May 8, 2024

Princeton Men’s Lacrosse Continues Late Surge, Tops Penn in Ivy Final, Facing Maryland in NCAAs

HOT HAND: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Coulter Mackesy, left, looks to elude a defender in a game earlier this season. Last Sunday, junior attacker Mackesy tallied three goals and four assists to help second-seeded Princeton defeat fourth-seeded Penn 18-11 in the final of the Ivy League Tournament in Ithaca, N.Y. The Tigers, now 11-4 and riding a four-game winning streak, will head to the NCAA tournament where they will play at seventh-seeded Maryland in a first round contest on May 11. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

When the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team got upset 13-12 in mid-April by a mediocre Brown squad, its hopes for any postseason play were put on life support.

“The big thing about the Brown loss is that it put our season at risk, we were at the risk of not even making the Ivy tournament,” said Princeton head coach Matt Madalon. “I think that was the most challenging part of it.”

The Tigers proved to be up to the challenge, ending the regular season with a 15-10 win over Penn on April 20 and a 15-8 victory at Yale a week later to earn a spot in the four-team Ivy League Tournament.

“I think to gain that sense of urgency a little earlier, now we are comfortable playing with it,” said Madalon. “We just understand the expectations, we have been in playoff mode for a while.”

Last weekend at the Ivy tourney in Ithaca, N.Y, the Tigers thrived in playoff mode, beating Yale 14-10 in the semis on Friday and then topping Penn 18-11 in the final two days later to earn the league’s automatic berth to the NCAA tournament. It marked the second straight Ivy championship for the Tigers.

Princeton, now 11-4 and riding a four-game winning streak, plays at seventh-seeded Maryland (8-5) on May 11 in the opening round of the NCAA tourney. The victor of that game will advance to the NCAA quarterfinals to face the winner of the Duke-Utah first round matchup on May 19 in Hempstead, N.Y.

For Madalon, seeing the Tigers win a second straight Ivy tourney title was special on a couple of levels.

“For us, we are just happy to bring some consistency back to this program and play to the standard that everyone expects from us,” said Madalon. “We are just happy to keep going. We want to continue to earn more time with our guys. It is a group that really does like each other. They like being around each other.”

Madalon was happy with the way the Tigers performed as they beat Yale in the Ivy semis, posting their second win over the Bulldogs in a week.

“I think both teams made subtle adjustments — you don’t have that much time to really regroup and overhaul anything, but you do have an opportunity to sit there and look at the first game and see what you did well and see what you didn’t,” said Madalon. “Yale is such a tough team, but I think they were just a little hampered at the face-off X, that is a tough possession battle to overcome but they did great. Their defense is strong. [Jared] Paquette made saves to even out the possession. It was a hard-fought game.”

Princeton sophomore face-off specialist Andrew McMeekin helped the Tigers dominate possession. He was named the Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player honor, winning 18 of 32 face-offs with 11 ground balls in the finale. He totaled 28 ground balls and was 38 for 60 inside the face-off circle over the two days of the tourney.

“When coach [Casey] Dowd settled in with that unit early on, they were just getting a feel for each other,” said Madalon. “They have gotten better every single day. We are hoping that they are still getting better and still working.”

In the third quarter against Yale, the Tigers produced some very good work, outscoring the Bulldogs 6-2 after the rivals were tied 5-5 at halftime.

“I think we just started locating the ball a little better, we were getting great shots,” said Madalon. “It was a matter of ‘hey you have got to get them away from his hands, you got to get him up the pipes a little bit’ and our guys started to cash in on some.”

Sophomore midfielder Chad Palumbo cashed in his opportunities, tallying a career-high five goals against Yale.

“Five goals is impressive any way you slice it but what was more impressive was that he did it in multiple ways,” said Madalon of Palumbo, who was named to the All-Tournament team.

“He scored on man-up, with time and room, and dodging. He has been really good for us. He has to keep being good for us. We are really happy about the way he is playing.”

In the final, Penn gave Princeton a good game as the Tigers found themselves clinging to an 8-7 lead at halftime.

“It was a game of runs, we went on them, they went on them,” said Madalon. “They came back and then we went up again. When they were coming back, it is easier to say now than in the game, we were making mistakes. We had gotten a couple of good bounces and we made a couple of careless errors.”

Princeton cleaned things up in the third quarter, outscoring the Quakers 7-4.

“I have got to give a lot of credit to our coordinators to get their groups to come out on fire in the second half,” said Madalon referring to offensive coordinator Jim Mitchell and defensive coordinator Jeremy Hirsch. “Our season has been on the line for about a month and our guys responded to that. You don’t always want to play with that pressure but I think at this point every team that gets to strap it up has that pressure.”

Madalon credited All-Ivy and All-Tournament performer Colin Mulshine with spearheading a defense that pressured Penn into submission, shutting out the Quakers in the fourth quarter.

“We think he is an All-American, we think he is one of the top defensemen in the country,” said Madalon. “He does his job day in, day out. He doesn’t say boo, he is not a holler guy. He is not a fancy checks guy, he just does what he is asked and does it to a really high standard. We are really impressed with Colin, he has really been an anchor down there.”

Senior goalie Michael Gianforcaro, who also earned All-Tournament honors, played to a high standard in the final.

“Michael was solid through the first three quarters and then I think he took it upon himself to make sure that his season wasn’t ending,” said Madalon of Gianforcaro who totaled 11 saves in the win, including four stops in the fourth quarter. “He really made some great plays in the fourth quarter.”

At the offensive end, junior attacker Coulter Mackesy triggered the Princeton attack, tallying three goals and four assists in the win as he also earned All-Tournament honors.

“I think for us to come out of that weekend, all of the guys recognize the toughness and the beatings that he takes behind the play with cross-checks in the back and poke checks,” said Madalon. “Everyone is just trying to wear him down throughout the game. He is just a really impressive young guy, a really tough kid. Seven points is awesome.”

The Tigers face a tough matchup with Maryland, which has been a thorn in the side for Princeton in recent years. The Terps beat the Tigers 13-7 earlier this season in late February and 11-5 in a 2023. In 2022, Maryland defeated Princeton 15-10 in a regular season meeting and then topped the Tigers 13-8 in the NCAA semis.

Madalon is looking forward to getting another shot at the Terps.

“We couldn’t be more excited,” said Madalon. “They are a team that has gotten the best of us recently. If we are going to take a step forward as a program, we have got to beat teams like Maryland.

We are excited for the opportunity.” In order to make the most of that opportunity, the Tigers will be looking to display the brand of lacrosse that they produced last weekend in Ithaca.

“We have to play our game,” said Madalon. “They do such a good job in taking you out of your game, really dictating pace and play. It would be nice to flip the script and dictate pace against these guys.”

In Madalon’s view, the Tigers could write a special script this May even though they are relying on a number of young players.

“It is funny, you look at us last year, we probably had one of the more experienced teams in the country,” said Madalon. “We were very injured but still experienced. You just have to show up and play great games for 60 minutes in those stadiums. This is a hungry group. This is a group that loves each other and is not willing to let it go. We have got a lot of hopes of making a run here.”

The squad’s freshmen standouts, attackers Nate Kabiri and Colin Burns along with midfielders Tucker Wade and Cooper Mueller, have grown into key performers for the group.

“You play your first game of the year and you are only a couple of months removed from being a high school lacrosse player,” said Madalon. “At the point now, you have been doing exams, you have been doing mid-terms, you are in finals. You are just a little more mature as a young guy. You understand more what the coaches are asking of you. You understand your strengths a little more and your weaknesses. Those young guys stepped up big-time this weekend. Those guys helped us win an Ivy League championship and earn the opportunity to play deeper into May. We need a lot more out of those guys. We have got to get them healthy and fresh. They have been great.”