On the field at Princeton Stadium, shortly after his team had completed its first undefeated season since 1964 with a 42–14 win over Penn, football coach Bob Surace ’90 tried to summarize what he’d seen over the past 10 weeks.
“It’s hard to digest. It’s awesome,” Surace said. “We’ve worked so hard to accomplish this. You wish you could keep playing because you wish you could continue to stay out there with the guys.”
His words could apply to the entire fall for Princeton athletics: Of the eight Tiger teams in season, seven either won league championships or advanced to the NCAA playoffs — or both. And the eighth, women’s volleyball, came tantalizingly close, winning its last five matches but finishing second, one match behind Yale.
Football provided fireworks (and a bonfire), led by an offense that scored 470 points — a modern Princeton record. When the Ivy League selected its two Bushnell Cup finalists for offensive player of the year, both spots went to Tigers: quarterback John Lovett ’19, who threw for 18 touchdowns and ran for 13 more; and receiver Jesper Horsted ’19, who was on the opposite end of 13 touchdown passes and finished his career with a school-record 196 receptions.
Lovett won the award for a second time, and in his acceptance speech at a hotel ballroom in midtown Manhattan, he made a gesture that surely warmed the heart of his head coach, a former Tiger center: He pointed to his offensive linemen, standing at the back of the room, and thanked each one by name.
Players from two other fall champs claimed top Ivy honors: Mimi Asom ’19 was the women’s soccer offensive player of the year, and Kevin O’Toole ’21 was the men’s soccer offensive player of the year.
Field hockey had two honorees — offensive co-player of the year Clara Roth ’21 and defensive player of the year Elise Wong ’19 — but did not win the Ivy title, finishing 6–1 in league play after losing to Harvard. The Tigers would find redemption in the NCAA quarterfinals, defeating the Crimson to advance to the Final Four. In the national semifinals, Princeton outshot No. 2 Maryland but couldn’t find the back of the goal, losing 1–0 in overtime.
Men’s soccer had a similarly heart-wrenching finish to its season. After winning its first outright Ivy title since 2010, Princeton scored first and held Michigan to one goal in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament. The game went to overtime and — after two scoreless extra periods — a penalty shootout that was deadlocked until the 14th round, when the Wolverines finally prevailed.
Asom, who tied her career best with 12 goals this year, led women’s soccer to the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years. But in the NCAA opener, Texas Tech’s defense kept her in check and pushed past the Tigers for a 3–0 win.
Men’s and women’s cross country each earned NCAA bids at the Mid-Atlantic Regional meet, finishing first and second in their respective races. The Ivy-champion men placed 22nd at the national meet — six spots better than their finish in 2017 — while the women placed 21st, led by Allie Klimkiewicz ’19 (74th in the individual standings).
Men’s water polo avenged a pair of one-goal regular-season losses to Harvard, beating the Crimson 12–10 in the NWPC Tournament championship game and earning a spot in the NCAA Tournament. The Tigers would lose to George Washington, 14–13, in the play-in round — the last game in a memorable autumn.