It was 24 hours before the men’s lacrosse team played the University of Massachusetts, and players huddled around the television set, watching a team in blue hand No. 12 Princeton its first Ivy League loss in 37 games of league play. The next afternoon, it was a warm, sunny day, and the Bulldogs, this time dressed in their home whites, ended the winning streak of another top-10 team.
The No. 14 Elis (6-3) used a total team effort to win 11-9 against No. 8 UMass (8-2) Saturday at the Soccer-Lacrosse Stadium.
With the win, the Bulldogs have fought their way back into contention for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
“This game was huge for us,” captain Tucker Foote ’02 said. “It wasn’t us going out on a limb hoping we were going to win. We expected to win.”
Yale’s victory snaps the Minutemen’s eight-game winning streak and a six-game winning streak against Yale that dates back to 1990. Including the Princeton game, this is the second time this year the Elis have followed in the footsteps of the 1990 Bulldog squad that went to the Final Four.
“There was a feeling in the past that we had forgotten what we did against Princeton,” defenseman Noah Glass ’03 said. “I think this win reminded us what we’re capable of.”
Perhaps the most important difference between this win and the win against Princeton was the Bulldogs’ defensive and midfield play. The Eli defense kept Minutemen leading scorer Marc Morley off the board, while second leading scorer Dan Paccione managed only two goals.
The Bulldogs may have struggled to hold the lead, but the Yale midfield was nearly flawless throughout the game. Attackmen Mike Scaglione ’03 and Ned Britt ’04 led the Bulldogs with three goals apiece, but midfielders Todd Merchak ’02, D.J. Barry ’05 and Duncan Jones ’05 dominated the center strip and absorbed UMass’s physical play to set up a majority of the Bulldogs’ scoring opportunities.
“When things start clicking with those guys, it makes things a lot easier between the boxes,” Foote said. “You can’t say enough about what those guys did out on the field today.”
Less than two minutes into the third period, however, it seemed the Bulldogs’ Saturday afternoon would become nothing more than a reminder of their problems with holding a lead and containing the momentum of top-ranked teams. After watching a 4-0 lead in the first five minutes evaporate into a 6-5 deficit by halftime, the Bulldogs fell even further behind.
Running in transition, Minutemen midfielder Paul Hutchen launched a bounce shot from 25 feet out that hit the ground 8 feet in front of goalie Eric Wenzel ’03. After having what seemed like an eternity to size up the shot and make the save, Wenzel misjudged the ball, and the Minutemen got their largest lead of the day at 7-5.
“They had three garbage goals which killed us,” Yale head coach Mike Waldvogel said. “We just stopped and said, ‘Hey, we’d rather take a pushing penalty than let up another goal.'”
So while the Bulldog defense closed the holes in front of the crease and denied the Minutemen’s attempts to crash the cage, the Yale offense came alive for the first time in 15 minutes.
With yellow flags strewn on the ground for a delayed penalty against UMass defenseman Tom Fallon, Scaglione brought the ball inbounds from behind the right side of Minutemen goaltender Bill Schell and fed attackman Ryan Floyd ’03, who collected the pass and beat Schell with a shot to the feet.
Less than a minute later, with time expiring on the man-up opportunity, Yale took advantage of Fallon’s absence from the field. Without the 6-foot-4, 240 pound defenseman there to clog the crease, Scaglione and Floyd again set the play as Floyd collected Scaglione’s missed shot on the left side of Schell. Floyd turned and fed Britt, who jumped in the air, cradled the ball briefly, and fired over the outstretched body of his defenseman into the upper right corner before tumbling to the ground. Britt’s score knotted the game at seven.
With just over three minutes remaining in the third period, the Bulldogs took a lead that they would never again relinquish. Floyd used some brilliant footwork to blow by his defender and bounce a shot that hit inside the crossbar and then rolled out of the cage, but not before the officials counted the goal to put the Elis ahead, 8-7.
Take away the first five minutes of the game, and Saturday afternoon might have been Yale’s third straight loss to a ranked opponent. In the first five minutes, the Bulldogs turned the tables on the vaunted UMass transition offense, running the Minutemen ragged while scoring four goals on their first four shots to jump ahead 4-0.
“Yale likes to push the ball in transition, and they came out on fire,” UMass head coach Greg Cannella said. “They jumped all over us.”
The Bulldogs next travel to Dartmouth, where the Big Green is still smarting from a 12-6 loss to No. 9 Cornell. Although the Elis might be out of the hunt for an Ivy title, there is a whole world of possibilities that awaits the squad if they should win the rest of their games against Dartmouth, Harvard and No. 6 Maryland.
“No matter what, we are still playing for pride and for each other,” Glass said, before letting a grin break across his face. “But if we get into the tournament, I think we could do some good things.”