As Sowers Makes His Debut at World Men’s Lax Tourney, Former PU Star Primed to Help US Earn Title Repeat
SHOOTING FOR GOLD: Michael Sowers unloads a shot during his career with the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team. Star attackman Sowers ’20 will be competing for the Team USA at the 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship in San Diego, Calif. The competition starts on June 21 and culminates on July 1 with the gold medal game. The U.S. squad, which also includes another former Princeton standout, midfielder Tom Schreiber ’14, is the defending champion in the event. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)
By Justin Feil
Michael Sowers has come up big in some of the most meaningful lacrosse games.
The 2020 Princeton University graduate will try to do the same again for the United States in the 2023 World Lacrosse Men’s Championship in San Diego, Calif., that begins on June 21 and culminates in the gold medal game July 1.
“In the four-year window, so much can happen,” said Sowers. “To wear Team USA across your chest is the dream and pinnacle of the sport. You cherish the opportunity and I’m certainly not treating it like I’m going to have this opportunity again because you really don’t know. At the end of the day, you treat it like it’s my one go at it and I’m going to give it everything I have.”
Last September, prolific attackman Sowers was named the Most Valuable Player of the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) Championship when he scored twice and assisted on another goal in the Waterdogs’ 11-9 comeback win over the Chaos. Sowers is now in-season with the PLL, looking for a second full season after his initial season was cut short by injury.
“I think it absolutely prepares you,” said Sowers. “It’s a different game from a rules standpoint. At the same time, just skill level and size of the guys and speed of the game, the PLL does a great job preparing you. We’re lucky we essentially get three weekends to tune up to the international game.”
In his last international experience, Sowers finished as Team USA’s leading scorer and helped steer them to another comeback win over Canada in the gold medal game of the U-19 World Championship in 2016.
“It was a great experience that U-19 team, but honestly this is a whole different ballgame just in terms of level and speed,” said Sowers. “It definitely helps because it gives you a little bit of a feel of playing international rules, but it’s such a different game that you can’t take away too much. We’re lucky. We have a lot of guys that played in the 2018 games and the 2014 games. We’ll be able to lean on those guys throughout the tournament.”
Sowers is part of the 23-man U.S. senior team for the first time along with one other Princeton alum, Tom Schreiber ’14. Tryouts by all accounts were among the most competitive. A total of 67 players were invited to the tryouts that began last summer, with that number trimmed to 46 for fall activities and then down to 23 last December.
“It certainly is nerve-wracking, and just difficult because there are so many talented guys that they could really make a team with any combination of the hundred-some guys that tried out,” said Sowers, a 5’9, 165-pound native of Dresher, Pa. “I think that’s nerve-wracking, but at the same time, it’s calming in the sense that there are so many good guys here that the only thing I can really do is go out and put my best foot forward. It’s a combination of the PLL season and the tryouts and reputation in general, and I felt, coming off the PLL season, I had a pretty good season and felt pretty good going into the Worlds stuff, but you obviously still have those tryouts. It’s a long process. I’m glad it’s over and we can move forward as a team.”
Sowers and Team USA have been preparing for the past two weeks for the Worlds. He is excited about the opportunity to compete at the highest level alongside the best players in the country.
“To be honest, it’s probably one of the coolest accomplishments I’ve had,” said Sowers. “Certainly it’s one of the most meaningful just because I know how much goes into that selection process. Being selected, you know they really scrub every single guy and there’s not a single stone left unturned, so it’s certainly one of the greatest honors I’ve had in the sport.”
Sowers was not on the U.S. team that won the 2018 Worlds. The U.S. is trying to become the first team since 2002 to repeat as world champions. It would be the 11th world title overall for the Americans. In Sowers, the U.S. has a player who has proven he can score or set up others. In just over three years at Princeton University, he set the program record with 302 points on 121 goals and 181 assists before finishing his college career as a graduate student at Duke. In his one season with the Blue Devils, he tallied 81 points on 37 goals and 44 assists as the team advanced to the NCAA Final 4. He’ll bring that same attacking style to Team USA.
“The entire team is really good,” said Sowers. “So it’s whatever you can do for the betterment of the team. You see that now going into practices and training camp…. It’s play simple and make the plays in front of you and nothing more. That’s really huge.”
Sowers is accustomed to playing on strong teams. The Tigers were off to their best start at 5-0 in his career when the COVID-19 pandemic ended the 2020 season. The next time he played, he helped Duke reach the NCAA semis, before he turned his attention to the PLL and international play. He is on a leave from his analyst job to focus on lacrosse through the PLL season.
“This has been a little bit of a crazy stretch for us, between Worlds stuff and PLL, and so I’ve just been focusing on taking care of my body,” said Sowers. “It’s been nice.”
Sowers has continued to evolve as a player since starting his professional playing career. He remains a strong scorer and feeder, and has learned to further diversify his game by developing his off-ball play and understanding of the game. Unlike some other Team USA members, Sowers does not also play indoor in the NLL.
“For me, it’s just focusing on the outdoor right now and then the Worlds stuff,” said Sowers.
“That was my main focus getting out of school. I’m definitely open to exploring indoor in the future, but for right now I’m just focusing on those two things – PLL and Worlds.”
Those two pursuits collide a bit with Sowers being one of six Waterdogs players on Team USA. That’s more than any other PLL team. Sowers is looking forward to teaming up again for a championship run on the international level.
“The fact that we have all the Waterdogs out there together will be really cool,” said Sowers, who will also be facing a PLL and former Princeton teammate, Zach Currier ‘17, who stars in midfield for Canada.
“But at the same time, that’s the unique thing about the whole experience. We have our Waterdogs guys and winning with them was incredible, but at the same time, you have two weeks as a USA group to become the best team possible regardless of professional affiliation. Coming together in two weeks and winning a gold medal, I don’t know if there’s anything that replicates that. It’s really just so special.”
Team USA returns its championship coach from 2018, John Danowski, who coached Sowers for a year at Duke. He is tasked with pulling the team together in a short time with minimal practices to try to defend their world title with the likes of top challenger Canada hungry to take it back. The pre-championship practices were important to get on the same page.
“We kind of lean on the vets and, more than anybody, Coach D,” said Sowers. “Coach D does such a good job of team building and really building that camaraderie. There’s no better man for the job than coach Danowski. I think he does a great job with it.”
The Americans are looking to take advantage of hosting this year. Sowers won the U-19 championship in Canada. The U.S. men won in Israel in 2018.
“It’s on U.S. soil, so I think you’re going to have naturally a lot of USA fans and my family is going out and friends are going out,” said Sowers. “That’ll be a really cool experience. And there’s a little bit of that feeling like you have to defend U.S. soil and I certainly think that plays a little part in the whole thing.”
It won’t take much to get Sowers excited about his latest championship experience. As he has before, Sowers will try to lend some heroics to his team in a title run. This time it’s for Team USA.
“Being on the senior team is the pinnacle of the sport,” said Sowers. “It’s something as a kid you always dream about is really making that team. To do it this time around with it being in San Diego in the U.S., it really is a surreal experience. We were just down at Duke practicing with the team. It really is so much fun, and such an honor to wear the jersey. It’s really a cool experience.”