Recent History Fuels Princeton’s First NCAA Win Since 2009

PHOTO BY SHELLEY SZWAST

Princeton captain George Baughan helped lead a dominant defensive effort in which the Tigers held BU's starting attack unit without a point.


It had been a decade since Princeton last played in the tournament it once owned — the Tigers won six NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse titles from 1992 to 2001. It had been 13 years since the Tigers last tasted a postseason victory, but there were more immediate history lessons that fueled the Tigers 12-5 win over Boston University in Saturday’s NCAA first round.

Princeton was undefeated at 5-0 and ranked No. 3 in the country when the 2020 season was shortened due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Last year, the Ivy League sat home and watched while the rest of the lacrosse world moved on.

But even more recently, the Tigers gave up 37 goals in losses to Harvard and Cornell to close the 2022 regular season, losses that caused them to miss the Ivy League tournament.

“We were not happy watching that Ivy League tournament. It was a tough pill to swallow,” said Princeton head coach Matt Madalon on the ESPNU broadcast at the conclusion of the game.

But the result was a two-week break that allowed Princeton to regroup after getting an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

Regroup they did after what Madalon termed “upgrade season.”

The defense that was ripped apart in those losses allowed just five goals to a BU offense that ranked in the Top 20 in the country with an average of 13.8 goals per game. They did it by taking the Terriers out of their game with 15 caused turnovers and dominating possession by winning 16 of 20 faceoffs.

“This was a big step forward for us, this was something we’ve working towards for years,” said Madalon, who took over as head coach midway through the 2016 season.

Boston University’s first trip to the NCAA tournament in program history came with some of the expected jitters — seven first quarter turnovers, namely — and Princeton took advantage by scoring the game’s first four goals.

After Tommy Bourque finally got Boston University on the scoreboard early in the second quarter, Princeton’s Sam English and Coulter Mackesy scored goals within the next minute to stretch the Tiger lead to 6-1.

That was the theme of the day – the Terriers never got momentum rolling.

It was hardly a work of art for Princeton, which committed 24 turnovers itself, but goalie Erik Peters returned to his early season form, making 15 saves. And his defensive unit snuffed out any life from BU’s offense. Nothing demonstrated that better than George Baughan diving to block a shot and then moments later racing to beat a BU offensive player to the end line on a shot to give the Tigers possession.

“George has been our leader,” Madalon said. “He’s been a two-time captain for us and he anchors that defensive unit. It starts with effort and attitude from that end. He’s a tone setter. It’s like playoff hockey out there, diving there blocking shots.”

Boston University’s starting attack unit of Vince D’Alto, Timmy Ley and Louis Perfetto all came into the game with at least 65 points this season. On Saturday, the trio was held without a point.

The Terriers came into the game eighth in the country with 724 shots this season, an average of 45.3 per game. They took just 30 against Princeton and the tone was set early with just four shots in the first quarter.







Princeton, which has scored at least 20 goals on three occasions this year, didn’t have a prolific showing on the offensive end, but was efficient enough to get the job done. Tyler Sandoval was a big reason why, winning 15 of 18 faceoffs.

English, Alex Slusher and Christian Ronda each scored three times for Princeton and Chris Brown had five assists, giving him 12 assists in the Tigers two victories over BU this season.

The Terriers finished the season 12-5 with four of the losses coming to Ivy League teams, including two to Princeton.

Princeton (10-4) now moves onto the quarterfinals to face either Ivy League rival Yale or Saint Joseph’s.

A win would send them to the NCAA’s championship weekend for the first time since 2004. It appeared they were on the way to that type of stratosphere when the wheels come off with the cancellation of the 2020 season. Attackman Michael Sowers played the starring role for that team and wanted to come back to Princeton for 2021, but ultimately finished his collegiate career at Duke last season.

Today’s win was validation that the Tigers are indeed continuing to move back to where the program aspires to reside.

“Honestly, we didn’t know how we were going to respond — life after Sowers,” Madalon said of his 2022 expectations. “You get a new group in, you get seniors that have been off for a little while, a year older. I think when everyone stepped foot back on campus you just cherish this thing a little more. You cherish the locker room. You cherish the weight room sessions. You cherish the conditioning. I think the entire Ivy League kind of came out with a chip on its shoulder and a true appreciation for being back and playing the game we all love.”

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