Thursday, June 2, 2022

"Let's-Go-Ti-Gers, clap, clap, clap-clap-clap"

The chant of "Let's Go Tigers" started in the vast sea of orange and black that was behind the Princeton men's lacrosse bench at Rentschler Field Saturday night.

It went like this: up on the "let's" and then down on the "go" and then up on the "ti" and then down on the "gers," followed by five claps, or stomps on the bleachers, the first two of which were spaced by twice the time as the last three. Then it was repeated, and repeated, and repeated.

It was almost 9 at night, or about four hours later than NCAA semifinal game between the Tigers and top-seeded Maryland was supposed to end. It was about the longest day in the history of program, beginning when the team arrived around 1 or so for its scheduled 2:30 start. Next up was a lightning delay in the first semifinal between Rutgers and Cornell, which ended up stretching for nearly four hours. 

During that time, Princeton waited a while. Then it was back to the hotel. Then it was a second pregame meal. Then it was back to the stadium. 

The game itself didn't go Princeton's way, as Maryland won 13-8 and then defeated Cornell 9-7 in Monday's final. When the game Saturday ended, Princeton went into its usual postgame stretching routine, and that's when the final "Let's Go Tigers" chant began.

This was after the game, after the loss. It wasn't so much an exhortation to make the next play, to score the next goal, or for that matter to win the next game. 

As TigerBlog listened to the chant, he tried to decipher its meaning in the moment. It wasn't even "Thank You Tigers," which would have been a salute to what the team had accomplished this season.

This was "Let's Go Tigers." What did it mean in the season-ending moment like that? 

TigerBlog came up with two answers. 

First, it was a call for the future. This season was a huge step. Now it's time to build on that, the Princeton crowd was saying. 

Second, and most obviously, the crowd didn't want to see it end. Let's Go Tigers. Let's Go Tigers. Keep chanting it, and maybe the game isn't really over.

Of course it was. With the end of the game, the 2022 Princeton men's lacrosse team had added itself to the great history of the program has put together in May.

This was an amazing year for a team that began the season unranked coming off the Covid year of no lacrosse. This was a team that had 10 seniors who took the year off to come back for one more ride, and it was a team where half of the 50-player roster had never played in a game before and where another 15 had played in five games or fewer.

Facing a gauntlet of a schedule that would see the Tigers play 12 of their 16 games against teams that would reach the NCAA tournament, including at least one against each of the other seven teams who would be seeded in the top eight, Princeton finished 11-5 and reached Championship Weekend for the first time in 18 years.

Princeton missed the Ivy League tournament deep down in the tiebreakers but used the time to regroup. The NCAA tournament saw wins over Boston University and Yale to reach Hartford, where the opponent would be the powerful Terps.

Once the game started after all the delays, it did so on what became a perfect spring weather night. The challenge was a big one, as Maryland was rested and ready and playing to join the greatest teams college lacrosse has seen with a perfect record.

Princeton played hard, that's for sure. The moment didn't get too big. The Tigers gave it everything they have. Sometimes you do that and the other team is just a little better. That's what happened Saturday night.

It didn't take anything away from the love that was shown to this team from the friends, families and alums who made the trip and waited out the weather. This was the kind of team that was easy to root for, and it was the kind of team that rallied every generation of the program together.

The foundation is in place now to build off of what this team did, even with the significant graduation losses. At the same time, there are never any guarantees. TB would not have ever dreamed when he left M&T Bank Stadium in 2004 that it would be until 2022 when the Tigers would be back in Championship Weekend.

Regardless of the future or the past, this was a special team. It was a team in every sense of the word. It was a team that made some serious statements about itself along the way. When the season finally reached its conclusion, nobody was ready to leave. That's when, and why, the chant broke out the way it did.

Let's Go Tigers. Let's Go Tigers.

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