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Men and women fall to top competition in regular season finales

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Senior midfielder Tucker Shanley, pictured above in prior action, had a team-high four goals to cap off his years as a Tiger.

Neither Princeton lacrosse teams managed wins over their top-tier competition this past weekend. Next weekend, the women will host the Ivy League tournament as the top seed. The men’s season has reached its conclusion.

Tigers unable to keep pace with Big Red

Bethpage High School was the venue for the Ivy League’s marquee matchup: No. 20/19 Princeton vs. No. 12/11 Cornell. The Tigers (7-6 overall, 2-4 Ivy League) have won 26 conference titles. Big Red (11-3, 5-1) has, with the title-share they earned Saturday, won 28. Brown is next closest in the tally, with a relatively unresounding seven. As the historical margin is remarkably close, the 12-10 Cornell victory was as taut as the Ivy competition has been all year.

Princeton’s first two goals came from two midfielders: senior Tucker Shanley and freshman Zach Currier. Shanley, in his final game, would go on to be the standout for the Tigers, notching four scores, with two coming on assists from junior attackman Mike MacDonald. Cornell responded to this early 2-0 deficit with a pair of scores to equalize and finish off the first quarter.

A strong second period for the Tigers saw head coach Chris Bates’ side tally four goals on nine shots. Sophomore attackman Ryan Ambler sent his side to the locker room energized after scoring with only two seconds left on the clock. The feed came from classmate and midfielder Jake Froccaro. The score was 6 points for Princeton, 5 points for Cornell.

In the third frame, junior midfielder Kip Orban tallied an early unassisted score. But Cornell was able to control the third period with an impressive six goals. Princeton’s senior all-America midfielder Tom Schreiber cut the Big Red lead to 11-10 with an unassisted rebound marker after Ambler’s shot struck the post. Just over 30 seconds remained in the third quarter when the Long Island-native star scored in front of a more or less home crowd.

That would be the final goal for Princeton, however. The Big Red defense and goalkeeping would shut down Tigers in the fourth frame.

Big Red goalkeeper Christian Knight was without a doubt the man of the match. Twenty-six Princeton shots were on cage. The freshman sensation Knight denied 16. That save percentage of 61.5, though only for a single game, would rank him among the very top of Division I goalies. He will be a major obstacle to his Ivy League foes in the coming years.

Faceoffs were fairly even, with Princeton’s 14 wins slightly edging out Cornell’s 12.

Tiger rookie Currier has been somewhat of a revelation this season. Characteristically quiet off the field, he has made plenty of noise in fulfilling his top-flight expectations on the turf. The tenacious Canadian can do it all, from vacuuming up ground balls to embarrassing opposing defenders with creative stick work. If you’re a fan of the game, check out his nine-and-a-half-minute senior year highlight video on YouTube. His play verges on the absurd.

Co-captain Schreiber was uncharacteristically quiet for most of the contest. Look back later in the week for a farewell profile of the departing legend.

Bitter might be the most apt word to describe this end to the season. The reason is twofold: first, many of the losses were particularly heartbreaking; second, as an too-early-picked fruit tastes bitter, this 2014 campaign seems to have come to too-early a conclusion.

Part of the reason for such an upset of expectations is the sheer parity at the top of college lacrosse. Very little differentiates the top twenty or so teams. Media predictions and rankings are often baffled by a week’s results.

One speculative cause of this parity: Most programs rely on the same, relatively small recruiting base which stretches, effectively, from Northern Virginia to New England. That’s not to say that talent is lacking elsewhere or that there’s a dearth of quality players. But the top student-athletes are clustered at the top of Division I, with the strongest conferences being the Atlantic Coast Conference and the Ivy League. This is the case in any sport, but to a remarkable extent in college lacrosse.

This thin margin makes it possible that a team brimming with elite ability, like Princeton, wins and loses almost inexplicably.

As is true of any team’s season, a confluence of factors tugged the Tigers’ fortunes in various directions. But it would be just as fair an evaluation of the 7-6 record to delineate every coaching error or failed execution as it would be to say that this just was not Princeton’s year.

Fourth quarter rally falls just short for Princeton women

Cliché alert: Lacrosse is a game of runs. Five straight goals came for No. 19 Princeton (10-5 overall, 1-6 Ivy League) against No. 8 Penn State, a streak lasting from the 9:26 mark in the second half until only 12 seconds remained. Even this continuous attack would not be enough, as head coach Chris Sailer’s Tigers fell by a score of 13-12 in their regular season finale at College Park, Penn.

Penn State held the lead throughout, having gone into halftime with an 8-4 advantage. The largest margin came with just under ten minutes to play, as an unassisted goal put the Nittany Lions up 13-7. Princeton would attempt to chip away at this deficit, but the effort came too late.

Tiger senior midfielder Sarah Lloyd, in her final regular season game, had a team-high four goals off of seven shots. Junior attack Erin McMunn was kept mostly under wraps by the Penn State defense, as the Tewaaraton candidate managed only one goal on two on-target shots.

Sister starters Madison and Mackenzie Cyr of Penn State were potent against junior goalkeeper Annie Whoeling and the Princeton defense. Madison had a pair of goals about 30 minutes apart, while Mackenzie registered six points on three goals and three assists.

Whoeling was pulled from the crease by Sailer with 17:46 (our founding year!) left to play. She had managed only five saves against 12 goals against. Senior Caroline Franke replaced her junior counterpart in the net, allowing only one more goal and registering two saves.

While a loss is categorically worse than the alternative, there is something positive to be gleaned from Saturday, especially from the late second half run. All five of those goals, which brought Princeton so close to equalizing, were scored by different players. Two were assisted, two were unassisted and one more was off a free position shot. This level of offensive variety proves that this team has the weapons required for a strong postseason showing.

Princeton will look to Friday night for their next matchup. Part two of a doubleheader at Class of 1952 Stadium, the tilt will be against Cornell. In late March, the Tigers went to overtime with the Big Red but managed to pull out a 10-7 home win. Before then, a number of all-league honors will likely come for Princeton players. Stay tuned.

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