Sports: September 8, 1999
Strong in the trenches
In the last season of the 20th century, the Tigers hope to fill holes at the skill positions
One hundred years ago, captain Bill Edwards 1900 was leading his teammates in preseason practices, preparing for a 12-1 campaign that included 11 shutouts. Alas, in the 20th century, no Princeton football team has been able to match the 1899 squad's win total. And with the advent of the nine-game regular season in 1949 (a 10th game has been in place since 1980), and a restriction on postseason play, 12 wins has become a mathematical impossibility.
Eventually, the Ivy league may allow the league champs to play in the Division I-AA playoffs-and make that record reachable once again-but it won't be until the next century. For in their most recent vote, held this summer, the Ivy presidents decided to continue to limit their universities to the regular season schedule.
"We've all watched a lot of teams on our campus get rewarded by winning the [Ivy] championship, and by being able to go into some national competition," coach Steve Tosches said at the Ivy league preseason press conference. "I'd like to think that one of these days it'll happen for us."
Even if the Tigers were eligible for the playoffs, however, this year's group would not be a likely candidate for the postseason. "We've got some areas of concern on our football team, there's no doubt about it," said Tosches (75-43-2), who needs 14 more wins to tie Bill Roper as Princeton's winningest coach. "It begins at the quarterback position. This is kind of an annual thing of trying to break a new guy in. I can't remember the last time we returned a starter at that position."
Heading into fall practice, Jon Blevins '01 has a slight edge over Tommy Crenshaw '02, although Blevins is coming off surgery in May to repair a ruptured disc. The pair have three varsity pass attempts between them. Behind the new quarterback, Princeton returns two spokes of last year's four-man tailback rotation, which as a group racked up an impressive 1,370 yards. Senior Derek Theisen (487 yards, 7 TD's last year) and junior Kyle Brandt (396, 1) will split time this season, possibly with one of the seven freshman tailbacks on the roster.
Despite the graduation of the two starters, wideout is a strength. Returning seniors Phil Wendler (30 catches, 16.8 yard average) and Danny Brian (15, 14.3) saw significant time in 1998. Tight end George Citovic '01 (7, 22.7), a reserve last year, moves up to starter and should be the first Tiger tight end to catch at least 10 passes since 1992. But the real heart of the offense this year will be the line. Four starters return, including first-team All-Ivy selections Hamin Abdullah '00 and Dennis Norman '01.
DEFENSE AND SPECIAL TEAMS
For Princeton on defense, it all starts with the line-more specifically, tri-captain David Ferrara '00. Ferrara was a first-team All-Ivy pick in 1998 and is already Princeton's career sack leader, with 23.5. Tri-captain Chuck Hastings '00 is the sole returning starter at linebacker, but Princeton has depth there, and during Tosches's 12 years as head coach, the Tigers have produced more great linebackers than Robert Venturi has campus buildings.
With a talented front seven, Princeton ranked first in the Ivy league in rush defense (holding opponents to a meager 73 yards per game) in 1998, yet finished last in defending the pass (222 yards per game). Tosches believes that the secondary last year suffered from injuries to Gerry Wilson '00 and Ryan Demler '00, which prevented the unit from developing a rhythm. If those two, along with Brian Beem '02, can stay healthy, the Tigers should fare far better this fall.
One area where Princeton will fare worse is the kicking game. Placekicker Alex Sierk '99 and punter Matt Evans '99, both four-year starters, have graduated, and Evans took almost every Tiger punting record with him. Taylor Northrup '02 handled kickoffs last year and is a favorite for Sierk's job. He could earn the punting duties as well.
THE GUESSING GAME
Princeton is coming off two consecutive 5-5 seasons, not including a forfeit by Penn in 1997 due to the Quakers' use of an ineligible player. But eight of those 10 losses were by four points or less and easily could have gone the Tigers' way. Still, with Princeton's only returning All-Ivy players on the offensive and defensive lines, it is hard to pick the Tigers to finish at the top of the league. But Princeton does have experience at every position aside from quarterback and in the kicking game. If the Tigers can get some bounces to go their way this year, they will be competitive.
The other Ivies all have question marks as well. Penn has the fewest, and is therefore the favorite to repeat as Ivy champs. Brown, Harvard, and maybe Yale will challenge for the title, while Columbia, Cornell, and Dartmouth again should bring up the rear this year.
-Phillip R. Thune '92
Game-by-game football predictions
Cornell (9 offensive starters returning, 8 defensive starters returning): This will be the last year that the Ivies open their schedule with a league game. Cornell does not have a good team, but anything can happen in a season opener. A Tiger win is crucial for Princeton to have any shot at an Ivy title.
Lehigh (8 offensive, 7 defensive): Lehigh, which is stacked on both sides of the ball, could go undefeated again this year. Maybe participating in Princeton's first-ever home night game will confuse the Engineers.
Fordham (8 offensive, 2 defensive): The Tigers open their season with three home games for the first time since 1953. The home stand should end on a positive note as Fordham's defense was annihilated by graduation.
at Brown (6 offensive, 8 defensive): Despite impressive performances by QB James Perry, who should end the year as the Ivy league's all-time career passing leader, Princeton outscored the Bruins in the last two games. But Brown's defense may have caught up to the stellar offense-and that could mean a long afternoon for the Tigers.
Lafayette (5 offensive, 10 defensive): The Leopards have not scored against Princeton in the last three games the two teams have played. Another shutout is a possibility, as Lafayette's starting backfield is new.
at Harvard (7 offensive, 5 defensive): Princeton's 1998 season started to come unhinged on a Harvard trick play. With a 41-yard halfback option pass, the Crimson handed Princeton a crushing 23-22 defeat and the Tigers' first league loss. Harvard is better this year and won't need gimmicks to keep the game competitive.
Columbia (10 offensive, 7 defensive): Columbia's offense returns almost intact, but it was mediocre last year and the missing starter is at QB. The Lions also lost five All-Ivy selections on defense. If Princeton produces on offense, this should be an easy win.
at Penn (9 offensive, 8 defensive): The Quakers are favored to repeat-and for good reason. While Ivy Player of the Year RB Jim Finn and All-Ivy QB Matt Rader took 3,579 of Penn's 3,749 yards of total offense with them when they graduated, everyone else returns on that side of the ball. And the Quakers convinced Northwestern's starting QB to transfer to Penn. The defense is solid again. Bill Bradley '65 may have a better chance of beating Gore and Bush than the Tigers do of upsetting Penn.
Yale (4 offensive, 8 defensive): The last two times you read here that the Yale game should be an easy Princeton win (1996 and 1998), the Elis shocked the Tigers. So there will be no predictions, except that Yale could build on last year's 5-2 Ivy record, its first winning record in the league in seven years.
at Dartmouth (6 offensive, 5 defensive): Unless Princeton catches an early bout of the Y2K bug, the Tigers should end the millennium with a victory over a very weak Big Green squad. As Tosches says, "The first 99 years of this century have been very, very wonderful for Princeton football, and we are hoping that we can put the finishing touches on this century."
-Phillip R. Thune '92
Preseason Ivy league media poll
Results of a poll of 16 representatives from student and professional papers that cover the Ivy League. First-place votes (shown in parentheses) were worth eight points; eighth-place points were worth one.
1. Penn 122 points (11)
2. Brown 111 (5)
3. Yale 89
4. Harvard 81
5. Princeton 73
6. Columbia 39
7. Cornell 31
8. Dartmouth 30
September 18 Cornell home 1 p.m.
September 25 Lehigh home 7 p.m.
October 2 Fordham home 1 p.m.
October 9 Brown away 1 p.m.
October 16 Lafayette home 1 p.m.
October 23 Harvard away 1 p.m.
October 30 Columbia home 1 p.m.
November 6 Pennsylvania away 12:30 p.m.
November 13 Yale home 1 p.m.
November 20 Dartmouth away 12:30 p.m.
Field hockey tries to replace the remarkable Class of '99
In the fall of 1995, the field hockey team was preparing for life without a senior class that had helped win Princeton its first outright Ivy title in 11 years. Although head coach Beth Bozman knew that she had recruited a strong freshman class, what she didn't know-and what the rest of the field hockey world was about to discover-was that she'd managed to find a group of players that would propel her program to a position of national prominence.
Six of the eight members of the Class of '99 were starters by the end of that season, and Kirsty Hale won the Ivy Rookie of the Year award: the first accolade in her record-breaking career. Beginning in 1996, the team made three straight appearances in the final four, bookended by losses in the championship game. As Bozman said last year at the end of the season, "I cannot imagine having a class like this one again."
But Bozman spoke those words before she began accumulating frequent flyer miles to find this year's incoming class-a band of recruits that many field hockey insiders consider the best in the country. To help replace departed first-team All-Ivy goalkeeper Meg DeJong '99, Bozman went to Peabody, Massachusetts, where she found Kelly Baril '03, widely considered the best high school goalkeeper in the nation. In Houston, Texas, Bozman recruited Emily Townsend '03, the top-rated defenseman in the country. And across the Atlantic, in Bonn, Germany, Bozman managed to convince an attack named Ilvy Friebe '03 to come to Princeton. "I think people are going to be amazed at how good she is," Bozman says of Friebe. "She's cut from the mold of the Class of '99: a good, genuine person, and an extremely talented player."
While Bozman expects some of her freshmen to contribute right away, she also has a strong returning cast. Third team All-America attack Hilary Matson '01 and second team All-Ivy, captain, and four-year starter Robin Dwyer '00 are the returning award winners, but the Tigers have plenty of players who may blossom with more playing time (last season, the team jokingly referred to its bench as the "fifth final-four team.") Captains Kate Carroll '99 and Kate Fox '99 provide experience, while Bridget Marchesi '01, Kellie Maul '01, and Melanie Meerschwam '01 have all played well in their summer leagues.
Last season, Princeton outscored its Ivy opponents 33-1. While it may be hard for the team to improve on that goal differential, don't bet on any league losses. While teams like Yale are building reasonably competitive programs, Princeton's athletic facilities (especially 1952 Field), coaching staff, and recent success have given it the advantage in recruiting that means the difference between merely good players and the kind of athletes who could win a national title.
Therefore, the excitement this season will come from a schedule that is, once again, one of the two or three toughest in the country. Virtually every weekend Princeton will play a top-10 team, including traditional powerhouses Maryland and Old Dominion. "You have to play-and beat-the best in order to do what we've done the past few years," Bozman says. "We had to replace some really strong players, but I think these kids will fill those holes." And perhaps, before they graduate, the Class of '03 will complete the job started by the Class of '99 and win Princeton its first national title.
-Wes Tooke '98
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