Yale parents were not the only ones flocking to Connecticut this weekend.
The Iroquois National lacrosse team, comprised of professional and standout players from colleges across the country, flew in to Madison to take on the Yale men’s lacrosse team. But the Iroquois, inventors of lacrosse, unexpectedly fell 12-6 to the Bulldogs.
The Haudenosaunee Six Nations Confederacy has fielded its own national team since 1990, when the tribe was accepted into the International Lacrosse Federation. For centuries, lacrosse has been closely tied to the history of the tribes.
“Most of the kids on the reservation are born with a stick in their cradle,” said Matt Alexander, an Iroquois National player.
Alexander, who now plays professionally, said the team does more than flex its muscle at the international level, with consistent top-five finishes. But the Iroquois National team has not played together since 2006 at the ILF World Championship, where they finished fourth in the world.
The rustiness, combined with a sharp Bulldog team, proved to make the difference Saturday night. The Elis were crisp early on, peppering the Iroquois goalie, Spencer Lyons, before finally breaking through late in the first quarter with a hard low shot from midfielder Nick Souris ’10. The game was still close halfway through the third period, with the Elis leading 6-4, before attacker Brendan Gibson ’10 and midfielder Gabe Nadel ’09 pushed the lead to 8-4 with a goal each. Attacker Tyler Casertano ’08 put the game out of reach with a pair of goals that gave the Bulldogs a 10-4 advantage. The lead eventually ballooned to 11-4 before the Iroquois Nationals and the Bulldogs traded goals to end the game at 12-6.
Although many players on the Yale lacrosse team had not seen any videotape of the Iroquois before the game, several Elis said they knew, by reputation, of the Iroquois talent. Gibson said he was impressed with how well the Elis stacked up against the talented Iroquois National team.
“I remember watching a lot of those guys playing college lacrosse when I was in high school,” Gibson said. “I expected a closer game. I didn’t really expect to beat them that badly.”
Casertano had an outstanding game with four goals. Attacker Michael Karwoski ’09 and Gibson made strong contributions with a combined three goals and two assists.
For some of the freshmen on the team, the exhibition match was their first game wearing Yale colors. Despite the nerves, several freshmen made key contributions.
“Coming to Yale, I wasn’t sure what to expect in Division I lacrosse, but I’ve been impressed by the talent on the Yale lacrosse team,” midfielder Chad Costello ’11 said. “Coach Shay has high expectations for us, and if we work hard we can make those expectations a reality.”
Yale men’s lacrosse coach, Andy Shay, set up the match with the Iroquois National team. Midfielder Matt Fuchs ’10 said Shay maintains good relationships with people involved in the Iroquois National Lacrosse team, whom he has known since his childhood in New York. Shay obtained clearance from the NCAA and the Ivy League to play Saturday night’s game. The exhibition game was part of the larger Hammonasset Native American Festival.
Prior to the game, two members of the tribe blessed the field. Both the Yale and Iroquois flags flew as the respective nations’ anthems played. An air of ceremony hung over the event.
Despite the six-goal margin of victory, Casterano said the team felt great respect for the Iroquois’ talent and stature.
“Playing the Iroquois National team is a tremendous honor and we wanted to respect them by giving them our best effort,” Casterano said.
The Iroquois National team had roughly 15 fewer players than the Bulldogs, and Gibson said fatigue appeared to set in among the Iroquois as the Bulldogs went on their decisive run and put the match away. The Elis also had to make adjustments throughout the game to adapt to the Iroquois National team’s different style of play, one the Yale team had not seen very often.
“The international game is a little different from the college game, but coach prepared us for it,” said Costello. “We made minor adjustments in practice and in the game to tactically counter them.”
While the lacrosse season does not officially begin until early February, the team has already begun training and will play in the Christian Prince Memorial Tournament at Reese Stadium next weekend.