NEW YORK – Yale and Princeton met in the Ivy League title game on Sunday afternoon, and the stakes may have changed since the Friday semifinals. The winner got the safety and comfort of an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. So nervous waiting for your name from the committee on the selection show, just waiting to see who, and where, you’ll play. This was Princeton’s only path to the NCAA tournament. Yale looked safely in a week ago. Since then, a whopping six one seeds in conference play have lost, including Cornell at Yale’s hand, and Michigan defeated Maryland the Big 10 title. The at large bubble has been shrinking every day, and nobody wants to be left out when it pops. With the ACC and Big 10 fields looking firm, and Denver looming in the Big East, there weren’t many seats at the table left.
Both teams came out of the gate firing. Princeton’s Andrew McMeekin took the opening faceoff and hit Alex Slusher, who beat Jared Paquette high to make it 1-0 just six seconds into the game. Jack Stuzin was fed by Chris Lyons off the following faceoff for a Yale answer just 15 seconds later. After that, a perfectly executed hidden ball trick by Princeton fooled Paquette, and Beau Pederson through it into a basically empty net from 25 yards to make it 2-1. Jake Stevens took an outlet pass from a Michael Gianforcaro save the distance for another 30 seconds later and made it 3-1. From there, it was all Tigers.
“We normally start a little slower so it was wild to be on the front end of that. But the boys did well and guys hit some shots early so that gave our guys a ton of confidence early in the first quarter, said Madalon, adding, “it’s a pace we practice at, because we do love playing and practicing like that. But we’re trying to get control, get settled, and get our sixes going.”
“We like to play faster, but you live and die by the sword. We played fast on Friday night and it worked, but they played faster than us today,” said Yale Head Coach Andy Shay.
Sean Cameron took a feed from Alex Slusher on the high wing, swept to his right hand across the top, and beat Paquette with a low bouncer to make it 4-1, forcing a timeout from Yale. Out of the timeout, teams gathered themselves and settled in, trading empty possessions. Ben Finlay was called for holding, giving Yale the first man up on the day. Gianforcro stuffed Johnson on the doorstep with an excellent save to kill the penalty. Off transition, Coulter Mackesy had a great look on goal, but Paquette dropped to stop the low shot, matching Gianforcaro’s effort.
Princeton got back into the scoring column out of the sub game. Yale tried to keep matchups, but they failed to find Cameron subbing through the midline, and he buried a wide open look on an assist from Christian Ronda. Mackesy continued the Princeton onslaught with a nice split to his left from X to free his hands, feeding Tommy Barnds on the doorstop for a drunk, giving Princeton a 6-1 lead.
“In the first quarter we coulnd’t get a stop. We couldn’t generate substantive offense. That just didn’t feel like us in the first quarter. Credit to Princeton, they smelled blood and they gave it to us” said Shay.
The faceoff spot was dominated by McMeekin early, giving Yale a possession edge. With just over four minutes to go, Princeton had their first man up of the day. Princeton once again deployed a hidden ball trick, and once again scored, although this time Paquette did not lose the ball carrier.
Chris Lyons, one of the best players of the tournament for Yale, would stop the bleeding with an assisted goal, using a nice pick at GLE to get topside and score, making it 7-2. Princeton had the last look at goal of the first quarter, but the Yale defense held firm.
Princeton got a big opportunity to start the second quarter when Christian Johnson was called for a cross check. The Yale defense looked slow, and Weston Carpenter hit Stevens with enough time for Stevens to throw multiple fakes on the doorstep before putting it in and make the score 8-2.
“We had a feeling it was going to be a shootout, but we’ll play that game all day,” said Stevens, who finished with six goals on six shots and seven points on the day.
“Those goals are just a testament to my teammates and our coach and the offense we play. I don’t think I did anything special to get those shots, just a good shooting day, it happens. I’ve never scored six goals in a game before though,” Stevens added.
Yale got their own man up opportunity shortly after when Jake Stoebner got whistled for unnecessary roughness. Princeton was able to kill the penalty and clear. Alex Vardaro got his first of the game after, taking a shortstick behind to attack out of the invert, beating him to the right, and scoring when no Yale help defender slid to him, further extending the Tiger lead. Mackesy beat Alexander from X to his right for another, making it 10-2 Princeton. Mackesy’s excellent play continued, starting from the top this time, and finding a skip lane to John Dunphey to make it 11-2 as the Tigers continued to pull away.
“We came in backs against the wall. We knew we had to keep the focus tight and really capitalize on two games, one game at a time. So very fortunate, the guy played two good days of lacrosse,” Madalon said.
Yale tried to throw different looks at Princeton, but nothing work. After switching to zone, Princeton worked an overload that left Cameron with a great look at net, and he buried it low. Princeton piled it on further as Vardaro scored another, flexing and standing over Stuzin as he did. Yale would go to man up off a dead ball foul on Vardaro.
Yale finally found a stop to the run as Thomas Bragg had a loose ball bounce to him off an errant shot, and hit fired it past and unsettled Gianforcaro to make it 13-3 Princeton. Pace Billings was called for a slash on the play, giving Yale a chance to go the extra man again. They couldn’t convert, and the teams would head to the break with Princeton holding a 13-3 lead.
Stuzin provided some juice for Yale to start the 2nd half, as he won a ground ball off the faceoff and buried a shot from range, cutting the lead to 13-4. Princeton answered five minuts later with a goal from Stevens that snuck under the crossbar to get the Tigers lead back to 10. Tigers would add another moments later, as Johnson forced a shot for Yale that was saved and turned into transition, ending with a Mackesy goal. Jake Stevens would add his fifth goal, on as many shots, to make it 16-4.
“16 seniors. That’s our only path, leaning on those guys. It’s the experience, the perspective, the grind, coming through COVID, through everything. Those guys play with incredible passion so we’ll just lean on them,” Madalon said.
Gianforcaro had 17 saves was named the Most Outstanding Player, and felt ready for the potent Yale attack.
“We love our matchups with our close guys. We think they can guard anyone. So we knew that it was going to be a dog fight down low , and I think we got the opportunity to just play our game,” said Gianforcaro.
With 5:38 left in the third, Matt Brandau finally got on the board with his first to cut the lead to 16-5, but Yale’s attack had a surprisingly quiet afternoon.
“We need everyone to produce. Everybody has to do their job. Not sure those guys, or anybody, really did. Again, credit to Princeton, they kicked our butts,” said Shay.
Yale would go in a run in the 4th, with goals from Carson Kuhl, Johnson, and Stuzin to get the lead to 16-9 with just under 10 minutes left. In the end, Princeton was just overwhelming and won 19-10.
“We’ve been coining it playing lacrosse for a month now,” said Stevens, “the last few games it’s been win or go home.”
Gianforcaro’s excellent day in net was his second of the weekend, finishing with 32 saves in two games. On Friday, he mentioned Princeton legend Cookie Krongard being inspirational, and again said so after winning the crown.
“Cookie was watching over me, watching over all the boys. It’s a testament to the guys in front of me, I doni’t think any of those shots were really crazy hard to save, I think they did a good job in their matchups. Cookie was watching over me for sure,” he said.
Princeton took the Ivy Crown, locking up their spot in the NCAA tournament. Yale awaits the decision of the selection committee, though with an RPI of 9 and a head to head win over Denver, who is also on the bubble, their chances at staying in the tournament field look good.