Wednesday, May 18, 2022

A Chris Sailer Farewell

As the final seconds ticked away on Sunday's NCAA women's lacrosse second-round game between Princeton and Syracuse, TigerBlog was not looking down at his stat computer in the Sherrerd Field press box.

Nor was he following the path of the ball. In the moment, he was pretty sure nobody was. All eyes had to have been focused on the same place — the Princeton sideline.

It was there where Chris Sailer stood, watching as time ran out, on the 2022 season and on her 41 years as a lacrosse coach, the last 36 of which have been as the Princeton head coach. This was it, now, as her Tigers fell to the Orange 13-9.

How would she react? Would her emotions be obvious? Nope. It was like any other game, win or lose. The game ended. There were handshakes. Her face and her body language gave nothing away.

There was a large ovation that awaited her, and her team, which had put together a great run to finish the season. The Tigers went 15-4, including a 7-0 run through the Ivy League that ended with the team's seventh straight championship and then an Ivy League tournament title as well.

Last Friday night Princeton knocked off UMass in the opening round of the tournament 15-9 in a game that was never really in doubt. And then, looking to extend the season another week, the Tigers jumped out on Syracuse 4-1 and then trailed 7-6 at the half before the Orange, last year's NCAA runner-up, pulled away just enough in the second half. 

And just like that, Chris Sailer's tenure had reached its end. 

The numbers she put up in her 36 years at Princeton are staggering.

Think about that. There were 433 separate days on which her team won a game here. She played in 27 NCAA tournaments. She won 16 Ivy titles. Three times her teams won it all, in 1994, 2002 and 2003.

She was Princeton's coach through four athletic directors and, for that matter, seven U.S. Presidents. 

Her first team went 3-9 back in 1987. By 1989, she had them in the Final Four. She earned her way into the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame. She is by any standard one of the true legends of women's lacrosse.

And that's why watching anything other than her reaction in those final seconds was out of the question.

TigerBlog and Chris Sailer did their final podcast yesterday. You can listen to it HERE.

What would be the first question you would have asked her if you'd been TB? It's probably the same one that he did ask. How did you feel the next day? 

TB presumes that the day after the season ends is rough for any coach. There's probably a feeling of emptiness, but it also has to be combined with a fire to get started again. When you lose that fire, then it's time to get into a different line of work, right?

But what about when time just catches up to you? Not many coaches last for 36 years. Not many leave on their own terms. 

Sailer talked about what's next for her, how she's "retiring to be retired." She'll be leaving the area, moving to Rehobeth Beach, and possibly becoming a snowbird. She'll pursue her interests, look to travel some, do more things for herself.

She's earned it all, obviously. 

She said it would be difficult to live around here and not be part of Princeton Athletics. That was interesting. 

Princeton women's lacrosse will go on, of course. Nobody has ever been bigger than any program here. That's not how it works here. 

It'll look really different though with someone else on the sideline. There haven't been many coaches who have ever coached here who were as much a part of one program as Chris Sailer has been.

At the game Sunday, Syracuse was technically the home team, because the Orange were the highest seeded team here (the Dome wasn't available due to graduation). As such, they were listed as the home team on the scoreboard.

After TB watched the game end, he looked back up at the scoreboard, and it showed the "13" under "Tigers" and "9" under "Guest." It seemed appropriate. 

Chris Sailer might not have won that game, but she it just seemed right to have the Tigers with the higher total for her last game, just as had been the case for those 433 times.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

To borrow a phrase from a few generations ago after the last game of football coach Bill Roper:

The victory chimes atop Nassau Hall never rang so loud the night they never rang at all.

Mark Disler'74