A year replete with heroic wins and frustrating losses left the men’s lacrosse team stranded on the doorstep of the NCAA tournament Friday night at Byrd Stadium.
With an NCAA at-large berth hanging in the balance, No. 9 Maryland (8-4) took advantage of a six-goal third period to hold on for a 14-8 win over the No. 14 Bulldogs (9-4). Despite losing to Maryland, the Bulldogs moved into a tie for third with No. 10 Cornell in the Ivy League and will likely finish the season in a three-way tie for second with Cornell and the loser of No. 16 Brown and No. 3 Princeton’s game this Saturday.
“It was a disappointing way to end the season,” captain Tucker Foote ’02 said. “You know when two teams of this caliber get together it’s going to be close, and the ball just didn’t bounce our way.”
Friday, the Elis found themselves in a situation reminiscent of their previous four games, where opponents have dominated possession in the first half.
The Terrapins’ strong wing play gave Maryland nearly 20 of the first 30 minutes in Yale’s end, where they poured on 22 of their 46 total shots.
Again, as he did against Dartmouth and Harvard, goaltender Eric Wenzel ’03 held the Eli defense together, notching 14 saves in the first half and 20 overall to equal his season high total against the Cantabs.
“Wenzel was terrific,” Maryland head coach Dave Cottle said. “If we could have picked one guy to not play well, it would have been him, and he did the exact opposite.”
Wenzel’s superior play was enough to hold Maryland to five goals in the first half. But with the score knotted at five at the start of the third period and time expiring on defenseman Todd Montgomery’s ’04 slashing penalty, the Terrapins pulled ahead for good.
After winning the opening faceoff, Maryland attackman Dan Lamonica took the ball in transition and fed fellow attackman Mike Mollot, who fired a shot that beat Wenzel as the Yale defense struggled to get into position.
Less than two minutes later, Maryland built on its 6-5 lead with their first fluke goal of the evening. Mollot, who led the Terrapins with three goals and three assists, gathered the ball in the Eli zone and dodged before passing to attackman Mike Morsell. But the ball never found Morsell, as it deflected off of a Yale defender’s stick into the back of the net for a 7-5 Terrapin lead.
“I thought that was our first lucky goal of the season,” Cottle said. “Yale just never got the bounces we got.”
Trailing 12-7, the Bulldogs climbed within four goals when midfielder Ned Britt ’04 dodged past his defender and beat Maryland goaltender Danny McCormick. Britt paced the Eli attack with three goals.
“Whether it was true or not, I felt like we could have come back at any point,” attackman Mike Scaglione ’03 said. “I think all our problems came from the fact that they had the ball for so long.”
Indeed, the Elis only won seven of 25 faceoffs while notching 30 ground balls compared to Maryland’s 55 ground balls. Once Maryland jumped out to a three-goal lead in the third period, their top-ranked defense made it difficult for the Elis to mount any legitimate rally.
“We knew it was going to be a low-scoring game and that we had to respect their defense,” Foote said. “In the end, we had to force things because we knew it would be tough to get the goals we needed.”
Since Cornell is ranked higher than the Bulldogs, the Big Red will most likely receive any at-large bid the Ivy League receives.
Foote still believes the Elis can look back on their season as a success. With their first H-Y-P championship since 1989, their first win over No. 3 Princeton since 1990, and their first nine-win season since 1996, the Elis have exceeded expectations.
“It was a disappointing way to finish, but if you step back and look and what we’ve accomplished, I think you can say we did the most with what we had, and that’s really impressive,” Foote said.