February 12, 2020

With Senior Group Showing Sense of Urgency, PU Men’s Lax Hungry to Make Postseason Play

AUTO-BAUGHAN: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player George Baughan races past a foe in a game last year. Junior captain Baughan is one of the top defenseman in the nation, having earned first-team All-Ivy League honors in 2019 and preseason All-American recognition coming into this spring. Princeton opens its 2020 campaign by hosting Monmouth (1-0) on February 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For the 12 seniors on the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team, it is now or never.

The group has helped produce some highlights over their first three seasons, including wins over Johns Hopkins, Rutgers, Cornell and Denver and some memorable battles with national championships teams Yale and Virginia.

The class boasts four captains in Michael Sowers, Nick Bauer, Jon Levine, and Philip Robertson. The prolific Sowers, for his part, comes into his final campaign already holding the program’s all-time scoring record with 255 points (105 goals, 150 assists). 

But with that class having made only one postseason appearance, a 17-15 loss to Brown in the Ivy League semis in 2017 as freshmen, it is hungry to taste Ivy and NCAA tournament action in their finale. 

“They really have taken the bull by the horns, I think our season will be a reflection of our seniors this year and if that is the truth, I would like to think we are in good hands,” said Princeton head coach Matt Madalon, whose team went 7-7 overall and 2-4 Ivy League last spring.

“Our goal is to get back and be a staple program in the Ivy tournament and earn ourselves opportunities to play in the NCAA tournament.”

With Princeton opening its 2020 campaign by hosting Monmouth (1-0) on February 15, Madalon believes his team is primed for a big spring.

“The preseason has been great,” said Madalon. “The guys have come back and they did a really nice job. They took advantage of their exam period and study period to put themselves in a good position to get themselves off and running.”

Featuring Sowers (37 goals and 53 assist in 2019) running the top attack unit along with junior Chris Brown and senior Philip Robertson, the Tigers should ring up plenty of goals. 

“Michael is awesome; he is a man on a mission,” said Madalon. “He is a pleasant kid, like any other college lacrosse player. He is a wonderfully polite kid. He is super talented when the helmet goes on. He has got his counterparts in Chris (34 goals, 17 assists) and Philip (18 goals). Their chemistry is great.”

Madalon has some other options to supplement his top line. “We have a new addition in Alex Slusher, he will jump right into the mix,” said Madalon.

“We have two other guys on our attack depth chart in Jack Crockett (1 goal) and Christian Ronda; as they continue to develop, they will see time.”

The Tiger offensive midfield has the depth to develop into a stellar unit.

“We have a lot of options; that is a part of the roster that as a staff we really focused on recruiting and developing,” said Madalon.

“In terms of leading that crew, we have got Alex Vardaro (12 goals, 5 assists), Beau Pederson (10 goals, 3 assists), Jake Stephens (5 goals, 3 assists), Connor McCarthy (4 goals, 2 assists), Luck Crimmins (3 goals), and Jamie Atkinson (7 goals, 4 assists). We have guys like Nick Bond, Will Kusnierek (2 goals) and Carter Zavitz (1 goal) really pushing for playing time.”

At defensive midfield, Princeton boasts a number of battle-tested performers.

“We are going to have the shortstick anchored by Luc Anderson, he is a returning guy,” said Madalon.

“You will see guys like Beau Pederson down there a little bit and also Chase Williams, Jasper Arnold, and Sam English. Song is a returning guy at longstick, he is so talented and can play all over the field. Luca Lazzaretto and Nick Bauer can see some time there.”

The Tiger defense will be spearheaded by junior captain and All-Ivy performer George Baughan, who had a goal and an assist last season to go with 22 ground balls and 23 caused turnovers. 

“George is outstanding; his athleticism and tenaciousness and aggressiveness and love for his teammates is awesome down there,” asserted Madalon, whose defensive unit will also include Arman Medghalchi, Cathal Roberts, David Sturtz, Jacob Stoebner, and Ben Finlay.

“He is an old school bruiser, he is really looking to play the game at a physical clip.”

Senior Jon Levine (11.61 goals against average, .473 save percentage in 2019), a former Hun School standout, and junior Erik Peters (11.44 GAA, .528 save percentage) are vying for the starting goalie spot.

“We are lucky to have two guys who have started as many games as these guys have,” said Madalon.

“Jon and Erik have been in a goalie battle all fall and continue to be in one. We are going to wait and see how the preseason plays out. Freshman Griffin Rackower has had a great fall and he is being pushed by Ben Churchill.”

Preparing for the battles ahead, Madalon is looking for his players to be cool under pressure.

“We want to make sure that we are organized in the frenetic parts of the game,” said Madalon.

“We want to make sure that we are a great ride and clear team. We want to make sure that we are a great sub team. We want to be a great communicating team. Lacrosse is a sport with so much gray area; we want to be a team that really communicates well so we can talk through those scenarios and survive those moments.”

Madalon believes that communication will lead to sharper execution at both ends of the field.

“We want to play good team ball for 60 minutes with complementary lacrosse,” added Madalon.

“There are going to be days when our offense is struggling and we want to pick them up by playing a great  defensive game. There are going to be games where our defense is struggling and we want to make sure that we are cashing in on a couple of extra ones to give them a cushion. We are looking to play better, more consistent lacrosse. We have played a handful of young guys in their careers. I feel like we have a team with good experience in the right spots this year.”

Looking ahead to the matchup against Monmouth, Madalon hopes the Tigers get off on the right foot.

“We were able to squeak one out in double OT years ago and then last year it was a little different of a game (a 23-7 win for Princeton),” said Madalon.

“We expect a very good game. Coach [Brian] Fisher is an excellent coach. He has got a good staff, he has got a good program and I know they were really injured last year and nicked up playing some guys so I expect his group to be very competitive.”