As PU Men’s Lax Deals with End to Special Season, Sowers Missing Daily Interaction with Teammates
SO TOUGH: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Michael Sowers battles to get past a foe in a game this season. Senior attackman Sowers was adding to his slew of team records this spring before the season was halted due to the coronavirus outbreak. He averaged 9.4 points per game in 2020 to lead Division I. As Princeton went 5-0, Sowers piled up 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists), leading the country in assists and points while also setting an Ivy League record with a 14-point game (3 goals, 11 assists) against Colgate in a 20-11 win on February 18. On Tuesday, Sowers was named by Inside Lacrosse as its Men’s DI Player of the Year. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
A meeting in a dorm last year helped plant the seeds for the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team to grow into a 5-0 juggernaut this spring.
“At the end of the season last year, we all met in Phil Rob’s [Phillip Robertson] room,” said Princeton senior star attackman and co-captain Michael Sowers.
“We were just like listen, we don’t know what we wanted to look like but we knew next year when we came back, we wanted to be different. We wanted to all commit to something. I think it started that summer in the sense that all the seniors and everybody were extremely bought in for the summer workouts. We had guys FaceTiming the freshmen, introducing themselves and getting to know them.”
In a solemn meeting on March 11, the team learned the sad news that that its undefeated campaign was coming to a halt due to concerns stemming from the COVID-19 outbreak.
“We found out in a team meeting,” recalled Sowers, a 5’9, 175-pound native of Dresher, Pa. “People were crying, everybody was pretty devastated. Coach Mads [Princeton head coach Matt Madalon] was tearing up. That was the first time I had seen him emotional ever, he is always like a rock. To see him emotional, I think that hurt us all. It was just one of those things. We always talk about controlling what you can control and to have something so far out of your control take away the season, it was tough.”
With the Tigers having risen to No. 3 in the national rankings as they posted big wins over defending NCAA champion Virginia, perennial power Johns Hopkins, and local rival Rutgers, not being able to see things through was particularly tough to take.
“People were disappointed about that, we really were on such a good roll,” said Sowers. “People were just disappointed because our group jelled so well. It is a cliché, but we really were so close off the field.”
That closeness was the product of the seniors going out of their way to bring the group together. “Through the fall, we were doing extra lifts on Saturdays,” said Sowers. “There were extra offensive shootarounds before practice. We had practices on Sundays. We tried to do dinners in the Spelman Hall apartments. We would do stuff like that and just get guys over as much as possible. I think from the top down, starting with the senior class, there was such a buy-in.”
On the field, Sowers and his classmates each played a part in the team’s success. “Every senior made sacrifices in their own respect; every senior found a role and played that to best of their ability,” added Sowers. “That is a huge credit to the senior leadership as well because you had seniors at every position willing to take charge. You had Nick Bauer who didn’t play a second conducting film sessions in our apartment. That is not really normal stuff. You have at the defensive mid position, Jasper Arnold, leading by example in every drill and bringing the group together. You saw that with the underclassmen performances, not to take anything away from them.”
In his role as a two-time captain, Sowers looked to lead by playing his best. “It really made my job easy in the sense that I didn’t have to be anything more than just be myself and lead through by what I did well,” said Sowers. “I have always thought that my leadership style is through example and leading through hard work and just showing people my work ethic.”
That hard work was paying big dividends for Sowers as he averaged 9.4 points per game in 2020 to lead Division I, piling up 47 points (16 goals, 31 assists), leading the country in assists and points while also setting an Ivy League record with a 14-point game (3 goals, 11 assists) against Colgate in a 20-11 win on February 18. On Tuesday, Sowers was named by Inside Lacrosse as its Men’s DI Player of the Year.
While Sowers is frustrated that he won’t get to add to those totals this spring, he is more upset about having the team’s special chemistry disrupted. “It is really not that disappointing because I am hoping that I get my chance again,” said Sowers, who become the first Princeton player to hit the 300-point mark, ending the season at 302 career points, ranking him 16th all-time in Division I with his 181 career assists ranking eighth.
“I am confident that I will be able to get back to this spot that I was playing at, just through consistency and putting in the work. From an individual standpoint, it is tough but I wouldn’t call it devastating. The thing that devastates me is that the locker room will never be the same.”
Back home in Pennsylvania, Sowers is keeping a stick in his hands.
“I have been pretty much getting kicked off of every field I have been going to, even my high school,” said Sowers with a laugh. “I will hit my wall in my backyard, I hit the chimney. We have a net in the backyard. I have two younger brothers who play and we will be out there just throwing the ball around which is nice. It is really pretty much confined to my house.”
When he is not in the backyard, Sowers is concentrating on his virtual schooling.
“My main thing is that I am trying to get close to finishing my thesis,” said Sowers, a history major whose thesis focuses on allied relations in the latter stages of World War II.
“I have two chapters done and pretty much the research done for that third chapter. At this point, I just have to sit down and write it. Writing it at home is so much tougher than writing it at school just because your mind is in a million different spots.”
While Sowers hopes to play pro lacrosse at some point, his mind is on some unfinished business at Princeton.
“My goal, my dream would definitely to be back in a Princeton uniform again,” said Sowers, whose situation is currently up in the air as the NCAA has approved extra eligibility for all spring sport athletes but the Ivy League has not formally decided whether it would follow suit.
“I would love to play at the next level, that would be where my head is at this stage. We will see, I am hoping to have one more year here and cross that bridge when it comes.”
No matter what happens, Sowers won’t soon forget the joy he has gotten from interacting with his teammates day in, day out over the last four years.
“There is no one moment or a couple of clear defining moments for me; obviously I have some great memories, winning some games with my friends,” said Sowers.
“The thing that I have enjoyed the most is the daily experiences with the team like before practices, after practices, long bus rides, all of that little stuff that from an outside perspective you don’t even really think about. Winning games is just the dessert of it. Being able to be part of a team during those stages has been my favorite thing.”