May 9, 2007: Sports
Sports Scores Updated weekly
When swimmer Alicia Aemisegger ’10 was visiting colleges in the fall of 2005, her first official stop was the University of Florida, where the coach took her to see the Florida-Tennessee football game, one of the most electric events in college sports. Two weeks later, the star recruit from the Philadelphia suburbs was scheduled to come to Princeton, and women’s swimming coach Susan Teeter, a Tennessee grad, figured that no athletic event on campus was likely to compete with the atmosphere Aemisegger had seen in Gainesville. So she arranged instead to have the high school senior attend Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice’s speech at Jadwin Gym. “That’s the Ivy League,” Teeter told her afterward. “You just experienced the difference between Princeton and Florida.”
Aemisegger took the message to heart later that fall when she made her decision to come to Princeton. “I knew I could only swim for so long,” she said. “I wanted to give myself the best opportunities for the future.”
The choice seems to be working out well so far. After a first semester that the freshman admits was “a little overwhelming,” Aemisegger has learned to balance her studies with her considerable training workload. In the pool, she has thrived. She won three events, each in record time, at the Ivy League meet in February, and went stroke for stroke with the nation’s best at the NCAA Championships in March, finishing second in the 400-yard individual medley and third in the 500-yard freestyle.
While Aemisegger stands out as the most impressive athlete in this year’s freshman class, she is not the only freshman to lead her team this season. Three freshmen — center Zach Finley and former high school teammates Marcus Schroeder and Lincoln Gunn — found their way into the starting lineup for the men’s basketball team. Three others, including No. 2 player Neha Kumar, helped women’s squash win a national title. Less than a month into her Princeton tennis career, Melissa Saiontz ’10 won the top flight of the USTA Women’s Collegiate Invitational, one of the premier events in the Northeast. When women’s cross country won its first Ivy Heptagonal Championship in 25 years last fall, freshmen Christy Johnson and Liz Costello were the first two Tigers to cross the finish line. And in her first year at Princeton, Kaitlyn Perrelle has been a star in two seasons, playing defense in field hockey and goalkeeper in women’s lacrosse.
The members of the Class of 2010 are not simply playing well — they are excelling in some of the most important positions in their sports. As the point guard, Schroeder ran the offense for men’s basketball and barely left the floor, averaging nearly 39 minutes per game (more than any other Ivy player). In field hockey, Perrelle was in the center of the defense’s back line, where one misstep or mental error can lead to a costly goal. She played the position so well that Ivy coaches voted her Rookie of the Year. “It says a lot about her ability to absorb information and apply it,” said coach Kristen Holmes-Winn.
When women’s tennis coach Kathy Sell recruited Saiontz, she anticipated a promising career for the Miami native, who came to Princeton with speed, quickness, and a top-10 national ranking in her age group. Still, Sell had some reservations about slotting a freshman in her team’s No. 1 position. “Whoever is in that spot is setting the tone for the team,” she said. “It’s a lot of responsibility. But I think we learned pretty quickly that she was willing to take that on.” With Saiontz at the top of the lineup, Princeton won 11 of its first 18 matches this spring, its most wins since 2000.
Most Princeton athletes grow into their roles over the course of a few seasons. But those who make an immediate impact share some common traits: competitive drive, exceptional training schedules, and experience playing against the nation’s best junior athletes.
In Aemisegger’s case training is critical, and finding enough hours in her schedule poses a major challenge. While her teammates spend a minimum of six hours per week in the pool during the offseason, Aemisegger has been training about six hours a day in preparation for international meets in Thailand and Singapore this summer.
Her ultimate goal is to reach the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, but she does not plan to take leave from Princeton to prepare for the U.S. trials in July 2008. “If I was just swimming, I think I’d go insane,” she joked. “I think classes are definitely going to help.”
Field hockey’s Tina Bortz scored six goals in her first season, including the overtime game-winner in Princeton’s upset of third-ranked Old Dominion in the first round of the NCAA Championships.
Football’s Mark Paski started all 10 games at right tackle, protecting the blind side of left-handed quarterback Jeff Terrell ’07. Classmate J.P. Makrai started the final six games at left guard for the Ivy League co-champions.
In men’s soccer, Devin Muntz led Princeton in scoring with four goals and three assists. Vicki Anagnostopoulos was the women’s team’s second-leading scorer, with six goals and four assists.
Jocelyn Svengsouk of the women’s fencing team was Princeton’s top competitor in the foil, earning first-team All-Ivy honors and placing 12th at the NCAA Championships. Thomas Abend also competed at the NCAA meet, finishing 19th in the men’s saber.
Softball’s Jamie Lettire is one of three freshmen to see significant playing time for the Tigers this spring. Through April 18, she was second on the team in wins as a pitcher. Lettire also plays first base and ranked second on the team in runs batted in.
Phoebe Champion, a U.S. junior national team player, and fellow California native Lauren Sabb combined to score 59 goals in women’s water polo’s 24 regular-season games.
When athletics director Gary Walters ’67 introduced men’s basketball coach Sydney Johnson ’97 at an April 23 press conference, he reminisced about the former captain’s playing career, quoted Johnson’s thesis adviser on his academic accomplishments, and called him “the right man to lead this program forward.”
Johnson, in his turn at the podium, tried to take the compliments in stride. “I want to give everything that I have to give to make this the right fit, to warrant a lot of the praise that is coming in right now,” he said. “To be honest, it’s a little over the top.”
Johnson has been a coach for just three seasons, and he has never been a head coach. But Walters said his track record of leadership and exposure to several styles of play made him the top candidate in Princeton’s search.
As a player at Princeton, Johnson was the only three-year captain in program history, and he led the Tigers to two Ivy League titles, including a dramatic playoff win over Penn in 1996 that set up Princeton’s upset of UCLA in the NCAA tournament.
After college, Johnson played professionally in Spain and Italy, where his teams won three championships in seven seasons. He joined coach John Thompson III ’88’s Georgetown staff in 2004 and helped the Hoyas reach the NCAA Final Four in 2007.
Former Tiger center Jesse Rosenfeld ’97 said that while Johnson’s teammates did not necessarily expect him to become a coach, they also were not surprised. “He has all the ingredients you would want,” Rosenfeld said. “He’s a leader, he’s a worker, and he has a passion for the game.”
The 2006–07 Tigers, coached by Joe Scott ’87, who resigned to become head coach at the University of Denver, won just two of 14 Ivy games and finished in last place.