The No. 3 men's lacrosse team enters tomorrow's game against Yale (1-3) with a record of 3-1. But when Princeton walks onto the turf at 1952 Stadium tomorrow, its record might as well be 0-0.
The Tigers view the lacrosse season in three parts: the early season schedule against traditional non-conference powers, the Ivy League slate and, most importantly, the postseason.
Last Saturday Princeton finished the first part of its season with a 13-5 drubbing of Penn State. The victory over the Nittany Lions marked the Tigers' fourth consecutive game against an opponent ranked in the Top 15 in Division I. With that brutal stretch out of the way, Princeton begins things anew when it hosts Yale in both teams' Ivy opener.
While the Tigers emerged unscathed from their early non-conference schedule last year, they were not so fortunate this season. Princeton dropped a March 7 contest to Virginia, 9-7, the Tigers' first loss in almost two years. Despite the blemish on his team's record, head coach Bill Tierney is pleased with Princeton's progress over the four games.
"The month of March last year, we were spoiled," Tierney said. "We came out undefeated with two one-goal wins. This year we lost one. But if you can come out of the March that we play at 3-1 like we are, we feel like you are getting on the right foot."
In fact, the loss to the Cavaliers may have provided Princeton with a needed wakeup call. It's not easy to maintain your desire and focus when you haven't suffered defeat in 29 games.
"If we had come out of these past four games 4-0 having crushed them all, that would be a problem," senior defenseman Christian Cook said. "We know we have a lot of work to do.
"Every game presents an opportunity for us to get better. Every game presents an opportunity for us to redeem ourselves after the Virginia loss."
This week's transition period between the early non-conference slate and the Ivy schedule affords Princeton a good opportunity to examine its progress. What the Tigers find is that they have played brilliantly in spurts, but have not been able to maintain that brilliance for an entire game.
"Our weakness is that we haven't played all four quarters of a game well yet," senior midfielder Mark Whaling said. "We've had quarters where we've really had lulls and we haven't played so well. Our goal for this part of the season is to get more consistent for a 60 minute game."
Along with the team's inconsistency, the on-field chemistry between the senior attack trio – Jon Hess, Jesse Hubbard and Chris Massey – and the younger midfielders needs to improve.
According to Tierney, the midfielders have yet to gain the full confidence of the senior attackmen. Consequently, Hess, Hubbard and Massey too often take it upon themselves to generate the offense, leaving the midfielders uninvolved.
In order for the Tigers to improve, the seniors need to pass more of the workload on to their younger counterparts. Even more importantly, the young midfielders must show that they are capable of handling increased responsibility.
"The younger guys have got to start realizing that they've been in three scrimmages and four games and it's time to stop relying on Jon, Jesse and Chris to do everything," Tierney said.
The upcoming games against weaker Ivy competition will give Princeton a chance to work on its weaknesses. The season starts anew tomorrow, and the time for improvement is now.