Sports: July 8, 1998

Sports (overview)

Men's lacrosse "Three-peats"
Tierney's troops cap third consecutive national title

Corey Popham '99 could have been excused for feeling nervous at the start of the men's lacrosse Final Four at Rutgers over Memorial Day weekend. The week before he had been yanked from a playoff game after giving up eight goals while making only two saves. Though Popham was the starting goalie for the 1998 Ivy League champions, he had been competent rather than spectacular, and head coach Bill Tierney had tinkered with his goalies all year. But by the end of the weekend Popham was doubtless much more relaxed, for he had helped his team to its third straight national title and been named the NCAA tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

Few who saw Princeton's May 16 quarterfinal against Duke would have predicted such a result. After watching his team fall behind 8-4 midway through the second quarter, Tierney pulled Popham for backup goalie Trevor Tierney '01 (the coach's son), who made six saves while allowing one goal the rest of the way in an 11-9 win that put Popham's job in jeopardy. "I'm not gonna lie, it was tough," Popham said of the week between the quarterfinal and his team's semifinal, against Syracuse. Tierney rewarded his endurance with a start against the Orangemen. Said the coach, "Corey had a bad day. [This was] a decision about a guy who'd played solidly all year and had one bad day. Why not go back to him?"

He didn't regret his decision. Popham made nine saves in an 11-10 win over the Orangemen, the last a critical stop with less than two minutes left. Some observers were still skeptical, including Dick Edell, coach of the University of Maryland, Princeton's opponent in the finals. "I felt we were going to get to [Popham] and see Trevor," said Edell, referring to backup goalie Trevor Tierney.

He didn't see the freshman goalie until late in the fourth quarter, by which time Princeton led 14-5. Instead of the Terps' getting to Popham, he got to them by making 17 saves. His play was especially critical in the game's first half, which ended in a 3-3 tie, even though Maryland took 25 shots to Princeton's 14, and Princeton's vaunted starting attack of Jon Hess '98, Jesse Hubbard '98, and Chris Massey '98 managed just a goal and an assist.

One of Princeton's weaknesses throughout the year was faceoffs, and Chris Berrier '00 and Matt Bailer '01 lost five of six draws in the first half against Maryland. But the night before, Tierney had gone to yet another faceoff specialist, Greg Mecca '98, and told him, "Tap me on the shoulder if you can do this thing." Recalled Tierney, "Sure enough, at halftime he tapped me on the shoulder, and he said, 'Coach, I can do this thing.'"

Mecca was good to his word, winning three of the first four faceoffs after halftime. Hess took advantage of the possessions by scoring two goals and assisting Seamus Grooms '98 on another to help Princeton to a 7-3 lead and control of the game. Hubbard joined the party a little later, but he showed up with a vengeance, scoring four goals in a six-minute stretch in the fourth quarter to ice the 15-5 win.

Princeton's dominance was so complete that the loss of its best defenseman, senior Christian Cook, to a knee injury late in the Syracuse game was scarcely noticeable against Maryland. Instead, a shaken Edell saluted the Tigers, who won their fifth national title in seven years: "I'm in awe of them. They do the right things, and they do the right things so often."

-- David Marcus '92

Seniors Milam and Ahrens lead men's crews to championships

When you think of the sport of crew in towns like Idaho Falls, Idaho, and Whitefish Bay, Wisconsin, more than likely you think of solitary figures rowing on nearly frozen lakes.

But when you learn that Idaho Falls is actually a town three times the size of Princeton and that Whitefish Bay is five minutes outside Milwaukee, you realize that everything isn't what it appears to be.

Such is the story of Rob Milam '98 and Chris Ahrens '98, both of whom stood on the dock at the Cooper River in southern New Jersey with gold medals around their necks in late May, going out as senior oarsmen of national championship crews. Look a little deeper, though, and you see that these two took decidedly different paths to the dock.

Milam, from Idaho Falls, came to Princeton as someone for whom strokes were things you tryto minimize on a golf course, not maximize on a river. By contrast Ahrens, from Whitefish Bay, was already one of the most accomplished rowers in the world when he arrived. Together they helped write one of the most glorious chapters in the long history of rowing at Princeton, culminating at the 96th Intercollegiate Rowing Association championships May 28-30 in Camden, New Jersey.

"We couldn't have asked for a better way to end our career," said Milam.

His moment of truth came first. As one of the captains of the Princeton lightweight men's crew, Milam had led the Tigers to an undefeated season and an Eastern Sprints championship. Not bad for a rower who might never have been one had it not been for the luck of the draw his freshman year.

"My roommate freshman year was Marty Crotty of the heavyweight crew," Milam says. "I had tried out for the golf team, but I had gotten cut. He said that I was tall and skinny and should try out for the lightweights. I hated it at first. It was too hard. I had no experience, no skill. But I made a commitment to myself not to quit until at least the end of freshman year, and once we started racing in the spring, I loved it."

Milam's final day as a Tiger rower began when Princeton qualified for the grand final with just the fifth-fastest time in the morning heats.

"We were just pacing ourselves," he says. "We didn't want to go all out. Yale went out ahead in the heat, and we let them go. We just wanted to qualify."

The lightweights figured to get their toughest test in the final from Yale and Harvard, but it was a surprising Columbia crew that stayed even with them through the first half of the 2,000-meter course. In the end the Tigers came home first in 5:43.7, more than two seconds ahead of Columbia. "We made our move at 1,000 meters," Milam says. "We knew after that we were in the lead, and it was just a matter of staying there. We weren't going to let a perfect year get away at the end."

The ending to Ahrens's career might have been perfect, but there was some choppy water along the way. He and his heavyweight teammates in the first varsity boat had stood on the verge of a sweep of every event at Eastern Sprints two weeks earlier, only to see Penn and Harvard drop them to a disappointing third.

Ahrens came to rowing as a high school freshman at a rowing club in Milwaukee, and four years later he became the youngest gold medalist ever at the World Championships. He followed that with another gold two years later. At Princeton he stroked both the freshman and varsity eights to IRA titles and the varsity eight to this year's IRA title (see story, below).

His accomplishments as a rower and in the classroom -- like Milam he was an Academic All-Ivy League selection -- helped him share, with basketball's Steve Goodrich and lacrosse's Jon Hess, the William Winston Roper Trophy, given annually to Princeton's top senior male athlete.

-- Jerry Price

Tigers nip Huskies to win IRA title

In what men's heavyweight crew coach Curtis Jordan called "maybe the greatest race I ever saw," the Tigers edged past defending champion Washington to win 5:31.1-5:32.2 at the Intercollegiate Rowing Association championship May 30. The oarsmen had gone into the race with the fastest qualifying time among the schools, but the race figured to be a toss-up between the Tigers, Eastern Sprints champ Penn, Western champ California, and Washington. For 1,000 meters not even a boat length separated first through fifth, but by 1,500 meters it was clearly a Princeton-Washington race, and the Tiger oarsmen pulled ahead in the last 250 yards.

Track and field greats

Though she did not end the final season of her outstanding Princeton track career as she had hoped (with an appearance in the NCAA Championship finals in Buffalo June 3-6 and with All-America honors), Nicole Harrison '98 (photo) did finish as the university record-holder in the outdoor 100 meters (11.68), the 200 (23.70), the 100 hurdles (13.08), and the long jump (19' 75"). As a result of her first-place performances at the outdoor Heptagonals Championships in the 100-meter high hurdles (13.94) and the 100-meter dash (12.0), she was named the meet's Outstanding Female Performer for the second consecutive year.

The senior from Houston was an All-America in 1995-96, when she took fifth place at the NCAAs in the hurdles, a first-team All-Ivy League selection for four years, a two-time Outstanding Performer of the Meet at indoor Heps, and a three-time Outstanding Performer at outdoor Heps.

For the men's track team, up-and-coming freshman Tora Harris '01 leaped 7' 2" to finish seventh in the high jump and earn All-America honors at the NCAA Championships. During his rookie season, Harris captured the IC4A outdoor title and the indoor and outdoor Heptagonals titles. At indoor Heps he won the high jump at 2.17 meters.

"Harris's performance was fantastic for a freshman," said head coach Fred Samara. "NCAAs is a high-powered meet, and it's difficult for a freshman to compete at that level and earn All- America honors. His future is bright."

Both the men's and women's teams measure the season's success on their performance at Heptagonals, a meet between the Ivy League schools and Navy that occurred May 9-10 in Providence. The men's team earned the "triple crown" of track and field, winning cross-country, indoor, and outdoor Heps. The meet came down to the final race, the 4x400 relay. Princeton placed second, six-tenths of a second behind Penn, earning eight points in a second-place finish, enough to edge the Quakers, 149-147, and claim the title.

For the first time in the 22-year history of the Heptagonals, the women's meet ended in a tie. Heading into the last event, Princeton held the lead with 108 points; Brown trailed by two. The final race, the 4x400-meter relay, echoed the men's race: Brown finished first in three minutes, 45.2 seconds to garner 10 points, while Princeton earned eight second-place points to secure the tie with a time of 3:47.7. The Tigers and the Bears each finished with 116 points, and the win was Princeton's first outdoor Heps title since 1982.

-- Sarah Slonaker '98

Spring wrapup

Women's tennis

Coach Louise Gengler called the women's tennis team's 1997-98 performance, "the high end of what the possibilities were." Faint praise? Not really. The Tigers were a young team this year, facing a loaded Harvard squad in Ivy play and a challenging regular season schedule.

Sophomore first singles player Blair Farr went 17-1 in the spring and was named to the All-Ivy squad, as Princeton finished 6-1 in League play and 16-3 overall. "We have almost everybody returning, so we feel that Harvard is within reach next year," says Gengler.

Women's water polo

Entering only its second season of varsity competition, the women's water polo squad had to adjust to the loss of five members of the Class of 1997 while absorbing 14 freshmen. Luckily, the freshmen in question included Kathryn Kixmiller, who scored 60 goals and had 15 assists as the Tigers went 24-12 and finished 11th in the national championships. The strong underclassmen will help next year's squad adjust to the loss of Dimple Patel '98, the team's most prolific scorer, with 51 goals and 42 assists.

Women's rugby

The women's rugby club may not have earned a bid to the national championships this season, but a 27-3 record, and two shutout victories over eventual national champion Radcliffe left the Tigers plenty to be proud of.

Coach Alex Curtis calls graduating captains Lara Larson and All-America Laura Engler "probably the two best captains I've worked with." The Tigers saw 14 seniors from the "A" squad graduate this June, including Tracy Dubovick, Caroline Gibson, and club president Amy "The Terminator" Gresh.

Men's tennis

With four of its top eight players either playing injured or not playing at all, says coach David Benjamin, for the men's tennis team to go 12-8 overall and 5-2 in Ivy play "was a real accomplishment." The Tigers will lose senior captains Josh Ingber and John Gilula to graduation, but return second-team All-Ivy Kyle Kleigerman '01 and Jeff Schachter '99, who posted a 24-8 record this year. Benjamin is also looking to five nationally ranked recruits to make a difference next season.

-- Rob Garver


M. Heavyweight crew

(9-1 overall, 4-1 Ivy)

EARC Sprints - 3rd

IRA Regatta - 1st

M. lightweight crew

(7-0 overall, 4-0 Ivy)

EARC Sprints - 1st

IRA Regatta - 1st

W. lightweight crew

(31 overall, 10 Ivy)

EAWRC Sprints - 1st

IRA Regatta - 3rd

W. Open crew

(9-1 overall, 61 Ivy)

EAWRC Sprints - 4th

NCAA Champs - 6th

M. golf


Champ. - 3rd

Easterns - 3rd

M. Lacrosse

(141 overall, 6-0 Ivy)

W vs. Cornell, 15-5

W vs. Rutgers, 19-7

W at Dartmouth, 21-9

W vs. Penn, 17-8

W at Hobart, 13-9

NCAA Champs. - 1st

W vs. maryland, 19-7

W vs Syracuse, 11-10

W vs Rutgers, 15-5 M. Tennis

(12-8 overall, 5-2 Ivy)

NCAA Regionals

L vs. Virginia Tech, 1-4

M. track

(10 overall, 1-0 Ivy)

Princeton Invit. - indiv.

Broadmead Invit. - indiv.

Heps - 1st

IC4A Champs - 5th

W. track

(1-1 overall, 1-1 Ivy)

Princeton Invit. - indiv.

Heps - 1st (tie)

ECAC Champs. - 10th

W. Water polo

(24-12 overall,

13-7 CWA)

Eastern Championships

W vs Slippery Rock, 4-3

L vs Mass., 1-11

W vs. Brown, 13-0

L vs Maryland, 3-7

W vs Villanova, 7-4

NCAA - 11th

L vs Hawaii, 3-8

L vs San Diego

State, 6-12

L vs Maryland, 4-6

W vs Indiana, 5-4