March 4, 2020

With Senior McCarthy Enjoying Career Game, PU Men’s Lax Cruises Past Hopkins, Now 4-0

MAC ATTACK: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Connor McCarthy looks to unload the ball in a game last spring. Last Saturday, senior midfielder McCarthy tallied a career-high five goals to help Princeton defeat Johns Hopkins 18-11. The Tigers, now 4-0 and ranked third nationally, host Rutgers (2-3) on March 7 in the battle for the Meistrell Cup.  (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Connor McCarthy has endured a star-crossed career for the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team as injury woes have hampered his progress.

But coming into his senior year this spring, midfielder McCarthy is at full strength and ready to star for Princeton.

“I have been battling injuries for the last couple of years,” said McCarthy, whose right knee is wrapped and had four goals in just nine appearances last spring. “I am feeling good this year; it is real nice to get out there. I feel 100 percent.”

Last Saturday as Princeton hosted Johns Hopkins, McCarthy produced a really good game, tallying a career-high five goals to help the Tigers defeat the Blue Jays 18-11 and improve to 4-0 before a crowd of 1,815 at Class of 52 Stadium braving a chilly 35-degree day. 

“Most of my goals today were catch and shoot,” said McCarthy, a 6’4, 200-pound native of Sudbury, Mass., who now has 10 goals  and an assist this season.

“It felt really good today. My shots were falling and my teammates were putting me in good spots to finish.”

Playing with classmate Michael Sowers, who assisted on two of McCarthy’s goals on the way to passing Kevin Lowe as Princeton’s career leader in assists and now has 179 to rank eighth in NCAA Division I history, helped McCarthy find his finishing touch.

“Every game is a record for him, he might have the record for records,” said McCarthy with a laugh.

“He opens things up for us, especially behind the goal. You bring a pick down there and there is going to be at least three defenders on the ball. People are not looking at you so you can get open up top and he will put the ball in the hole.”

Opening the season on a roll has McCarthy in a good groove. “Confidence is my biggest area of improvement; this is the fourth year now, you have put in a ton of hours playing on the practice field,” said McCarthy.

“We are really dialed into our system. I am super confident and comfortable with our systems.”

Princeton head coach Matt Madalon had confidence that McCarthy could emerge as an offensive threat for the Tigers.

“He is kind of like our superstar that has just never really got out there and done it,” said Madalon of McCarthy.

“We love him, he is a great player. He has been nicked up and he just kind of powered through and he capitalized. He has got a great outside shot and he stretches the defense.”

Coming off a great 16-12 win at defending national champion Virginia a week earlier, Princeton was looking to show that it can be powerhouse as it faced Hopkins, one of the storied programs in college lax.

“We played really well, we got some stops early and we were able to jump on them,” said Madalon, whose team built an early 4-1 lead and pushed the advantage to 17-8 by midway through the fourth quarter.

“To be able to go down and get the win in Charlottesville was incredible but then we stamped it with a win over Johns Hopkins. This is one of the best coached programs year in, year out, those guys are incredible.”

In rolling past the Blue Jays, Princeton got some superb play from sophomore midfielder Alexander Vardaro and freshman faceoff specialist Tyler Sandoval.   

“Alex is a tough as nails; he is a do-it-all middie,” said Madalon of Vardaro, who had a career-high four goals while Sandoval went 10-of-19 on faceoffs.

“He plays offense, defense, wings, grinds, draws slides, he is awesome. Tyler did a really nice job. For him to come in and battle there for us was incredible, we needed that. It was a possession game, whoever had the ball was going to score and do well. We were lucky to get the ball at the end of the game.”

Madalon knows that he is lucky to have Sowers leading his attack as the superstar tallied nine points on two goals and seven assists against Hopkins and now has 42 points on the season.

“He is awesome, where he gets better is learning other people’s defense and then reading and helping us break them down,” said Madalon.

“It is really his lax IQ. Athletically he keeps getting better. He is just such a smart lacrosse player and he is a better leader. Defensive coordinators are so good that we have to move him around.”

With the Tigers now ranked third nationally due to their sizzling start, Madalon points to defensive midfielders Sam English, Luc Anderson, Beau Pederson, Andrew Song, Luca Lazzaretto and Nick Bauer as making a huge difference.

“It is one game at a time but we are thrilled to be 4-0; it is nice to be able to win, it is hard to learn after wins but we will take that,” said Madalon.

“It is settling in. Our defensive midfield is just down and dirty, they are just nasty defensive players and they did a good job today. We feed off of our defensive midfield.”

Princeton will look to keep in the winning track as it hosts local rival Rutgers (2-3) on March 7 in the battle for the Meistrell Cup.

“That is an outstanding team,” said Madalon. “It is one that has gotten the best of us the last couple of years so we will be ready to play.”

McCarthy, for his part, believes that team chemistry has the Tigers poised for a big year.

“It is just a really tight knit group, everyone is super bought in from the top to the bottom,” said McCarthy.

“You can see it on the sidelines; everyone is fired up and everyone is in it together. We had some close losses last year and we just want to make sure to do the right things this year and win those games.”