When Princeton opened the season with a 10-7 victory over Hofstra last Saturday, a few familiar names dotted the box score. Senior attackman Jeff Froccaro and junior midfielder Tom Schreiber each recorded two goals and one assist, sophomore attackman Mike MacDonald scored three goals against the Pride for the second straight year, and senior Bobby Lucas won six of eight faceoffs.
There were also some fresh(man) faces. Attackman Ryan Ambler posted four points on one goal and three assists, goalkeeper Matt O’Connor made six saves, and midfielder Jake Froccaro and defenseman Mark Strabo also started.
The foursome of first-year players has earned an unusual moniker from coach Chris Bates.
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“We call them ‘The Puppies,’” Bates said with a laugh. “‘The Puppies’ played a decent amount and got some good experience. Matt O’Connor started in goal for us. Mark Strabo started at close defense. Jake Froccaro is a starting middie, and Ryan Ambler is a starting attackman. To a man, they acquitted themselves well. With how much lacrosse these guys play growing up, they’re used to some big-game environments, and they all come from pretty good programs and play high-level club stuff. So I think their transition has been pretty seamless. But until you see it when the lights go on and it’s their first college game, you just never know. They did a good job.”
The Tigers, who moved up from No. 19 to No. 14 in The Sun’s rankings and will tangle with No. 5 Johns Hopkins on Friday night, have a number of players with veteran experience that could have started. But this is a case where skills simply outweighed seniority.
“These kids can play,” Bates said. “It’s been eminently clear in practice – watching Ryan and Jake play – that they’re two of our top six guys not only in terms of talent but in terms of their IQ and ability to show the ball and work within a team’s offensive system. So we’re going to grow with those guys. There’s going to be a bit of a learning curve and it’s going to be a bit of a roller coaster, but that’s OK. I think these guys are well prepared and on a day-to-day basis, we try to help them understand what’s coming next and put them in difficult situations so that it’s not happening for the first time on game day.”
The one area where Princeton has dealt with the most upheaval is on defense, which graduated defensemen Chad Wiedmaier and Jonathan Meyers, goalie Tyler Fiorito and long-stick midfielder John Cunningham and then lost junior defenseman Rob Castelo for the season to a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in the preseason.
In addition to O’Connor and Strabo, the defense started a converted long-stick midfielder in junior Derick Raabe and a converted short-stick defensive midfielder in junior Nick Fernandez. But Bates said that group – which includes a pair of experienced short-stick defensive midfielders in senior Chris White and junior Jack Strabo – is bonding.
“These guys are learning and growing, and it’s a defense that will grow up together,” Bates said. “It’s going to take some time and there are going to be mistakes, but Greg Raymond, our defensive coordinator, does a really good job, and I think that’s going to continue to evolve to be a solid unit.”