Men’s lacrosse (7-4 overall, 2-2 Ivy League) did not face a significant threat from a visiting Dartmouth (1-8, 0-4). The Big Green played with the intensity of a nothing-to-lose side, but their efforts fell short in a 13-10 win for the Tigers.
The home team trailed only once, as Dartmouth midfielder Billy Heidt had the first of his two goals six minutes in to pick up a 2-1 lead. However, Princeton responded with increasingly aggressive play and had amassed an 8-4 lead — junior midfielder Kip Orban had a pair of characteristic late period goals — when the halftime buzzer sounded. A 12-7 lead was the home team’s largest for the day. One bright spot came for an already-sunk Dartmouth side in the fourth quarter, as they outscored Princeton 4-3 in the final 15 minutes.
Post-game, head coach Chris Bates acknowledged that his team could have earned a more convincing victory with a sharper effort.
“Today was a little bit lackadaisical,” Bates said. “Honestly, having watched us practice the past two days, we let them know we didn’t practice well. We thought we’d get a crisper effort today. We’ll take the win. But we didn’t feel like it was a really disciplined team effort.”
“Dartmouth believed they could win until the very end of the game,” he added. “Candidly, we could have pulled away and I think ended this thing a little bit earlier.”
While a win does surpass the alternative, it appeared Bates’ team fell short of their potential during the course of play. In fact, it appeared as if his side played down to the level of competition Dartmouth provided.
Before the contest the program honored the senior class, who played what may be their final game on Sherrerd Field. None of the fourth-year players were, however, able to find the back of the net, with all of Princeton’s goals coming from underclassmen.
A moment of selflessness among the final year players did stand out. With about four minutes played in the fourth quarter, a Dartmouth shot and a save from junior goalie Eric Sanschagrin led to a fast attempt for Princeton. Senior midfielder Tom Schreiber held the ball in his stick, attacking the opposing goal. His classmate and fellow cocaptain midfielder Jack Strabo also made his way into the offensive zone.
As it had been all day, the Tigers had the Big Green defense off-guard. Schreiber had what would likely have been an automatic look at the goal. However, he fired a pass at Strabo, who would not be able to hold on to possession.
Perhaps Schreiber figured that his teammate had a better shot. But perhaps he thought that a senior day goal would be well-deserved for one of the hardest working players on the team in his final season.
Also worthy of note — of course, it remains unclear how much attention a statistical streak deserves — is that a 26-game streak spanning over two seasons came to a disappointing end. Schreiber had scored three-plus points in 26 consecutive contests. That level of output does not have a parallel elsewhere in Division I lacrosse. Additionally, his two points on the day left him just shy of a double-century mark, as his career total now sits at 199.
One streak that continued was Orban’s 24 consecutive games with a goal. When asked post-game about the consistent level of production, the junior — whose shot is one of the nation’s finest — humbly deferred to the feeding ability of his teammates.
“When I score those, I’m generally the recipient of great off-ball moment,” he said. “Our two-man system really forces us to play well together. Our offensive unit — the first six guys — we work well with each other. It’s just … whoever’s in the right spot at the right time.”
Freshman midfielder Zach Currier tallied four points on three goals and an assist. Contributing on faceoffs and the second midfield line, he played a complete game which proved why he was one of the nation’s most highly-touted recruits. About three minutes into the second quarter, the Big Green realized that they would have no answer for the Canadian rookie, as he danced almost mockingly through their defensive line with what appeared to be a series of impossible dodges. His doorstep finish drew a high hit and a flag, but the penalty was wiped out by the score.
Bates pointed to the competitive fire Currier had kindled before the contest. According to his coach, “he was clearly the star of the game.”
Also in prime form lately has been sophomore attackman Ryan Ambler. His usage has been increasing throughout the season, and his strong feeding ability has been supported by a heightened scoring touch. Ambler tallied a team-high seven points on three goals and four assists. His stat line of 20 goals and 17 assists makes him the team’s second leading scorer, behind the 50 points of Schreiber.
Princeton’s 17-27 faceoff advantage was the first above the 50 percent mark since they played Villanova on March, 18. The return of faceoff specialist junior Justin Murphy precipitated this turn of fortune, along with the general lack of talent on Dartmouth’s unit.
“He’s our go-to guy,” Bates said of Murphy. “We struggled a little bit without him. But we’d faced some pretty high-caliber competition over the last two weeks.”
More than an inspiring coach or hated rivals, a cohesive group of senior leaders can motivate a team. Anyone who has ever played under respected upperclassmen will know that a team lives and dies by leadership from the final-year players. The strength of their motivation is that they are playing in a season of last moments: the last preseason; the last game, say, against Penn; the last home game. Turnover may be the nature of college sports. But graduation is a moment of finality, save for those very few who continue to the next level in their sport, and profound bittersweetness.
“For that class,” Bates said of his seniors, “it’s getting towards the end. It gets you a little emotional thinking about them. Just for them, I want this team to understand how to play for a senior class. And I want our senior class to demand a team to play for them.”
“We don’t want it to end for them,” he added. “And the long debrief afterward was to explain that we need, on a daily basis, to be better. I know I sound like a broken record. But we want to play in a conference playoff game. We want to play in an NCAA tournament.”
Only two weekends remain in the men’s Ivy League lacrosse regular season. As a result, a heightened sense of urgency exists for the Princeton side, if the Tigers hope to live up to the preseason ambitions which the media and the team itself established. Currently just inside the top four of the Ivy League, they will need a win in the next two games to earn a postseason spot.
A pair of difficult upcoming road tests will decide Princeton’s fate. The Tigers will travel this Saturday to Cambridge, Mass. for conference play against Harvard. The Crimson dropped their last game against Penn. The following week, Bethpage, N.Y. will host a season finale matchup between the traditional Ivy powers of Princeton and Cornell.