February 25, 2015

With MacDonald Gutting Out Big Game in Snowstorm, No. 18 PU Men’s Lax Tops Hofstra, Girds for Hopkins

sports1After what Mike MacDonald has been through over the last year, he wasn’t going to let a stomach illness keep him from playing for the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team as it hosted Hofstra last Saturday.

Ailing last season, the senior attacker underwent double hip surgery in the summer.

“I had my surgery in mid-July; I started running four months later,” said MacDonald. “I sat the whole fall out and had to watch practice every day. I got back on the field in February.”

Hours before Princeton was to take the field against Hofstra, MacDonald got an IV, having been unable to hold down any food or liquids for the past two days.

The weather turned miserable as game time approached but MacDonald, a native of Georgetown, Ontario, felt at home with snow piling up on Sherrerd Field at Class of 1952 Field.

“I have played in a couple like that, mostly at home though,” said MacDonald.

“You just had to give yourself a lot more space, you slip all over the place. You don’t know if guys are going to slip and when you are going to try to dodge, if you are going to lose your footing.”

MacDonald was able keep his feet and show his offensive skill, tallying nine points on five goals and four assists as Princeton won 14-12 and improved to 2-0.

“Honestly it just came,” said MacDonald, reflecting on his big day as he matched his career high, equaling the total he had against Cornell in Princeton’s win over the Big Red in the 2013 Ivy tournament, when he recorded seven goals and two assists.

“Some guys were making good passes, it was just good teammates around me helping out. It is not a testament to me, it is a testament to everyone around me. I think I had a lot of assisted goals today.”

For MacDonald, simply returning to action again is a testament to his toughness.

“Being out there again with the guys is great,” said MacDonald. “I am feeling better than I did last year. I don’t know about 100 percent but definitely better.”

MacDonald is savoring his final spring with the guys. “It is really starting to sink in that it is my last run,” said MacDonald. “It is definitely weird but I am trying to make the most of it.”

In MacDonald’s view, Princeton’s more deliberate offensive approach this spring could lead to a special run.

“I think our offense this year is really good,” asserted MacDonald. “Last year we forced things a little too much and I think that caused a lot of problems. Holding the ball a little more this year is going to go a long way for us.”

Reflecting on the snowy conditions, Princeton head coach Chris Bates said his team played close to the vest offensively.

“This was unlike anything I have ever seen,” said Bates. “We talked about not trying to change direction a whole lot. The far corner of the field was a little icy so we avoided starting some dodges there. I don’t think it hurt us a whole lot, to be honest with you.”

After jumping out to an early three-goal lead, Princeton cooled off before scoring a goal late in the second quarter to take a 6-5 lead into halftime.

“We lost momentum up 5-2 when we made a bad shooting decision and then it went  5-5,” said Bates. “We got the sixth goal which I thought gave us some life.”

The Tigers showed a lot of life in the third quarter, outscoring the Pride 7-2 and ending the frame with a 5-0 run.

“We played with some pace,” said Bates. “I thought we started after ground balls well, we rode well and got some easy ones and that is the difference in the game for us.”

The game started to slip away in the fourth as Hofstra pulled to within 14-11 with 11:07 remaining in regulation and had an extended man-up opportunity.

“I don’t think we played with the lead particularly well,” said Bates. “We were up 13-7 and I thought we lost a little bit of our aggressiveness. We needed to grab it by the throat and didn’t so we let them back in and then penalties killed us in the fourth quarter and we gave them life.”

While the Tigers never scored again, they held the fort, killing off the man-up opportunity and giving up only one goal in the waning moments.

“Give our guys credit, we managed to find a way to win it,” said Bates, whose team had three starters, Jake Froccaro, Mark Strabo, and Will Reynolds, unavailable on Saturday due to injury. “Given all the injuries and given early in the season, it is a good, gutty win.”

MacDonald showed guts, fighting off illness to come up big for the Tigers.

“For the last 30 hours, he has kept nothing in, fluids or anything,” said Bates.

“He literally had an IV this morning to get himself some nutrients. To come out with that gutty performance is pretty amazing and it doesn’t surprise me for one second. Mike said I will be ready and I said I know you will. There is nothing that can keep that kid off the field on game day. I am proud that he got the reward with a win and nine points.”

With No. 18 Princeton playing at No. 12 Johns Hopkins on February 28, the Tigers will need another gutty effort to beat the perennially strong Blue Jays.

“It wasn’t pretty, it was an identity win and that is what we need,” said Bates. “The next step is Hopkins and Maryland, obviously we have two big-time teams these next two weeks. We have a couple of weeks here to still figure ourselves out before the Ivies.”

MacDonald, for his part, believes Princeton has what it takes to be a big-time team.

“I think we are resilient,” said MacDonald. “I think we are still improving and we are going to get better every week. I am excited to see what the rest of the season holds for us.”