Princeton Adds to Storied History, Returns to Championship Weekend

PHOTO BY GREGORY A. SHEMITZ


HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. — Princeton might not have anyone on its roster who is old enough to remember watching the storied program play on Memorial Day Weekend.

Rest assured, though, the Tigers know the legacy they inherited — and how they added to it Saturday.

Erik Peters made 17 saves, Sam English scored three times and fifth-seeded Princeton turned back fourth-seeded Yale 14-10 before 5,814 at Shuart Stadium to earn the program’s first final four berth since 2004.

The Tigers (11-4) will meet either top-seeded Maryland or unseeded Virginia in next Saturday’s semifinals in East Hartford, Conn. Maryland and Virginia play Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.

“It’s everything for us,” defenseman George Baughan said. “We know the history of our program, and we’ve done a lot [many] years back. So to come back after a gap year, we were unranked and we just knew how much we had to go work. We trusted the system and trusted the game plan, and we’re just so fortunate to win and we’re excited with the outcome.”

Jared Paquette made 20 saves and Brad Sharp scored three goals for the Bulldogs (12-5), who yielded a 7-0 run in the middle of the first half and could never climb back within a goal the rest of the way.

“I was very impressed with how hard they played and how well they played,” coach Andy Shay said. “They really took it to us. It’s hard as a competitor to see that and not be impressed.”

The Tigers will make their 11th appearance in the semifinals, with the other 10 compressed into a 13-season golden age between 1992 and 2004. Princeton was the team of the 1990s, winning five titles between 1992 and 1998 before tacking on another in 2001.

But this year marked their first NCAA tournament trip in a decade. The first-round rout of Boston University doubled as Princeton’s first postseason victory since 2009.

On the surface, this wasn’t the likeliest year for a breakthrough; 2020 was, at least before the pandemic ended everyone’s season. Star attackman Michael Sowers wound up playing out his final year of eligibility at Duke, and the Tigers figured to take a step back.

Instead, the strengths they developed in absentia from competition over most of the last two seasons propelled them to early-season victories over Georgetown and Rutgers. And they resurfaced in timely fashion Saturday against a Yale team that upended Princeton in the regular season.

The Tigers’ defense, which appeared to take a vacation in the second half of April, flustered Yale with its discipline. And a balanced offense that featured seven 20-goal scorers but only one with more than 30 — a post-Sowers cast with strong pieces but devoid of stars — kept piling on to build an 8-3 lead in the second quarter.

The steady work of Peters, who got better as the day went on, helped as well.

“Knowing we were going to get stops, knowing we could trust Erik to make big saves,” English said. “I think their goalie had eight saves, 10 saves in the second quarter. We just stayed with it and kept it going. Like coach said, we have a lot of faces on offense that can get it done and just trusted everybody.”

Yale recovered enough from Princeton’s run to close within 8-5 at the half, then tacked on a Sharp goal early in the third quarter to get within two. It was the start of a rock-‘em-sock-‘em period, with the teams trading goals four times.

The net result, though, worked well for Princeton: It led 12-9 with 15 minutes to go.

From there, the Tigers never relinquished control. Chris Brown’s goal with 9:40 remaining, when he rolled inside Yale defenseman Chris Fake and then rolled one in on the turf past Paquette, cushioned the lead. But the period was dominated by a Princeton defense that appeared sufficiently revitalized after a pair of shaky showings to close out the regular season.







In need of opportunities, the Bulldogs instead barely had more shots on goals (five) than turnovers (four) in the final period.

And when English scored with 36.4 seconds to go, there was little to hold back a celebration among Princeton fans in the stands. Moments later, the Tigers soon started their own.

Yale advanced to the title game in its last two full seasons, winning its first NCAA title in 2018 and falling a game short of another in 2019. This was a different, freshman-laden team, but impressive in its own right.

The Bulldogs had just one player on campus last spring in an attempt to preserve eligibility as the Ivy League dawdled in deciding whether it would sponsor spring sports. By the time Yale opened its season in late February, it was nearly two years removed from its last game.

With that backdrop, sharing the Ivy’s regular-season title, landing the No. 4 seed and reaching the quarterfinals were solid accomplishments.

“If I talk about it, I’ll get choked up, but the job they did to lead this team, you had to be in it the entire year to understand how impressive it was,” Shay said of his postgame comments to his team. “It was just incredible the amount of youth that we had and the way they restored the culture after a two-year break. It kind of blew my mind as they year went on. Our goal as a program is to overachieve, and we feel like we did that.”

The loss also the end of the ties to the 2018 title team. Fake started as a freshman that year. Saturday marked his final college game.

“You don’t think about this beforehand, but once it’s over, what you would do to play in another Yale practice — not a game, not even a game, practice,” Fake said. “If I could have one more of those, I’d do anything. I absolutely love this team and this program. When I was getting recruited to Yale, Coach Shay told me it was going to be a one-in-a-million lifetime experience, and that doesn’t do it justice.”

Princeton, of course, faced the same limitations Yale did since March 2020. And like the Bulldogs, the Tigers were already a tight-knit group well before Saturday determined which team’s season would extend another weekend.

Madalon thought back late Sunday afternoon to all the Zoom meetings and relationship-building that defined much of 2020 and 2021, the distance traveled for a program that took the long way around to return to the sport’s biggest stage.

Yes, there is a massive lacrosse legacy at Princeton. This year’s Tigers efficiently added a worthy chapter to it Saturday.

“It came down to a heck of a lot more honest and transparent communication in our group,” Madalon said. “It’s a pretty selfless group. No one cares who’s in there. Everyone wants to play and have the glory, but when it comes down to it, the fact we get to practice and have another week is the most important thing.”

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