Last year ended badly for the men’s lacrosse team. With two weeks left in the season, Princeton had a chance to go undefeated in the Ivy League and earn an NCAA playoff berth, but instead finished with a 7-6 record (4–2 Ivy) after losses at Dartmouth and Brown. The team’s fate this spring rests on what may be the nation’s best freshman class — and on staying healthy.
In 2008, the Tigers were “overwhelmed with injuries,” said head coach Bill Tierney. Starters Alex Hewit ’08, Dan Cocoziello ’08, and Charlie Kolkin ’09 played through pain for much of the year. Starting midfielder Mark Kovler ’09 broke an ankle in practice April 10, and linemate Rich Sgalardi ’09 suffered a season-ending ankle sprain a week later.
Tierney hopes a talented freshman class will give him the depth to avoid or overcome such injuries this season. The depth begins in goal, where Nikhil Ashra ’10 and Tyler Fiorito ’12, described by Tierney as “the best freshman in the country,” are competing for the starting spot. The two may split time, since the right-handed Ashra and the left-handed Fiorito would present different challenges to opposing shooters.
Princeton’s defense fell short of its stingy standards last year, when the Tigers allowed an average of 8.6 goals a game, up from 6.2 in 2007. “We only had four defensemen last year, and Kolkin and Cocoziello were playing with broken feet,” Tierney said. “We are totally opposite of that right now.” Starters Chris Peyser ’09 and Jeremy Hirsch ’10 return, as does Long Ellis ’11, who played a fair amount as a reserve. Tierney is excited about freshmen Chad Wiedmaier, John Cunningham, Mike Flanagan, and Jonathan Meyers, a highly touted two-sport recruit who broke his foot in the first game of the football season. Meyers will be ready to play this spring.
Tierney is more concerned about his defensive midfielders. Brendan Reilly ’09 returns, and Josh Lesko ’09 will move to defense. “After those two, it’s a question mark,” Tierney said. For answers, he’s looking to juniors Chris Chandler and Jimmy Davis and a few freshmen, among them Peter Smyth.
On offense, Princeton returns three of its top four scorers, including Tommy Davis ’09 and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Jack McBride ’11, who will start on attack along with his cousin, Chris McBride ’11. Kovler, who scored 16 goals in nine games last year, and Sgalardi will lead the midfield corps, with a half-dozen other players competing for playing time when Princeton opens against Canisius Feb. 21.
Enthused as Tierney is about his new talent, he wants his team to remember the frustrations of last year. “We clearly made mistakes,” he said. “We had the ball for the last four-and-a-half minutes against Brown and we didn’t get a goal. That’s our mistake as coaches. Our kids learned that putting this uniform on doesn’t automatically get you a win. I think we were afraid to lose last year.”
David Marcus ’92 is a frequent PAW contributor.