Sports: September 10, 1997
No home cookin' for football
Tigers will start a season-long road tour with some question marks and something to prove
It sounds like a promising high school senior's fall college tour: "At Cornell, at Holy Cross, at Brown, at Colgate, at Harvard, at Columbia, at Penn, at Dartmouth." Unfortunately for the Princeton football team, it's also the Tigers' schedule.
With chunks of Palmer Stadium now available for 30 bucks, and a big hole where Princeton's new stadium will be built by the fall of next year, the 1997 squad will be the first since 1873 to play all its games away from home. The Tigers have eight road games and two neutral-site contests, one against Fordham at the College of New Jersey and the other versus Yale at Giants Stadium in the Meadowlands. There will be no home cooking on Friday nights for this year's team.
Head coach Steve Tosches, who in 10 years has a 28-18 road record (he was 36-16-2 at Palmer Stadium), does not believe the schedule will be the primary focus for his players: "Other than going down to Penn--they're always a very vocal crowd, a little hostile . . . I don't believe in any of the other venues there's a home-field advantage . . .
"We had only lost 10 football games in five seasons, and to live through the 1996 season and lose seven ball games (3-7 record, 2-5 Ivy), it was a rude awakening," says Tosches, who has had just two losing seasons, one in 1990 and the other last year.
"We want to return to the upper division and fight for an Ivy League championship just the way [the players] had those previous five years. I see the improvement, the return toward the top, as being paramount in their minds right now. And the travel, the inconvenience, the adversity of being on the road, I see that as secondary."
One of the keys to Princeton's success in 1994 and 1995 was quarterback Harry Nakielny '98, who sat out 1996. Nakielny, a drop-back passer, split time with slasher Brock Harvey '96, and the combination won 15 of 20 games and an Ivy title. In Nakielny's absence, three different quarterbacks turned in mediocre performances. But while the QB is back--along with cocaptain and fullback Mike Clifford '98, also a two-year starter--everyone else on offense would get turned away from the tap room of the Nassau Inn. Eight of the other nine projected starters are underclassmen; none has more than 10 games under his belt. Six players are competing for the wide-receiver slots, but they have just one varsity catch among them. At tailback, Gerry Giurato '00, who started the final three games last year, should get most of the carries. He'll follow Clifford and a line that is young (with Hamin Abdullah '00, Ber-nard Marczyk '00, Justin Bennett '99, and Brian Herdman '99), but that gelled late last season and in spring practices.
PRESSURE ON DEFENSE
Princeton's defense had an off-year statistically in 1996. For only the second time under Tosches, the Tigers gave up 10 or more points in every game. "The offensive side didn't hold up . . . and it put a lot of pressure on our defense," says Tosches. "We return nine starters defensively; we've never been in that position before. [Senior defensive backs] Damani Leech, Bret Marshall, and Tommy Ludwig all had interceptions as freshmen. They're all accumulating gray beards, they've been . . . in that lineup so long."
Those three--plus Royce Reed '99--have 57 starts between them, and the linebacking corps returns intact, with cocaptain Tim Greene '98 and Jamie Toddings '98 back as the team's top two tacklers. Greene and Toddings, plus defensive linemen Mark Whaling '98, 6'7" Griff King '98, and the promising David Ferrara '00, had 19 sacks and held opposing runners to just 2.6 yards a carry. The Tigers' special teams are still special. Matt Evans '99 is the Ivies' top punter; Alex Sierk '99 is in his third year as starting placekicker.
Princeton returns just three all-Ivy first-teamers (Leech, Greene, and Evans), but the entire league was devastated by graduation, especially on offense. Only two first-team all-Ivy offensive picks return this season, and no school has a proven star on offense. Six of the eight Ivies lost their starting tailbacks, and five of the six runners, including Marc Washington '97, were among the best their schools had ever seen.
WHO WILL WIN THE IVIES?
The prediction here is for a lot of low-scoring, close football games. The Tigers could be in the hunt if they can generate some offense and the defense can create turnovers, as it did when Princeton won in 1995, but the same could be said of every other team in the league. The official Ivy preseason poll picks Penn to regain its form after an off-year, with Harvard, Dartmouth, and Columbia fighting the Quakers for the title. Princeton is picked to finish sixth, which is fair given the offense's inexperience.
The Tigers play Cornell in the season opener September 20. Princeton has to win to have any chance at the Ivy crown, because the Tigers' second half is brutal, featuring road games at Harvard, Columbia, Penn, and Dartmouth, four of the five best teams in the league.
CORNELL (six offensive starters return; 10 defensive): Ivy Player of the Year TB Chad Levitt graduated, and he and defensive end Seth Payne were picked in the fourth round of the NFL draft. Most of the defense returns, although last year's unit ranked last in the league and might need some fresh blood. Even without Levitt, the offense has weapons to fire at Princeton's defense, which gave up 33 points in a double-overtime loss to the Big Red in 1996.
FORDHAM (seven offensive; nine defensive): The Rams have receivers and runners, but a question mark at QB. Their defense resembles an Oreo--solid at the line and in the secondary, but with just one returning linebacker. Should be an easy Tiger win.
HOLY CROSS (seven offensive; 10 defensive): Second-year coach Dan Allen is known as a turnaround artist, but his first year produced a 2-9 record. His offense is geared to score, but his offensive line graduated. The defense is porous. Another Tiger win.
BROWN (seven offensive; seven defensive): Coach Mark Whipple likes a wide-open attack, but Brown's all-time-leading passer and rusher graduated. The defense is unusually strong for the Bruins, who have allowed Princeton an average of 32 points per game in the 1990s, the most generous Tiger opponent this decade. Princeton may have trouble getting half that many points, but should still be favored.
COLGATE (six offensive; eight defensive): Colgate was picked to win the Patriot League, paced by league MVP Ryan Vena at QB and wideout Corey Hill, first-team all-league. Its defense took some hits from graduation, but can still stop the Tigers.
HARVARD (seven offensive; 11 defensive): TB Eion Hu is gone, but many others return, including every starter on the league's best defense. The Tigers' only chance is to get some turnovers and some lucky bounces.
COLUMBIA (five offensive; four defensive): Columbia won eight games in 1997, their most since 1945, but the Tigers upset the Lions in New York last year. The offense will be better this season, but the defensive front lost two players now in the NFL. Princeton must establish the run to win.
PENNSYLVANIA (six offensive; nine defensive): Princeton will need all the motivation it can muster to beat Penn. The Tigers are Penn's homecoming game, and the Quakers are solid at every position but running back. The new QB is transfer Matt Rader, who used to start at Duke.
YALE (five offensive; six defensive): Yale should provide the only break in the second half. Once again, the Elis are the Ivy doormat, and the Tigers should beat them in front of 70,000 seats at Giants Stadium--though it's likely less than 10,000 of those will be filled in Princeton's homecoming-away-from-home.
DARTMOUTH (three offensive; seven defensive): The Big Green return seven all-Ivy players from its undefeated, league-championship team. Only one is on offense, however; it lost eight starters on that side of the ball. The defense is solid and capable of shutting Princeton out again this year.
--Phillip Thune '92
End of the line for former giant Elias?
Keith Elias '94 may have reached the end of his NFL career. After three years with the New York Giants, in which he played as a running back and on special teams, Elias was not resigned by his former team in 1997 and had not been picked up by another team at press time. Former Tiger Jason Garrett '89 is still a backup quarterback with the Dallas Cowboys.
Softball: Thurber's field of dreams
Stacy Thurber '96 always wanted to make it to the big leagues. Unfortunately for the softball stand-out, professional sports in the U.S. had--until this summer--been almost entirely a man's game. Not anymore. This June, a new professional softball league took to the field, and Thurber was one of the few who got an opportunity to live out a major-league fantasy.
Thurber, an outfielder who helped Princeton to two College World Series and three Ivy titles, was one of 120 players drafted by Women's Professional Fast-pitch (WPF), a six-team league in the Southeast. She made the roster of the Durham Dragons in North Carolina and played her ball at the Durham Athletic Park (DAP), former home of minor-league baseball's Durham Bulls, who were featured in the film Bull Durham. "Out of the six teams, we have the best ballpark," said Thurber. "There's so much history there . . . The park alone draws people."
She nearly had to pass up her chance to play there. Thurber had to start medical school at UCLA on August 1, and the WPF season ran until the end of August. "I really wanted to play, but I knew I had to be at UCLA before the season ended," she said. "I told [the team officials] about it, and they were willing to work with me." Thurber agreed to play for the Dragons until August 1 and then leave for school. So after earning her degree in chemistry last May, the fourth-generation alumna--whose father Edward Thurber '62, grandfather Gerrish Thurber '28, and great-grandfather Samuel Thurber 1890 preceded her--found herself in Durham.
The Dragons had a 72-game schedule, meaning Thurber and her teammates saw action almost every day. When the team wasn't playing, it was on its way to one of the five other WPF teams (in North Carolina, Florida, Virginia, and Georgia). The WPF's first game, on May 30, pitted the Dragons against the Virginia Roadsters and was televised by ESPN2 (the Roadsters won, 2-1).
During the season, Thurber was primarily a backup outfielder and designated hitter. She struggled at the plate, getting 13 hits in 85 at-bats (.153). She said rule changes made by the WPF made hitting more challenging for her: "In college, the pitcher's mound is 43 feet from the plate, but for this league it has been extended to 46 feet. That makes it more of a power hitter's game. [At Princeton] I was a slapper, but it's tough to do that in the WPF."
Thurber hopes to return to the Dragons next year, but said she will always treasure her summer as a big leaguer, even if this season turns out to be her one and only as a pro. "Meeting and playing with all those great players has been wonderful. I'll also remember the warmth and hospitality of the South, and the fans--all those little girls who asked for our autographs. I dreamed about a league like this when I was younger, and I hope those girls look [at me now] and say, 'Wow, I can shoot for this.' "
FOOTBALL: Tiger fans can catch their favorite troupe of traveling gridders at the following sites this year:
September 20 at Cornell 1:00
September 27 vs. Fordham 1:30
(at College of New Jersey)
October 4 at Holy Cross 1:00
October 11 at Brown 1:00
October 18 at Colgate 1:00
October 25 at Harvard 1:00
November 1 at Columbia 1:00
November 8 at Penn 1:30
November 15 vs. Yale 1:30
(at Giants Stadium)
November 22 at Dartmouth 12:30
*Please check all start times.
Games will air on WHWH (AM 1350) and on WPRB (FM 103.3) in Princeton, on WHTG (AM 1410) in Eatontown, and on WXMC (AM 1310) in Parsippany. Selected games will be televised on Comcast and C-TEC cable--check listings. Outside the area, fans can pay to hear the games by phone on TeamLine (800-846-4700, extension 5761.)
PETE CARRIL: The men's basketball team's legendary architect will be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame on September 29, in Springfield, Massachusetts. The Friends of Princeton Basketball are providing transportation from Princeton and some tickets. For information, call Al Kaemmerlen '62 before September 16 at 609-734-1694.