Men's Lacrosse: Penn loss extends skid
“I’m feeling lousy,” Bates said. “It’s been a long week.”
It is not hard to see why. Over three games during the break, a combination of injuries and offensive jitters led the Tigers (1-4 overall, 0-1 Ivy League) to an enigmatic but undeniable losing skid against No. 6 North Carolina, No. 7 Villanova and No. 13 University of Pennsylvania.
“Offensively, we’re searching for some identity,” Bates said. “We’re searching for some leadership. We’re searching for some guys to show up and grow up, better said.”
Coming off an 8-3 victory over No. 11 Johns Hopkins in their second game of the season to even their record at 1-1, the Tigers had reason to feel optimistic in their home opener on March 11. The result, however, was disheartening. Princeton came rushing out of the gate to run the score to 3-0, but the hosts could not maintain possession after their strong start. Despite holding UNC All-America attackman Billy Bitter without a goal or assist, the Tar Heels (5-2) reeled off seven straight goals between the first and third quarters to finish off the Tigers with a final score of 9-5. Princeton again struggled at the faceoff, winning just six of 15 opportunities, which has hurt the Tigers in several games already this season.
“Carolina’s a different animal just because of how athletic they are and how much they put pressure on you with their skill and with their athleticism,” Bates said. “They’re a little bit more aggressive.”
Tuesday brought more of the same for the Princeton attack, which again jumped out to an early 3-0 lead before sputtering to a halt. But while UNC used its athleticism to dull the Tigers’ bite, Villanova (7-1) relied on the work of one player in particular: longstick midfielder Brian Karalunas. Described by Bates as “the best kid we’ve faced this year,” Karalunas caused eight turnovers for the Wildcats and limited freshman midfielder Tom Schreiber to just two shots all game, holding the rookie sensation scoreless for the first time all season.
Karalunas’ efforts allowed the Wildcats to score seven unanswered goals in the second and third quarters, eerily reminiscent of the UNC contest. Though junior attackman Cliff Larkin notched two goals in the last 26 seconds to pull the Tigers within one goal, Princeton could not complete the comeback and ultimately fell 10-9.
Unfortunately, it only got worse. Saturday’s 8-3 loss to Penn (4-2, 1-0) marked the end of a 21-game winning streak against the Quakers, as turnover after turnover kept the Tigers offense from getting settled. The defense, though impressive in holding Penn to just two goals in the first half, allowed three goals in the third quarter, including a goal off a faceoff win by Quaker midfielder Nick Richards.
“[Saturday], we hope, was the low point [of the season],” Bates said. “You never know as a coach, but I don’t think it could get much worse. We just really played poorly in most facets of the game, and we got what we earned.”
Bates was also emphatic that the team has the character to bounce back from its rough week and that it would take just one spark to change the team’s momentum.
Just how to change its momentum remains a question, particularly in light of the team’s injury woes. Senior attackman and 2010 leading scorer Jack McBride continues to battle a groin injury that held him out against North Carolina and Villanova. Though McBride played against Penn, the injury limited his time and effectiveness.
Schreiber, who picked up a knock against the Tar Heels, did not feature against Penn. Junior defenseman Jonathan Meyers was also held out against the Quakers and Villanova. Rob Castelo, injured against Johns Hopkins, is out for the season with an ACL tear. The injuries have added up, leaving gaps within the lineup.
“We’re really inexperienced in a lot of ways ... with a lot of freshmen and sophomores,” Bates said. “We’re not settled in with everybody on the same page and feeling good, and that forces you to play a lot more defense, forces your goalie to make that many more saves. That’s just not a recipe for winning lacrosse.”
The coaches spent the week trying to simplify their practices for the benefit of the less-experienced members of the team, but the short rest between games meant less time for preparation. Princeton’s next game is this Saturday against Yale, giving the Tigers a full week to ready themselves and return to basics.
“We should have their full attention [this week],” Bates said. “This should be pretty eye-opening, because our backs are against the wall.”
He issued a clear challenge to the players.
“[This is a team] that doesn’t know how to win yet ... Different guys now need to step up.”