In its final regular season matchup, the No. 15 men’s lacrosse team will travel to Boston this Saturday to take on archrival Harvard in a battle for a high spot in the Ivy League Tournament.
Yale (8-4, 3-2 Ivy) has already secured a No. 2 spot in the tournament, but a win, coupled with a Princeton loss to Cornell, will vault the team into second place and a likely semi-final matchup against Penn. The Crimson (6-7, 2-3 Ivy) will take the rivalry game all the more seriously as a win on their home turf will knock out Penn, whom they beat in an overtime game earlier this season, and send Harvard to the tournament.
The Bulldogs are coming off a controversial 8-7 loss to No. 3 Maryland in which the Elis were denied a last-second game-tying goal that appeared to go in the net. While the game will not count in the team’s win column, most of the players said that their performance demonstrated they can play with any team in the country.
“The loss was disappointing, but we are going to work hard in the coming week and take the rest of the season game by game,” midfielder Michael Bonacci ’16 said. “Harvard is our last regular season game and we are excited to get back out there and hopefully string some wins together.”
The Bulldogs’ loss to Maryland broke a five-game winning streak, and the team hopes to piece together a victory over Harvard and then two wins in the Ivy League tournament to ensure their second straight trip to the NCAA tournament. Yale currently ranks No. 11 in RPI, the system by which at-large bids are issued for the NCAA tournament, but the Elis are not guaranteed a spot in the 16-team field. Losing to an under -.500 Harvard team would hurt Yale’s RPI ranking significantly. Though the Crimson lost to top-10 teams No. 7 UMass, No. 12 Duke and No. 12 Cornell, they just missed out on massive upsets, taking each team to the final whistle and losing by a combined total of just five goals.
“I don’t think we’re going to overlook Harvard because this is a talented team that is fighting to keep their season alive, not to mention it’s Harvard and that alone makes it one of the biggest games of the season for us,” midfielder Colin Flaherty ’15 said. “We really just want to keep everything we did against Maryland: We played great defense and with urgency on offense which lead to a lot of shots for us. We just need to put more in the back of the net.”
To earn the win, the Bulldogs must prioritize fixing their perennial problem of starting slowly in first halves of games. In the past six games, the Bulldogs had to rely on strong fourth-quarter performances. Additionally Yale needs to be careful with its penalties. The Bulldogs have committed more penalties than any other Ivy League team, and while the Eli defense ranks fourth in the conference in penalty-killing, the Crimson rank first in man-advantage goals, scoring on almost 47 percent of their opportunities.
The Bulldogs are anchored by a deep defense that has the second-best goals against average in the Ivy League, with just over eight goals a game.
Seniors Michael McCormack ’13 and Peter Johnson ’13 have been staples on defense while Jimmy Craft ’15 and Michael Quinn ’16 have all contributed to helping Eric Natale ’15 post the second best goals against average in the Ivy League. Johnson ranks 13th in the nation in caused turnovers per game with 25 on the year, while McCormack is second on the team with 43 ground balls and leads defenseman with four points on the season. Dylan Levings ’14 leads the team in groundballs with 97, thanks to his superb .620 faceoff percentage that ranks sixth in the nation. His production has helped the starting attack trio of Brandon Mangan ’14, Conrad Oberbeck ’15 and Kirby Zdrill ’13 become one of the most lethal attack corps in the league.
Yale needs to use all its offensive weapons against Harvard goalkeeper Harry Kreiger, who ranks first in the Ivy League in saves per game, while posting the third best save percentage in the conference. Harvard enters its final game of the season playing its best lacrosse. Besides a thrashing by Princeton last weekend, the Crimson have an upset win, blowout victory and two particularly contested losses to top 10 teams. With an Ivy League tournament spot up for grabs, Harvard, already the second-best attended stadium in the league, will face a packed house.
For Yale, this game represents the last regular-season game for one of the most successful classes in Yale lacrosse history. The class of 2013 boasted 31 wins coming into the season, the most in Yale history. Their eight wins this season put them fifth in victories by a class in school history. Captain Michael McCormack ’13, as well as his fellow four-year starter and MLL draft pick Peter Johnson ’13 are Tewaaraton preseason nominees and look to end the season with style. Yale has won its last four Ivy League contests and leads the all-time head-to-head matchup with Harvard 58-35, including a 10-8 victory last year.
“It’s definitely upsetting that this is my last regular season game, but it’s reassuring to know that we have one more week left with the Ivy League Tournament,” McCormack said. “The past four years have been great and this season specifically is one that I’ll never forget. This team has been a big part of my college experience and hopefully I can end my career at Yale on a high note.”
Yale faces off against Harvard in Boston this Saturday at 2 p.m.