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Double-header at Sherrerd Field will showcase top teams and premier talent

Tigers take on Blue Jays in one of college lacrosse’s premier matchups

As injuries mounted and a team struggled to find its identity, a lack of offensive depth appeared to hold the Tigers back throughout last year’s competitive schedule. This year, men’s lacrosse (2-0) fields a roster with some of the most firepower in the NCAA. A visiting Hofstra provided an opportunity to shake off the offseason rust in a 12-10 Princeton win. This weekend, after felling a weak Manhattan side on the road, Sherrerd Field at the Class of 1952 Stadium will be the site for 84th installment of one of the great rivalries in college lacrosse. Their opponent No. 7 Johns Hopkins (3-0) boasts a talented roster and an unmatched tradition of accomplishment at the varsity level.

This year, both squads will look to capitalize on their early season successes. The Tigers are averaging 13 goals per game and have found offensive production this season from a variety of sources. Although the team is led in scoring by junior attackman Mike MacDonald and senior midfielder Tom Schreiber, Princeton has had at least four players with multi-goal games in its first two matchups. Nine different players tallied goals in the Tigers’ road victory over Manhattan on Tuesday. Princeton will need to maintain this collective offensive effort if the squad hopes to keep pace with the Blue Jays’ high-powered attack this weekend.

Like the Tigers, Johns Hopkins also boasts a 13 goal-per-game average so far this season. Since defeating Ohio State (1-2, 0-0 Big Ten) 10-9 in a closely fought triple overtime contest on Feb. 9, the Blue Jays posted strong showings against Towson and Michigan, winning the games by scores of 15-8 and 14-5 respectively.

The success of this Princeton team will be rooted to great extent in the success of the 16-man-strong senior class. In addition to star midfielders Schreiber and Kip Orban, Forest Sonnenfeldt and Tucker Shanley represent the Class of 2014 with physical play and leadership on the second midfielder line. Sonnenfeldt and Shanley missed the last season with injuries.

According to head coach Chris Bates, these returning seniors are confident and coachable.

“Those guys have been through the rigors here,” Bates began. “When the lights go on, against any college team that we play, you never know how young guys are going to react. There are always some jitters and some nerves that come into play. But those (seniors) really played. Having spent a year away with injury gives them a different perspective.”

While senior leadership will be invaluable, sophomores Ryan Ambler on attack, Jake Froccaro in the midfield and Mark Strabo on defense have continued to impress in their second year. Add to this long-stick midfielder Sam Gravitte and starting defensemen Will Reynolds and Bear Goldstein – all from the freshman class – and you have a squad that is strong across all four years.

A final decision on Princeton’s goaltending has yet to manifest. Two games have seen a rotation between two goalies: senior Brian Kavanagh and sophomore Matt O’Connor. Not much has separated the two in terms of performance, but according to Bates the senior will get the start on Saturday.

The visitors from Maryland combine talent with a strong understanding of the game. Coach Bates explained how their offensive unit will put his team to the test as they try to slow a potent attack.

“Hopkins poses some significant issues for us,” he explained. “For them, offensively, they’re different than they’ve been. They’re a lot more off-ball focused. They share the ball. They attack the goal from below the goal line.”

The Blue Jays feature three InsideLacrosse.com preseason all-America selections. Attackman Wells Stanwick comes from one of the country’s great lacrosse families and plays his position at one of the highest levels in the country. The “quarterback” of the Hopkins offense according to Coach Bates, he has managed a whopping 16 points through three games, which ranks No. 10 in the country in per-game average. Reynolds will start covering the junior standout, but it remains unclear whether anybody on the Princeton roster will be able to shut him down.

A rising star on the Blue Jays that the Tigers will have to concern themselves with is freshman midfielder John Crawley.

“He’s been impressive,” Bates said of Crawley. “Quick split both directions. He can shoot a little bit. He’s not playing like a freshman. I think the key for us will be to keep him going in one direction and support whoever is covering him with a slide, if need be.”

Complete midfielder Rob Guida similarly boasts athleticism and shot-power. He cocaptains his team and should draw a Princeton long-stick defender whenever his side is on offense.

Hopkins’ goalie Eric Schneider has been on an impressive run of form to start the season. His .667 save percentage ranks in the top 10 nationally.

Faceoff specialist Drew Kennedy handles most of the workload at the X for the Blue Jays. He has won over two thirds of his matchups on the season and will provide tough competition for Princeton junior Justin Murphy.

Although the matchup includes a number of incredibly tight individual meetings, the Tigers will stick with the ways that have brought them success in the past. Bates hopes to play a patient style of offense which allows Princeton’s offense midfielders to take advantage of short stick defenders.

On the other side of the field, off-ball defense, which in lacrosse and in any team sport requires clear communication by all players, will be a focus for the Tigers.

Last weekend’s home battle with Hofstra revealed the yearly rust which sets in over an offseason. However, against the Pride and against Manhattan Tuesday night in a 14-8 Princeton win, the Tigers’ talented roster more or less outmatched their opponents. Coach Bates stressed the values of resolve and poise which his side displayed in the early-season contests.

“The Hofstra game put us on our heels a little bit,” he admitted. “I was excited that we didn’t panic and we stayed poised and confident. Systematically, we fought our way back into that game. That game could have gone in a few different directions. We have a young defense and we have a first-time-starting goalie. We gave up a barrage of shots early. And I think we made some necessary adjustments, but our guys remained true to the game plan. Hopefully that resolve and that ability to stay poised through adversity can teach us some lesson and serve us well moving forward.”

Princeton’s two games and two wins do not hold a great deal of import for this Saturday’s showdown.

“We put all that in the rearview mirror. It’s not hard to get our guys excited to play Hopkins. They know what’s at stake. It’s a good traditional rivalry. (The Blue Jays) play well, and they’re very well coached,” Coach Bates explained. “It promises to be a hell of a game.”

This matchup with Hopkins is particularly important to the Tigers because of where the game falls on Princeton’s schedule. After facing the Blue Jays, the Tigers will need to turn their attention to two other ranked opponents whom they will play in consecutive matches in the coming weeks. Princeton will take on No. 3 North Carolina on March 7 and No. 20 Penn on March 15. A victory over Johns Hopkins on Saturday could provide the Tigers with the momentum necessary to overcome both of these high-quality opponents. Princeton has not opened its season with more than three consecutive victories since going 4-0 to start its 2010 season.

McMunn will look to lead the Tigers’ attack against No. 14 Bulldogs

Similarly, the No. 19 women’s side (1-1) will host a high-quality opponent at 1952 Stadium once the men’s game has concluded. No. 14 Georgetown (1-1) will look to rebound from its 14-10 loss to Towson University in Maryland. This early season matchup promises to be a competitive battle between two of the country’s best teams.

A convincing 11-4 win against local rival Rutgers saw the Tigers get back on track following a 15-10 away loss to the perennially strong No. 6 Loyola team.

Junior Erin McMunn, last season’s Ivy League Attacker of Year, has started this season with the same level of offensive production that brought her national attention last year. Her four goals and five assists make her the top-scoring Tiger two games in.

A number of highly talented women from across the class years join McMunn and contribute to the potent offensive unit. From the sophomore class, attacker Alex Bruno has added two goals and an assist. Junior midfielder Erin Slifer has notched five goals on the season. Senior Sarah Lloyd joins Slifer on the starting midfield line along with freshman Anna Doherty. The two Erins posted hat tricks in the winning effort against Rutgers.

Again similar to the men’s situation, the women have some questions between the pipes. Senior Caroline Franke has started both of her side’s contests, but junior Annie Woehling and freshman Ellie DeGarmo have also seen time in goal.

For the Hoyas, goaltender Barb Black stands strong in the net as she has for her past three seasons in Washington, D.C. Classmate and midfielder Kelyn Freedman has tended to get things going for her side on offense, notching 31 goals a season ago.

Freedman was second in goal-scoring to junior attacker Caroline Tarzian, who earned national attention for her 36-goal effort last year. The third-team all-American will likely frustrate Princeton defenders through four quarters.

The 2013 Princeton campaign saw the Tigers amass an impressive 6-1 Ivy League mark but only put together a 10-7 overall record. In last year’s iteration of Saturday’s matchup, then No. 11 Georgetown got the better of Princeton with a 11-6 home win.

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