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Princeton seeking a rare stick-back Tigers may buck trend, repeat as champions


The dynasties. The repeats. The perfect seasons.

That was lacrosse in the 1980s for Johns Hopkins, North Carolina and Syracuse. In the 1990s, however, repeat champions have become extinct and perfect seasons have vanished.

Gone perhaps until this season. It seems Princeton, which won NCAA titles in 1992, 1994 and 1996, has set its sights on becoming the first back-to-back champion this decade and making a strong statement as the program of the '90s.

Yes, Princeton, the school that lost 64 percent of its games from 1970 to 1989. The school that can't offer athletic scholarships.

If it pulls it off, Princeton would be the first Ivy League team to win consecutive national titles since Cornell in 1976-1977.

"It seems like we have taken it in steps and you always look for goals," said coach Bill Tierney, whose Princeton team was predicted by 31 of 47 coaches polled to win the 1997 title. "This year, it might be to repeat. It might be to go undefeated. It allows kids to shoot for something. I would love our program to be put in the same books as those Syracuse, Hopkins and Carolina teams of the '80s."

During the 1980s, only Johns Hopkins, Syracuse and North Carolina won titles.

There were three repeat champions that decade, as the Tar Heels claimed it in 1981 and 1982, the Blue Jays won it in 1984 and 1985 and the Orangemen took the trophy from 1988 to 1990. The '80s also featured four teams that completed undefeated seasons, compared with two in the '90s, the last being North Carolina in 1991.

"It used to be that if you wanted to win a national title, you had to go to Hopkins or Syracuse," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. "Now, nobody has a lock like it used to be. Nobody has a corner on the market, as they did in the '70s or '80s."

The perfect season has become equally elusive. Take Johns Hopkins, the last team to finish the regular season undefeated. Those 1995 Blue Jays stumbled in the national semifinals, losing to Maryland to end their season with a 12-1 record.

"You have to prepare every Saturday for a team equally as talented as you," said Hopkins coach Tony Seaman. "An undefeated regular season is unbelievable. Then the playoffs are a new season and you usually have to play a team that you have beaten. That makes it real tough."

Tough especially when Princeton opens its season with games against No. 5 Johns Hopkins, No. 2 Virginia and No. 7 North Carolina.

It seems amazing that the Tigers can compete with these teams annually despite the disadvantage of not offering athletic scholarships. Tierney has had to narrow his recruiting choices to Baltimore private schools and New York high schools in the higher socioeconomic areas.

"The difference in recruiting is putting an effort and never easing up," Tierney said. "Parents want their kids to get a good education and play good lacrosse. We tell them how 100 percent of our kids have graduated over the past four years and how we play such a great schedule."

Other coaches don't see Princeton in an unfavorable position.

"They have an outstanding coach and support from the administration," said UMBC coach Don Zimmerman, who won titles as coach at Hopkins in 1984, 1985 and 1987. "And let's face it, it's not hard to attract a kid to Princeton. It's a good product."

And a winning one, too.

The Tigers have a core of players back from last year's championship team that went 14-1 and start this season with a 13-game winning streak.

The complete All-America attack unit -- Jesse Hubbard, Jon Hess and Chris Massey -- returns. More than half the Tigers midfielders are back, along with freshmen Josh Sims (Severn) and Chris Berrier (St. Paul's), the two top recruits out of Maryland.

And don't forget about three veteran defensemen and Pat Cairns (Boys' Latin), who has started in goal during the past two seasons.

The main hindrance to a perfect season and another national championship could be overconfidence. Except Tierney is trying make sure repeatedly that that doesn't happen.

"I tell them how much the other teams like Virginia, Loyola and Hopkins have improved," he said. "It's going to make it a challenge. And we didn't dominate last year. We won the title [over Virginia] by one goal in overtime. I don't think well, I know that we can be beat."

Pub Date: 2/21/97

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