May 18, 2022

PU Men’s Lax Looks Sharp at Both Ends of the Field Topping BU in NCAA Opener, Will Face Yale in Quarters

BY GEORGE: Princeton University men’s lacrosse star defender George Baughan heads upfield last Saturday as Princeton hosted Boston University in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Baughan came up with three ground balls and had one caused turnover to help key a superb defensive effort as fifth-seeded Princeton defeated BU 12-5. It was Princeton’s first game in the NCAA tournament since 2012 and its first triumph in the event since a 10-7 win over Massachusetts in the first round of the 2009 tourney. The Tigers, now 10-4, will be facing fifth-seeded and Ivy League rival Yale (12-4) in the NCAA quarters on May 21 at Hofstra University. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

As the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team prepared to host Boston University last Saturday in its first NCAA tournament appearance since 2012, the Tigers went back to basics.

Not playing on the first weekend of May because it didn’t qualify for the Ivy League postseason tourney, Princeton used the extra time to fine-tune its skills.

“We looked at it like a preseason; we did ground ball drills, fundamental drills, ball protection drills, slide and cover drills and stick protections, just really simple stuff,” said Princeton head coach Matt Madalon, whose team had defeated BU 12-7 in a regular season meeting on April 9.

“We went at them pretty hard for four days and then we gave them a couple of days off to let them get through exams and let them heal their bodies. We just took a full week of prep with BU and the guys did a good job. We got to wind it down Thursday and Friday and try to come out here as fresh as possible. Having those two weeks off allowed us to taper down our prep week a little earlier which gave us a better opportunity to start the game using our legs to create some pressure.”

Looking sharp and fresh, the fifth-seeded Tigers jumped out to a 4-0 lead after the first quarter and never looked back on the way to a 12-5 win, earning its first triumph in the NCAA tournament since a 10-7 win over Massachusetts in the first round of the 2009 tourney.

Princeton, now 10-4, will face fourth-seeded and Ivy rival Yale (12-4) in the NCAA quarters on May 21 at James Shuart Stadium at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

Tiger senior star defender George Baughan, who helped key a superior defensive effort by getting three ground balls and one caused turnover, credited the extra prep time with helping the Tigers.

“I think having that week where we didn’t have a game helped us and the coaches to really dial up practice and do a lot of hard ground ball drills,” said Baughan a 6’1, 195-pound native of Wyndmoor, Pa., and a three-time All-American.

“To our credit, we came out and won that ground ball battle (50-29). We were making big plays to win the ground. Credit to the coaches and the drills they drum up during that week off to come out hard.”

The unit’s depth helped it play hard for 60 minutes on Saturday.

“It was just such a team effort, I think the coolest part is that we had two guys, Jacob Stoebner and Cathal Roberts, who haven’t logged a ton of minutes in the past few games,” said Baughan.

“Those guys stepped in and played so well. It was a ‘by committee’ effort. Their attack is very, very talented and we knew that they like to feed and look to each other inside. We were just trying to get into their hands and disrupt their game plan a little bit.”

Junior attacker Slusher, who had three goals in the victory, also saw the time off as a blessing in disguise for the Tigers. 

“Going back to our last Ivy League game (an 18-15 loss to Cornell on April 30) we definitely had some possessions that we wanted to have back in the first half,” said Slusher, a 5’9, 180-pound native of Portland, Ore., who now has a team-high 44 goals.

“Having two weeks to sit and watch everybody else play, we made it a goal to take care of the ball and come out and get a few to get going. It makes the rest of the game a little bit easier. We did small part drills that are some individual skills that we can work on that will enable us to play better offense in the NCAA tournament. It was also schematic. We ran the same stuff but we made a couple of subtle changes that allowed us to get some better looks and hopefully continue to get better looks.”

The attack looked formidable as Christian Ronda and Sam English also had three goals while Chris Brown contributed five assists.

“Coach Mitchell (offensive coordinator Jim Mitchell) preaches balance, it is something we always kind of say anyone can go off on any given day,” said Slusher. “We had a lot of different goal scorers today and that really showed. That speaks to our depth and our systems. Coach Mitch and Coach Mads put us in position to score. We have so many different guys who can do it, it is easy because it takes the pressure off of any one person.”

In the view of Madalon, another key to the win was Tyler Sandoval’s dominant effort on face-offs which saw him win 15-of-18 on the day.

“We were really fortunate winning some face-offs early, the [Conor] Calderone kid is impressive, he has been great all year,” said Madalon. “We knew it was going to be a hell of a matchup. Tyler and Conor have faced off against each other for the last  decade. They are two Long Island guys. They battled in the recruiting process and they have battled in training. They were very familiar with each other so that always brings an extra edge to the matchup.”

Extending its defensive rotation also gave the Tigers an edge. “We played five close defensemen so being able to sub those guys, Jacob and Cathal, allowed our guys to be a little more fresh,” said Madalon.

“You get in these big play-off games and we had anticipated our guys being gassed in the first quarter because of all of the energy in warmups and all the energy in the crowd. You get those heavy legs early. We knew we wanted to spell those guys and it really worked out in our favor.”

The squad’s offensive balance was the final piece in the puzzle.

“Coach Mitchell’s approach all day, every day, is balance,” said Madalon. “It is putting a lineup out there, it doesn’t matter who you pole, it doesn’t matter what the matchups are, we are going to keep attacking. We were a little slow out of the gates, we wanted to play with a little more pace on offense. Their defense generates a heck of a lot of turnovers. Our mentality going into it was weather the storm and stay the course for 60 minutes and eventually we will wear them down.”

Staying the course in earning its first NCAA tourney win in 13 years was heartening for Madalon.

“It is wonderful, I want this for our program,” said Madalon. “It is not about me but I was able to play in two Final 4s for Roanoke and know the lingering impact that it has. When you show up that next season, the standard of playing in NCAA games and winning NCAA games really imprints on your program. That is what I want the most for these guys. Now let’s see if we can make a run at this thing.”

Baughan, for his part, savored his NCAA debut. “It was special especially being at home and seeing those banners for the first time,” said Baughan. “We have been here for a while, we have come and watched the women compete in this tournament. For us to be out there and to see our fans here, it was just so special and I am so thankful.”

For Slusher, playing in the national tourney was the realization of a childhood goal.

“I have been watching tournaments since I was in sixth grade; when May comes it is sweet, you play your club lacrosse and then I am coming home and watching all the tournament games,” recalled Slusher.

“I can even remember my senior year, watching Sam Handler (Penn star), another kid from Oregon play in the NCAA tournament. It was like wow, that is really cool. To get a chance to actually be in that game was pretty special and something I will remember for the rest of my life.”

In Baughan’s view, getting another shot at a Yale team that edged Princeton 14-12 on March 26 will be sweet.

“They are obviously a good team,” said Baughan. “They have gotten the best of us the past few times. I am confident in our team and our prep. I would love to see those guys again.”