In his 22 years with the men’s lacrosse team, head coach Mike Waldvogel has coached the squad to three Ivy championships, a No. 2 national ranking and a final four appearance, in 1990. So, as the sun began to set on a summer-like Saturday evening in New Jersey and “Bulldogs, Bulldogs” resounded from the huddled players at midfield, it was Waldvogel’s comments that best framed the Elis’ historic 15-13 upset of No. 8 Princeton.
“This is the biggest win of my career here,” Waldvogel said. “It’s always good to beat the best.”
Strong off-ball movement and a masterful performance from goaltender Eric Wenzel ’03 gave the Bulldogs (4-1, 2-1 Ivy) the early momentum and late stamina they needed to end Princeton’s (2-4, 0-1 Ivy) Ivy League win streak at 37 games, two short of tying Cornell’s all-time mark of 39. The Bulldogs’ losing streak against Princeton goes even farther back to 1990, when the Elis last edged the Tigers 16-12 en route to a final four appearance in the NCAA tournament.
“I’m kind of speechless right now,” said Wenzel minutes after registering 14 saves for his fourth win of the year. “A lot of guys thought we were still a great team after our loss to Cornell. To come in here and prove it, it’s incredible.”
Princeton head coach Bill Tierney, who has now seen both ends of his team’s win streak against Yale, struggled to explain the loss.
“I can’t put my finger on what just happened out there,” Tierney said. “As bad as we played, a team like our’s should win that game.”
After letting a 10-4 lead early in the third period evaporate into a 13-12 dead heat with four minutes to play in the game, the Bulldogs countered nine seconds later in a manner emblematic of the end-to-end play in the second half.
Midfielder Ryan Capilupi ’04 got the play started when he collected the ball at midfield to snap the Elis’ streak of five lost face-offs.
Capilupi fed attackman Marko Lujic ’02 in the slot from the right side of Princeton goaltender Matt Larkin, who replaced Tiger netminder Julian Gould three minutes into the third period. Lujic, who led the Elis with three goals, sprinted toward Larkin and faked a pass to attackman Mike Scaglione ’03 before he rifled a shot past Larkin’s right side into the net.
“There was no real sense of relief until the final whistle,” said captain Tucker Foote ’02, who was hoarse from shouting instructions on the field. “But Marko’s goal definitely provided a sound cushion.”
At the other end of the field, Wenzel anchored the Eli defense to keep the Bulldogs ahead the rest of the way. Throughout the day, Wenzel made multiple incredible stops, but the most spectacular of all came less than a minute after Lujic’s goal with Princeton threatening to again cut into the Eli lead.
After the Tigers cycled the ball in the Eli zone, Princeton attackman Ryan Boyle fed captain B.J. Prager with a pretty pass across the crease. As Prager one-timed the ball on net, Wenzel managed to dive across the crease to have the point-blank shot ricochet off the shaft of his stick and behind the net.
“Once I made that save, I said to myself ‘anything can happen’,” said Wenzel, whose 14 saves doubled Gould and Larkin’s combined saves on the afternoon.
Before Wenzel could put the finishing touches on the Elis’ upset victory, midfielder Ned Britt ’04 led the Eli offense to an early lead against the Tigers. Britt, who had two goals and four assists, was one of eight Bulldog players to find the back of the net against Princeton.
With time expiring on a holding penalty to Boyle in the third period, Britt got his third assist on the man up when he fed attackman Scott Kenworthy ’04 across the crease. Kenworthy one-timed the ball to the far post over Gould’s shoulder to put the Elis ahead 8-3. That score was the last shot Gould faced, as Tierney replaced the junior with Larkin.
In the fourth period, Britt again led the attack with a brilliant shot from 30 feet out. With 33 seconds remaining on another man-up, attackman Mike Scaglione ’03 fed Britt, who ran to the left side of Larkin before launching a shot that traveled over Larkin’s far shoulder into the upper corner of the far post. With that tally, the Bulldogs went ahead 12-9 with 8:36 remaining.
Although the Bulldogs would continue to fight for the lead, they never trailed in the second half. Both the Bulldogs and the Tigers would add one more goal to their final totals before Princeton defenseman Damien Davis was called for unnecessary roughness with 40 seconds remaining, ending all hopes of a Princeton rally.
After a disastrous first half one week earlier in which the Bulldogs allowed eight Cornell goals and could not get on the board themselves, the Elis jumped all over the Tigers in the first half.
The effort extended early into the second half, as eight of the Bulldogs’ first 11 shots found the back of the net.
“It was very important for us to set the tempo out there against Princeton and I think we did it,” Waldvogel said. “I look at us at Cornell, and I look at us now, and I see two different teams.”
If Yale had lost to Princeton, the Tigers would have been one win away from tying Cornell’s Ivy League win streak, which they set from 1972 to 1979, when Waldvogel was an assistant coach for the Big Red. With Saturday’s win, Waldvogel had the unique pleasure of making sure a record he helped construct remained intact.
Beyond the immediate success of snapping Princeton’s win streak and staying in contention for an Ivy League title, the Bulldogs’ victory could represent a turning point that separates this season from the previous two. In the last two seasons, the Bulldogs finished their first four games at 3-1, but after a Cornell loss the Elis went 5-3 in 2000 and 3-5 in 2001.
“Right now our season can go one of two ways,” Foote said. “We screwed up against Cornell, but if we had lost to Princeton, it would be all downhill now. Now we have a chance to compete and the general consensus is there’s still a lot of work to be done.”
The Elis’ next task will be Wednesday night under the lights of the Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium against Brown (2-4). The Bears are fresh off an overtime loss to No. 1 Syracuse and edged the Bulldogs 15-14 last year.
With four more Ivy games remaining, the Bulldogs have little time to reflect upon their achievements thus far.
“All I can do is relax,” said Waldvogel when asked if he planned on celebrating later that night. “From here, it doesn’t get any easier.”