Alex Slusher ’23 has scored a team-high 44 goals, including three in Princeton’s NCAA Tournament win over Boston University.
Beverly Schaefer
With players from five class years, the Tigers are back in the tournament for the first time since 2012

The men’s lacrosse team had its best season in a decade, finishing the regular season with a 9-4 record and earning the program’s first bid to the NCAA Tournament since 2012. Seeded fifth, the Tigers beat Boston University, 12-5, in the first round and will face Yale in the quarterfinals at Hofstra May 21.

The team has fulfilled the promise it showed in 2020, when the Tigers started 5-0 and were ranked third nationally before the NCAA canceled the spring season because of COVID-19. That team’s best player, attackman Michael Sowers ’20, graduated, but almost all the players in the classes of 2021 and 2022 took a gap year in 2020–21, giving this year’s team players from five classes.

Though the upperclassmen were off campus last year, groups of them spent time together in Park City, Utah, and Austin, Texas, and a group of freshmen lived together in Charleston, South Carolina, during the 2020 fall semester. “That, looking back on it, was a great positive,” said head coach Matt Madalon, who noted that players both on and off campus were able to train even though there was no Ivy season last year.

In addition to staying in touch with the players, Madalon and his staff reviewed their own program. “We made huge changes to our strength and conditioning program, bringing in Mark Ellis,” who started at Princeton in February 2021 and works with the men’s and women’s diving and lacrosse teams as well as the men’s soccer and swimming programs. 

Princeton was unranked at the start of this season but played well in a Feb. 26 loss at the University of Maryland, the nation’s top squad, before beating highly ranked Georgetown and Rutgers in March. Princeton opened its Ivy schedule with an epic 21-20 overtime win over Penn March 19 and finished 3-3 in the league, which was the strongest it has ever been, with six Ivy men’s teams garnering NCAA bids and four reaching the quarterfinals.

Princeton was an offensive juggernaut, averaging 15.6 goals a game, the fifth-highest total in Division I. Attackman Chris Brown ’22, who netted the game-winner against Penn, led the team with 29 goals and 34 assists and was selected to the All-Ivy first team, while linemates Alex Slusher ’23 and Coulter Mackesy ’25 finished with 41 goals and eight assists and 24 and 14, respectively. 

The Tigers also had four midfielders who each scored at least 17 goals, all four of whom will return in 2023. Two of them, Sammy English ’23 and Jake Stevens ’23, were second-team All-Ivy selections, while a third, Alexander Vardaro ’23, won honorable-mention honors, as did Slusher. The last time the Tigers had four middies with at least 15 goals in a season was 1990.  

With the graduation of Sowers, Princeton’s all-time leading scorer, offensive coordinator Jim Mitchell crafted “a selfless offense,” Madalon said, in which no one player carried the ball most of the time or took the bulk of the team’s shots. Instead, Madalon said, it was “a balanced attack, which makes it a challenge to cover us.”

Defensively, Princeton gave up 11.8 goals a game, a respectable number given the quality of their opponents. Defenseman George Baughan ’22 was a first-team All-Ivy selection, while longstick defensive midfielder Andrew Song ’22 was a second-teamer. Here too Princeton will be strong in 2023, with defensive starters Ben Finlay ’23 and Colin Mulshine ’25 returning along with most of the defensive midfield corps, including second-team All-Ivy player Beau Pederson ’23.  

“We have high expectations for our program,” Madalon said. “This is a program that’s hoisted trophies before. For us to get back on the national stage is something I’ve always wanted for our guys.”