Web Exclusives: Bonus Stories

July 7, 2004:

Rising to the challenge
The year in Princeton sports – 2003-04

By Brett Tomlinson

February 10 was a night the Princeton men’s basketball team would rather forget. Riding high on a five-game winning streak with a two-game lead on Penn in the standings, the Tigers looked ready to run away with the Ivy title. But the Quakers stepped onto the court at Jadwin Gym and started sinking 3-pointers as if the defense wasn’t even there. They hit five of their first six 3’s on their way to a 67-52 victory. With the future suddenly less promising, Princeton regrouped and responded. The Tigers won their next nine Ivy games, including a season-ending 76-70 overtime game against Penn at the Palestra, and finished the year with 20 wins, reaching the N.C.A.A. Tournament for the first time since 2001.

Like many of Princeton’s 11 Ivy League Championship teams in 2003-04, men’s basketball rose to new heights when faced with uncertainty. In January, women’s swimming lost its first meet in six years, but the team recovered by winning its remaining contests and a fifth-straight Ivy title. Men’s lacrosse had no idea what to expect at the start of the season, fielding its youngest squad in recent memory. The Tigers reached the N.C.A.A. Final Four. Baseball stumbled to a 1-3 Ivy start but swept the league championship series on the road at Dartmouth May 8. Uncertainty also gave way to positive outcomes off the court. When men’s basketball coach John Thompson ’88 departed for Georgetown, Air Force coach Joe Scott ’87 returned to campus to replace his former teammate.

In addition to the Ivy titles, one individual, men’s squash player Yasser El Halaby ’06, won a national championship. Professional teams came calling, drafting five baseball players and a men’s lacrosse star, and the best of 2003-04 may be yet to come, with more than a dozen alumni and students chasing gold in August at the Athens Olympics.

The cumulative success marked by championships, though, cannot fully summarize the year’s powerful moments: the heartbreak of football’s overtime loss to Yale November 15, when a defender popped the ball loose from B.J. Szymanski ’05’s hands six yards shy of the goal line; the perseverance of Emily Kroshus ’04 racing down the final stretch of her Ivy Heptagonal Cross-Country Championship run in Van Courtland Park October 31; the controlled aggression of Will Venable ’05 driving to the basket against Texas in the N.C.A.A. Tournament March 25; and the calm confidence of Ryan Boyle ’04 as he buried two goals in the final two minutes to force overtime against Maryland in the N.C.A.A. lacrosse quarterfinals May 22. These snapshots are part of a yearlong mosaic of triumphs and setbacks.

The fall season featured championships in field hockey, under first-year coach Kristen Holmes-Winn, and men’s water polo, which won the E.C.A.C. Southern Division. Women’s cross-country finished second in the Ivy but advanced to the N.C.A.A. Championships for the first time in two decades, placing ninth in the national meet. Kroshus and Cack Ferrell ’06 earned All-America honors. Women’s soccer received an at-large bid to the N.C.A.A. playoffs, losing in the first round to Villanova. Football struggled to a 2-8 finish, its worst record since 1986.

El Halaby’s squash title was one of several highlights in the winter. Venable and Judson Wallace ’05 starred for men’s basketball, which led Texas at the half in the first round of the N.C.A.A. Tournament March 25 in Colorado. Men’s and women’s swimming each won the Ivy, and men’s indoor track won the Ivy Heptagonal Championships. Women’s hockey, paced by center Gretchen Anderson ’04, won 20 games and ranked among the nation’s top 10 teams for most of the season.

The spring brought dual Ivy crowns in men’s and women’s lacrosse for the 10th straight year, but the Tigers did not stop there. The men’s Final Four run ended with a loss to Navy in the semifinals May 29, and the women, led my 50-goal scorer Lindsey Biles ’05, won 19 in a row before falling to Virginia in the N.C.A.A. final May 23 at Princeton Stadium. Men’s and women’s golf swept the Ivy Championships April 16-18. Jason Gerken ’06 and Avery Kiser ’04 won individual titles. The women’s lightweight crew failed to bring home a sixth straight national championship, but the women’s open crew filled the void with an Ivy title. Women’s water polo won the E.C.A.C. Southern Division. Baseball continued to dominate the Ivy, and its most impressive win came in the opening round of N.C.A.A. regional play at Virginia. The Tigers, behind right-handed pitcher Ross Ohlendorf ’05, defeated the host Cavaliers 4-2. Ohlendorf and four of his teammates will have a chance to move on to professional baseball after being drafted by major league teams June 7-8.

At the Class Day celebration May 31, Director of Athletics Gary Walters ’67 recognized the year’s senior athletic award winners. Jonathan Nuger ’04 of the men’s golf team earned the Class of 1916 Cup, for the senior varsity letterwinner with the highest academic standing. Kroshus, field hockey player Claire Miller ’04, and soccer and lacrosse star Theresa Sherry ’04 shared the Otto von Kienbusch Award. Boyle, a two-time Ivy men’s lacrosse Player of the Year, won the William Roper Trophy. Brian McKenna ’04, Vincent Vitale ’04, and Kevin Weiner ’04 shared the Arthur Lane Award for “selfless contribution to sport and society.” In four years on campus, the Class of 2004 won 47 Ivy Championships. Its closest competitors from Yale won 21.