March 29, 2023

With Sophomore Star Mackesy Exploding for 8 Goals, PU Men’s Lax Routs Yale 23-10, Snaps 4-Game Skid

GOAL-ORIENTED: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Coulter Mackesy goes to goal in a 2022 game. Last Saturday, sophomore attacker Mackesy fired in a career-high eight goals to help Princeton defeat Yale 23-10 and snap a four-game losing streak. Mackesy, who also added two assists to reach a career-high 10 points and become the ninth player in program history to reach double figures in a game, was later named the Ivy League Player of the Week. Princeton, now 3-4 overall and 1-1 Ivy, hosts Brown on April 1. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Justin Feil

Although the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team’s matchup with Yale last Saturday came halfway through the regular season, it had a must-win feeling as the Tigers challenged themselves from top to bottom.

“All our groups — coaches, players, staff, everyone — put a ton of pressure on themselves this week to have a better sense of urgency and clean it up a little bit,” said Princeton head coach Matt Madalon. “And then get yourself in a position to execute on game day. I’m really impressed with our seniors and captains again. We went at those guys pretty hard and had them teetering — you’ve gotta believe or not believe. Those guys did a really good job of believing and getting it back. You’re a couple opportunities, a couple bounces away from not feeling like that.”

The Tigers were coming off four straight losses, including back-to-back deflating overtime defeats to Rutgers (14-13 on March 11) and Penn (9-8 on March 18). It would have been easy for Princeton to tighten up further when they fell behind 1-0 to the Bulldogs over the first eight minutes, hit a pair of pipes, and saw top face-off specialist Tyler Sandoval go down with an apparent knee injury.

Then sophomore attacker Coulter Mackesy, whose shots had been the ones to clang off the pipe, including one from midfield with the Yale goalie scrambling back into cage, scored to tie it. Barely a minute later, he tallied another to help Princeton go ahead. Mackesy ended up scoring five straight to help the Tigers grab an 8-1 lead and control of the game on their way to a record-setting 23-10 victory over the visiting Bulldogs at Class of 1952 Stadium on otherwise dreary Saturday. The 23 goals scored were the most the Tigers have ever had against Yale in the 108 meetings in the series.
“If you get a hot hand, keep shooting,” said Mackesy, who finished with a career-high eight goals and two assists for 10 points, making him the ninth player in program history to reach double figures in a game. “I was just playing free and loose. Shooting to score is kind of the biggest thing. Playing relaxed out there and having fun, it made it easier for me. There was high energy from the whole team.”

Princeton is home for two more weekends as they look to build more momentum after improving to 3-4 overall, 1-1 in the Ivy League. The Tigers host Brown on April 1 in another key Ivy game and Syracuse on April 8 in their final non-conference game of the season.

“It feels great,” said Mackesy, who was later named the Ivy Player of the Week. “Coming off two overtime losses is really hard to come back from. Going into overtime in those games not even playing our best was lucky enough, and our coaches said that to really deserve a win is our goal, not to squeak out a win playing average lacrosse. It was great for our whole team to play awesome. Everyone played great to get a big win over Yale and get our season back on track.”

The win over Yale gave the squad a blueprint of the sort of urgency the Tigers need throughout each week to prepare going forward.

“I think they knew they were a pretty good team, but you have to practice well every day, you have to practice great,” said Madalon. “You have to win the games during the week. So we just put in a good week of practice and tried not to overthink about it as a program, although I’m sure everyone felt the pressure.”

Mackesy’s career highs in goals and points were not the result of him trying to be more aggressive than usual. The Tigers’ leading scorer this season was forced into an even more important role for assistant coach Jim Mitchell’s attack when Princeton played without regular starters senior Alex Slusher and sophomore Braedon Saris, who are considered day-to-day with injury.

“I was just letting the game come to me,” said Mackesy. “I kind of switched spots around a bit. I played behind more than I did in the recent games. I think that helped me a bit, just giving my defender a different look and dodging from different spots and I was able to get open. The midfield did their job too. It’s easy playing with those guys, who smoked short sticks and poles all game long.”

Mackesy’s 27 goals now nearly double their next leading scorer, senior midfielder Alex Vardaro, who has 14. The Brunswick, Conn., product is just one goal away from equaling what was a fine freshman year campaign in which he also had 15 assists, just the second freshman to ever post at least 25 goals and 15 assists. He has built on that season by improving his right hand and adding multiple ways to score.

“Defenses are so well prepared,” said Mackesy. “If you can build a big catalog of moves and ways to score, then you’re in a good spot. That was my big focus in the offseason, adding more tools to my game and kind of learning from guys like Chris Brown and Slusher from last year who are unbelievable scorers and dodgers.”

Princeton only had eight goals in their loss to Penn as a team. Mackesy duplicated that scoring output himself against Yale.

“Where he was most successful today was he did it in a bunch of different ways,” said Madalon. “He wasn’t just operating from the lefty wing. He played a little behind, he played some in transition, he did some work in man-up, a couple right-handed goals as a power lefty, so he just did a really nice job. And Coach Mitch moving him around and capitalizing there. And he shot it really well. That’s one of those days where it’s like holy smokes, he’s letting it go and those were going in.”

Vardaro had a goal and four assists while senior midfielder Christian Ronda added four goals. Sophomore Sean Cameron and junior Lukas Stanat each scored twice and had an assist while junior Tommy Barnds scored a goal and had two helpers. Senior Sam English posted a pair of assists, senior Beau Pederson scored twice in huge momentum-building goals, and Senior Weston Carpenter, sophomore Jack Ringhofer, and sophomore Koby Ginder all had a goal apiece. Stanat and Ringhofer made their first two career starts.

“Ringhofer and Stanat do it every day in practice,” said Madalon. “So for them to get their name called to start, they stepped up to the challenge and did a nice job today. They still have a lot of room to grow and learn but they stepped up there.”

Princeton is hoping it can get healthier in the coming weeks, but liked the way it shared the ball Saturday and created opportunities. The Tigers capitalized better than they had in their four-game losing stretch.

“I don’t know if it was maybe when those six original guys were out there, maybe we got a little complacent and too comfortable,” said Madalon. “When you put some new guys out there, everyone has to be a little sharper, everyone has to be a little more focused. It’s a tough way to learn about urgency. It was just nice to see those guys play really unselfishly, which is great.”

Ginder had to step up at the face-off X. Sandoval had only taken two face-offs when he collapsed to the turf in obvious pain. He was put in an immobilizer on the sideline to be evaluated further following the game. Ginder stepped in to win 15 of 29 face-offs.

“Tyler has been our No. 1 face-off guy for a while so for him to go down with the injury was tough,” said Madalon. “Credit to our team for kind of just staying in the moment. Everyone felt for Tyler, but you have to stay in it and handle the opportunity in front of you and those guys really did that. I think Ginder went in there and I think he was 15 for 29 with six ground balls so a pretty good job.”

Princeton’s defense and ride helped with the rest. While face-offs were even overall between the teams, the Tigers forced 13 turnovers to five from Yale. The Bulldogs had 22 turnovers overall, seven more than Princeton.

“The possession battle, that’s exactly what it is,” said Madalon. “To be able to stay somewhat even around the face-off X is helpful and then earn some of those turnovers, whether it’s we caused turnovers or unforced turnovers, it’s obviously helpful. And any time you continue to put your offense back on the field and continue to give them opportunities, if the possession battle is swayed, it’s just more time to make plays. We’re fortunate that offense did a good job. They capitalized in a bunch of different ways which I think from Coach Mitchell’s viewpoint, that’s probably what he’s most happy about is just the different types of production.”

Included in the offensive outburst was a 5 for 7 effort from the man-up unit. Princeton was just 1-for-6 the week before in the loss to Penn. The success started with Mackesy’s first goal of the game after a Yale penalty.

“It was good to see that group do well,” said Madalon. “They do well in practice, they just haven’t shown up much in games. Whether it was good man-downs, or just missing a couple shots, it was nice to see that group execute. That’s a man-up group that works really hard. Hopefully they can keep carrying that.”

After the slow start halfway through the first quarter, the Tigers suddenly found their groove on their way to the historic performance. Princeton had players step up at both ends as the Tigers held Yale to single digit goals until the closing minutes to go along with the offensive explosion.

“Defensively it was a good game plan,” said Madalon. “Obviously [Ben] Finley blanking [Matt] Brandau. I think he kept him off the goal scoreboard; I think he had a couple assists. And then [Jacob] Stoebner blanking Leo Johnson. Those are two premier attackmen, so for those guys to have really good games, that was big for us.”

Johnson had just two shots. Brandau had nine shots but did not score and ended with just the two assists. Chris Lyons led Yale with four goals. Princeton felt good about the way it reacted to a tough opponent in a tough spot. Michael Gianforcaro started at goalie and played the entire game for the second straight game. The junior had been splitting halves with senior Griffen Rakower, and made 10 saves in the second half and overtime in the loss to Rutgers before allowing just nine goals in the loss to Penn.

“He’s done a nice job,” said Madalon. “This is his second game as the complete game starter. He played a great game against Penn. We have two really great goalies. Griffen started the season as our first-half starter and Gianforcaro was our second-half starter. I think both of those guys have battled and done a really outstanding job and Michael has just caught a bit of a hot streak right now. He’s doing great and he’s kind of settled in. Where he’s continued to take steps forward is the clearing game. Obviously he’s a talented guy with stickwork but the decision making and ability to spark transition has improved. He did a nice job in the clearing game and he’s getting better with his command each day.”

Princeton is still in the thick of a tight Ivy race. Cornell is alone at the top at 2-0. Dartmouth is 1-0 and then Harvard, Penn and Princeton are all 1-1. The Tigers are looking to seal one of the top four spots for the Ivy League tournament, and getting by Yale was a good start.

“We had some injuries and we had to play some different guys,” said Madalon. “And when you do that you have to keep your systems a little cleaner and simpler. It was just fitting for our program to go back to the basics both offensively and defensively and settle into the fundamentals. That’s really what helped us. We just tried to win the little hustle plays.”