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Team concept takes precedence


Forget the glamour.

Forget the headlines.

Check all egos at the door.

This is Princeton lacrosse, where the only stat that matters is winning.

"Years from now, no one will really care how many goals you scored in a season," said Princeton's senior captain, Chris Berrier. "All they will remember is if you won the national championship."

Berrier and junior defenseman Ryan Mollett own three championship rings between them, and the Baltimore-area youngsters will be out to add to the collection this weekend at Byrd Stadium in College Park.

The third-seeded Tigers (11-2) will begin their quest for a sixth national title in the past nine years tomorrow at 3 p.m. in the NCAA final four semifinals against second-seeded and defending champion Virginia (13-1).

Berrier and Mollett are perfect examples of how two celebrated three-sport high school athletes could put aside all their press clippings and do whatever Tigers coach Bill Tierney has asked them to help the team succeed.

Berrier was renowned for his football, lacrosse and basketball exploits at St. Paul's, and Mollett rolled up the accolades in those same three sports at Boys' Latin.

Once they arrived at Princeton, Berrier and Mollett had to adapt at first to being something of role players in a well-drilled Tigers machine that has made a rather surprising run this season .

Berrier, a versatile midfielder, has never escaped his utility status as his career nears an end. But Mollett has found his niche this season at close defense and has played well enough to be touted as an All-America candidate.

Mollett has gone from an offensive midfielder to a long-stick middie to defense.

"I'm sure Ryan never thought he'd be an All-America defenseman," Tierney said. "He's going to get his accolades on defense. I'm sure he still thinks he belongs on the first midfield but those behind-the-back passes he was throwing as a freshman were driving me crazy."

Berrier's journey around the Princeton midfield has taken him from offensive midfield as a freshman to the team's No.1 faceoff man as a sophomore to defensive middie as a junior and senior and now to long stick.

It is rare that a senior team captain would be asked just three weeks before his career ends to make a tough adjustment from short-stick defensive midfield to long-stick middie.

"My friends said, 'Don't you think it's kind of late in your career to be making a move like that,' " said Berrier, who played his first game as a long-stick middie in the team's final regular-season game against Hobart on May 6.

"It is kind of a strange move. I had a week and a half to learn the position. Coach Tierney figured I was the best one to make the move because of my experience. Oh, well, it's every offensive man's dream to fool around with a long stick. I just happen to be doing it in the final four."

The Berrier move to long stick was prompted when freshman long stick Brian Lieberman suffered a separated shoulder April 22 against Cornell and could not make it back into the lineup.

"Chris Berrier is a special young man. He's done everything I've asked him for four years," Tierney said. "He is what this team is all about. When he was moved from the No.1 faceoff position, it wasn't any reflection on him. It was just that we had a true faceoff man in Matt Bailer come in."

It has been a trip for Berrier and Mollett that began when the two were carpooling to St. Paul's School as fifth- and sixth-graders, respectively. Mollett transferred from St. Paul's to Boys' Latin in the seventh grade, but the two wound up reunited at Princeton.

Now with Berrier moving to long-stick midfield, he and Mollett are even closer on the field.

"It's kind of ironic," Mollett said. "No matter what happens to Chris and I, we always seem to wind up together. We're close friends, but when we're apart we've always done our own thing."

Princeton at a glance

Location: Princeton, N.J.

Conference: Ivy League

Tournament history: The Tigers have won five of the past eight national lacrosse titles and are appearing in their seventh final four. They are 5-for-5 in NCAA championships and have made the NCAA tournament 11 straight years under coach Bill Tierney. The Tigers have been eliminated in the quarterfinals three times and the first round once. They are 19-5 in tournament play after making their debut in the NCAA tourney action in 1990.

How they got here: Princeton was awarded the third seed after going 10-2 in the regular season, losing only to top-seeded Syracuse and second-seeded Virginia. After a first-round bye, the Tigers turned back sixth-seeded Maryland last week in the quarterfinals, 10-7.

Coach: Bill Tierney (16th season overall (179-58), 13th at Princeton (145-46)

Best game: A season-opening 15-11 victory over Johns Hopkins at Homewood Field.

Worst game: A 16-4 loss to Syracuse April 23 at home.

Goal-scoring leader: Senior midfielder Josh Sims (Severn) who has 31 goals. He also leads in points with 45 (31 and 14 assists).

Assist-leader: Junior attackman Matt Striebel (23 assists).

Faceoff specialists: Junior midfielder Matt Bailer (96 of 174 for .652) and sophomore midfielder Kyle Baugher (41 of 95 for .432).

Goalie: Junior Trevor Tierney (.615 save percentage and 7.30 goals-per-game average).

Lacrosse final 4

At College Park

Tomorrow's semifinals

Syracuse (13-1) vs. Johns Hopkins (9-3), noon, ESPN2

Princeton (11-2) vs. Virginia (13-1), 3 p.m., ESPN2

Monday's championship

Semifinal winners, 10:55a.m., ESPN

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