the Racine Legion (an NFL team from 1922-24).

Ah, but TB digresses. Today, after all, is TAGD, and he'd like to keep his focus there.

As he said, he went back to 2014 to see what he first had to say about the event. He found a link to this video from the women's hockey team:

By the way, TB also saw that he wrote this on the day after TAGD that year: "TB's biggest fashion struggle, he supposes, is whether or not to tuck a particular shirt in or not. For instance, right now he's wearing a long-sleeve black Nike Princeton Athletics shirt and khaki pants. Should the shirt be tucked in? Let the record reflect that it is. Two things about this: 1) he laughed when he saw that because yesterday he wore the same exact shirt (not one that looks like it but the exact same one from 2014) and 2) he still isn't sure if he should tuck it in or not.

Anyway, that's more digression. And a bit embarrassing.

The women's hockey video is what TB meant about fun. They certainly were. Hey, that works just as well in 2021 as it did in 2014.

Well, other than the slogan. The one from 2014 was "It's a great day to be a Tiger." This year, it's "Roar Forward."

You can see different takes on "Roar Forward" on the social media accounts of all of Princeton's teams. TB helped direct the efforts from field hockey players Aimee Jungfer and Beth Yeager, who both were naturals at comedy. Again, it's all part of what makes the day fun. The two field hockey players certainly seemed to be enjoying themselves.

As TB watched them do their various videos, he wondered if they had a good appreciation for what was actually going on, what the real message is behind TAGD. 

For TigerBlog, it's about investing. TAGD is about creating the best possible undergraduate experience, which in turn attracts the best possible students and athletes to attend Princeton. 

They in turn benefit from their athletic experience, and in doing so, they also are being prepared to do great things once they leave Princeton. It's easy to get caught up in thinking about "the best and the brightest," but it's clear that Princeton Athletics has produced real difference makers in so many important post-Princeton fields: medicine, law, politics, engineering, business, service. 

That's who you're investing in on TAGD with your support for the teams and the athletes. It's a fun day, yes, but it's also a day to remember that when Princeton talks about "Education Through Athletics," it really does believe in what those messages and experiences mean.

So thank you again in advance for your generosity. As someone who has been here for more than 30 years now, TB can tell you that many of the very best people he's ever met have been Princeton Athletes.

Finally, he leaves you with this ... enjoy TAGD everyone:

Monday, November 29, 2021

Catching Up

Did you miss TigerBlog during the long Thanksgiving weekend?

Hopefully you had a great holiday. How many days in a row can you eat turkey? And what percentage of people love green bean casserole? 

These four days annually mark the only four consecutive days that TB doesn't write here. He has some stuff to catch up on:

1) TigerBlog has been a lifelong Giants fan (the football variety), but that is over now for good. His affection for the team took a huge hit when the team let go of Marc Ross, the former Princeton wide receiver who played a major role in building two Super Bowl champions. 

When the Giants took on Jason Garrett, a former Princeton quarterback and Bushnell Cup winner, TB figured he would give them another chance. That's gone now too, after Garrett was let go, as if anything that was going wrong there was his fault. 

So now the Giants no longer exist to TB. He's now firmly on the Jets bandwagon. He figures if he does this, he can never be accused of jumping on a winner. It's either the Jets or the Eagles, his son's favorite team. The Eagles of course lost yesterday to the Giants. Note: Philadelphia would have won had any of Princeton's top three wide receivers been the target of those two late passes that were dropped.

2) Chris Sailer's retirement announcement last week and James Johnson's epic reaction to being named first-team All-Ivy League in football prevented TB from mentioning Princeton's 81-80 win over Oregon State in men's basketball.

That's a pretty good win for the Tigers. Oregon State, as you might remember, was one game away from the Final Four last season. Even if the Beavers are struggling so far this year, that's still a really good effort to go on the road like that and beat a Power Five team, the second such team Princeton has knocked off so far this year (South Carolina was the other; Princeton took Minnesota to two OTs).

The Tigers did lose to Monmouth in the middle of the week, but Monmouth turned around and defeated previously unbeaten Cincinnati on the road. Princeton rebounded to knock off Fairleigh Dickinson 89-78 at Jadwin.

Princeton scored 89 points, of which 81 came from four players. Three of the four Tigers in double figures were Jaelin Llewellyn (15), Ryan Langborg (18) and Tosan Evbuomwan (career-high 19). 

The other was Ethan Wright, who continued his hot streak with a 29-point, 10-rebound effort against the Knights in a game in which he shot 7 for 12 from three-point range. He was already the reigning Ivy League Player of the Week after going for 24 points (then a career high) and 10 rebounds at Oregon State. 

For his part, Wright had six career double figure scoring games two games into this, his senior season. He now has five straight, averaging 18 during that stretch.

3) Women's basketball player A: 17.5 points per game, .474 from the field, .356 from three-point range. Women's basketball player B: 17.7 points per game, .500 from the field, .407 from three-point range.

Who are they? Player A was Bella Alarie's senior year at Princeton. Player B is Abby Meyers through six games this year. For now it's just something to keep an eye on as the season goes forward, but Meyers is a lot of fun to watch.

4) Congratulations to the men's water polo team, who extended Princeton's outstanding fall with a 17-8 win over Fordham in the opening round of the NCAA tournament Saturday. The Tigers' reward is a trip to No. 1 UCLA for the next round, which will be Thursday night at 6 Eastern time.

Princeton is 26-7 overall this year and has played very competitively with some of the top teams in California. TigerBlog's next feature story will be a men's water polo one, coming to goprincetontigers.com in advance of the game.

5) Tomorrow is TAGD, which stands for Tiger Athletics Give Day (as you probably already know). It's an annual event that has resulted in so much generous support from Princeton's athletic friends and alums, and it's done so much to give the current generation the best possible experience.

There will be a lot of TAGD information on the webpage and social media. TigerBlog thanks you in advance for your support, as always.

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

James Johnson, First-Team All-Ivy

TigerBlog has been around Princeton Athletics for a long, long time.

There's no current athlete who was anywhere near being born when TB first started covering the Tigers. He's been a part of so many amazing moments during all these years, and yet you never know when another one is about to happen.

Such was the case yesterday afternoon. Miss TigerBlog needed a suitcase to pack for her trip home for Thanksgiving, and TB had it in his car in the West Garage. He was walking over to get it when he saw someone wave to him after getting off the Dinky.

It turned out to be James Johnson, the football linebacker. He wasn't wearing his No. 45 jersey though. He'd worn that for the final time this past Saturday, when Princeton defeated Penn 34-14 to salt away another Ivy League championship. 

Now it was three days after that, and Johnson was wearing a different uniform, this time a business suit. He'd just come from a job interview.

TigerBlog offered him congratulations on the championship and on his season. They talked briefly about the bonfire, and Johnson spoke about how nervous he'd been to talk to that many people This was shortly after 2 in the afternoon, or a few minutes after the All-Ivy League football team had been announced.

TB asked Johnson if he'd seen it yet. Johnson said he had not, so TB took out his phone to show him, knowing full well that Johnson had been named first-team All-Ivy.

First, before he looked, Johnson said "did I get anything?" TB responded with "let's check."

When Johnson saw his name, he erupted in pure joy. He even gave TB a big hug, which gave a fairly good indication of how good a tackler Johnson is, by the way. Then he screamed.

It was just a wonderful moment. 

It was the culmination of so much hard work, so much effort, so much devotion to the team. He is such an incredible team player too. He's one of those guys who has given everything he has for his team and would do whatever he could to help his team win.

He's also a big reason why the team has been so successful since he's been a part of it. Those two go hand-in-hand in his case.

He's played on a defense with big personalities and large presences. Hey, Jeremiah Tyler alone has enough personality and presence for several teams. So does Trevor Forbes. For that matter, so does Tom Johnson, James's older brother and a first-team All-Ivy linebacker himself on the 2018 team

This was crystal clear at the bonfire. Tyler, Forbes and Tom Johnson spoke to the huge crowd with all of that big personality on display. James Johnson spoke softly when it was his turn.

Often, when you have a situation like that, you can get overlooked when it comes to individual honors. Had Johnson looked at the All-Ivy team and not seen his name, TB is pretty sure that he would have been disappointed but happy for his teammates, happiest of all that they won a championship.

Tyler was first-team too. He was a unanimous pick. So was Jacob Birmelin on offense. Forbes was first-team. Princeton had 10 total first-team selections. Samuel Wright II, Carson Bobo, Reily Radosevich, Henry Byrd and Will Powers all made it.

So too did Collin Eaddy, which made TB happy. Eaddy broke two bones in his leg early in the Dartmouth game in Week 8, but he'd already made his case by then. 

Two others who weren't first-team but very much would have been were Delan Stallworth, who was an honorable mention after missing most of the second half of the year due to injury, and Uche Ndukwe, who was second-team after also playing only half the year. TB was happy for them. He was happy for all 16 Princeton selections: the others were Andrei Iosivas and David Hoffman (second-team) and Dylan Classi and Cole Smith (honorable mention.

And yesterday, outside the West Garage a little after 2 in the afternoon, James Johnson found out that his efforts had not gone unnoticed, that the league's coaches saw what was hard to miss. The coaches saw him, game-planned for him, competed against him. They saw how sure a tackler he was. They saw how athletic he is. They saw him make plays all over the field, week after week after week.

And so what they ultimately saw was that James Johnson was a sure-fire, no-doubt first-team linebacker.

His reaction to the news made TB smile for, well, he's still smiling about it. 

Happy Thanksgiving everyone.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

The Legendary Chris Sailer

Chris Sailer was barely out of Harvard when she became the head women's lacrosse coach at Princeton before the 1987 season.

Actually, she became the head women's lacrosse coach and an assistant field hockey coach. And she taught phys ed classes. 

Her first teams played with uniforms that were shared between the field hockey and lacrosse teams. They had a design on them with crossed sticks, one field hockey and one lacrosse. Many of the players, actually most of them, played both sports as well.

She was Princeton's third women's lacrosse coach. Beginning with the 2022-23 season, there will be a fourth. 

Sailer announced last night that the 2022 season will be her final one as the Tiger head coach. Prior to her arrival, Princeton women's lacrosse had a cumulative record of 62-79-7, a winning percentage of slightly better than .440. 

From that starting point, she has built one of the greatest programs the sport has known. Her resume includes three national championships, 11 NCAA Final Fours, 26 NCAA appearances and 15 Ivy League titles, including six straight heading into this coming season.

Her record stands at 418-164, which is a winning percentage of .718. She became the first coach, male or female, to reach 400 career wins at the same Division I school, and she ranks second all-time in wins by Division I coaches (and fourth for all divisions). She's a member of the US Lacrosse National Hall of Fame. There's a pathway there named after her.

You can, if you like, make a very, very strong case that she is the greatest women's coach in Princeton Athletics history. 

It took Chris Sailer three years to turn her team into an NCAA Final Four team. Her first NCAA title came in 1994, when in the semifinals the Tigers took down a Virginia team that had broken Princeton's heart the year before in overtime in the championship game and then knocked off a Maryland team to whom Princeton had lost two weeks earlier in the regular season finale.

Her 2002 team crushed everyone en route to the NCAA title. The 2003 team did not but got it done anyway, beating Virginia in overtime in the championship.

One of TigerBlog's favorite Chris Sailer stories is the Chuckie Cheese story from the 2002 season. Princeton lost to Georgetown early in the season, and Sailer sent every player on the team a voicemail saying that they'd be practicing the next day under the lights and that they didn't need any equipment. She also mentioned that nobody's spot was secure. 

Did she make her team run? Nope. She piled them into cars and took them all to Chuckie Cheese for some relaxation. Her team did not lose another game that year.

It's what great coaching is about. It's about knowing what your team needs at any given moment. It's about putting people in position to be successful. 

Chris Sailer has done it for 36 years at Princeton. No woman has ever coached there longer. 

She's been about more than just longevity though. She has seen Princeton evolve from a place where women's athletics were just getting a foothold to one of the model athletic programs for women anywhere in the country. She hasn't been a bystander to that progress either. She's been a driver of it, at times the main driver of it.

She's also been a mentor to the younger coaches who have come along, across all of Princeton's women's sports. And men's sports too. Head men's lacrosse coach Matt Madalon has spoken often about the benefit of having Chris Sailer to learn from as he has established his program.

For all of her successes, TigerBlog doesn't really think of her first in terms of her numbers, or her long tenure. He thinks of Chris Sailer more as a person who gets a resounding "yes" to the most important question you could ever ask about a coach – would you want your own child to play for him or her?

In this case, TigerBlog's child has played for Chris Sailer. She's now in her fourth year of doing so. TB and Sailer have never spoken about it, even as they've done their podcasts through the years and while TB has written stories, kept stats and done everything else he's done with the women's lacrosse team. It's a conversation that TB has been saving until after his daughter is no longer with the program.

What he will say here, though, is that Chris Sailer has had an incredibly positive impact on Miss TigerBlog's maturity and development, as an athlete, a student and a person. Sailer has taught her lessons that will stay with her forever. It's something that TB and MTB talked about last week, in fact. It's that "nothing is impossible" attitude that comes from being a part of a program like Princeton women's lacrosse, and it's something that Chris Sailer has given to MTB.

And, for that matter to hundreds of others. That's her best legacy. So many women have come into her program since 1987 and left it for the better, regardless of championships won.

So yes, that is the best thing you can say about a coach, that you'd love for your own child to be coached by them. 

There are a lot of Princeton women's lacrosse alums today who have a hard time imagining the team without Sailer on the bench. This day was coming of course. And now that it's here, it's a good time to reflect on what a Princeton treasure she has been.

Not that she'd do it. No chance. Knowing Chris Sailer the way he does, TB would say that she's a bit emotional today, but that will soon give way to the reality of the approach of another season. 

Only when it's done will she take a step back and consider the enormity of what she's accomplished here.

Monday, November 22, 2021

The Champs

The game was over. The championship was won. The celebration was just starting.

TigerBlog thought about the history of the moment, and there certainly was a lot of it. He thought about what went into building this Princeton football team, and that's another long subject. 

As he stood on the turf at Franklin Field, moments after Princeton defeated Penn 34-14 to win its share of the 2021 Ivy League title, he blocked all of that out and just took it all in.

It wasn't a moment to be doing anything else.

There is so much that goes into preparing to play every football game, and all of that mental and physical effort has to be repeated each week during the year. It's a cliche to talk about taking them one game at a time, not to look ahead, but in football you really have no choice.

A football season is a grind, no doubt, and yet interestingly, a football season always seems to fly by. It's another cliche, but it's also true. Blink and it's gone.

It seems like yesterday that Princeton opened this season at Lehigh. TB knows, he says that every season. This time, it seems even truer than normal.

His point is that the combination of having to be so focused on every individual moment of a season as Week 1 quickly turns into Week 10 means that there is very little time to stop and dwell on what happens along the way. 

Maybe that's the reason Princeton head coach Bob Surace never wants to talk about the bonfire that his team earns by beating Harvard and Yale until the last game is over. It's because there's always more to do.

His team salted away that bonfire with its win in Week 9 over the Bulldogs, and that celebration was held last night. The bonfire, which does so much to bring together the entire campus community like few things can, was held last night, on a perfect night for such an event. It was as it always is, a big Princeton party.

That bonfire would have been held regardless of what happened Saturday in Philadelphia. It just wouldn't have been nearly as much fun had Princeton lost to the Quakers.

A 28-point second quarter made sure that wouldn't be the case. The big play came with Princeton up 10-7, when Matthew Winston intercepted a pass and ran it back 34 yards for a touchdown. It was 31-7 at halftime, and the game was never in doubt in the second half. 

When it ended, it was time to celebrate. Maybe the best way to describe it is the way James Johnson did his traditional victory celebration. It's Johnson who is held up on his teammates shoulders after wins and leads them in song and counting of the day's points. In every one of the other celebrations this year, as soon as he is back on the ground, his team had to look ahead to the next opponent. This time?

It takes a bit to sink in, that the goal has been achieved. When it does, it leads to an extraordinary – and well-earned – feeling of satisfaction.

Everywhere on the field, there were Princeton players who were basking in the moment. For many of them, the idea of competing for a 2021 Ivy League title and then ultimately attaining it meant making the tough decision to take off from school last year and come back for one more run at it. Those choices weren't easy in the moment for anyone who had to make them.

There were also three players involved in the celebration who were heading to first-team All-Ivy League selections before injuries derailed their seasons, running back Collin Eaddy, defensive back Delan Stallworth and defensive end Uche Ndukwe. For Eaddy and Stallworth, the injuries ended their careers. As for Ndukwe, you can make a case that he was Princeton's best player when he got hurt, and that's saying something on a defense that featured Johnson, Jeremiah Tyler, Samuel Wright (the Ivy leader in sacks, by the way) and Trevor Forbes, among others. 

What did the three injured players do? They celebrated also. They pulled as hard as they could for their teammates. They didn't sulk at all. They were a presence even in their absences. It speaks volumes about them.

And then there was the history. The Tigers are now 27-3 in their last three seasons. The last time Princeton won 27 games in three years? It was 1902-04. Okay, so for most of that time Princeton played nine-game seasons, but it's still been 41 years since the league went to 10-game schedules. 

The last time Princeton had a three-season stretch with three losses? Is that a better indicator? That would be 1963-65. No matter how you look at it, what Princeton has done in the last three seasons is extraordinary. 

And it's been done with three different starting quarterbacks (John Lovett, Kevin Davidson, Cole Smith) and three different offensive coordinators (Sean Gleeson, Andy Aurich, Mike Willis).

There are constants of course. The main one is Surace, who went from back-to-back 1-9 seasons to start his tenure to where he stands now, which is to say that he is now tied with Dick Colman for the most Ivy League championships by a Princeton coach with four. 

Surace has shaken off a 2-20 start and now stands at 65-45, which means he's closing in on catching the seemingly uncatchable career win totals of Charlie Caldwell (70 wins), Colman (75), Steve Tosches (78) and maybe even Bill Roper (89). For the record, Roper's 89th win as Tiger coach came in the 1930 season. 

His winning percentage is just short of 60 percent. If you started counting after his first 22 games, his record is 63-25, a winning percentage of 74 percent.

Surace has a Bill Tierney-like quality about him, which is to say that he can be the most intense coach you've ever seen during the game and then immediately turn that off and go back to his quiet, caring, engaging, warm self right after the final gun. That was the case again Saturday. 

Also after Saturday's game, he was soaked, from the water that was dumped over him. It's what happens when your team is celebrating a championship. 

In football, you never look ahead. You just worry about what the next immediate task is, what the next drill is, what the next scouting report is, what the next possession is. When the last game ends, you look up and see where you are.

When Princeton looked up late afternoon Saturday, it was the champion. 

Only then did the celebrating begin.

Friday, November 19, 2021

One More To Go

TigerBlog read his former colleague Craig Sachson's story on Princeton senior wide receiver Jacob Birmelin on goprincetontigers.com the other day and immediately sent an email to head coach Bob Surace to say that he would take Birmelin over Odell Beckham Jr. any day of the week for any game on any level.

He's serious too. It's a combination of factors, most of which can be summed up this way: Birmelin cares a lot about his team and teammates, plays with extraordinary heart and catches anything thrown anywhere near him. It's a great combination.

The result of that is that Birmelin leads the Ivy League in receptions with 58 and receiving yards with 730. He has five more receptions than any other player in the league, and only three other player in the league are within 13 of him. Only one is within 100 receiving yards of him. 

If you want to read Craig's piece, click HERE.

More than numbers alone, Birmelin is also one of those players who inspires the highest level of trust when you watch him play. Birmelin's involved? Great. Exhale.

You could see just how much he matters on the touchdown pass against Yale from Cole Smith to John Volker. Birmelin went in motion and doubled back, making it look like it was going to be a shovel pass to him. With the entire Yale defense focused on Birmelin, Volker found a huge hole in the middle of the field and took the pass untouched for 64 yards.

That's when you know you're good. You make plays without being directly involved in the play.

Birmelin plays his final Princeton game tomorrow at Franklin Field, where Princeton takes on Penn in a game where the storyline is simple: Win, and the Ivy League championship belongs to the Tigers for the fourth time in eight seasons. 

Dartmouth is in the same position as Princeton, minus the four titles in eight years. For Dartmouth, a win at Brown would mean at least a share of the championship as well, and for the Big Green, that would make three in seven years.

The current standings have Princeton and Dartmouth at 5-1, followed by Harvard and Yale at 4-2. The winner of that game would get a three-way share of the championship if Princeton and Dartmouth both lose. If one of Princeton and Dartmouth wins and the other loses, then the winner would be outright champion.

Also, regardless of who wins the game at Penn, there will be a bonfire Sunday night to celebrate the Big Three championship earned with the wins over Harvard and Yale. That event begins at 7:30 on Cannon Green. 

Birmelin is one of an army of Princeton seniors who will be playing their last game. Another is Tavaris Noel.

TigerBlog had the great fortune to be able to write about Noel this week as well. You can read that one HERE.

To sum it up, here's what teammate David Harvey said about him: “He’s the most courageous person I know.” Here's what teammate Sultaan Shabazz said about him: “I am beyond fortunate to call him my friend.”

Without going into too many details, let TB just say that there won't be too many players in uniform this weekend – anywhere – who will appreciate it more than Noel. His story is incredible, the way one person can overcome as much as he can and never even consider giving it all up. 

It shows you how important football is to him. It also shows you how important Princeton football is to him, and just how much he values the brotherhood of the team.

It's that sort of brotherhood that has built the winning culture that has put Princeton in position to win championships or challenge for them every year. That's the case again in 2021.

The last remaining question is whether this will be a championship season or a second-place season. As for the opponent, Penn has struggled this year, with a record of 1-5 in the league and 3-6 overall. 

At the same time, this is Penn, a team that would love to derail the Tiger championship hopes.

Kickoff is tomorrow at 1 in Philadelphia. 

Thursday, November 18, 2021

Belong The Spoils

TigerBlog isn't sure which piece of news yesterday was less surprising, the announcement of the Ivy League men's soccer Offensive Player of the Year or Coach of the Year.

The Offensive Player of the Year was Princeton's Kevin O'Toole, who led the Ivy League in goals, assists and points. The Coach of the Year was Princeton's Jim Barlow.

This is more than a case of "to the victor belongs the spoils," which, TB learned yesterday, is first credited to William L. Marcy, a politician in 1832 (as opposed to the actor William H. Macy). Princeton, in Ivy League men's soccer, is clearly the victor though, having marched through the league at a perfect 7-0-0.

Hey, by the way, here's a cool stat for you: 

Princeton has eight teams who competed in the fall. Two of those teams are the cross country teams, which don't have league won-loss records per se. For the other six – football, field hockey, men's soccer, women's soccer, men's water polo, women's volleyball - their combined league records are 42-9. That's a winning percentage of 82.3 percent. That seems pretty good.

Also, as TB mentioned the other day, all eight teams either finished either first or second in the league or, in the case of the football team who plays at Penn in the season finale Saturday, will finish either first or second.

The men's soccer team's run through the league has earned the Tigers an NCAA tournament game today at 5 at St. John's, a team who beat Princeton 1-0 back at the end of September. That was a different Princeton team, one that was struggling to get over .500.

Now Princeton is 12-5, having won eight straight, the second-longest current streak in the country, behind only Missouri State's 15 straight. When the All-Ivy team was announced yesterday, the Tigers had eight players on it but only two first-team selections, O'Toole and Lucas Gen. That speaks to what a team effort Princeton put together this year. 

TB wrote about him last week, after the Tigers had locked up the league title with a week to go. You can read that story HERE

To sum it up, O'Toole's mother Nancy was a college teammate of former Princeton women's coach Julie Shackford, and she often brought O'Toole and his siblings Jillian and Patrick to Princeton to visit when they were younger. Jillian has gone on to play at William & Mary, where Shackford now coaches and where Shackford's daughter Kayleigh also plays. The O'Toole's spent two years (when Kevin was in first and second grades) living in Poland, which is where he had his introduction to the sport of soccer. 

Oh, and Nancy and TB went to high school together. 

As for Kevin O'Toole, he's also a super young man and, as the headline suggests, the perfect teammate. Talk to anybody about him, and they all call him humble. 

O'Toole's awards added to what was already an big-time resume and put him either at the top or at the very least near the top all-time in program history. He is Princeton's first two-time Ivy Player of the Year, and he is also now a three-time first-team All-Ivy League selection.

Who else is up there? Barlow. If you didn't know, Barlow was the 1987 Ivy League Rookie of Year and a second-team All-Ivy selection as a freshman. He was then a first-team pick each of his last three years and the 1990 Ivy League Player of the Year. The Coach of the Year award this year was his second, after he previously won in 2018 (the award only dates to 2014). 

That makes Barlow an Ivy Rookie of the Year, Player of the Year and Coach of the Year. Nobody else at Princeton can match that, in any sport. 

Also, the 1-0 win over Yale Saturday was the 200th of Barlow's career at Princeton. His record now sits at 200-166-63, and that includes a 32-14-6 record with two Ivy titles in his last three years.

Context can be an important thing too. Is the 200-win threshold big in Ivy men's soccer? Barlow is only the third in league history to get there.

He'll downplay it, of course, because like his star player, he's an extraordinarily humble person. At the same time, he's also an extraordinarily great soccer coach.

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

Gamenight At Jadwin

TigerBlog's colleague Elliott Carr is the men's basketball contact here in the Office of Athletic Communications.

Elliott texted TB from North Carolina over the weekend, where the Tigers were playing in the Asheville Championship, to ask him about other in-season tournaments the team had played. Back when TB was the men's basketball contact, and back when he was covering the team as a sportswriter, the in-season tournaments were among the highlights of each year.

In fact, looking back on them now, TB counts many of those trips among his favorite experiences of his entire time at Princeton.

When Elliott asked about those tournaments, the first one TB mentioned was the 1998 Rainbow Classic in Honolulu. Where else would you start except for Hawaii in the week between Christmas and New Year's and a tournament in which Princeton defeated Texas, Florida State and UNC Charlotte on three straight nights to come home with the title? 

Among his other favorites was the 1996 First Bank Classic in Milwaukee, where the weather was much, much different. This was during Bill Carmody's first year as the Tiger head coach, during an early December stretch of time in Milwaukee when there was not one ray of sunshine.

As for the games, Princeton defeated Rice in the first round. That put the Tigers in the final against host Marquette, who was led by Chris Crawford, a big man who would go on to play seven seasons for the Atlanta Hawks in the NBA.

Princeton's starting lineup that game, as was the case all year, featured three future Division I head coaches: Mitch Henderson, Brian Earl and Sydney Johnson. The coaching staff also featured four head coaches: Carmody, Joe Scott, John Thompson III and Howard Levy. How many teams can ever have matched that? 

TB remembers a few things about that Marquette game. First, Princeton centers Steve Goodrich and Jesse Rosenfeld both fouled out, leaving 6-4 Johnson to be the Tiger big man and to have to contain Crawford down the stretch. Second, Princeton had the lead late, and because Marquette had only been called for one foul, there had to be six more fouls called before the Tigers went to the line.

As a result, Princeton would inbound the ball and be fouled immediately. This went on until the next foul would put Princeton on the line for a one-and-one, but instead of inbounding it into the backcourt from midcourt, Henderson instead whipped a perfect backdoor pass 50 feet or so for a layup that clinched the 66-62 win. The recipient? TB thinks it was James Mastaglio, but it could have been Earl or Johnson. What he remembers most was the pass, and the shocking decision to throw it.

Today of course Henderson is the Princeton head coach. His team is home tonight against Marist, with tip at 7. Marist is 1-1, and its two results have some interest for Princeton fans - the Red Foxes lost to Mike Brennan and Scott Greenman's American team and defeated Columbia.

As for Princeton, the Tigers have started out quickly. After the warmup win over Division III Rutgers-Camden, Princeton traveled to the Asheville for the weekend. Though the championship eluded the Tigers, they nonetheless looked like 1) a team that is very good and 2) a team that is going to get better as the year goes along.

Princeton defeated South Carolina 66-62 - the same score as the 1996 win over Marquette - and then went two overtimes with Minnesota before falling 87-80. That's a win over an SEC team and two overtimes against a Big Ten team, and that's a pretty good showing for mid-November.

Ethan Wright had an amazing game against the Gophers, with 14 points and 18 rebounds, a total that has not been bettered at Princeton since 1979 (Bob Roma against Villanova). And Wright wasn't even one of the two Princeton players on the all-tournament team (Jaelin Llewellyn and Tosan Evbuoman). Both of them look like they can get to the basket any time they'd like.

It was a very strong showing for Princeton, who flew home Monday morning and now plays the Red Foxes before heading off to play at Oregon State Sunday afternoon. 

There will be plenty of chances to see the Tigers at home before the Ivy schedule starts, with six home games in just over a month beginning tonight. There are also away games that are much easier to get to than the one in Oregon, with trips to Monmouth, Hofstra and Lafayette.

As TB said, this looks like a team that is already well worth watching, now and when the league rolls around after the new year.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

NCAA Updates

If things go well, it could be a big Sunday for Princeton fans in Corvallis, Oregon. 

That's part of today's thoughts, which begin with a quick happy birthday to TigerBlog's cousin Janet. He knows it's her birthday because her email ends with "1116." Well, that and he's pretty good at remembering birthdays.

So while TB hopes Janet has a great day, the rest of today's musings will be about NCAA championship competition. 

To start with, while TigerBlog knows this may sound like sour grapes, he'll say it anyway. 

The Princeton field hockey team is, figuratively at least, millimeters away from still playing. The Tigers didn't reach the NCAA tournament this year, but no team has ever come closer to having a huge season without actually doing so.

Princeton lost seven games, of which five were to teams in the top 10. Two of those losses were in overtime to top five teams, and there was also a top five win.

Beyond that, though, Princeton and Harvard played a game that would decide the Ivy League title and battled through 60 minutes of regulation and two more minutes of overtime even at 1-1, on a day when the Tigers outshot the Crimson 11-8 and outcornered them 7-3. It was only in the penalty shootout that Harvard had the edge, winning 3-0 to take a 2-1 win and the league championship.

Harvard has now reached the Final Four by defeating Louisville (Princeton lost to the Cardinals in OT) and then Michigan, who spent much of the year at No. 1. The Michigan-Harvard game was scoreless through 80 minutes, but Harvard was again perfect on both ends in the shootout, winning that one 3-0 as well. 

TB knows that Princeton could have done the same thing - and has done on many other occasions, having reached seven Final Fours, most recently in 2019. The closeness by which Princeton came to winning the league or getting an at-large bid will fuel this team – which didn't have one senior – until the 2022 season begins.

By the way, Harvard will face Northwestern in the semifinals, and of course Princeton alums Clara Roth and Maddie Bacskai are Wildcats this year. Julianna Tornetta is also in the Final Four, as a grad student at Maryland (who will play Liberty). 

Princeton finished second in the Ivy field hockey race. Here's a stat for you: Every Princeton fall team finished either first or second (or, in the case of football, will finish first or second, depending on Saturday's results). 

The men's cross country team followed up its Ivy League Heps championship by winning the NCAA regional last Friday at Lehigh. It was quite the impressive performance by the Tigers, who had five of the top 11 finishers in the meet. 

The final team score was Princeton with 40, ahead of second-place Georgetown, with 49. The win put the Tigers into the NCAA championships this Saturday, which will take place in Tallahassee, Florida, with an 11:10 start time on ESPNU. Princeton's Fiona Max earned an at-large bid into the women's race, also on ESPNU, at 10:20.

The women's soccer team, who finished in second place in the league but who nevertheless earned an NCAA bid and first-round home game, which resulted in a 2-0 win over Vermont. The Tigers will now play Texas Christian in the second round, in a game being played, where else, at Rutgers. That game will be Friday at 2.

If you don't know much about TCU women's soccer, the Horned Frogs are 1) the No. 4 seed in the tournament; 2) 18-2-2; 3) the Big 12 champion and 4) ranked 17th out of 336 Division I teams in scoring offense. They also won their NCAA opener 8-0 over Prairie View.  

Princeton for its part is 16-2-1, so the Tigers are pretty tough too. Oh, and the Tigers are the last Ivy team remaining in the field.

The men's soccer team is also NCAA tournament bound after an extraordinary run through the Ivy League at a perfect 7-0-0. How rare is a 7-0-0 run? Princeton has done it twice, with the other time in 2010, which also happens to be the most recent time its happened in the Ivy League. Going back, this is the fourth time this century and sixth time since 1983 that a team has gone 7-0-0 in men's soccer.

Princeton found out its NCAA draw yesterday afternoon. And that gets TB back to the part about Corvallis.

Princeton will play at St. John's Thursday in the opening round of the NCAA tournament (game time is at 5). It's a rematch of a Sept. 28 matchup between the two in Princeton in a game St. John's won 1-0.

Princeton has lost only once since then, back on Oct. 6 to Temple. The current Tigers take momentum into the tournament, but then again so does everyone. Certainly getting past St. John's won't be easy.

If the Tigers do, though, the second round is a matchup against the No. 1 overall seed, Oregon State. That game would be Sunday. As it happens, Princeton's men's basketball team is at Oregon State Sunday.

If you're an Oregonian Tiger, that would be a lot coming to your neighborhood.

Monday, November 15, 2021


There was less than a minute to play in the first half Saturday between Princeton and Yale on Powers Field at Princeton Stadium.

Of course, given the crazy weather that came through pregame, this meant it was closing in on 4 in the afternoon, but hey, that no longer mattered in the moment. Now Yale had just kicked a field goal take a 17-14 lead in the showdown for first place in the Ivy League, and all the momentum seemed to be in favor of the Bulldogs. 

Making it potentially worse for Princeton was that Yale would get the ball to start the second half. It could be 24-14 Yale in a blink.

Maybe that's why Bob Surace decided the time was right for boldness. It's one of his defining characteristics as a head coach, his willingness to take chances. 

The Yale kickoff resulted in a touchback. The first play of the drive went nowhere. Clock running. Wind swirling but mostly in the Tigers' faces at that point. Up in the press box, TigerBlog was thinking it might be the time to play it safe. 

Five plays later, the ball was in the end zone. Thanks to its coach's gutsiness, Princeton had the lead – a lead it would not give up. 

The final score was 35-20 Tigers in a game they needed to have in the Ivy race. Thanks to the victory, Princeton is now 5-1 in the league, tied for first place with Dartmouth. Harvard and Yale are both 4-2.

The games next week have Princeton at Penn, Dartmouth at Brown and Harvard at Yale. Both Princeton and Dartmouth are assured of at least a share of the league title with a victory. Should one win and the other lose, there would be an outright champ. Should both lose, there would be a three-way tie between those two and the winner of Harvard-Dartmouth.

In other words, there was a lot on the line for Princeton.

Before TB gets back to the drive at the end of the half, let him go back a bit further. First, there was the previous weekend's 31-7 loss at Dartmouth, the one that dropped the Tigers into a tie for first. Princeton had to turn the page on that quickly – TB called it "putting it in the rearview mirror" last Monday. 

There had to be more than one Princeton player, coach or fan who remember the numbers 51-14, the final score of the 2019 Princeton-Yale game, after the Tigers had been 7-0 but fell to Dartmouth. Would history repeat itself this past Saturday at 1?

No, it wouldn't. For starters, when 1 rolled around, so did the weather. TB was just about to get to the press box when he said "is that thunder?" As it turned out, it was, with lightning and rain and wind. Each time there was a lightning strike, it set the clock back to wait for 30 more minutes.

As it turned out, the delay would be 90 minutes, with kickoff at 2:30. Princeton would get first half touchdowns on a 12-yard pass from Cole Smith to Dylan Classi and a 64-yard catch-and-run by freshman John Volker. 

Still, as TB said, it was 17-14 Bulldogs before the game turned in the final minute of the half. This drive was a showcase of Princeton's three extraordinary wide receivers, with a long run after a catch from Dylan Classi that featured a downfield block from Andrei Iosivas that gave him an extra 15-20 yards and yet another routinely extraordinary catch from Jacob Birmelin for a seven-yard TD that came with three seconds left before the break. Instead of being down at least three or maybe 10, suddenly the Tigers had the lead.

From there, the defense completely locked up the Bulldogs. Actually, the defense pretty much locked up Yale all day. 

Yale had scored two touchdowns in the first half, but they totaled just 32 yards on the two scoring drives combined. Princeton's defense would allow only 220 yards all day and had three interceptions. In the second half, Yale's only points would come on one field goal.

With this win, Princeton now gets to play for a championship next weekend on Franklin Field. It was a huge statement performance Saturday and it showed a lot about the Tigers' resilience, cohesion and depth (Princeton was without several injured standouts, including Collin Eaddy, Delan Stallworth and Uche Ndukwe).

It also said a great deal about how their head coach approaches the game. Boldly. And it paid off again in a big way.

Friday, November 12, 2021

Kicking It Off With Yale

TigerBlog had breakfast with Bob Holly yesterday.

Can there be a better way to look ahead to a football game against Yale for a Princeton fan? If you've been following Princeton football for awhile, then you immediately know who Bob Holly is and what his connection to Yale is.

Holly was the quarterback of the Princeton team that defeated Yale 35-31 in 1981, ending a 14-year losing streak to the Bulldogs in the process. Holly threw for 501 yards (still the Princeton record) and four touchdowns before scoring the winning TD with four seconds to play. Derek Graham caught 15 of those passes for 278 of those yards.

Yale came into the game undefeated, with a win over Navy on top of everything else. It was quickly 21-0 Bulldogs before Holly began to engineer the comeback. 

The Tigers would lead 22-21 and then trail 31-22. They trailed 31-29 when they took possession on their own 24 with 1:43 to go. Three plays later, it was fourth and 10 at the same spot. Holly threw to Scott Oostdyk, his high school teammate at Clifton High in North Jersey, and depending on whether you're a Princeton fan or a Yale fan, Oostdyk either got the first down by inches or got a lucky spot from the refs.

Either way, the drive stayed alive. So did Princeton. The rest, literally, is Princeton history. The game was named the best Princeton football game of the 20th Century (okay, TB is the one who did the naming, but still). 

As TB was driving to meet up with Holly yesterday, he realized that it was the 40th anniversary of that game. When he looked it up, he was able to figure out that the exact 40th anniversary will be Sunday. 

Back in 1999, TB wrote a story about that game for the "Game of the Century" edition of Princeton Athletic News. He'll be reposting the story Sunday for the anniversary.

In the meantime, there's the matter of tomorrow's game. If you're a Princeton fan, you'd rather see 1981 history repeat itself, rather than 2019.

It was in 2019 when Princeton started off 7-0 and then lost to Dartmouth. That was followed by a second-straight loss, to Yale, on Powers Field.

This time around things are a bit different. For one thing, the biggest thing actually, there is no Ivy unbeaten with two weeks to go in the season.

The standings now look like this: Princeton, Yale and Dartmouth are all 4-1. Harvard is 3-2.

TigerBlog spent some time going through the Ivy League stats to see how Princeton and Yale might match up. He's concluded that none of it matters.

Basically what you have in the Ivy League this year is unpredictability. Who knows what's going to happen from one week to the next? A team can look awesome one week and then struggle the next. It's why the league race is so wide open with no unbeaten team.

Yale has come the closest to being perfect, as the Bulldogs' lone Ivy loss was a 24-17 score against Dartmouth in an overtime game on Oct. 9. Yale's first two Ivy games were in fact a 23-17 win over Cornell and the 24-17 loss to Dartmouth. The week after the Dartmouth game, Yale a 21-15 game to UConn. There was also an opening week 20-17 loss to Holy Cross. That's a lot of tight games to start the year (not including the 34-0 win over Lehigh).

So what has Yale done since UConn? Score a lot of points, that's what. 

First it was a 42-28 win over Penn. Then it was a 37-30 shootout win over Columbia. Last week it was a 63-38 win over Brown. 

That means that in the last three games, Yale has allowed 32 points per game but has averaged 47.3. Those three games correspond to the increased playing time for sophomore left-handed quarterback Nolan Grooms, who was 20 for 45 for 313 yards with four touchdowns in the first five weeks and is now 56 for 82 for 872 yards and seven touchdowns in the last three weeks.

The challenge for Princeton this week is clear. Grooms has the Bulldogs purring (can canines purr?) offensively. Maybe this game gets to be a shootout. Who can tell this year? 

One thing Princeton definitely must do is turn the page from last weeks' game. Just as the challenge is clear, so are the stakes.

The winner is in first place with one week to play. These are the kinds of games you want to see.

Oh, and TigerBlog picked up the check for breakfast. Why? Because it's the 40th anniversary of your role in one of the greatest moments in Princeton's athletic history, you deserve it.

Thursday, November 11, 2021

A Crossover Weekend

TigerBlog was in a store the other day when he saw a man wearing a sweatshirt that said "Union" and had a basketball on it.

If you know much about Princeton men's basketball, you know there's a strong connection to Union. TB could see that the sweatshirt the man was wearing suggested it might be a bit older, and so he thought there was a chance he might have played there. Either that, or maybe his son did?

Of course TB asked him. Did you play there? The response he got was "yeah, about 50 years ago." To that, TB said "then you must know Gary Walters and Bill Carmody."

At that point, the man's face lit up. It was clear he liked the idea that someone could talk about mid-1970s Union College men's basketball.

He went on to say that Gary had been his coach at Union and that he was a teammate of Carmody, who was two years behind him.

He introduced himself as "Ryan." When TB relayed the story to Gary, it turns out his name was "Rein," and he drew two exclamation points from Gary. Small world, right?

The Princeton basketball connection, of course, is that Gary was a basketball player at Princeton who then coached at Union, where his players included Rein and Carmody, one of whom would go on to be Princeton's top assistant under Pete Carril and then head coach for four years, hired by then-Director of Athletics Walters.

Carmody would go on to coach at Northwestern, where he would hire as an assistant coach a former player of his own at Princeton, Mitch Henderson, who of course is now the head coach of the Tigers. The lineage of the Tiger men's basketball coaching position from Cappy Cappon through Mitch Henderson is one of the more uniquely Princetonian parts of the school's athletic history. 

Henderson's team started its 2021-22 season with an easy win over Rutgers-Camden Tuesday night. The challenges get stronger quickly, as the Tigers leave this morning for Asheville, North Carolina, where they will play South Carolina tomorrow night at 9:30 (on ESPNEWS) and then either Minnesota or Western Kentucky Sunday at 5 or 7:30 on either ESPNU or ESPN2.

The men's basketball team then comes back home Wednesday to take on Marist before heading out for two road games of varying lengths. The first is to Oregon State on the 21st. The second is closer than even the ride to the airport for the Oregon State game, as the Tigers will be at Monmouth on the 24th.

This will be an extremely busy weekend for Princeton Athletics, beyond just watching the men's basketball team on television. Tomorrow alone features NCAA postseason events (women's soccer at home against Vermont at 6; men's and women's cross country regionals at Lehigh afternoon) and home events in women's hockey and women's volleyball with a short drive to Delaware for women's basketball if you want to see that game.

By the end of the weekend, there will be, among other events, a huge football game against Yale (Saturday at 1, matching two of the Ivy League's two 4-1 teams), a home women's basketball game (Sunday at 1 against Boston University, swimming and diving (women home tomorrow, men home Saturday), men's hockey against LIU (Saturday at 6, after the teams play at LIU tomorrow) and the final regular season game for the outright champion and NCAA-bound men's soccer team (against Yale, Saturday at 4).

The women's soccer team, by the way, will be making its 14th NCAA appearance. The Tigers are 14-2-1 on the season as they take on the America East tournament champion Catamounts, a team with whom they share one common opponent (Dartmouth, whom Princeton defeated 3-0 and whom Vermont lost to 2-1). 

When TB talks about "crossover season,"  he's talking about weekends like this one. It's a challenge for the behind the scenes people who have to make sure every event is covered, and that's not always easy.

At the same time, there's nobody around here complaining about it. This is way better than last fall, and it's not even close.

Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Conversing With Carla

TigerBlog had his first "Conversation With Carla" for 2021-22 yesterday.

The Carla in question is Carla Berube, the head women's basketball coach. Carla's team opens its season tonight at Villanova (tip is at 7).

Now, if you're listening to the podcast today, keep in mind that it was recorded yesterday, so every time Carla says that the game is "tomorrow," she really means it's today. 

Of course, when TB created the Zoom link to speak with Carla, he originally entered Carla Tagliente in the email address line instead of Carla Berube. Carla Tagliente is the field hockey coach. Carla Berube is the women's basketball coach. Crossover season is everywhere now.

Before TB gets to women's basketball and everything else going on now, he does want to mention the field hockey team. There has never been a team that has come closer to making the NCAA tournament and winning the league title without actually doing so than the Tigers did this year. 

They lost to Harvard in a penalty shootout, costing the league title and automatic NCAA bid. They lost seven times, five times to teams ranked in the top 11 in the RPI and in the NCAA field. Two of those games were in overtime, to Maryland and Louisville, both in the top five. You're talking about a team that could play with anyone.

The good news for Princeton is that the team had no seniors on it. Not one. Every player will be back, which will include five All-Ivy selections. Among those will be Beth Yeager, the Ivy League Offensive Player of the Year and Rookie of the Year after setting the program record for goals by a freshman with 16, despite missing the last three games due to injury.

As for defender Gabby Andretta and midfielder Hannah Davey, if anyone is a team-first player, it's those two - Andretta played almost every minute of every game and never had one individual stat, while Davey moved from an offensive to defensive position this season and saw her goal totals go from 10 to one.

While the field hockey team had its season end earlier than it would have hoped, the women's soccer team found out Monday afternoon that it would be home in the NCAA tournament, hosting Vermont Friday at 6 on Sherrerd Field. 

Princeton comes into the NCAA tournament with a 14-2-1 record that includes five straight shutouts. Vermont won the America East tournament to get the league's automatic bid; the winner of the Princeton-Vermont game plays the winner of TCU-Prairie View A&M. Where would that game be? Rutgers, where else?

It's an extraordinarily busy weekend for Princeton Athletics, especially at home. TB will get into that more tomorrow.

For today, there was the Conversation With Carla, the podcast that TB and Carla (Berube) do during the women's basketball season. Again, the Tigers open their season tonight at Villanova at 7 (not tomorrow), beginning an NBA-like stretch of three games in five days that sees the Tigers head to Delaware Friday night and a Sunday home game at 1 against Boston University. In all, Princeton will play six games in November.

These are new-look Tigers obviously, with Bella Alarie having graduated to the WNBA ranks and Carlie Littlefield now playing at North Carolina (Littlefield had 15 points in her Tar Heel debut last night) after leading Berube's first team to a 26-1 record before Covid cancelled the 2020 NCAA tournament. That's a lot of missing points and a lot of missing leadership.

The cupboard is hardly bare, though. And Princeton hasn't put together the amazing women's basketball run that it's been on the last decade-plus by relying only on a handful of players.

Berube talks about the new faces on the podcast. She also talks about her team's challenging non-league schedule and the league opener Jan. 2 against Harvard at home, including some very heartfelt comments about Kathy Delaney-Smith, who is retiring as the Crimson head coach after 40 years. 

More than anything else, the takeaway from this podcast is just how thrilled Berube is about getting to a gamenight again. It's been a long wait, and now it's time to play for real. She talks about a return to "normalcy" on campus, and you can tell how thrilled she is for her players to have the opportunity again.

It's the season opener for the women's basketball team. Again, that's tonight at Villanova.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021

Ivy Champs

Is there anybody at all out there who likes the first day after the clocks "fall back?"

If there is, TigerBlog has never met that person. If there is one thing that everyone seems to be able to agree on, it's that the first time it gets dark out before 5 pm stinks, right?

It was the middle of the night Saturday into Sunday when the clocks got turned back an hour. If the Princeton men's soccer team had turned the clocks back a full month, would things have looked remotely familiar?

There was a time this year when the men's soccer team was 0-2, not to mention 2-3, 3-4 and 4-5.

It seemed like Princeton spent the first month of the season in a win-one, lose-one situation. By late Saturday evening, that seemed like a long time ago. In fact, Saturday evening marked exactly one month since the Tigers had lost a game. They'd gone from 4-5-0 on Oct. 6 to champions on Nov. 6.

If you were looking for high drama with high stakes, then the men's soccer game at Penn Saturday night was perfect for you. Princeton went into the weekend unbeaten in the league with 15 points, while Yale was in second with 11, followed by Cornell at nine. With two games to play, Princeton had some margin of error to work with, but not much. 

For starters, Yale's game against Brown started earlier than Princeton's at Penn. Had Yale lost to Brown, Princeton would have been assured of no worse than a tie for the league title (Yale would have been eliminated but Cornell still could have tied) and even better would have meant the league's automatic NCAA bid (regardless if Cornell had ultimately tied Princeton in the standings).

Instead, Yale won that game 3-2, and suddenly the pressure was on the Tigers. The situation heading into the game at Penn was this: Win, and you're the outright Ivy champ and NCAA bound; lose or tie, and that would have set up this weekend's game at home against Yale as something of a championship game (Princeton would have needed only a win or tie, but still, that's a pretty high-pressure game).

As for the game at Penn, the Tigers had a miraculous turn of events in the first half, when a Penn chance at a mostly open net slammed off the post. Princeton had the better of play in the second half, but the score remained 0-0 as time went on ... and on ... and on. Both goalkeepers made big saves. Both defenses swarmed when the ball made it into the box. 

It was a riveting game to watch. In many ways, it reminded TB of a World Cup group stage game, where one team needed a win to move on to the knockout round and the other team simply wanted to prevent that from happening.

There were 25 minutes left, no score. Twenty minutes left, no score. Fifteen. Ten. Would this go to OT scoreless? Would it end that way? 

No, it wouldn't. A Princeton shot hit the crossbar, but fortuitously bounced to Walker Gillespie, whose header gently curled over the outstretched arms of the goalkeeper and found its ways into the corner of the net. It was 1-0 Princeton with five minutes left, and that's how it ended, touching off a massive celebration of the championship.

For Princeton, it is the second championship in three seasons. For Jim Barlow, it is is his sixth Ivy title as Princeton head coach.

Often the best teams are the ones that have the best culture, and in the case of Barlow and his staff (especially Associate Head Coach Steve Totten), building culture is a strength. Barlow is a model for what a head coach in the Ivy League should be, with players who develop as individuals both as athletes and people and teams that learn all of the lessons that "Education Through Athletics" represents.

That doesn't mean they win championships every year. It does mean that they run a high-quality program every year.

This year, that has resulted in another Ivy title. Princeton is now 11-5-0 overall and 6-0-0 in the Ivy League heading into that final regular season game against Yale, with the NCAA tournament to follow.

The 1-0 win over Penn ensured that the Yale game won't be the pressure-cooker it otherwise might have been. It was a riveting, highly dramatic game, won by a team that now has earned the right to be called champions.

Monday, November 8, 2021

The Rearview Mirror

The sooner the Princeton football team put Hanover into its rearview mirror, the better.

TigerBlog is speaking figuratively, by the way. The Tigers need to put Friday night's 31-7 loss to Dartmouth behind them as quickly as possibly, hopefully already by now.

There's a lot left to play for this season, even with the hopes of a second perfect record in three seasons now gone. There is still an Ivy League championship on the line, and Princeton can assume that it needs to win its final two games to get a piece of that.

The loss to Dartmouth left Princeton and the Big Green even at 4-1 in the league standings. TB was right when he said this Friday: It seems like Dartmouth always saves its best for Princeton.

Isn't that the case? No offense to Columbia, which is a very, very good team in its own right, but TB had seven different people text him during the Princeton-Dartmouth game asking where the team that lost 19-0 to the Lions was?

Right from the start Friday, it just didn't seem like this was going to be Princeton's night, and that was before Collin Eaddy's leg injury that saw him leave the field on a cart. It was a tough moment for the Tiger senior, who has been such a warrior for the program during his time here. 

It was also a tender moment, as you could see the Princeton – and Dartmouth – players come over to Eaddy to wish him the best. Ultimately, it was really brutal to see Eaddy leave the field like that. He's much more than a really good running back with a nose for the end zone. He's one of those athletes whom others are just drawn to, one of those players you see as an undergraduate and have absolutely no doubt he's headed towards extraordinary things in life. TB's heart sank for him as Eaddy left the field.

Eaddy tweeted yesterday that his surgery was a success. He's a total class act, and as TB said in an email to him, he's been an incredible representative of Princeton Athletics Since Day 1.

The score was 7-0 at the time Eaddy got hurt. It soon was 17-0, and even when Princeton began to try to right the ship, it became a one-step-forward, two-steps-backward situation. In many ways, it was like the Yankee Stadium game two years earlier, when Dartmouth controlled the feel of the game from beginning to end.

Unlike two years ago, though, there is a major difference after Dartmouth's Week 8 win. Princeton is still tied for first place in the league, and as former men's basketball coach John Thompson III always said, the goal is to be in first place at the end of each weekend.

This is not a standard Ivy League football race. This one is much more wide open than usual, and so results can vary from week to week. Princeton can beat Columbia 24-7. Columbia can beat Dartmouth 19-0. Dartmouth can beat Princeton 31-7. You don't find that in most years. 

So what's next? 

Yale made it a three-way tie at 4-1 atop the league with a 63-38 shootout win over Brown Saturday. Princeton and Yale meet on Powers Field Saturday, followed by a trip to Penn to end the season for the Tigers the following Saturday, while Yale obviously ends its season with Harvard, who defeated Columbia to get to 3-2 in the league. As for Dartmouth, the Big Green end the season with games against Cornell and Brown.

It'll be good for Princeton to be back home for the first time in three weeks, and it'll be good for Princeton to be able to play on a Saturday again after back-to-back trips for Friday games at Cornell and then Dartmouth. There's also the matter of getting an extra day of rest between the game at Dartmouth and kickoff against the Bulldogs.

If you recall, Princeton two years ago followed up the loss to Dartmouth with another loss against Yale before finishing strong at Penn. The lesson from that 2019 Yale game is that turning the page after games like Friday night isn't always easy. 

In this case, it's mandatory.

Friday, November 5, 2021

Another Friday In Front Of The TV

TigerBlog has no idea if Princeton football has ever played back-to-back games on Fridays before.

Princeton played last Friday night at Cornell, winning 34-16. The Tigers now play at Dartmouth tonight, again on ESPNU, though this time kickoff is at 6.

Is there an advantage to doing it a second time? 

On the plus side, this is the second week of having an altered practice schedule, so it should be familiar by now. On the down side, there's Dartmouth.

The Big Green are one of the best defensive teams in the FCS (then again, so are the Tigers and pretty much everybody else in the Ivy League, with six teams ranked in the top 25 in scoring defense). They also have, among other weapons, a quarterback, Derek Kyler, who leads the Ivy League by completing nearly 70 percent of his passes and has thrown 10 touchdown passes and only one interception.

You can also throw in the long trip to Hanover and a game-time temperature of 38. To that you can add that it seems like Dartmouth always saves its best for Princeton.

The two teams have played some memorable football games through the years, and the last two are up there with pretty much any of them (okay, maybe the game where an inebriated fan came out of the stands and joined the Dartmouth defensive line might be a bit more memorable).

Don't know that story? It was in 1935, when undefeated Princeton and undefeated Dartmouth met at Palmer Stadium in the second-to-last week of the season. Princeton won 26-6, but the game is best know for two things. 

First, it was played in a driving snowstorm. Second, as TB mentioned, a Dartmouth fan came out of the stands and for one play managed to be a member of the Big Green D-line. It's sometimes known as the 12th-man game.

Like 1935, the last two times Princeton and Dartmouth have met both have been unbeaten. This time around, Princeton is 7-0, 4-0 Ivy League, while Dartmouth is 6-1, 3-1 in the league, with a loss to Columbia.

If you add that all up, the last three Princeton-Dartmouth games have seen the teams come in with a combined record of 41-1. 

The 2018 game was as good an Ivy League football game as TigerBlog has ever seen. Princeton won that one 14-9 on a day when both defenses allowed long touchdown drives on the first possession for both offenses and then played extraordinarily the rest of the way. 

The 2019 game was played in Yankee Stadium as part of the 150th anniversary celebration. This time, it was Dartmouth who won, 27-10, in a game that was an incredible experience for everyone who was there.

This time around, Dartmouth is either going to be tied for the league lead or two games back after this game is over. Those are high stakes.

A look at the Ivy League stats shows some interesting stuff. Dartmouth (14.3) and Princeton (15.3) allow the fewest first downs of any teams in the league. At the same time, they rank second (Princeton) and third (Dartmouth) in third-down percentage conversion. 

Perhaps that's where the game gets decided, by which team can best turn third down into first down and therefore sustain drives in what doesn't figure to be the kind of game the teams last played in Hanover. That was a 55-45 Dartmouth win in 2017.

The teams are also ranked 1-2 in the league in passing efficiency. Princeton is second in the league in sacks with 25, more than twice as many as Dartmouth (12). Getting to the quarterback will be huge as well.

Who knows what the difference will end up being. That's the beauty of it all. And that's what the goal always is, to get to November and play games that decide championships.

Princeton is chasing a fourth title in eight years. Dartmouth is looking for a second straight. Certainly the coaches are no strangers to winning championships, as they (Princeton's Bob Surace and Dartmouth's Buddy Teevens) are the only ones to win Ivy League football titles as players and coaches. 

After this game, Princeton is home with Yale, who is also 3-1 in the league before finishing the season at Penn. For tonight, though, the only color that matters is Green.

It's another Friday night in front of the television. 

Thursday, November 4, 2021

Guest TigerBlog - The Floor Again Belongs To Tad La Fountain

As TigerBlog has said for years, the floor is always open if you have something you want to say. 

Once again, Tad La Fountain of the Class of 1972 has taken TB up on his offer. Tad is a great storyteller, and his pieces are always funny, well-written and informative. This one might be his best: 

Just over 50 years ago, Appalachian Power dammed the Roanoke River at Smith Mountain in Southside Virginia (a region defined as north of the North Carolina border, east of the Appalachian Mountains, south of the James River and west of the fall line) for a hydroelectric project. 

In so doing, they created Smith Mountain Lake – a 32-square-mile body of water with 550 miles of meandering lakeshore (think Maine coastline) with the Blue Ridge and the Peaks of Otter serving as visual punctuation marks. It is scenic, wonderful and…for the most part…virtually unknown north of the Beltway. 

We moved here from Pennington and Princeton seven years ago, when my wife left Stuart Country Day in Princeton and took a teaching job at Chatham Hall – a girls’ boarding school about 35 minutes from the southeast end of the Lake near the Dam. Until she retired this past spring, we split time between her campus home and a house we bought off the 12th green of The Water’s Edge – a 1.1 square-mile peninsula on the Lake with a country club and other amenities. 

It’s not a bad place to hang out. Unless you are – like the writer – a washed-up old tiller wiggler from Barnegat Bay. For the most part, there’s no wind. So you capitulate to the forces at work and end up playing golf like a really good sailor (unfortunately, there’s every reason to believe that I now sail like a really good golfer; these things happen). Occasionally, I string some good shots together, but my 16 handicap masks a terrible reality: standing over the shot, I never know who’s going to show up – Mr. 6 or Mr. 26. Invariably, the post-shot reaction tends to be the same: “Wow, I can’t believe I did that!” 

Of course, inflection and intonation (and often an imprecation) are brought to bear to allow the reaction to match the outcome. One round last spring had a decent tee shot on the opening par 5 – a dogleg right requiring a second shot to a plateau that opens up the approach to the green – that was followed by something that resembled a shankasaurus into the woods. Searching for the ball took a while, and as is often the case, resulted in finding another ball before discovering my own errant shot. 

 I was stunned – the found ball had the logo of the Concord Country Club. I’ve never played Concord, but I’m familiar with it; it’s just north of Route 1 on the Wilmington Pike (Rt. 202) south of West Chester in Concordville and just a hop, skip and a long iron from Westtown School, my alma mater. But my familiarity with CCC was enhanced 50 years ago this spring when a Cannon Clubmate had his reception there when he was married shortly after graduation. Jack Hittson ’71 was a first-term All-America pitcher who went to Wharton instead of professional ball (the other two first-team pitchers [Burt Hooten and Steve Busby] both pitched no-hitters in their careers; Jack became a CEO). 

There were other Cannon members who were stalwarts on that team, including the late Bob Schiffner ’71 (who I believe still holds the highest draft position for a Princeton player, played in the Yankees organization, retired as the CFO of Campbell Soup, and had a son who starred for the Penn basketball team) and team captain Ray Huard ’71 (who was drafted two times). Jack Hittson’s catcher on that team wasn’t All-America or even first-team All-Ivy. In fact, Laird Hayes ’71 made his mark in football – as an official. Mike Pereira, the former VP of Officiating for the NFL and long-time TV rules commentator, cited Hayes for making the best call in the history of professional football – the Manningham Super Bowl reception for the New York Giants. A bang-bang call with enormous implications, and it was made dead on. 

The reason Laird Hayes (or Bill Binder ’72, who caught all the team’s other games that Hayes didn’t catch) didn’t make first-team All-Ivy catcher was that Harvard had a catcher who was first-team All-America and who had been drafted by the pros six times. Pete Varney played professionally, spent some time in the majors, and after coaching at the high school level for a few years, ended up as the baseball coach at Brandeis for 34 years, which is interesting and not a little bit laudable. 

But what Pete Varney will be forever known for is the reception he made as Harvard’s tight end on a throw from Frank Champi for a two-point conversion as time expired allowing Harvard to make up a 16-point deficit in the last 42 seconds of the 1968 Harvard-Yale game. This led to the Crimson’s famous headline “Harvard Beats Yale, 29-29.”

Wednesday, November 3, 2021

The Princeton Cheetahs

TigerBlog was in the supermarket the other day when he overheard this conversation between a man and a woman who were pushing a cart together:

Woman: You want your pretzels?
Man: No, I'm going to get the Cheetos.
Woman: But those are your favorite pretzels.
Man: Sometimes you just feel the Cheetos.

TB isn't sure exactly what it means, though it seems there's wisdom in there somewhere. As it turns out, Cheetos were made by the same person who created Fritos. Annually, there are more than $4 billion worth of Cheetos sold worldwide, though none to TigerBlog, who has never really "felt the Cheetos." 

He does like their ads, though, featuring Chester Cheetah. You know Chester. He's cool.

You'd think there'd be more sports teams nicknamed "Cheetahs." In fact, TigerBlog can't think of one. There are all kinds of cats who are represented in the world of college mascots, including, of course, the Princeton Tigers. There are a lot of other Tigers out there (Auburn, Clemson, Missouri and Towson leap to mind).

There are also Lions, Wildcats, Cougars, Bobcats, Leopards and Jaguars. There must be some cheetahs out there, right? The cheetah is the fastest animal on Earth, and it's the only one of the Big Cats – the Tiger is the largest of them, by the way – who can't roar. That makes for a great nickname. 

The Cheetahs would have orange and black for their school colors. Princeton became the Tigers in the 1870s when they wore black shirts with orange stripes on their sleeves for a football game, and a newspaper account suggested they were "fighting like tigers." Perhaps if they'd said "running like cheetahs" then it would be the Princeton Cheetahs all these years. 

Taking that to another level, think of all the things that are alliterative here: Tiger Talks, Tigers Together, even Tiger Transit. They'd all have to have names starting with "C," like "Cheetah Conversations" and "Cheetah Community." Even the ones that weren't alliterative would be different: "Reading With The Cheetahs."

One current Tiger team that would have been equally as comfortable being known as "Cheetahs" would be the men's soccer team. 

These Tigers – stick with that – are fast and a bit stealthy. They don't roar. They just impose their will.

The men's soccer team has been on quite a roll of late. In fact, the Tigers haven't lost in just about a month, dating back to Oct. 6 and a 2-0 loss to Temple. That game left Princeton at 4-5 overall, though a win over Dartmouth a few days before that meant the team was 1-0 in the league.

Now? Princeton is 10-5 overall and 5-0 in the league after its 2-1 win over a Cornell team that has been ranked in the Top 20 for much of the season. The Tigers picked up goals from Walker Gillespie and Daniel Diaz Bonilla, but the easy choice for Ivy League Player of the Week was goalkeeper Jack Roberts, who made 11 saves, including these two:

The Ivy League standings now have Princeton at 5-0-0, followed by Yale at 3-0-2. Cornell is now 3-2-0; the other five teams have all been mathematically eliminated from winning the championship.

Princeton is at Penn Saturday night (at 7) and then at home the following Saturday against Yale. The Tigers need one win in those two games to ensure the outright title and NCAA bid, or maybe not even that much. A Princeton tie in either game eliminates Cornell, and a tie Saturday along with a Yale tie or loss would mean Princeton wins. 

In fact, Yale's game Saturday against Brown starts at 4 and so will be over by the time Princeton plays. A tie in that game clinches at least a tie for the championship for Princeton; a Brown win clinches at least a tie for Princeton and the NCAA tournament bid (in that case, Cornell could still tie Princeton but the Tigers would have the NCAA bid by virtue of the win last weekend).

On the other hand, Princetion hasn't won anything yet. A Yale win at home over the Bears Saturday and another win next week at Princeton and a Penn win over Princeton would give Yale the outright championship. 

In other words, Princeton has put itself in position to win but still has a long way to go.

The month of October was a great one for Princeton. It's put the Tigers in position for a bigger November, though with some major hurdles to go.

In the meantime, TB will be trying to figure out if there are any colleges nicknamed "Cheetahs."

Tuesday, November 2, 2021

Hanging At Heps

The rain that was supposed to turn the West Windsor cross country course into a muddy quagmire never really materialized Saturday morning.

Instead, there were clear skies and temperatures in the 60s. In other words it was perfect running weather. 

Well, TigerBlog can't really speak to that. He's never been a runner. It was perfect watching-other-people-run weather. 

The occasion was the 2021 Ivy League Heptagonal cross country championship meet, held on Princeton's West Windsor course. As TigerBlog has said many times before, there aren't many events on the annual Ivy League calendar that are more fun than Heps cross country.

It's a giant party with one of the most grueling athletic challenges mixed in. TB hasn't missed too many of them through the years, whether it has been at West Windsor fields or at Van Cortlandt Park in New York City.

The most common conversation from Saturday went something like this:

Person 1: "It was supposed to be really muddy."
Person 2: "Do you remember the year it snowed?"

That year was 2011, when West Windsor was blanketed by some late October snow that made for brutal conditions – and for extraordinary photography. Anyone who was there that day remembers it well, and remembers the football game against Cornell that followed.

Fortunately, the meet Saturday did not have to worry about any of that. 

TB arrived just before the women's race began at 11. There were the eight team tents – each with plenty of food – lined up adjacent to Washington Road, and they were gathering points for alums and friends.

One of the first people TB saw was Donn Cabral, the 2010 Heps cross country champion, as well as 2012 NCAA steeplechase champion and two-time Olympic steeplechase final. There aren't too many more accomplished Princeton athletes in the last, well, ever. 

TB, Cabral, and Thayer Patterson (you probably know Thayer, since he seems to know everyone) had lunch two days before Heps. Cabral, in addition to his running career, recently graduated from UConn law school and is now starting out his legal career. 

He is overwhelming humble about his running accomplishments, and he is the kind of person you can just sense will improve whatever he touches as he continues through his life. It was good to see him at lunch, and it was good to see him at Heps. 

Cabral, as a senior, ran on that snowy day in 2011, when he finished third after slipping once during on the icy course. His time that year was nearly a minute off his 2010 time of 24:03.8, which at the time was the second-fastest 8K race in Heps history.

Princeton's Ed Trippas, who continued in Cabral's footsteps as a steeplechase Olympian himself this past summer, ran a 23:26.3 time Saturday, which would have been the all-time Heps record, had it not been for Harvard's Matthew Pereira, who ran a 23:18.0 to win and set the record, leaving Trippas in second.

That Princeton was going to be the men's team winner was made clear the first time the pack came back into view after the start. TB couldn't count that fast, but there was a lot of orange and black near the front. 

As it played out, Princeton had nine of the top 15 finishers. For point scoring purposes, Princeton's top five were all among the first nine to cross the finish line: Trippas in second, Kevin Berry in third, Anthony Monte in sixth, Matthew Farrell in eighth and Jacob Kintzele in ninth. 

Added up, and Princeton finished with 28 points, well ahead of Harvard's 43 and then Penn's 90. 

On the women's side, Princeton finished strong but couldn't quite catch up to Harvard, instead finishing second to the Crimson (37-68). The Tigers were led by Fiona Max, who finished in second, followed by Angie Allen in 10th, Abby Loveys in 14th, Caroline Timm in 17th and Lexie Allen in 25th.

And so the party was back, and it was pretty much like it always is, which is to say a time to see old friends, a time to make some new ones, a time to see all eight Ivy League schools line up at once, a time to see some great races and a time to remember what broad-based intercollegiate athletic competition is all about. 

It was one Princeton win and one Princeton runner-up, which wasn't a bad day at all. Then again, regardless of the finishes, it's never a bad day at Heps.

Monday, November 1, 2021

Balancing Act

 As TigerBlog watched Princeton take on Cornell Friday night, he found himself wondering what the answer to this question is:

Who is the best player on the team?

Is it Jeremiah Tyler, the linebacker who scored a touchdown in the game? Maybe. Is it Collin Eaddy, the running back who is moving up the Princeton career rushing lists? Is it one of the wide receivers? Is it someone else on D? James Johnson? Sam Wright? Trevor Forbes? Punter Will Powers?

It says a lot about this team that it is now 7-0 after the 34-16 win in rainy Ithaca Friday that the answer to TB's question is not clear cut. This is a team in every sense of the word, and it is not a team who needs to rely on one player to be dominant game after game after game.

It's a winning formula.

Princeton raced out to a 21-0 lead by the early second quarter Friday night. Though the home team was able to move the ball consistently (and actually outgain the Tigers for the night), Cornell never seriously threatened after that.

As it became clear that Princeton was going to win, the historian in TigerBlog began to wonder the last time Princeton started out three straight seasons at 7-0. When he looked it up, he found out that it was 1901, 1902 and 1903. That's a long time ago.

There's no doubt who the best player on those teams was. His name was John DeWitt, a guard/kicker (there aren't many of those left) who is a member of the College Football Hall of Fame. He was also a silver medalist at the 1904 Summer Olympics in the hammer throw.

The current Tigers have reached 7-0 with their depth and balance. Maybe the best part of this team is that it hasn't had to have its offense or its defense be dominant to win on any give weekend. Sometimes it's been the offense. Sometimes it's been the defense. When one has dominated, it's been so dominant that it has carried the team through that game.

Go back to the game Friday night. You get extra credit if you correctly predicted before the game that the first three Tiger TDs would come from Niko Vangarelli, Tyler and Carson Bobo. 

But that's the point. It didn't need to be Eaddy. It didn't need to be Jacob Birmelin. It didn't need to be Cole Smith.

One of the good things about playing Friday night is that you can watch the other Ivy games Saturday afternoon. That's what TigerBlog did, with three windows open on his computer to flip back and forth around the other Ivy football games on ESPN+.

The two games that figured to most directly impact that Ivy League race were the Dartmouth-Harvard and Columbia-Yale games. With Princeton now at 4-0 in the league, that left those four playing what weren't mathematically elimination games but were big games nonetheless, as all four of them came into the weekend at 2-1. 

Both games were close.

The first to end was Dartmouth's 20-17 win over Harvard. The Big Green took the lead on a late field goal and then withstood a 53-yard field goal attempt on the final play that went a little wide. The most unsung play you will ever see is the job that Dartmouth holder Dylan Cadwallader did to pull in a snap that was going wide and get it down perfectly.

Meanwhile, Yale was able to hold off Columbia 37-30. As a result, you now have these standings: Princeton 4-0, Dartmouth 3-1, Yale 3-1, Harvard 2-2, Columbia 2-2.

Another way of putting that is that it's Princeton 4-0, followed by its next two opponents at 3-1 each. That stretch begins with another Friday night game on the road on ESPNU, this time at Dartmouth.

The last two Princeton-Dartmouth games matched unbeaten teams. This time Dartmouth isn't unbeaten, but it's no less of a huge match-up for the Ivy standings. 

Getting to 7-0 is an accomplishment by itself. Doing it three years in a row is even more impressive.

The whole point of Ivy League football is to play big games in November, which arrives today. Princeton has once again put itself in position to do just that.