to the challenge The year in Princeton sports
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