Shay gets his first taste of the rivalry

As both a former player and current coach of collegiate lacrosse, Andy Shay has been involved in a number of rivalries, but none more storied or bitter than the one he will experience for the first time tomorrow.

Shay, the first-year head coach of the Yale men’s lacrosse team, and the Bulldogs host arch-rival Harvard tomorrow at Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium.

“I don’t know what to expect, but I’m excited,” Shay said. “I’ve talked with some alums. They told me that I won’t understand it until I’ve experienced it for myself.” Some of the Bulldogs will be experiencing it for their second, third or even fourth time. For them, the excitement of playing Harvard has not ebbed.

“It’s an emotional game every year, just because of the history,” midfielder Ned Britt ’04 said.

Along with the excitement of the Yale-Harvard game comes the pressure — for both the coach and players. But if anything, history is on Yale’s side. The Bulldogs have beaten the Crimson the past four years, including an 11-6 win last year in Cambridge.

And like last year, the Bulldogs come into the Harvard contest after blowing a late-game lead to Dartmouth. The No. 20 Big Green came back from an 11-9 deficit to defeat Yale 13-12 in overtime Wednesday in Hanover, N.H.

“We came out and played hard,” Shay said. “Dartmouth is a good team. They’ve got a tremendous attack, a tremendous midfield. The goalie’s great, although he didn’t have a great game, and the defense is solid. They’re overall very strong.”

It was the latest in a season-long series of close games. Save a 9-2 rout against Vermont on March 16, all of the Yale’s games this spring have been decided by four goals or less — six games were determined by a single score.

Unfortunately for the Bulldogs, they have struggled to keep it together in tight situations, as was the case Wednesday.

Yale led 5-4 at halftime and 11-9 five minutes into the fourth quarter before Dartmouth scored three straight goals go up, 12-11. The Bulldogs, who were on top for almost the entire game, needed a Britt goal at 4:03 just to force the extra period.

“It’s been kind of the same things for us,” goalie Jordan Ellis ’07 said. “It comes down to time and possession. For virtually the entire fourth quarter, we were on defense. We were able to hold them off for the most part, but our offense wasn’t able to do anything.”

Even when Yale has managed to eke out a win, it is not without a grind. In last Saturday’s double overtime 9-8 victory over UMass, the Bulldogs had a chance to end the game in regulation. But a last-minute Yale penalty led to an extra-man Minutemen goal that sent the game into overtime.

Shay said while the Bulldogs are disappointed with Wednesday’s loss, they remain focused on their upcoming game. Despite never having faced off against the Cantabs, he is well aware of the importance of tomorrow’s match-up.

“It’s our biggest game of the season,” Shay said.

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