After men’s lacrosse coach Andy Shay recruited this year’s freshman class, he knew that the incoming players would have the opportunity to make an impact from day one.
“Coach never told us that anyone was going to step in and start, he just made it clear to us that we would have a chance to show [him] what we could do,” defensive midfielder Michael Pratt ’12 said, acknowledging the way some college teams essentially guarantee starting spots to juniors and seniors before the start of the year.
With a full season almost under their belts, the 11 members of the class of 2012 have already had considerable success on the field for the Elis.
Attacker Matt Gibson ’12 and middies Colin Still ’12, Gregory Mahony ’12, and Matt Miller ’12 are all in the top 10 in the Ivy League in points among freshmen. No other team has more than two players in the rankings.
Matt Gibson, who was named the Ivy Rookie of the Week on March 18 after three goals and three assists in the team’s 14-13 overtime win against Penn four days earlier, is tied for seventh in the nation among freshman in points per game with 2.5. The Point Lookout, N.Y., native is third on the team in points with 30, behind middie Michael Karwoski ’09 and brother Brendan Gibson ’10.
Matt’s decision to follow his brother to Yale encouraged other potential recruits to consider Yale as well. When Still was getting recruited last year, he already knew Gibson had signed on to play at Yale and he wanted to play with the talented attacker. Pratt, who is eighth on the team in ground balls, played high school lacrosse at prep school Chaminade with Matt Gibson, and decided to follow his teammate to Yale.
Yet Matt Gibson was not the only thing that drew Pratt to New Haven.
Pratt said, “Knowing that I would have a chance to win a spot was a big factor [in choosing Yale].”
He is one of seven Long Islanders currently on the squad. Shay credited Brendan Gibson and middie Nick Tsouris ’10 as recruits that helped establish a perpetual connection with the lacrosse hotspot of Long Island.
“Brendan is the mayor of Long Island, he seems to know everybody,” Shay said. “It’s helped our recruiting a lot, just having a presence on Long Island.”
Shay looked even closer to home during the recruiting process, as several members of the freshman class had connections to Yale.
Besides Matt Gibson’s connection to Yale, Matt Miller’s father Randy played basketball for the Bulldogs. Still’s father roomed with attacker Tyler Casertano’s ’08 father at Amherst, and the freshman middie stayed with Casertano when he visited Yale.
One of Shay’s most accomplished freshmen, however, arrived in New Haven under much different circumstances.
Mahony, who is in fourth place on the team in both goals and assists, hails from the Pacific Northwest and was not heavily recruited out of Mercer Island, Wa., even though a coach from the lacrosse mecca of Westchester County, N.Y., told Shay that he had seen no better player than Mahony all season. The middie planned on walking onto the team at Colgate, but after the Red Raiders lacrosse coach missed a meeting with the recruit while Mahony was visiting the school, he decided to take a year off and try to get into Yale.
Matt Gibson, Mahony, Still and Miller all scored in the team’s 13-8 opening-game victory over Holy Cross on Feb. 21. And while Matt Gibson was the only freshman starter, five other first-years saw time in the game.
Despite their early success, the immediate playing time forced players to adapt to the college game quickly.
Although Pratt cited “fall ball” as a helpful transition period to prepare for the 2009 season, Shay acknowledged the difference in difficulty and intensity between the Ivy League season and the Bulldogs’ fall play.
“When we first started playing at college, all of us were surprised at how fast the game was,” Still said. “No matter how much you prepare, it’s different than high school.”
Still acknowledged help from older players, especially Brendan Gibson, in helping his class adapt to college lacrosse.
“Our guys knew they would be thrown into the fire from the get-[go],” Shay said. “They’ve gotten a lot of direction from the older guys; they’d be a rudderless ship without those guys.”
The class of 2012 in turn hopes to act as role models for next year’s freshmen, which Shay described as a more defensive-oriented group.
Still said the freshmen planned to contact the class of 2013 over the summer and encourage them to work out during the offseason and arrive on campus in shape.
“You have a lot of hopes, and you don’t know until they get there,” Shay added. “These guys have all lived up to their potential, and they’re going to challenge these guys to do the same.”