Coming off of a three game win streak, the No. 11 men’s lacrosse team heads west this weekend to take on Michigan in the fabled Big House for the first matchup between the two schools.
The Saturday game marks the beginning of a stretch in which the Bulldogs (7–3, 4–2 Ivy) will play their last two nonconference games before finishing the regular season on April 26 against Harvard. The Wolverines (4–9, 1–3 ECAC) are only in their third season as a Division One lacrosse program and have lost five straight games.
“Obviously going to Michigan isn’t the easiest road trip so we are going to try to keep our focus on our opponent,” midfielder Colin Flaherty ’15. “We just want to keep improving just like any other game.”
Last time out, the Elis needed overtime to put away Ivy rival Brown. Yale led 6–1 in the first quarter but the Bears came all the way back, scoring four goals in the fourth quarter to reach a tie before midfielder Michael Bonacci ’15 scored, one minute and 11 seconds into the extra session.
The Bulldogs have been on roll as of late with a season high three-game win streak. Defense has again been key to head coach Andy Shay’s success this year. The Elis have conceded the fewest goals in the Ivy League and have the ninth best scoring defense in the nation with an 8.1 goals against average. Yale has given up double-digit goals just four times all season and have held opponents under six goals in three of the last four.
Defensemen Michael Quinn ’16 and Jimmy Craft ’15, the captain, have been integral to the Elis’ success this season. The duo leads the unit in caused turnovers (15) and groundballs (28), respectively.
Second year starter Eric Natale ’15 has also been crucial to this season’s success. A member of last year’s All-Ivy tournament team, the goaltender has put up the best goals against average in the Ivy League and recorded the second most saves in the conference. He has posted double-digit saves in eight games.
“The defense is playing really well right now but we got to keep working on killing possessions throughout the game especially towards the end,” Craft said. “We are a really balanced team I think, and it’s nice to know that offense can bail us out in some games.”
On the offensive side of the ball, the Bulldogs have a threatening attack duo and a deep unit of midfield scorers to call on. Tewaaraton Award watch list nominees Brandon Mangan ’14 and Conrad Oberbeck ’15 lead the team in assists and goals, respectively. The Ivy League’s sixth highest scorer, Oberbeck, has not been shutout in a game this season and has 23 goals. Mangan, who was held without a point last Friday for the first time in two years, has been the target of every team’s number one defenseman this season but has still produced 27 points, including a five-goal, seven-point performance against No. 14 Princeton.
Shane Thornton ’15, second on the team with 11 assists, has put up an impressive eight points in his last three games, including a hat trick against Dartmouth, for a season total of 18 points. A second-team All-Ivy selection last season, Flaherty has scored in two straight games and leads the midfield unit with 10 goals. Sophomore speedster Bonacci also has goals in the last two contests for a season haul of 12 points. Mark Glicini ’16 and Eric Scott ’17 each have six goals.
“Last year we had a really young group of middies and we only lost one within the first two lines at the end of last season,” Bonacci said. “I think overall our middies have meshed well and let the ball move. We don’t need to make home run plays and we are learning that the simple plays will be successful.”
Despite a slow start to the season, faceoff specialist Dylan Levings ’14 has again proven himself among the nation’s best from the X. Ranked 18th in the nation with a 0.581 winning percentage, Levings, one of Yale’s three Tewaaraton Award watch list nominees, has been crucial to the offence’s success all four of his years in New Haven.
In a nonconference game this weekend, the Bulldogs will hope to improve their shooting accuracy. Second to last in the Ivy League in shots on goal with a 56.1 percentage and 27.5 scoring percentage, the Elis can improve against an opponent that is averaging 12.67 goals against this season.
Michigan, which was a club level program only three years ago, has continued to develop this season. The Wolverines have equaled their program’s four wins this season despite playing six nationally ranked opponents.
Despite five straight losses, the Wolverines will not roll over easily. They took No. 12 Cornell to overtime in a 15–14 loss back on March 1 and lost to No. 15 Fairfield, a team that beat Yale, by just one goal two weeks ago. The highest shooting offense in the ECAC has averaged 9.69 goals per game and is headlined by freshman attackman Ian King with 25 goals. Midfielders Kyle Jackson and Thomas Paras have 23 and 22 points, respectively. Michigan’s man-up unit has been solid with 17 goals for a 37 percent conversion rate.
The defensive unit of Chase Brown, Chris Walker and Mack Gembis has caused a frightening 35 turnovers this season along with collecting 61 ground balls. As a team, the Wolverines have the most groundballs and caused turnovers in the ECAC. Goaltender Robbie Zonino leads the conference.
The Bulldogs face off against Michigan in the Big House this Saturday at 4 p.m.