For the men’s lacrosse team, it was anything but the typical preseason meeting.
On Monday Jan. 13, the men’s lacrosse team learned of head coach Mike Waldvogel’s departure after internal violations of Yale policies involving lacrosse recruits. Four days later, what had seemed to be the most important news of the preseason suddenly became less significant.
Friday morning that same week, members of the team gathered once again. This time it was to hear that Eric Wenzel ’03, the team’s starting goaltender and last season’s most valuable player, had been involved in the fatal highway accident on I-95 and was in critical condition.
Following the double blow, however, the Bulldogs have pulled together both on the field and off, and have a renewed purpose for the 2003 season.
“The team matured a lot through the two events,” captain Mike Scaglione ’03 said. “I think we really came together and leaned on each other as friends first and teammates second,” he said.
Following an impressive 2002 season in which the Elis knocked off national powerhouse Princeton and found themselves on the doorstep of the NCAA tournament, the Bulldogs have high hopes for this year.
But the loss of Wenzel, who was an All-Ivy and All-New England selection and whose outstanding performance in the Princeton game was crucial to the victory, has hit hard both on and off the field.
“First of all, he’s our starting goalie, so on the field he’s hard to replace,” defenseman Brad Liff ’03 said. “But it’s more than just his skill — he’s a leader on the team and he brings a spark that we always miss when he’s not around [because of football] in the fall.”
Although the players have not finalized plans, the team intends to honor Wenzel during the season by wearing his initials or number 45 on their helmets and is considering hanging his jersey in the goal during warmups.
“We definitely are playing for him this season,” middie Ned Britt ’04 said.
Besides losing Wenzel, the Elis graduated a number of important players. Assistant coach Delia, who has been at Yale for five seasons, was named interim head coach.
“Obviously everyone was disappointed when coach Waldvogel was asked to step down,” Scaglione said. “But the team made a commitment to rally behind coach Delia and our commitment to him was never questioned.”
Scaglione added that the Athletics Department’s decision to hire Jon Reese ’90 in Delia’s place as assistant coach generated a lot of excitement on the team. Reese holds most of the men’s lacrosse team’s scoring records.
After a preseason scrimmage with Maryland was cancelled, the Bulldogs played Delaware instead on Saturday. The score was 9-4 after four quarters, but the two teams played an extra period and finished the game with Yale winning 12-5.
“The intensity and hustle and everything was there and everyone was having a good time,” said Britt, who scored four goals.
Scott Kenworthy ’04 and Ryan Floyd ’03 added two goals each in the game, and Seth Goldberg ’05 scored as well. In addition, Scaglione contributed a number of assists.
Offensively this season, the Elis will look to Britt and All-American candidate Scaglione for much of their production. The two players combined for 84 points last season, with Scaglione leading the league in scoring. In addition, attackman Ryan Floyd ’03 and middie Kenworthy, who played on attack last season, will figure into many of Yale’s set plays on offense.
Defensively, Yale returns All-American candidate Noah Glass ’03. In addition, Todd Montgomery ’04 is a strong presence in the backfield, and Ned Smith ’03 and Brad Liff ’03 will bring speed and strength to the defense.
For the close-knit Bulldogs, the unthinkable beginning to their season has made the players even tighter.
“So far practice has been great, and our first scrimmage was a success,” Scaglione said. “We just need to keep going and overcome the loss of coach and the tragedy and to come through and try to make this season something to remember.”