October 13, 2013

Familiar Foes Hit Princeton Fall Event

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com

PRINCETON, N.J. --- They celebrated freshmen family weekend across Princeton's campus on Saturday, but at the recently-renovated Class of 1952 Stadium it was clearly homecoming.

Lafayette, Villanova, Fairfield and UConn were in town for the five-team Princeton Lacrosse Fall Connection. With this group, connection isn't just a marketing buzz word.

Villanova head coach Julie Young was a three-time All-American at Princeton. Lafayette coach Alison Fisher spent four years as a Tigers' assistant. Fairfield assistant Laura Field was the goalie for Princeton in the 2000 national championship game. Only UConn coach Katie Woods lacked a direct link to the home team.

"UConn, we're all just all friends with," said Princeton coach Chris Sailer. "That's not as direct of a connection."

But still, there were reminders everywhere of the fruits Sailer's coaching tree has produced.

"When I came into the women's game I was told I could be a Tiger or a Terp," said Fairfield coach Mike Waldvogel, who didn't play for Princeton but did coach the men at Yale. "I've got Laura, so I'm a Tiger."

And being a Tiger means returning to Central Jersey for fall ball, which Princeton hosts every year.

"It is really cool," Sailer said. "I love when Princeton kids get involved in coaching. It's just great for them to come home to place where they've coached or played. You feel good that they loved their experience enough that they wanted to stay in the sport."

As for the current Tigers, the fall isn't really about wins or losses. Saturday's tournament featured a single 30-minute running and the scoreboards never read anything other than 0-0.

Princeton is coming off a 10-7 season that ended with an overtime loss to Duke in the NCAA tournament. But the fall is more for the players who weren't there last year.

"You just try to see how kids play against different competition," Sailer said. "How they adjust. Are they able to incorporate the things they've been working on in practice and apply it to a game situation? How do they handle a game situation? Hopefully when they take the field in the spring it doesn't feel like a new thing for them to be in a game."

The Tigers' seven freshmen surely have bright futures ahead of them – they attend Princeton after all – and there's a good bet some will someday roam the sidelines in some capacity as coaches. Sailer said that takes a certain kind.

"It's not just about the game," Sailer said. "You have to be committed to young people and their development not just as athletes, but as people. It's a much bigger role than just the X's and the O's. So it's great to see when your players want to be mentors for women."

And that could mean coaching against your old mentor. In the fall, the results don't really matter, so it's fun for everyone. It's a different story come spring.

In 2002 Princeton defeated Georgetown, 12-7, in the NCAA championship game. On the sideline for GU was Kim Simons, who, of course, played under Sailer at Princeton.

"That was a little rough," Sailer said. "But you know, either way, we were going to win and win or Kim was going to win and get that experience for herself."

Female Fogos?

The new crease and stick check rules were in effect at Princeton, but so was an experimental rule, which keeps players behind the restraining line until possession was controlled following a draw.

Is this the beginning of a new era where women's lacrosse teams go out and specialists to faceoff and get off?

"We may have to start doing that," Sailer said. "Luckily we have some good kids on the draw right now... It's definitely different. I think the team is pretty mixed on it. They like to be able to come in off the line."

The rule is just in the experimental phase and would not be implemented for two years, if ever. The other rules are here to stay.

It's the fall, so there was no way to tell whether the rule allowing defenders to enter the crease succeeded in cutting down on stalling, but some side effects were evident.

"You can't play power attack anymore," Waldvogel said. "It's being shut off. You saw that today. Before you could just hold the ball at X and move it all day. It was really hard to double team. It's much more physical."

The rule changes are just another reason why fall ball becoming an increasingly necessary part of the year.

"No one has played it," Waldvogel said. "It's not something they've played in high school. It's a whole new thing. It's going to be interesting."

Fairfield Takes the Field

Aside from testing the new rules, Waldvogel said the goal at Fairfield this fall is to to get different players on the field and get the freshmen accustomed to the tempo of the college game.

The Stags rotated plenty of players, trying different looks, but typically made sure to have have one first unit on the field to provide some semblance of stability.

Fairfield finished 10-8 last season and fell to Marist in overtime of the MAAC semifinals. Waldvogel, the winningest men's coach in Yale history and a lacrosse Hall of Famer, is now in his sixth year at the helm of Fairfield's women.

"I think it's great," Waldvogel said. "I like the game better than the men's actually. Men are more predicable with their alley dodges and the stuff they're doing. Whereas I think the women are still generating their game. I'm still learning it all to be honest."

He said the big key for the game will be professionalizing the officials and getting rules consistently called across the board, something he pushed for when he was on the men's rules committee.

"That was one of the big emphases we had," Woldvogel said. "We had to professionalize the sport. The guys are much better now. They're much more consistent, much more like basketball officials. The women haven't gotten that sense yet. It's too subjective. You go down to another region and they're calling the game differently."

Fall of the Two-sport Athlete

Many of Saturday's coaches shared another common bond. When they were in college, the fall wasn't just about lacrosse.

Villanova's Young made eight all-Ivy League teams between lacrosse and soccer. At Drew, UConn's Woods starred on the soccer pitch and the lacrosse field. Sailer switched her stick to field hockey in the fall at Harvard. Fisher did the same at Lafayette.

"There are pros and cons to both," Fisher said. "It's obviously nice to have your team for the full year. You're able work with the full group and you're not missing anyone. But I do think two-sport athletes bring something to the table. They're always on. There's no offseason for them."

On the other hand: "Without question their lacrosse skill and their game knowledge is more advanced," Fisher said, of those who play lacrosse year-round.

Lafayette, which went 9-9 last season, has nine freshman and just five seniors. That's another reason why it's important for the Leopards to have everyone on the field this fall.

"We look to get everyone a lot of experience," Fisher said. "Just kind of set the precedent for how we want to play. You want to evolve that culture first. It's a lot of trial and error in the fall."

But that doesn't mean Fisher would turn away someone who wanted to follow in her two-sport footsteps.

"There are people who in this day and age say it's obsolete," Fisher said. "But I think in the right environment it can still work and they can still bring a benefit to your program. We haven't had one in the recent past, but it's not something we'd be averse to."

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