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Bobby Hickson and the Princeton defense will face a high-powered Michigan offense Thursday

By Jacquelyn Davila

Men’s soccer (10–5–2 overall, 5–1–1 Ivy) will begin its NCAA tournament run with a first-round matchup against the University of Michigan (12–5–2) Thursday night. This marks the Tigers’ first appearance in the tournament since 2010 and their tenth time overall. The game is set for 7 p.m. at the U-M Soccer Stadium, and live broadcast will be provided online by the Big Ten Network. If they win, Princeton will face No. 7 Notre Dame (10–6–2) Sunday at 5 p.m.

The team earned the NCAA tournament bid by winning the 2018 Ivy League title. Princeton topped the Ivy League with an impressive 16 points, closely followed by second and third-place finishers Columbia and Dartmouth with 15 and 14 points, respectively. The team’s only loss came in its match with Yale last Saturday. Even before the match, Princeton had clinched the Ivy League championship, since Columbia, its closest competitor, had fallen earlier in the day to Cornell 2–1 in overtime. Princeton’s dominance in the league is reflected in its game stats: the Tigers led the Ivy League in shots and also conceded the fewest number of goals — 11 — in the season.

“I’m so proud of this team,” says men’s soccer head coach Jim Barlow ’91. “The goal every year is to win the Ivy League championship and get to continue playing at this time of year, and we’re really excited for the opportunity to go out there and compete.”

There is no doubt that the team is resilient. The non-conference season began with a difficult 1–3–0 record, but Princeton was able to bounce back. Barlow comments that after overcoming the strenuous start and numerous injuries, the “best reward is getting to extend the season.”

One key player in Princeton’s lineup is sophomore midfielder Kevin O’Toole. Ivy League head coaches voted him the Offensive Player of the Year for his four season goals and three assists. Along with senior forward Sean McSherry and sophomore defender Richard Wolf, O’Toole was selected as an All-Ivy First Team honoree. Princeton’s offense has four players who have all scored four or more goals in the season. O’Toole, McSherry, senior forward Jeremy Colvin, and sophomore forward Gaby Paniagua comprise this star-studded offense.

NCAA opponent Michigan also has a notably dangerous offense, with an average of 1.84 goals per game, the second highest in the Big Ten. Conversely, Princeton’s defense is at an impressive 0.617 goals against average, the ninth best in the nation. Michigan is coming off of a strong run for the Big Ten Tournament championship two weeks ago; they finished third in the Big Ten regular season. The clash between Michigan’s offensive spark and Princeton’s staunch defense will be interesting.

Overall, the NCAA tournament is densely packed with powerful college teams. The 48-team field is comprised of 24 conference champions and 24 selected teams. Among them are three-time defending champion Stanford (11–2–4), No. 1 Wake Forest (17–2–0), and No. 2 Indiana (17–2–1).

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