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Princeton Heads Into 2014 Season With Cautious Optimism

By: Princeton Athletic Communications
          Release: 02/14/2014
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Clockwise from top left: Jake Froccaro, Kip Orban, Nick Fernandez, Ryan Ambler, Mike MacDonald, Derick Raabe, Eric Sanschagrin, Mark Strabo, Jack Strabo, Tom Schreiber
Courtesy: Princeton Athletic Communications

The average number of goals scored in a Princeton men’s lacrosse game in Chris Bates’ first three years as head coach was 17.26. The average number scored last year, in his fourth season, was 22.14.

Maybe it was the new rules that made for a quicker pace in 2013. Maybe it was a rebuilt defense. Maybe it was Princeton’s best offense in 15 years. Maybe it was all three.

When all was said and done, it added up to a good season for the Tigers. This year, with few graduation losses, a loaded offense, a newly-experienced defense, the return of two key injured offensive players who missed 2013 and a freshman class that will make an immediate impact, the goal for Princeton is, well, more goals on end of the field, fewer on the other and a jump from good to great.

Princeton averaged 12.1 goals per game a year ago, its highest total since the 1998 team averaged 14.7. On the flip side, Princeton gave up a shade over 10. Added together, and it meant a 9-6 season and berth in the Ivy League tournament final.

As with every year, the goals are to win the Ivy League and go deep into the NCAA tournament. A position-by-position look at the team that will try to make that reality:

Will Rotatori

Attack

Starters returning – Ryan Ambler (11-17-28), Mike MacDonald (43-16-59)

Starters lost – Jeff Froccaro (32-14-46)

Other returning letterwinners – Brendan DeTommaso (1-0-1), Steffen Gratch, Owen Knights, Will Rotatori (2-3-5)

Other letterwinners lost – Luke Armour (6-1-7)

Newcomers – Bear Altemus, Sean Connors, Gavin McBride

Princeton graduated Jeff Froccaro, who finished his career 16th all-time in goals scored at Princeton with 86. Among the top six on offense, he was the only one who graduated. Mike MacDonald had a breakout sophomore year in 2013, when he put up 43 goals and 16 assists for 59 points to earn first-team All-Ivy League honors. The lefty from Canada is one of the best finishers in Division I lacrosse, and only Jesse Hubbard and Chris Massey – the top two goal scorers in program history – have scored more goals by the end of their sophomore years than MacDonald’s 65. His 43 last year were the sixth-highest single-season total in program history, and they included monster games at North Carolina (five goals) and against Cornell in the Ivy semifinal win (seven goals, two assists, including on the game-winner in overtime). Ryan Ambler had 11 goals and 17 assists in his first year; he is bigger, stronger and more experienced heading into his sophomore year. One of the keys for the Tigers is identifying the third starter on attack. Junior Will Rotatori has played attack and middie and had a really good fall, though the competition for that spot is strong. Junior Brendan DeTommaso and freshman Sean Connors should get minutes, and it’s possible that Forest Sonnenfeldt, who has played attack in the past, could return there in his senior season.

Tucker Shanley

Offensive Midfield

Starters returning – Jake Froccaro (24-10-34), Kip Orban (27-7-34), Tom Schreiber (28-32-60)

Starters lost – none

Other returning letterwinners – Freddy Addy, Will Himler (1-1-2), Andrew McCall, Brendan McGrath (0-1-1), Tucker Shanley (20-8-28 in 2012; missed almost all of 2013), Forest Sonnenfeldt (17-6-3 in 2012; missed all of 2013), Bobby Weaver (0-1-1), Paul Zima

Other letterwinners lost – none

Newcomers – Matt Brophy, Zach Currier  

Inside Lacrosse ranks Princeton’s midfield unit as the best in Division I, and it’s easy to understand why. Princeton has never had its top midfield unit return intact after putting up the numbers that this one did a year ago, when Tom Schreiber, Kip Orban and Jake Froccaro combined for 79 goals and 49 assists. It all starts with Schreiber, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2014 Major League Lacrosse draft and a two-time first-team All-America. He enters his senior year with 149 career points, the most ever by a Princeton middie, and he has a chance to become the second four-time first-team All-Ivy League player in program history and the first Princeton player to reach at least 90 goals and 90 assists in a career. Schreiber, a captain for the seond straight year and Tewaaraton Trophy finalist a year ago, can score with either hand and has great field vision; his 120 points the last two seasons are split evenly with 60 goals and 60 assists. Orban had a monster sophomore year last year, with 27 goals, making him one of three Princeton middies in the last 25 years to reach that number as a sophomore. The other two were Schreiber and Josh Sims, who between them have five first-team All-America honors. Orban settled for second-team All-Ivy honors after his big year, which included at least one point in every game and the game-winning goal against Cornell in overtime in the Ivy League semifinal. Froccaro was the Ivy League Rookie of the Year last year after his 24 goals and 10 assists made him the second Princeton freshman along with Peter Trombino to have at least 20 goals and 10 assists, and since Trombino was an attackman, Froccaro is the only Princeton middie ever to do so. Princeton this year should have a greatly improved second midfield unit, with the return of Forest Sonnenfeldt and Tucker Shanley, two veteran goal scorers who missed all of 2013 with injuries. Freshman Zach Currier is highly regarded, senior Will Himler has had some strong moments in his career and junior Brendan McGrath played on the second unit most of last season.

Hunter deButts

Shortstick Defensive Midfield

Starters returning – Jack Strabo (0-1-1, 5 CT, 14 GB)

Starters lost – Chris White (3-1-4, 3 CT, 25 GB)

Other returning letterwinners – Austin deButts, Hunter deButts (3-2-5, 6 CT, 12 GB)

Other letterwinners lost – Bobby Lucas (0-2-2, 1 CT, 26 GB)

Newcomers – Adam Hardej

Princeton’s shortsticks are one of the biggest strengths of this team, made even stronger by the return of Nick Fernandez, an MLL draftee, who started all 15 games on close defense last year. Fernandez will reunite with tri-captain Jack Strabo as the top pair of SSDMs, as they were in 2012, when they were among the best duos in the country. Strabo will be in his fourth year as a starter at the position, and he has been a steadying force throughout his career. He is fast, a good one-on-one defender and excellent in transition. Fernandez is athletic enough to have moved to defense last year and to be drafted by the professional league. The deButts brothers – senior Hunter and sophomore Austin – are also very experienced at the position; Austin can also play offensive middie and even attack. An intriguing prospect is 6-6 freshman Adam Hardej, who had a great fall.

Brandon Bonvino

Longstick Midfield

Starter returning – Alex Beatty (9 CT, 6 GB; could move to close defense)

Starter lost – none

Other returning letterwinners – Brandon Bonvino (6 CT, 4 GB)

Other letterswinners lost – Tom Gibbons (1 CT, 2 GB)

Newcomer – Sam Gravitte

Longstick midfield is another position that will see a key player return after starting on defense last year. Derick Raabe, whose 73 ground balls a year ago were the most by a Princeton player since 1997, started all 15 games on defense last year. Raabe, the third tri-captain, will be back at his more natural spot as the LSM this year, and he will continue to be one of the best longsticks on the wing on face-offs that Princeton has had. Alex Beatty was the top pole last year, but he is moving to close defense. Brandon Bonvino was the No. 2 LSM last year, and he is being pushed hard for that spot by freshman Sam Gravitte.

 Alex Beatty

Defense

Returning starters – Nick Fernandez (8 CT, 12 GB; could move to shortstick defensive midfield)(, Derick Raabe (10 CT, 73 GB; could move to longstick midfield), Mark Strabo (7 CT, 27 GB)

Starters lost – none

Other returning letterwinners – Luke Brugger, Rob Posniewski, Brian Reilly

Other letterwinners lost – none

Newcomers – Alistair Berven, Bear Goldstein, Will Reynolds

Princeton had three players start all 15 games on close defense a year ago, and all three players are back. This time, only one of them figures to be a defensive starter. Sophomore Mark Strabo started all 15 games as a freshman and got better and better as the year went along. He is back in the same spot this year. As for the other two starters from last year, they will be returning to their positions from two years ago, as Derick Raabe moves back to longstick midfield and Nick Fernandez moves back to shortstick defensive midfield. So who will start along with Strabo? One spot seems to belong for now and the foreseeable future to freshman Will Reynolds, who figures to become the third player to go from New Jersey’s Delbarton School to start on defense as a freshman for Princeton. The other two, Dan Cocoziello and Chad Wiedmaier, went on to become first-team All-Americas as seniors. Whether Reynolds can match that or not isn’t the point. Right now his presence enables Raabe and Fernandez to move back to their natural spots, but it also puts another newcomer on defense. The third spot could go to yet another freshman, Bear Goldstein, though converted longstick midfielder Alex Beatty is the favorite to start with Strabo and Reynolds.

Justin Murphy

Face-off

Starter returning – Justin Murphy (111x218, 34 GB)

Starter lost – Bobby Lucas (18x42)

Other returning letterwinners – Jake Froccaro (21x59)

Other letterwinners lost – Jeff Froccaro (28x55)

Newcomers – Jack O’Brien

Justin Murphy took 218 of Princeton’s 380 face-offs and won 51% of them. Jake Froccaro, a first-line midfielder, took 59 face-offs, but it’s preferable that he not have to take any this time around. Freshman Jack O’Brien will also face-off for the Tigers.

Matt O'Connor

Goalie

Starters returning – Matt O’Connor (11 starts, 9.38 GAA, .517 save %), Eric Sanschagrin (4 starts, 11.86 GAA, .478 save %)

Starters lost – none

Other returning letterwinners – Brian Kavanagh (8.50 GAA, .500 save %)

Other letterwinners lost – none

Newcomers - none

Princeton will have the same three goalies as a year ago, when Matt O’Connor started the first 11 games and Eric Sanschagrin started the last five. Add in senior Brian Kavanagh, who has had a strong preseason, and the job is pretty much up for grabs, or may be divided among the three in some way. Princeton will need to improve on last year’s numbers of 10.04 goals-against per game and a collective .505 save percentage.

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