Friday, May 27, 2022

Championship Weekend

The Princeton men's lacrosse team was getting ready to play its April 2 game at Brown when the Tigers were milling around outside their lockerroom, inside the Bears' basketball arena.

TigerBlog saw shortstick defensive midfielder Beau Pederson and told him that despite TB's recommendation, he had not made the Inside Lacrosse midseason All-American team. There was always the actual USILA team to come out at the end of the season though.

That team was announced yesterday. As it turned out, it wasn't after the end of the Princeton season, and Pederson was on it, where he absolutely belonged.

If anything, he was sold a little short as he was a third-team All-American.

In many ways, Pederson is sort of a microcosm of the Princeton men's team's season. He started out on nobody's radar, as did the team as a whole, and now he is recognized among the best in the country, as are the Tigers.

The 6-3, 205 pound Pederson has had a monster year, one that can't really be summed up in statistics. He's had the kind of season that you have to have seen up close to really appreciate, and so TB was really happy for him that he got the recognition he richly deserved.

Pederson and the Tigers began the year unranked. They are now one of four teams who are still playing in Division I men's lacrosse, as they have reached the program's 11th Final Four and first in 18 years. 

The national semifinals will be played at Rentschler Field in West Hartford (it's the home of UConn football) tomorrow. Game 1 is at noon, as sixth-seeded Rutgers plays seventh-seeded Cornell, followed by the game between No. 5 Princeton and top-seeded and unbeaten Maryland at 2:30.

The winners of those games will play Monday at 1 for the national championship. In between it'll be RIT and Union for the Division III title and Mercy and Tampa for the Division II title. 

Princeton has been dominant defensively in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, having defeated Boston University 12-5 and Yale 14-10. The Tigers now face the biggest challenge there is, having to figure out the 16-0 Terps, with their six Premier Lacrosse League draftees and 12 All-Americans.

Maryland is loaded all right. The Terps are the No. 1 scoring offense team in the country, the No. 1 shooting percentage team in the country and the No. 1 scoring margin team in the country, among other things. 

So should the Tigers bother making the trip? Yes.

Princeton lost 15-10 to Maryland back on Feb. 26 in College Park. The team that played that game is not the same team that will be there for the rematch, not by a long shot. Princeton has made some position changes, gelled as a team, weathered a two-game slump to end the regular season and now is playing the best it's played all season.

How can Princeton beat Maryland? Well, Princeton needs to get another big NCAA effort from goalie Erik Peters, who has saved it at just short of 70 percent the last two weeks. Princeton needs to balance possessions, which means winning face-offs and/or causing turnovers (the Tigers are third in the country at doing so) and getting the ground balls (the Tigers are first in the country at that). 

Princeton took a season low 23 shots in the first game against the Terps and still got to 10 goals. The  Tigers average more than twice that many (46.3 per game). Sometimes scoring is a volume shooting business. 

Both teams come in with confidence, the kind that comes with winning games at this time of year. NCAA tournament experience favors Maryland in a big way, as the Terps are playing to win the championship that got away by a single goal last year. 

Princeton is in its first NCAA tournament since 2012 and first Final Four since 2004. This team is certainly enjoying the moment and getting the most out of the experience.

The Tigers play with toughness and togetherness. They are athletic. They have great leadership, from the senior class and coaching staff. They have depth. They have no real weaknesses.

Is Maryland a great team? Of course. There are some who are mentioning this team with the best of all time.

That just makes this an even more intriguing date for Princeton. There was pressure in Round 1 to not end the season with three straight losses. There was pressure in Round 2 to overcome an opponent that nobody on the team had ever beaten.

Now? There's no pressure, only opportunity.

The Tigers and the Terrapins, tomorrow at 2:30. It's been a remarkable season so far for this team, who a year ago watched everyone else play. This is their time, and they're making the most of it.

1 comment:

Campbell said...

Congratulations men’s lacrosse and good luck this weekend. A storied program returns to the final four. AND women's open crew advanced all boats directly into the semi finals finishing either 1 or 2 in their heat. This is their national champion quest. A big day in Tiger athletics along with track and field.