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From tournament games to season-opening losses, reflections of a journalist

If you follow Princeton athletics at all, you know where you were when the Palestra Miracle happened. Feb. 9, 1999, the night the men's basketball team came back from being 27 points down to Penn in the second half – at one of the most hostile venues on the East Coast – to prop up its faltering Ivy dynasty for just one more night.

I was on the third floor of the redbrick building at 48 University Place. With WPRB alternating between detailing Brian Lewullis' and Gabe Earl's exploits [sic], I stood there copy editing on the night shift of the Daily Princetonian yelling at my crew not to jinx us as the most incredible athletic event since the UCLA game unfolded before our ears.


In my three years at the 'Prince', that is one of the amazing Princeton sporting events I have not witnessed. I have also missed covering the men's basketball team in 1997-98, men's volleyball in 1998 or men's soccer this fall.

Still, my career as a journalist has carried me beyond where my normal sports fanaticism would have. My assignments have sent me to the absolute ends of the campus athletic spectrum – from the amazing to the pitiful. Here are four highlights of my three years and the qualities they embody, in my own words:

Excellence: men's lacrosse vs. Maryland in the NCAA finals, May 25, 1998. The final game for the 'Big Three' – attackmen Jesse Hubbard '99, Jon Hess '99 and Chris Massey '99 – who invented the idea of an attack line and finished, second, third and fourth, respectively, in career points for the Tigers over the same four-year span.

"[In the second half] just about all of Princeton's big guns started connecting. Senior attackman Jon Hess scored twice and senior attackman Chris Massey and sophomore midfielder Josh Sims added one apiece. In the fourth quarter the Tigers' other big gun, senior attackman Jesse Hubbard, started hitting and exploded for four goals in a 5:34 span to put the game away.

The senior attack trio – Hess, Hubbard and Massey – contributed 15 points (nine goals, six assists) in all, a fitting end to three careers that defined Princeton during its three-year title run.

They leave having rewritten the school record books and raised the Tigers to the status of the preeminent program in the nation."


The Underdog: Men's hockey vs. Michigan in the first round of the NCAA tournament, March 27, 1998. Princeton faces the eventual national champion Wolverines at a 'neutral site' game, at Yost Arena, Michigan's home ice. Michigan was ranked third coming into the game, while the Tigers are only there because they made a Cinderella run through the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament to earn an automatic bid from the nation's weakest major conference.

"It was the best chance the men's hockey team had against Michigan.

Hit the faster, more-skilled Wolverines. Clog the middle on their rushes. Turn the game into a grind. Frustrate Princeton's Central Collegiate Hockey Association foe with its Eastern College Athletic Conference style of hockey. Then, hope for a break at the end.

If the No. 6-seeded Tigers could do all this and keep the game close, then they would have a shot at knocking off the third-seeded Wolverines.

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The Tigers' goal was to slow the Wolverines down, and for the first two periods, Princeton did.

The Tigers (18-11-7) played heavily favored Michigan (32-11-1) even for two periods Friday, going into the third tied, 1-1. And while the break at the end went the other way – Wolverine center Matt Kosick's shot skipped between senior goaltender Erasmo Saltarelli's pads for a fluke goal just 41 seconds into the third – Princeton's physical play kept the vaunted Michigan offense in check."

Excitement: football vs. Cornell, Sept. 19, 1999. The first game at the new Princeton Stadium is also the first game on campus in over 21 months.

"Formerly reserved for Jadwin Gym were the orange 'GO TIGERS' shirts, but this weekend in the new Princeton Stadium the student section looked like a sea of orange – complete with periodic waves . . . The Tigers were able to capture some of the momentum of the new stadium, evident during the pregame festivities when the black-clad, tiger-helmetted team appeared in the tunnel. The surrounding student section interrupted President Shapiro's speech with chants of 'Let's go, Tigers!'

'Today was just fun,' junior defensive end David Ferrara said, 'and that's what I think football should be for everyone. I appreciated [the students interrupting Shapiro] greatly. I think the president was trying to do a great job with it, but I think that the emotion at that moment was very pure, and I think that was the right reaction.' "

How the mighty have fallen: men's basketball at Lafayette, Nov. 18, 1998. In the opening game the year after Princeton reached No. 7 in the polls and the second round of the NCAA tournament, the Tigers look as lost in their own offense as other teams did the season before. The graduation of center Steve Goodrich '98, guard Mitch Henderson '98 and James Mastaglio '98 had taken its toll.

"The offense wasn't fluid. The defense wasn't controlling. And the victory wasn't the men's basketball team's.

All those things were the property of Lafayette.

The Leopards defeated Princeton, 63-47, in Kirby Arena last night in a game that wasn't close after the opening minutes. The Leopards led, 32-19, after the first half, and the lead never reached single digits in the second stanza.

With a freshman-heavy rotation, Princeton did not develop the rhythm Lafayette exhibited all night long. From the opening tip it was obvious that the Tigers were not the same team that had won three straight Ivy League titles.

'It's hard to tell in the preseason what you're going to get,' senior guard Brian Earl said. 'I don't think the kids knew tonight what Lafayette was about. I knew we were in trouble. You have to be tough at both ends.' "

And now I have come to my own end. Thank you for reading, for I have certainly enjoyed writing.