Ronda Enjoys Memorable Senior Day for PU Men’s Lax As Tigers Top Harvard, Set Up Ivy Title Clash at Cornell
KEEPING THE FAITH: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Christian Ronda heads to goal in recent action. Last Saturday, Ronda enjoyed a memorable Senior Day, tallying four goals and two assists to help Princeton defeat Harvard 17-11. The No. 25 Tigers, now 6-5 overall and 4-1 Ivy League, play at No. 6 Cornell (10-2 overall, 4-1 Ivy) on April 29 with the victor earning the league’s regular season title. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Bill Alden
In one sense, it would appear that Christian Ronda’s first two years on the Princeton University men’s lacrosse were futile.
In 2020, Princeton’s season was halted after five games due to the global pandemic with Ronda making one appearance as a freshman and not getting off a shot.
A year later, the Ivy League canceled its spring campaign due to ongoing COVID concerns.
But Ronda soaked in some important lessons during that truncated 2020 campaign.
“My freshman year, I was watching people like Connor McCarthy, Michael Sowers, and Philip Robertson play,” said Ronda.
“The seniors instilled a really good culture my freshman year and it has helped me grow as a player and just do whatever the team needs me to do.”
In 2022, midfielder Ronda grew into a star as a junior, tallying 23 goals and two assists as Princeton advanced to the NCAA semis for the first time since 2004.
Last Saturday, Ronda produced a memorable performance as he and his classmates were honored in the program’s annual Senior Day celebration, tallying four goals and two assists as the Tigers topped Harvard 17-11, improving to 6-5 overall and 4-1 Ivy League.
“It is just special to celebrate with the seniors, the gap year seniors and our class,” said Ronda, a 5’10, 170-pound native of Greenwich, Conn.
“We played like it was going to be our last home game. We just took it all in and really enjoyed it.”
Falling behind 3-2 to Harvard in the first quarter, Princeton played very well as it went on an 8-0 run to break the game open.
“We never lost confidence, we were getting the good looks early in the game,” said Ronda.
“We knew they were going to fall, we just had to keep shooting them. We were winning our matchups, moving the ball well. We just trusted each other and kept shooting and playing our game.”
After Harvard scored three straight goals to narrow the Tiger lead to 10-6, Ronda produced one of the highlights of the game, racing into the crease and scoring on a diving goal with 10 seconds left in the first half.
“I knew it was short time and I didn’t really have a choice so I just ran into the middle of rhe field to see what would happen,” recalled Ronda. “I took a big hit but it went in.”
In the second half, the Tigers took care of business as their lead never dipped below five goals. Sophomore Coulter Mackesy matched his career-high with eight goals while junior goalie Michael Gianforcaro made a career-best 20 saves.
“Coulter is going to be Coulter, it is incredible; I played with him in high school too,” said Ronda.
“Seeing him progress as a player has been amazing with him just taking over the game and being one of the top players in college lacrosse has been incredible. It was a great team win. Michael with 20 saves and the defense locking it down and good ball movement. It was a good win for Senior Day.”
It made for a very good memory for Ronda. “I am glad I had a good last game on ’52 (Class of 1952 Stadium),” said Ronda. “It felt good, it was really fun.”
Having built on his breakthrough campaign with 16 goals and nine assists so far this spring has also felt good for Ronda.
“Throughout the year, it is just helping out more and more,” said Ronda.
“I am just building off Alex Vardaro and Sam English last year. It is just trusting the guys next to me and them trusting me.”
With Princeton having clinched a spot in the upcoming Ivy postseason tournament and playing at
Cornell on Saturday with the victor earning the league’s regular season title, Ronda wants to keep his career going as long as possible.
“At this point, I am just trying to elongate the season,” said Ronda. “Last year we played to the very last weekend possible. We didn’t make it to the final but we were there on the last weekend. We are trying to replicate that and play with these guys as long as possible. It is a special group.”
No matter how far the Tigers go, Ronda has relished his Princeton experience on a daily basis.
“Honestly it is things like we are about to have, like celebrating in the locker room after wins,” said Ronda.
“It is just the small moments in the locker room or training room before practice, the early morning lifts, any time with the guys. It has been special and I will remember it. It is sad to see it all go but it has been a good run.”
Princeton head coach Matt Madalon views the program’s Class of 2023 as special.
“It is such a cool group, me as a young head coach recruiting those guys and growing with them myself and through the COVID and all of the turmoil of being shut down,” said Madalon.
“To get a win on ’52 is always special but to do it on Senior Day is awesome. They are fired up because it is a big league game, you only get so many of these. We didn’t talk a ton about Senior Day. We just said if we are going to honor those guys, let’s play the game the way it is supposed to be played.”
Madalon liked the way his team played the game as it pulled away from Harvard with its first half run.
“We just settled in, they are a heck of a riding team and they do a great job of making you uneasy,” said Madalon.
“For us, it is settle into our game plan. We were fortunate to hit some shots.”
The Tigers are fortunate to have Mackesy as a go-to finisher. The sophomore attacker added two assists to go with his eight goals and was later named the Ivy Player of the Week.
“He is awesome, our guys know he shoots well,” said Madalon of Mackesy who has a team-high 45 goals and moved past the 100-career point mark for his career in the win over the Crimson, becoming the fifth Princeton player to do so before the end of his sophomore year.
“Our guys can make some great individual plays, all within the framework of the team offense. That is what makes us most proud.
Madalon was proud of Ronda’s stellar Senior Day performance.
“He was 0-for-something shooting the last couple of days, he was putting a ton of pressure on himself,” said Madalon.
“We said hey just keep doing what you have been doing, your shots will fall, you will be fine. It was nice to see him drop some shots.”
With Princeton having lost 19-16 to Harvard last season, the Tigers tightened things up on the defensive end in the 2023 renewal of the rivalry.
“Harvard is a really good coaching staff, they have really good players; the No. 7 kid for them, [Sam] King, is a great player,” said Madalon.
“We settled in and stacked stops on top of one another and we were able to get some separation offensively. Guys at the pole position – Cathal Roberts, Michael Bath, and Cooper Kistler – did a nice job. Beau Pederson went down so we needed stepping up from some younger defensive midfielders who got their hands on people. It was just a good team win really. I am happy about it.”
Gianforcaro’s excellence in goal made Madalon really happy.
“He has done a really good job, he has had to deal with pressure of a goalie battle all year,” said Madalon, who also got a big game from freshman Andrew McMeekin as he earned Ivy Rookie of the Week honors for his 14-for-25 face-off, 10 ground ball performance against Harvard.
“He goes in there and it was a great performance by him. Hopefully he has his best lacrosse ahead of him.”
Madalon is hoping that No. 25 Princeton will keep playing some good lacrosse as it heads north this weekend for the showdown at No. 6 Cornell (10-2 overall, 4-1 Ivy).
“I think we are in a good spot, I would like to get a little healthier,” said Madalon, whose team will be in New York City on May 5 to to play in an Ivy semi in Lawrence Wien Stadium at Columbia University.
“We are OK. We have had some good practices, the team is doing a good job.”
In Ronda’s view, the Tigers are primed to get the job done against the Big Red.
“Cornell is playing really well this year, it is going to be a good matchup,” said Ronda.
“We dropped a few early but we are kind of finding our rhythm, finding our groove. We are feeling good now.”