After Memorable Final Campaign for Tiger Women’s Lax, Donovan Helped U.S. Earn Silver in World Sixes Tourney
WORLD STAGE: Princeton University women’s lacrosse player Marge Donovan races upfield against Yale in a game this spring during her senior season. Star defender Donovan has enjoyed an eventful few months. She capped her final Princeton campaign by getting named as the Ivy League Defender of the Year, the Most Outstanding Player in the Ivy postseason tournament, and as a third-team IWLCA All-American. In mid-July, Donovan helped the U.S. women’s team earn a silver medal in the inaugural World Sixes tournament at the World Games in Birmingham, Ala. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
Over the last few months, Marge Donovan has reached new heights in her lacrosse career.
This spring, Donovan produced a superb senior season for the Princeton University women’s lacrosse team, getting named as the Ivy League Defender of the Year, the Most Outstanding Player in the Ivy postseason tournament, and as a third-team Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) All-American. Along the way, Donovan set a program single-season record in draw controls (112) and a career record in draw controls with 214.
Donovan’s heroics helped Princeton go 7-0 in Ivy play, win the league postseason tournament, and advance to the second round of the NCAA tournament on the way to a 15-4 record.
In July, Donovan, a native of Catonsville, Md., competed for the U.S. team in the inaugural World Sixes tournament at the World Games in Birmingham, Ala. The athletic, rangy 5’10 Donovan helped the U.S. earn a silver medal at the competition.
In reflecting on her lacrosse whirlwind, Donovan credited her Princeton experience with laying the groundwork for her to excel on the world stage.
“I would say I owe much of who I am as a person and a lacrosse player to that program,” said Donovan. “I grew a lot. It is just a fantastic program. You have a coaching staff of Chris [Sailer], Jenn [Cook], and Kerrin [Maurer] that cares about you. Of course they care about your performance on the field but what drives the coaching is that they are culture coaches. When you have people that are genuinely invested in you, you can grow on and off the field. You feel supported.”
Donovan was excited to be on the field this spring for the Tigers after the 2020 season was halted after five games due to the pandemic and the 2021 campaign was canceled due to ongoing COVID-19 concerns.
“One of my favorite parts was just getting to know my teammates a little better; it had been a while since we had seen each other,” said Donovan, reflecting on a season that marked the final campaign for legendary Hall of Fame Princeton head coach Sailer. “Our unofficial motto for the season was ‘we don’t have to, we get to,’ that drove a lot of what we did. We were appreciative but we were also competitors. It was great to compete again and fulfill our full potential as a team. It was a great season.”
While Donovan appreciated the slew of honors she earned in her final campaign, she saw them as an outgrowth of collective excellence.
“I am just grateful, it is not why any one of us plays lacrosse or anything like that,” said Donovan. “It feels nice to be recognized. I think that is a reflection of our team, it is a reflection of our defense as a group and it is a reflection of our draw team as a group. It was a reflection of all of the hard work that we put in.”
In making her international debut, Donovan took a circuitous route. She originally tried out for the U.S. national team that went on to win the gold medal at the Women’s World Championship in early July but didn’t make the squad.
“I put my name in the ring for the US national team; the tryout was supposed to be in October 2020 but it got pushed to June 2021,” said Donovan. “I went out and tried out for that. It was an incredible experience. I have never played with so many great players. I feel like I learned so much, just in the tryout. I was surrounded by all-time greats.”
With that door closed, Donovan got in the mix for the U.S. team that was playing in the inaugural World Sixes tournament. Donovan was fired up to try the new format, which is played on a smaller field, six-on-six, with a shorter shot clock and four 8-minute quarters designed to speed up the pace of play.
“It was like a rolling tryout for like a year,” said Donovan. “They took some people who were younger and had promise in the next cycle. The Sixes format was created to get into the Olympics. The aim of that team was putting young players together who could potentially play, if it is approved, in the 2028 Olympics.”
As Donovan went through the process, she found herself thriving in the Sixes format.
“I was a big basketball player when I was younger and to me it is basically like basketball with lacrosse sticks,” said Donovan, who also starred in track in high school. “It is very much a similar game, 6-on-6. I am so excited for this format to catch on and for people to expand on it. There are a lot of things tactically that you could do with the format. People are honestly still figuring it out. You can play your team with five field players straight up who can play offense or defense or you can sub in a pure attacker on offense.”
In April, Donovan found out that she had made the U.S. team, triggering some deep emotions.
“I was even more shocked than when I won the award at the Ivy tournament,” said Donovan. “I was so honored. This is the stuff you dream about as a kid. It was just an incredible, incredible honor and I was very blessed.”
Before heading down to Birmingham, the U.S. squad got things together with a camp in June.
“We had a three-day training weekend, putting some plays together and working on chemistry on the field and off the field,” said Donovan.
Upon arriving in Alabama, Donovan and her teammates soaked in the feeling of being at an international
competition which featured 30 official sports with 3,600 athletes from 110 countries.
“Birmingham was awesome, the whole atmosphere was awesome,” said Donovan. “It was incredible.”
It was awesome for Donovan to take the field for the opener against Australia on July 12.
“Walking out of that locker room with the U.S. flag leading the way and walking next to my teammates, that is something I will never forget,” said Donovan reflecting on the game which saw the U.S. prevail 16-6. “I was just feeling so honored and blessed to be in that position. We were fired up in that first game, there were a lot of nerves because we are a little bit of a younger team. By the second half of that game we had gotten out all of the nerves and really started firing on all cylinders.”
The U.S. squad kept clicking on all cylinders, going 3-0 in Group A play and then routing Great Britain 21-5 in a semifinal game to advance to the gold medal game against Canada.
“It is so much faster, it is hard to describe,” said Donovan, who had an assist in the win over Great Britain. “If you do something good or you do something bad, you have .001 seconds to think about it. I think our semifinal game was our best performance.”
As for her role on the team, Donovan focused on keeping the defense up to speed.
“I would just go in on defense, we had a subbing pattern down on the fly,” said Donovan. “My role on defense was to organize and communicate and then if the opportunity presented itself, push in transition.”
In the gold medal game on July 16, the U.S. squandered opportunity as it led Canada 11-10 going into the fourth quarter before falling 14-12.
“It was disappointing because we didn’t play our best; we got a little caught up in the moment,” said Donovan, who assisted on a third quarter goal by Madison Ahern that gave the U.S. a 7-5 lead.
“You can make excuses, would have, could have or should have done this or that. We got outplayed. That was one of the toughest losses I have ever been a part of. You can think we lost, boohoo or whatever but I think the main takeaway is that we are part of something way bigger than ourselves.”
While that loss stung, Donovan is proud to have earned a silver medal while being a trailblazer for the new format.
“You are representing your country and you are on one of the biggest stages in the world,” said Donovan. “You are helping grow this incredible game.”
In Donovan’s view, the prospects for the Sixes game are bright.
“I sincerely hope so, this is probably one of the best ways to get other countries involved in lacrosse,” said Donovan. “I think that is so exciting. Logistically, you need fewer talented players to be competitive.”
With Donovan heading to the University of Maryland this fall to play as a graduate transfer for its high-powered women’s lax program and study aerospace engineering, she is looking to stay competitive for future involvement in the growth of Sixes.
“Every chance, I am going to throw my name in the ring and do my best,” said Donovan.