March 1, 2023

Stymied by Stifling Maryland Defensive Effort, PU Men’s Lax Falls 11-5 to Powerhouse Terps

STICKING POINT: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Coulter Mackesy looks to elude a defender in a recent game. Last Saturday, sophomore attacker Mackesy tallied three goals but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 11-5 to defending national champion Maryland. The Tigers, now 2-1, will look to get back in the winning track as they host Georgetown on March 4. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

For the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team, powerhouse Maryland proved to be its kryptonite last spring.

Last February, Princeton fell 15-10 to the Terps in a regular season contest. On Memorial Day weekend, the Tigers lost 13-8 to Maryland in the NCAA semis as the Terps went to win the national title to cap an undefeated campaign.

Last Saturday, when the foes met for an early season showdown at Class of 52 Stadium, the Tigers had last year’s setbacks in the rear view mirror.

“It is a very different team for us this year and for them too so there was not too much harping on those two last season,” said Princeton head coach Matt Madalon, whose squad came into the game ranked No. 3 nationally in the Inside Lacrosse media poll with Maryland at No. 9. “We were just trying to put our guys in a good position to win.”

While the clash may have involved a different cast of characters, the ending turned out to be unfortunately familiar for the Tigers as Maryland rode a stifling defensive effort to a 11-5 triumph before a hardy crowd of 1,775 braving the chilly afternoon with temperatures hovering in the low 30s and intermittent snow flurries.

In reflecting on the defeat, Madalon acknowledged that his squad wasn’t as sharp as it needed to be to overcome the Terps.

“We were a little sloppy on Tuesday night (a 14-9 win over Manhattan) so we had a lot of things we had to recalibrate,” said Madalon. “It was a short week of prep, on some of the finer points of the game we weren’t as buttoned up as we needed to be.”

The Princeton defense produced a fine performance in the first half as the Tigers trailed just 3-1 with junior defenseman Pace Billings and senior goalie Griffen Rakower coming up big.

“We are always happy when we can stack stops, it is hard to manufacture stops against these offenses,” said Madalon, who got 11 saves from Rakower in his one half of action as Michael Gianforcaro handled the goalie duties in the second half. “I think we put ourselves behind playing a man down a little too much today. Billings is always tough, he does a nice job. Griffen had some nice saves.”

At the break, the Tigers focused on getting their offense clicking.

“We just hadn’t settled in, we were 1-for-20 shooting at that point,” said Madalon. “It wasn’t shot selection, it was just putting better shots on cage. We were getting shots from decent spots but we just weren’t locating them well enough.”

Princeton seemingly gained some momentum midway through the third period as it scored twice in 3:35 to narrow the gap to 7-3. The second goal, though, was waved off due to an illegal stick foul on the face-off and Princeton was hit with a three-minute unreleasable penalty.

“It is an odd moment; the penalty or the ability to call a stick check is there for a reason,” said Madalon. “The face-off guys get their stick mangled at times. It was really unfortunate.”

The Tiger offense did show some punch as Princeton went on a 3-1 run to make it a 10-5 game with 12:04 left in the game.

“I think they started getting going,” said Madalon who got three goals from Coulter Mackesy in the loss with Sam English and Weston Carpenter tallying one apiece. “Those guys, when they look at the tape, they are going to want a little more out of it. They will want that one back a bit. It just took them a little too long to get going. There were some good pieces, we are still figuring ourselves out a little bit.”

Princeton, though, couldn’t figure out the Maryland defense.

“Their goalie (Brian Ruppel-14 saves) did a nice job, he has got a heck of a defense in front of him,” said Madalon. “It was great. We were struggling at times to create advantages but all in all they did a nice job defending us.”

While the loss stung, Madalon believes that the working through the struggles on Saturday can lead to some nice things as the season unfolds.

“We’ve just got to keep continuing to get better, we have got to play more complementary lacrosse,” said Madalon, whose team hosts Georgetown on March 4. “Our defense plays well and our offense is not shooting well. We have got to put 60 minutes together on both sides of the ball. It is just get back to work — you have got to learn from the wins and from the losses. We have got a lot of lacrosse left.”