March 11, 2020

No. 3 PU Men’s Lacrosse Defeats Rutgers 16-11, As Goalie Peters Has Another Big Day in Rivalry

CREASE CONTROL: Princeton University men’s lacrosse goalie Erik Peters guards the crease in a game earlier this season. Last Saturday, junior goalie Peters made 10 saves to help No. 3 Princeton defeat Rutgers 16-11. The Tigers, now 5-0, are slated to host No. 16 Penn (2-3) on March 14 in the Ivy League opener for both squads. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

Erik Peters beamed as he clutched the Meistrell Cup last Saturday afternoon at the Class of 52 Stadium after the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team defeated local rival Rutgers 16-11.

Princeton junior goalie Peters played a key role in helping the Tigers earn the hardware that goes to the winner of the storied rivalry, making 10 saves in the win.

For Peters, the Rutgers matchup is particularly memorable since he came on in relief in a 9-8 loss to the Scarlet Knights last year and has been the starter ever since.

“This was the game last year where I got my first chance; every game is really big but this one was really special,” said Peters of the win which improved No. 3 Princeton to 5-0.

“It is about our team moving forward. I was really proud of our guys today to come out and not play our best lacrosse but get it done. I think it speaks to our captains, our leadership, and our culture.”

In the first half, Peters helped keep Princeton in the game, making eight saves as the Tigers rallied from a 4-2 deficit to go up 6-4 at intermission.

“I was feeling really good, just trying to stay consistent and keep my focus,” said Peters, a 5’10, 170-pound native of Highlands Ranch, Colo.

Things got a little dicey early in the second half as Rutgers scored two straight goals in the third quarter to make it 6-6 but the Tigers answered with a 6-0 run to regain momentum.

“Credit to Rutgers, they are a great team,” said Peters. “They have really good offense, [Kieran] Mullins is really good. They started playing well and hitting some shots. Nothing changed for us.”

Peters helped hold off the Scarlet Knights by making a point blank save with 4:30 left in regulation after Rutgers had narrowed the gap to 15-11.

“I was just trying to be shot ready and make a play on it,” recalled Peters. “I was fortunate enough to make that play. Credit to our defense there, they were playing tight.”

In reflecting on the win, Peters credited the defensive unit in front of him with playing a key role.

“We have a bunch of really gritty guys this year,” said Peters. “Our shortstick defensive mids are awesome, we have a lot of depth there. They are really looking good. They are really aggressive and play hardball lacrosse. We have George Baughan in the back, I have never seen him get beat.”

With 14 college starts under his belt now, Peters in reacting better when he does get beat.

“I am really settling in now; I have made a lot of improvements, clearing wise, being comfortable having the ball,” said Peters, who is giving up 10.90 goals a game  this season with a .518 save percentage.

“I am getting comfortable with those runs back and forth, knowing it is part of the game and it is going to happen. That has been a big point of emphasis for me. Before, I would get down, now it is stay flat-line the whole game.”

In getting off to its sizzling start, Princeton is showing that even-keeled mentality collectively.

“It was back and forth today, our team last year sometimes folded when that happened,” said Peters.

“I think our team this year, we are a different group of guys. We don’t take take any setback, we always go forward. I think we expected to be here at 5-0; we knew we had a different group this year with the mindset, work ethic, and hunger all around.”

Princeton head coach Matt Madalon acknowledged that his team had to overcome some sloppy play to keep moving forward.

“That is a talented team; both programs wanted that win, that is an in-state rival,” said Madalon.

“It is two very different schools with the same mission. I respect that program a lot. We were lucky to come away with a win. As a coaching staff, we weren’t thrilled with the first half. It wasn’t Xs and Os. It was the fundamental stuff, it was the focus and concentration. Our guys were not doing a great job. I tip my hat to Rutgers because every mistake we made, they capitalized on.”

In assessing the second half surge by the Tigers, Madalon said his squad stuck to its game plan.

“We didn’t say anything different, we didn’t do anything different,” maintained Madalon. “We were just playing a little more Princeton lacrosse.”

Madalon likes the way Peters is playing in goal. “He is doing a good job for us,” said Madalon.

“There are still a couple we would both want back but he made the big ones at the right time so I am very happy for how he played.”

The Princeton offense came up big, displaying a balanced offense attack as senior star Michael Sowers led the way with three goals and two assists in passing the 300-point mark in his career.

“It is good to share the ball; that is always our goal,” said Madalon, who got three goals and an assist from Alex Vardaro with Connor McCarthy tallying three goals and Chris Brown chipping in two goals and two assists.

Despite Princeton’s encouraging 5-0 start, Madalon sees plenty of room for improvement.

“We struggled in the clearing game, we have to clean that up,” said Madalon.

“There were some self inflicted wounds; we have to go back to the drawing board and get a lot better.”

With the Tigers opening Ivy League play by hosting No. 16 Penn (2-3), Madalon knows that his team will need to play better to overcome a physical Quaker squad.

“We got through the first part of our season which is five out of conference games and we are sitting in a really good spot,” said Madalon.

“We just have to prepare and take one game at a time like we have been to this point.”

Like Peters, Madalon senses a really good chemistry to the 2020 squad.

“My favorite part of this whole thing is trying to get our guys to be as tight knit a group as possible,” said Madalon.

“Our seniors have helped facilitate this. We think it is a special group; we love all of our groups but we feel it too. I can’t put my finger on it yet but it is going in our favor.”

Peters, for his part, believes that the Tigers will be hungry to keep things going in the right direction when they face Penn.

“In the past few years we have lost to Penn; it is a huge, huge game,” said Peters.

“It is the first Ivy game. We call them ticket games. We want to punch that ticket to the tournament with those Ivy games. It will be a big work week here.”