Men's Lacrosse: New coach, similar hopes
When the men’s lacrosse team takes the field at Class of 1952 Stadium against Hofstra on Saturday, a new era in Princeton lacrosse will begin under the leadership of head coach Chris Bates. Bates, the Tigers’ 10th head coach, comes to Princeton after spending 10 years leading the Drexel lacrosse program. Bates built the team to become Top 20 regulars, most recently winning two Colonial Athletic Association championships in the last three years.
Saturday will be the first time Princeton opens against Hofstra since 1987, which happens be the same year Bates’ predecessor, Bill Tierney, started as head coach for the Tigers. Under Tierney, Princeton finished the 2009 season 13-3 as co-Ivy League champions. The Tigers were ranked No. 1 mid-year after starting off with a preseason ranking of No. 9, and they made it to the NCAA quarterfinals before falling to Cornell. This year, the Tigers start the season ranked No. 8 in the Nike/IL Media Poll and No. 9 in the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association Division I Coaches Poll.
“It’s a tough situation to inherit a team, in some ways, as it is tough for them to inherit a coach,” Bates said.
But the Tigers and their coaches are making the most of the situation. Bates brings with him his coaching staff from Drexel, Greg Raymond and Stephen Brundage. Raymond was an assistant coach at Princeton for three years before he joined Bates at Drexel last year.
The transition has “worked on a lot of levels,” Bates said. “Greg was with me at Drexel last year, so we’ve got a really good working relationship. Steve Brundage came with us as well from Drexel, so ... we all speak the same language [and have] hit the ground running. The fact that Greg had been here for three years I think has helped all of our transition ... There’s an inherent trust there because he has coached and recruited virtually all of this team, so that’s a real plus for our guys and for us as a staff.”
The players have noticed the smooth transition, too.
“Coach Bates and his staff have brought new life to our team, both offensively and defensively,” sophomore goalie Tyler Fiorito said.
Part of this spark is the new style of play that Bates has brought. Offensively, expect to see more faces on the field, a greater focus on setting picks on and off ball, and less emphasis on crease play.
“There’s a little bit of a different structure, but it’s all about putting the ball in the back of the net and not turning it over and trying to keep things pretty simple,” Bates said.
This new structure gives the team “a lot of movement,” junior attack Jack McBride said. “[For] guys who like to dodge, [it] frees up dodges. A lot of guys like to play off ball so we can open them up and let them finish.”
Jack McBride — who earned second-team All-America honors last season and was named preseason first-team All-America this year — and his cousin, junior attack Chris McBride, will continue to team up as left-wing and right-wing attackmen.
“They complement each other: They’re cousins, they’re former teammates, there’s a nice connection on the field with those two,” Bates said.
Senior attack Rob Engelke will help quarterback the new offense. Sophomore attack Alex Capretta is another strong option for the Tigers.
“Overall, I think we probably will play more offensive middies and offensive players than in the recent past here,” Bates said.
Two initial constants in the midfield will be senior midfielder Scott Mackenzie and junior midfielder Tyler Moni, who will hold down both ends of the field. Princeton is also looking to see contributions from sophmore attack Mike Grossman, senior midfielder Paul Barnes, sophomore midfielder Mark Feild and freshman midfielder Mike Chanenchuk, who is back from an injury after redshirting the season last year.
“We are really balanced offensively, and each game will be a team effort,” Fiorito said. “Even if the opposing team is able to contain Jack or one of our top players, we will still get production from everyone else. Guys are buying into the new offense, and we are playing a more up-tempo style of offense.”
The team has also worked on fine-tuning its faceoffs. In the mix are sophomore midfielder Peter Smyth, freshman midfielder Jeff Froccaro and Barnes. Freshman defender Rob Castelo and freshman midfielder Bobby Lucas add depth here.
On defense, Princeton will look to push the pace of play this season.
“Defensively, we’re probably going to play a little faster pace, higher tempo,” senior defender and captain Jeremy Hirsch said. “The slide packages and basics of our defenses aren’t really going to change much.”
The Tigers’ defense will be anchored by Hirsch and Fiorito, who earned honorable-mention All-America last season.
“Tyler is one of the best goalies in the country and is getting better as a clearing goalie, getting better as a defensive leader,” Bates said. “He’s our backbone, and he has the ability to be a special player. It’s a luxury to have a guy of that caliber in that position for a coach. Unfortunately, sometimes he covers up for defensive mistakes — we might not be playing great defense, but we get a great save. I guess it’s better than the other way around.”
The defensive unit took a hit before the preseason began when sophomore defender Chad Wiedmaier was sidelined due to a knee injury. Wiedmaier was named preseason first-team All-America this year after earning second-team All-America honors last spring. Last season, he was also the third Princeton freshman and first freshman Tiger defender to earn All-Ivy League honors.
“You have to account for the loss of a player of that caliber, and Chad’s one of the best ones out there,” Bates said. “Jeremy Hirsch was out all fall, so it allowed different guys to get greater reps and good experience. With Chad out, it’s a little bit like Jeremy being out in that guys evolve to be playing on a first unit and getting more minutes. We’ve been pleased with development defensively.”
Vying to take on minutes are sophomore John Cunningham and junior Long Ellis, both of whom played long-stick midfielder last season, along with sophomore defender Jonathan Meyers. Junior defender Derek Styer and Castelo have also played well in preseason and will provide good options for the Tigers.
“Defensively, we have a lot of talent at close defense and at long pole,” Fiorito said. “Led by Jeremy Hirsch, our captain, and Coach Raymond, we have become more aggressive and look to dictate the pace of the game. Our defensive unit takes pride in our identity and should prove to be one of the best in the nation.”
Defense will be key on Saturday. Last year, Hofstra handed Princeton its first loss of the season, 9-7. Hofstra, one of only two teams that topped the Tigers all season, got off to a quick start. Princeton trailed 7-1 in the third quarter before rallying to score six of the last eight goals. So the Tigers’ new chapter starts with a chance to clean up some old business.
“Hofstra is a great opponent that has one of the best attacks in the nation and is considered a top-10 team this year,” Fiorito said. “It isn’t often that a game features two top-10 teams, and even though it is the first game of the year, it will have serious implications down the road. We can’t wait to step on the field and show everyone else that we can be one of the best teams in the country.”
The game has added meaning for the new coaching staff.
“It’s an interesting game on a couple of fronts,” Bates said. “One, Hofstra beat Princeton last year after Princeton had beaten Hopkins. It was a game up on Long Island that I think our guys would like back. It’s the first game of the year, so it’s a heightened sense of emotion for our guys to get going ... For the coaching staff, it’s unique because Hofstra has been a good rival for us [when I was at] Drexel in the CAA. The coaching staffs are familiar with each other, the programs are familiar with each other, but now there’s a different mix.”
“Last year, we played one of our worst games of the season,” Jack McBride said. “They came out and kind of handled us. To lose that game ... in particular at Hofstra was one of the toughest losses. They out-hustled us [and] wanted it more.”
This year, there is no doubt in the Tigers’ minds which team wants a win more.
“We are definitely looking to defend our home field, and there is added motivation having the chance to exact revenge for last year’s loss,” Fiorito said.
Princeton’s new motto should help. With the team’s new coaches and different style of play comes a new outlook.
“We’re going to take everything day by day,” Hirsch said. “That’s been a new motto we’ve had around here: How can we get better tomorrow and then the next day?”
“We’ve kept things simple in terms of knowing how many days are left in the season and knowing each one counts and really trying to emphasize putting in a day’s work,” Bates said. “We’re trying to practice at a particular tempo day after day, which isn’t easy for these guys, and they’ve responded well. We try to keep [our goals] short term, day to day, drill to drill, and really just make sure that we’re maximizing our time together ... One day at a time, one game at a time, and we think the rest will hopefully take care of itself.”
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