April 28, 2012

For Princeton, What a Difference One Year Makes

by Justin Feil | LaxMagazine.com

Jeff Froccaro scored three goals and filled in admirably on faceoffs for the injured Bobby Lucas (shoulder), winning 10 of 19 in Princeton's 14-9 victory over Cornell.

PRINCETON, N.J. -- One year after one of the toughest days of his life, Princeton men's lacrosse coach Chris Bates enjoyed one of his finest.

Alex Capretta scored a career-high five goals and the Tigers ran away from rival Cornell, 14-9, to win their first outright Ivy League championship since 2001 before 4,133 – their largest crowd of the year at Class of 1952 Stadium. The win snapped Cornell's 10-year Ivy title streak.

"To win it, I'm proud of all that we've done as a staff," said Bates, whose team shared the Ivy title in 2010. "You run the Ivies, you're 6-0, that's job No. 1. That was our first goal of the year and we accomplished it. I'm proud of our team and our staff. We'll take it and enjoy it."

It's in stark contrast to his feelings April 30, 2011, after a 9-7 lost at Cornell. The loss last year ended their injury-plagued season at 4-8, and it got much worse for Bates. He found that that day that his wife Ann was experiencing symptoms that her brain cancer had returned.

"It was the one of the worst days of my life honestly," Bates said. "I'm sure I'll share some emotion later about that."

Ann Bates died exactly seven months later on Nov. 30, 2011, at the age of 43, and small patches on the right shoulder of the Princeton uniforms bear her "AB" initials as a constant reminder of the biggest loss from last year. Chris Bates has forged forward, working as hard as ever to cope with raising their 10-year-old son, Nicholas, and guiding his Princeton team back from last year's disappointing season.

"It's been a good distraction," Bates said. "I owe it to these guys. I have a job to do, and it's been good for me. I'm not looking forward to the season being over frankly."

Princeton can guarantee its season extends if it can stay hot. The Tigers have won eight of their last nine games.  Princeton (10-3) will be the No. 1 seed for the Ivy League tournament and will host fourth-seeded Brown 8 p.m. Friday, after second-seeded Cornell (9-3) and third-seeded Yale square off at 5 p.m.

"This year is special," said Princeton goalie Tyler Fiorito, who made 11 saves. "We've really come together through our senior class and also through Coach Bates. I think we know we have great things ahead of us."

Fiorito is one of the seniors that enjoyed a big game Saturday on Senior Day. Capretta had scored four goals in a win over Rutgers, and he ended the five-overtime marathon with Yale on perhaps his single biggest goal of his career, but he was a difference maker Saturday against Cornell.

"All week, I had a feeling," Bates said. "We shifted some lines and he hasn't gotten as many looks recently. Tucker Shanley was bumped to a different line, so I think that affected him. He created his own plays today.

"His close friend is Roy Lang on the other team, and I think he had something to prove. He did. He came out and played with energy and confidence. He's had a great senior year. He's the guy I'm most happy for. That's big-time stuff."

With regular faceoff man Bobby Lucas out with a shoulder injury, Princeton turned to Jeff Froccaro. The junior was virtually even through three quarters on faceoffs and also provided three goals and an assist.

Forest Sonnenfeldt added a career-high three goals and Mike MacDonald scored twice. Tom Schreiber did not have a goal, but recorded three assists.

"It's been a good distraction," Bates said. "I owe it to these guys. I have a job to do, and it's been good for me. I'm not looking forward to the season being over frankly." Princeton can guarantee its season extends if it can stay hot.

"I thought we were relatively solid facing off," Bates said. "Defensively, we bent at times but we didn't break, and then we were opportunistic. Alex played a great game, having five goals. Froccaro had some big goals. This team seems to rise to the occasion and make plays when we need them. That's the difference."

The Tigers scored the first three goals of the game on their first three shots. All three were from different sources.

"Cornell lost last weekend and we knew they'd come out with fire," Fiorito said. "We had to match that, and I think we did."

Cornell freshman Matt Donovan responded with two of his team-high four goals as the Big Red cut the deficit to 4-3 less than two minutes into the second quarter. He was the lone bright spot as Cornell lost for the second straight week and now faces the proposition of winning the Ivy tournament or not getting an invite to the NCAA tournament. Two of their three leading scorers, Max Van Bourgondien and Steve Mock, combined for just one assist against Princeton.

"Our start was less than ideal, forcing us to come from behind the entire game, which was tough for our guys," said Cornell head coach Ben DeLuca, "But I'm proud of those guys for fighting for 60 minutes. They never stopped battling. It was just too tough to overcome."

The Big Red never got any closer as Princeton's defense collapsed well on the Cornell attack, which was missing 2011 National Player of the Year Rob Pannell for the 10th straight game.

"We were able to keep momentum and not let them get really close and such that we were going to get tight and have to react to that," Bates said.

Princeton scored the next four goals and took an 8-4 lead at halftime. It was 11-7 late in the third quarter when Cornell's Mock hit the post. Twenty seconds later, Princeton opened a 12-7 lead to take momentum into the fourth quarter. It stayed that way with Fiorito making one of the finest saves of the college season as he returned from playing defense behind his goal with a leaping stick save with five minutes left to ice the game.

"We've been trying to build momentum as the season goes on," Fiorito said. "Hopefully we're peaking at the right time."

The Tigers still feel they may need a pair of wins in the Ivy tournament to guarantee a berth in the NCAAs.

"We have one game promised to us," Bates said. "We don't feel by any stretch that we're in the NCAA tournament. We're 10-3, we have a great strength of schedule, but at the end of the day, some things have to fall our way if we don't win the Ivy League tournament. We control our destiny."

And as Chris Bates has done personally and professionally, the Princeton team will carry on, content that they have secured one big goal but knowing there are more challenges ahead.

"Right now, you put one foot in front of the other," Bates said. "It's guys like these seniors who I'm so proud of that makes it easy. We're all competitive. This is our rival. It's a good win. It's a good Ivy League championship for this team. We'll take that and put it in the bank and I'll enjoy it tonight, don't worry."

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