The Yale men’s lacrosse team is in an unfamiliar position this season. For the first time in 20 years, the Bulldogs enter the spring with Ivy League championship rings on their fingers.
After tying with three other schools for a share of the conference title, Yale — which is currently ranked No. 18 in the nation by the USILA — has emerged from the shadow cast by Ivy superpowers Cornell and Princeton and can no longer hide in the background as underdogs.
Yale opens its 2011 campaign this Saturday against the St. John’s Red Storm in Queens, NY. The Bulldogs know little about their opponents, but have a great track record against them, defeating the Red Storm in each of the squads five meetings, with the last game being a 9-6 Yale victory in 1993. Though unranked, the Red Storm started their season off with a commanding 16–7 win at Holy Cross on Feb. 19. Freshman Kevin Cernuto led St. John’s with a game high seven points (four goals, three assists), while sophomore goalie Jeff Lowman was named the Big East Conference defensive player of the week after blocking 16 shots of the 23 he faced. (Yale emerged victorious against Holy Cross in its 2010 season opener.)
“[St. John’s] offense is very attack oriented, which will be a nice challenge for us to play as close defensemen on Saturday,” Phil Gross ’13 said. “In Division I lacrosse, now a days, everyone is good, so we expect a big challenge on Saturday.”
While Yale has yet to play a regular season match, the Bulldogs faced off against two teams in scrimmages over the past two weeks. The first exhibition came against the No. 5 Stony Brook Seawolves and resulted in an 8–8 tie, according to Yale goalie John Falcone ’11. The Bulldogs reportedly had little trouble putting up goals against their New Haven neighbors at Quinnipiac, unofficially beating the Bobcats by a score of 20–5.
“The scrimmages gave us a good opportunity to focus internally,” Falcone said. “It sets a tone for the season. This is about what we’re able to bring to the table, and not about the other teams.”
The Yale match against Quinnipiac would leave no indication of scoring problems, but after the loss of midfielder Matt Fuchs ’10, face-off man Max Rodman ’10 and attackman Brendan Gibson ’10, certain questions remain in the offensive half. The Bulldogs will rely on three junior midfielders, led by Matt Miller ’12 to drive the team’s transition game and support an attack starring 2010 New England Player of the Year and Second-Team All American Matt Gibson ’12. Gibson led Yale with 44 points, averaging 3.14 points per game in 2010.
“The offense definitely has a lot to work on, but we know we have a lot of talent,” Miller said. “Losing someone like Brendan [Gibson] is tough. Offense is just about getting on the same page. … By St. John’s we’ll be able to get out there and score goals.”
Cole Yeager ’13 and Dylan Levings ’14 are expected to trade time on the face-off and have benefited greatly from consultations with face-off specialists Rodman, Kevin Disceplo ’09 and Greg DuBoff ’08. Levings and attackman Brandon Mangan ’14 are expected to see a great deal of playing time on a Bulldog squad featuring mostly sophomore and junior starters.
“[The freshmen] are putting in a lot of work and have made the transition well,” long stick midfielder Nick Leppla ’11 said.
Even though the Bulldogs insist that they follow a one game at a time mentality, the ultimate goal for the year is the coveted spot at the top of the Ivy League and a trip to the NCAA Tournament. However, the team will need to wait until March 19 to start conference play, when Yale will face No. 6 Cornell.
“We have a target on our backs a lot more so than last year, with the partial title and all,” Miller said. “We look at it both ways. We know the best way to go about it is to stay grounded and not worry about all the hype.”
The team’s known for an aggressive style of play, with a focus on beating opponents to every ground ball and end line. But they will need added speed in transition in order to close teams out, which members of the Bulldog squad said they have worked on in the off-season. The key to a win on Saturday and a successful season may come down to a single word uttered during each break in the team’s huddle.
Yale and St. John’s face off at DaSilva Memorial Field in Jamaica, NY at 1 p.m.