Men’s soccer standouts Antoine Hoppenot ’12 and Mark Linnville ’13 first crossed paths in September 2008. Hoppenot, a speedy freshman forward and Princeton native, was making his debut in the team’s first game at Roberts Stadium, while Linnville, a 6-foot-1-inch defender from Boone, N.C., was on a recruiting visit.
The Tigers lost that night, 2–1 to Lehigh, but Linnville was impressed by what he saw on the field. “I saw the style of play, I saw the kind of players that we had here at Princeton,” he said. “I decided to come here because I thought the team had a lot of potential.”
The last two seasons have proven him right: In 2009, Princeton reached the NCAA Championships for the first time in eight years, and in 2010, the Tigers earned a return trip by winning the Ivy League title. This season, as Princeton aims for a championship repeat, it will lean heavily on Hoppenot and Linnville, the team’s two returning All-Ivy players.
After facing off in practice for more than two years, Hoppenot and Linnville have developed a healthy respect for one another. Hoppenot said that Linnville combines athleticism and intelligence, always finding “the perfect spot to annoy me and make my job 20 times harder.” And, according to Linnville, Hoppenot has the craftiness to find scoring opportunities against nearly any defense. “Everyone talks about his speed,” he said, “but the thing I always notice is that he finds the creases that allow his speed to be useful.”
In its early nonleague games, Princeton struggled to score goals, outshooting each of its first three opponents but emerging with a 0–2–1 record. After the second loss, on an overtime penalty kick by Fairleigh Dickinson Sept. 9, coach Jim Barlow ’91 said that the Tigers were playing well enough to win — but, ultimately, that did not mean much. “Last year, we were outplayed a bunch and won,” Barlow said. “We just found ways to win last year, and that’s what good teams do.”
The 2010 Tigers also started poorly, with a 1–3–1 record in their first five games before winning 12 in a row, including all seven Ivy games.
As Princeton tries to recapture its winning ways, Linnville believes that the team will rely on its ability to play different styles, from “free-flowing, pure soccer” to the bruising, physical play that once was the calling card of Ivy teams.