May 10, 2009

Courtesy of Princeton

Mark Kovler's junior ended early due to a broken ankle. The Princeton midfielder figured he might as well get his senior year to last as long as possible.

Kovler ripped off career-highs of five goals and six points and Rich Sgalardi added three goals and an assist to lead Princeton to a 10-7 win over UMass in the opening round of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament in front of 2,310 at the Class of 1952 Stadium. Princeton improved to 13-2 overall, while UMass ends its season at 9-6.

Jim Connolly scored four goals on eight shots to lead UMass. The rest of the ECAC-champion MInutemen combined to score three goals on 27 shots.

The win vaults fourth-seeded Princeton into the quarterfinals against fifth-seeded Cornell this Saturday at Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University. Princeton and Cornell tied for the Ivy title, and the Big Red defeated the Tigers 10-7 in Ithaca four weeks ago.

"It was a tough game for us," said Princeton coach Bill Tierney. "It was a big mental hurdle. Now we know who's waiting for us. We know them and what they do, and they know us and what we do."

Kovler's five-goal day marked the ninth time a Princeton player has reached that many in an NCAA tournament game. It also gave him 33 goals for the year, tied for the second-highest total by a Princeton middie in a single-season with Bill Chaires in 1973, trailing only the 36 scored by Josh Sims in 2000.

"I didn't get to play at the end of last year," Kovler said. "We know getting a win in the tournament isn't something that just happens. We needed to play well in this game, and it was a good day for us."

Scott MacKenzie had a goal and assist for Princeton as nine of the 10 Princeton goals and 12 of the 13 Princeton points came out of the first midfield unit. Only Tommy Davis had a point on the attack unit, as Jack McBride was held without a goal for the first time this year.

"We knew they had great shooters," said UMass coach Greg Cannella. "No. 2 [MacKenzie] and No. 18 [Sgalardi] had more assists for the year than anyone on attack. We knew how good their midfield was."

Princeton and UMass were even at 1-1 after MacKenzie and Connolly scored in the first 7:20 of the game, but Princeton would score the next five, including four by Kovler, to take a 6-1 halftime lead. Princeton, in its last three games combined, has now allowed one first-half goal on 47 first-half shots.

UMass would get within three at 6-3, 8-5, 9-6 and 10-7 but would get no closer.

The game marked the end of the career of UMass goalie Doc Schneider, who made 13 saves in his final game. Schneider led the MInutemen to the NCAA final as a freshman in 2006.

Princeton goalie Tyler Fiorito made 12 saves in his first NCAA game. Fiorito was only the second  freshman ever to start an NCAA game in goal for the Tigers.

"Doc is tremendous," Tierney said. "He may be the best goalie in the country. If it's not him, maybe it's the guy we saw last week [Brown goalie Jordan Burke] or our guy [Fiorito]. Either way, Doc makes a lot of tough saves. He can turn the momentum in the game. It was really important that we got off to a good start."

Princeton improved to 3-0 all-time against UMass, all in the NCAA tournament.

The Tigers have won 16 straight games at Class of 1952 Stadium and are now 4-0 there in NCAA games.