In this photo that ran in the July 6, 1994, issue of PAW, Liz Fagan ’95 celebrates her first-half goal in the women’s lacrosse final.
Photo by Larry French

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men and women are created equal. — Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1848

In Gerardo Puglia’s 1996 documentary Princeton: Images of a University, there is a terse 1994 P-rade wild shot, otherwise unexplained, of president and staid economist Harold Shapiro *64 and his crowd-favorite spouse Vivian, a brilliant Ph.D. in her own right, formally leading the line of march … attired in lacrosse jerseys. For the cynics out there, this was not the acknowledgement of some big donor with lacrosse roots nor even of retiring athletic director Bob Myslik ’61, but a far more peculiar accomplishment that had the college sports world, normally the purview of the Texas Techs and UCLAs, casting an amazed eye on the Ivies.

But major achievements in higher education almost always have long roots, and that celebratory moment was no exception. For starters, there was the AIAW. I can see the blank stares now. Organized in 1971, 30 years following the first national women’s college championship — in golf, where no one appears to perspire in an unladylike manner — a consortium of colleges organized the Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women as somewhat of a shadow/conscience of the NCAA, which had essentially laughed in the face of athletic directors who asked it to conduct women’s championships. At that juncture, about 1% of athletic budgets nationally went to women’s programs, not quite the world of Caitlin Clark and national TV ratings. The same 1960s women’s movement that gave rise to the AIAW then in 1972 resulted in the passage of Title IX of the Educational Amendments, which gave the women’s athletes a lever to gain funding either by negotiation with the men or court order. By 1979, the AIAW held 16 national championships for women, and there were two huge underlying advances. TVS broadcast the women’s basketball championship and some others, and ESPN was born, which kicked off a seemingly eternal thirst for more and bigger sports programming everywhere. Within two years, the smell of money caused the NCAA to realize there were women out there (!!) and to begin its own women’s championships; two years after that the AIAW closed up shop, having succeeded so completely that it had no further purpose. At NCAA Division I colleges, women by 1982 were getting about 16% of the athletic budgets. 

The Ivy League, with no athletic scholarships but long home to an eclectic variety of men’s sports, began in the ’70s a buildup of women’s sports, with and without Title IX suits. Cornell, Dartmouth, Princeton, Yale, and Radcliffe (the ’Cliffies didn’t much like calling themselves Harvard; their rowing teams participate under their own colors — black and white — to this day) all won national championships, both AIAW and otherwise. The Tigers’ squash teams dominated the field under the legendary Betty Constable, winning 12 Howe Cups in 19 years beginning in 1973. 

With men’s lacrosse having long been an Ivy staple, given its location near the hotbeds of Long Island, upstate New York, and Maryland (please don’t ask) and Cornell on a huge national run in the men’s game in the early ’70s, women’s lax couldn’t be far behind. Princeton’s team started in 1973; the Ivies began formal competition in 1980. The league was dominated by Harvard under Carole Kleinfelder, who won 11 of the first 13 championships. The captain of her first league championship team in 1981, twice All-Ivy and member of the U.S. national team, was Chris Sailer. Five years later, the young Sailer took over a Princeton program that was 62-81-7 in its history and 1-11 the year prior. By 1989, the Tigers were 13-2 and chosen for the NCAA tourney — where they lost again to Harvard in the semifinals. Finally, in her ninth attempt, in 1993 Sailer beat Harvard and her old coach 9-7, tying for the Ivy championship, Princeton’s first. By then, both were among the elite teams in the country, and among the six in the NCAA Tournament again that year. Princeton upset a loaded Maryland team 7-6 in the semis, but fellow ACC heavyweight Virginia took out the Tigers 8-6 in overtime for the championship. Chris Sailer was named the Division I coach of the year.

The year after Sailer arrived, the men’s lacrosse program hit bottom. The men had won four national championships over the decades, but in 1986 and 1987 they finished 4-26 and 2-10 in the Ivies. The Sailer youth experiment seemed to be going well, so Myslik took something of a risk by hiring a two-year assistant from national champion Johns Hopkins (although he had earlier been Division III coach of the year at RIT). Bill Tierney was a great recruiter and defensive genius, and he immediately talked to his team about aiming at a national championship, which may have been as scary as it was inspiring. His first two teams went 8-21 and 2-10 in the league; the next three were 26-10 and 15-3. The fifth, in 1992, won the NCAAs 10-9 in overtime, captained by his first class of recruits, against a heavily favored #1 seed Syracuse team that had never played against his defense. They were led by sophomore goalie Scott Bacigalupo ’94, the national goalie of the year and the tournament MVP. Tierney was national coach of the year, one year before Sailer. Then in 1993, Syracuse got a return shot at the 13-1 #2 seed Tigers in the semis and leveled them 15-9, prior to winning it all against North Carolina.

And so began in early 1994 an astonishing buildup toward a possible men’s repeat or women’s championship, perhaps the most fun for the local sports press since Bill Bradley ’65 returned for his senior season following his Olympic gold medal. The women had not only Sailer but returning All-Americans Jenny Bristow ’94 and Amory Rowe ’95. The men had returning All-Americans Bacigalupo, attackman Kevin Lowe ’94 and middie Scott Reinhardt ’94, plus Tierney’s defense, now in the hands of Bacigalupo and Todd Higgins ’95. Somewhere along the way, somebody figured out (recall: ESPN had now been up and perking for 15 years) that, among the 15 NCAA sports involving team play (lacrosse or basketball, say, as opposed to track or fencing), no school had ever won both men’s and women’s championships in the same year. No pressure here …

The men got out of the gate first, in Baltimore against national semifinalist Hopkins, and obliterated the young Jays 20-11, followed by decisive road wins against ’93 tournament seeds Virginia and North Carolina to ascend to #1 in the national polls. The women’s pre-Ivy season was all aimed at the early March 26 grudge match with Harvard. Victories over Towson and ranked Lafayette went well, but a big rematch with Virginia was snowed out and postponed indefinitely. But ready or not, it was Kleinfelder and Harvard in Cambridge with the Crimson ranked #4 in the country and the Tigers #5. Astoundingly, the game lived up to its billing, with soph Erin O’Neill ’96 making 17 saves in goal for a 5-4 win as Princeton became the first Ivy visitor to ever win a game at Harvard. Then they beat a strong Dartmouth squad in overtime 10-9 and blitzed the rest of the Ivies to become undefeated league champs. After that and a win in the delayed Virginia game, they were ranked first in the country. The men beat up on the Ivies again with the disastrous exception of Brown, who played the strategic defense of a lifetime to edge Princeton 7-6 in Providence, with Bruin goalie Jay Stalfort getting 12 saves in the third quarter alone. This ended Princeton and Bacigalupo’s 17-game Ivy winning streak. They resigned themselves to losing the league, but refocused on the NCAAs and reeled off five straight wins including 8-7 over #7 Duke, getting a number three seed in the tournament. The #1 women ran their streak to 14 games, then dropped to #2 after a gritty 12-10 loss to Maryland just before the tournament. 

Seeded second in the tourney at Maryland, the women beat Virginia in overtime for a second time, then reversed the results on the one-seed Terrapins 10-7 featuring 17 saves by O’Neill. Princeton was the first Ivy to win the women’s national championship. The same day as the women’s Virginia game, the men eked out a 12-11 overtime rematch with matured Hopkins to set up a semifinal with Brown, a blood match to rival the women’s with Harvard. After a halftime tie, the Tigers dominated the third quarter 4-0 and won going away 10-7, with four crucial goals from Reinhardt.  He scored three again in the final against Virginia, along with four from Scott Conklin ’95 and the overtime winner from Lowe for yet another Memorial Day championship win 9-8, in front of the largest crowd in the history of college lacrosse. Bacigalupo was the player of the tournament for the second time, first team All-American goalie for the third, and national player of the year.

And five days later, the Shapiros showed up in New Jerseys (really sorry about that …) and the seniors paraded onto Poe Field with two new NCAA trophies plus an all-time record: the first college ever to win both the men’s and women’s single team sport championships in the same year. The press, up to and including Sports Illustrated and The New York Times, went nuts.

Sailer went on to win two more national titles and 433 matches at Princeton, a national one-school record. Bill Tierney won four more championships at Princeton, and another at Denver. They are both in the Hall of Fame, along with players Bacigalupo, Lowe, David Morrow ’93 and Jesse Hubbard ’98. But this occasion, a full 30 years ago now, meant something more. Women have always held up more than their end of the athletic bargain at Princeton, even though the men had a hundred-year start, but substantially this was the day they got together and all became a real three-dimensional team, from the first August football practice to the last lightweight women’s crew stroke in June. Three cheers.

Oh yes: Next fall a new high school star draw specialist will be joining the women’s team. Her name is Maggie Bacigalupo ’28. Just saying.