Skies were grey as rain and fog settled over Providence, R.I., while the men’s lacrosse team(4-4 overall, 1-2 Ivy League) traveled to take on league rivals Brown (6-3, 1-1). The Bears, having dropped the last five of these meetings by a combined 25 goals, pulled off an 11-10 upset over the No. 15 Tigers. To find the previous Princeton loss in the rivalry, you would have to go back to 2008, when Brown pulled off a 6-5 home win.
This loss weighs heavily on the Princeton side, which has now dropped consecutive one-goal contests to Ivy League opponents. Senior captain and long stick midfielder Derick Raabe commented that his team needed to have put forward a comprehensively better effort in order to have won.
“I think yesterday, across the board, we weren’t really strong,” he said. “Offense, defense, faceoffs were all below average. We need to do better in practice this week. I think that will start with getting after it every day and being competitive in practice. That’s where it all starts.”
The Bears established a 2-0 lead through a low-scoring first quarter. This particular series, in which Princeton has the overall lead 31-22, is noteworthy for its low-scoring propensity. According to GoPrincetonTigers.com, the winner, prior to Saturday, has scored on average 9.5 per game with the loser scoring 5.2 per game over the last ten times. This mean the score line falls well short of the typical Ivy League contest.
Dominating the pace of play for almost the entire contest, the home side kept the visitors to just five goals through three quarters of play. Based on prior final scores, the Tigers would have been expected to approach double digits by the onset of the fourth period. Additionally, the first period saw Princeton uncharacteristically outshot by a 15-4 margin.
The largest lead of the afternoon came for the Bears 46 seconds into the final quarter. Facing at 10-5 disadvantage, the Tigers had to scramble to stay competitive. It took until the 6:22 mark in the final frame for Princeton to cut into their opponents’ lead. Senior midfielder Tucker Shanley scored on an assist from sophomore midfielder Jake Froccaro which started a 3-0 Princeton run which took under 60 seconds. Through the final 15 minutes, the visitors held a 5-2 advantage.
Expectations have been high for this Princeton squad, but results have fallen, on the whole, short of the perceived potential. While certainly not favored to win every game, the aggregate talent on the Tigers’ roster was expected to produce a squad firmly situated near the top of the Ivy League.
Speaking of talent, senior midfielder Tom Schreiber, whom Inside Lacrosse recently listed on their midseason All-America first team, recorded his usual four points on three goals and an assist. To be clear, this level of output — the captain has tallied three or more points in 24 consecutive games, which is unmatched nationally — should not be considered common. Alongside Schreiber, senior midfielder Kip Orban and junior attackman Mike MacDonald have tallied a point in 23 straight contests. On Saturday, Orban notched an unassisted goal while MacDonald converted two assists from his fellow Ontario native, freshman midfielder Zach Currier.
However, it has become clear that Princeton will need more than firepower to succeed at the level to which they aspire.
A bevy of injuries cut down severely on last year’s roster. One of the first impactful injuries on this year’s squad has come in the form of a concussion to junior faceoff specialist Justin Murphy. In his absence, Princeton has been out-faced in 38 of 58 battles, a devastating margin.
“Without him, we’ve definitely struggled at the X. And we’ve tried a few different guys. I think Jake [Froccaro] has been pretty successful. But we also need him on offense so we don’t like to have him carry too much of the load. It’s not just the faceoff guy. It’s really a three-man unit. So I think everybody has to do a better job moving forward of communicating and executing. But hopefully when we get Justin back, we’ll win more going forward.”
In addition to Brown’s edge on faceoffs, Raabe pointed to inopportune clearing failures and a general lack of timeliness from his squad as reasons why the hosts were able to dominate almost throughout.
“We didn’t clear the ball at the beginning,” he explained. “When we were able to generate stops and saves, we would give it right back to them with failed clears.”
While not many Division I defenses can consistently keep high-caliber opponents to within single digit goals, Raabe spoke of his team’s need to reduce opponents’ totals. While one might point to the youth of the unit — starting close defensemen Will Reynolds and Bear Goldstein are freshmen, while linemate Mark Strabo is a sophomore — as cause for the inconsistency, the senior captain suggested that a full team effort will be required to right the ship.
“We definitely don’t go into a game hoping to give up 10 goals,” he began. “We’d want that number to be lower. I think we need to keep growing as a unit and having better communication with everyone being on the same page. At this point, we have a few young guys. But that’s more of an excuse. And it sort of falls on older players like myself and Jack Strabo to get the unit firing on all cylinders.”
At this point in the season, it remains a Herculean if not impossible task for Princeton to reach the top of the Ivy table and thus earn home field advantage in the league tournament. Beyond this, it will be an uphill battle to even earn a place in the place in the league’s top four and thus earn a tournament bid. Raabe acknowledged that his team must display urgency in every upcoming contest, but spoke with confidence about his team’s prospects.
“We understand that we pretty much have to win out if we want to achieve the goals we set in the preseason,” he said. “And I think our team can do it. We need to make some changes. I think that the opportunity is still there. We need to take each game one at a time and treat every game as if it were our last if we want to make the postseason.”