Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The Mark Ellis Story

TigerBlog asked five people to describe Princeton strength and conditioning coach Mark Ellis in one word.

Here are the responses he got:


Those responses all came from members of the Princeton men's lacrosse program. They all experienced first-hand what is obvious to any observer of the team: Mark Ellis is a indeed a force of nature.

If you went to yesterday, you saw the feature story that TB wrote about Ellis. If you didn't, you can see it HERE.

One of the best parts of a Princeton men's lacrosse game this year actually happened before the game. It came when the Tigers would walk out of the locker room, in a column of twos, with Ellis in front to lead the way.

This is what Ellis said about that:

I think it’s a special moment for me. I'm more anxious than when I was a player. With all the work you do, now it’s Game Day. You know how much time they put into it. You practice 200 days a year to play 15 or so games a year. I love those moments. They're very special. I tell them to embrace them.

Ellis has brought a combination of analytics and old-fashioned work ethic with him to Princeton, where he works with men's swimming and diving, women's tennis, men's soccer and women's diving in addition to men's lacrosse. 

He himself was a lacrosse player at Stony Brook and then, after tearing his ACL and graduating early, at Hofstra, where he earned a master's degree. He was also a professional player in the last two seasons of Major League Lacrosse. 

TigerBlog watched Ellis as he worked with the Princeton men's lacrosse team all fall and spring, eventually reaching the Final Four, helped by the qualities of speed, strength and just plain toughness that he helped bring to the program. He saw the way the players and coaches responded to him. He saw the innate leadership qualities he possesses. It was impossible not to be impressed by him.

During all that time, TB didn't know anything about his background. Almost nobody with the program did, until Ellis gave a speech to the team before it got on the buses to head to Hartford for Championship Weekend. 

Head coach Matt Madalon, the one who described Ellis as a "life-force," asked each of the coaches if they had anything they wanted to say. When it was Ellis' turn, he told about his brother Corey, who is basically the same age as the players on the team. 

TigerBlog wasn't there for it. He drove up separately. 

At the hotel the next morning, it was pretty much all anyone was talking about, just how moving it was and how touched they all were by what Ellis had said. They hadn't known that part of Ellis' background, and it made them consider their own perspectives on themselves and how fortunate they were to be part of Princeton University and the men's lacrosse program.

At that point, TB decided to ask Ellis if he could tell his story. He wanted to talk about the incredible impact that he had made on the players, and more than just on the field. And he wanted to tell the story of how he came to Princeton, what shaped him and what he had to overcome to get to where he is today.

When he interviewed Ellis, the two sat on a bench outside of Caldwell Field House. Their talk lasted more than an hour. It's one of the longest interviews that TB has ever done. Each time he thought he'd gotten to the end, there was more to ask, more that Ellis said that provoked deeper thoughts and issues. 

TB doesn't want to tell you too much about what Ellis said in his talk before the Final Four. He will let you know what Marquez White, one of the Tigers' shortstick defensive midfielders, said about it:

“That story made me feel that rather than just being the team that he worked with, we were his brothers that he wanted to see succeed.”

There's really nothing better that you can say about someone who coaches your college athletic team, is there?

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