While Ivy rivals Harvard, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania and Princeton are scheduled to take on some of Inside Lacrosse’s pre-season Top 20 teams this season, Yale will not be facing any of those fearsome opponents.
Non-conference strength of schedule is an essential part of an NCAA lacrosse team’s NCAA Tournament candidacy. Though the champion of the Ivy League postseason playoffs gets an automatic bid to the 16-team NCAA Tournament, other Ivy teams can gain at-large berths.
“[The NCAA selection committee looks] at your record, strength of schedule, and the records of the teams you’ve beat and of the teams you’ve lost to, so that’s why teams want to have top schools on their schedules,” captain Mike Pratt ’12 said.
“We tried a little harder to get some big games this year but it didn’t work out — either people didn’t want to play us or other teams didn’t have spots on their schedules for us.”
Head coach Andrew Shay said Yale often plays teams in the area because budget restrictions make it difficult to travel south to play top 20 schools such as Duke University, University of Virginia, University of Notre Dame and Villanova University. The Athletics Department sets a limit on distance the team can travel, he added, and the Bulldogs need department permission to venture beyond those limits.
“We’d like to have a few top 10 teams in there, but this year it’s not looking that way,” Shay said. “But I think it is going to be a pretty strong schedule — some of those schools are going to surprise a lot of people. It’s not something you can predict really.”
Still, other Ivy schools have found room for top opponents in their non-conference schedules. Rivals No. 14 Penn and No. 16 Princeton — who are both ranked below Yale by Inside Lacrosse — will each be taking on a handful of top 20 teams this season. No. 3 Cornell will play No. 5 University of Denver and No. 7 Syracuse University.
Coaches try to craft schedules that are not too difficult for the team to be successful but that challenge the players, Princeton head coach Chris Bates said, adding that Princeton’s schedule has not changed much from year to year. Unlike Yale, Princeton lacrosse has historically been a team to watch in the league. The Tigers were one of the most dominant teams in the sport for most of the 1990s, a decade in which Princeton and Syracuse won every NCAA championship.
“We all only have 12-14 games, so there is only so much room, and it’s got to be a good mutual fit,” Bates said.
Bates added that he might expect more teams to want to play Yale now that the Elis have gained a top 20 ranking.
But not every team seems to share this opinion. As the coaches negotiate amongst themselves to fill in their non-conference schedule, things can get political. Sometimes teams do not want to play others because a team might not have a solid reputation that season. A team’s chances of getting a committee vote into the NCAA Tournament are diminished if it loses to an unranked team but enhanced if it can pull a victory over a ranked team.
Yale, a team which has not historically gained an Inside Lacrosse ranking, is “on the rise” and “getting more hype,” according to team member Kirby Zdrill ’13. Two years ago, Yale was a co-Ivy champion, and it made the Ivy Tournament last year.
But the Bulldogs still have difficulty getting some of the more established to agree to matches.
“Our reputation is really growing, but it kind of puts us in a tight spot,” Zdrill said. “Some of the bigger teams might be scared to play us because if they lose to us, it looks really bad for them. But even if they beat us, it doesn’t look that great. We’re a really good team, but we haven’t had a great reputation in the past. So that might be why they are hesitant to schedule games with us.”
Shay added that while Yale traveled to Georgetown University last year, the Hoyas would not return the favour this year and visit Yale.
Pratt said when Georgetown dropped Yale off of its schedule, the Bulldogs struggled to fill in the spot with another team, as schedules are usually finalized one or two years in advance.
Georgetown is not ranked as a top 20 team but did receive a vote in the Inside Lacrosse poll.
“Some teams just don’t want to play you,” Shay said. Last year we went down to Georgetown, and they didn’t feel the need to return the favour….They are perennially a pretty good team, but we ended up beating them pretty good, so it’s hard to control.”
Georgetown head coach David Urick could not be reached for comment.
If top NCAA teams think they could lose to the Bulldogs, they might not want to face Yale at all, Pratt said.
Both Shay and Zdrill added that normally the top two teams in the Ivy League go on to the NCAA tournament. Three times in the past ten years, only one team has advanced, and three times the top three teams have done so. Right now, Yale is Ivy with the second highest ranking, and the Elis hope to get an NCAA bid this year.
“We don’t have the strongest schedule, but everyone in Division I is really good,” Zdrill said. “It’s all about who shows up to play that day, because anybody and beat anybody. If you take down a bigger team, people will respect you a little more. I think if we make more of a reputation for ourselves by bringing down some of the big teams, we’ll make a little more noise in the lacrosse world and hopefully get a bid.”
He noted, however, that Yale “took a little flak” from an Inside Lacrosse panellist for not putting together the most challenging schedule. Pratt added that the coaching tried its best to get the team some top 20 matches, and the team make an effort not to lose against these unranked teams, which could tarnish the Elis’ reputation and prospects for an NCAA bid.
“If we take care of business in the Ivy League then we’ll be fine for the postseason,” Pratt said. “It’s a bit of extra incentive to play as best as we can against the teams we do have.”
On March 11, Yale will take on Lehigh University, a team nominated for the top 20 that ultimately did not make the cut. Yale’s other competiors include University at Albany, Sacred Heart University, Providence College, Stony Brook University and Bryant University.