October 8, 2003: Sports

Dazzling displays – and disappointments
Tigers lose to Lehigh in season opener

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Dazzling displays – and disappointments
Tigers lose to Lehigh in season opener

By Sophia Hollander ’02

Photo: Quarterback Matt Verbit ’05 with the ball in the second quarter, before fumbling moments later. (Beverly Schaefer)

The plays flared and faded like beacons fired into the sky, signaling Matt Verbit ’05’s potential.

Sparkling displays vanished as quickly as they had come in Princeton’s season-opening, 28—13 loss against Lehigh before 15,205 fans at Princeton Stadium.

With David Splithoff ’04 still nursing the shoulder injury he received last season against Harvard, the Tigers thrust Verbit into the starter’s seat. He responded with a performance that was both shaky and – at times – sensational.

Verbit’s 39- and 37-yard passes to Jon Dekker ’06 were erased by meager rushing attempts; an inspired 32-yard rush quickly was countered by his fumble three plays later.

Princeton was trailing 28—0, when Verbit launched a dazzling 75-yard touchdown pass to B. J. Szymanski ’05 to start the fourth quarter. But the extra-point attempt clanged off the goal post.

“I made some stupid mistakes,” Verbit said. “I wasn’t happy with the way I played at all.”

It was the Tigers’ fifth straight season-opening loss and seventh straight loss to Lehigh (3—0), ranked No. 20 in Division I-AA entering the game. Though the Tigers enjoyed a winning season last year, the loss of key players and continued inconsistency from Verbit will make it challenging to build on that success.

In one typical sequence in the second quarter, Verbit scooted across the field with the ease of a bicycle zipping through traffic. He zoomed up the left side, swerved nimbly to avoid a crash, and sped past the players in pursuit.

The 32-yard run seemed just the spark the Tigers needed. But on his next rushing attempt, Verbit fumbled the ball directly into Lehigh’s hands.

“He got a little jittery at times,” Prince-ton head coach Roger Hughes said.

The Tigers missed the steadying hand of cocaptain Splithoff, the fifth all-time leading passer in school history, with 3,446 yards. Though Splithoff was available to play, the Tigers prefer to let him recover fully in time for the Ivy League season, Hughes said.

The gaps in Princeton’s defensive line left by the loss of three All-Ivy players to academic ineligibility — linebacker Zak Keasey ’04 and defensive backs Jay McCareins ’05 and Brandon Mueller ’04 — were glaring.

Mountain Hawks roamed the field at will, plucking uncontested passes from the air, while Lehigh’s offensive line limited the experienced members of the Princeton defense to only one sack.

“We found a way to shoot ourselves in the foot,” Hughes said. But, he added, “The kids hung in there.”

The Tigers mustered a convincing rally in the fourth quarter, led by Verbit’s two touchdown passes — reminiscent of last season when he led two fourth-quarter comebacks.

Princeton actually gained more net yards than Lehigh — 400 to 386 — with Verbit throwing 296 passing yards and rushing for 70 yards.

But the positives were overshadowed by the failure to capitalize on big plays and the porous defense.

“Setbacks,” Hughes said, “pave the way for comebacks.”

Sophia Hollander ’02 is a senior researcher/ writer for NYC2012, which is working to bring the 2012 Olympic Games to New York City.


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Photos by Beverly Schaefer

The season began well for WOMEN’S SOCCER. In the Princeton Invitational September 12—14, the Tigers first defeated the University of North Carolina at Greensboro 3—0 and then beat Saint Louis 2—1, limiting the Billikens to seven shots. In the season opener, Princeton defeated American 4—1. Scorers against American included Theresa Sherry ’04, who racked up goals in two consecutive games – playing two different sports. Sherry ended last year with the game-winning overtime goal in last spring’s N.C.A.A. championship women’s lacrosse game against Virginia.

Despite the record heat, the MEN’S SOCCER team survived a summer trip to Italy with a 2—2 record, and impressive victory came against Piacenza, the 2002 Under-21 national champions. Back in the U.S., the team lost to Villanova 1—0 but returned to defeat Lehigh 1—0.

In FIELD HOCKEY, the Tigers – under new coach Kristen Holmes-Winn – outlasted Yale 5—4 in an overtime thriller September 13, but lost the next day to Penn State 3—2. It was the third straight time that Princeton, fell to the Nittany Lions.

WOMEN’S GOLF set a team record for a two-round tournament when the Tigers defeated 17 opponents at the Dart-mouth Invitational. First-place finisher Avery Kiser ’05 shot a two-under 71 to claim the tournament championship.

MEN’S WATER POLO was 4—0 after defeating Iona 10-6 in the North/South Invitational at DeNunzio Pool September 14. John Stover ’06 was named Princeton Athlete of the Week after scoring 14 goals over the course of the four games.

August’s World Rowing Champion-ships in Milan didn’t lack for Princetonians. Tiger LIGHTWEIGHT CREW captain John Wachter ’04 helped stroke the U.S. lightweight men’s eight to a silver medal. Andreanne Morin ’04, of Montreal, picked up a bronze medal for Canada in the women’s open eight and helped qualify her boat for the Olympic Games.

Other Tigers were Jason Flickinger ’99, Tom Herschmiller ’01, Simon Carcagno ’98, Danika Harris ’95, and Lianne Bennion Nelson ’95. Flickinger took home U.S. gold in the men’s four with cox, and Herschmiller helped Canada capture the Men’s Straight Four title. Carcagno received a bronze medal in the men’s lightweight pair event.

Sometimes you just need a bigger trophy case. WOMEN’S LACROSSE player Rachael Becker ’03 has been named a finalist for the Women’s Sports Foundation’s 2003 Sportswoman of the Year Award. A three-time first-team All-American, Becker also won the 2003 Honda Award for lacrosse, and shared the coveted C. Otto von Kienbusch award as Princeton’s top senior female athlete.

By Nate Sellyn ’04

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