Web Exclusives: From the P-Nut Gallery
a column by Nate Sellwyn nsellyn@princeton.edu

February 11, 2004:

Looking forward at men’s lax
Senior John Robinson talks about this year’s Tigers

The Princeton men’s lacrosse team has won six N.C.A.A. championships, played in eight N.C.A.A. championship games, advanced to nine Final Fours and won 11 Ivy League championships in the last 12 years. Few college athletic programs in the nation can claim such dominance in the last decade. Yet the men’s lacrosse team has been so good – their victories are about as consistent as the timing of a Japanese bullet train – that the numbers seem almost surprising in their significance. Football brings the alumni home. Basketball gets the prime-time coverage. But lacrosse has become Princeton’s new premier sport.

This season, the team faces two challenges. First, recovering from last year’s graduation: The Tigers saw the departure of 13 seniors, including four-year starters Damien Davis, Sean Hartofilis, and Brad Dumont. Second, shedding the sting of defeat: Last year was the first in four seasons that saw the Tigers fail to make the N.C.A.A. Championship game. If that wasn’t enough, a late season blowout loss to Dartmouth forced the Tigers to share the Ivy League title – a title they had held since 1995.

I sat down with John Robinson ’04 to discuss the team’s prospects for this year. A senior in the economics department, John saw little playing time during his first three seasons. However, he will likely see a greatly increased role this year, as he tries to bolster the Tigers’ midfield.

P-Nut: John, where will the team be affected most by the loss of last year’s seniors?
J.R.: The midfield. We lost two All-Americans and four other key contributors. The leadership and depth they provided were underestimated last year

P-Nut: Will the loss of the nonstarters be felt more on the field or in the locker room?
J.R.: Seeing that last year’s seniors helped the team to three N.C.A.A. championship games and one national title, their talent and experience will obviously be tough to replace. However, I would not call this season a rebuilding year. Last season we had many underclassmen step up and play crucial roles when some of the seniors went down with various injuries. So while there will be many new faces on the field this year, almost all of them were able to get their feet wet last season.

P-Nut: Does the team feel pressured to recapture sole possession of the Ivy League title?
J.R.: While every year our ultimate goal is to win a national championship, we never look ahead to that until we’ve won the Ivies. We’ve been fortunate enough to win the last nine, but we never take it for granted – especially with the talent level rising so quickly around the league as it has been over the last few seasons.

P-Nut: Do you think the team has a realistic shot at the national championship this year?
J.R.: Of course. We may be young but we’re still a very talented team. Ryan Boyle ’04 and Jason Doneger ’05 may be the best one-two punch in college lacrosse this year. As for our midfield and defense, you can expect very solid groups at both positions. And with two extremely talented goalies fighting for the starting job, I don’t believe there is any reason for us to lower the expectations we have always had — to win the Ivy League title and the national championship.

P-Nut: How do you think Boyle and Doneger will respond to increased defensive attention?
J.R.: For players as talented as Ryan and Jason, the defenses we face this year will be nothing new. They’ve received increased attention since they arrived as freshmen. They realize that in many ways they will be relied upon to carry the team, but they are both very selfless and are not the type of players to try to do too much. I know they have a lot of faith in their teammates, so I think most of us just hope we can step up and take some of the pressure off of them. To be honest, I would expect nothing less than All-American efforts from both of them, and I think Ryan has a very real shot at the Tewaarton this year.

P-Nut: It’s undeniable that his career here has been something special. Where do you think he will end up fitting in the history of Princeton lacrosse?
J.R.: While he has never cared much about the individual awards, Ryan’s statistics and awards obviously place him as one of the finest attackmen to ever play for Princeton. With a healthy senior season, I think he has the opportunity to cement himself as a member the upper echelon with the likes of (David) Morrow, (Scott) Bacigalupo, and a few others as one of the finest to play at Princeton, regardless of position.

P-Nut: Do you think any underclassmen have a chance at similar greatness? Who among them do you think can be counted upon to step into the spotlight this year?
J.R.: Just looking at the freshman, both Peter Trombino and Scott Sowanick will surprise many fans and opponents with their savvy play. It is rare to have freshmen that can adjust to the college game and produce immediately, but it appears that they both have the talent and poise to do so this season.

P-Nut: Would you agree that lacrosse is now the most celebrated sport at Princeton?
J.R.: If you look at the numbers – the Ivy League titles, the Final Four appearances, and the national championships – I don’t think there are many teams in any sport at any school that have the tradition that Princeton lacrosse has created since Coach Tierney arrived here.

P-Nut: Will there be revenge on your mind when the team faces Dartmouth this year?
J.R.: Not necessarily revenge, but I think we will go into this year’s game much more focused than we did last year. In years past we have made the mistake of sometimes underestimating Ivy League opponents, but the attitude of the team this year is one that will allow for nothing but the utmost determination to win each and every game.


You can reach Nate at nsellyn@Princeton.EDU