A 61-year streak is on the line as the No. 11 Yale men’s lacrosse team travels to Cambridge on Saturday to take on Harvard. With a win over the Crimson, the Elis would clinch an undefeated Ivy League season for the first time since 1956, the inaugural year of Ancient Eight lacrosse.
To make history, the Bulldogs (8–4, 5–0 Ivy) will have to bounce back after a crushing loss last weekend at then-No. 5 Albany. Down by four goals with 12 minutes to play, the Great Danes rallied and scored the game-winning goal with just 34 seconds on the clock, handing the Elis their first loss since March 7.
In a game that holds no bearing on the Ivy League playoff picture, Yale is determined for a win over the Crimson (5–7, 1–4) to regain momentum and set the tone for next weekend’s Ivy League Tournament.
“[This game] is a great opportunity for us to get better,” midfielder Jack Tigh ’19 said. “We are really focused on this weekend, and it’s important that we end the regular season strong.”
In last season’s regular-season meeting, the Bulldogs handed Harvard the type of stinging defeat that they endured at the paws of the Great Danes last weekend. Yale trailed by four early in the fourth quarter of its April 30, 2016 matchup against the Crimson, but scored the final five goals on the game to take a 9–8 decision.
In that game, attacker Ben Reeves ’18 tied the game with just over six minutes remaining, and the Elis finally gained the lead with just 3:18 to play when attacker Shane Carr ’16 scored on a player-advantage possession. Midfielder Eric Scott ’17 led the way for the Bulldogs that day, tallying two goals and three assists. Four of these points came in the fourth quarter, when Yale mounted its comeback from an 8–4 deficit.
The Elis and the Crimson also met in last season’s Ivy League championship game, in which Yale prevailed 14–9 on a show-stopping day for Reeves. Then a sophomore, Reeves solidified his place in the top tier of Division I players, erupting for a four-goal and five-assist performance with an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament on the line.
Eliminated from the tournament, Harvard needs a victory on Saturday to salvage a disappointing 1–4 season with a final victory and send its seniors into the twilight by avenging last season’s two losses to the Elis.
Despite having suffered losses in its last four games, Harvard is no team to sleep on. The Crimson beat University of Massachusetts, Amherst, a team that conquered the Bulldogs 11–9 earlier this season, and nearly knocked off two top-10 teams this year, falling by just two goals to No. 6 Albany and three to No. 9 Penn State. Harvard’s lone win in Ivy play this year came March 25 in Hanover, when the Crimson cruised to a 14–7 win over Ivy League cellar dweller Dartmouth.
“It’s always a great game and usually a battle so it is a great way to end the regular season,” defender Robert Mooney ’19 said. “The games are always tight and we’re prepared to fight toe to toe with them regardless the significance of the game.”
Led by attacker Morgan Cheek, who ranks eighth in the nation with 5.1 points per game, the Harvard offense has scored eight or more goals in every game this season. Yale’s defense, which has faced two of the top four nation-leading offenses in the last two weeks, will not catch a break as it heads to Cheek’s turf.
Defender Aidan Hynes ’20 has covered Brown’s Dylan Molloy and Albany’s Connor Fields in the last two games, holding two of the nation’s best scorers to three goals each. A potential matchup between the Yale rookie and Cheek would complete one of the toughest three-week stretches a freshman defender could face this season and will be crucial to deciding the outcome on Saturday.
The Yale defense comes off a game against the Great Danes in which the Bulldogs held the nation’s best offensive team to single digits until the last few minutes, a feat only No. 1 Syracuse has pulled on Albany this year.
“We can take some level of confidence away from that but also understand that if we don’t play for a full 60 minutes, we likely won’t be successful,” goalie Phil Huffard ’18 said. “Late in games, especially when it’s close, we have to learn to rely even more on our defensive fundamentals that our coaches have instilled in us while still keeping our aggressive mindset that has allowed us to be successful earlier on in games.”
Harvard’s greatest vulnerability comes at the faceoff X, and the performance of Conor Mackie ’19 in the second half of the season positions Yale well to exploit it. The Bulldogs rank in the top 10 in the nation in faceoff win percentage, while Harvard sits in the bottom 10, winning a meager 38.1 percent.
Historic Harvard Stadium will host Saturday’s contest, with the opening faceoff scheduled for 2 p.m.