English’s Versatile Play Provides a Lift As PU Men’s Lax Edges Dartmouth 12-10
ENGLISH LESSON: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Sam English shows his intensity last Saturday as the Tigers hosted Dartmouth. Junior midfielder English tallied three goals and two assists to help the third-ranked Tigers pull out a 12-10 win over the Big Green. Princeton, now 9-2 overall and 3-1 Ivy League, plays at No. 17 Harvard on April 23. (Photo by Shelley Szwast, provided courtesy of Princeton Athletics)
By Bill Alden
On paper, it looked like a mismatch when the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team hosted Dartmouth last Saturday afternoon at Class of 1952 Stadium.
Princeton came into the contest riding high, ranked third nationally, and boasting a record of 8-2 overall and 2-1 Ivy League while Dartmouth, 4-6 overall and 0-3 Ivy, was mired in last place in the Ancient 8 having lost 31 straight league contests since a 12-11 overtime win against Harvard on March 21, 2015.
But at halftime, the rivals were locked in a 5-5 deadlock and Princeton junior midfielder Sam English knew the Tigers were in a battle.
“Anybody on any day can come into wherever and beat anyone,” said English. “At halftime, it was just lock it in, just play better. We were a little sketchy on the clear in the first half.”
English got locked in as he scored two straight goals in the third quarter to help Princeton go up 9-5.
“We call it the NASCAR offense, run it up and down the field,” said English, a 6’1, 180-pound native of Burlington, Ontario. “We got it from coach Mitchell (Princeton offensive coordinator Jim Mitchell) at Rutgers. The first one was just coming across the top and capitalizing on the matchup. The second was a 6-on-6 goal that kept the run going.”
Dartmouth, though, responded with a five-goal run to go up 10-9 before Princeton answered with three straight goals and pulled out a 12-10 win.
English, who assisted on the go-ahead goal by Chris Brown with 10:51 left in regulation, was confident that the Tigers were going to pull out the victory.
“There was never a point where I thought we were going to lose that game but it was a little sketchy,” said English. “We slowed it down on offense and the defense held it down. We made the adjustments we needed and got the W.”
Finding Brown with a feed was a no-brainer for English.
“Chris scored the one before to tie it and we just got the ball back to him,” said English, who ended up with three goals and two assists in the win. “He was able to find the back of the net and put us up one, which was a massive one.”
While the Tiger offense struggled at times on Saturday, English believed the win showed Princeton has developed a knack of doing whatever it takes to prevail.
“We can win in every way,” said English. “We have scored 21 against Penn (in a 21-20 win on March 19), we allowed eight against Georgetown (a 10-8 win on March 5) and seven against BU (a 12-7 win on April 9). We can win close games, we can win big games. We are a good team and that is all that matters.”
After scoring just two points with a goal and an assist in his freshman season in 2020 that was halted after five games due to the global pandemic, English is helping Princeton in a lot of ways this spring as he has hit the field after the 2021 season was canceled due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns.
“That off year was very helpful for me where I honed in and got my skills right,” said English, who has 18 goals and 13 assists so far in 2022 along with 15 ground balls. “I lived in Charleston in the fall and then I came here and lived here with the freshmen and sophomores last spring. That gave us some nice bonding and it’s got me to the point where I needed to be.”
English displayed his skills with a career-high four goals in a 15-10 loss to top-ranked Maryland on February 26.
“Maryland is the best team in the nation right now and for good reason,” said English. “It was a good confidence booster, knowing that I could play with any team in the nation.”
Princeton head coach Matt Madalon acknowledged that gritty Dartmouth proved to be a tough team to overcome.
“I am going to say that is how good our league is, they did a great job,” said Madalon. “They coached a great game, they played a great game. They came here with a good crowd, they had good energy. They set the tone at the face-off X against us. That really sways the possessions on the ground ball battle. We take a lot of pride in winning the ground balls. Our group did a good job away from the face-off X on ground balls. They played a really good game.”
At halftime, Madalon urged his players to be patient and execute.
“Dartmouth has played everybody tight all year in the first half,” said Madalon. “For us it was more or less, doing what we do and stick to the game plan. Shots will open up, shots will start dropping and they did. We came out and got the lead.”
There were some nervous moments for Princeton as Dartmouth took the lead with 12:27 left in the contest.
“We made a couple of careless plays that let them back in the game a little bit,” said Madalon. “Then they take the lead and they were executing.”
Madalon was not surprised to see senior star Brown come through with two straight goals to give Princeton a lead it never relinquished.
“He was good, he struggled a little early in shooting the ball a little bit,” said Madalon of Brown, who ended up with two goals and three assists in the win.
“If there is a guy we are going to give it to in that moment, it is him. He is a big-time player and he makes big-time plays. He is a senior, he can handle that kind of pressure.”
English is emerging as a big-time player for the Tigers. “He is awesome, he is all over the field,” said Madalon of English. “We are using him for defense, we use him on man-up, and we use him on offense. He is such an electric player. He is a guy that keeps getting better every time. We are thrilled to have him, in between the lines, he makes a huge impact on the offensive side and now the defensive side. He is a true utility player.”
The Tiger defense came up big as it stifled Dartmouth down the stretch, producing 18 caused turnovers on the day.
“Dartmouth played long possessions, they took the shot clock down to the last 15-20 seconds every time,” said Madalon. “They were deliberate, they made great adjustments. Our defense withstood some stuff. There were a couple of mistakes that they capitalized on but all in all it was a good defensive battle. Andrew Song and Pace Billings are excellent at the pole position, those guys do a really nice job. Erik Peters made five fourth quarter saves, thank god.”
Madalon was relieved to see his team overcome a pesky Big Green squad to pull out the win.
“We are thrilled to win, it is less about character and more about cleaning up our mistakes,” said Madalon. “Any time you can win in Class of ’52 in front of the home crowd, we are really excited.”
Looking ahead, Princeton is excited to wrap up its Ivy campaign as it plays at No. 17 Harvard on April 23 before hosting No. 8 Cornell on April 30.
“Those are awesome teams,” said Madalon. “Harvard has done a great job this year. We expect an absolute battle with those guys. Cornell is one of the top teams in the country. We expect nothing but a great game.”
English, for his part, expects the Tigers to keep rising to the occasion.
“It is stick to the game plan, not overthink too many things, come out on Saturday and get the win,” said English.
“Every game is going to be a hard one. We are in control of our own destiny. We go out there and we win two games and we come back here the week after and we play the Ivy championship.”