Lansdale, Pa., for a check-up, he received a call from a number he didn’t recognize. An admissions counselor from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business was on the other end. They had good news. 

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Michael Sowers Reflects on Tumultuous Past Few Months

The wait for Michael Sowers ended Tuesday in, of all places, a waiting room. While at a doctor’s office in Lansdale, Pa., for a check-up, he received a call from a number he didn’t recognize. An admissions counselor from Duke’s Fuqua School of Business was on the other end. They had good news. 

“I’m excited to be moving forward with the process and starting the journey towards the season at Duke,” Sowers told US Lacrosse Magazine yesterday, his voice tinged with relief. “I am really looking forward to getting to know the guys and to start digging in.” 

The acceptance call and accompanying email were more than two months in the making. Before April 9, Sowers never entertained the notion he’d play anywhere else besides Princeton. His plans changed after the university did not budge on its tradition that prohibits graduate students from participating in athletics. Princeton also barred spring sport student-athletes from withdrawing to use their fifth year of eligibility, which the NCAA previously granted in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Sowers was caught off guard. His attention was locked in to preparing for next year with Princeton offensive coordinator Jim Mitchell and how the Tigers’ attack could continue to evolve. 

“What do I do now?” Sowers asked Princeton head coach Matt Madalon after he learned of the decision. Madalon advised him to put his name in the transfer portal. Less than five minutes after Sowers did so, he received his first recruiting call. It was nonstop from there. 

“The first couple days were pretty chaotic,” Sowers said. “My life was turned around in a short span.” 

While Sowers was “humbled” and “honored” to receive interest from more than a dozen programs, he described the situation as “overwhelming.” When his phone wasn’t blowing up, Sowers struggled to come to terms with the realization that everything and everyone he had worked so hard for at Princeton he now would compete against. Could he ever wear another jersey besides the orange and black? 

To try to quell the uncertainty, Sowers focused on his preparation. He constructed detailed weekly and daily schedules on the notes app on his laptop. Almost every hour of every day was accounted for. Those days were the bridge between his past and his future. He’d shift between writing the final chapter of his senior thesis to conducting Zoom meetings with some of the top coaches in the country from his bedroom at his mom’s house in Montgomery County.

“I didn’t get much sleep during those two weeks,” said Sowers, who received his Princeton diploma in the mail last week. “It was a full on sprint.” 

Sowers felt an obligation to connect with every coach who reached out. The hardest part was saying no.

“At the end of the day you can only pick one school, but you also don’t want to disappoint anybody, especially when everyone is so generous with their time,” Sowers said. 

Out of respect for the other schools, Sowers refrained from specifying the finalists. 

“At the end of the day you can only pick one school, but you also don’t want to disappoint anybody, especially when everyone is so generous with their time.” — Michael Sowers

“Grateful” and “fortunate” are his words of choice to describe the help he received throughout the process. His parents, Elizabeth and Dave, told him they’d support whatever decision he made. Besides fielding calls and acting as a go-between with some of his coaching connections, Madalon also served as a sounding board. Sowers said he could call his former coach at any hour for guidance. 

Sowers had an “awesome conversation” with former Duke All-American and current Chrome LC star Jordan Wolf, who graduated this spring with an MBA from Fuqua, and conferred with Archers LC midfielder and former Princeton great Tom Schreiber several times. A mentor since his freshman year, Sowers called “Schreibs” a tremendous resource. 

“I couldn’t have been more impressed with his demeanor and the things he was evaluating and considering throughout this whole process,” Schreiber said. “He really is as good of a person as he is as a player, which is saying a lot. I think he landed in a great spot, and he’ll flourish over there.” 

“I’m bummed for Princeton as an alum, but as a Michael Sowers fan, I am pretty excited for him. I know that he’ll do great.”

With all that input, Sowers narrowed the list down to around six schools that he thought would be the best fit “academically, athletically and socially.” For a player whose instincts are unmatched, he decided again to follow his gut. He initially planned to apply to several graduate schools, but Duke became the frontrunner and his top choice. The decision was a gradual process and hinged on three factors. 

First was the Fuqua School of Business, ranked 12th in the country according to US News & World Report. After doing more research, Sowers found their master’s degree program was a great academic fit and thought it had everything he was looking for. 

Second was his conversations with those within the Duke lacrosse program. Sowers felt a kinship with several of the players after he got a sense of their competitiveness and their drive. Head coach John Danowski and his assistants, Matt Danowski and Ron Caputo, never pressured Sowers or made him feel like he was on the clock. What stood out most about those interactions, though, was that they rarely talked about lacrosse. They seemed more interested in his family and his experiences at Princeton off the field. 

The third, and perhaps most important, element was that he would not have to embark on the journey alone. On Sherrerd Field at the Class of 1952 Stadium, Sowers and Phillip Robertson possessed an almost telepathic connection honed through hard work. That will continue at Koskinen Stadium.

“After playing with him a good amount my sophomore year and last year, I have a good sense where he likes to go, but I still have to be able to move really quick because he is so shifty,” said Robertson, who led the NCAA in shooting percentage in 2018. “You definitely have to be ready at all times.” 

Roommates for the past two years, the fellow captains and linemates’ Spelman Hall apartment was the nexus for Princeton team meals and gatherings, like the Super Bowl watch party they hosted in February. That bond was evident when the Tigers started the 2020 season 5-0. While Sowers averaged 9.4 points per game, they also looked like one of the most complete teams in the country. 

“I consider him like a brother at this point with how long we’ve known each other and played together,” Sowers said of Robertson. 

In Durham, they’ll live with Joe Robertson, Phillip’s younger brother, with whom Sowers played in high school as teammates for, wait for it, Dukes Lacrosse Club. Before missing this spring with a torn ACL, Joe Robertson led the Blue Devils in goals in 2019, including the overtime winner against Notre Dame that sealed their spot in the final four. Sowers has also exchanged texts with freshman Dyson Williams, who led Duke in goals during its abbreviated 2020 campaign and Brennan O’Neill, the top-ranked recruit in the Class of 2020 according to Inside Lacrosse, who’s been called the “Zion Williamson of lacrosse.” 

That’s just part of the attack. Is it possible to have too many options?

“With the talent we have, the sky is certainly the limit, but for us it’s about what we’re going to do from September to January that will define us,” Sowers said, while also noting that he feels almost like a freshman again. “It’s going to be awesome to get down there and establish chemistry with those guys and learn from them.”


But as last spring has demonstrated, nothing is a guarantee. So much is still unknown. 

The status of college football this fall could create a domino effect similar to the one the Ivy League triggered when the conference announced the cancellation of spring sports. 

“If football doesn’t happen in the fall, we are not even worried about talking about recruiting now,” Danowski said last week during a US Lacrosse leadership panel webinar on college recruiting in the COVID-19 era. “[If that happens] there will be no lacrosse at the Division I level.”

Sowers’ training hasn’t waned, though. This summer, like the previous ones, he has committed to the 6 a.m. sessions before his (virtual) internship with Rubenstein Partners — a private equity firm in Philadelphia. He adds another lifting or shooting session most nights. The training group consists of Jack Rapine, Ryan Ambler and Princeton junior defenseman George Baughan, among others. 

“People who watch him don’t really understand how much goes into it,” Baughan said of Sowers back in February. “It’s not something that you can switch on for two hours in practice then switch off Saturday night. He leads by example, and everybody can look up to him about how he’s handled the pressure. He’s really come to embody Princeton lacrosse.”

Sowers said he’s talked a couple times with Baughan about what it would be like to face each other in a real game instead of practice, where their matchups were legendary. They both agreed, no matter the outcome, their outlook would remain the same. 

“As weird as it would be, win or lose, I would be so happy for those guys,” Sowers said. 

While on Zoom calls with Danowski and other coaches, Sowers sometimes caught himself looking at the poster above his desk that features Princeton’s 2020 captains. There’s Baughan, Robertson, Nick Bauer and Jon Levine. He kept them, and the rest of the team, in the back of his mind while he decided on his next step. 

“You turn the page because you have to,” Sowers said. “One chapter ends and another one begins. The door I guess has closed on Princeton, but I’ll always be close with those guys and they’ll always be some of my best friends.”