Days after a historic victory over Princeton and visions of an Ivy League championship dancing in their heads, a 9-8 loss to No. 20 Brown brought the men’s lacrosse team back to earth. Now, the Elis are in a fight just to get to the postseason.
The No. 14 Bulldogs (4-2, 2-2 Ivy) will try to steady themselves Sunday afternoon when No. 8 Duke (4-3) comes to the Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium. With two losses in the Ivy League, the Bulldogs’ chances of an Ivy League title are slim, so their quest for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament hinges on wins against national powerhouses such as Duke.
“We can’t look past Duke right now,” defenseman Nick Krohley ’02 said. “To get a bid, we need to win the rest of our games, but the key is to take it one game at a time.”
Leading the Bulldogs’ effort against Duke will be attackmen Mike Scaglione ’03, Scott Kenworthy ’04 and midfielder Ned Britt ’04. Scaglione leads the team with 25 points, Kenworthy is second with 21, and Britt is third with 19.
Against Duke, the Elis will need to focus on their offense. With the exception of their 11-9 loss to No. 3 Loyola, the Blue Devils have held all their opponents to less than 10 goals. The heart and soul of the Blue Devil defense is goalie A.J. Kincel, who has 74 saves on the season and a .579 save percentage.
On the other side of the ball, the Bulldog attack tallied 30 shots Wednesday — equaling their total output against Princeton — but many of them whistled wide or were weak offerings that Brown goaltender Mike Levin easily turned aside. Combine Duke’s tough defense with the Bulldogs’ struggles Wednesday night and Yale may have a tough time finding the back of the net Sunday.
“We didn’t get quality shots, and we were shooting outside of our range,” Yale head coach Mike Waldvogel said. “We need to get that consistency and get our level of offensive play up.”
Britt’s dodges on offense from the right to the left side of the crease were perhaps the only consistent aspect of Yale’s offensive play Wednesday. Against a physical Duke defense, Britt realizes the Bulldogs will have to use a more varied attack.
“As the season goes on, it’s going to get tougher and tougher to do that play over and over,” Britt said. “If we can cycle left and right, then [Duke] can’t favor one side.”
At the other end of the field, netminder Eric Wenzel ’03 will anchor the Bulldog defense. Wenzel has a .532 save percentage and 59 saves so far this year, including a 14-save performance against Princeton that earned the netminder the Ivy League Player of the Week award.
The Bulldogs may enter Sunday afternoon without defenseman Noah Glass ’03, who strained a knee ligament against Brown and is questionable for the contest. Glass has been a crucial component of the Eli defense this year, providing a strong physical presence in front of the crease and behind the net.
Duke will counter with midfielder Kevin Cassese and attackmen Alex Lieske and Kevin Brennan. Lieske leads the Blue Devils with 22 points while Brennan and Cassese have 21 and 17 points, respectively.
On defense, the Elis can ill afford to engage in individual matchups against a physical Duke offense.
“If we try to go head to head, [the Blue Devils] do have better talent so the only way we can play them is as a team,” Waldvogel said. “We have to play smarter both on and off the ball.”
This is not the first time this season that the Bulldogs have followed an important Ivy win with a disheartening loss in league play. The men’s lacrosse team followed their league-opening win over No. 19 the University of Pennsylvania with an 8-4 loss to Cornell one week later.
But in a year where five of the top 20 teams in the nation have records at .500 or worse, the Elis are not ready to count themselves out of the race for an NCAA tournament berth.
“We have dealt with this already this season,” midfielder Patrick Moylan ’03 said. “If we can respond the way we did after Cornell, there’s no doubt in my mind that we’ll come out with a win.”