August 26, 2020

Making the Most Out of Scoring Opportunities, PU Alum Ambler Stars for Archers in PLL Tourney

PREMIER ATTRACTION: Ryan Ambler looks for an opening in action for the Archers of the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL). Former Princeton University men’s lax standout Ambler ’16 starred for the Archers as they advanced to the semifinals of the recently held PLL Championship Series. Midfielder Ambler ended up with nine points on four goals and five assists in the PLL competition. (Photo provided courtesy of PLL)

By Justin Feil

Ryan Ambler aims to make the most of his chances.

The 2016 Princeton University graduate had not made a shot as the Archers LC went into overtime against the Chrome LC in their Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) Championship Series group game July 30.

“I was in somewhat of a shooting slump,” said Ambler, a 6’2, 190-pound native of Abington, Pa., who tallied 168 points in his Princeton career on 76 goals and 92 assists.

“The ball just wouldn’t go in. It was our third game. That night I’d hit the pipe, I’d hit the goalie three or four times. In my head, I was hoping just one of these falls. You kind of get in that rhythm where you wonder, when is this ball going to drop? It all happened so quickly. I have to give credit to guys like Tom Schreiber, another Princeton guy, and Grant Ament. They’re fantastic passers.”

Getting his chance on a feed from former Penn State star Ament, Ambler took it and fired low to notch a highlight goal to give the Archers a 13-12 win and a 3-0 start to the Championship Series, which was held at Zions Bank Stadium in Herriman, Utah. It was the sort of play that the Archers had been working on and it paid off in a key spot.

“In that moment in particular, it’s definitely up there with the top memories I’ll have in my career personally, just how everything went down and getting to celebrate with my teammates and seeing the ball go in the back of the net and closing my eyes and catching the ball,” said Ambler. “A lot of things fell into place and Grant gave me the opportunity to make a play. It felt really good for us to get a win in a one-goal game. We won the faceoff, came down and capitalized on our opportunity. That felt really good. I was really happy about it.”

While the Archers did not go on to win the PLL Championship Series – their run ended with a 13-9 loss to the Chaos in the semifinals August 6 – Ambler was happy to have the opportunity to play. The coronavirus pandemic that had threatened the entire season, and the uncertainty in the months that led up to the PLL’s return made playing all the more appreciated.

“I’m still processing what that means,” said Ambler. “Maybe I’ll have some different viewpoints a couple years down the road when things return somewhat to normalcy. For the time being, I see it as a once in a lifetime sort of opportunity.”

Ambler has reveled in being able to continue playing beyond Princeton. That chance is something he won’t pass up even with the subtle adjustments that come at the pro level.

“I’ve changed positions,” said Ambler. “I’m running midfield now. At Princeton, I was playing attack. Something I’ve tried to do is mentally have some more fun. There’s a lot on the line when we were at Princeton, not that there’s not a lot now, but it’s just different. Guys need to be accountable because we don’t see our teammates every single day. We’re not on a structured lifting program. If you don’t love it and you’re not passionate about it, it’s hard to stick with it. I’ve truly found over the last couple of years that I love this sport so much. I’m incredibly passionate about it and I love to compete.”

Professional lacrosse has enabled him to remain teammates with fellow Princeton alumni, play against others, and continue in a game that he loves.

“I love being around the teammates and coaches I have,” said Ambler of the Archers, who are guided by former Tiger head coach Chris Bates.

“We all just play for each other. I had that at Princeton, which is why I loved it so much. I stepped away from that and it was a little bit of a transition to not have it anymore. I found it again. I was able to play on some good teams. It always comes back to the fact that I love lacrosse so much. That’s what just keeps me going and makes me want to go through the grind of exercising and getting in shape and being mentally prepared and maybe not getting to do things that some of my other friends are experiencing, but it’s all worth it.”

Ambler had watched from afar as the Princeton men’s lacrosse saw its 2020 campaign abruptly ended as the Tigers were in one of their best seasons in recent years, getting off to a 5-0 start and rising to No. 3 in the Inside Lacrosse media poll before things were halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s tough; they were on a roll,” said Ambler. “You have to credit coach (Matt) Madalon for shaping the culture for the team. They finally put it together this year with their group of guys and shared common interests, and everyone was bought in. It’s so awesome to see. The alumni network at Princeton is very strong and we follow all their games. There were 40 of us at a bar in New York City watching them play UVA. It was incredible.”

Over the last few years, Ambler has developed a special connection with Tiger senior star Michael Sowers.

“A guy that I’m close with, Mikey Sowers, he and I talk pretty frequently and work out together when I’m home in Philly, I was just crushed for him,” said Ambler.

“The whole team has gone through three really tough years. They had three years trying to build and come together and grow and they finally had it. They were playing so smart and hard and for each other. I think of how optimistic we were that the season would get figured out and then it got canceled. We though that these guys would get to come back for one more year and then Princeton decides they’re not going to. It’s a bit heartbreaking for those guys. The alums are bummed because it was such a great group of guys. For those guys to not be able to finish what they started at Princeton, that’s what stings in our eyes more than not getting to finish out the season.”

Madalon took over in Ambler’s senior season after he played three seasons for Bates. Ambler played two seasons of Major League Lacrosse for the Denver Outlaws after graduating from Princeton and then helped the Archers reach the quarterfinals last year in the PLL’s first season. In the 2019 campaign, he scored three goals and had seven assists in nine regular season games before coming on to finish third in the league in postseason scoring with six goals and four assists in three games.

“I wouldn’t say I was satisfied,” said Ambler. “There were some bright moments, and there were some low moments where I didn’t contribute as much and I felt bad about it and felt like I let my teammates down. What I appreciate still to this day is the confidence that coach Bates, coach (Tony) Resch, and coach (Brian) Kavanaugh have had in me and stuck with me. That’s really a key ingredient for great leaders is trust and confidence in your guys. I have coach Bates to thank for getting me to Princeton but also the opportunity to play with the Archers. I’m sure there were some points he had a second thought about it, but he stuck with me and I’m pretty grateful for it.”

That strong finish helped Ambler make the Archers’ protected list for 2020. But when the pandemic hit, everything was up in the air.

“People were moving and sheltering in place,” said Ambler. “I went down to Philadelphia to stay with my brother for what I thought would be a week and it turned into about eight weeks. The whole time, I continued to train and in the back of my mind, I was thinking, what’s going to happen here, are we going to be able to play, are we going to have a season? We were pretty fortunate that the PLL is pretty innovative and decided they were going to move forward with having a championship series. From there, they took incredible protocols to make sure we were all safe and stayed healthy and constantly stayed in communication with us about how to keep up with our fitness and giving us support to make sure we were eating the right things and being healthy. It’s truly an incredible league. I have a lot of good things to say about it.”

Back together for three weeks in the Utah bubble, the Archers worked to generate the chemistry needed to excel in the Championship Series. They went 4-2 overall with an 11-10 win over the Atlas, a 9-7 win over the Waterdogs and the overtime win over the Chrome before they lost 17-11 to the eventual
champion Whipsnakes going into elimination play.

“Last year, something we struggled with was coming out on top of one-goal games,” said Ambler, who ended up with nine points on four goals and five assists in the PLL Championship Series.

“I look back to the games that we lost and the majority of them were by one goal. This year was a different story. We went 3-1 in group play and the three wins we had were all by one goal. There was only one game we had that we won by two goals, but Scott Ratliff scored on an open goal with 10 seconds left. I was really proud to be a part of the team this year and see how we evolved to win some of those gritty one-goal games that weren’t the prettiest, but we just figured out a way to get wins. That’s the hallmark of a good team.”

Ambler was thrilled to reunite with Schreiber and coach Bates with the Archers. Another Princeton graduate, Austin Sims, is an Archers member, but did not travel to Utah for the Championship Series.

“There’s definitely familiarity there,” said Ambler. “I know what Tom’s doing. I know what Austin’s doing. I understand coach Bates pretty well. I know what drives him and he knows what sparks me. There were a couple times during the games where I think back to what we did at Princeton, there was one particular play versus the Atlas in the quarterfinal game where Tom and I worked a two-man game and we scored it. I thought to myself, we’ve practiced that 100 times in practice and through the years playing together and read each other well. It made me smile all the times we’d practiced it, talked through it, and to see it actually result in a goal made me really happy.”

It was an experience that he will remember given the circumstances in which the PLL was able to conduct its abbreviated season. He was grateful for the opportunity to return to the field and play a game that remains his passion.

“Who knows if we’ll get the chance to do that again,” said Ambler. “I somewhat hope that we don’t because I’d like to have a regular season. With everything that’s going on today, I think it’s an experience I’ll never ever forget. It’s one of those things I’ll probably look back on in 10-15 years and say, I cannot believe I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to get to travel out to Utah, stay with 22 of my closest buddies and play lacrosse every day. It truly was just remarkable. I think the group of guys we had made it even better. We have amazing personalities and characters on our team. Spending every single second of your day for three weeks with them, and not getting sick of them, is a win in itself. It’s somewhat telling of what the Archers squad is really about.”

In Ambler’s view, the Archers should continue to be a PLL title contender. After helping them grow through the Championship Series, he will have a chance to travel before returning to New York City to work in software sales for a tech company and turning his focus to preparing for another chance in 2021.

“I’ll start to train like our season is going to happen and try to build on what we did this year,” said Ambler.

“I think we laid the foundation last year for the type of team we want to be. I think we took a step in the right direction this year. We obviously didn’t accomplish what we wanted to, but I think pound for pound, we have the best team and best coaching staff in the league. Coach Bates, Coach Resch, Coach Kavanaugh, are just phenomenal. I’m excited to keep building upon that and hopefully accomplish what we want to next year.”