May 17, 2017

While PU Men’s Lax Ended on a Down Note, Improving to 9-6 Portends Good Things Ahead

FOR THE RECORD: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Gavin McBride looks to unload the ball in a game earlier this spring. The senior star attackman ended his career with a bang, tallying a program-record 54 goals this spring, breaking the record of 53 set by Jesse Hubbard 21 years ago. He also had 17 assists, making him the fifth player in program history to reach 70 points in a season. The Tigers ended the spring with a 9-6 record. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

Over the course of the spring, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team produced a number of impressive wins.

In early March, Princeton routed perennial power Johns Hopkins 18-7. Later in the month, the Tigers earned two key Ivy League triumphs, topping Penn 17-8 and Brown 21-11, avenging double-digit defeats from a year earlier.

On April 8, Princeton overcame an early deficit to pull out a 13-11 victory at Stony Brook. Two weeks later, the Tigers jumped out to a 7-3 lead on the way to a 12-9 win over Harvard.

Facing Brown in the Ivy League tournament semifinal on May 5, the Tigers appeared to be on their way to another noteworthy triumph as they led 12-10 early in the fourth quarter. But the Bears reeled off seven straight goals and a late Princeton rally fell short in a 17-15 loss that left the Tigers with a 9-6 final record.

In assessing the season overall, first-year head coach Matt Madalon saw plenty of positives.

“We were proud of the steps we took as a new coaching staff, there is so much change in policy and procedures but I think our guys were really able to adapt and adjust,” said Madalon, who took the helm of the Tigers on an interim basis in 2016, guiding the Tigers to a 3-2 finish as they ended at 5-8 overall, later getting the nod as the permanent head coach.

“We are not content and not happy with where we ended up. We were proud of the seniors; we wish we had done more for them. We did a good job this year.”

In Madalon’s view, the Tigers did a particularly good job of adjusting to whatever the coaches asked of them.

“It was team function, complementary lacrosse, really blending offense, defense, and transition,” said Madalon.

“I think looking back on it this year guys really took whatever role they were in and ran with it. Guys like Zach Currier taking face-offs, Sam Gravitte going from shortstick to longstick. Offensive players being bumped around, it was just good stuff.”

Princeton got good stuff from the seniors at both ends of the field. “Bear Goldstein and Sam Gravitte have been anchoring that defense for years; I think that guys chipped in along the way like Alistair Berven,” said Madalon.

“On the offensive end, Gavin McBride (a program-record 54 goals in 2017) had your storybook senior year. You see how the kid works, how he grinds, how he prepares. No one on the coaching staff was the least bit surprised that Gav was leading the country in goal scoring. He is a very opportunistic lacrosse player. Guys that live their life the right way get rewarded. It breaks my heart that I will never get to coach a kid like Zach Currier (24 goals, 34 assists, 130 ground balls) again. I hope to find the next Zach Currier, I think that is everyone’s goal. His tenaciousness, his energy, his relentlessness, his knack for getting ground balls, his versatility, you name it; in our sport, those are the qualities you want. We were thrilled to have the time with them.”

Madalon is thrilled to be welcoming back freshman phenom Michael Sowers for his sophomore campaign.

“Michael is a really special player for us offensively, he is the key piece over the next handful of years,” asserted Madalon of Sowers, who set a program and Ivy scoring record for freshman with 82 points on 41 goals and 41 assists and was named the Ivy Rookie of the Year and a first-team All-Ivy selection.

“We will make sure that we put guys around him to make sure that we are functioning at the highest level. When you have a player with that skill set and that ability, that is how any top level organization takes shape.”

There are plenty of good pieces returning to work with Sowers. “There are a bunch of young guys, too, who are really, really high level lacrosse players that didn’t see a lot of time this year just because of the senior laden experience on the front end,” said Madalon.

“With guys returning like Sowers, Austin Sims (27 goals, 9 assists), Riley Thompson (18 goals, 22 assists), and Charlie Durbin (18 goals, 4 assists), those are four guys who played key minutes. I think that experience and their lacrosse IQ as a whole is going to be really impressive in the future.”

Looking to the future, Madalon has urged his players to focus on developing individual skills over the offseason to maximize their potential.

“A lot of it for us is just going to be about continuing to get bigger, stronger and faster, working on mental toughness and physical toughness,” said Madalon.

“We tell them that in order to succeed at the highest level, you have to continue to train, work on your game, work on your diet, and work on the physical piece. We should have a pretty focused group in the offseason. I think no one was content with where we ended up. There were a lot of positives and those are good reminders that hard work will get you there. We have got to work a lot harder to get where we need to get to.”