Princeton attack unit a complete package Hess, Massey, Hubbard viewed as decade's best

February 20, 1998|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

Flicking rapidly on the Princeton cable system, Jon Hess channel-surfs past C-Span, CNN and other government programming. With about a couple of hours until "SportsCenter", Hess prompts his roommates, Chris Massey and Jesse Hubbard, to grab the video of the 1991 NCAA lacrosse finals.

Then it's pause. Rewind. Replay that goal in slow motion.

It's a series of analyzing shots, breaking down key matchups and even depicting how certain players run.

"If I close my eyes, I can picture how [Towson State's] Glenn Smith's string was strung," Hess said. "Oh geez, Jesse and Chris are going to hate me for saying that, it makes us look like dorks."

Most coaches and fans have placed the senior attack unit of Hess, Hubbard and Massey on a special pedestal, chiseling them a niche in lacrosse history. This unit is widely considered the best attack unit of the decade and one of the elite combinations in history.

Name another set of attackmen that has showcased such savvy, teamwork and crucial big-game performances. Name another trio that has been the common thread in back-to-back national championships and a 28-game winning streak, and is the main reason why the Tigers are heavy favorites for a third straight.

Sure, Cornell wowed fans in the mid-1970s as Jon Levine set up shooters Mike French and Eamon McEneaney. But they managed just one title together (1976).

A decade later, Johns Hopkins racked up three titles in four years (1984-85, '87) with the lethal attack of Brian Wood, Craig Bubier and Mike Morrill. This impressive high-scoring trio featured the outside shooting of Wood, the dodging of Bubier and the close-range finishing of Morrill, yet lacked a designated feeder.

However, none of these units seems to compare to the Tigers' complete package. Just ask Richie Moran, who recently retired after coaching 29 years at Cornell, if the Princeton attack ranks among the elite combinations.

"There's no question," Moran said. "They complement each other so well that it's hard to defend all three. They are a tremendous unit."

Their roles can be simplified into three tiers: Hess controls the ball and sets the offense, Hubbard uses his hard shot out in front of the goal to draw most of the attention and Massey runs through defenses with an assortment of dodges.

It's been a unique relationship, as each has matured almost simultaneously, growing up on and off the field together.

Follow them to their apartment and you'll see them relaxing to an episode of "Seinfeld" or "The Simpsons." Or you'll hear them discussing Massey's psychology thesis on how music affects mood as the Grateful Dead plays in the background. Then there is the favorite topic of how they're going to travel cross country in a Winnebago to visit Massey's parents in Arizona.

"It feels like we're always on the same wavelength," Massey said. "You hear about teammates like [Michael] Watson and [Tim] Whiteley of Virginia saying they know what the other is thinking. But it's true. We know the way each other plays and expect certain things."

And the origin of their success can be pinpointed to the night of April 26, 1995, when Princeton coach Bill Tierney took his freshmen off to the side before a game against Delaware. The Tigers had just been upset by Cornell a few days previously and Tierney wanted to make a point.

"I grabbed those three guys before that game and told them that Princeton lacrosse was in the hands of Hubbard, Hess and Massey," he said. "I think about those three every day. It's a group picture. They're so confident in what they're doing, it carries over to the other guys.

"The beauty is that they have remained humble. Any team would love to have one of them and we have all three."

The rest is statistical history. The three combined for 463 points in their first 45 games and 100 points in eight NCAA tournament contests. They are on pace to finish as second, third and fourth on the school's career points list.

And then there is that 40-5 record (.889) together. If they complete another perfect season, they would break the NCAA record for consecutive wins with their third straight national title.

Hess, Hubbard and Massey overwhelmed Maryland coach Dick Edell in last year's NCAA final, combining for 10 goals and eight assists in a 19-7 rout. What made matters worse was Edell had only one day to prepare for the Tigers in the quick championship weekend turnaround.

"I needed a month," said Edell, whose Terrapins have beaten two of the '90s better attack units in Virginia and Johns Hopkins. "This group has truly separated themselves apart in the modern era."

Nevertheless, Hess, Hubbard and Massey refuse to equate themselves to their idols.

They constantly reminisce of the scoring power of the 1989 Syracuse attack of John Zulberti, Tom Marechek and Greg Burns. They'll recite the great head-to-head matchups like North Carolina's Dennis Goldstein going against Syracuse's Pat McCabe in 1991.

Yet they don't truly understand the impact they have already made on the game and the memories they've already created.

"Hopefully, we would have done something others might want to replicate," Hess said. "It would be very, very flattering."

Pub Date: 2/20/98

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