Fall Snapshot: Princeton Tigers

(Photo Courtesy of Princeton Athletics)

Welcome to the Fall Snapshot series. Throughout the fall I will be taking an early look at all 75 DI men’s college lacrosse teams and giving a snapshot of where each is heading into the 2023 season.

Head Coach: Matt Madalon (Sixth Season, 2017-Current)

Princeton 2022 Record: 11-5 (3-3 Ivy League)

Key Departures: Chris Brown (A), Andrew Song (LSM), George Baughan (D), Erik Peters (G)

Key Returners: Alex Slusher (A), Coulter Macksey (A), Sam English (M), Alexander Vardaro (M), Jake Stevens (Two-Way Middie), Tyler Sandavol (FO), Pace Billings (D/LSM), Ben Finlay (D)

Transfer Additions: N/A

Is Princeton back? After making the program’s first championship appearance since 2004, many people are saying yes. The Tigers put together their best season in quite sometime last spring as they went 11-5 overall, 3-3 in the Ivy League, and saw their season end with a semifinals loss to eventual unbeaten national champion Maryland. Princeton, however, did miss the Ivy League Tournament, which speaks more to the strength of the league as a whole last season than it does of anything concerning Princeton.

The Tigers’ successful 2022 season included regular season wins over Georgetown, Rutgers, Penn, and Brown. Princeton also beat Yale in the NCAA Quarterfinals, avenging its regular season loss to the Bulldogs. Of Princeton’s five losses, two came against Maryland. The other three came against Harvard and Cornell to end the regular season and to Yale midway through the year, as mentioned above.

Princeton very well might have marked its long awaited return to the upper echelon of college lacrosse last spring. But one good year doesn’t prove a teams “backness.” So, what can Princeton for for an encore in 2023? And will they be able to make it back to Championship Weekend or at least be one of the teams in serious contention at the top of the sport? With as much talent as Matt Madalon’s squad brings back, the Tigers very well could.

Burning Questions

Who Replaces Erik Peters in Cage?

Personnel wise, there aren’t too many questions surrounding this Princeton squad. But one of those few major questions does lie in between the pipes where the Tigers lose three-year starter Erik Peters. Last spring, Peters made 217 saves with a 55% save percentage. He ended the year ranked 12th nationally in save percentage.

In finding an answer at the goalie position, Princeton will have to turn to a small goalie room. Junior Michael Gianforcaro and senior Griffen Rakower are the only two returners at the position with any game experience. Ryan Croddick is the third goalie on the roster and is a freshman.

Gianforcaro, who came in as a highly-regarded high school recruit as an Under Armour All-American in 2020, played in six games last spring and made two saves with a 25% save percentage. Rakower also played in six games and made 14 saves with a 63.6% save percentage.

Who Quarterbacks The Offense?

One of the biggest storylines of this Princeton team last season was Chris Brown’s emergence as the quarterback of the Tigers’ offense. After being mostly an off-ball finisher to compliment Michael Sowers through the first three seasons of his career, Brown took on the role as the quarterback of the Princeton offense last season and thrived as he led the team with 72 points off 31 goals and 41 assists. Brown has exhausted his eligibility and this Princeton offense will be looking to fill that hole in 2023.

Returning from that heralded offense that averaged 14.8 goals per game as the seventh-best scoring offense in DI is attackmen Alex Slusher (46G/10A) and Coulter Mackesy (28G/15A), as well as midfielders Sam English (30G/18A), Alexander Vardaro (26G/15A), and Christian Ronda (23G/2A). And that is just the top end of what this offense brings back.

Princeton has a deep and talented offensive group returning. The question is: who will take over as the quarterback? Does Slusher or Mackesy slide into that role or someone else? No matter what, the Tigers have that role open on offense and it’ll be very interesting as to who fills that position and how they perform.

What Does The Close Defense Look Like?

We already covered the biggest question on defense: Who takes the reigns in cage? As for the rope unit, the Tigers bring back a pair of elite short-stick defensive midfielders in Beau Pederson and Jake Stevens, who has looked like Zach Currier reincarnate, to lead the way. As for the close defense, that’s where the next biggest questions lie for this Princeton squad. And especially so after losing its top pole in George Baughan (31GB/20CT).

Princeton had arguably the deepest group of poles last season. Baughan, Ben Finlay (26GB/15CT), Pace Billings (15GB/16CT), and Colin Mulshine (14GB/7CT) all proved invaluable at the spot. Jacob Stoebner (8GB/2CT) also played in nine games with one start (vs Rutgers). Baughan is one of only two major losses at pole, along with LSM Andrew Song (31GB/18CT).

That begs the question: What will this close defense unit look like in 2023? Yes, the trio of Finlay, Billings, and Mulshine is a strong starting core. However, Finlay is the only one of those three with more than a year experience at the college level. Could it be that the loss of Baughan, as well as a new voice in cage, and the lesser experience of this group as a whole lead to a bit of a dip in production? It is possible. But it is also plausible that this Princeton defense remains just as good as last year.

Potential Breakout Player

Tommy Barnds, Attack, Junior

On a team with as much returning talent as Princeton, it doesn’t seem like there are many sure-fire places where one can break through. However, attackman Tommy Barnds could be one of those players that does so. He started the first three games of 2022 and was a key reserve the rest of the way. He tallied eight points off five goals and three assists last spring.

Freshman Class

Princeton brings in a 2022 signing class of 13 players. The headliner of the class is Under Armour All-American faceoff man Andrew McMeekin (The Episcopal Academy, Pa.). He is ranked as the No. 29 player in the class by Inside Lacrosse and is among three players ranked as a top 50 recruit by IL.

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