Coming Off of Stirring Run to NCAA Final 4, PU Men’s Lax Hungry for Another Big Spring
COMING THROUGH: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Alex Slusher fights to get past a Cornell defender in action last season. Star attacker Slusher scored 46 goals in 2022 in his junior season to help the Tigers advance to the NCAA Final 4 for the first time since 2004. Princeton opens its 2023 season by hosting Monmouth on February 18. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
After advancing to the NCAA Final 4 last spring for the first time since 2004, the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team is hoping that the stirring postseason run will be a harbinger of things to come.
“Hopefully, it will pay dividends in experience if we are fortunate enough to earn that opportunity again,” said Princeton head coach Matt Madalon, who guided the Tigers to an 11-5 overall record in 2022. “I think the more you get back there, the more comfortable you feel in those settings.”
The squad developed a deeper comfort level after going on a fall trip to Spain and Andorra.
“It absolutely helped, any time you can get your team away from the normal routine of Princeton, academically and athletically, is good,” said Madalon. “To be able to get them out of the country and eat all of your meals together and see the coaches in a different light, it is all very wonderful.”
Princeton didn’t have much time to get up and running for the 2023 campaign as it had a whirlwind preseason.
“Preseason was 10 practices, two scrimmages, and two days off,” said Madalon, whose team is ranked fourth in this week’s Inside Lacrosse Media Poll and hosts Monmouth on February 18 in its 2023 season opener. “It was good, I think we stayed relatively healthy. We are still just trying to build off of last year and teach the new guys some things.”
Madalon is expecting great things from his top attack group of senior Alex Slusher (46 goals, 10 assists in 2022), sophomore Coulter Mackesy (28 goals, 15 assists), and sophomore Braedon Saris (1 assist).
“Alex has gotten better every year, he is a leader down there,” said Madalon, who will also be using sophomore Jack Ringhofer, senior Jack Crockett, and freshman Chad Palumbo on attack. “He is showing the poise and dealing with the pressure that gets put on that unit so he is wonderful. Coulter stepped up big time last year, we have got really high hopes for that young guy. Playing to their right will be Braedon, he is a Canadian guy, he is skilled with a high IQ. He is very complementary to the other guys.”
The Tigers feature a lot of key guys in the midfield, led by senior Sam English (30 goals, 18 assists) along with senior Jake Stevens (22 goals, 2 assists), senior Alexander Vardaro (26 goals, 15 assists), senior Christian Ronda (23 goals, 2 assists), and junior Tommy Barnds (5 goals, 3 assists).
“Sam is as talented as they come athletically,” said Madalon, whose midfield unit will also include freshman Quinn Krammer, sophomore Billy Barnds, junior Lucas Stanat, and sophomore Sean Cameron. “He is a tone-setting midfielder for us. His IQ and skill development has been remarkable over the past couple of years. With Vardaro, Stevens, and Ronda, you get a lot of experience out of those guys, you get a lot of guys who really understand what it takes to train and practice the right way. We have got a lot of young offensive talent that are looking at those older guys to show them the way. Tommy has been a great midfielder for us. He has stepped in some big moments and made some big plays. He plays both attack and midfielder so he is a talented guy.”
At shortstick midfield, talented senior Beau Pederson (2 goals, 4 assists, 27 ground balls) will lead the way.
“Beau Pederson is the man there, he has gotten some incredible recognition,” said Madalon. “He is a big, physical player. He is going to be flanked by fellow captain, Luke Anderson, along with Paul Weathington Jr., Marquez White, and Joe Juengerkes. It is a really strong unit.”
The longstick midfield crew looks strong, paced by senior Luca Lazzaretto (8 ground balls, five caused turnovers).
“Luca, Michael Bath, Cathal Roberts, and Cooper Kistler as a young guy, are all going to be in the mix a little bit,” said Madalon.
The close defense corps is battle-tested, featuring seniors Pace Billings (1 goal, 2 assists, 15 ground balls), Cathal Roberts (7 ground balls), Jacob Stoebner (8 ground balls), and Ben Finlay (1 assist, 26 ground balls) along with sophomore standout Colin Mulshine (14 ground balls).
“All of those guys got to play throughout that run last year and win some big games,” said Madalon. “They are just continuing to learn and grow; hopefully that is a tight unit for us this year.”
With the graduation of senior star goalie Erik Peters, Madalon is looking at three guys to fill that void in senior Griffen Rakower (8.04 goals against average, .636 save percentage), junior Michael Gianforcaro (9.68 GAA, .250 save pct.), and freshman Ryan Croddick, a post-graduate standout at the Hun School last spring.
“Both of the vets have been so great, they are playing at such a high level that we feel like we are going to give them both a shot to play in some games for us,” said Madalon. “Ryan will see some time, he is a really talented young guy. He is the third spot right now.”
At the face-off spot, junior Tyler Sandoval (202-377 face-offs) and sophomore Koby Ginder (14-34) are in the mix along with freshman Andrew McMeekin.
“Sandoval and Ginder, our top two guys, are returning,” said Madalon. “We have a young guy in McMeekin who is going to push those guys immediately. We are always looking for the main guy but we will start it as a rotation.”
Looking ahead to the season opener, Madalon anticipates that his squad will get pushed by Monmouth.
“They are an incredible program; year in, year out, coach [Brian] Fisher does a good job there,” said Madalon. “They have got some experienced guys, they have some fifth-year seniors. We expect them to be pretty good. Neither of us have tape on each other for this first game so we will have to learn a little bit on the fly.”
While Madalon believes that Princeton has the potential to do some incredible things this spring, he sees staying in the present as the blueprint for success.
“This is a group that needs to continue to stay hungry, we take a lot of pride in getting better every single day,” said Madalon. “If we can just stay hungry and work to get better as a program both on and off the field every day, we can do well. It is as talented group as we have gotten to coach. We are excited as coaching staff. But we are 0-0 right now.”