Men's Lacrosse: Behind a veteran defense, Tigers look for a fresh start
Last year, the men’s lacrosse team had its worst overall record since 1988, finishing at 4-8 after a string of unusual and frequent injuries sidelined 16 players at some point in the season. After the season, the program was struck by tragedy with the death of head coach Chris Bates’ wife, Ann Bates.
Princeton opens the 2012 season in need of a fresh start. A symbol of that start has already come, as a FieldTurf surface was installed on the new Sherrerd Field in 1952 Stadium over the winter. A No. 14-ranking in the most recent Inside Lacrosse poll, bolstered by the return of three stalwart seniors, could also keep Princeton spirits high from the season’s onset.
Bates emphasized that lacrosse is fundamentally “a physical game, and we can’t play in a bubble.” To this end, the coach sees the troubles from last year to be a key for Princeton improvement in the NCAA this season. “As long as we stay healthy this year, we are looking to be a deep team,” he added.
In looking back at last season, Bates explained that the injuries provided valuable playing time for the wealth of young players on the team.
“The injuries from last year helped get some guys all the better,” Bates said. “We had a lot of players come in and play as freshmen. They’re upperclassmen now, and we expect them to play like it, so each position is being contested.”
Assuming the Tigers stay healthier this year, fans can be certain of the strength of the Princeton backfield. Princeton will take the turf with arguably the nation’s top goalie and top defenseman in seniors Tyler Fiorito and Chad Wiedmaier, respectively.
Fiorito is a two-time first team All-Ivy selection, and, even in last year’s disappointing season, he ended the year with the NCAA’s second-highest save percentage of .615. Wiedmaier and Fiorito have been named All-Americas after all three collegiate seasons they have played.
Along with longstick midfielder John Cunningham, the senior-led defense added three Major League Lacrosse draft selections to its extensive list of credentials this winter.
“A lot of our success this season will come down to how we are able to play around those guys,” Bates said of his three veteran defensive stars.
One of the biggest question marks for the Tigers will be their ability to get the possessions necessary for offensive opportunities. Last year, Princeton won only 40.7 percent of faceoffs, a full 10 percent drop from their squad’s .506 win rate in 2010.
Bates believes that face-offs should not be as much of a concern this season. “Last year was a bit of an aberration. We had individual guys going down 12 percent,” he said. Bates further emphasized that the Tigers will focus more on wing play to cut down on opposing fast breaks and increases the team’s chances at getting ground balls.
Leading the offense, Princeton fans should expect to see more of sophomore midfielder Tom Schreiber, who led the Tigers in goals and assists last season. No Princeton freshman had ever previously held both top spots on the stat sheet. Additionally, junior midfielder Jeff Froccaro will also start as a seasoned cornerstone of the Princeton squad. Froccaro netted 13 goals and added three assists for a total of 16 points last season.
But the rest of the Tigers’ offensive picture is murky. Due to last year’s injury-prompted rotations, Princeton has a host of midfielders and attackers who could emerge as the next linchpin contributors.
One possible choice is sophomore midfielder Hunter deButts. At the moment, deButts — the brother of senior Lindsey deButts, a star defender on the women’s lacrosse team — is out with an injury, but he is expected to return early in the season. “He’s a big strong athlete that we can expect to give us some speed at attack when he gets back,” Bates said.
Last season, Princeton had four players rotate starting position on attack. Coupled with a cast of convertible midfielders and untested freshmen, the shape of Princeton’s offense will develop as the competition for starting positions plays out. Whoever else emerges in the Princeton offensive picture will have to build on last season’s .222 shooting average and 7.1 goals per game.
As the squad looks to find its footing this season, Princeton will not be given any slack by its high-octane schedule. All but four of the Tigers’ opponents this season are ranked in the top 20 of the preseason poll, including a tough Ivy League slate led by No. 3 Cornell.
Princeton starts its season with three straight home games, opening against Hofstra on Saturday at 1 p.m. The Tigers remain at Class of 1952 Field for midweek contest against Manhattan before facing No. 2 Johns Hopkins in a game televised on ESPNU.