Just in case you thought that the men's lacrosse team's first loss in two years (to Virginia) March 7, indicated the team was in trouble or the program had taken a step back, you need not worry. Princeton lacrosse is alive and well.
The No. 4 Tigers (3-1) notched a pair of eight-goal victories over top-15 opponents, defeating No. 9 North Carolina (2-4), 18-10, March 15, and No. 12 Penn State (2-3), 13-5, Saturday at 1952 Stadium. In both contests, the Tar Heels and Nittany Lions kept close for much of the game before Princeton used offensive explosions to put the matches out of reach in the second half.
Perhaps the best indication that the Tigers have returned is the scoreboard. After an uncharacteristically meager nine-goal output in the loss to the Cavaliers, the Princeton offense came to life March 15 with a 18-tally performance against a young but talented North Carolina defense.
The senior attack trio of Jon Hess, Jesse Hubbard and Chris Massey led the way by scoring eight of 18 goals and 13 of 28 total points for the Tigers.
More importantly, however, the rest of the team also got involved in beating Tar Heel goaltender Jarron Harkness. Overall 12 Princeton players recorded points, including some unexpected ones. Junior defenseman John Harrington (one goal), backup senior attackman John Wynne (two goals), freshman midfielder Rob Torti (one goal) and little-used sophomore midfielder Jaime Sullivan (one goal) all contributed to the Tiger offensive barrage.
Harkness's opposite – junior netminder Corey Popham – turned in a fair performance, allowing six goals in 55 minutes. But Popham was not the only Tiger to stand between the pipes, as head coach Bill Tierney continued to back up his assertions that his team has three goalies, all of whom can play. Senior Neal DiBello played three minutes, while freshman Trevor Tierney was on the field for two, but each allowed two Tar Heel shots to find the back of the Tiger net.
"I think we came back well from losing to Virginia," senior defenseman Christian Cook said. "We got going again after a good week of practice."
As well as the offense had played to begin the break, the defense played as well to end it. After the 10-goal lapse against North Carolina, Princeton tightened the screws Saturday against Penn State on the rain-soaked turf of 1952 Stadium. Popham again started and logged 11 saves in 53 minutes while allowing only five goals. DiBello and the younger Tierney combined to hold the Nittany Lions scoreless for the remaining seven minutes.
"Whoever is in goal really doesn't change the way the team plays much," Cook said. "We all do our job regardless. We have three good goalies."
The Tiger offense also put in a decent showing, tallying eight unanswered goals in the last 32 minutes, one second of the game. With the score tied at five, sophomore midfielder Josh Sims beat Penn State goaltender Kevin Keenan with 2:01 left in the second quarter. The Tigers never looked back.
The starting attack again put in the bulk of the effort, recording nine of the 13 Princeton points during the outburst. Hess notched five assists and one goal, but the highlight of the day belonged to Massey. The second of his three goals gave him 122 for his career, moving him past Justin Tortolani '92 (120) into second place all-time at Princeton.