This year’s men’s lacrosse team would make their 1990 alumni proud. First, an upset victory over No. 8 Princeton, and now, with two games remaining in the regular season, the Bulldogs are within striking distance of another historic accomplishment: their first at-large NCAA tournament berth since 1990.
Fresh off a 12-5 victory over Dartmouth Wednesday afternoon, the No. 11 Bulldogs will get a chance to dig even deeper into the record books tomorrow night.
With a win over Harvard (4-6, 0-4 Ivy) Saturday night on the artificial grass of the field hockey stadium, the Elis will capture their first H-Y-P crown since 1989, a year in which the Bulldogs won the Ivy League title outright en route to an automatic NCAA tournament berth. The Cantab contest also presents a chance at personal history for the Bulldog seniors who, with a win tomorrow night, will graduate without a loss to the Crimson.
At first glance, the Bulldogs’ regular season finale April 26 at No. 6 Maryland might present more interesting prospects for Yale’s postseason hopes, but head coach Mike Waldvogel believes that his squad cannot afford to dabble in rosy hypotheticals this weekend.
“I think you throw out the records here,” Waldvogel said. “The key with this game is not getting too wired and losing our focus. We can’t look into the future right now.”
In their last two games, the Eli offense has been exceptional, notching 23 goals and over 55 shots.
Attackman Mike Scaglione ’02, who has a team-high 40 points, will lead the offense Saturday against a Harvard defense that features goaltender Jake McKenna. McKenna is one of the highest-rated goaltenders in the Ivy League, with 147 saves and a .595 save percentage.
“We know Yale likes to run the ball in transition, but Jake has been playing well all season and I think we’re ready for them,” Harvard head coach Scott Anderson said.
The Elis can ill-afford the same spat of poor shot selection that plagued their offensive efforts against Duke and Brown.
“Our shot selection needs to be the best it’s been so far,” midfielder Ned Britt ’04 said. “They are going to come out hungry and ready to beat us, so we have to recognize that and be prepared to step it up a notch.”
No one needs to tell the Bulldog defense how to step up, as they have held opponents below double digits in their last two games. Defenseman Noah Glass ’03 has led the long sticks in front of the crease, shutting out University of Massachusetts leading scorer Marc Morley and Dartmouth’s offensive playmaker Scott Roslyn.
Glass and the rest of the Eli defense will have their hands full Saturday as they try to contain Cantab attackman Matt Primm, who is a beefy 6-foot-3 and 225 pounds and leads Harvard with 25 points.
“Every year we play Harvard, it’s a battle,” Scaglione said. “We’re always similar in terms of talent, so it’s going to be tough on both ends of the field.”
As time wound down in the third quarter against Dartmouth Wednesday afternoon in Hanover, thoughts of a close contest with Harvard were the farthest thing from the Elis’ minds. After leading 4-3 at halftime, the Bulldogs could not build on their lead in the third quarter as Dartmouth brought the score back within one, 6-5, heading into the fourth.
On the surface, it seemed the Bulldogs were floundering, but the voices and facial expressions in the third quarter huddle showed anything but signs of distress.
“I just told the guys to keep doing what they were doing,” Waldvogel said. “We were playing great defense and just needed an opportunity to execute on offense.”
Less than two minutes into the final period, the Bulldog defense broke Dartmouth’s catatonic ball movement on offense and got the ball downfield for a quick goal from Scaglione.
Captain Tucker Foote ’02 and attackman Scott Kenworthy ’04 led the Bulldogs with three goals each, but it was Scaglione’s goal with five minutes remaining that ended all hopes of a Big Green comeback. With just under four minutes left in the game and the Bulldogs ahead by five, Scaglione collected a pass and outran two defenders, launching a shot that beat goaltender Mike Gault to the upper-right corner for the Bulldogs’ only man-down goal of the day.
When the final whistle sounded, Yale had outscored Dartmouth 8-2 in the second half and peppered Gault with 28 shots in the final 30 minutes.
“We forced them to do things they didn’t want to do on defense and then our offense started executing,” Waldvogel said.
This weekend, the Elis will rely on their fitness level to carry them through what should be a more fast-paced contest. The Cantabs will be playing their seventh consecutive game against a top-20 team and have not won since March 16. Still, the Bulldogs realize that Harvard will have a new life tomorrow night.
“You can never tell with Harvard how they are going to respond to adversity, especially when they play us,” Scaglione said. “They still have a chance to ruin our postseason hopes.”