If you want to watch the legendary lacrosse trio of Jon Hess, Jesse Hubbard, and Chris Massey in action against Syracuse, you could try to track down a tape of the 1998 NCAA semifinals. Or you can make a trip to Lake Placid, N.Y., in August.
The Class of ’98’s top attackmen have faced off against a team of Syracuse alumni, who call themselves “Burnt Orange,” in the over-30 division finals of the Lake Placid Classic for the last two years. “It’s the same guys doing the same things,” Hubbard says. “Everyone’s just doing it a little bit slower.”
One other notable difference: The Tigers have been on the losing side both times, an unfamiliar feeling for the high-scoring trio that led Princeton to three consecutive national titles from 1996 to 1998. They seem to have taken it in stride — the tournament is more of a family reunion than a cutthroat competition — but Massey jokes that it may be time to recruit a few alumni who are closer to 30 than 40.
Fifteen years have passed since Hess, Hubbard, and Massey ruled the college lacrosse world, scoring an astonishing 619 points (goals and assists combined) while compiling a 43–2 record in their last three seasons. Those three Tiger teams had a foundation for success: a well-drilled defense, steady goaltending, and a deep, talented bench. But it was the attack that set Princeton apart.
Hess, the prototypical feeder, led the Tigers in assists. Massey wore out defenders with an array of dodges, while Hubbard’s rocket shot kept goalies on edge. And the three were close friends off the field, sharing a campus suite with midfielder Seamus Grooms ’98.
The roommates talked lacrosse in their free time and spent hours practicing shots in “the pit,” a multipurpose court behind Dillon Gym that eventually was replaced by University offices. “We were lax dorks, there’s no question — and probably still are,” says Hess, who can wax poetic about hand-strung sticks. “But when you looked over and knew the other guy cared as much as you did, it made it fun. Caring was cool.”
Since graduation, the three have followed different paths. Hubbard, a longtime pro player, produces and markets an electrolyte drink-additive at his Maryland-based startup. Hess, the president of the Friends of Princeton Lacrosse, works for an investment firm in Rye, N.Y. Massey is a lawyer for a wealth-management group in Boston.
But on Saturday afternoons in the spring, when Princeton’s current team is on the field, the three reunite via cell phone. They exchange texts and emails with a dozen other teammates, mixing old jibes and memories with reactions to the Tigers’ latest results. And for a few moments, it’s 1998 again.
Brett Tomlinson is PAW’s digital editor and writes frequently about sports.