May 15, 2024

Digging Big Early Hole Against Nemesis Maryland, PU Men’s Lax Falls 16-8 to Terps in NCAA Opener

TOUGH FINISH: Princeton University men’s lacrosse player Nate Kabiri gets ready to unload the ball in a game earlier this year. Last Saturday, freshman attacker Kabiri tallied three goals in a losing cause as Princeton fell 16-8 at seventh-seeded Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The loss left the Tigers with a final record of 11-5. (Photo by Steven Wojtowicz)

By Bill Alden

As the Princeton University men’s lacrosse team hit the field at Maryland last Saturday night in the first round of the NCAA tournament, the players were drenched by a cloudburst.

Once the game started, Princeton was hit by a deluge of Terp goals as Maryland scored three unanswered goals in the first eight minutes of the game and extended its lead to 9-1 midway through the second quarter.

Princeton head coach Matt Madalon acknowledged that the early onslaught by the Terps caught him off guard as he believed his squad was primed to continue the late surge as it brought a four-game winning streak into the NCAA tourney, winning the Ivy League Tournament in the process.

“Coming off the Ivy League championship, there were a lot of highs, it was pretty emotional, everybody was pretty thrilled,” said Madalon. “Then you have to come back and buckle down and get back to work. I thought we put together a good week of practice. I was surprised with how we started. We wanted to come out and be a little sharper and tighter in the first quarter, make sure we executed and settled in on the face-off X, and really none of it happened. They get a goal eight seconds into the game and then they got a goal on the ensuing couple of possessions. It was just a rough start.”

The Tigers did settle down in the third quarter as they outscored Maryland 3-1 to make it a 12-6 game heading into the final 15 minutes. The Terps responded with a 4-0 run to start the fourth quarter and never looked back on the way to a 16-8 win.

The setback marked Princeton’s fifth loss to Maryland in the last three years and it followed a similar script as the Tigers fell behind early in each contest and never led. In reflecting on the latest defeat to the Terps, Madalon credited Maryland showing their pedigree.

“I think overall their team speed was great,” said Madalon, whose team finished the spring with a final record of 11-5. “Their execution was flawless — they didn’t make a mistake in that first part of it. It was a very impressive Maryland team.”

Princeton did execute better in the second half but it was too little, too late.

“No matter what the score is on any given day, we are going to play Princeton lacrosse,” said Madalon, who got three goals from freshman star Nate Kabiri in the loss with Colin Burns, Tucker Wade, Marquez White, Lukas Stanat, and Coulter Mackesy adding one apiece.

“It was get back to playing our lacrosse and start putting it on them with our energy and attitude. We got a couple, but the gap was a little too big to close. Our guys battled all the way to the end. I will always give our guys credit. There is no quit in them, but the execution of Maryland was unrelenting.”

While the loss stung, Madalon was proud of what his senior group accomplished over their time at Princeton.

“I am thrilled that our seniors get to leave with a Final 4 appearance and two Ivy League championships,” said Madalon. “I would have loved to have done more for that crew. They set an incredible standard, culture, and level of play. It is our duty to get back to work and continue to uphold that.”

The impact of the seniors was exemplified by Princeton’s late run.

“Overall, I am very happy with the season in terms of how it went,” said Madalon. “Our backs were to the wall at 2-2 in the Ivy League and for this group to come together and get that championship says a lot about who these guys were as a team. It was impressive.”

There is an impressive foundation in place as Princeton will return most of its offensive firepower next spring, including junior Mackesy (40 goals, 24 assists), Kabiri (32 goals, 25 assists), sophomore Chad Palumbo (26 goals, 11 assists), freshman Burns (26 goals, 9 assists), freshman Wade (17 goals, 5 assists), junior Sean Cameron (18 goals, 3 assists), and sophomore John Dunphey (12 goals, 6 assists).

“All year people have spoken about our young guys. We do appreciate that — there are some talented young guys,” said Madalon. “There is a standard of play at Princeton and we will be right back at it trying to get back and up that level. With two first round exits the past two years our goals remain the same — the Ivy League championship and then the big one.”

While that abundance of talent on hand doesn’t guarantee anything, Madalon believes that Princeton can reach a championship level if the returners put their nose to the grindstone.

“For them to come together for that Ivy League run was awesome,” said Madalon. “It shows the amount of hard work and the amount of execution and detail that it takes towards the end of the year once you get into playoff time. I think it is great experience for those young guys. We hope for a lot better moving forward. If those guys work hard over the summer and come back and we put together a good fall, I remain very excited about the future.”