Mike MacDonald established himself as scoring threat last spring in his freshman season on the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team.
The 6’1, 190-pound attackman scored 30 points on 22 goals and eight assists in his debut campaign.
But MacDonald knew he had to diversify his game this spring to become even more effective.
“I think this year more than last year, I have been dodging more and getting a little more involved in the offense,” said MacDonald.
“Tom Schreiber assisted most of my goals last year; I am getting more on the outside and not as many on the inside, which is a nice transition.”
Last Friday against visiting Yale, MacDonald displayed his versatility, scoring three goals as the Tigers edged the Bulldogs 10-9. His second goal helped the Tigers seize momentum in the third quarter and his final tally put Princeton ahead 10-7 with 8:57 left in regulation and proved to be the game-winner.
With Princeton knotted in a 4-4 tie at halftime, the Tigers were looking to be sharper with the ball in the second half.
“We came in at half and said that we really needed to step it up offensively,” said MacDonald, a native of Georgetown, Ontario who now has a team-high 19 goals this season.
“I think we built off the third quarter. The third quarter was probably a little bit better but we played smart in the fourth quarter.”
The play of sophomore Justin Murphy on face-offs helped things go better for Princeton in the second half as he won 13-of-22 on the game.
“Their face-off guy [Dylan Levings] came in with one of the best percentages in the country,” said MacDonald.
“Justin Murphy just stepped in there and played his heart out; he got us a lot of extra possessions.”
MacDonald took advantage of a Yale misstep on the winning tally. “I think my guy just slipped up and I was just dodging and I shot it,” recalled MacDonald
Princeton head coach Chris Bates knew his team could ill afford a slip up against Yale as it was coming off a tough 11-10 loss at Penn in its Ivy opener.
“This team needed a win, I think we were on our heels a little bit after last weekend,” said Bates, reflecting on the victory which lifted Princeton to 5-2 overall and 1-1 Ivy. “We knew it was going to be a tough, close game and it was.”
Murphy’s tough play helped pave the way to the Princeton win. “Justin Murphy gave us a huge lift, I just thought, all game long,” asserted Bates.
“He gave us the ball. He was 13-of-22 and no one does that against that kid. He’s a pure face-off guy, he’s so focused on that as his craft. He takes great pride in in it. He is such a hard-working, tough kid, it is so nice to see him do well, you hear the cheers. That was the difference in a lot of ways.”
Taking advantage of the possession gained from Murphy’s stellar effort, the Princeton offense drew cheers with its sharp play.
“I thought we just moved the ball well, shared it, and got our hands free,” said Bates, who got two goals apiece from freshman Ryan Ambler and sophomore Kip Orban with junior star Schreiber contributing a goal and three assists.
“We get a little bit loose and feel good, we get a little in the flow. Again it goes back to the face-off; when you have the ball, you are not pressing as much.”
Bates likes the way MacDonald is helping things flow for the Tigers. “Mike is comfortable carrying the ball that much more,” said Bates.
“Last year, he relied on Tom finding him off ball. We are calling his number too and giving him the opportunity to dodge. He is tough to stop going top side. If you bring a pick to him, he is going to use it well. He just turns the corner. He has got a knack. When he gets his hands free, he is going to finish as well as anybody.”
After having lost to Yale 15-7 last spring in the Ivy championship game, Princeton was primed to fight to the finish last Friday.
“Yale is Yale; we wanted to beat them,” said Bates, whose team in now ranked eight nationally and hosts No. 20 Brown (5-1 overall, 1-0 Ivy) on March 30.
“They beat us here so there is no doubt that was in our minds. They celebrate and they do this and they do that. For us, we just said go back to business. I thought we were a tough team today, we were a tough team on the ground. I thought we were tough on ball, we got to the front of the cage. Hopefully it is good sign for us going forward. We are kind of finding ourselves and getting a little grittier and coming together that much more.”
MacDonald, for his part, believes the Tigers can be even sharper going forward.
“It is good to have a one-goal win rather than a one-goal loss obviously,” said MacDonald.
“I think we are going to build off of that. I don’t think we played our best game today; we can play a lot better, taking care of small things.”