Refreshed After Rough Spring with Tiger Men's Lax, Doneger Helped Rochester Advance to MLL Playoffs
By Bill Alden
Coming into his senior season on the Princeton University men's lacrosse team, Jason Doneger had enjoyed a nearly unbroken run of success. As a freshman in 2001, Doneger contributed nine goals as Princeton went 14-1 and pulled out its sixth national title. After spending a year away from Princeton to study in Europe and work in Washington D.C., the powerful 6'1, 205-pound attacker returned to the field in 2003 and fired in 41 goals to tie teammate Sean Hartofilis for the Ivy League lead in goals scored.
In 2004, Doneger was the top goal scorer in the Ivy League, notching 36 goals to help spark an inexperienced Princeton team on its improbable run to the NCAA Final Four. Then came the spring of 2005. Looking to end his Tiger career with a bang, Doneger's goal total dropped to 19 as Princeton struggled through a 5-7 campaign, the program's first losing season since 1989.
Despite the drop in Doneger's numbers, the Rochester Rattlers of Major League Lacrosse (MLL) chose the Hewlett, N.Y. native in the second round of the league's player draft. Shaking off the disappointment of his final college season, Doneger proved he belonged at the pro level as he scored eight goals to help the Rattlers on a late-season run that saw them qualify for the MLL playoffs. While the Rattlers fell in the semis last Friday to the eventual champion Baltimore Bayhawks, whose lineup featured Princeton alums Trevor Tierney, Josh Sims, and Christian Cook, that didn't take away from Doneger's joy in putting this spring behind him.
"It was refreshing," said Doneger, a success on the field, earning Academic All-Ivy and Academic All-American accolades during his Princeton career
"This spring was tough. It was kind of a sour way to end a career. I had doubts; I thought I may have peaked too soon. I wasn't sure I could play with these guys. It's great to get out and play in what I consider to be a stress-free environment."
As the newcomer among the galaxy of lacrosse stars that play in the MLL, Doneger was able to sneak up on some foes.
"In college, I was a marked man," added Doneger, who works on the convertible bonds desk for Lehman Brothers in New York City and often commuted by plane to the Rattlers' games on Saturdays. "Here I'm not as well known. I'm able to get more open off the ball."
Playing on a team featuring former Syracuse greats Ryan Powell and Casey Powell, Doneger got some good chances when he did find open territory.
"They are two of the best feeders ever, it's been fun playing with them," asserted Doneger, referring to the Powell bothers.
"You have to know where they are on the field. They can get you the ball from anywhere. If you are alert, you can be the beneficiary."
The Rattlers, though, needed more than individual skills to recover from their shaky 1-6 start to finish the regular season with a 6-6 mark.
"We had a lot of talented players but we hadn't realized our potential," recalled Doneger. "The superstars found their roles and we started sharing the ball and developing into a team. Confidence is the one word I regard as the most important word in taking a good lacrosse team and making it great."
Persevering through his rocky final college campaign has helped Doneger develop a confidence that he can bounce back from hard times.
"A lot of people that I've been around have had a lot of success," said Doneger, who finished his Princeton career with 104 goals, the seventh most in program history. "Sometimes it takes a little adversity to help you refocus and work hard. I think the younger guys will learn from that experience."
For Doneger, the pluses of his Princeton experience far outweighed the frustrations he dealt with last spring. "When all is said and done, it was a great experience," said Doneger, who graduated with a degree in politics.
"We all come in here as all-stars and then get weeded out. I feel fortunate to have the chances that I did. I learned about a higher level of commitment from Coach [Bill] Tierney. If you're supposed to be at a meeting at 3:30 and you show up at 3:25, you're late."
Doneger's summer with the Rattlers helped him renew his commitment to the game. "I'm so happy I've gotten to play this summer," said Doneger. "I'm going to keep playing as long as I love it. When it becomes a chore, I'll stop."