PHILADELPHIA -- Now, it is Princeton's turn to try to encroach on what has been the exclusive lacrosse domain of three schools for 14 years.
The Ivy League champion Tigers are in the semifinals for the first time in the 22-year history of the NCAA tournament, matched against Syracuse, North Carolina and Johns Hopkins. Not since Cornell in 1977 has a team other than Syracuse, Carolina or Hopkins won the championship.
"The big three," Princeton coach Bill Tierney said, glancing at Syracuse's Roy Simmons, Carolina's Dave Klarmann and Hopkins' Tony Seaman during yesterday's Final Four news conference. "It's exciting to be here. We hope Princeton can break through."
Towson State and Maryland fell short last year, as Loyola, Yale, Pennsylvania and Virginia had in other seasons past. Towson reached the final against North Carolina after beating Princeton in the quarterfinals in three overtimes and Maryland in the semifinals.
"The experience of that loss in last year's quarterfinals helped us Saturday," Tierney said, referring to the 11-10 quarterfinal win over Maryland.
Third seed Princeton will face defending champion and No. 2 Carolina in Saturday's second semifinal at Franklin Field after No. 5 Hopkins meets No. 1 Syracuse. The Tigers lost to the Tar Heels by one goal in March.
"Carolina's midfield depth is their trademark," Tierney said. "They used 11 or 12 midfielders against us the first time. I can't put that many on the field, at least not with any confidence. Fresh legs can take the heart out of you."
Midfield depth helped North Carolina put together its 10-game winning streak after a March loss to Loyola. The Tar Heels have won three games by one goal, an additional game by two.
"I can't tell you why we win the close ones," Klarmann said. "Maybe we stay healthy, have great weather and great trainers and beautiful girls. Listen, I'm as surprised by it as our fans."
Franklin Field's artificial turf could be a disadvantage for North Carolina. The Tar Heels' losses were in Syracuse's Carrier Dome and on Loyola's Curley Field rug.
"You can talk about artificial turf, the refs, the weather and even the uniforms," Klarmann said. "None of it matters unless you want it to."
Tierney, in five years, has brought Princeton back from the lacrosse depths. The Tigers were 2-13 his first year, and he used that as a recruiting tool.
"I could tell tell them they'd start as freshmen, and seven did," he said. "Now, we say come to Princeton and go to the playoffs. And, of course, get a world-class education."
Klarmann picked up on that, directing a barb at Tierney.
"I know we can't match Princeton's brains," he said. "What we lack in gray matter, we make up for with legs.
"I hope it's 95 degrees Saturday and Johns Hopkins and Syracuse kill each other. Then Billy and I will go out there knowing there's no one else to play, because they'll all be dead."