Sports: November 6, 1996
"BITTER LOSSES" BEWILDER TOSCHES, TIGERS
Football stung by close losses to Brown, 27-23, and Bucknell, 10-6
Halfway into what is fast becoming its worst season in 10 years, the Princeton football team appears to be undergoing a collective form of denial as it sorts out its predicament. As the losses have mounted-four in five games, each by a touchdown or less-and patience has begun to wear thin, the feeling has persisted that the Tigers (1-4 overall, 0-2 Ivy) are a couple of key plays or crucial penalties away from being 4-1, perhaps even 5-0, instead of 1-4. Other explanations run to the frivolous. Among outsiders there has been a temptation to dismiss the team's early-season misfortunes as some sort of penance for a 1995 season in which everything seemed to bounce the Tigers' way.
Naturally, neither view is satisfactory. The first ignores the facts and the second takes the easy way out. Good teams find ways to win. It says so in the Football Coaches Compendium of Clichés, in between the ones about winners never quitting and quitters never winning.
No one on the Tigers has quit, certainly. Anyone that braved the three-hour ride to Lewisburg, Pennsylvania, through a driving rainstorm to sit through the Princeton-Bucknell game on October 19 would attest to that. Yet neither has Princeton shown an ability to meld a consistent offensive and defensive performance into a 60-minute whole. That much was evident in Lewisburg, too, as it was the week before in Palmer Stadium against Brown.
Those two games offered a perfect illustration of the Tigers' frustrating tendency to (one or the other). Against Brown, backup quarterback Jackie Dempsey '98-playing in place of regular starter Bret Budzinski '97, who had been diagnosed with mononucleosis earlier in the week-overcame a shaky start and led the Tigers back from a two-touchdown deficit to a three-point, fourth-quarter lead, only to have Brown's Jason McCullough drive the Bears 78 yards for the winning score in a 27-23 defeat. After that loss, which put Princeton at 1-3, coach Steve Tosches seemed shaken. "This is my 17th year of coaching, and I don't think I've ever seen four games like these. These are bitter, bitter losses."
The next week, the Tiger defense was little short of spectacular against Bucknell, but this time it was the offense's turn to crumble under an avalanche of turnovers and poor execution, and Princeton lost again, 10-6. "We just can't put this whole team together. We're taking turns right now. We just can't seem to get both sides doing the things they need to do," Tosches said in the rain outside the locker room at Bucknell's Christy Mathewson-Memorial Stadium. "Defensively, that was as good an effort as we've seen in a long time. We just weren't a good offensive team today, and that's a shame because our defensive performance deserved a victory. They got their points off a questionable defensive call and an interception that put the ball on the 1. That's a shame because other than that, our defense really rose to the occasion."
Defensive end Dale Bartley '97 had a career day for the Tigers, and earned Ivy League defensive player of the week honors as well, with 12 tackles, five for losses, and three sacks. For the second year in a row Princeton completely shut down Bucknell running back Rich Lemon, the Bison's all-time leading rusher, who needed just three yards to pass Keith Elias '92 and move into 11th place among NCAA Division 1-AA career rushing leaders. Lemon barely edged past Elias with five net yards on 19 carries on the rain-soaked field. Like the rest of the Tigers, Bartley was hardly in a mood to rejoice afterward: "I felt like I was finally making the plays the team expects me to make," he said. "But it all goes for nothing in a loss."
If the Tigers' defensive performance against the Bison may have brought back memories of a 1995 unit that allowed fewer than 12 points per game, the final minutes of the Brown game highlighted the differences between the two teams. After being held in check by the Tigers for most of the second half, McCullough effortlessly drove his team to the winning score, finding Gordon Nangmenyi in the corner of the end zone on the drive's 12th play.
One play before the score, the Tigers' Jimmy Archie '97 had gotten both hands on a McCullough pass intended for fullback Mike Wall. But the ball fell harmlessly to the turf.
"Last year, those plays were being made," defensive lineman Mark Whaling '98 said later. "This year, a guy's making a great, diving play, but it's a tip, not an interception. Or, we cause a fumble but they pick it up instead of us. We feel that, as a defense, we're playing hard. It's just that defense has always been a tradition at Princeton, and we've always taken pride in making it our job to win games. So far, we haven't taken it upon ourselves to do that."
On the other side of the ball, Dempsey finished with 13 completions in 29 attempts, but was an encouraging 10-for-18 in the second half when the Tigers rallied from a 20-6 deficit to take a 23-20 lead. But the junior from Dunmore, Pennsylvania, made a critical mistake on the opening play from scrimmage in the second half when he threw a screen pass directly into the hands of Brown's Matt Simmons, who lateralled to teammate Matt Kraskouskas to complete a 19-yard scoring play.
A week later, two similar miscues against Bucknell, one of which set up Jim Fox's one-yard run for the Bison's only touchdown, earned Dempsey a seat on the bench in the second half in favor of John Burnham '99, who finished the day 4-for-14 for 32 yards. "Jackie lost his poise just a little bit," Tosches said after the Bucknell game. "He was under pressure, but there are times when you can't just put the ball up there. You've got to protect it."
Princeton's only points against Bucknell came at the beginning of the fourth quarter on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Burnham to wide receiver Kevin Duffy '97. The Bison, meanwhile, got a 32-yard field goal from Rich Miller in the second quarter which was set up by a questionable pass-interference penalty against Princeton's Damani Leech '97 at the Princeton 13.
The rest of the mudfest was enough to make a football purist turn in his shoulder pads and take up lawn bowling. There were fumbles on kickoff returns, botched punt and field goal snaps, missed field goals, fake field goals that didn't work . . . and that was just in the first quarter. Princeton rushed for 64 yards on 41 carries and threw for a grand total of 61. The Bison finished with minus-28 yards on the ground, but managed 108 through the air.
Afterward, Tosches wore the bewildered look that has become his trademark this season. "We're a team that's starving for a victory," he said. "You've got a lot of guys that are playing their hearts out. We're just not good enough right now."
At this point, there's no denying it.
CATTOLICO AIMS VOLLEYBALL AT ANOTHER IVY LEAGUE TITLE
"Mental toughness" is a cliché in coachspeak, and I don't think it's anything more than a catch phrase for resolve. If that's true, then an injured star may have given the women's volleyball (6-8 overall, 2-2 Ivy) a lesson in resolve that the team can use to good effect in this weekend's Princeton Tournament. When middle hitter Lowen Cattolico '98, who is also the team's captain and its leader on the court, sprained an ankle in a September 27 game against Morgan State and had to sit out, the team dropped four of its next five games. "Lowen was a big loss because she's a complete player, and she brings intensity to the court," says head coach Glenn Nelson. "We rely on her leadership to keep us focused."
Such leadership may be especially needed this year, since Princeton has a freshman setter, Melissa Ford, and plays two other freshmen, Bettina Korek and Erika Hansen. Nelson attributes some of Princeton's losses to inexperience: "The young players are good, but they can't always sustain it for all the games. I think that's why we've lost some of the five-setters."
Cattolico returned with a taped ankle for the Tigers' first league game, against Yale and Brown on October 11 and 12, respectively. Two convincing 3-1 wins indicate the team's confidence level was high, at least when they play at home. They also show how important Cattolico is to the team-along with skilled digging, passing, and setting, she "brings intensity to the court," according to Nelson. Cattolico, who says her ankle "is fine," thinks the team lost some games "because it took us some time to get used to each other."
Unfortunately, two crucial losses the next weekend-to Dartmouth, 3-1 and to Harvard, 3-0-show the team still has some adjusting to do on the road. The losses also cast doubt on the Tigers' chances to repeat as Ivy champs this year, when they travel to Cornell for the Ivy Tournament on November 15-17. Princeton's youth may make it most vulnerable away from the friendly confines of Dillon Gym. "When things are going well and the crowd's on your side, volleyball is an easy game to play," says Nelson. "But when you go into a place and there's 300 fans there heckling you on your serve, you've got to be mentally tough."
With some tough nonleague competition on the slate for this weekend-including a chance to revenge a tough loss at Colgate in early October-Princeton will have a chance to improve its consistency before seeking a second straight league title and the NCAA play-in berth that accompanies it.
IACONO ANCHORS SOCCER'S PLAYOFF HOPES
It's not a lack of collegiate experience that makes goalkeeper Jonna Iacono '99 stand out on the women's soccer team (4-6-1 overall, 1-2-1 Ivy). Princeton starts three freshmen and relies on four more to play key reserve roles. What sets her apart is that she did not play a single minute last season, but has started every game in 1996, while the two goalies who split time between the posts last season now sit on the bench. According to head coach Julie Shackford, all three goalkeepers have many of the same qualities, but Iacono earned the starting position with strong preseason play. Not particularly tall (TK), the Wyckhoff, New Jersey, native relies on her quickness and on timing to stop shots. For the most part, the strategy is successful-she and the Tiger defense already had four shutouts through the middle of October.
Facing Brown October 12 at Lourie Love Field, Princeton played solid defense but less-than-perfect offense. The game illustrates the problems that have led the team to an up-and-down season thus far. While Iacono stopped all 11 shots from the Bears, the Tigers couldn't score either, and at the end of the second overtime period, the score was tied at zero. The Tigers controlled the ball for most of the game, but seemed unable to turn good passes into shots and shots into goals.
At times, Princeton has dominated games, passing crisply to keep possession of the ball and stifling the opposition's offense. In mid-September, the Tigers won three games in a row. In other games, the team has looked completely disorganized, notably in a 6-1 loss at home to Dartmouth on September 28, which began a three-game losing streak. The loss came two days after assistant coach
"We started off really well, but we got in a rut," says tricaptain and midfielder Becca Jensen '97. "We're starting to come out of it now." The Tigers beat Temple, 5-1, on October 9, in Princeton. The improvement might have resulted from some new player combinations that Shackford has tried: Susan Rea '00 was converted to an outside halfback, while sophomore Meredith Cage now plays defender; forward Andrea Herschman '00 and classmate midfielder Kate Stockwell have also changed positions. The changes "give the team new energy," says Jensen.
Although the brunt of the goal-scoring responsibility lies on the forwards-Samantha Sacks '98 and freshmen Dana DeCore and Julie Garrison-Shackford has adjusted play to get more players involved in the offense. The coach has asked her forwards to hold onto the ball a little longer before taking a shot, allowing more players to get near the goal and creating a better offensive opportunity. According to senior tricaptain and defender Jeanne Egan, set plays provide another opportunity for Princeton. "We like corner kicks," she says. "We're strong in the air, so we know we'll have quality chances."
The changes have impacted play. "They choose different runs, the timing is different," Jensen said. "It's a spark." Junior forward Samantha Sacks agrees. "We're really starting to get in synch," she says. "We're creating good opportunities, but we have to win those close games."
To keep the score close, Princeton has tried a new flat-back-four zone defense at times, instead of playing man-to-man. The flat-back-four allows the team to be ready to charge on offense, since it eliminates the sweeper position, but it also increases the risk of breakaways: "It has helped us or killed us," says Egan. "Jonna has saved a lot of breakaways." Senior defender Jen Abbondanza chooses which strategy to use. "Jen anchors the defense in the middle," says Shackford. "She's smart, and she makes good decisions." Often, as in the Dartmouth game, the Tigers will start off playing the zone, but when extra defensive support is needed, Abbondanza will drop back.
Despite all of the changes made by Shackford, the most important difference may be mental. "We had a rough stretch," said Iacono, "but we're back on track. We're really positive, the chemistry on the team is good. We're concentrating on playing better soccer each game." Egan concurs: "We keep our heads in the game. We're playing with confidence."
Princeton is all but out of the race for the Ivy title, but an ECAC playoff berth still beckons. "The end of the season is coming," Jensen said. "There's a sense of urgency now, especially for the seniors. We want to get to the ECAC playoffs, we want to keep winning." But winning is a combination of offense and defense, and until the Tigers start putting the ball into the net more frequently, it will be the defense and Iacono that carry the team.
-Shirley Wang '99
WATER POLO CRAWLS TO MIXED RECORD
It's literally swim or sink for Princeton's water polo team (6-9 overall, 4-4 CWP So.), in the 1,200 cubic meters of water that comprise its 30 by 20 by 2-meter "field," at DeNunzio Pool. Without a strong run in postseason tournaments, the squad will end this season with the disappointment of a losing record.
When the Tigers' seven-man squad (six field players and a goalie) faces off against an opponent, the result resembles basketball. But in this game, "dunking" has a whole different meaning. Players often force each other's heads below the water's surface-an "ordinary foul," according to the rules. But that's usually just the tip of the iceberg. Underwater, they are kicking, pulling, and pushing at one another, doubtless committing several undetected fouls for each whistled by a lone, land-bound official. Meanwhile all are in pursuit of a sopping wet, volleyball-sized globe, which teams zip around the pool, trying to set up a shot on floating goals at each end.
The game's physically challenging nature makes one wonder what possessed its inventors to deem it an aquatic version of the horsed, leisure-class game. Perhaps they used to use mallets to pummel each other. Whatever the reason, it's no wonder Princeton's water polo coach, Paul Nelson, values effort as much as skill from players, and attributes some of Princeton's losses to a passivity that troubles him. After an October 12 bout with Navy-which saw the Tigers lose their only home meet of the year, 11-6-he said, "We just didn't show up to play. I'm confident we have the talent to win. Today we didn't use it."
Nelson guesses his team's lax attitude begins in practice sessions: "I have a group of players who are talented, but not competitive, and a group that is competitive, but which has limited skill. In scrimmages, the second tier of players is regularly beating the first tier . . . because these players aren't practicing at full speed, they aren't playing at full speed."
The Tigers did appear sluggish against the Midshipmen, giving up three goals in the opening minutes of the contest. The first, which came with 4:42 left in the first quarter, began an unfortunate pattern that forced Princeton to play catch up-both on the scoreboard and in the pool-for the entire game. Navy forced a turnover by playing solid, physical defense, then used the passing arm of its goalkeeper, Joe Alton, to start a fast-break counterattack. The keeper-cum-quarterback spied teammate Peter Koprowski speeding past Matt Tenant '98, and lobbed him the ball. With no defensive help, Princeton goalie Erik Lin '98 had little chance to win the one-on-one matchup that resulted.
The Tigers' offense often fared no better. At times they seemed confused while on attack, perhaps because they were missing a key performer, captain John Haller '96 (who was taking his GRE tests). According to Haller, the team has had trouble scoring because it has relied almost completely on getting the ball to the two-meter mark just in front of the goal. "They have been counting too much on me to put the ball in. They've been too passive," says the captain, who often plays at the rough-and-rumble, two-meter position, where offensive finesse is as rare as Patrick Ewing in a hoop skirt.
In an effort to conserve Haller's strength and shake up the offense, Nelson planned to start Haller at a position on the perimeter for the rest of the season, returning him to an inside position only in the third or fourth quarters. Opposing defenses would then have to defend against the outside shot until late in the game, when the Tigers returned to pounding the ball inside. If the strategy led to success, Princeton had a fair chance to advance in the postseason, which began October 26 at the College Water Polo Southern Division Championships, in Annapolis. The fourth-seeded Tigers met number-five George Washington (who they beat 13-11 on September 28) in the first round, on October 26. The Ivy League Championships November 2 and 3 at Brown and the Eastern Championships this weekend at Harvard follow. If Princeton caught fire in late October, the Tigers could win a berth at the NCAA Championships November 23 and 24. To succeed, Nelson said the team had to decide it would "do whatever it takes to win." In the free-for-all that can comprise a water polo match, it's a challenge he may hope Princeton will take at face value.2
-Paul Hagar '91
MEN'S CROSS COUNTRY
(2-0 overall; 2-0 Ivy)
Princeton 15, Harvard 50
Princeton 22, Yale 34
WOMEN'S CROSS COUNTRY
(2-0 overall; 2-0 Ivy)
Paul Short Invit.-15th
Princeton 19, Harvard 43
Princeton 15, Yale 49
(10-2 overall; 4-0 Ivy)
Lafayette 3, Princeton 2
Princeton 8, Brown 0
Princeton 4, Rutgers 2
U. Conn. 3, Princeton 1
(1-4 overall; 0-2 Ivy)
Brown 27, Princeton 23
Bucknell 10, Princeton 6
(0-3 overall; 0-3 ELFL)
Army 48, Princeton 3
(4-4-2 overall; 0-1-2 Ivy)
Adelphi 3, Princeton 1
Princeton 5, Davidson 1
Virginia 3, Princeton 0
Princeton 3, Lafayette 1
(4-6-1 overall; 1-2-1 Ivy)
Princeton 5, Temple 1
Princeton 0, Brown 0
Delaware 1, Princeton 0
(6-8 overall; 2-2 Ivy)
Princeton 3, Yale 1
Princeton 3, Brown 1
Dartmouth 3, Princeton 1
Harvard 3, Princeton 0
MEN'S WATER POLO
(6-9 overall; 4-4 CWP So.)
Brown 10, Princeton 8
Queens 12, Princeton 10
Navy 11, Princeton 6
Princeton 14, Villanova 10