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Tigers begin three-game homestand against Rutgers following a pair of Ivy League losses

Under the lights at 1952 Stadium’s Sherrerd Field, men’s lacrosse (4-4 overall, 1-2 Ivy League) will host Rutgers (7-4, 2-2 Big East) in an attempt to rediscover winning ways after two consecutive away losses. Only a 30-minute drive along Route 1 separates 1952 Stadium and Piscataway’s Yurcak field, making this particular matchup one of the easiest commutes for both sides.

While this contest will not count toward either side’s in-league record, Princeton has had more meetings with Rutgers than any other non-Ivy side. And while the first intercollegiate football game may have been between these two teams, lacrosse has been a hallmark of this very local rivalry.

While the Scarlet Knights do not have the requisite superstars to match the Tigers, Princeton would be wrong to look past this showdown. Rutgers has shown an ability to keep pace, at least at times, with high caliber competition. The best example would be their 16-13 home victory over St. John’s last week. Before the loss knocked the Red Storm out of the top 20, Inside Lacrosse had the New York school ranked No. 17 in the nation.

Princeton’s firepower starts with the stick of senior midfielder Tom Schreiber. In his final year, the All-World midfielder has tallied 21 goals and, even more remarkably, 16 assists. Today and in the history of the game, you would struggle to find a player who balances prolific scoring with assisting so well.

In terms of stopping Rutgers’ 13.18 goals per game offense, Princeton will rely on a back four of two sophomores and two freshmen. At least for now, sophomore goalkeeper Matt O’Connor has established himself as the Tigers’ go-to. In five starts he has a 2-3 record with a 10.97 goal against average. His close defensemen are freshmen Will Reynolds and Bear Goldstein and sophomore Mark Strabo. All three, along with nearly any other player head coach Chris Bates could throw on the field, have the requisite athleticism to win individual battles. Mental fine-tuning, however, remains vital for the defensive unit.

It is anticipated that faceoff specialist Justin Murphy will return to action following a head injury that kept him sidelined over the past few weeks. Winning a solid 55.7 percent of his battles, Murphy will go against a Rutgers unit that has been fairly dominant at the X. The Scarlet Knights’ faceoff win percentage is 62.8, with last year’s second-team All-Big East FOGO Joseph Nardella recording a wildly high 73.2. The Murphy-Nardella matchup will be vital in guiding the pace of play in favor of either team.

However, the specialist does not solely earn every win. For Princeton, senior captain and long stick midfielder Derick Raabe supported Murphy with his prodigious nose for ground balls.

Princeton’s back-to-back Ivy League losses to Yale and Brown came by one goal each. Though both were heartbreaking, it is apparent that a more consistent effort in both games could have reversed the result. That is to say, no one should conclude that preseason expectations for an outstanding Princeton season were misguided. Talent abounds on this roster, and perhaps to a greater extent than on any other Ivy League team.

Inside Lacrosse’s poll has Princeton sitting in the No. 19 spot nationally. The U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Coaches Association puts the Tigers at No. 17. In both rankings, three Ivy League teams have the perceived edge over the traditionally exceptional Orange and Black side. No. 2 in both polls, Cornell looms large as the team to beat in the Ancient Eight and a squad that could contend seriously for a national title. When the Big Red and the Tigers meet in their regular-season finale, it will take Schreiber & Co. all they can muster to overcome this apparent disparity in form.

While we are still a number of weeks away from that marquee matchup, the men’s season moves rapidly to a close. While it is all but impossible that the Tigers will be able to top the regular season league table, they will need to play their very best over the upcoming contests to work out all the shortcomings that have left them on the losing end of four games.

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