Saturday afternoon at the Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium, the men’s lacrosse team will face the University of Massachusetts in a game Yale must win to stay in the postseason hunt. But playoff hopes are not the only thing that will be on the Bulldogs’ minds tomorrow afternoon.

For the past three years, Yale (5-3) opened the season with solid wins against top-ranked opponents, only to fade into mediocrity as the season wore on.

No. 9 UMass (8-1) signals the beginning of the Bulldogs’ final five-game stretch to prove that this year is different, that even if they do not get into the playoffs, the Elis can turn in a solid winning record instead of another year hovering around .500.

“There’s so much left to play for, regardless of the postseason,” captain Tucker Foote ’02 said. “We have a lot of pride, and we still want to play out this season to the best of our ability.”

The Elis will not have an easy time this weekend, playing their third game in seven days and their sixth of the season against a top-20 opponent. With midfielders Marko Lujic ’02 and Marc Perry ’04 questionable for Saturday, head coach Mike Waldvogel believes the intense schedule has had its effect on the Bulldogs’ mental and physical outlook.

“Playing two games a week takes its toll,” Waldvogel said. “UMass has more depth in terms of numbers and talent than we do. It’s going to be a tough game.”

Tomorrow will be especially tough for the Bulldogs if they fail to solve the puzzle of their recent offensive struggles. After averaging over 13 goals a game over the first five games of the season, the Elis have averaged just nine goals in their last three contests, all games that followed Yale’s historic upset of Princeton.

“Princeton was the last time we executed well as an offensive unit against a quality competitor,” Waldvogel said. “Why is that? I don’t know. If I could solve that mystery, I could go join Phil Jackson and coach the L.A. Lakers.”

The Eli attack usually revolves around the quick passing and off-ball movements of players around the cage. In the last three games, many of the Bulldogs’ trips downfield have dissolved into a one-on-one dodging drill.

“We have a lot of great individual players, but we can also generate goals in transition and rely on the chemistry of our attack,” Foote said. “We don’t want to rely on our one-on-one play.”

Given Princeton’s 37-game Ivy League winning streak, the Bulldogs’ win against the Tigers surprised many in the lacrosse community. But that wave of surprise missed Minutemen head coach Greg Cannella, who won’t change his game plan. UMass will rely on a fast-paced offense that uses quick counterattacks in transition.

“We already expected Yale to be a good team, because they returned almost everyone,” said Cannella, whose squad beat the Bulldogs 14-7 last year. “It’s tough playing against them because they have so many players who can score. They are as good as any team in the country.”

By the time the final whistle sounds tomorrow afternoon, the Bulldogs will have a better idea of whether they can consistently play with the best teams in the country.

“We need to win here if we want to make it into the postseason,” Lujic said.

The UMass game is not just an indicator of how the rest of the season will unravel for the Elis. It is the Bulldogs’ best chance to prove that an early season win against Princeton was more than an April Fools’ joke.