Sports: December 16, 1998

  • Field hockey falls in finals
  • Football wins one for pride
  • Volleyball reaches Ivy finals
  • Men's basketball opens season 1-1

    Field hockey falls in finals
    A superb season ends with a 3-2 loss to Old Dominion

    In 1996, Princeton met Old Dominion University at the Final Four in Boston in the national semifinal game. The young, 17th-ranked Tigers were facing an opponent whose seven collegiate titles made it one of the game's most storied programs. But that night two sophomore starters from the Class of 1999, Kirsty Hale and Molly O'Malley, sparked Princeton to a 4-3 victory in overtime. The win -- probably the biggest in team history -- seemed a Cinderella story at the time, even after the Tigers lost to North Carolina in the title game.

    Two years later, Princeton looks a lot less like Cinderella. This year in Philadelphia, the Tigers (17-3 overall, 7-0 Ivy) made their third straight appearance at the Final Four, joining Virginia, Connecticut, and the Lady Monarchs of Old Dominion. This time Princeton met Old Dominion as an equal, having trounced Connecticut, 4-1, in the semifinal on November 20. Though the Tigers lost to the Lady Monarchs, falling 3-2 on November 22, it seems fitting that Hale and O'Malley -- two parts of the team's octet of outstanding senior players -- would once again play pivotal roles for Princeton.

    After suffering through an early onslaught by Old Dominion that put the Tigers in a two-goal deficit, the team mustered its will and experience and went on the offensive. With little more than a minute remaining in the half, Hale started a penalty corner that led to an apparent goal by Melanie Meerschwam '01. Although a controversial call by the officials disallowed the score, Princeton continued its attack.

    About 15 minutes into the second half, the team's persistence paid off as the skillful Hale, who set the Tigers' all-time scoring mark this year, sliced through Old Dominion's defense and slammed in Princeton's first goal of the day. From that moment, the team had an edge -- using its skill, heart, and speed to keep Old Dominion fighting to hold its lead. The Lady Monarchs briefly regained a two-score margin on a penalty corner that Argentine star Marina DiGiacomo turned into a goal with 13:15 left, but the Tigers returned fire at 10:41. They made the score 3-2 with a sensational penalty corner shot by Alison Morris '99, who looped the ball over the outstretched glove of the hapless Old Dominion goalie and just under the crossbar.

    O'Malley epito-mized the emotion of Princeton's determined push. Two weeks after tearing her right anterior-cruciate ligament in a game against Duke on November 2, the speedy attack had retaken the field wearing a brace to play some crucial minutes in the semifinal game. She started in the championship and despite limited range, time and again scrambled into position to maintain the Tigers' attack. If God had really gone to Princeton, O'Malley would have scored the tying goal. But instead, with 5:34 left in the game, she turned while making a cut and her knee buckled, sending her to the ground.

    In a strange irony, the Tigers' hopes for the title also failed at that moment, because for most of the game that remained, Old Dominion held the ball and killed the clock. Despite desperate efforts from Princeton defenders, the Lady Monarchs employed DiGiacomo's stick skill and quickness to keep the Tigers from mounting another attack.


    In Princeton's semifinal, held on a cold, murky night within the rain-soaked, echoing confines of Franklin Field, the team avenged a bitter, 2-1 loss to Connecticut earlier in the year. Hale and Hillary Matson '01 each scored twice in the 4-1 victory, while Prince-ton's defense clamped down on the Huskies. Matson's goal with just over 12 minutes left in the first half stood out, as the attack, who ranks among the fleetest players in the country, stole the ball from Connecticut star Katherine Boyle, then sprinted up the right side of the field. Crossing to the goal, she pushed in a backhand shot to tie the game at a goal apiece.

    That first score beautifully illustrates the killer speed and skill that have made Princeton a dangerous team, and which will keep it in the top ranks of the collegiate game. Even coach Beth Bozman would probably admit, however, that the team's chances for making the Final Four in the future will depend on whether it can replace the skill and heart displayed by Hale, O'Malley, and their six classmates.

    "They managed to hold us off," Hale said. "We didn't play badly -- they just played very well." The Tigers did a little better than "not play badly" -- at the very least, this season saw their fifth consecutive Ivy title. More than that, however, this team set a high-water mark for athletic and personal achievement that, according to Bozman, not even a national title would be likely to surpass. "I cannot imagine having a class like this one again," she said after the title game. "I don't mean just in terms of talent -- I mean in terms of what they gave to the program as people."

    -- Paul Hagar '91

    Football wins one for pride

  • All-Ivy Tigers

    On November 21, Wile E. Coyote caught the Road Runner, Charlie Brown kicked the ball away from Lucy, Ohio State beat Michigan, and Princeton manhandled Dartmouth. During the second half of the Tiger's 35-13 victory -- only the second Tiger victory over the Big Green in a decade -- more than one wary eye was cast to the sky to confirm that it was not, in fact, falling.

    Until the third quarter, however, Princeton seemed to be setting the stage for another heartbreaker. After an auspicious first drive that climaxed in a 39-yard touchdown pass from John Burnham '99 to Danny Brien '99, most of the remainder of the first half was a worrying recap of the season: the offense turning the ball over at inopportune times, the defense and special teams giving up a few big plays. In the wake of his six-interception performance against Yale, Burnham looked gun-shy, throwing several ill-advised passes and two interceptions. While the Tigers led 14-13 at the half, it was hard to feel confident given the team's misfortunes this season.

    But the tone of the game changed on Princeton's first play from scrimmage in the third quarter. Junior Derek Theisen got the call on a counter play, found a small seam between the left guard and center, and 70 yards later he'd given the Tigers an eight-point lead. "At that point," head coach Steve Tosches said after the game, "we figured the only way we could lose was if we put our defense in a short-field situation." Therefore, the rest of the half featured old-school, NFC East, field-position football. Burnham threw only two more passes the rest of the game, and the Tigers finished with 53 rushes for 285 yards. Punter Matt Evans '99 kept the Big Green pinned deep -- Dartmouth started four of its six second-half drives inside its 20 -- and its offense was unable to consistently move the ball. Late in the game Princeton scored two touchdowns, and Tosches was able to put in the seniors for the last few plays.

    At 5-5, the Tigers played exactly to preseason predictions -- they were picked to take fourth in the Ivies, and that's where they finished. "If three or four plays had gone differently this season," Theisen said after the game, "we could have been 8-2 or 9-1." He may be right, but this team was too inconsistent on offense to deserve eight wins. Burnham had an up-and-down year, the kind of year he could build upon if he weren't graduating in the spring. A few other Tigers shone during their last campaign, including special-teams aces Evans and place-kicker Alex Sierk '99, who are among the best to play their respective positions at Princeton. As for captain and defensive end Dan Swingos '99, in the words of Tosches, "he will go down as one of the finest captains I've ever had."

    Any review of the season would be incomplete without mentioning the success of Princeton Stadium. The opening-day sellout against Cornell was perhaps to be expected, but the fact that 19,000 fans came to see 4-5 Princeton play 2-7 Dartmouth on a blustery, 45-degree day is impressive. Still, like the team, the crowd needs improvement. The almost eerie silence during games in the final years at Palmer Stadium could be blamed on the cavernous atmosphere and acres of depressingly empty seats. But the crowd noise in the new stadium still hovered around conversational. During the Dartmouth game fewer than 100 people stood to applaud Theisen's electrifying run. Perhaps the fans were frozen into their seats ... or perhaps they just felt that vociferous cheering would be too distastefully plebeian.

    Pete Carril used to complain about the same phenomenon at Princeton basketball games, but last year a huge and vocal student section recharged the atmosphere in Jadwin Gym. This fall, the athletics department tried to lure students to football games with free food, yet student support had all but melted away by the Dartmouth game. Maybe student interest just faded with the team's title hopes, and maybe a loud and excited crowd next season will give Princeton something the Ivy League hasn't seen in years -- a real home-field advantage. But that's not the way to bet.

    The epilogue for a senior class that arrived in time for Princeton's first outright Ivy League championship in 31 years and departed with a new stadium ought to be left to the team's captain and vocal leader. "If you want to remember my class for anything," Swingos said, "remember our heart."

    -- Wes Tooke '98

    All-Ivy Tigers

    First team

    DE Dan Swingos '99
    DE David Ferrara '00
    OL Hamin Abdullah '00
    OL Dennis Norman '01
    P Matt Evans '99

    Second Team

    LB Jim Salters '99
    PK Alex Sierk '99
    WR Ryan Crowley '99
    OL Justin Bennett '99

    Volleyball reaches Ivy finals

    At the onset of this season, every other women's volleyball team in the Ivy League should have given a hearty "sis-boom-bah!" to the Princeton Class of '98. With the 1997 champion Tigers supposedly decimated by the graduation of three starters, the league's also-rans could envision a race for the title that, for once, would not follow a path through Princeton.

    Indeed, the Tigers (19-13 overall) failed to win their 11th title, but youth did not prevent them from wreaking serious havoc at the most competitive league tournament in recent memory, held November 13-15 and won by host Brown.

    "I wasn't expecting anything this season," said senior outside Rose Kuhn.

    But Tigers stayed "positive," according to Kuhn, and despite a slow start, their season peaked over the course of five tournament matches, in which third-seeded Princeton blindsided hopefuls like Yale and Dartmouth to reach its familiar berth in the finals. Princeton battled its strongest Ivy competition ever through 22 games, including a five-game loss to top-seeded Brown in the winners' bracket finals, which set up a losers' bracket final against Yale the morning of the third day of the tourney.

    Princeton almost polished off Yale in three games as the Tigers regained their groove of a varied offense and stellar defense, but the Elis hung on and forced the Tigers to come back from an 8-5 fifth-game deficit. "The Yale match was all I ever could have asked for," said Kuhn. "We played hard and well."

    Princeton tried to maintain its momentum against Brown, but a first-game win and a strong fourth-game, in which the fatigued Tigers starting six "pulled out all the stops," according to head coach Glenn Nelson, were not enough to extend the tournament to a double-final match as Brown prevailed, 9-15, 15-12, 15-8, 10-15, 15-9. "Any of five teams could have won it," said Nelson. "I feel good about making the finals."

    While Kuhn asserted her offensive prowess throughout the season as expected, it was outside Sabrina King '01 whose transition into the starting lineup helped the Tigers keep their edge, just as Kuhn, a fellow grad of Laguna Beach (California) High School, had done three years -- and three all-Ivy selections -- ago.

    In fact, while sharing the bulk of the passing burden, Kuhn and King finished the tournament with nearly identical kill totals, thanks in part to fine setting from Melissa Ford '00. And the healthy competition helped both outsides garner all-tournament honors. Still, as the team's only senior, Kuhn bore a different burden. "It was lonely at times," she admitted, "not having anyone to share the feelings -- or the responsibility."

    Yet with almost, but not quite, three Ivy titles to her credit, Kuhn said, "I have no regrets."

    -- Josh Stephens '97

    Men's basketball opens season 1-1

    It took three days and five minutes for men's basketball coach Bill Carmody to stop worrying about the implications of a season-opening loss to Lafayette. Three days was how long he had to wait for the next game; the five minutes was how long the Tigers took to restore his confidence once that game began.

    Carmody's worries began on November 18 when, while starting two freshmen and a sophomore, Princeton was alarmingly listless against a hot-shooting Lafayette squad, falling 63-47 to the preseason Patriot League favorite in Easton, Pennsylvania. The game was ugly for Tiger fans: Princeton shot 29.4 percent from the floor, committed 18 turnovers, and trailed by a double-digit margin for the entire second half of the game.

    With the knot in his tie dangling somewhere around his solar plexus, Carmody sat in the post-game interview room and gave a withering assessment of the team's performance. They had not played well, he told reporters, and what was worse, they had not played hard. The sole Tiger spared Carmody's criticism was referred to by number only. "Number 10 was the only guy out there who played as hard as he could."

    Number 10, also known as senior guard Brian Earl, sat next to Carmody at the conference looking, if possible, more annoyed than his coach. Earl, who scored a game-high 22 points, hadn't gotten the chance to become accustomed to losing during his three previous years at Princeton. He appears to take it badly. "It's hard to tell what you're going to get," Earl said, referring to the game-readiness of the freshmen in the lineup. "In the preseason you have a freshman going against a freshman."

    The inexperience of two of those freshmen, prize recruits Chris Young, of Texas, and Chris Krug, of Philadelphia, was painfully evident against Lafayette. Faced with the near-impossible task of replacing graduated center Steve Goodrich '98, they showed how far they have to go, combining for eight points, four turnovers, and one assist in 45 total minutes.

    The Tigers -- and Carmody in particular -- had the aforementioned three days to think about the Lafayette game before they traveled south to face the UNC-Wilmington Seahawks. Coach Jerry Wainwright's team had given a more experienced Tiger team a scare in Jadwin last year and promised to be even tougher on their home court.

    "Five minutes into the game," Carmody says, "I was thinking, 'I don't know if we're going to win this thing tonight, but I know we're going to be OK." He meant "OK" in a sense that went beyond the one night's performance. "I was thinking that we might actually be able to win some games this year," he said.

    The team played with the kind of intensity Carmody had missed in the opener, cutting the number of turnovers to a less-painful 13 and shooting an improved 39.6 percent. Princeton trailed by four at the break but made up the difference in the second half. With the score tied 47-47 and 20 seconds remaining, forward Mason Rocca '00 had the chance to put Princeton ahead but missed two free throws. The Seahawks scored at the other end to lead 49-47, but junior Nate Walton inbounded the ball under his own basket with five seconds remaining, hustled down the length of the floor and tipped in Gabe Lewullis '99's missed three- pointer at the buzzer. Princeton pulled away in overtime as Lewullis, who led all scorers with 30, also had seven of Princeton's 12 overtime points to seal the 61-54 win.

    With a schedule that has the Tigers at home only twice (December 9 against Bucknell and December 22 against Rutgers) until January, Carmody's task is to break in his freshmen on faraway courts in Alabama, Iowa, Maryland, and Hawaii. For Carmody, the prospect isn't too worrying. "We've always played well with our black uniforms on," he says. "You play better, sometimes, where nobody likes you."

    -- Rob Garver