December 4, 2002: Sports
Sports Web Exclusives! P-nut Gallery column
title hopes dashed
By Sophia Hollander 02
Photo: Branden Benson 05 en route to his first career touchdown against Penn. (Beverly Schaefer)
Jay McCareins 05 stood alone in the center of the field and watched the football spiral into his hands. It was the first quarter, and Princeton trailed Penn by two points after the Quakers had sacked quarterback Matt Verbit 02 in the endzone for a safety.
But here was a chance to snatch back some momentum. The errant pass from Penn quarterback Mike Mitchell slammed squarely into McCareinss body and then bounced away.
The play was not unlike Princetons season. The 2002 Tigers (54 overall, 33 Ivy League) specialized in fourth quarter rallies, but when it counted most they could not come back. A team with a legitimate shot at a championship in September was left striving for a winning season.
Penn (81, 60) capitalized on the second chance McCareins gave them as Mitchell connected on a 30-yard pass, putting Penn on the one-yard line, and setting up a touchdown run. Penn eventually led 230 at halftime en route to a 4413 thrashing, which all but eliminated the Tigers from Ivy contention. (Penn crushed Harvard 449 on November 16 to clinch the Ivy Championship.)
The demoralized Tigers stumbled into Yale (63, 42) the following week and lost 73 as the defense delivered and the offense sputtered. Throughout the downturn, quarterback David Splithoff 04 stood along the Princeton sidelines and fidgeted. Against Penn, Splithoff, who was sidelined three straight games after dislocating his shoulder against Harvard in October, watched his replacement throw a pass into the arms of a cutting Quaker, Fred Plaza, who dashed 30-yards for a score. He saw Chisom Opara 03 drop three straight passes and several other Tigers juggle balls like inept circus performers.
He watched Verbit fumble the ball on the Tigers two yard line with 3:13 left in the game and Penns resulting touchdown. He watched, because there was nothing else he could do.
We were a little bit lucky that Splithoff wasnt able to play, Penn head coach Al Bagnoli said. It put a young quarterback [Verbit] in a difficult situation.
Before the injury, Splithoff was ranked first in the league in passing efficiency, with a 146.3 rating. The Tigers could also have used Splithoffs penchant for big scoring plays against Yale. The Elis held Princeton to only three plays that gained more than 20 yards.
But despite the disappointing ending, Princeton still produced its most successful season under head coach Roger Hughes as the Tigers assured themselves of at least a .500 record heading into their final home game against Dartmouth November 23.
Also of note this season, Cameron Atkinson 03 became the sixth Princetonian to rush for more than 2,000 yards in a career, passing Dick Kazmaier 52 and Cosmo Iacavazzi 65 on the way to fifth-place on the all-time list. Opara also entered the record books as Princetons third all-time leader in career receptions.
In terms of the future, Splithoff returns for one more season, while sophomores such as McCareins, Verbit, and wide receiver B. J. Szymanski showed flashes of strong play and demonstrated that Hughes and his staff have brought quality football players to Princeton during the past three years. Nevertheless, its wait til next year time once again at Old Nassau.
Sophia Hollander 02 writes regularly for The New York Times sports section.
Photo: Emily Kroshus 04 (109) (David Zinman)
It was tournament time again for the womens soccer team. Coach Julie Shackford and her 1321 Tigers lost to Penn State in Maryland in the first round of the NCAA Division I tournament on November 15. Princeton fell 20 to the Nittany Lions. This was the fourth straight year that the team was invited to the annual, 64-team tourney. After opening with 12 straight wins, the Tigers finished the season one win shy of the team record for victories. The team won 14 games in 2001 and 1980, its first year as a varsity sport.
The field hockey team defeated defending national champion Michigan in the opening round of the Division I NCAA tournament. But Princeton lost to Penn State 32 in the next round. The Tigers made their third straight NCAA tournament appearance and seventh all-time. Princeton earned the Ivy League championship for the eighth consecutive season and advanced to the 16-team tournament with the leagues automatic bid. Members of the Class of 2003 finished their careers with a 271 mark in Ivy League play.
The mens and womens cross-country teams made strong showings at the 2002 Heptagonal Championships in New York City November 1. Emily Kroshus 04 paced the womens team, which finished fourth, with a time of 17:38.6, good for sixth place overall. Columbias womens team won the Heps title. Tristan Colangelo 04 crossed the finish line on the five-mile course in 24:55.1, placing fourth and helping the mens team to a third place finish. Jon Bell 03 finished in ninth place for the Tigers, and Austin Smith 05 placed 10th. Dartmouth won the mens Heps championship for the third straight year.
The mens squash teams freshman sensation and new No. 1 Yasser el-Halaby marched through the Ivy League preseason tournament November 10 without a loss in his three matches. Princeton defeated Cornell (90), Columbia (90), and Yale (54) to take the tourney title. Princeton cyclings Tyler Wren 03 won his second straight Division II title at Octobers national Collegiate Mountain Bike cross-country championships. Wren completed the 11.5-mile course at the Angel Fire Ski Resort in New Mexico in just over 2 hours and 22 minutes. The win gave him four national titles in the last two years. He is Princetons first national cycling champion since the 1960s. Wren, an economics major, will join the pro ranks next year, riding for the New Jersey based Bolla-Colavita squad.
At the 2002 NYC Marathon on November 3, Michael Danahy, a graduate student in the chemistry department, finished 47th overall and 38th among men. The 23-year-old runner was the top finisher from New Jersey and completed his third marathon in 2:29:53. Danahy wants to qualify for the U.S. Olympic trials in the marathon. He says he needs to break 2:22 to get there and hopes to qualify at the Boston Marathon in April.