Football's odyssey ends at Dartmouth
Tigers finish with snowy, 12-9 loss in overtime
IF YOU'RE WONDERING ABOUT the legacy of Princeton's 1997 football season, it won't be the games. Five wins, five frustrating losses. For a school that won the Ivy title just two years ago, there's not much pride in mediocrity, and no doubt the season's forgettable onfield events will soon fade from collective memory.
For that reason there isn't much to be said about the Tigers' season-ending 12-9 overtime loss to Dartmouth on November 22. Once again, Princeton's defense played superbly, allowing only three points in overtime on a snowswept New Hampshire afternoon. And once again the offense sputtered, blowing a 6-0 fourth-quarter lead with a pair of classic punting gaffes: a muffed snap that resulted in a safety and a botched third-down quick-kick by quarterback Harry Nakielny '98 that Dartmouth blocked and recovered for a touchdown. Alex Sierk '99 tied the score with a last-minute field goal, his third of the game, but his valiant 48-yard attempt in overtime fell just short and wide right, and the Big Green fans stormed the frozen field.
The above notwithstanding, one can argue that Princeton was the most intriguing 2-5 team in Ivy history simply for having completed an entire season of games away from home. It follows that this team now owns a unique legacy worthy of respect (and, yes, even pride). Indeed, the real story in Hanover wasn't the game, as close as it was, but rather the process of uncovering the artifact that best captured Princeton's season-long life as a band of football hoboes.
First, some background. Ever since the day last year when athletic director Gary Walters '67 came to practice and told the team about the all-road schedule, this year's seniors had tried hard not to bemoan their lot. It wasn't easy. "[Walters] said that it was going to be the greatest stadium on the East Coast, and in order to build it they were going to have to make a sacrifice," says cornerback Damani Leech '98. "But they weren't going to make the sacrifice. We were. So I was very angry at first. All the seniors were." The next day, coach Steve Tosches gathered the seniors and told them, "Things like this happen throughout your life. But from a football perspective it doesn't matter. All you need is 100 yards and a grass field."
Ultimately, the team responded by finding humor in its travel rituals. "For a while we were ordering movies every week, and we'd have a big group of guys in the room watching Face/Off," says Leech. "But after a while we ran out of movies."
Then there was defensive tackle Mark Whaling '98, certainly the Tigers' loudest player, who every week professed a mortal fear of forgetting a uniform part and enlisted a teammate's help in a booming check-off procedure for his equipment bag. The running gag went like this:
And so on. (Whaling, it should be said, never once forgot his helmet). Meanwhile, the snarky editors at The Daily Princetonian also got into the act, running a weekly box comparing Princeton's cumulative miles traveled to total yards gained. (A sign of the Tigers' anemic offense: miles traveled won out, 3,217 to 2,380).
As for discovering the future museum piece that best described Princeton's itinerant season, Leech's travel-worn backpack was the clear winner. It was a wondrous sight: a faded, black canvas bag with a faulty zipper broken by overuse. For 10 weeks, Leech stuffed his backpack with the bare essentials: a portable CD player, the same three CDs (Notorious B.I.G., Puff Daddy, Tupac Shakur), a change of underwear and socks, a toothbrush, deodorant, and a bottle of Vaseline Intensive Care (which he ritually rubbed all over his body before each game, usually to the snickers of teammates). Earlier in the season Leech had also brought along his schoolbooks, but soon he pared down his reading to the current issue of Sports Illustrated.
While there were the expected long faces immediately following the Dartmouth game ("I'm at a loss for words," said Tosches. "Just stunned."), it was hardly surprising that spirits rose not long after the players boarded the buses back to Princeton. After all, the seniors, according to tradition, had a bus all to themselves for their last ride back. And when everyone arrived back on campus at midnight, they could celebrate the end of the mother of all roadtrips. The Odyssey--all 3,217 miles of it--was finally complete. Did anyone say anything to mark the occasion? "No," said Leech. "We were flat-out exhausted."
--Grant Wahl '95
Grant Wahl writes for Sports Illustrated.
Ice hockey off to strong start
ON NOVEMBER 21, less than 80 miles from a village named for James Fenimore Cooper, author of Last of the Mohicans, the men's ice hockey team battled fiercely with an ambitious band of Cornell warriors--at stake the title "Last of the Unbeatens." The nationally ranked Big Red slung 42 shots at goaltender Erasmo Saltarelli '98 in an intense, physically draining showdown of the nation's two unbeaten squads, which ended in a 2-1 loss for Princeton (6-2-3 overall, 2-2-2 ECAC). Despite the setback, the preceding six-game unbeaten streak represented the Tigers' best
start since the Hoover administration and propelled Princeton toward fourth place in the league. The Tigers' defense has been crucial to their early success, holding opponents to three goals or fewer in six of the first eight contests and killing 83.7 percent of penalties. Offensive contributions have come from a variety of sources; nine players had tallied five or more points through the first eight games.
--Mike Jackman '92
Knowledge is power for women's basketball
NOW THAT LAST SEASON is just a painful memory, it's time for women's basketball to "move on," says Lea Ann Drohan '99, a captain and center on the team. With eight freshmen joining the team in 1996, Princeton had struggled to a 7-19 record, its fewest total wins since 1973-74. And after the team's first game of this year--a 58-47 loss at Bucknell on November 19--third-year coach Liz Feeley worried that the Tigers might slip back to last year's habits. "We need to learn how to win. We played chicken out there, and it's frustrating to see all this talent not have confidence in itself," she said. "It's time for each one of these players to be accountable for what her responsibilities are on the floor."
A week later it appeared the Tigers (2-1 overall, 0-0 Ivy) were starting to do just that. In the team's home opener on November 23, Princeton rebounded with a 71-44 drubbing of Georgetown. Two days later the team squashed visiting Lehigh, 68-43. Good defense, strong team rebounding, and the hot shooting of Kate Thirolf '00 were keys to the victories, but so were the lessons the team learned last year.
"We were just learning to play together then," says Drohan. "This year we're much more composed and confident. Now we have to focus on playing smart." Center Drohan's first task this year will be to overcome some foul trouble. Her low-post offense is crucial for the Tigers, and her shot-blocking anchors the team's inside defense, but she was forced to sit out most of the Bucknell and Lehigh games. Drohan's backup is Brooke Lockwood '00, whose strong play so far this year on defense and on the boards gives Princeton some breathing room at the position.
At forward, Princeton is explosive and versatile: the potent Thirolf will pace the Tigers' scoring, able to hit from beyond the arc and in the paint. Julie Angell '99 gives the team good rebounding and supports Princeton's defense in the paint. Then there's Tesa Ho '00, who provides a scrambling, emotional presence at both ends of the floor. If she develops a move to the basket to go with her solid outside shot, the team will have a scary frontcourt.
If it's hard to pick a guard who'll dominate for the Tigers, that's because they have so much talent at the position. Starter Zakiya Pressley '98 and captain Sara Wetstone '98 provide stability, experience, and good defense. Starter Maggie Langlas '00 is the team's stopper on defense and is a playmaker with a deadly three-point shot on offense. Erica Bowman '00 is the team's best rebounder and another scrambler.
Harvard, with two-time Ivy Player of the Year Alison Feaster, is favored to win its third straight league title. The Crimson graduated their starting point guard, however, meaning good defensive pressure by Princeton may create turnovers and make last year's huge losses (the average margin of victory was 36 points) closer contests this year.
Brown, picked to finish second, will be the Tigers' first Ivy test, January 10 at Jadwin. Brown returns its entire squad from last year, including captain and forward Liz Turner and all-Ivy guard Vita Redding. If its back-court defense and inside game are solid, Princeton can hope for a sweep; a split is likely.
Dartmouth's experience at forward and guard will challenge Princeton at both ends of the floor. The Tigers nearly swept the Big Green last year, winning comfortably at home but losing a heartbreaker at Hanover. This year the team should win both games.
Losses to any of the rest of the league will be disappointing--Princeton must win its games against weaker opponents. The Tigers will see their share of nail-biters again this year, but their talent will pull out more than a few victories. Overall, Princeton's varied offense and good defense will surprise pundits by winning at least nine Ivy games, to reach coach Feeley's goal of placing third or better in the league.
--Paul Hagar '91
Field hockey falls to Carolina at Final Four
Captains MacFarlane and Kelly end stellar careers with emotion
WHEN THE FINAL WHISTLE blew, sealing the field hockey team's 4-3 loss to North Carolina in the national semifinals, senior cocaptains Amy MacFarlane and Kathleen Kelly had no grit left. The heart and talent they'd used to lead their team to the NCAA Final Four was spent. Emotionally and physically overcome, MacFarlane clutched teammate Kirsty Hale '99; a disconsolate Kelly simply fell to the cold, wet turf.
The two captains had rallied their team to a strong second half in the semifinal, played November 21 in Storrs, Connecticut. After falling behind 3-1 in the first half, the Tigers (17-4 overall, 7-0 Ivy) came back to pressure the Tar Heels down the stretch. They came within a break of tying the score, according to coach Beth Bozman, but there would be no fortunate bounces for the team. (After defeating the Tigers, North Carolina beat Old Dominion, 3-2, on November 23, to win its second straight title.)
Princeton has now become a national power in field hockey, winning four straight Ivy titles, putting together a string of sparkling NCAA tournament wins, and making two trips to the Final Four. That success, especially in the postseason, has come from the team's ability to win under pressure. "One thing I love about this team is that we all come together when we need to," said MacFarlane.
The two captains embodied their team's focus and desire throughout their careers, and it showed in their final game. "I knew those could be my last few minutes," said a choked-up Kelly afterward. "I wanted to give it all I had." That spirit, as much as the team's wins, will be the captains' legacy. "We will miss their talent," said Bozman. "But everyone should know they brought a whole lot more to this team than skill."
--Paul Hagar '91
(4-0 overall, 0-0 Ivy)
W vs. Rutgers, 64-52
W vs. Monmouth, 61-38
(2-1 overall, 0-0 Ivy)
L at Bucknell, 47-58
W vs. Georgetown, 71-44
W vs. Lehigh, 68-43
M. CROSS COUNTRY*
(4-0 overall, 2-0 Ivy)
(5-5 overall, 1-4 Ivy)
L at Dartmouth, 9-12 (ot)
(17-4 overall, 7-0 Ivy)
NCAA Final Four
L vs. North Carolina, 3-4
M. ICE HOCKEY
(6-2-3 overall, 2-2-2 ECAC)
L at Colgate, 4-8
L at Cornell, 1-2
W vs. Army, 9-3
W at Merrimack, 2-0
T vs. Providence, 4-4
W. ICE HOCKEY
(3-3 overall, 3-3 ECAC, 1-1 Ivy)
W at Colby, 4-3
L at New Hampshire, 1-6
(2-0 overall, 1-0 Ivy)
W vs. W. Ontario, 5-4
W vs. Cornell, 9-0
(2-0 overall, 1-0 Ivy)
W. at Franklin &
W vs. Cornell, 8-1