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Tough battle awaits men's lax at UVa

Perhaps the most exciting event in all of college lacrosse is sudden death overtime. Every play can lead to instant victory or defeat. Every shot becomes a potential game winner.

When the No. 1 men's lacrosse team (1-0 overall) travels to Charlottesville, Va., tomorrow to face No. 5 Virginia (1-1), the teams will renew a rivalry in which both Princeton victory and sudden death have become the norm.

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Witness last year's contest, a 14-13 overtime Princeton win in which the Tigers blew a four-goal fourth-quarter lead only to be redeemed by a Todd Eichelberger '97 goal off of a pick by junior midfielder Lorne Smith.

And there was the 1996 NCAA championship game, a 13-12 OT Princeton victory courtesy of senior attackman Jesse Hubbard. In the 1994 national title game, it was the same story: the Tigers over the Cavaliers, 9-8, in OT.

Revenge

All this just builds up incentive for the 1998 Virginia team to knock off the two-time defending national champions, especially after the former suffered another overtime defeat. The Cavaliers dropped their season opener Saturday to No. 2 Syracuse (1-0), 18-17.

"They basically want to humiliate us," senior attackman Chris Massey said. "The past couple of years we've really formed an intense rivalry, especially with the overtime games. They have taken a decent amount of flak (for the overtime losses)."

But if indeed this year's contest does reach overtime, don't expect head coach Bill Tierney to call timeout immediately after controlling the faceoff to set up a potential game-winning goal as he has in previous years. An offseason NCAA rule change now prevents teams from calling time outs in sudden death until after the first dead ball.

"In all three (Princeton-Virginia overtime) games in which we were able to beat Virginia, we took timeouts," Tierney said, "although last year the time out had no effect because we didn't score until after more than a minute."

Between the pipes

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Princeton enters the contest on a high note. Last Saturday it dispatched then-No. 4 Johns Hopkins (0-1) in impressive fashion, 17-10. In the process, Tierney found a starting goaltender in junior Corey Popham. While Popham was not thoroughly spectacular, he did allow the high-powered Tiger offense to outscore the Blue Jays.

But Virginia is not Hopkins, and the Cavaliers present different problems than the Blue Jays. Virginia features a uniformly skilled offense, a talented young close defense and a fast-paced style of play.

Despite graduating two first-team All-Americans – Michael Watson and Doug Knight – from its attack corps, the Cavaliers boast three starting attackmen and a first midfield line who all possess the ability to score at any moment.

"They're going to come at you from six different angles," Tierney said. "All of them can dodge and all of them can shoot. Hopkins had a different (regimented) style."

Firewall

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Over the last two-plus years, few opposing defenses have been able to contain the Tigers' trio of senior attackmen, Hubbard, Massey and Jon Hess. But the young Virginia close defense possesses the potential to be one of the stingiest in the country and could frustrate Princeton all day despite the graduation of its two-time All-American defenseman Tommie Smith.

"With teams like Virginia, the kids they have solely through recruiting are of high quality," Massey said. "You say, 'well, Tommie Smith's gone.' But they've got a fellow by the name of Ryan Curtis who is extremely highly touted."

Alongside Curtis will be Penn Leachman, who shut out Hubbard, Princeton's career leader in goals scored, during the attackman's senior year of high school in their league championship game. As a unit, the Cavalier defensemen play an uptempo style that is indicative of the whole team.

"They're athletic and they're very aggressive all over the field," Massey said. "They like to run and gun. They'll pressure you all over the place."

This strategy will play right into the Tigers' sticks. During the third period against Hopkins – in which the Tiger offense exploded for seven goals to cement the win – the majority of the scoring came on fast-break opportunities and unsettled situations.

For the second time in as many weeks, the Tigers will play what is potentially their most important game of the regular season. If you're going to the game, don't make any plans for immediately afterwards. It might just run long.

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