Led by attackman Michael Sowers ’20, perhaps the best freshman in the country, Princeton men’s lacrosse started the season 6–3 and is poised to make a run at the squad’s first NCAA Tournament bid since 2012. That’s a significant turnaround from last year, when Princeton went 5–8 and saw head coach Chris Bates replaced by assistant Matt Madalon in the middle of the season. Madalon was tapped as the permanent head coach in June.
Much of the transformation is due to the arrival of Sowers, who led the champion U.S. team in points at the Under-19 World Championships last summer. Sowers leads Princeton in points with 24 goals and 27 assists and is on pace to have a more productive freshman year than the program’s two all-time leading scorers — Kevin Lowe ’94, who is in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame, and Ryan Boyle ’04, who likely will be.
Sowers is “dynamic, with a high lacrosse IQ,” Madalon says, and his impact was evident in the team’s first practice last fall. Sowers’ ability to run the offense has helped Princeton average more than 15 goals per game this season, compared to 10 in 2016. The Tigers blitzed Johns Hopkins 18–7, Penn 17–8, and Brown 21–11 and failed to reach double figures only once, in a 10–8 loss to Hofstra.
Princeton also has been better on defense. Goalie Tyler Blaisdell ’18 saved 57 percent of the shots he faced in the first nine games this season, compared to only 45 percent last year. Blaisdell has made some minor adjustments to his stance in the cage, according to Madalon. The coach credits new defensive coordinator Jesse Bernhardt for helping the team be more disciplined, which has given Blaisdell more shots he can save.
The Tigers’ weaknesses in clearing the ball and facing off have hurt in losses to Rutgers and Yale. Princeton and Yale are the two strongest teams in the Ivies this year, and they could meet again in the league tournament May 5–7, with an NCAA bid on the line.
Update: Through April 15, the Tigers are 8-4 overall and 3-1 in Ivy play with two games remaining. With 31 goals and 65 points, Sowers holds Princeton’s freshman records in those categories.