Monday, May 23, 2022

A Men's Lacrosse Reunions Party On Long Island

The ball was hurled high in the air. The Princeton men's lacrosse team raced onto the field. The scoreboard said "Princeton 14, Yale 10." The clock said ... "0.6."

The official nearest to where the ball went out of bounds could have tried to clear the field and have a restart. Instead, he signaled to let the clock run out. He knew. Everyone at Hofstra's Shuart Stadium knew.

There was no holding back this party from starting.

It was one 18 years in the making. The win over Yale Saturday vaulted Princeton into the Final Four for 11th time in program history but the first since 2004, as the Tigers will now play Saturday in the semifinals against top-seeded and unbeaten Maryland.

Everywhere you looked on the Princeton side, you saw former players, alums who never had the chance to play on this stage, who were locked in on how much they wanted it for the current generation. There were professional players, international players, former All-Americans, an army of All-Ivy picks — and they all were 100 percent invested in these Tigers.

It was like a separate Reunions tent was set up on Long Island.

It's not always easy to be the modern iteration of a program with one of the greatest traditions the sport has ever seen. In Princeton's case, that tradition means six NCAA championships and 10 previous trips to Championship weekend, all of which occurred between 1992 and 2004.

It can go one of two ways really. That tradition can weigh heavily, perhaps coupled with some unreasonable expectations of those who built the tradition. Or it can serve as the foundation of the program, with a base of alums who are supportive at every turn.

For Princeton men's lacrosse it's the latter. It was clear Saturday at Hofstra, on a sweltering afternoon, just how much the program means to all those who have gone through it. Those championship teams remain its cornerstone, and as the years have gone along, those groups have added everyone who has come along since.

They were all there Saturday, ready to help will the current group to take that next big step. For the current members of the program, they're all aware of what came before them. They speak about it. They ask about it. They embrace it.

Together, they all made it happen Saturday, against a team that had been a nemesis in every sense of the word. Matt Madalon, in fact, had never beaten the Bulldogs as head coach heading into the game, including a 14-12 loss earlier this season in New Haven.

TigerBlog spent a lot of time around this team during the week, and he picked up on something that was obvious. Confidence. This team was confident.

Not cocky. Not phony tough. They were confident, in themselves, in their teammates, in their gameplan. You could sense it. 

When Yale went up 3-1 in the first quarter, there was no panic. When Yale kept cutting it to two goals in the third quarter, Princeton simply answered with one of its own. A team with no postseason experience until a week before played with poise and composure and grit.

This was a team win in every sense of the word. Nine different Tigers scored. Eight different longsticks and four shorties played. Three different face-off men took the draws, and two of them won six each. 

There were standouts, of course.

Goalie Erik Peters was sensational, with 15 saves and 10 goals against. In two NCAA games, Peters now has made 32 saves and allowed 15 goals, a save percentage of .681 after he was below 40 percent for the last two games of the regular season.

Defenseman George Baughan was again ridiculous, holding Yale's Matt Brandau to one goal and one assist after Brandau had torched the Tigers for five goals and three assists two months earlier. 

This wasn't about individual performances, though. This was about Princeton Men's Lacrosse, from top to bottom, from players to coaches to staff to alums to fans to everyone. This was their day.

Well, maybe it was about one person, actually. Maybe it was about the head coach, Matt Madalon, who has understood from Day 1 the history of the program and what it means to everyone associated with it. He's embraced it and cultivated it, and he built a team and a culture that has worked hard — and together —to get where they are now.

Even in the middle of the celebration in the locker room afterwards, his focus wasn't on reaching the Final Four. It certainly wasn't on him.

It was something that he said, that he might not even realize he said.

"One more week together as a group." 

They'll cherish it. And then they'll be ready to take their shot at the big prize on the biggest stage in lacrosse. They'll all be there together, the Tigers of the present and the past, just like it always is with this program.

1 comment:

Glenn Adams said...

You captured the significance of this win perfectly. Everyone on the team rose to this big occasion and we fans loved it! Go Tigers! Glenn Adams '63