It is more or less expected that a matchup against an Ivy League rival will yield a close contest. It is certainly unexpected that a player will score 10 goals in a game. For No. 13 men’s lacrosse (4-3 overall, 1-1 Ivy League), this has been a season of expectations and their contradictions. Just past their season’s halfway mark, the talented Tigers have dazzled at times with their play. At times they have fallen short, even by just seconds.
Over spring break, the Princeton men took on a trio of opponents in No. 14 Penn, at home, and Villanova and No. 16 Yale on the road. Rankings are taken from the US Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Coaches’ poll. Two wins by margins of 15-12 and 14-6 over the Philadelphia foes balanced out the previous two losses and showcased what, on any given day, could be one of the nation’s most potent offenses. The third contest resulted in a heartbreaking 16-15 defeat, but saw sophomore midfielder Jake Froccaro score 10 goals to tie the program’s single-game record.
Tigers overcome Quakers in Ivy opener
The Tigers’ Ivy opener came last Saturday against the Quakers on the Class of 1952’s Sherrerd Field. “Must-win” is a term applied perhaps excessively, but having suffered two consecutive home losses, this tilt against a league opponent carried immense weight for head coach Chris Bates and his side.
After the 9:19 mark in the first quarter, the Tigers held the lead or a share throughout, but the Quakers hung very close for all 60 minutes. Separated by only an hour drive, these local rivals share similar recruiting bases and, over years of competition, have developed a great deal of familiarity.
Sophomore goalkeeper Matt O’Connor played his second complete game of the season and earned his first win as a started. Notably, he tallied a career high in saves with 13 — his previous was 12. The nearby Spring Lake, N.J. native, who fondly recalls roaming the Sherrerd Field end lines as a ball boy, holds himself to a high standard and hopes he will be able to provide his team with the needed presence in goal.
“It’s a long game,” he said postgame. “I let in a few early which I kind of felt like I owed the team. But it’s kind of about keeping a level head — never getting too high or too low — and playing confident. I have all the confidence in the world in this team. So I think we have the ability to sustain some runs from these guys. And I think our defense stood tall today and down the stretch gave me some shots I wanted to see.”
Coach Bates, though conceding that the Princeton crease belonged to O’Connor for the immediate future, insisted that the sophomore will have to maintain and improve his ball-stopping moving forward, saying, “We need him to be more consistent there as the season goes on. I’m happy for him. He was a 60 minute guy today and got a W. It’s his job right now, but he needs to continue to take next steps, I think, as offenses get better and teams get better.”
Such has been Bates’ chorus throughout the season: the need to take the “next step.”
“When you lose two weekends in a row, it’s a grind,” Bates explained after the Penn win. “This group is learning how to work through the grind. It’s nice to get rewarded. But you have to notch it up. You can’t play like this and win next week. You always have to take next steps. We’re happy, because this is better than the alternative. Our message to them afterwards was: we’ve got to learn how to put ourselves in game situations in practice, so that we look better than we did at the end of this game.”
Senior midfielder, co-captain, All-American and finalist for last year’s Tewaaraton Award Tom Schreiber picked up four goals and added one assist. Four more Princeton scores came from sophomore attackman Ryan Ambler.
Also worthy of note was senior midfielder Jack Strabo’s goal, the first of the season for the co-captain. Assisted by junior attackman Mike MacDonald, the defensive regular received the ball on the doorstep and put it past the Quakers’ Brian Feeney to equalize early in the first quarter. MacDonald, a classic Canadian finisher, diverted from his usual role by providing his teammates with a game-high five assists. Coach Bates explained how, in order to win key games, his side needs “production from all areas of the field,” including, he added with a grin, from “unlikely sources” such as Strabo.
In spite of a strong senior class, the Tigers will continue to look to their rookies, Bates explained. Freshmen Will Reynolds and Bear Goldstein have joined sophomore Mark Strabo at close defense. Additionally, midfielders Zach Currier and Adam Hardej will see the field as part of an expanding midfield rotation.
“I think we’re finding that we need to develop some depth,” Bates said of the freshmen middies. “And those two guys can play at this level and help us. You’re seeing (senior midfielder Kip Orban) and Jake and Tom play a lot of minutes. So we’ve got to get our next wave ready. It’s good to get them some experience. It gives them the opportunity to learn some lessons. We’re going to need them as time goes on.”
Villanova unable to keep up with Princeton offense
Last year hosting the Wildcats, the Tigers saw a 6-1 fourth quarter run by the visitors. This late rally yielded a final score of 14-11 in a game that was likely too close for the disparate levels of talent on the respective rosters.
This time, in a convincing 14-6 win at Villanova, the Princeton defense allowed only a single goal per period through three periods. Their opponents’ three scores in the fourth quarter came when the game was more or less out of reach.
Froccaro notched hat tricks in the goals and assists column, having scored only seven points total on the season prior. Through the three contests against Penn, Villanova and Yale, the reigning Ivy League Rookie of the Year put together a wild 14 goals and four assists. His combination of power and finesse makes him one of the league’s most dangerous players, on a roster already replete with offensive threats.
Only once in his illustrious career has the MLL’s first overall pick Schreiber not recorded a point in a game. His freshman year against Villanova he was held scoreless. Since then, he has registered 14 points against the Wildcats in three contests.
Early run, faceoff dominance yield Yale win over Princeton in spite of Froccaro’s 10 scores
Yale has been the postseason nemesis of Princeton of late. Falling to the Tigers in the past two regular seasons, the Bulldogs have pulled handed their league foes a pair of crushing defeats in the past two Ivy League Tournaments.
The Princeton men will have to hope this year will see the trend reversed, as they were not able to overcome a resilient home side this past Saturday in New Haven, Conn. Even as Jake Froccaro beat Yale’s goalkeeper Eric Natale 10 times — his effort will likely earn him several national accolades for the week — the visitors’ 45 shots to the hosts’ 32 could not yield a Princeton win.
A four-goal run for Yale over the first four-and-a-half minutes of play dug a hole for the Princeton side, which did not even have an offensive possession until the first quarter’s 10:22 mark. While such a lead can evaporate in minutes, the deficit demanded perhaps too much of the Princeton offense.
The Bulldogs’ faceoff specialist Dylan Levings deserves a great deal of praise for his gritty play. Despite having won only 51 percent of his battles going into the game, the senior FOGO proved nearly unstoppable. He won 25 of 35 at the X, successfully picked up 14 ground balls and took every faceoff for his team in spite of being constantly assaulted by opposing players to the point of having to be helped limping off the field.
It did not help the visitors that Princeton’s regular faceoff man junior Connor Murphy was out with injury. Four Tigers attempted to take his place, but with little success. Freshman long stick midfielder Sam Gravitte won only six of 22 battles against Levings. Froccaro, whose level of play was sensational, managed to beat the Yale specialist on four of seven attempts.
Having seen 12 Yale goals go past him while tallying six saves, sophomore O’Connor yielded the crease to junior Eric Sanschagrin at the beginning of the fourth period. The third-year keeper allowed four more Yale scores and notched four stops.
Following the contest against Penn, Coach Bates discussed the top-to-bottom strength of the Ancient Eight, where no easy win can be found.
“It’s a hell of a conference,” he said of the Ivy League. “It’s not like years past where Princeton rolled people. This is a dogfight year in and year out.”