Princeton can't wait to put 2011 in the rearview mirror and kick off 2012 against Hofstra on Saturday at Class of 1952 Stadium. The Tigers were 4-8 a year ago, just the second losing season in the last 21 years for the school, thanks in a large part to a ridiculous rash of injuries.
"It was, in a word, surreal" says Head Coach Chris Bates. "It wasn't just our main players but day after day, one guy after another."
Bates feels last year made his players humble and hungry, especially a senior class that has one last chance to lead the program back to Championship Weekend and a seventh National Championship.
"It's a strong, hard-nosed group that sets the tone", says Bates, who is entering his third season at Princeton. The unquestioned leader is defenseman John Cunningham, a two-time captain out of Fairfield Prep, but he is not alone. Fellow defenseman Chad Wiedmaier has an opportunity to become the first Tiger to be First-team All-Ivy for four years and many regard goalie Tyler Fiorito as the best ball stopper in the country.
For all the talent and experience in the senior class, the straw that stirs the drink could be sophomore Tommy Schreiber. The midfielder arrived on Nassau Street with a lofty reputation out of St. Anthony's on Long Island and Bates says Schreiber "was as advertised," leading the Tigers in goals and assists on his way to Ivy League rookie of the year. Bates compares Schreiber to Kobe Bryant in the sense that the bulls-eye is on him but he can't try to do it all by himself. Schreiber's main wingmen will be Tucker Shanley and Jeff Froccaro.
While Bates has a good idea what to expect from his veteran club, Hofstra's Seth Tierney does not. The Pride has made a school record four straight NCAA tournament appearances but must replace leaders Jay Card (182 career points) and Steve DeNapoli. Tierney will hope to get major production from a midfield trio of Steve Serling, Ian Braddish and Mike DeNapoli. Serling was granted a sixth year of eligibility after a spleen injury forced him to miss almost of all last season and Tierney is expecting him to become a take charge kind of guy. "He has the potential to be very good, he is cerebral and fundamentally sound and sometimes has that magic touch."
Hofstra opened up with an 11-9 win over Sacred Heart but Tierney is still more concerned about his own club than facing the Tigers. "Last year, there was a high comfort level with the team. I am not totally comfortable yet this year. We need to gain trust in each other and make sure it's consistent. Now the journey begins. We have good players and we know what they can do, they just haven't done it yet."