Is Princeton Back? Next Three Games Will Be Telling

PHOTO BY KEVIN P. TUCKER

Princeton goalie Tyler Blaisdell owns a 62.2 save percentage a year after posting a 44.8 save percentage.


The first month of Matt Madalon’s first full season as a head coach offers a hint that Princeton — five years removed from its last NCAA tournament berth, eight years out from its last quarterfinal appears and 13 full years since its last trip to Memorial Day weekend — might just be back.

The Tigers (4-1) enter Wednesday’s short trip to undefeated Rutgers with a pair of victories over NCAA tournament teams from a year ago (Johns Hopkins and Quinnipiac). Their lone loss is to undefeated Hofstra.

They have answers at both ends of the field, from converted midfielder Austin Sims on attack to Tyler Blaisdell in the cage. And the 18-7 rout of Johns Hopkins earlier this month was a clear signal that Madalon, who took over for Chris Bates in the middle of last season, has things going in the right direction with the help of a full offseason to install his systems and philosophy.

“Coming out of last year, there were too many people who got comfortable with losing,” Madalon said. “Not that anyone is OK with losing, but eight losses is not common ground for Princeton in anything, especially in men’s lacrosse. I don’t think the Hopkins game galvanized us any more than when we were going into it. It was a good confirmation that if we work our tails off and prepare properly, we can be ready to take advantage of the situation.”

Sims (14 goals) leads a balanced offense that also features Gavin McBride (12 goals, seven assists), Michael Sowers (11 goals, 15 assists) and Zach Currier (eight goals, 11 assists). Princeton has scored 17 goals in three of its five outings this year, marking the first time since 1998 the Tigers have scored 17 times in three different games.

Meanwhile, Blaisdell owns a 62.2 save percentage a year after posting a 44.8 save percentage.

“He’s done a really nice job,” Madalon said. “That’s been a position where we haven’t been very consistent. Tyler put in the work and is a more mature goalie.”

The next week and a half will provide a better sense of Princeton’s staying power. The visit to Rutgers, postponed by a day due to weather, might be the most meaningful matchup between the in-state rivals since a 2004 NCAA tournament meeting. Then comes a trip to Penn on Saturday, followed by a date with Yale next Friday at home.

So can this start be sustained?

“Our goal is to handle ourselves in Ivy League play,” Madalon said. “We’re thrilled with our out-of-conference [performance], but then it’ll shift quickly into Penn. We still have a lot of work to do.”







Hofstra has a shot

What’s different about Hofstra during a 5-0 start that includes a victory at North Carolina last weekend? Start with the most obvious key to success.

The Pride are shooting 35 percent, good for eighth in the country. Last year, Hofstra was 35th nationally at 27.8 percent. In 2015, it was a meager 25.5 percent. The last time it shot better than 30 percent for a full season was 2011, not-so-coincidentally the last time Hofstra reached the NCAA tournament.

“We’re placing an emphasis on what is really, really important during a game, and shooting happens to be at the top of that list,” coach Seth Tierney said. “If that’s really important, how do we negotiate and use our free time to work on shooting? Let’s understand what goes into shot selection, and that there are guys on our team that are better finishers than other guys. Let’s try to get those guys shots from where they’re comfortable.”

Look down the lineup, and Hofstra is clearly creating good opportunities for its best players. Josh Byrne (16 goals, 11 assists) is shooting 51.6 percent. Freshman Ryan Tierney, Seth’s son, has connected on 12 of his 30 shots. And Brendan Kavanagh is 10-for-27 (37.0 percent) through five games.

Crisp shooting isn’t the only reason the Pride already own victories over Princeton and North Carolina. Goalie Jack Concannon has stopped 60.6 percent of the shots on goal he’s seen, and Hofstra is averaging just 9.6 turnovers per game (fewer than everyone in Division I besides Johns Hopkins).

Shooting, then, is the beginning of Hofstra’s early success, but not its end. A roster that’s remained healthy so far plays a role, too, but the buy-in matters even more.

“You have to have six guys that are dangerous in Division I,” Tierney said. “It’s not just being lucky and throwing it in the goal.”

Watching the wins

John Danowski became the winningest coach in Division I history when Duke upended Jacksonville 13-6. His 376th career triumph moved him past former Brown and Virginia coach Dom Starsia atop the all-time list.

Danowski isn’t the only coach in that neighborhood. Denver’s Bill Tierney sits at 373 career victories after the Pioneers’ 11-10 defeat of Notre Dame on Sunday.

It’s unlikely anyone joins them in that neighborhood, especially with both fielding national championship contenders on a regular basis. Only three other active coaches are within 100 triumphs of Danowski: Bryant’s Mike Pressler (344), Delaware’s Bob Shillinglaw (332) and Notre Dame’s Kevin Corrigan (289). Shillinglaw has already announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season.

Next on the list is Syracuse’s John Desko, who with 227 victories would have to average 15 victories over 10 seasons simply to match where Danowski is now.

Terriers learn quick

Only five undefeated teams remain in Division I, with three (Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers) out of the Big Ten joining Hofstra in that group. But the most fascinating team of the bunch might be Boston University, which in only its fourth season is 7-0 and a credible Patriot League contender after early victories at Navy and Colgate.

The Terriers, who play host to Bucknell on Saturday, have the benefit of both an efficient offense (34.9 shooting percentage) and a miserly defense anchored by goalie Christian Carson-Banister (67.4 save percentage). That they’ve done this without senior faceoff ace Sam Talkow, who ranked third in the country last year by winning 69.5 percent of his draws, adds to the impressiveness.

Of course, there’s something to be said for a start-up program enjoying a breakthrough in its fourth season — when its first full class of recruits enters its senior year. A season ago, it was Marquette that made its first NCAA tournament with a senior-laden roster. Boston University could be on its way to matching that in 2017.

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