In two and a half weeks, the Princeton Tigers will take the field at Class of 1952 stadium. A man named Tierney will take the field as well. The only catch? Mr. Tierney won't be wearing orange and black.
Following the program's most intriguing offseason in two decades, Princeton begins its season on Feb. 27 against Seth Tierney's Hofstra Pride. Some things will stay the same. The Tigers are still an experienced squad with veteran leadership at every position.
Other things have changed. For one, former Princeton head coach Bill Tierney has departed for Denver, and former Drexel coach Chris Bates has assumed the reins. Bates brought his coaching staff with him, leaving volunteer assistant coach Bryce Chase as the only holdover from the last staff. Top assistant Greg Raymond had previously been the second assistant at Princeton. Bates has brought with him an aggressive philosophy.
Preseason first-team All-American Jack McBride headlines the group. McBride (35G, 7A) is an excellent finisher. He was at his best against top competition last season, scoring four goals against Hopkins and three goals against Syracuse. He will team with cousin Chris McBride (18G, 6A) for the second straight season. The Tigers did lose senior Tommy Davis (27G, 17A) to graduation. His replacement will most likely be either Rob Engelke (9, 4), an experienced senior who saw time with the extra man unit last season. Sophomore Alex Capretta (1, 0), who played last season with the second midfield, will push for time as well.
With only one returning starter in the midfield, the Tigers' attackmen will be expected to score early and often as the midfield situation is figured out.
Sophomore goalie Tyler Fiorito returns after living up to enormous hype as a freshman. Fiorito (7.40 GAA, .587 save pct.) was an Honorable Mention All American a season ago. His marquee game was a 15-save performance against Syracuse at the Meadowlands in the inaugural Big City Classic.
He certainly benefited from having two All American defensemen in front of him in Chris Peyser and Chad Wiedmaier. This time around, he'll have to start the season with neither of the two.
The most intriguing story of the season so far has been the injury doctors discovered when doing what was supposed to be routine surgery on Wiedmaier's knee. The preseason first team All American will be out until mid-season and will be sorely missed.
There is an interesting twist to the story. In the fall, senior defenseman Jeremy Hirsch, who was named the team's sole captain and has been an entrenched starter for the last two years, separated his shoulder. The injury has since healed, but it allowed junior Long Ellis and sophomore Jonathan Meyers (who was participating in fall ball after having quit the football team) to get lots of time at close defense. Initially, the plan was to have Ellis and Meyers compete for Peyser's spot. Both ended up starting in the teams' scrimmages. It's very possible that both will be starting against Hofstra alongside Hirsch. Sophomore LSM John Cunningham could also move down to close defense to fill one of the starting holes.
Ever since Bates took over, the buzz around Princeton has been about the change in coaching style. Would Tierney's deliberate offense and nuanced defense give way to more of a fast-paced style characteristic of teams like Virginia and Syracuse?
"I think it's a little bit of a work in progress," Bates said. "We worked on it a decent amount in the first week. It's something that will evolve as the season goes on."
"I think every team looks to push it in transition a little bit," Bates added. "It's just a matter of our guys learning decision-making. We're giving them the green light. We're trying to push them to the point where if we need to back them off, we can."
Though the Tigers lost many key contributors to graduation this season, they are still bursting at the seams with talent. The sophomore class, ranked the best recruiting class in the nation coming in, will see the field much more often this year. And if last year was any indication (Fiorito, Wiedmaier, and Cunningham were all key players), the sophomores will continue to produce. The big question is how effectively the team will implement Bates' style. And perhaps more importantly, how long will it take for the team to adapt?
One thing is for sure. This will be one of Princeton lacrosse's most interesting seasons in recent memory, especially considering that the Ivy League season will conclude with a tournament for the first time.
Be sure to check out the Princeton Tigers at two IL Events this season. They'll take on Johns Hopkins at the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic on March 6 at M&T Bank Stadium and Syracuse on April 10 at the New Meadowlands Stadium in the second ever Konica Minolta Big City Classic.
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