For a couple of centuries now, there have been compelling reasons to attend Princeton, the leafiest of the eight Ivy League universities. People have gone there to learn Eastern mores (F. Scott Fitzgerald), to study political science (Woodrow Wilson), to play basketball (Bill Bradley). Over the past half decade or so, there has been another incentive: to play for the best college lacrosse team.
On Monday the Tigers successfully defended their national lacrosse title. Their victim was Maryland, which was overwhelmed 19-7 on its bumpy home grass. No championship game has ever been decided by a wider margin. It certainly could have been wider, except that Princeton coach Bill Tierney isn't inclined to kick an opponent when it's down. Tierney prohibits the Tigers from scoring more than 19 goals, unless it's absolutely necessary.
So when Jesse Hubbard, Princeton's All-America attacker, scored the Tigers' 19th goal, and his fourth, with 4:28 left, Tierney started yelling from the sideline, "No shots!" There weren't. Princeton, which finished the season 15-0 and boasts a 28-game winning streak, is a highly disciplined team.
A formidable one as well. Under Tierney, the Tigers have now won the national crown three of the last tour years and four times since 1991. There were seniors on this season's team, such as agile goalkeeper Patrick Cairns, who will leave Princeton with a degree in political science and three championship rings. Cairns, who went to high school at one of the hotbeds of lacrosse in Maryland, Boys' Latin in Baltimore, was mobbed by family, friends and teammates after the game. I le had finished his Tigers career with a 37-3 record. "I'm the happiest man in the world," he said.
There was competition for that title. Tierney, for starters. He has been at Princeton for a decade, and already he is being mentioned in the same breath as Pete Carril, the Tigers' legendary former basketball coach. In appearance he couldn't be more different from Carril. Tierney, 45, has a perfect shave, combed hair, pressed pants and a steely glare. But he has borrowed from the Carril playbook. During a game he yells things like "Spread out!" and "Pass!" and "Take your shot!" He doesn't race the Tigers up and down the field; he knows that useful speed comes in bursts. He encourages his players to seize the moment, regardless of who they are. Craig Katz, a senior midfielder, went into Monday's game with only 16 goals this season. Against Maryland he had three in the first half. "You've got the shot, you may never have it again in your life; you don't think twice, you take it," Katz said after the game.
Tierney's happiness, however, comes not just from winning. It comes from knowing he has done something about as well as it can be done. "If we can play any better than that," he said afterward, I can't wait for that day." As he says this, everyone who knows him knows he is already looking forward to next year, when his oldest son, Trevor, will play for Princeton and when the offensive core of this year's team will still be around.
That core comprises three juniors: Hubbard and fellow attackmen Jon Hess and Chris Massey. In the final Hubbard had three assists to go with his four goals, and Massey had three goals. But the dominant player was Hess, who had three goals and five assists.
"I think today was the ultimate product of our system," said Hess, who was named the game's Most Outstanding Player. Hess, of Upper Nyack, N.Y., is only 5'10" and 165, but he has the neck of a linebacker. "Once we had the ball moving," he said, "it was hard for their defense to stop us."
It seemed that Maryland, which was unseeded in the 12-team tournament, was worn out from its surprising 18-17 semifinal victory on Saturday against Syracuse, the tournament's No. 3 seed, before a crowd of 30,580, the largest ever to see a lacrosse game.
Telecast on ESPN, the final began at 11 a.m., and for the first half of the first quarter, the game seemed more like soccer than lacrosse. The Tigers were dominating, running the field with abandon, picking up loose balls, making uncontested passes. They were doing everything but scoring. Not that they were losing. Eight minutes came and went without a goal, which is not the way it usually goes in lacrosse.