With their thrilling triumph in the Ivy League Tournament, unseeded men’s lacrosse (8–6 overall, 4–2 Ivy League) will travel to Panzer Stadium to play fifth-seeded Penn State (9–4, 4–1 Big Ten) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
For much of the season, the Nittany Lions were dominant in the Big Ten Conference, where they topped the regular season standings. However, in the Big Ten Conference tournament, they fell to No. 12 Michigan (11–7, 3–3 Big Ten) in the semifinals. Still, as the higher seed in the NCAA Tournament, Penn State earned the right to host the first round matchup versus Princeton.
On the other side, Princeton is coming off of an Ivy League Championship, as they defeated the No. 9 Yale Bulldogs (9–5, 3–3 Ivy League) in the conference final to earn the automatic bid into the NCAA tournament. This is the Tigers’ 23rd NCAA Tournament appearance, as they chase the program’s seventh national title.
Associate Sports Editor Hayk Yengibaryan ’26 and Sports Contributor Harrison Blank ’26 made their predictions for this weekend’s tournament matchup.
Princeton 12, Penn State 10: Hayk Yengibaryan, Associate Sports Editor
‘Rollercoaster’ would be the best way to describe the season for men’s lacrosse. After starting the season 2–4 and looking defeated after six games, the team still managed to win the Ivy League Tournament last weekend to secure an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
At this stage of the season, experience matters and current form is crucial. The Nittany Lions are making their sixth experience in the competition, with their last appearance coming in 2019. Meanwhile, the Tigers were here just last season, when they made a run to the semifinals before bowing out to the eventual-champion Maryland Terrapins.
For the Tigers, things are clicking at the perfect moment. The defense is looking sharp, allowing just 18 goals total in the two Ivy Tournament games. The offense is also starting to come together, as the Tigers scored a whopping 19 goals against Yale en route to the championship. Sophomore attacker Coulter Mackesy is one of the best attackers in the country. The stellar midfield that includes the likes of seniors Jake Stevens, Alexander Vardaro, Beau Pederson, Christian Ronda and sophomore Sean Cameron has controlled games for the Tigers. Lastly, junior goalie Michael Gianforcaro has developed into one of the best goalies in the country. He was named the Ivy League Tournament MVP after 32 saves in two games, and he ranks second in save percentage in Division I with a 59.2 percent clip.
The highlight of this Nittany Lions team also comes in goal. Sophomore goalie Jack Fraycon was recently named second-team All-American after allowing just over 10 goals per game, while also leading the Big Ten conference in save percentage (57.4) and blocked shots per game (13.83). The midfield is led by Matt Traynor, who tallied 34 points on the season. And, with Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year TJ Malone leading the attack, the Nittany Lions are a formidable opponent.
Records aside, Princeton is simply the better team. It’s easy to forget that this same Tigers team was a consensus top six team in the nation coming into the season. They have the pieces to beat any team in the country. Most of the players on the team know what it means to play on the biggest stage and are hungry to prove themselves. I simply just do not believe the Nittany Lions are built for this moment. Look for Princeton to control the midfield, get quality looks, and for Gianforcaro to win the goalie battle. Princeton will take an early lead and close this one out en route to a matchup with Maryland (10–5, 3–2 Big Ten).
Princeton 11, Penn State 9: Harrison Blank, Sports Contributor
Both teams will be riding recent success into their first round NCAA tournament matchup. The Nittany Lions won four straight before losing to Michigan in the Big Ten tournament, and the Tigers will be coming off their Ivy League Tournament title.
Even though the Nittany Lions are undefeated at Panzer Stadium this year, and the stands will certainly be packed, the Tigers’ experience will give them the edge. The Tigers’ semifinal run in the 2022 NCAA Tournament shows that these players know exactly what it takes to win in May.
Even with the Tigers’ 19-goal performance last Sunday, it will be the defense that wins them this game against Penn State. Goalie Michael Gianforcaro has dominated all year long, posting a top-ten save percentage nationally and providing huge amounts of energy to the team. He will have 17 saves against a strong Nittany Lions attack.
On the offensive end, Coulter Mackesy will lead the attack with four goals, including a first-half hat-trick to spark the Tiger offense. Senior midfielder Alexander Vardaro will have four assists and an early Tiger lead will last the entirety of the game.
Expect a close, physical game, but the Tigers' leader in the net will anchor them in what will become another postseason run for men's lacrosse.
Hayk Yengibaryan is an associate editor for the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’
Harrison Blank is a contributor to the Sports section at the ‘Prince.’
Please send corrections to corrections[at]princeton.edu.