Tiger Men’s Lax Aims to Keep Improving, Focusing on Being Sharper in Crunch Time
RECORD PACE: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Michael Sowers heads to goal in a game last year during a record-breaking freshman campaign which saw him score a program single-season record of 82 points on 41 goals and 41 assists. Star attackman Sowers will look to pick up where he left off as Princeton opens its 2018 season by hosting Monmouth on February 17. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Last spring, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team showed marked progress in Matt Madalon’s first full season at the helm of the program.
The Tigers went 9-6 and reached the Ivy League tournament semifinals in 2017 after going 5-8 the year before with no postseason appearance.
As Madalon looks ahead to the 2018 campaign, he believes his players need to be just a little sharper to continue the team’s upward trajectory.
“To take the next step, we want to play the game a little faster and think the game a little faster,” said Madalon, whose team opens the season by hosting Monmouth on February 17.
“In most of our losses last year, we were in the right spot, but just played with a little bit of hesitation. We want to make sure that these guys are prepared so when they are in the moment, they will play fast, make the right decisions, and be consistent.”
Madalon will be relying on a consistent scoring punch from superstar sophomore Michael Sowers who set a program single-season scoring record in his debut campaign with 82 points, notching 41 goals and 41 assists.
“Michael will do anything it takes to be better; he is an outstanding kid,” said Madalon.
“He did such a wonderful job his freshman year; he was lucky to have Gavin McBride last year as senior. It impacted his ability to come in and be a college player and a star immediately. He has come back for year two, continuing to work. His skill level is outstanding; he has done a nice job bringing the young guys along, too.”
The Tigers will feature a number of other young guys on attack: sophomore Philip Robertson (3 goals), sophomore Andrew Bowman (1 assist), junior Carter Flaig (1 goals, 2 assists), junior Emmet Cordrey (1 goals, 2 assists), and freshman Chris Brown.
“We have got incredible depth down there; everyone is getting the feel of things,” said Madalon.
While Princeton lost an incredible player in the midfield to graduation in the versatile Zach Currier (24 goals, 34 assists, 58 points, 130 ground balls, a team-best 21 caused turnovers and a .564 winning percentage on his 202 face-offs as a senior), Madalon believes that senior co-captains Austin Sims (27 goals, 9 assists) and Riley Thompson (18 goals, 22 assists) can fill that void.
“Austin was on pace to be an All American last year before he got hurt; he is a heck of a player,” said Madalon, who will also be using senior Braedon Gait (1 goal), sophomore Connor McCarthy (4 goals, 1 assist), junior Dawson MacKenzie (9 goals, 3 assists), and junior Strib Walker in the midfield.
“He is a great kid and he is a great leader for us. He has got a lot of experience winning for the U.S. U19 team, so he knows what it looks like. We are going to be leaning on him in the midfield. Riley is a mini offensive coordinator on the field. He is so impressive, lax IQ wise, skill wise and understanding how to make everyone around him better.”
In the defensive midfield, the Tigers boast four impressive players in senior J.P. Caputo, junior Mike Morean, sophomore Chase Williams, and sophomore Jasper Arnold.
“We over supported them last year and we are going to put a little more on their plate this year,” said Madalon.
Madalon is expecting good support from the defensive unit. “Nick Bauer got a ton of game experience as a freshman last year; he is playing a bit of long pole and bit of close defense,” said Madalon.
“We have two newcomers, George Baughan and Andrew Song, who are going to push immediately for playing time. These are dynamic guys at the longstick midfield position; we are excited for that. Senior Danny Winschuh and sophomore Arman Medghalchi will anchor the close defense. We bring junior Aran Roberts back into the fold after a medical leave, so between him, Nick Bauer, and sophomore David Sturtz, we are really excited about those guys on the bottom of our defense.”
The return of senior All-Ivy goalie Tyler Blaisdell (11.48 goals against average, .579 save percentage) is another cause of excitement for the Tigers.
“Tyler brings a lot of personality to our locker room. I push him really, really hard,” said Madalon, who is also looking at former Hun star and sophomore Jon Levine along with freshman Ben Churchill and Erik Peters between the pipes.
“He did a great job of changing his style last year as a junior and really buying into our goaltending theory. He is doing a nice job, he continues to grow.”
Senior tri-captain Sam Bonafede, sophomore Ralph Chrappa, sophomore Philip Thompson and freshman Jack-Henry Vara will be sharing the face-off job.
“We are bringing Sam back. He has the most experience,” said Madalon.
“We have four different face-off guys with four different skill sets. We will be able to roll out different weapons at different times as we see fit.”
Princeton will need to show some skill and grit in order to overcome Monmouth on Saturday.
“It is going to be a tough opener for us. They are team that brings back a lot of experience, and they are well coached,” said Madalon, noting that the Hawks won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) crown last year on the way to the NCAA tournament.
“In these early season games, for our staff, it is a lot more about us than anyone else. We want to make sure that we play Princeton lacrosse. If we play Princeton lacrosse, we think we can be successful. With the short preseason in the Ivy League, we are just making sure that we are buttoned up with polices, procedures, protocols, systems and just getting guys on the right page, playing our speed.”