Even though the men’s lacrosse team was recently ranked for the first time this season, the Elis are facing their third consecutive game as underdogs. But the Bulldogs’ tough schedule has not fazed them in the least.
“We are still the underdogs every game that we go into,” captain DJ Barry ’05 said. “But we work for what we get. Everyone is pretty much focused on what needs to get done.”
The No. 18 Elis (6-2, 3-1 Ivy) take on No. 15 Denver (6-2) Saturday at Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium as Yale tries to extend a three-game winning streak. The Elis have built their streak on a cohesive attack that has averaged 11.63 goals per game and taken many victories in the face-off circle, defeating Princeton and Brown 9-8 and 12-11 respectively. But the Pioneers, who also average 11.63 tallies a contest, are not the kind of team that will sit back and let the Elis freely work the ball around the perimeter. Finding a way to execute their patient strategy on attack and defense will be the major challenge for the Bulldogs this weekend.
“Denver is one of the most athletic teams,” Yale head coach Andy Shay said. “If we don’t play our best in the game, it could get ugly.”
Because of their athleticism, Shay said the Pioneers are able to do many things that other teams do not attempt to do. On attack, the Elis will be confronted by a Pioneer defense that will put a great deal of pressure on the Bulldogs.
“Denver plays a very frenetic defense, so ball movement will be critical,” Shay said. “We will try some different things that are a little technical.”
Midfielder Tyler Casertano ’08 said the team has been practicing passing skills all week long, especially dishing the ball off quickly after drawing a slide.
“It’s really important on offense to take care of the ball [against Denver], keep it moving, and hope that looks open up and that we are able to finish,” Casertano said. “We have been working on patience all week long. We have to go out there and play our normal, hard-working, intense game and hope that it pays off.”
Casertano was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week last Monday for his two goals and two assists against the Bears.
“It was exciting to be named that, but it was more of a reflection of the team, especially how the offense played on Saturday against Brown,” he said. “The first half we played the best I have seen us play this season, and it meant me getting open and putting the ball to the back of the net.”
On the other side of the field, the Pioneers will also pose a challenge because of their unorthodox strategy.
“We have been preparing for it all week,” Shay said. “They run a 1-5 formation and have a lot of picks for the ball and off the ball. We’ve got to be aware at all times.”
The Pioneer attack is led by attackman Matt Brown, who was recently named Great Western Lacrosse League Player of the Week. Brown has netted 23 goals and a .857 shots on goal percentage.
Barry said patience will be just as crucial for the Eli defense as it will be on attack.
“They do some crazy stuff,” Barry said. “Rather than getting sucked into their wild play like they want us to do, we have to keep composure and play our style of game.”
The Elis usually have to deal with a new strategy from opponents but they have been able to count on the dominant face-off man, Dan Kallaugher ’06. Kallaugher’s .683 face-off win percentage makes him the third-best face-off man in the nation. But Kallaugher will also be challenged by the Pioneers in the face-off circle, especially by Geoff Snider, who is sixth in Div. 1 with a .637 average. Shay and Kallaugher have been reviewing films of Snider to prepare for the upcoming face-off battle.
“Obviously he is good and the main threat,” Kallaugher said. “He’s very quick off the whistle because he watches the referee, which is a different style that enables him to react quickly. I am going to do what I have been doing and make sure that I am as quick off the whistle as he is.”
With the contest against the Pioneers shaping up to be fiercely competitive, the Elis may have a slight edge in the form of home-field advantage. Shay said student and fan support at home could help swing the game toward the Bulldogs.
“I would love to see the place packed with Yale students,” Shay said. “It would really be a big boost.”
But whether the stadium is full of fans or not, Casertano said the team is mentally prepared for this game because of the fact that many consider them underdogs.
“Nothing is better for us as a group than being considered underdogs,” he said. “We love playing with a chip on our shoulders and it gives us something to prove. It has fueled our work ethic. We win with effort, not with pure talent.”