Following the men's lacrosse team's 9-7 loss to Virginia March 7, head coach Bill Tierney spoke of a forthcoming "rededication of Princeton lacrosse." Considering that the Virginia game was the Tigers' first loss in almost two years, there was no need for Princeton to undergo a complete overhaul.
Tierney, however, sensed that certain changes needed to be made, and his major adjustment involved the faceoff specialists. No. 3 Princeton (3-1) lost its top faceoff men – and two of the best faceoff specialists in the history of Tiger lacrosse – from a year ago with the graduation of midfielders Dennis Kramer '97 and James Mitchell '97. Mitchell controlled 133 of 214 faceoffs (62 percent) last season, while Kramer won 60 of 97 (62 percent).
With the departure of Kramer and Mitchell weighing heavily on his mind last season, Tierney recruited two high school players – Matt Bailer and Winship Ross – whom he hoped could fill the void at the faceoff position. Now freshman midfielders, Bailer and Ross have struggled early this season, as their older and more experienced opponents have consistently beaten them.
"Our theory with faceoffs is we've been spoiled a little bit," Tierney said. "With James Mitchell and Dennis Kramer, we got about 65 percent or so for three years. We're getting back to (that percentage) and I feel confident that Bailer and Ross are going to be great facing off."
While they are certain to improve with every faceoff opportunity they receive, Bailer and Ross have not shown the consistent talent for faceoffs that their predecessors had. Bailer has won 14 of 30 faceoffs (47 percent), while Ross has controlled only 10 of 28 (36 percent).
In Princeton's opening game Feb. 28, the Tigers lost 22 of 31 faceoffs, but still bested Johns Hopkins, 17-10. Though Princeton won 12 of 18 faceoffs in the game against the Cavaliers, the loss, coupled with earlier faceoff struggles, convinced Tierney a change needed to be made.
Enter Chris Berrier.
Berrier, a sophomore midfielder, faced off just 13 times in his freshman season, winning seven of those. But the lack of experience has not hurt Berrier this year. He has responded to the promotion by converting 59 percent of his faceoff opportunities (24 of 41), a rate just below that of Kramer and Mitchell.
In Saturday's 13-5 defeat of Penn State, Berrier looked impressive as the Tigers controlled 13 of 22 faceoffs. Tierney's confidence in the sophomore is high, and if Princeton ever finds itself in sudden death overtime with the game on the line, it is Berrier who will get the call to face off.
In addition to his move to faceoff specialist, Berrier has switched from his position on the first midfield line to that of a defensive midfielder. His replacement, freshman Rob Torti, joins junior Lorne Smith and sophomore Josh Sims on the midfield line.
Overall, Princeton has won just 47 percent of its faceoffs this season. But with Berrier performing well in his new role and Bailer and Ross improving with every game, the Tigers won't have to lament the loss of Kramer and Mitchell much longer.