When asked about the importance of tomorrow’s men’s lacrosse game against defending Ivy League champion Princeton, head coach Mike Waldvogel wasted no words in his response.
“If anyone needs to be fired up for this game, they shouldn’t be playing,” Waldvogel said.
So it goes for the No. 16 Bulldogs (3-1, 1-1 Ivy) who, following a frustrating 8-4 loss to No. 13 Cornell March 23 will try to keep their Ivy League title hopes alive and thwart No. 8 Princeton’s (2-3) attempts to build on a 37-game winning streak in Ancient Eight play.
Although the Bulldogs have not notched a win against the Tigers in over five years, including a 13-4 loss last year, the Elis expect that their hard work in the off-season will present a greater challenge for their Tiger counterparts when they travel to Princeton tomorrow.
“This game is huge not only to stay in contention for the title but to stay on track for the playoffs,” captain Tucker Foote ’02 said.
But hard work is no guarantee against misfortune, as the Elis found earlier this year. All-American attackman Brian Hunt ’02 sustained a season-ending injury when he fractured his ankle in the preseason. In addition to facing the Tigers without Hunt, attackman Marko Lujic ’02 — who is third in scoring with 10 points — will play Saturday with a broken hand he suffered two weeks ago against the University of Pennsylvania.
Despite the loss of Hunt and the injury to Lujic, Waldvogel believes that the Bulldogs’ greatest obstacle to success is developing a consistent style of offensive play. Last weekend, the Bulldog offense notched only 13 shots against Cornell while the team committed 31 turnovers, a disparity that Waldvogel believes cannot repeat itself against Princeton.
“Against Cornell, we didn’t play as a unit,” Waldvogel said. “We have to get back to a six-man offense. If we play as individuals, that’s going to kill us.”
Attackmen Scott Kenworthy ’04 and Mike Scaglione ’03 will lead a six-man offense that has exceeded expectations in its ability to fill the scoring gap left by the loss of Hunt, who led the team last year with 58 points. Kenworthy has already exceeded last year’s eight-point season with 16 points in four games. Scaglione is well on his way to besting his 30-point performance last year with 20 points so far this season.
If the Bulldogs have to choose a group of people to focus on Saturday, they are attackmen B.J. Prager, Ryan Boyle and Sean Hartofilis. The trio has combined for 35 of the team’s 76 points. But in a year where seven Princeton players have more than five points, Waldvogel believes the Bulldogs will have their toughest time countering the Tigers’ offensive depth.
“The matchups are tough because they can put six guys up front who can go to the cage,” Waldvogel said. “To stay with them, we have to run at full speed.”
If the Tigers manage to get past the Eli defense, they will have to contend with goaltender Eric Wenzel ’03. Last year, Wenzel held the Tigers without a goal in the first period and only gave up four goals in the half. At the other end of the field, netminder Julian Gould will man the pipes for the Tigers.
Although the Bulldogs have plenty to worry about this weekend, Princeton might have even more pressure weighing on their shoulders. Since starting at the top of the national preseason rankings, Princeton has fallen to eighth after close losses to No. 1 Syracuse, No. 2 Virginia and No. 3 Johns Hopkins. In addition to the pressure to right their record, the Tigers are two Ivy League wins short of tying the all-time record of 39 consecutive wins in the Ancient Eight. Cornell set the mark from 1972-1979.
“I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t something that is on our minds, but if we were 4-1, I’d be thinking about it more,” Princeton head coach Bill Tierney said of the Cornell record.
Right now, the Tigers have other things to worry about besides making history.
“With Yale, they always come ready to play,” Tierney said. “They’re very unpredictable and that’s a little scary. You never know who is going to have the big day.”
With a win against Princeton, the Bulldogs would gain the momentum they need to carry them through the second half of their spring season.
“We need this win to get back on track,” defenseman Brad Liff ’03 said. “Nobody thinks we can beat them, but we’d love to shock everybody.”