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Men's lacrosse seeks third straight national championship

Last May 26, the men's lacrosse team routed Maryland, 19-7, in the NCAA championship final to successfully defend its national title and establish itself as the dominant team in collegiate men's lacrosse.

This year, Princeton is looking to solidify its place as one of the best teams in lacrosse history.

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"We try to set big goals around here," head coach Bill Tierney said. "Our goals are always first, to win the Ivy League championship, and second, the National Championship."

Indeed, those goals have been met with striking regularity in recent years: five Ivy and four national titles in the last six years. This year, anything short of a win in the National Championship game on Memorial Day will be a disappointment to the two-time defending national champions. The Tigers also have a 28-game winning streak going – the third-longest in the history of college lacrosse.

And Princeton has not lost a step. Seven starters return for the No. 1-ranked team in Face-Off Magazine's 1998 Preseason Poll.

Braveheart

"Every single team that we play will want to knock our heads off," senior attackman Jon Hess said.

While the Tigers have lost some players at key positions – namely midfielder and goalkeeper – attackman does not number among them. Seniors Jesse Hubbard, Chris Massey and Hess return for one more opportunity to defend the championship.

Commonly regarded as one of the best attack trios in the history of the sport, they even spread thin the strongest of close defenses.

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"They make us all look good," senior defenseman Christian Cook said.

Beauty school

They make themselves look good, too: 463 total points in 45 career games, 100 points in eight NCAA tournament appearances and six All-America selections. As a group, the three represent 53 percent of the Tigers' goalscoring over the last two campaigns.

Not surprisingly, Princeton will initiate the majority of its offense from the attack with Hess quarterbacking the offensive set from behind the cage.

Nor is attackman the only position at which the Tigers return both experience and All-Americans. Despite losing second-team All-American Becket Wolf '97 to graduation, this year's close defense should be able to put the screws on the most potent attacks.

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The unit boasts two returning starters – Cook and junior Kurt Lunkenheimer – and the third starter, junior John Harrington will move back from his old position of longstick midfielder. Cook, a third-team All-America and first-team All-Ivy selection, will usually draw the opponent's top offensive threat, either an attackman or a middie. Honorable mention All-American Lunkenheimer will serve as the Tigers' crease defenseman.

"I wouldn't want another guy (than Lunkenheimer) in the country in the middle of our defense," Tierney said. "It's the hardest position to play."

Juniors Ted Martell and Jason Farrell complete what Tierney hopes will be a fluid five-man rotation among the longsticks, in which playing time for Martell and Farrell will hinge on Cook's assignment. If a match-up draws the senior into the midfield, Farrell will fill in at close defense. A good opposing attackman will allow Martell to run as the longstick midfielder.

But no team is perfect, even when it enters the season on top of the polls. Graduation has left a major void between the pipes.

Gaping hole

Gone is goaltender Patrick Cairns '97 and his 37-3 career record. In his place are three candidates for the starting goalie duties: senior Neal DiBello, junior Corey Popham and freshman Trevor Tierney, none of whom have any significant game experience. The decision of whom to start will most likely be made later today by coach Tierney.

Last June's graduation ceremony claimed nine midfielders in addition to Cairns, including Jason Osier and Todd Eichelberger – two-thirds of last year's first midfield line. Combined with junior Lorne Smith, the trio had played together for two years, developing a comfortable rhythm that helped control the offensive pace.

Smith and his first-team All-America status will serve to anchor the new top line with two sophomores, Josh Sims and Chris Berrier. Both saw some action last year, with Sims proving his mettle immediately when he scored the winning goal one minute, 24 seconds into overtime to defeat Johns Hopkins, 7-6, in the 1997 season opener.

"If you put a shortstick on any one of them, it's a mismatch," Hess said. "But we still have to see what they can do."

After the first line, the questions intensify. Who will replace face-off specialists Dennis Kramer '97 and James Mitchell '97? Who will play defensive middie along with Cook or Martell in the longstick position?

No comment

With two days left before the season-opening faceoff, Tierney still hasn't answered them.

" 'If Tierney's got this team that's supposed to have a lot of experience coming back,' " the head coach said, mimicking others' questions, " 'do you throw such an important job (faceoffs) in the hands of freshmen and ask the other guys to struggle with that and still get the job done? Or do you go with some more experienced guys?' "

Senior midfielder Greg Mecca, Sims and Berrier are those experienced guys, while freshmen midfielders Winship Ross and Matt Bailer are all also vying for the position. As for the defensive midfield, Mecca and senior Mark Whaling may well buttress either longstick.

Regardless of who is at midfield and in the net, odds are they will be celebrating with Hess, Hubbard and Massey on Memorial Day, making it a three-peat.

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