After finishing third in the Ivy League and barely missing an at-large bid for the NCAA tournament in 2000, the men’s lacrosse team is on the prowl for success in 2001.

The Bulldogs head into their regular season after dominating scrimmages against Stonybrook, the University of Delaware, Hobart and Hofstra in the past two weeks.

Delaware, Hobart and Hofstra are all ranked in the top 20 by Brine’s preseason coaches’ poll as of Feb. 21. The Elis received votes, but were not ranked in the top 20.

In each match the Bulldogs outplayed their opponents on both ends of the field, with the best performance coming against ninth-ranked Hofstra, when the Eli defense repeatedly frustrated the Pride’s attack.

“This is the strongest preseason I’ve been a part of,” Brian Corey ’01 said. “The caliber of teams has been good, and we’ve been competitive. It’s really encouraging.”

Last year the team graduated four seniors, including All-American Don Gerne ’00, and last season’s second highest scorer, Chris McIntyre ’00. Although losing these players has left holes in the offense and defense, the team believes it is playing more cohesively.

“As a team, we are better than we were last year,” Eric Wenzel ’03 said. “We’ve matured, and we’re learning how to play better lacrosse.”

The only obstacle to success may be the injuries that have affected the team throughout the preseason.

The biggest question mark during the preseason has been the status of junior attacker Brian Hunt’s shoulder injury. Hunt, a preseason All-American candidate, led the team with 31 goals and 46 points in 2000, which earned him second team All-Ivy honors.

Marko Lujic ’02 — who joined Hunt as an All-Ivy second team selection — and Ryan Floyd ’03 — whose team-leading 20 assists set a new freshman record last season — have also been injured during the preseason. Other injured players include Bradley Liff ’03 and Tucker Foote ’02.

Head coach Mike Waldvogel said he expects all the injured players to return by the end of spring break.

Assuming these Bulldogs recover and the rest of the squad remains healthy, the team has the potential to be one of Yale’s best.

“We’re really ahead of where we normally are,” team captain Pat Hein ’01 said. “Right now we’re eliminating mistakes and trying to improve every week.”

Hunt, Floyd and Mike Scaglione ’03 are expected to make big contributions on offense. The three starting attackmen played well together last year, and they continued to build on that foundation in the preseason. Aiding the attack will be rookie Scott Kenworthy ’04, who had excellent performances against Hobart and Delaware.

“We all have specialized skills,” Floyd said. “We really complement each other well.”

In the midfield, Hein, Lujic and Mike Morris ’01 provide a talented and experienced core. The team will also rely on Adam Werder ’01 and Foote to play large roles.

This year the midfielders are working to improve face-offs, since the Bulldogs had a losing record (138-304) with Gerne as the main face-off man in 2000. The team hopes that better face-offs will translate into more offensive opportunities.

“A good faceoff man will make a huge difference,” Floyd said.

It appears the team has not yet perfected its face-off technique, though, as the Elis struggled in the victory over Stonybrook Saturday.

Counterbalancing the face-off troubles will be the team’s fierce defense, which has shined in the team’s four scrimmages.

The defense is comprised of several tough competitors. Corey, Will McClelland ’02, Liff and Noah Glass ’03 all played well last year and return as better-skilled and more experienced players. Waldvogel hinted that Todd Montgomery ’04 could join the starting lineup on defense, and he expects the New Jersey native to have an immediate impact.

“The guys have picked it up, and we have a more solid defense,” Waldvogel said. “We also have two quality Ivy League goalies.”

Wenzel and Adam Oppenheimer ’02 will share duties in the net this season. In the preseason, both men successfully directed the defense and made impressive saves, although Waldvogel expects Wenzel to start after going 4-1 in the second half of 2000. Oppenheimer went 4-4 last year.

Although the Bulldogs are optimistic about their chances, their schedule will be challenging since the Ivy League is one of the toughest leagues in the nation. The preseason poll ranks Princeton second, Cornell 12th and Brown 15th in the nation.

Waldvogel said the team’s goals for the season are winning the Ivy League Championship and earning a NCAA tournament bid. In order to make the tournament, Yale must win the conference championship or receive an at-large bid.

For now, the team is focusing on the season opener against Drexel March 3, which they will play on the new AstroTurf field.

“We want to be ready to play Drexel,” Hein said. “We will be full strength and in game shape. It should be a good starting point for the season.”

After the Drexel game, the team will travel to Florida for training and face Lehigh and Colgate. The first true test will be on the road against Pennsylvania, when Ivy League play begins March 17.