Is Princeton the Cornell of 2019? Sowers and Co. Hope So

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

Michael Sowers has made quite the name for himself at one of the sport’s most storied programs. The one thing missing is a chance to shine on an NCAA tournament stage.


US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Men’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 2. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on uslaxmagazine.com through the end of the month and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition in February.

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No. 19 Princeton

2018 Record: 8-5 (3-3 Ivy League)
Coach: Matt Madalon (4th year)
All-Time Record: 714-500-19
NCAA Appearances: 20
Final Fours: 10
Championships: 6

Let’s see here. An Ivy League team closes out a season in impressive fashion and has a charismatic and somewhat overlooked attackman leading a potent offense. Sounds a bit like Cornell heading into last year, a season that worked out well for the Big Red.

It also aptly describes Princeton, which could be on the verge of a similar breakout season behind junior attackman Michael Sowers.

The Tigers quietly stitched together a five-game winning streak to finish up last season, a run that included a victory over Cornell to close out April. Princeton didn’t reach the Ivy League tournament, and so it was pretty much forgotten about as soon as May arrived.

It probably won’t be an issue this year.

Yes, Jeff Teat and Cornell will still be a factor in the Ivy League. And sure, Yale is rightfully the Ivy favorite after claiming its first national championship in 2018.

Yet with Sowers as the central figure on an explosive attack, the Tigers could very well be on the doorstep of ending a six-year NCAA tournament drought.

Sowers had 82 points as a freshman, then topped himself with 83 points in just 13 games last season. He’s a junior captain for Princeton, and coach Matt Madalon anticipates even more improvement as Sowers enters the second half of his career.

“It’s incredible that I can say the kid gets better every day,” Madalon said. “It’s not, ‘Oh, he’s getting better with age or better with experience.’ He’s getting better because the guy is the hardest-working kid in our program.”

Consider this: Sowers is already 10th in Princeton history in points (165). He’s fifth in assists with 97. He’s had five games with at least nine points, as many as former Tiger stars Ryan Boyle and Jesse Hubbard mustered — combined.

Sowers’ brilliance shouldn’t obscure what an exceptional attack unit Madalon has stitched together. Junior Phillip Robertson emerged as an ace finisher last season. Sophomore Chris Brown had 23 goals and 15 assists and became the second Princeton freshman ever to score at least one goal in every game, and the 6-foot-2 bruiser should be even better this season.

“What makes me the most excited is how complementary they are,” Madalon said. “If you take one way, the other two can step up.”

There’s no doubt Princeton has some room to improve on defense, and it has some holes in critical spots. But the attack — featuring a potential Tewaaraton finalist in Sowers — is strong enough to make the Tigers a threat come May.

At the very least, Princeton should be one of the country’s most entertaining teams.






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The Case For Princeton

There’s continuity, both on the coaching staff and on attack and close defense. That’s a solid start. Even in a unit where the Tigers are younger — the midfield — Madalon has a lot of athletic options. There’s a case to be made Princeton will be one of the great beneficiaries of the sport’s rule changes. “We’ve done a good job, and we have a lot of knowns,” Madalon said. “I do like our growth. We’re athletic in the right spots. We’re a little young in certain spots. But we do love the rules.”

The Case Against Princeton

There’s uncertainty at both goalie and the faceoff X. Junior Jon Levine is the early favorite to start in the cage, with sophomores Ben Churchill and Erik Peters set to make a run at the gig in the preseason. But the longer-running headache is the faceoff conundrum. The Tigers haven’t fared better than 50 percent as a team at the X since 2012. “It’s a game-changing position with the rules right now,” Madalon said. “Jack-Henry Vara, a sophomore, had a nice fall.” Juniors Ralph Chrappa and Philip Thompson figure to push for time, and all three will probably see time early in the season.

Path to the Playoffs

In addition to the Ivy League tournament route, the Tigers have plenty of chances to pick off name-brand opponents in the first month or so of the season. Princeton faces Virginia (Feb. 23), Johns Hopkins (March 2), Rutgers (March 9), Yale (March 23) and Denver (March 26) within its first eight games. Strength of schedule will not be a problem for Princeton, but how well the Tigers hold up to that arduous early slate with a new goalie is a reasonable question.

Players To Watch

George Baughan, D, So.
24 GB, 16 CT

One of two ace sophomores on the Princeton defense (along with Andrew Song), Baughan is a physical player who can get out and defend just about anyone. He led the Ivy League in caused turnovers per game (1.60) in his debut season, and he’ll anchor what should be an improved close unit for the Tigers.

Phillip Robertson, A, Jr.
33 G, 63.5 SH%

After scoring just three goals as a freshman, Robertson led the country in shooting percentage while becoming only the third Princeton player in the last quarter-century to improve his goal total by at least 30. The others were Jesse Hubbard (1995-96) and Jason Doneger (2001-03). Pretty good company.

Michael Sowers, A, Jr.
27 G, 56 A

Is he the best attackman in the country? Quite possibly. After setting Princeton’s single-season points record as a freshman and breaking it a year later, he’s made quite the name for himself at one of the sport’s most storied programs. The one thing missing is a chance to shine on an NCAA tournament stage, and he and the Tigers could fix that problem this spring.

National Rankings

Category

Rank

Value

Offense 3rd 13.62 GPG
Defense 59th 12.15 GAA
Faceoffs 37th 48.0 FO%
Ground Balls 11th 31.15/game
Caused TO 28th 7.00/game
Shooting 4th 35.8%
Man-Up 10th 47.1%
Man-Down 48th 62.5%
Assists 3rd 9.23/game
Turnovers 27th 12.54/game
Clearing 65th 81.9%

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)

Offense
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Defense
⭐⭐

Goalkeeping
⭐⭐

Faceoff
⭐⭐

6

With assistant coach Jeremy Hirsch returning, Princeton will snap a streak of six defensive coordinators in the last six seasons. The Tigers’ last multi-year defensive coordinator was current Hobart coach Greg Raymond.

5-Year Trend
Faceoff Percentage

Year

Rank

Pct

2014 46th 46.0
2015 53rd 44.1
2016 46th 46.9
2017 39th 49.0
2018 37th 48.0

Coach Confidential
Matt Madalon

“I really do like our team. I like our personnel. I love our locker room. I think we have a great locker room, and having a great locker room sets your team up for success. With the new rules and the learning curve, I think our biggest concern with the guys is we’ll have to live with some mistakes.”

Enemy Lines

“Sowers, like Teat, can carry a team.”

“Enough talent.  Can they sustain it for an entire year and perform when it matters most?”

“Now that [Madalon has] a couple strong recruiting classes with guys he likes, they’ll be a little deeper on the offensive and defensive end.”

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