BOSTON, MASS. — While the men’s lacrosse team reveled in their string of underdog wins earlier this season, they did not appreciate being on the other side Saturday.
The No. 16 Elis (7-4, 3-3 Ivy) were upset by Harvard (5-5, 2-3), 11-4, in a game that saw the Cantabs play with the kind of gritty determination that the Bulldogs used to upend favorites Denver and Brown. Led by Sean Kane’s four goals and one assist, the speedy Crimson attack gained the lead at the end of the first quarter and never looked back. On the other side of the field, the Eli offense could not get any great looks at the cage and were forced to shoot from outside by a tough Cantab defense that would not slide. When the Bulldogs were able to get shots off, Harvard goaltender Evan O’Donnell was more often than not ready to make one of his 13 saves on the day. The loss to the Crimson extends the Elis’ skid to two games after falling mid-week to No. 11 Dartmouth and drops the Bulldogs to .500 in the Ancient Eight.
“It was one of the worst performances of the year from every standpoint,” Yale head coach Andy Shay said. “Everyone that got off the Yale bus did poorly — from the coaches to the players. With our recent success, maybe we had an identity crisis and thought we were a very good team, when in fact we are a scrappy team that can be good when we play scrappy enough, but we decided to not play with an edge or scrappiness at all.”
The game got off to a decent start for the Bulldogs, with Dan Brillman ’06 and Colin Neville ’06 trading goals with the Cantabs. But the Eli attack was completely shut out of the second and third quarters while the Crimson went on an eight-goal run. The Bulldogs broke in during the final quarter with an unassisted goal from defensive midfielder Dave Levy ’07 and another tally from Brillman, who was assisted by Seth Goldberg ’05.
But Goldberg, who extended his points streak to 33 games with the assist and led the Ivy League in goals per game (2.67) before this weekend, was limited to one shot by a Crimson defense that gave him little room to maneuver. Neville, another of Yale’s best finishers, was also held to only three shots. By keeping the ball out of the hands of the best shooters, the Crimson forced the Eli midfielders to try to run the offense for much of the game. Although there was some good dodging from players like David Schecter ’06 and Chris Kempner ’07, who shot eight and seven times, respectively, the Cantabs completely limited Yale’s quality scoring opportunities.
“We just need to be able to react better to the different defensive schemes they throw at us and I don’t think we reacted well to what Harvard did on defense,” Goldberg said. “Our time of possession has been down significantly in the past few games, as opposed to earlier, and that makes a huge difference in a game like [Sunday's]. We didn’t have any patience on offense. You need to get the defense moving and get into some rhythm and flow to get good shots, and we didn’t do that at all.”
Harvard seemed to have learned that lesson well, as it used a frenetic pace to force the Eli defense to slide, thereby creating open looks for Cantabs like Kane and Mike McBride, who finished with a hat trick. In goal, George Carafides ’08 made 11 saves, but the nearly tireless Crimson made his job tougher than it already was by putting consistent pressure on the cage.
“We knew they had a lot of team speed, but honestly the only thing I can say is they just wanted it more,” captain and defensive midfielder DJ Barry ’05 said. “We definitely did not play our best and they played really well.”
Shay said the team responded poorly when things broke down, from the slippery turf to rain-soaked sticks to the better-than-expected play from Harvard.
“They were able to neutralize us on defense and were very patient on offense and won a lot of face-offs, something we aren’t used to,” Shay said. “We didn’t handle it well and there was not a lot of composure when things were not going our way. [The Cantabs'] backs were against the wall and they played like they had to win that game, and we played like we were supposed to win that game.”
As Shay said, even the face-off unit did not have a great outing. Dan Kallaugher ’06 went 9-for-16 before getting sidelined due to a hand injury. Greg Duboff ’08 stepped in and finished 2-for-3. Unfortunately for the Elis, the Cantabs forced turnovers several times after losing face-offs and got the ball back within a few seconds.
Harvard’s win this weekend served to reinforce the parity within the Ivy League. Few games are guaranteed wins or losses for any team, Barry said.
“The Ivy League is turning out to be one of the toughest leagues in the country and sends two teams to the tournament on a regular basis,” Barry said. “We were picked to be last this year, but up until this week we had a shot at winning. Dartmouth went from being a team my freshman year that didn’t win an Ivy game to winning the title the next year and being contenders for the past two years. Everyone is good.”
For the five seniors who finished their Ivy League careers with the loss to the Crimson, it was a particularly painful day.
“It’s really disappointing and definitely not the way I wanted to end my Ivy career at all obviously,” Goldberg said. “The most disappointing part is that we did not play our kind of game at all. Forget the selfish motivations about beating Harvard, for this team I felt that we were coming a long way — and we have — we just need to get back to what brought us success.”
The Elis have two more chances to do this with contests versus Delaware and Drexel. Even though the loss to Harvard almost certainly took away a shot at the postseason, Barry said there is still motivation to succeed.
“We try not to think about looking ahead, and saying things like, ‘If we win this and so-and-so loses,’” Barry said. “We just look to the next game and can’t worry about the postseason at all. We’ve got Delaware on Wednesday, and that’s where my focus is.”