The Evolution of Princeton Attackman Chris Brown

Princeton fifth-year senior attackman Chris Brown’s name likely will not come up early in discussions involving the current Division I elite at his position. Then again, that goes pretty much for the entire Tigers’ roster.

Brown and the rest of the Tigers (11-4) are quite fine with being overlooked that way, especially since fifth-seeded Princeton is still alive, preparing for its first appearance since 2004 at the NCAA tournament’s Championship Weekend. 

Playing in its first NCAA tournament since 2012 and pursuing the school’s seventh national title and first since 2001, Princeton will face top-seeded, undefeated Maryland in Saturday’s final four at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn.

As junior midfielder Alex Slusher recalls, it was fifth-year senior defenseman George Baughan, an anchor of the Princeton defense, who said in a recent speech, “We are looking for success, not superstars.”

That sentiment makes Slusher think of Brown, the Tigers’ 6-foot-2, 200-pound quarterback of an offense that ranks fifth in scoring (15.27 goals per game) in the nation.

Slusher says his goal scoring success — he has a team-high 45 — is mostly a product of the crisp, purposeful ball movement and overall unselfishness that define Princeton’s offensive identity. And that is where Brown, in the eyes of the Tigers, clearly projects star power.

Leading an offense that Tigers offensive coordinator Jim Mitchell calls “the sum of our parts,” Brown enters the weekend with 30 goals and a team-high 41 assists. He is tied for sixth nationally with 2.73 assists per game and tied for second on the team in goals.

“Anyone in our offense can go off in any given game, especially when we have a bunch of guys being selfless and making the extra pass,” Slusher says. “Chris really embodies that, as a player, as a [co-]captain, as a person. He’s a real leader, the most competitive person I’ve ever met. We are very lucky Chris Brown came back for a fifth year.”

“We are an offensive unit that does not have a superstar, but there is no doubt that [Brown] is our leader,” Princeton head coach Matt Madalon says. “Chris has not garnered half of the attention or accolades he deserves. And he couldn’t care less.”

“Chris has not garnered half of the attention or accolades he deserves.”

— Matt Madalon

Brown, who joined the program as a lefty finisher out of Fairfield Prep, where he starred in lacrosse and hockey, complemented then-superstar playmaker Michael Sowers immediately. Brown started the 2018 opener as a freshman. He has never missed a start in 47 games.

Remarkably, Brown scored at least one goal in the first 35 games of his career — by far the longest career-starting streak in Princeton history.

Brown has never been held without a point.

On only three occasions, all in 2022, has Brown failed to score a goal — against Georgetown and twice against Boston University. The Tigers won each game, as Brown combined for 13 assists, including a five-assist day in Princeton’s 12-5 rout over the Terriers in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

In Saturday’s quarterfinal, Princeton’s defense shut down an explosive Yale offense for lengthy stretches. The Tigers took control after falling behind early 3-1 and broke a six-game losing streak against Yale with an impressive 14-10 victory.

By finishing with one goal and two assists, including a huge score — Brown’s 100th career goal — that gave the Tigers a 13-9 advantage with 9:40 left in the fourth quarter, Brown joined an exclusive club at Princeton. He is now paired with Sowers as the only Tigers ever to produce at least 30 goals and 40 assists in a season.

“One of the most fun parts of our offense is that no one guy really controls the ball,” Brown says. “Everyone has different skill sets, and different guys get the [opposing] defense moving, and we react to it. Everybody can contribute. Everybody has a chance to produce. We do a good job of taking good shots and taking what defenses give us.”

Sowers, who plays for Waterdogs LC in the Premier Lacrosse League, says it has been a joy to watch Brown excel with his expanded game and lead the Tigers deep into May.

“[Brown’s] roles have changed throughout the years. He’s evolved as a slasher and a dodger. He’s always set the tone on the ride, always could shoot and feed. Now he’s kind of the complete quarterback package. I just needed to get out of there for him to show it,” Sowers says.

“We got a glimpse of the talent we had in 2020,” says Brown, alluding to Princeton’s aborted 5-0 season due to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’ve kept this goal [of winning a national title] in mind for more than two years. We’ve never stopped thinking that this could happen.”

To think what might have been in 2020, the year Sowers led a fine senior class, the spring that became a lost season in mid-March. The Ivy League alone would continue the shutdown of all sports through the following school year.

Many of its varsity lacrosse players, including Brown and eight seniors at Princeton, would opt out of enrollment for the 2020-21 school year to maintain a last, precious year of lacrosse eligibility at another Ivy League school that mandates an eight-semester limit for undergraduates.

Mitchell said he already had gained enormous, pre-COVID appreciation of Brown’s drive to succeed, his ability to lead and lift younger players, his mature approach to preparation and time management.

“But during the COVID year, [Brown’s] capacity to lead really grew from afar,” Mitchell says. “He’s a natural at being organized and efficient and taking care of people. We needed help as coaches to maintain cohesiveness as a team with lots of guys away from the campus. The fifth-year guys, especially Chris, really set the tone for us.”

With many players scattered, the team maintained contact in a variety of ways, such as group chats or phone calls that involved discussing strength and conditioning performance or lacrosse skills improvement or favorite shows on Netflix or academic, social and family issues. Players organized off campus for weightlifting, conditioning and lacrosse work. 

There were relocations of a dozen or more players who settled for weeks or months in places like Park City, Utah, or Austin, Texas, or Charleston, S.C. Numerous players, Brown included, took part- or full-time jobs. Other players stayed enrolled on campus.

“Just getting guys on the phone once or twice a week to talk was important,” Brown says. “Seniors needed to get to know true freshmen, so they weren’t strangers when they actually got here as sophomores. We had to have some kind of team bonding to maintain a culture and inform the younger guys how we would operate as a team.”


Andrew Song, Princeton’s fifth-year senior LSM, says Brown’s intense and supportive presence left a positive mark on the Tigers’ normal fall season in 2021. The fifth-year seniors were very cognizant of the fact that many players, including juniors, had little to no Division I game playing experience.

“We [seniors] forged an incredible bond over the gap year, and Chris vocally became one of our best leaders [last] fall,” Song recalls. “He brought an enormous amount of energy and competitiveness every day. His message was that every day is special, every day needs to be cherished.”

That line of thinking paid off late in the regular season, when Princeton, sailing along with a 9-2 record and 3-1 in Ivy play, stumbled by allowing a combined 37 goals in back-to-back losses to Harvard and Cornell. That knocked the Tigers out of the Ivy tournament, which Brown never got to play in at Princeton.

The next two weeks were open. The Tigers focused for the first week strictly on their weaknesses and drilled hard, free of the routine of game-planning and preparing for a specific opponent.

“It was definitely frustrating watching that [Ivy] tournament, but that break helped us get our edge back on things like ground balls and winning the middle of the field,” Brown says. “It was a good thing to focus on ourselves.”

The numbers say Brown has been dialed in throughout the season, during which he has constantly been tracked by the opponent’s top defenseman. Brown leads the team with 71 points, is shooting a healthy 36.6 percent and has scooped 40 ground balls, third-most on the team.

“I have never had to get on [Brown] once to go harder,” Madalon says. “We could run the offense through Chris. He’s so tough going one-on-one and finishing plays. Brownie can bang and make things happen in tight spaces. But he’s really shown his knack and feel for the game with the offense we have this year. He’s a great piece to the unit.”

Hours after he collected his Bachelor’s degree in economics on Tuesday, Brown recalled how the academic and lacrosse demands in his freshman year overwhelmed him at times. How he learned from older players about surviving and figuring out ways to manage his time. How the COVID years made his five-year hitch seem like a very long time.

“I’m definitely glad I made the decision to come here. Sometimes it feels like forever since I first walked through the door,” says Brown, who committed to Princeton early in his sophomore year at Fairfield Prep.

“Everybody in this league was curious about what the Ivies were going to look like. We knew what we had in our locker room,” he adds. “It’s been awesome getting this program back to where we think it ought to be. But we’ve only partly validated it. We’ve still got a lot of work to do.”