Can the offense push men's lacrosse past Virginia, Johns Hopkins, and Cornell?

Dan Cocoziello '08
Dan Cocoziello '08
Copyright Beverly Schaefer

The Princeton men’s lacrosse team starts 2008 with the same challenge that confronted it in each of the past two years: generating enough offense to beat the best teams on its schedule. Defensively, the Tigers have been remarkable. In 2006, they went 11–5, holding opponents to an average of 6.6 goals per game. Last year, they trimmed that figure to 6.17 goals, the best in the nation, on their way to a 10–4 record. But in their losses, the Tigers have scored fewer than six goals, on average, putting extraordinary pressure on the Princeton defense.

“The million-dollar question is who’s going to score those goals [to put Princeton ahead],” said head coach Bill Tierney. “We’ve got to score double figures against Hopkins, Virginia, and Cornell.” Princeton has gone 1–5 against those three opponents in the past two years.

Tierney hopes that the answer starts with Scott MacKenzie ’10, a 6-foot-5-inch attackman who could replace Scott Sowanick ’07 as the team’s offensive quarterback. That would allow the coach to move Tommy Davis ’09, a midfielder in high school who has started on attack the past two years, back to his old position. Starting attackman Alex Haynie ’08 also returns, but he will face competition from Rob Engelke ’10, who scored twice in the 9–8 overtime loss to Georgetown in the first round of last year’s NCAA playoffs; Greg Seaman ’09, a midfielder whom Tierney has moved to crease attack; and highly recruited freshman cousins Jack and Chris McBride.

Anchoring the midfield will be Mark Kovler ’09, a third-team All-American last year and Princeton’s second-leading goal-scorer after Peter Trombino ’07. Josh Lesko ’09, Mike Gaudio ’08, and Rich Sgalardi ’09 also return for the Tigers.

Princeton remains strong on the defensive end, starting with goalie Alex Hewit ’08, a first-team All-American in 2006, when he saved 64.6 percent of the shots he faced. Last year, his save rate dropped to 59.5 percent, which may not sound like much. But when a team shoots 28 times (the per-game average for Princeton’s opponents last year), that 5 percent difference amounts to about a goal — critical in a season in which three of the team’s four losses were by one goal. Tierney admitted that Hewit “didn’t quite live up to the standard he’d set as a sophomore,” but added that any team would have been happy with the goalie’s 2007 campaign.

Hewit will play behind a handful of experienced defenders. First-team All-American Zachary Jungers ’07 and long-stick midfielder John Bennett ’07 have graduated, but starters Dan Cocoziello ’08 and Chris Peyser ’09 return. Jeremy Hirsch ’10 will join them on close defense, with Charlie Kolkin ’09 playing long-stick midfield and Zachary Goldberg ’08 and Brendan Reilly ’09 filling the short-stick defensive midfield positions.

Princeton starts the year with games against perennial powers Johns Hopkins (March 1 in Baltimore) and Virginia (March 8 at home), and Cornell likely will provide the stiffest competition in the Ivy League. The Tigers’ defense should get them to the playoffs again, where their offensive prowess will determine how far they advance.

David Marcus ’92 is a frequent PAW contributor.