April 5, 2006: Sports
Sports Scores Updated weekly
When Katy O’Brien ’06 and her classmates came to Princeton in 2002 as women’s basketball coach Richard Barron’s first recruits, their goal was to win an Ivy League championship. But during three losing seasons, with a combined 13–29 Ivy record, even the optimistic O’Brien had moments of doubt.
“There were times I remember [during] freshman year, even sophomore year, when it was rough, getting up at 6 a.m. to go run on the track for preseason workouts and [thinking] what is it for?” she recalled. “We all have become really close friends and kept each other up when people have been down.”
Led by O’Brien, fellow senior Becky Brown, and sophomore standout Meagan Cowher, the Tigers finally found a winning formula this season, sweeping the second half of the Ivy schedule to finish 12–2 in the league and share the Ivy title with Brown and Dartmouth. Dartmouth beat Brown March 10 and Princeton March 12 to win a three-team playoff, earning the right to represent the league in the NCAA Championships, but the postseason disappointment did not overshadow the remarkable late-season run that led Princeton to its first Ivy title in seven years.
Beginning in late February, the Tigers compiled a string of scoring bursts that defined their success. At Dartmouth Feb. 24, O’Brien made three three-pointers in a 19–2 second-half run that put Princeton in control. A week later against Brown, Becky Brown scored eight points in a 14–0 spurt that gave the Tigers a 16-point lead with less than 12 minutes remaining. And in a tight contest with Penn on the last night of the regular season, Cowher scored nine consecutive points as Princeton pulled away late in the game.
In the March 12 playoff game against Dartmouth, played at Yale, Princeton looked poised for another scoring spurt when Ariel Rogers ’08 and Cowher hit back-to-back shots with 10 minutes remaining, pulling the Tigers within three points of the Big Green. But Dartmouth quashed the run, scoring nine of the next 11 points, and went on to win 63–48.
Throughout its season, Princeton relied on a starting five with complementary skills and specialties. Brown, the Tigers’ first Ivy scoring leader since 1988, provided dominant, no-frills post play, making 63.3 percent of her shots (third-best in the nation). Cowher brought quickness to the frontcourt, curling to the basket and rising above the defense, while Casey Lockwood ’07 added aggressive rebounding and mid-range jump shots. O’Brien, who launched nearly half of the team’s three-point attempts, was also adept at feeding passes, and Jessica Berry, an uncommonly cool freshman point guard, led the Tigers with 5.4 assists per game.
While Barron credited his starters, he also pointed to two backups — Ali Smith ’06 and Lauren Nestor ’06 — as examples of what made the team successful. As the program brought in more talented recruits, playing time waned for Smith and Nestor, both former starters, but they adapted to their new roles on the team and stuck around to see four years of work come to fruition. “There have been some tough times, and we’ve been persistent,” Barron said of his seniors. “I think they trust their coach a little more now, and I trust them a lot more. It’s very special.”
Princeton senior Yasser El Halaby, pictured in the Feb. 19 national team championship match, completed the most successful career in men’s collegiate squash history by winning an unprecedented fourth
individual national title at the College Squash Association championships in Amherst, Mass., March 5. El Halaby lost just one game in five matches during the tournament and defeated Harvard junior Siddharth Suchde 9–2, 9–0, 9–-6 in the final. Princeton’s Dent Wilkens ’07 won the consolation final to finish third in the tournament’s top division, defeating teammate Vincent Yu ’07 in four games.
In the Princeton women’s hockey team’s final home game against Colgate in the ECAC Hockey League playoffs March 4, the Tigers let a 4–1 second-period lead slip to a 4–4 tie in the third period. Needing one goal to sweep the series, the Tigers regained control with quiet confidence, dominating possession in the final 10 minutes and generating a handful of scoring opportunities without allowing a single Colgate shot.
With less than two minutes remaining, Brittany Salmon ’08 darted toward the goal with the puck and centered to Kim Pearce ’07. The puck caromed off Pearce’s stick, and forward Sarah Butsch ’06, who was trailing the play, flicked a solid wrist shot to the back of the net, leading Princeton to a 5–4 victory.
The win, Princeton’s ninth straight, was the team’s latest example of poise under pressure. “It’s one of those unspoken things,” said Butsch, who has scored a dozen game-winning goals in her Princeton career. “I feel like when our team gets nervous, we don’t say a whole lot, or when we’re talking, it’s just to try to ease our nerves, which usually doesn’t work. ... [But] we somehow manage to pull off these wins pretty frequently.”
Princeton found itself on the other side of a one-goal game in the league semifinals March 11, losing 1–0 to Brown despite outshooting the Bears 42–16. But the Tigers’ résumé — a program-best 21 wins, an Ivy League title, and a No. 5 national ranking — was enough to earn the team its first bid to the eight-team NCAA tournament field. Princeton was scheduled to face defending national champion Minnesota, coached by former Tiger Laura Halldorson ’85, on March 17.
The Tigers have standouts, including Pearce, the Ivy League Player of the Year; freshman Annie Greenwood, who scored 25 goals in 32 games; and goalie Roxanne Gaudiel ’06, who allowed 1.55 goals per game through March 11. But depth has been equally important, with nine players contributing 10 points or more during the season. Coach Jeff Kampersal ’92 said the team excelled in its games after the first-semester exam break, a stretch that had given the Tigers problems in past years. “These kids certainly deserve [to play in the NCAAs],” he said. “They’ve poured their heart and soul into each and every game.”
By David Marcus ’92
After changing the way other teams play lacrosse over the last decade, Princeton head coach Bill Tierney is changing his own squad’s style this year. Tierney’s teams have won six national championships and 12 Ivy League titles since 1992 with a methodical offense and a conservative, complex defense that inspired imitators throughout the college game. But the Tigers have shifted gears this season, installing the most aggressive defense of Tierney’s 19-year tenure and an offense to match.
The defense has been an immediate success. Princeton attacked Johns Hopkins all over the field in a 6-4 win over the defending national champions on March 4, often double-teaming the man with the ball and checking it out of his stick rather than trying to push him down the side of the field, the hallmark of Tierney’s old defensive style. The Tigers also played well in a 7-6 loss to the University of Virginia March 12. The Cavaliers had scored 20 goals in beating Syracuse the previous week.
Goalie Alex Hewit ’08 has been a critical part of the stingy defense, making 20 saves against Virginia in a performance that moved Tierney to compare Hewit to Scott Bacigalupo ’94, a three-time first-team All-American in the cage. “Alex reminds me of Batch in that he’s shown the ability to make great saves and make them in all different ways,” Tierney said.
On offense, Princeton’s aggressive play came from a preseason realization that it could not count on its set offense to generate eight to 10 goals a game, Tierney said. With a focus on man-up goals and transition scoring, the coach hopes that his defense can force turnovers that create fast-break chances. That happened in the Johns Hopkins game and in a 16-6 season-opening win over Canisius. Against Virginia, the Tigers had success in offensive sets but squandered transition opportunities.
Tierney likes his freshmen and sophomores on offense – eight have seen substantial playing time – and he’s willing to let them learn on the job. “As long as you made the right decision, if you throw the ball out of bounds sometimes, I can live with that,” he said. “What kills me is mental mistakes from kids who have been around the block.”
David Marcus ’92 is a frequent PAW contributor.
In a less-than-perfect season, men’s basketball got its perfect ending when the two players who keyed Princeton’s midyear turnaround connected on the final play to edge Ivy League champion Penn 60–59 in overtime at Jadwin Gym March 7.
Penn’s Ibrahim Jaaber, who led his team back from an 18-point second-half deficit, made a free throw with nine seconds left in overtime, pushing the Quakers ahead by a point. Scott Greenman ’06 caught Princeton’s inbounds pass, found an open lane on the right sideline, and dribbled the length of the court a half-step ahead of two sprinting defenders. As he veered toward the basket, the defense converged, and Greenman flicked the ball to center Justin Conway ’07, who laid the ball over the rim for the decisive basket with 2.5 seconds on the clock. Penn’s last desperate toss fell short, and the Tigers celebrated at center court.
Princeton finished the year 10–4 in Ivy play and 12–15 overall — its first losing season since 1984–85 — but after a 2–10 start, the Tigers improved dramatically in the second half of the year to finish second in the Ivy standings. Greenman recovered from a back injury and a shooting slump to average 14.2 points in Ivy games, and Conway, once an infrequently used walk-on, entered the starting lineup and became a crucial cog in Princeton’s offense.
Conway, who finished the Penn game with 21 points and six assists, admitted that if someone had forecast his game-winning shot in November, even he would have been skeptical. “I would have said, ‘Thanks for being optimistic, but let’s keep things under control,’” he said. “Obviously, it’s been a big change since the beginning of the season. I’m just so happy for the opportunity.”
Despite not winning a single event, MEN’S SWIMMING captured first place in the team standings at the Eastern Intercollegiate Swimming League meet March 2–4. With the victory, the Tigers were crowned Ivy League champions.
Elyse Colgan ’07 was named to the U.S. National Team in WOMEN’S WATER POLO March 6.
WOMEN’S LACROSSE beat Loyola March 8 but lost to Johns Hopkins March 4 and Duke March 12.
Andrew Salini ’06 belted five home runs in six games, equaling his 2005 season total, and BASEBALL opened the year 3–4 in a four-game series against the Citadel March 2–4 and a three-game set at Richmond March 11–12.
SOFTBALL opened its season 2–3, including a 2–1 extra-inning loss to No. 24 North Carolina March 3.
Cack Ferrell ’06 of the WOMEN’S TRACK team finished fourth in the 3,000-meter run at the NCAA Indoor Championships March 11.