Men's Soccer: Chance for redemption begins
After numerous hard-fought battles against Big East conference opponents, the men’s soccer team (4-3) will begin its hunt for Ivy League glory on Saturday at Roberts Stadium. Dartmouth will provide Princeton with its first Ancient Eight test.
“We have a grudge against Dartmouth because last year they scored four goals on us in the first half, and we were pissed because we thought we were just as good as them then. They ended up beating us 4-1,” junior midfielder Dylan Bowman said. “So this year we’re coming out hard, and the game will be here this time. It’s a big game for us. We are going to be really pumped up to play them.”
Princeton, which went 1-5-1 in the Ivy League last year (only beating Harvard in a close 3-2 contest), has already been trying to figure out how to rekindle the magic of its 2010 season. That year, the Tigers finished with a drastically different 7-0 conference record and made their second straight appearance in the NCAA tournament.
“The key between a 7-0 year and a 1-5 year is how our second team, the non-starters, fight,” Bowman said. “In practice, we have the starters play the second team at least once a week. If it’s kind of lackluster and slow, and the first team is always winning, it’s not really difficult and no one [among the starters] is trying too hard, then that’s not a good week, because that’s not real practice for a game. But when the second team is winning, and they are going crazy because they just beat the first team, it’s fun. Everyone’s pissed off at each other because [the starters] aren’t winning and stuff. That’s what we need, and we’ve had a lot of that this year — we also had a ton of that in the 7-0 year.”
The Tigers, who went 1-3 to open the 2012 season, have won their last three games, including a pair last weekend at the Princeton Invitational. Perhaps a major indicator for both their Ivy League and non-conference play for the rest of the year, two of the Tigers’ three losses came against top 15 Division I teams — St. John’s in a 3-0 contest and Georgetown in a 1-0 loss — though Dartmouth can say the same about two of its four defeats.
Another major difference between this season and last rests in the Tigers’ experience playing with one another. The starting lineup appears to have found its rhythm already, and despite being a freshman, forward Thomas Sanner holds Princeton’s top spot in the scoring column with two goals and four assists. Other rookies have earned game play as well.
“This year, we have a good balance between veteran experience and young experience,” head coach Jim Barlow ’91 said. “We were really young last year and played six freshmen all of the time. This year ... we have more flexibility when creating a game plan.”
But the team’s nine freshmen have contributed to the Tigers’ continued success off the field as well. “Three years ago, when I wasn’t here yet, they had another really good season. They used to make freshmen sing on the bus ride home [from away games]. Upperclassmen would give them a lyric sheet and made sure you didn’t know the song. We didn’t do that the past two years. Maybe because it could be considered hazing? So this year we said, ‘You can volunteer to go up there,’ but we kind of made them. It was hilarious; everyone was loving it,” Bowman recounted.
Bowman said the tradition has been a chemistry-builder. If he’s right, then 2012 may prove to be another NCAA year for the Tigers, which will require superiority in the Ivy League.
“We’re looking out for Cornell, because we’ve heard they’re really good. I think they’re, like, 8-0. Dartmouth graduated Lucky [Mkosana] last year, who went pro, but they have a sophomore [Alex Adelabu] that came up who’s pretty fast. He’s scored four or five goals already, so we’ll have to look out for him,” Bowman said.
Princeton maintains a sizeable 37-20-7 lead on Dartmouth in the all-time series, dating back to 1921. While the Big Green is 3-1-1 in the last five meetings, Princeton is undefeated in the four most recent matchups at Roberts Stadium. Its Big East practice and its return to quirky tradition could be Princeton’s formula for Ivy League success.
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