August 2, 2023

Making Impact in Move to Midfield for National Team, PU Alum Sowers Helped US Take Gold at World Men’s Lax

WORLD CLASS: Team USA midfielder Michael Sowers, left, looks to elude a Haudenosaunee defender in the World Lacrosse Men’s Championship in late June. Former Princeton University standout Sowers ’20 starred as the U.S. won its second straight title in the competition, defeating Canada 10-7 in the gold medal game on July 1. Sowers tallied two goals in the final and totaled 17 points on 12 goals and five assists in the tournament, earning All-World honors at midfield. (Photo by USA Lacrosse)

By Justin Feil

Michael Sowers didn’t have a lot of time to celebrate helping the United States reach the pinnacle of the lacrosse world.

After helping Team USA win the gold medal at the World Lacrosse Men’s Championship, Princeton University graduate Sowers ’20 returned to helping the Waterdogs remain atop the Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) and was named captain of the Rising Stars team for the PLL All-Star game that was played Saturday to continue a busy July.

“It’s been so cool,” said Sowers. “The U.S. experience was probably the coolest lacrosse experience that I’ve had. I think it almost in a certain way presents a challenge, because you go from this extreme high in winning a gold medal to turning around and going back to the PLL season a week later, where you’re in the middle of that whole journey. It’s a bit of a challenge, but at the same time it kind of resets you. The celebration was a little short-lived because of that. It’s been great, though, to summarize it all.”

Duke University star Brennan O’Neill scored five goals and Sowers scored twice in the United States’ 10-7 win over Canada in the gold medal game on July 1 in San Diego, Calif. Earning its second straight gold at the competition, the U.S., guided by Duke head coach John Danowski, became the first country since 2002 to repeat as world champions.

“It was so cool; for me personally, I had a ton of family out there,” said Sowers. “My cousin’s in the Navy out there. I hadn’t seen him in a long time. To be able to do that — one with the team, it’s a bit of a grueling process with five tryouts and you’re trying to build this thing. We had one weekend down at Duke and two weeks together at University of San Diego, and we’re all building up for the same thing. We all want to win gold. To be able to do it, one, with this group of guys, and two, with my family out there, and on home soil, the crowd was amazing. It was probably the coolest experience I’ve had.”

In the gold medal final, Sowers scored his first goal of the game to give the U.S. a 3-2 lead early. He picked up a rebound and fired it by the Canadian goalie. His final one was the last tally of the game to help cap his All-World honors at midfield.

“That’s a really cool honor,” said Sowers, who called 17 points in the tournament on 12 goals and five assists. “For me, especially playing a little out of position, for one, it could have been anyone on that roster just with the amount of talent we had. How teams were playing us and our roles on the offense, I think me and Brennan were in similar situations where when you’re playing alongside Tom Schreiber. They only have one LSM, so we were getting shorties for the majority of the tournament and dodging short sticks. I know Brennan is in the same boat, but I haven’t gotten just short sticked coming out of the box in a long time. That made things pretty simple.”

Sowers, an attacker throughout his career, was asked to play midfield for his first senior squad appearance. Sowers, who led the U.S team to gold at the U19 World Championships in 2016 with 11 assists and tied for a team-high of 22 points, was happy to help the senior team in a little different way.

“Any time you play with a group like that, you’re always trying to find your role, and what’s my role with the team,” said Sowers. “Those roles were defined pretty early. For me, it was playing midfield, which is a position I’ve never played before.”

Danowski approached Sowers and O’Neill about playing in the midfield as a possibility after team selection. A few months ahead of the world championships, Danowski, who coached Sowers for his final year of college eligibility as a grad student at Duke in 2021, shared his vision.

“He said, ‘We see you and Brennan similar to Matt Danowski, his son, and Ned Crotty from 2018,’” recalled Sowers. “Those guys in 2018 were former attackmen that came out of the box with Team USA. Their roles were the party starters. They dodged out of box, they got the defense moving, drew a slide, kicked it forward, kept it simple. Also playing down there with Coach D for a year, we ran the same stuff with USA that we did at Duke, so I think we both had a familiarity with the offense that helped us be a little position-less in the sense that we knew what the midfield role was, we knew what the attack role was, we knew what the midfield role from behind the cage was. We just had a great understanding for the offense as Matt and Ned in 2018.”

The combination of O’Neill and Sowers paid dividends with two great scorers and playmakers running out of the midfield. It added to a deep team that dominated the world championships with an unbeaten run to the gold medal. The offense didn’t need to be amazing with a defense that held teams to 4.0 goals per game.

“Obviously we had a great defense,” said Sowers. “It was led by great goaltending. In general it was just a great team. We had great buy-in. Guys enjoyed being around each other. It was a very selfless group. That showed throughout tournament. You had different guys step up in different games. It wasn’t one guy running the show the whole time. It was a real balanced effort definitely from an offensive standpoint, and looking at the tape defensively too. It was just a great team.”

Being a part of a selfless group and being such a selfless player, it was an easy choice for Sowers to accept a new role. He approached his midfield assignment professionally and found value in the different ways to help the team.

“Any time you get a chance to play for Team USA, and play with that group of guys, I just want to be on the field,” said Sowers. “I’ll do whatever the team needs me to do. For me, that was a cool experience because I’ve never done that before. It kind of simplified the game for me and I know it did for others in the sense that you don’t have to hit a home run or be the one that scores a goal or gets the assist every time. You’re trying to make these little plays to set your teammates up in the best position for them to potentially score or get the assist. We talked about invisible plays in the film room which I think were prevalent throughout the tournament, maybe not to the average spectator, but certainly we were celebrating them in the film room.”

After celebrating the world championships gold, Sowers returned to his Waterdogs team that is the defending PLL champions. Sowers, last year’s championship MVP, has helped the team to a 4-1 start, faster than last year when the team came along from a 2-3 start.

“I think it’s going well,” said Sowers. “We’re 4-1 and a little banged up. Knock on wood, we always seem to get hot at the right time, at least we have the last couple years. I think we’re 4-1 right now but I think the exciting thing is, and I think a lot of my teammates would say this as well, that we feel like our best lacrosse is still ahead of us. We’ve been playing well, but we all know we can take it to another level which is exciting.”

What exactly that looks like is to be seen over the second half of the PLL season. The Waterdogs have last year’s experience to look back on, and they have some key returning players like Sowers who are helping the keep the team hungry for a repeat title.

“The chemistry piece is so huge,” said Sowers. “Obviously there’s a familiarity with each other and our play style. At the same time, because you’re away for an entire three seasons and you’re not playing together in the fall, winter, or spring, it takes time. We’ve shown our talent level, but I don’t know if we’ve fully come together as a unit. That’s our next level.”

Sowers is also making sure he isn’t resting on his recent accomplishments. When his first year in the PLL was limited severely by injury, last year became his de facto rookie season and it ended with that MVP showing in the title win. He’s trying to be even more consistent as a star this year.

“For me personally, I still feel like my best lacrosse is ahead of me,” said Sowers. “The PLL is a unique game and you’re constantly learning and figuring out the game and the best place to attack defenses. It’s very different than college. Even though I have that year under my belt, I still feel like I’m figuring it out a little. I’m lucky to play alongside guys like Kieran McArdle who’s been playing professional lacrosse for 10 years and I have great guys to learn from. I still feel like my best lacrosse is ahead of me.”

Sowers and other PLL standouts were able to show off their skills over All-Star weekend on July 22 in Louisville, Ken. Sowers and the Rising Stars rallied from an early deficit in the All-Star Game to cut the deficit to 23-19 in the final minutes before the Veterans pulled away for a 26-19 win. The Veterans led, 7-1, early and 15-8 at halftime in the loose contest.

“It’s a cool experience; they’re always unique,” said Sowers, who tallied two goals and two assists last Sunday as the Waterdogs resumed regular season play by falling 19-18 to the Archers in Dallas, Texas in a PLL first-place showdown and moved to 4-2.

“The coolest part of those weekends is you go down there and you get to hang out with people you never do. For me and some of the other young guys, it’s back with JT [Giles-Harris] and Nakeie [Montgomery], who are on two different teams in the PLL. Playing alongside Mac O’Keefe on attack and Asher Nolting — they’re some of my peers that I’ve been playing against for a long time and watching but never had the chance to play with them. That weekend is a great opportunity to do that, but then also hang out with those guys off the field and get to know them. Ideally we’re all playing against each other and or with each other the next 10 years.”