April 12, 2023

PU Men’s Lax Renews Historic Rivalry Against Syracuse But Can’t Overcome Slow Start as it Falls 16-13 to Orange

ORANGE BOWL: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Jake Stevens, right, battles against Monmouth earlier this season. Last Saturday, senior midfielder Stevens scored two goals but it wasn’t enough as Princeton fell 16-13 to visiting Syracuse. It marked the first game against the Orange since 2013 as the foes renewed their historic rivalry. Princeton, now 4-5 overall, will look to get back on the winning track as it resumes Ivy League play with a game at Dartmouth on April 15. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

It was a historic rivalry that captivated the men’s lacrosse world in the 1990s and 2000s.

The matchup between Princeton and Syracuse produced national champions and classic NCAA tournament clashes during that stretch. Either Princeton or Syracuse won the NCAA championship each year from 1992 to 2004 except for two (1999, 2003). From 1992-2003, every Princeton season ended with either an NCAA title or an NCAA tournament loss to Syracuse.

The foes have met in four national title games with the teams each winning two championships as Princeton prevailed in 1992 and 2001 with the Orange winning in 2000 and 2002.

The rivalry, however, has been dormant for 10 years with the team having last met in a regular season contest in 2013.

So when the teams met at Class of 1952 Stadium last Saturday at high noon for the first time since 2013, the renewal of the rivalry drew an overflow crowd of 2,535 to witness the spectacle.

For Princeton senior midfielder Jake Stevens, the buzz in the crowd was special.

“It is cool, two historic programs that haven’t seen each other in a while,” said Stevens. “Look at their staff, a great group of coaches, two Hall of Famers (head coach Gary Gait and assistant coach Dave Pietramala). Our coach (Matt Madalon) is one of the best in the business, he is great. It was crazy looking up in the stands, I have never seen it like that.”

The Tigers, though, didn’t get off to a great start as they fell behind 5-1 midway through the first period,

“It is tough, all you can do is just try to fight it one play at a time,” said Stevens.

Princeton found a rhythm in the second quarter as it went on a 6-3 run to narrow the Syracuse lead to 10-9 with 2:43 left in the second quarter.

“Lacrosse is a game of runs,” said Stevens, who scored two goals in that stretch. “It is a matter of slowing theirs and keeping yours going.”

The Tigers fought mightily to keep things going but couldn’t get over the hump, making it a 15-13 game late in the third quarter but never scoring after that, losing 16-13 as they moved to 4-5.

“It kind of stalled out for whatever reason in the fourth quarter; it happens, that is part of the game,” said Stevens, who ended up with two goals and three ground balls on the day. “We kept trying, we just couldn’t get out of it. That is the way it went.”

As a team co-captain, Stevens is trying his best to keep the Tigers on the same page.

“I have a little bit of a leadership role this year, it has been nice,” said Stevens, a 5’9, 185-pound native of Puslinch, Ontario, who has tallied 13 goals and two assists this season along with 22 ground balls. “I am just trying to help the team win in as many ways as I can.”

With the season heading into its homestretch, there is a sense of urgency for Stevens and his classmates.

“There is a big group of us, our time is very finite, there are only two months left and a lot of us are finishing up school stuff,” said Stevens. “Our goals are still available. Everything is on the table — to make the Ivy tournament, win the Ivy tournament, and make the NCAA tournament. We have our destiny in our hands. We will be going into this week with a little bit of fire. It is all in front of us.”

Princeton head coach Matt Madalon was fired up by the big crowd on hand for the clash against Syracuse.

“It was a really nice atmosphere, it was a beautiful day and  a cool place to come watch a game,” said Madalon. “Both schools have huge alumni bases, in and around Manhattan. It was very cool. Obviously, they are a good team. It is exciting for our alumni crew. All of these guys in the 1990s and the early 2000s had such incredible battles against this team. It is always great to see these two teams on the field together.”

Unfortunately for Princeton, its slow start turned the game into an uphill battle.

“You spot anyone 5-1, you are in the box that much, you don’t face-off well, it is going to be a tough game,” lamented Madalon.

With Syracuse building a 15-8 advantage on face-offs in the first half, the Tigers were on their heels for much of the time

“Both of those guys battled, we still have to do some work there,” said Madalon, referring to face-off specialists Koby Ginder (11-for-26 against Syracuse) and Andrew McMeekin (2-for-7).

Despite the struggles on face-offs, Princeton was able to generate plenty of opportunities with 30 shots on goal.

“I thought the offense got a lot of good looks today,” said Madalon. “The Mark (Will Mark) kid in goal for them was great, he made saves when he needed to.”

Madalon credited Stevens and Coulter Mackesy, who had three goals and three assists, with getting the Tiger offense going.

“Jake is always a spark for us, between the lines and around the face-off circle,” said Madalon. “Coulter is kind of like our bona fide guy on offense, a lot goes through him and around him. It is good to see him producing.”

While the Tigers showed some good fight in the second half, it wasn’t enough.

“It was just clean it up and try to be a little more disciplined, that has been the story of the year,” said Madalon, reflecting on his halftime message. “We have had some great quarters and then we foul too much or we are undisciplined in the clears. That was too much to overcome today.”

With Princeton getting back into Ivy play with a game at Dartmouth on April 15, Madalon knows his team needs to clean things up to achieve its goals.

“We have to have really sharp, tight practices this week,” said Madalon. “The Ivy League tournament and an opportunity to win that and play in the NCAA tournament is everything to this program. That is absolutely what our focus shifts to.”

Stevens, for his part, is confident that the squad will be focused as it heads into the stretch drive.

“It is making sure we are headed in the right direction and learn from this,” said Stevens. “It was not our best showing today but the last couple of weeks, we have shown how we can play. It may not have been here today, but we just have to find it and bring it next week.”