October 6, 2004: Sports
By David Mordkoff ’01
Princeton athletes were everywhere at the Summer Olympics in Athens: in the air, in the water, on the water, and on the ground. Nearly a dozen Tigers represented four nations in five sports, making their biggest splash at the Schinias Olympic Rowing Center, where Princetonians won three medals in a span of two days.
Chris Ahrens ’98 was part of the men’s heavyweight eight crew that won the first U.S. gold medal in rowing’s marquee event since 1964. The Ameri-cans dominated the Aug. 22 final, taking the lead early and blowing away the field by the midway point of the 2,000-meter race. The U.S. boat finished in 5 minutes, 42.48 seconds, more than a second ahead of the second-place boat.
“We ended up having a great start,” Ahrens said. “In the second 500 [meters], when we went to make a push, all of a sudden we had a lot of margin and it came relatively easily. In some ways, it was one of the easiest races I’ve ever been in, both in college and with the national team.”
The victory helped erase some of the disappointment Ahrens felt after the 2000 Olympics, when the U.S. eight placed fifth after winning the three previous world championships.
Tom Herschmiller ’01 won a silver medal for Canada in the men’s heavyweight four. In a photo finish, his boat finished 0.08 seconds behind first-place Britain Aug. 21. Classmate Paul Teti ’01 competed for the United States in the men’s lightweight four, placing ninth overall.
On the women’s side, Lianne Bennion-Nelson ’95 earned a silver medal for the U.S. in the open eight. Her boat led early in the race before Romania took control to win by almost 2 seconds. Danika Harris Holbrook ’95 competed in quadruple sculls and finished sixth in the final. Andreanne Morin ’04 rowed for Canada in the women’s eight, but her boat did not qualify for the final.
Princetonians also excelled in fencing, where Soren Thompson ’04 equaled his performance at last year’s world championships by reaching the quarterfinals of the men’s individual epee. Thompson won his first bout 13—12 and then upset the top-ranked fencer in the world, Italy’s Alfredo Rota, 15—13. After Rota tied the score at 13 by recording two touches to Thompson’s feet, the bout seemed headed for overtime. But Thompson sensed a pattern and attacked to take the lead in the final seconds. “Doing it a third time probably wasn’t a good idea,” Thompson said.
In the quarterfinals, Thompson lost 15—11 to 2000 gold medalist Pavel Kolobkov of Russia. Later in the week, Thompson and the U.S. epee squad placed sixth in the men’s team epee. Thompson’s teammate Kamara James ’06, the only American who competed in the women’s individual epee, lost her opening match to 10th-seeded Tatiana Logounova of Russia.
In track and field, Tora Harris ’02, the 2002 NCAA high-jump champion, struggled after clearing his opening height of 2.15 meters. He missed three tries at 2.20 and did not reach the finals on Aug. 20, a busy night of competition at Olympic Stadium. “I felt pretty good, but I think I just got a little bit tired too quickly,” Harris said. “I think my preparation was more geared toward quicker competition. This one is very long. I didn’t expect it to be so long.”
Tanya Kalivas ’01 represented the host nation in women’s soccer. Kalivas, whose father is from Greece, played the first half and launched her team’s only shot in the opening 3—0 loss to the U.S., which went on to win the gold medal. She also played the full 90 minutes against Brazil. The Greek women’s team, featuring several American-born players, lost all three of its games without scoring a goal.
In swimming, Juan Valdivieso ’04 competed for Peru in the 100- and 200-meter butterfly. He placed sixth in his 100-meter heat Aug. 16. For Valdivieso, performances on his sport’s grandest stage provided bookends for an outstanding collegiate career. He also swam at the Sydney Olympics in 2000 as a Princeton freshman.
David Mordkoff ’01 covered the Olympics for the Associated Press.
By Phillip R. Thune ’92
Like the first few pages of a well-written thriller, Princeton’s 2004 football season opener looked promising from the start, with every indication that the story will only get better as the year unfolds.
On Sept. 18, under the lights of Princeton Stadium, the Tigers pasted Lafayette, 35—18, in a game that was even more lopsided than the score indicated. Princeton battered the Leopards from every direction and led 35—6 early in the fourth quarter.
Even though Lafayette entered the game 2—0, having outscored Marist and Georgetown 65—13, it was Princeton that looked to be in mid-season form. With the exception of two uncharacteristically short punts from Colin McDonough ’07, the Tigers executed coach Roger Hughes’ game plan to perfection. Princeton’s offense was efficient, moving the football in myriad ways. The tailback tandem of seniors Branden Benson and Jon Veach carried 32 times for 138 yards, complemented by two nifty reverses by Greg Fields ’06 for 34 yards, including a touchdown on the Tigers’ second drive of the game.
Senior quarterback Matt Verbit (18-for-26, 227 yards, and two touchdown passes) was proficient at screens and rollouts. He connected on two deep passes: a 50-yard bomb to Eric Walz ’07 in the fourth quarter and a 41-yarder to Clinton Wu ’05 late in the first quarter, which set up the Tigers’ second touchdown. Wu, who had more catches in the first half (seven) than he had all of last year, went down late in the second quarter with a knee injury.
Verbit also showed he has more than just a strong arm. With the score 14—6 with eight seconds left in the first half and the Tigers on Lafayette’s four-yard line, Princeton took one last shot at a touchdown, knowing Verbit could throw the ball away and preserve an easy field-goal attempt. Verbit rolled to the left, but found no open receivers. Instead of tossing the ball out of bounds, Verbit scrambled toward the left corner of the end zone, diving in just before the Leopards could reach him.
“I kept saying, ‘throw it away, throw it away’ ... and then touchdown,” said Hughes, smiling after the game. “I can’t say enough about Matt’s performance. He put the ball where he needed to, he was smart with the football, he directed us, and our guys rallied around him. He can make line calls for the offensive linemen, he knows the offense so well.” Verbit, who has started 15 straight games, is a yard shy of passing Ron Beible ’76 for third place on the Tigers’ career passing list.
Defensively, Princeton benefited from the return of three All-Ivy players who missed the 2003 season. Linebacker Zak Keasey ’05 had 12 tackles, including two sacks. The combination of Keasey and junior Justin Stull, last year’s leading tackler in the Ivies who had a game-high 14 tackles against Lafayette, gives Princeton two dominating players in the middle of the field. Equally important, the return of senior Brandon Mueller and junior Jay McCareins to the secondary allows Hughes to call for single coverage on opposing receivers. Lafayette completed two long passes in the fourth quarter, but the strategy helped limit the Leopards’ Joe McCourt to 53 yards after topping 100 rushing yards against Prince-ton in 2002 and 2003.
Four other Ivy teams won their season openers, including favorites Penn, Harvard, and Yale. But with Princeton’s first opening-day victory in Hughes’ five seasons as head coach, the Tigers have raised expectations. This fall may be more of a page-turner than previously imagined.
Phillip R. Thune ’92 is President/COO of FindWhat.com in Ft. Myers, Fla.
WOMEN’S SOCCER opened the year with an upset victory against fifth-ranked Texas A&M Sept. 3 and shut out Villanova and Vanderbilt at the Penn Invitational Sept. 10—12. Esmeralda Negron ’05, Emily Behncke ’06, and Diana Matheson ’08 led the Tigers in scoring with two goals each. Defender Romy Trigg-Smith ’06 was named Ivy League Player of the Week, while Matheson earned Rookie of the Week honors. Princeton is ranked 17th in the National Soccer Coaches Association of America/Adidas national poll.
In MEN’S SOCCER, Darren Spicer ’06 scored twice in a 3—2 win at Loyola Sept. 3. His header in the 81st minute proved to be the game-winner. The Tigers lost at Akron Sept. 10, but recovered to beat Drexel Sept. 14 behind two more goals from Spicer.
At the season-opening Princeton Invitational Sept. 10—12, MEN’S WATER POLO won each of its five games. Goalie Peter Sabbatini ’05 posted a rare shutout against Fordham Sept. 11, but the highlight of the weekend was the Tigers’ 13—10 win over St. Francis (N.Y.) Sept. 12. The Terriers scored three unanswered goals late in the final period to draw within one, before Princeton responded with two goals in the last two and a half minutes.
MEN’S CROSS COUNTRY finished first in a field of 18 teams at Penn State’s Spiked Shoe Cross Country Meet Sept. 11.
WOMEN’S CROSS COUNTRY swept the top seven spots in a dual-meet win against Rutgers.
In FIELD HOCKEY, the Tigers routed Yale 6—0 Sept. 11, returning to their winning ways after the program’s first 0—2 start in 12 years. They followed the win with a 4—0 loss to undefeated Connecticut Sept. 12. Princeton scored just one goal in its three losses.