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Tigers face tough road test against Crimson

20140413_MLaxvDarmouth_ConorDube_7141No. 14 men’s lacrosse (7-4 overall, 2-2 Ivy League) will travel north to face No. 20 Harvard (7-5, 3-1) for its penultimate regular season contest. The game, available for viewing on ESPN3 or the Ivy League Digital Network, will be played at Harvard Stadium at 1 p.m.

A three-game winning streak still has not put the Tigers in the league’s top four, meaning they will have to win at least one of their final two tilts to earn a spot in the conference postseason. Additionally, based on how league-wide results shake out, a pair of season-ending victories could result in Princeton hosting the tournament.

When asked what will differentiate his side in a tightly grouped Ivy League, senior midfielder Tom Schreiber, ever-determined, was unequivocal about the need to win the next two contests. “I’m not really worried about anything mathematical,” the senior explained. “In general terms, we need to win the next two games. Harvard and Cornell are two very good teams. They’ve shown it in the Ivy League and nationally.”

The Crimson is indeed a very strong team. While the NCAA’s Rating Percentage Index puts the Massachusetts side at 22nd in the nation and the Inside Lacrosse ranking has it outside the top 20, the U.S. Intercollegiate Coaches’ Association poll ranks Princeton’s opponent at No. 20.

While Schreiber, as the country’s top middie, has been the focal point of Princeton’s offense, many Tigers have emerged as serious threats. Attackmen Ryan Ambler, a sophomore, and Mike MacDonald, a junior, tie for second on the team with 37 points.

From the midfield — although in reality, head coach Chris Bates’ offense allows for fairly fluid movement between offensive positions — junior Kip Orban and sophomore Jake Froccaro both demonstrate shooting abilities that confound opposing goalies.

Among the most dangerous attackmen in the Ancient Eight, Harvard’s Devin Dwyer has lived up to his preseason expectations in tallying a league-leading 24 assists. It will be a tall task for one of Princeton’s close defenders to limit his vision and feeding.

With Dwyer proverbially quarterbacking, the Crimson offense has outscored opponents by just under two goals per game. Attackman Will Walker ranks second in-league with 30 goals. Additionally, his 81 total shots rank third, behind 89 from Schreiber and an absurd 106 from Cornell’s Connor Buczek.

One more in-conference advantage comes for Harvard at the faceoff X. In four league games, the Crimson has out-faced opponents with a winning 63.6 percentage. The return of Princeton’s junior specialist Justin Murphy should help deal with the threat posed by Crimson FOGO Gabriel Mendola.

Harvard’s most recent result highlighted the razor-thin margin that separates the Ivy League’s top teams. In a 8-7 overtime loss at Penn, Harvard held a game-high two-goal lead twice before a man-up Quaker score with :13 remaining in play sent the contest into overtime. 1:22 into a four-minute overtime period, Penn’s Kevin Brown, from star midfielder Zack Losco, scored to give his team the sudden victory.

While a professional career will await Schreiber soon after graduation, the co-captain hopes his tenure at Princeton will last through the coming weeks and deep into the postseason. In his extraordinary career, the midfielder, perhaps the program’s greatest ever at the position, has not yet won an NCAA Tournament game. A great deal of his legacy, therefore, may come down to his team’s ability to establish winning ways in the coming weeks.

“I definitely have a lot more work to do here,” he said. “I don’t plan on being done for a while.”

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