Princeton men’s lacrosse fans have grown used to May excitement, but last year’s drama came a few weeks after the season. Coach Bill Tierney, who won 14 Ivy League and six NCAA titles in 22 seasons with the Tigers, shocked everyone in college lacrosse by taking the head coaching position at the University of Denver June 8. A week later, Dave Metzbower, his top assistant since 1990, turned down an offer to replace Tierney, citing the relentless demands of college coaching.
The next surprise came when athletic director Gary Walters ’67 named Chris Bates as Tierney’s successor at the end of June. Bates built a solid program in 10 years as the head coach at Drexel University and felt so little wanderlust that he didn’t apply for the job at Dartmouth, his alma mater, when the spot opened up last May.
“I was not looking at all,” Bates said. “I was very content at Drexel. I don’t think any of us in the coaching ranks thought Coach Tierney was going to leave. The next stage in the thought process was that if he did leave, then Dave Metzbower would be next in line.” When Metzbower resigned, Princeton called Bates, who was one of five finalists for the job.
Bates played attack and midfield at Dartmouth, graduating in 1990, and earned a master’s degree in education from the University of North Carolina before moving to Philadelphia to start a lacrosse program at Archbishop Ryan High School in 1992. He became an assistant at Drexel in 1995 and took the top spot in 2000, going 6–18 in his first two seasons and 64–53 thereafter, including 31–17 in his last three years.
Bates also played eight years of professional indoor lacrosse. Three of those teams won championships, an experience that he said “helped shape me competitively, winning at a high level.” And, he added, indoor (or “box”) lacrosse “has shaped my approach as a coach and has an effect on my strategy. We incorporate a lot of box concepts.” That will mean a more up-tempo style than Princeton played under Tierney.
Bates brings with him offensive assistant Stephen Brundage and defensive counterpart Greg Raymond. Raymond spent three years working under Tierney after graduating from Johns Hopkins in 2005.
Bates inherits much of the talent from last year’s Princeton team, which went 13–3, shared the Ivy title with Cornell, and lost to the Big Red in the NCAA quarterfinals. Honorable-mention All-American Tyler Fiorito ’12 returns in goal, and captain Jeremy Hirsch ’10 will anchor the defense. Chad Wiedmaier ’12, a second-team All-American last year, will be out until early April with a knee injury. In his stead, Jonathan Meyers ’12 and Long Ellis ’11 are the likely starters on defense, with John Cunningham ’12 as the long-stick midfielder. Several players will compete for time at defensive midfield.
Tierney leaned heavily on his first offensive midfield last year. Scott MacKenzie ’10 returns from that unit, but All-Americans Mark Kovler ’09 (first team) and Rich Sgalardi ’09 (honorable mention) graduated. “We will play more people on that end of the field,” Bates said. Paul Barnes ’10, who handled faceoffs last year, may see more time on the offensive side, and among those who will compete for time are highly regarded freshmen Mike Chanenchuk and Jeff Frocarro. On attack, cousins Jack and Chris McBride, both juniors, return as starters and likely will be joined by Rob Engelke ’10.
The Tigers will be tested immediately, playing four of their first five games against teams that made the NCAA playoffs last year: Hofstra; Johns Hopkins; the University of Maryland, Baltimore County; and North Carolina. Princeton also faces Syracuse at the new Meadowlands Stadium April 10, and the Ivy League is as strong as it’s been in a generation, with Brown, Cornell, Harvard, and Princeton all looking like strong contenders for the NCAA tournament. Those teams may well meet in the Ivy League’s inaugural tournament May 7 and 9.
David Marcus ’92 is a frequent PAW contributor.