October 24, 2001: Sports
Sports Web Exclusives! Matt Golden's From the Cheap Seats column
By Jerry Price
Photo by Beverly Schaefer: Cameron Atkinson 03 led the Tigers in rushing with 51 yards and a touchdown in their loss to Colgate.
Its been a decade now since Roger Hughes took a mobile, strong-armed 6' 2" quarterback, rewrote the Dartmouth offensive record book, and earned the Big Green the Ivy League football trophy.
The quarterback, of course, was Jay Fiedler, who today finds himself as an established NFL starter and Sports Illustrated cover boy. Hughes has moved on from offensive coordinator at Dartmouth to head coach at Princeton, and he is hoping to repeat that success with another mobile, strong-armed, 6' 2" quarterback, this time named David Splithoff 04.
As Hughes is learning, sometimes it works and sometimes it doesnt. In the early part of his second season at Princeton, Hughes at least had it working on the right night.
Splithoff and Princeton looked great in a 4411 rout of Columbia at home on September 29, a win that started the team off on the right foot in the Ivy League. But any momentum that the Tigers gained disappeared the next week, when Princeton lost not only a game to visiting Colgate, 3510, but also a host of key players to injury a tough way to head into a key stretch of games at Brown and at Harvard October 13 and 20.
Theres a physical toughness that you need to play this game, Hughes said. We had it against Columbia, but we didnt have it against Colgate. You need it every game.
While no one is ready to suggest that Splithoff is headed directly to NFL stardom, he does have the Tigers pointed in the right direction. Splithoff gives Hughes the type of quarterback he loves, and this could be another perfect match of coach, quarterback, and system.
Splithoffs brief Tiger career has already provided some big-time thrills. From mid-1991 through the 2001 Columbia game, Princeton scored at least 44 points in a game four times, twice in Splithoffs four starts and twice in the other 94 games in that stretch. The quarterback had averaged 51.3 yards on his first six career touchdown passes, and he had thrown the three-longest passes in Princeton Stadiums four-year history, including a 78-yarder to Chisom Opara 03 against Columbia.
Im honored to have the opportunity to be out there, Splithoff says. Its very exciting. Its a coaching staff that really cares about kids and wants to get better. Its going to pay dividends.
Splithoff went an impressive 11 for 19 against the Lions, racking up 207 yards and two touchdowns. He also ran for two scores as Princeton built a 173 halftime lead and then broke it wide open in the third quarter. Junior Cameron Atkinson ran for 115 yards in the game, while senior Chris Roser-Jones was named Ivy League and ECAC Defensive Player of the Week after returning one interception for a touchdown and setting up another TD with another pick.
After the solid showing against Columbia, Princeton looked forward to the opportunity to win back-to-back games for the first time since 1998. Instead, the Tigers had a tough afternoon against Colgate, though it could have been much, much worse.
Roser-Jones missed the game after pulling a hamstring in practice, while leading tackler Brandon Mueller 04 sat out with a shoulder injury. That merely set the stage for that Saturday afternoon, when three key Tigers were hurt. Opara frightened everyone in the stadium when he was immobilized for 20 minutes on the field and finally taken to the hospital after hitting his head on a Colgate defenders thigh after a first-quarter reception, but his neck was only sprained. He returned to the sideline in the third quarter.
Joe Weiss 04, an emerging star at defensive end who had made seven first-quarter tackles, was not so fortunate. Weiss suffered a broken fibula near the end of the quarter, an injury that will likely end the sophomores season. Finally, Splithoff left the game early in the fourth quarter after taking two tremendous hits, but he was fine immediately after the game.
Its disappointing, Splithoff said. We have to learn to put two good games together.
Its all part of the learning process. That process, both the good and the bad, was on display at Princeton Stadium on consecutive Saturdays.
Jerry Price is assistant director for athletic public affairs.
By Paul Hagar 91
Photo by Beverly Schaefer: Coach Julie Shackford led the Tigers to a 60 start.
After winning the Ivy championship last year, Princetons womens soccer team (60 overall, 20 Ivy) began 2001 with its sights set on a third straight appearance in the postseason. The Tigers lost star Julie Shaner 01 to graduation, but added nine strong freshmen to their roster this year and got off to a good start with two blowout victories, 50 over Iowa State and 60 over Lehigh. A 10 win at Dartmouth on September 23 a game rescheduled due to the terrorist attacks gave Princeton an inside track toward a repeat Ivy championship and helped it earn a 25th-place national ranking early in October. A victory against powerful Harvard in late October would put the Tigers in the league drivers seat.
But even with Princetons initial success, Coach Julie Shackford remains focused on keeping perspective: Wed like to put ourselves in a position to win the league and make the postseason, she said. But even more we just want to enjoy ourselves and count our blessings. She says her teams support of each other has helped them get through the shock of the September attacks, which didnt directly affect any of her players, but to which everyone had some sort of connection.
Shackford also is cautious about predicting too much: Its a really young group, she says, but they do have confidence, and they give us a lot more depth. Still, I have to be concerned with their inexperience. Shackford worries her younger players could make errors on the field, but remains hopeful her teams individual talent will help make up for any mistakes.
Among the strongest of Princetons new talents are freshman Janine Willis and her sister Rochelle. The twins from Unionville, Ontario, are likely reasons Princetons recruitment class ranked as one of the nations most talented. Both twins play in Canadas national system; Janine is on Canadas World Cup team. Shackford says, The Willis twins have made the adjustment to the college game. They are extremely humble, ask a lot of questions, and have no arrogance. They are very much team players. Shackford adds that she expects Janine to start up front on attack consistently throughout the season: She is extremely athletic a level above in terms of physicality and knowledge of the game, says the coach.
Last year, Princeton compiled a 72 percent shutout rate that was tops in the nation. The addition of the Willis twins and other stars like freshman Kristina Fontanez, when coupled with veteran leadership from senior cocaptains Kelly Sosa and Linley Gober, make it very likely the teams well-earned reputation for defense may be enhanced by one of the leagues best offenses. This years team might even be able to afford a few more mistakes on defense. Better yet, it could mean the Tigers find significant success in the 2001 postseason as well as in years to come.
By Paul Hagar 91
Photo by Beverly Schaefer: Junior Jason White stars in goal for the Tigers.
A 30 victory over Ivy rival Dartmouth continued an early-
season unbeaten streak for Princetons mens soccer team (312 overall, 201 Ivy). The Tigers started the year with three strong showings against in-state rivals: a 50 trouncing of Monmouth, a 10 win over Fairleigh Dickinson, and a 11 draw with Rutgers. Last season, Princeton showed similar early strength, but faltered versus Dart-mouth and ended up 25 in the league.
Coach Jim Barlow 91 expects 2001 to be different: The team is very focused and has taken a lesson from last year where then we might have become a bit complacent, this year guys refocused immediately after getting the tie at Rutgers [ranked number 23 nationally at the time of the game]. The coach expects this added measure of discipline to determine whether his team has success. Theres so much parity in the league more this year maybe than ever before that making all the little plays and staying sharp in front of both goals are the difference, he says.
If maturity on the field is the key to success in the Ivies, then this years team looks particularly strong, with leadership and experience on every part of the field, according to Barlow. The defense has three returning starters in front of veteran goalie Jason White 03, who the coach calls one of the best keepers in the nation and one of the hardest workers on the team. The midfield, which is an essential part of Princetons support-oriented offensive scheme, also features a core of experience in senior Matt Behncke, one of the teams most talented passers. And on the attack line, the Tigers have a proven threat in senior Mike Nugent, who notched four goals in the teams first four games.
Facing the Tigers is a schedule their coach describes as the toughest in years, with road trips to Maryland, Harvard, and Brown, as well as a home matchup against Indiana on October 28. Barlow expects his team to function best by relying on a foundation of solid defense and working to improve its possession of the ball and sustain an attack. But he also says getting the Ivy championship could depend on more than effort: It takes a little bit of fortune to win the title, he says. Most games are decided by one goal, and most of them arent high scoring.
Whatever happens in the balance of the season, Princeton has likely faced its toughest situation already in its match with Fairleigh Dickinson, which was one of the few events not postponed in the week following September 11. Said Barlow: When it happened, all our guys had their minds on family, friends, and the other people concerned, the people who were lost. It was something on our minds, and not something that would go away. However, there was something uplifting about everyone at the game the fans and the players on both teams all coming from that shared experience of soccer community. There was lot more to it than just soccer.
Paul Hagar 91 is a former senior editor for PAW.