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Top 10 Tiger tilts of fall 2014

Five Orange and Black sides topped the Ivy League last year. Julia Ratcliffe, a hammer thrower entering her junior year, topped all national competition en route to an NCAA Championship. In this upcoming year, student-athletes across 36 varsity sports will vie to build on the success of years past; to rend Ivy League dominance from Harvard, an “institution” that outpaced us in championships in what was a remarkable reversal of history; and to follow in the pursuit of athletic excellence.

As the seasons roll on, every week in sequence will give a host of opportunities for witnessing fellow Tigers exert their minds and muscles on the various fields of play distributed across Princeton’s campus. Some impactful matchups may even be worth testing the hospitality of opposing schools. Victory is sweeter — though defeat more bitter — in a foreign land.

I’m reluctant to cull such a slate of prime contests to just a handful of highlights. But according to custom, top things come in groups of 10. Here, in chronological order, are “can’t miss” Princeton home sporting events for the fall season:

  1. Women’s soccer vs. Villanova, Sunday Sept. 14, 4 p.m. (Roberts Stadium). In spite of a strong 4-1-2 start to 2013, Ivy League competition got the best of the Tigers, who finished with an overall record of 7-6-4 but a conference mark of 1-5-1. The Princeton women last took on Villanova in 2011 and topped the Wildcats on the road with a 2-1 decision. NB: This contest may coincide with Lawnparties. If you’re still swinging by this point in the afternoon, sober up at the field with a concession or two.
  2. Men’s soccer vs. Georgetown, Wednesday Sept. 17, 7 p.m. (Roberts Stadium). Georgetown is good, very good, at soccer. The Hoyas, who will enter this ESPN-televised contest as heavy favorites, topped the Big East last year and made in three rounds into the NCAA Tournament. However, Princeton held strong against this competition in last year’s matchup, sunk only by an 81st minute goal. These Tigers are a talented side with pace, skill and power in the offensive end.
  3. Sprint football vs. Post, Friday Sept. 26, 7 p.m. (Princeton Stadium). “‘Hope is the thing with feathers — / That perches in the soul — / And sings the tune without the words — / And never stops — at all.” Princeton’s sprint program is a testament to Emily Dickinson’s immortal words. Sports Illustrated’s Phil Taylor penned a few words about this side’s futile efforts, which hasn’t produced a single win since 1999. And yet, it presses on determined under new leadership: head coach Sean Morey now stands at the helm. The one-time Special Teams Pro Bowler and Super Bowl XL champion has brought a renewed energy to the team. These sub-172 lb. gridiron warriors deserve your support.
  4. Football vs. Davidson, Saturday Sept. 27, 6 p.m. (Princeton Stadium). It wasn’t long ago that football was an afterthought on our New Jersey campus. Last year’s resurgence put the Tigers back at the top of the Ivy League. Offensive production came in droves thanks in large part to the athleticism and grit of quarterback Quinn Epperly who looks toward his senior season. Davidson’s Wildcats will not likely provide much competition, but this home-opener will certainly provide some fireworks courtesy of Epperly and co.
  5. Women’s volleyball vs. Cornell, Friday Oct. 3, 7 p.m. (Dillon Gymnasium). Princeton volleyball has firmly established its home on the Dillon Gymnasium Courts, where stands often overflow with boisterous supporters. So close to the action, you can feel the energy of the high-flying hitters and deft liberos alike. The Princeton women didn’t fare so well in league play last year, finishing fifth in the table with a 6-8 conference mark. Opening home Ivy play against Cornell, they will look to replicate last year’s strong, straight-set home win over the Big Red.
  6. Men’s water polo vs. Navy, Sunday Oct. 5, noon (DeNunzio Pool). Our distant aquatics center is worth the trek. The swimmers demonstrate remarkable endurance and speed in this intense and nuanced competition. Both our teams — the women compete later in the year —under the direction of coach Luis Nicolao provide some of the finest WaPo on the East Coast. Navy’s Midshipmen regularly provide good competition for the Tigers.
  7. Field hockey vs. Maryland, Wednesday Oct. 15, 6 p.m. (Bedford Field). Defeat is hardly common for coach Kristen Holmes-Winn’s squad. National Champions in 2012, her side regularly crushes Ivy opponents and competes with the country’s top sides. In last year’s NCAA Championship quarterfinals, the Terrapins bounced the Tigers with a 3-2 comeback effort. Princeton will look to at once defend its home turf and get revenge for last year’s tournament loss.
  8. Football vs. Harvard, Saturday Oct. 25, 1 p.m. (Princeton Stadium). An impending lab report is no excuse. Nor is a grueling problem set. Nothing short of spontaneous combustion should prevent you from attending this marquee rivalry. The last two games played between these old foes have been spectacular, high-scoring affairs that came down to the final minutes of play. 2012: Shut-out through two quarters, the Tigers rack up 29 unanswered in the final frame, earning an immortal victory by means of a 36-yard TD connection between Epperly and receiver Roman Wilson ’14. 2013: That same tandem conspires in the third overtime period to cap off a wild 51-48 Princeton win. And then add that it’s Harvard. Must watch.
  9. Cross Country Heptagonal Championship, Saturday Nov. 1, All Day (West Windsor Fields). Distance running, especially when transferred from a track to a course, doesn’t easily lend itself to being spectated. But support at the finish line or along tough stretches can make a runner’s race. Last year was the first time since 2009 that Princeton men did not top the Ancient Eight, as they finished second to Columbia. While they look to retake the crown, the women will try to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish.
  10. Men’s hockey vs. Cornell, Friday Nov. 7, 7 p.m. (Hobey Baker Rink). Technically this is outside of the fall season, but our skaters play a long slate of games stretching from October until March. It’s been some time since Princeton has topped the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference or even emerged from the basement. But margins are thin enough that this side replete with a new coach and plenty of talent could put together a successful campaign. Also, Baker Rink is widely recognized as one of the finest venues in, as John Buccigross would style it, Cawlidge Hawkey. It’s a shame fans don’t turn out to more games. Hopefully the Tigers can again find old winning ways and attract more supporters.

Welcome, freshmen, to a school where athletics matter. Support your classmates and neighbors whenever you can. They appreciate it immensely, and your experiences here will be all the richer.

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