March 7, 2001: Sports

Expectations change for Nate Walton '01: Tigers enjoy surprising success with their new center

Men's lacrosse boasts talent, depth: Tough early schedule will be a barometer for championship hopes

Scores and Schedules

Sports Web Exclusives! Matt Golden's From the Cheap Seats column

Photo by Beverly Schaefer

Expectations change for Nate Walton '01
Tigers enjoy surprising success with their new center

Between August 31 and the start of its season in November, the Princeton men’s basketball team’s roster and coaching staff were ravaged by injuries and defections. The losses caused concern among Tiger fans and vastly changed captain Nate Walton’s expectations heading into his senior season.

Walton would begin his final collegiate tour with a new head coach, a new position, and, most significant, a pivotal role on the Tiger squad. Recruited as a forward, Walton was moved to the center position, which, at Princeton, is a position true to its name. The Tigers’ success historically revolves around their big man in the middle.

“I remember finding out about Chris Young ’02 signing with the [Pittsburgh] Pirates and coach Carmody leaving on the same day,” recalls Walton, who at six feet, seven inches tall is noticeably shorter than most opposing centers. “There was a sense of excitement that I would be placed in such a key role, but it was disappointing losing Chris. He was a very talented player, but we’ve tried to maintain a positive outlook on the situation from day one.”

He adds, “I remember saying to my dad, ‘Well, dad, we’ve got a new coach, and I’m going to be playing center. I guess I better go out and start practicing my post moves.’ He told me not to make too big of a deal out of it. He said it doesn’t matter what position you play, a good basketball player is a good basketball player no matter where he is on the floor.”

Those words would be typical of a proud father supporting his son, but when that father is Bill Walton, winner of three collegiate national basketball championships with UCLA, two NBA championships with the Portland Trail Blazers and Boston Celtics, and a member of the Basketball Hall of Fame, you give them some added credence.
Proving his father right, Walton has been rock solid for Princeton. The Tiger veteran, whose younger brothers, Chris and Luke, play at San Diego State and the University of Arizona, respectively, was averaging 10.3 points and 5.1 rebounds per game heading into a February 13 first-place, Ivy-League showdown with the Penn Quakers. (For coverage of that game visit the PAW Web site at www.princeton. edu/~ paw.) Battling through an early-season ankle injury, Walton posted respectable numbers and provided leadership that kept the young Princeton squad afloat. The Tigers dropped seven of their first 11 games while a hobbled Walton and several new faces struggled to find consistency and continuity. But as Ivy League play approached, Walton seemed to hit his stride. After posting a career-high 26 points against the College of New Jersey, Walton paced the Tigers to a 4—0 Ivy start that left Princeton knotted in a first-place tie with Penn.

“Nate has been absolutely outstanding for us,” said first-year head coach John Thompson III ’88. “He does everything we ask him to, and he’s been a tremendous asset. He may take some jump-hooks at times that he shouldn’t, but you’ve got to keep in mind, he was recruited as a forward. In my mind, he’s made a remarkable transition.”

That transition has presented an unusually difficult learning curve. The center plays a nontraditional role in the highly disciplined Princeton offense. “You touch the ball so frequently at the center position in our offense, it’s difficult to know when you should look to shoot the ball and when to pass the ball,” Walton explains. “In most offenses, the center doesn’t get the ball very often. Basically, when he gets it, he shoots it. That’s not the case in our offense.”

With Walton anchoring the middle and freshmen Andre Logan, Ed Persia, and Konrad Wysocki rounding into steady contributors, the Tigers have already surpassed the expectations of most. But for Walton, in the twilight of his Ivy career, that only means it is time to raise the bar. He says, “For us to . . . play in the postseason, we need to put forth a consistent effort every night out. That is our only focus. If we do that, we’ve got a chance to win every game we play. All you can ask for is a chance to win every time out.” That effort was evident in the Tigers’ first battle with Penn, when Princeton rolled to a 67—53 win for a leg up in the Ivy title chase.

Princeton fans would agree that Walton and the Tigers have already delivered more than anyone had a right to ask for when the season began.

By Mark Gola

Mark Gola is a frequent contributor to PAW.

Return to Sports Main Menu

Photo by Beverly Schaefer

Men's lacrosse boasts talent, depth
Tough early schedule will be a barometer for championship hopes

Last year, the Princeton men’s lacrosse team pulled off one of its biggest upsets in years, beating the University of Virginia, 12—11, in the NCAA tournament semifinals. The Tigers’ 13—7 loss to Syracuse in the Memorial Day title game barely dimmed the glow on a year in which Princeton went 12—3, won a sixth straight Ivy League title, and ran its streak of Ivy League wins to 31 straight.

Princeton returns almost all of its key players and adds several freshmen who could see significant playing time in 2001. Once again, Princeton’s primary challenger for the NCAA title will be Syracuse, which enters this season as a favorite to repeat. The Tigers themselves hope for a return to the title game. Ryan Mollett ’01, an honorable mention All-America defenseman last year and one of Princeton’s four captains, explains, “We think that we have the talent to be playing on Memorial Day, but it’s spread out so evenly that every day we’re pushing each other in practice to see who’s going to be playing for us on that day.”

Cocaptain Trevor Tierney ’01 proved his mettle in goal last year, earning honorable mention All-America status. He’ll be protected by one of the best, and deepest, defenses in the game. Along with Mollett, starters Scott Farrell ’02, another honorable mention All-America, and Damien Davis ’03 return. Brian Lieberman ’03, Joe Rosenbaum ’03, Ricky Schultz ’04, and John Walsh ’01 will compete for the longstick midfield spot. Winship Ross ’01 returns as a defensive midfielder, one who wields a short stick but plays only when his team is on defense, and will be joined there by Chip Buzzeo ’01, another cocaptain. All of that experience will help Princeton immensely. Head coach Bill Tierney says, “Last year, going into the season we really didn’t have much of an idea of what each other was doing. This year, we know that we have four or five guys who can play defense at a really high level.”

The Tigers have even more depth on the attack, where they return all of their key contributors. Cocaptain Matt Striebel ’01, another honorable mention All-America, will again run the offense from behind the cage. B. J. Prager ’02 has recovered from the knee injury that ended his season last April and should continue to rack up goals on the crease. Last year, Brendan Tierney ’02, Sean Hartofilis ’03, and Josh White ’03 also saw substantial time at attack, though White will probably play midfield this spring. Princeton also added two of the four best attack recruits in the country: Ryan Boyle ’04 and Jason Donegar ’04, who Tierney says have been “all we expected and more.”

Add to that list Will MacColl ’03, who Tierney says is perhaps the most improved player on the roster, and Princeton could have a high-scoring attack where playing time will be hard to come by. “No one’s going to play as much as he wants to play,” Tierney cautions, adding that a successful campaign should salve any brooding about who’s playing. White won’t be the only attackman to see time at midfield, where Princeton suffered its only serious loss to graduation — Josh Sims ’00 was twice the college midfielder of the year and was Princeton’s best offensive player the last two years. Tierney sees a partial replacement in Rob Torti ’01, who ran on the first midfield as a freshman but was hit by a variety of injuries in 1999 and 2000. “Rob Torti is by far the most dominant midfielder we’ve had in the last few years outside of Sims,” Tierney says.

Matt Bailer ’01 has been the Tigers’ face-off man the past two years, but he will be challenged by Drew Casino ’04, perhaps the most highly touted face-off recruit Tierney has landed at Princeton. Douglas Baugher ’02 and Greg Golaszewski ’03 will also take some draws.

Princeton opens its schedule with four tough opponents. On March 3 the Tigers faced Johns Hopkins, and on March 10 they host the University of Virginia, both of whom were national semifinalists last year. The Tigers travel to Hofstra, an NCAA quarterfinalist last year, on March 17, and to Syracuse on March 24. The schedule eases after that, with games against Hobart, Rutgers, and the Ivy League slate.

Heading into the season, Princeton and Syracuse are clearly the two top teams in the country. Last year, the Orangemen were far superior to the Tigers, but that talent gap has narrowed substantially. This year, the two teams could square off at Rutgers on Memorial Day in a classic NCAA championship showdown.

By David Marcus ’92

David Marcus is a frequent contributor to PAW.

Return to Sports Main Menu