It is a new day for Princeton men’s lacrosse. The 8–1 Tigers sprinted to their best start since 2001, playing with an aggressive style instead of the deliberate pace they used to win six national championships between 1992 and 2001. The team showed off its newfound flair April 4 in a 12–8 win over Syracuse, the defending national champion, before 22,308 fans at Giants Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J.
“Princeton played much like ourselves in many of these games,” Syracuse coach John Desko said afterward, comparing the Tigers’ attack to the offensive high-wire act that the Orange have run since the early 1980s. “All of their middies can dodge and shoot.” Two midfielders also like to pass: Rich Sgalardi ’09 leads the team in assists with 14 to go with his 12 goals, while Scott MacKenzie ’10 has 10 of each, good for third on the team in assists and sixth in goals.
By moving the ball, Sgalardi and MacKenzie open space for linemate Mark Kovler ’09, second on the team in goals with 19, and attackman Jack McBride ’11, who leads Princeton with 23 goals. Against Syracuse, the starting midfield notched six goals and five assists, while McBride added three goals of his own.
In their first nine games, the Tigers were held to fewer than 11 goals twice, and in each case, they were “out-Princetoned,” coach Bill Tierney said, referring to the slow pace that Tierney’s teams made famous. The Tigers won a 6–5 game against the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, March 6, but lost 9–7 at Hofstra a week later.
Princeton has played well on defense, allowing an average of 7.3 goals a game after giving up an unusually high 8.6 goals per game last year. Three freshmen have contributed to the improvement: Chad Wiedmaier, who replaced first-team All-American Dan Cocoziello ’08 as the team’s shut-down defenseman; John Cunningham, a promising long-stick defensive midfielder temporarily sidelined with a broken jaw in late March; and the headliner, goalie Tyler Fiorito, who has lived up to his billing as the nation’s top recruit at his position.
Fiorito has saved 60 percent of the shots he’s faced, including 15 saves against Syracuse. “It was a big-time game for a big-time freshman in a big-time venue,” Tierney said.
The Syracuse win may be a turning point for Princeton, which went 7–6 and missed the NCAA playoffs in 2008. Tierney said his team’s goals have not changed — “the Ivy League, the playoffs, the Final Four, and the national title” — though talking about the last few of those can sound “a little hollow” after last year. Beating Syracuse, Tierney said, should convince the Tigers that they have a shot to play in this year’s Final Four on Memorial Day weekend in Foxborough, Mass.
David Marcus ’92 is a frequent PAW contributor.