April 3, 2024

With Goalie Gianforcaro Keying Stifling Defensive Effort, Tiger Men’s Lax Defeats Dartmouth 15-5, Moving to 6-3

READY FOR ACTION: Princeton University men’s lacrosse goalie Michael Gianforcaro guards the crease in recent action. Last Saturday, senior goalie Gianforcaro helped key a superb defensive effort, making 14 saves as Princeton defeated Dartmouth 15-5. The Tigers, now 6-3 overall and 2-1 Ivy League, were slated to host Lehigh on April 2 before playing at Brown on April 6. (Photo by Steven Wojtowicz)

By Bill Alden

During his storied tenure guiding the Princeton University men’s lacrosse program from 1988-2009, Hall of Fame coach Bill Tierney’s squads emphasized stifling defense and featured stellar goalies on the way to six NCAA titles.

Last Saturday as Princeton hosted Dartmouth, with Tierney on hand to get honored for having the head coaching position recently endowed in his name, it was fitting that Tiger goalie Michael Gianforcaro and the team’s defensive unit were primed for a big effort.

“The last couple of weeks, we got away from what we do from our fundamentals, this one was all about us,” said Gianforcaro. “We have been saying it all week, stick to our game plan, do our identity, defend their strong hands and just try to be the best version of ourselves.”

The Tiger defense produced one of its best starts of the season, holding Dartmouth scoreless for the first 16:55 of the contest.

“We had guys who were just defending the ball really well,” said Gianforcaro. “We had great talk, they gave me shots that I wanted to see.”

Gianforcaro was seeing the ball well, making nine saves in the first half as Princeton built an 8-2 lead by intermission.

“Sometimes when they are taking shots right on top of you to begin with it is tough to get into a rhythm, but we gave up shots from deep to begin with so I was able to see the ball a lot better,” said Gianforcaro, a 5’11, 195-pound native of Lincoln University, Pa. “I was just trying to settle in and play my game and not do too much. It was similar to the game plan, everybody just play their own game and we will be all right.”

Continuing to play very well at the defensive end, the Tigers held the Big Green scoreless for 37:03 from the second quarter into the fourth as they built their advantage to 14-2 on the way to a 15-5 win before a crowd of 1,326 at Class of 52 Stadium.

In reflecting on the stifling defensive performance as No. 13 Princeton improved to 6-3 overall and 2-1 Ivy League, Gianforcaro credited the squad’s three starting defensemen, Colin Mulshine, Michael Bath, and Cooper Kistler, with coming up big.

“Colin, Michael, and Cooper were phenomenal, they did their job and we had a great day,” said Gianforcaro, who ended up with 14 saves in the win as he gave way to reserve goalie and former Hun School standout Ryan Croddick midway through the fourth quarter with the Tigers up 14-2. “Sometimes we come out a little slow but not today. From the first whistle, we came out and we played awesome. It was all-around great execution.”

Executing well in a key aspect of the game, the Tigers were successful on 18-of-20 clears.

“We got a new clear after the Cornell game and we just try to take our time and not push the ball upfield too much,” said Gianforcaro. “I turned the ball over twice because I was getting a little too aggressive. If we can get it upfield, awesome, but it is take our time and get the ball over the midline and we will be all right.”

Becoming the starter in the sixth game last season, Gianforcaro has progressed into one of the top goalies in the country.

“Last year I was competing and just trying to get my feet under me and play good lacrosse this year,” said Gianforcaro, who has posted a 9.88 goals against average and a save percentage of .573 in nine games this season. “I knew in the fall that I was going to be the starter, so I had a little more confidence being a senior too. It is some pressure too because it is my last year so I want to be a great part of the team and be a great team member. All of the senior class feels the same way, it is a little extra pressure being a senior now.”

Gianforcaro assumes extra responsibility this season as he was named a team captain along with classmates Bear Lochshin and Pace Billings.

“Being named a captain is the greatest honor of my entire life, to be voted on by my peers alongside Bear and Pace,” said Gianforcaro. “We balance each other out really well, we are roommates and best friends. We run everything by each other, we try to have a united front.”

Princeton head coach Matt Madalon saw Princeton’s defensive effort against Dartmouth as a tribute to Tierney.

“That would be a great reflection for Coach T, there is no man more important to our program,” said Madalon. “What he laid as the foundation here is huge, it was awesome to honor him that way.”

“It was a good game plan by coach [Jeremy] Hirsch, those guys stepped up and executed a bunch of little details very simply and really well, they did a really good job,” said Madalon. “It was a very good defensive game plan but really the guys just settled in and played well, they win the one-on-one matchups.”

Madalon lauded the trio of Mulshine, Bath, and Kistler for dominating their matchups.

“They did an awesome job, they really wiped some of those guys out over the course of the game,” says Madalon. “They won their matchups, it was a big game for them.”

The play of Gianforcaro in goal was a big factor in Princeton’s win.

“Michael had a great game, he did awesome,” said Madalon “He is obviously a foundational as a member and a leader in our program. He is a home run as a leader. He is outstanding, his compete level, his edge, and his passion day in, day out continues to drive our program.”

On offense, junior attacker Coulter Mackesy drove the attack, tallying a game-high four goals.

“We had good balance all over; Mackesy was aggressive from the high wing, it was nice to see,” said Madalon, who got two goals apiece from Colin Burns, Nate Kabiri, and Tucker Wade with Sean Cameron, Quinn Krammer, Lucas Stanat, Andrew McMeekin, and Tommy Barnds chipping in one each.

“It was complementary on the offensive side with a lot of different scorers. I think Burnsy did a nice job making some feeds and dives, finishing. Stanat getting on that second mid line did a nice job and then Cameron continuing to play well.”

Madalon was pleased with the job Princeton did with its clearing

“It was cleaner, it is something we are focusing on, we have to get better there,” said Madalon. “We had too many mistakes in the clear early on in our season, that is something that can’t hurt us down the stretch.”

With Princeton having gone 3-1 in its last four games, Madalon believes the Tigers are getting better as they head into the stretch drive of the season.

“It has been a work in progress for us all year, I am not changing that,” said Madalon, whose team is slated to host Lehigh on April 2 before playing at Brown on April 6. “We got to have good weeks of practice, we still have some bad practices littered in there. We have to grow up as a team. We practice a little better and we will get more production in games.”

Gianforcaro, for his part, believes the Tigers are growing into something special.

“I think we are getting into a groove; our message to the team after some of the tough losses is play within ourselves,” said Gianforcaro. “It is all about us, whether we are playing an Ivy team or an out of conference team, being the best version of ourselves this week, being the best version on game day and hopefully we can win. We play Lehigh on Tuesday, we are not looking past that. We want to be the best version of ourselves Tuesday night and we went to keep getting better and dominate the Ivy.”