Matt Madalon and the Quest for Consistency at Princeton

COURTESY OF PRINCETON ATHLETICS

Michael Sowers broke Rob Pannell's single-season Ivy League freshman record of 67 points, tallying 41 goals and 41 assists last season.


US Lacrosse Magazine released the Nike/US Lacrosse Division I Men’s Preseason Top 20 on Jan. 8. Team-by-team previews will be unveiled on uslaxmagazine.com throughout January and will also appear as part of the magazine’s NCAA preview edition that mails to US Lacrosse members Feb. 1 — opening day of the 2018 college lacrosse season.

No. 18 Princeton

Coach: Matt Madalon (3rd Season)
All-Time Record: 675-465-15
NCAA Appearances: 20
Final Fours: 10
Championships: 6
2017 Record: 9-6 (4-2 Ivy)

After 22 years of leadership consistency under Bill Tierney (and longtime assistant Dave Metzbower), Princeton over the last half decade has become a revolving door of sorts for coaches, namely assistants.

Matt Madalon wants to interrupt the trend.

The former Major League Lacrosse goalie joined Chris Bates’ staff five years ago. After two-plus seasons as offensive coordinator, Madalon ascended to interim and then full-time head coach after Bates’ dismissal in the middle of the 2016 season, after the seventh-year coach elbowed an opposing player during a game.

Having experienced six other assistant coaches come and go during his same tenure in New Jersey, Madalon decided maintaining a consistent coaching staff was a top priority when he took over one of college lacrosse’s most historic programs.

But, sometimes, the best laid plans don’t work out.

Jesse Bernhardt, the Team USA defenseman and Madalon’s first hire — to be defensive coordinator for 2017 — returned this offseason to Maryland, his alma mater, to take the same position there.

Jeremy Hirsch, an alum and Princeton’s solo captain in 2010, is the new defensive coordinator. He worked at Hobart for the last four seasons.

He’s a new name to the current crop of Tigers, and so in the name of Madalon’s desired consistency and to ease the burden for seniors playing for a fourth defensive coordinator in four seasons, the fundamentals of what Bernhardt preached will remain in place.

“It’ll be close,” Madalon says. “When we were implementing the Princeton defense as a staff, there was a certain way we wanted to play. A level of aggressiveness, yet one of understanding.”

Meanwhile, the offensive approach — which produced the second-most goals per game in the country last year and shot the best of any team — hasn’t changed. Offensive coordinator Pat March is the first assistant since Madalon in 2014 and 2015 to stay at Princeton for more than a season.

“For the first time in the longest time, we’ve been able to put back-to-back years with similar systems in place,” Madalon says.

And that, right now, is a good thing.

While Princeton will miss the versatility and production of guys like do-it-all midfielder Zach Currier (who is showing he can do it at the pro level, too) and attackman Gavin McBride, the Tigers return several key pieces from a team that went 4-2 in the Ivy League last year, Madalon’s first full season as head coach. Attackman and U.S. 19 team alum Michael Sowers was one of the nation’s best freshmen, notching more than 80 points with an even-handed 41 goals and 41 assists. There’s ground to make up on defense — opponents shot close to 30 percent against them — but at least they’ll be speaking the same language.

“Same look Tigers,” Madalon says, “building on last year, building on our offensive and defensive systems. In year two, that’s where we’re looking to make strides.”






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The Case For Princeton

Sowers, senior midfielder Austin Sims and senior attackman Riley Thompson give the Tigers as good a trio as you can ask for on offense that had the top shooting percentage in the nation and in general showed marked improvement in Madalon’s first full season as a head coach. Senior Tyler Blaisdell (53.2 save percentage) will anchor the defense in the cage and starting defenseman Daniel Winschuh and Arman Medghalchi return, as does long-stick middie Nick Bauer and three short-stick defensive middies. “Our shift is to get better on the defensive side, manufacturing stops and getting stops,” Madalon says. While Princeton lost some key parts of last season’s team, they have a chunk of players with experience returning.

The Case Against Princeton

The graduations of Currier and McBride leave some holes to be plugged. The Tigers will also look for complimentary players to step up around their current Big Three, like middies Connor McCarthy (sophomore), Braedon Gait (senior) and Jamie Atkinson and Luke Crimmins (freshmen). There may be some uneasiness on faceoffs, too. Sam Bonafede, a captain and the team’s primary faceoff taker the last few years, is coming back from season-ending knee injury, and the Tigers have a young crew otherwise at the X in sophomores Ralph Chrappa and Philip Thompson and freshman Jack-Henry Vara.

Path to the Playoffs

Yale is the team to beat in the Ivy, and Brown ended Princeton’s season last year in the Ivy League tournament semifinals. The Tigers will put a bullseye on those programs, while respecting the depth of the league. “It’s an incredible league,” Madalon says. “It’s a shame last year that only one Ivy team went to the NCAA tournament. A couple out-of-conference losses hurt the league as a whole but the teams continue to get better as the recruiting continues to get better. The true race is to just make the Ivy tournament. Once you get there, anything can happen.”

Players To Watch

Michael Sowers, A, So.
41 G, 41 A

The slick, quick attackman made an immediate impact as a freshman, with over 80 points, and Madalon expects more of the same. “He just gets better every day,” Madalon says. “He’s got to be one of the most dangerous in the country, from an ability to break down a defender one-on-one and the ability to feed and make his teammates better.”

Austin Sims, M, Sr.
27 G, 9 A

Sims returns as the big gun in the Tigers’ midfield after missing a third of last season due to injury, but still notching north of 30 points. He’s one of three co-captains and will be looked to for leadership and production.

Riley Thompson, A, Sr.
18 G, 22 A

 “He’s the brain of our offense,” Madalon says of the Canadian and Culver Academy grad. “He’s a really bright guy. He’s an all-around player. He’s like a mini-offensive coordinator on the field.”

National Rankings

Category

Rank

Value

Offense 2nd 14.67 GPG
Defense 52nd 11.40 GPG
Faceoffs 39th 49.0%
Ground Balls 5th 33.47
Caused TO 20th 7.40/game
Shooting 1st 35.7%
Man-Up 9th 46.2%
Man-Down 10th 75.0%
Assists 2nd 9.47/game
Turnovers 21st 12.47/game
Clearing 67th 81.7%

Power Ratings (Scale of 1-5)

Offense
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Defense
⭐⭐

Goalkeeping
⭐⭐⭐

Faceoff
⭐⭐⭐

35.7

Princeton’s shooting percentage last season, tops in the nation, and the quarterback of the offense is back.

5-Year Trend
Clearing Percentage

Year

Value

Rank

2013 88.1 N/A
2014 88.6 15th
2015 88.9 8th
2016 86.3 37th
2017 81.7 67th

Coach Confidential
Matt Madalon

 “We have a lot of guys back, absolutely. It should be a good season."

Enemy Lines
Rival Coaches

“Can we give Chris Bates any credit? Left the cupboards full? ... Back is one of the top attackmen in the nation: Michael Sowers. Who can cover that guy? ... Matt Madalon brought the fun and transition game back to Jersey. ... Austin Sims is proving to be a dominant midfielder. ... They lose Currier and McBride, but they have Sowers and Sims back. They are going to be very tough. ... You have a potential first-team All-American attackman leading the way. It’s going to be hard to make up for the loss to Currier and McBride on attack. They have a very good goalie. ... The graduation of Mr. Do Everything Zach Currier allows the rest of the nation to breath a sigh of relife. He is simply irreplaceable. ... Tyler Blaisdell is a good stopper some days.”

 

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