March 1, 2013

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MD1 Notebook: Princeton Newcomers Eager for Hopkins Matchup

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

"This game is about the young and the old," Princeton coach Chris Bates said about Friday's matchup with Johns Hopkins at Homewood Field in Baltimore.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

When No. 12 Princeton comes to Homewood Field on Friday night to renew its long-running rivalry with third-ranked Johns Hopkins, fourth-year Princeton coach Chris Bates will be among the most curious observers in the house.

That's because one week after opening its season with a 10-7 victory over Hofstra, the Tigers are bringing an unusually young team to face a Hopkins team dominated by three- and four-year starters. A year after graduating an outstanding senior class led by goalie Tyler Fiorito, Princeton now counts freshmen among 40 percent of its starting lineup.

The high-profile newcomers are attackman Ryan Ambler, midfielder Jake Froccaro, defenseman Mark Strabo and goalkeeper Matt O'Connor. They form an intriguing backdrop for the 83rd meeting between the two schools, a meeting highlighted by notable disparity in terms of the overall experience each school will put on the field.

"It was fun to inherit this rivalry [after replacing Bill Tierney at Princeton]. It's easy for our guys to get excited during Hopkins week," Bates said. "You want the young guys to learn about it. Our [four starting] freshmen have played so much club lacrosse and so many of the players go against each other growing up. But it's still the first time on Homewood Field for them.

"This game is about the young and the old. Hopkins is very experienced and really good. To have to rely on such young bucks in a game like this is certainly a different situation for us. It's like a new era and a new beginning. The freshmen are our foundation guys."

The foundation started off at Hofstra by making a strong statement. Ambler won Ivy League rookie of the week honors with one goal and three assists. O'Connor made six saves and was just the third Princeton goalie to start the season opener of his freshman year in the past 25 years, joining Fiorito (2009) and Hall of Famer Scott Bacigalupo (1991).

Meanwhile, junior midfielder Tom Schreiber started off strong as well, tallying two goals and one assist against the Pride.

Tempered expectations at the Mount

As we swing into early March, the Mount St. Mary's Mountaineers are 2-2, after beating Bucknell and Delaware. On the school's campus in Emmitsburg, Md., that is a big deal.

The Mountaineers, Northeast Conference members after spending many years in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, have never been a Division I powerhouse. But 21st-year head coach Tom Gravante sensed the Mountaineers might be able to make some loud, early-season noise. Splitting the first four games is virtually uncharted territory for the Mount.

Smaller lacrosse schools such as Mount St. Mary's are used to taking some lumps early against upper echelon schools, so as to prepare for the conference schedule and build momentum toward all-important league tournaments that produce automatic qualifiers for the NCAA tournament.

Some of those conditions did not change this season. Mount St. Mary's dropped lopsided decisions to Maryland and Virginia by a combined 24 goals.

But wrapped around those two blowout losses were impressive victories. For the first time in 15 tries, the Mount beat Bucknell, 12-11. They followed that with a 15-12 win over the Blue Hens — their second straight over Delaware, which had never lost to Mount St. Mary's before 2012.

"We're not supposed to beat [Bucknell and Delaware], but we knew we had a chance to win those games," said Gravante, who also knew that wasn't the case against the Terps or UVA. "Honestly, 2-2 is where I wanted to be going into March. Hey, I'm a realist."

One thing is very real. The Mountaineers are an old team (17 seniors, six graduate students) with a fine core of experienced scorers, led by Andrew Scalley (9g, 14a), Brett Schmidt (10, 7) and Cody Lehrer (11, 5).

Next up for the Mount on Saturday is visiting, 1-3 Towson, another school they have never beaten.

UMass Not Quitting

The fifth-ranked Massachusetts Minutemen are without one of the most dynamic playmakers in the game in senior attackman Will Manny, who scored 77 points as a junior and led UMass to a 15-1 season. Manny broke his thumb during the season-opening win over Army, and might not return until late March.

Give credit to the Minutemen for circling the wagons and forging ahead to a 3-0 start, highlighted by a gritty, 12-11 victory over No. 9 North Carolina. That illustrates the kind of program 19th-year coach Greg Cannella has constructed in Amherst.

In Manny's absence, the Minutemen have picked up the slack impressively. Junior midfielder Matt Whippen has scored eight goals on 40 percent shooting. Sophomore attackman Andrew Sokol has six goals and 10 points on 66.7 percent shooting. Senior attackman Kyle Smith (5,4) and junior attackman Connor Mooney (six goals on 37.5 percent shooting) are proven contributors who keep getting it done.


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