After a 2013 season that resulted in the Bulldogs’ best showing in decades, last year’s men’s lacrosse team scuffled to a 9–5 finish, ending the season with consecutive one-goal losses to Harvard and missing the NCAA tournament for the first time in three years.

Now, the Bulldogs will look to return to the sport’s elite ranks and improve upon their quarterfinal finish in 2013 while avoiding last year’s pitfalls. Having added an excellent freshman class to a strong core of starters, coach Andy Shay’s team looks to return to form and capture another Ivy tournament title.

Last year’s Bulldogs (9–5, 3–3 Ivy) struggled early in the season, with close losses away at Fairfield and Cornell and at home against Penn. Yale then rattled off five straight wins, four on the road, before ending the season with a pair of disappointing defeats at the hands of their biggest rival, Harvard.

This year’s slate sees a number of rematches of last year’s non-conference games. Notably, the Bulldogs have a chance to avenge last year’s 12–11 overtime loss to Fairfield. The team also faces 2014 national semifinalist Maryland and quarterfinalist Bryant in the early stages of the season, giving more inexperienced players a chance to face high-level competition before the intense Ivy Round Robin begins.

For the team’s experienced stars, though, this sort of challenge is nothing new.

“Looking at our schedule, both in the Ivy League and out of conference play, we have no easy game, and every week we have to treat each game as important as the last,” midfielder and face-off specialist Jonathan Reese ’16 said.

The Bulldog attack will be anchored by 2014 honorable mention All-American attackman Conrad Oberbeck ’15, who tallied 38 goals and 12 assists last season and added five more goals in the season-opening 19–4 win over UMass-Lowell.

Additionally, attackman Jeff Cimbalista ’17, who scored an impressive nine goals in the season’s final four games after returning from injury, looks to return at full strength and bolster the Bulldog attack. The dangerous offensive force will be rounded out by Ben Reeves ’18, who won Ivy League Rookie of the Week for his six-point performance against UMass-Lowell.

On the defensive end, preseason second team All-American Mike Quinn ’16 will anchor a unit that has finished among the top 11 teams nationally in goals allowed in four of the past five seasons. Nonetheless, despite Quinn’s continued stellar play, the Bulldogs may have a hard time replacing last year’s captain, Jimmy Craft ’14, whom Quinn described as “the quarterback of the defense.”

In net, however, Shay has no such concerns. Eric Natale ’15, an honorable mention All-Ivy selection last year, started every game and provided consistent excellence between the pipes. After a solid performance in the first half of the season opener, Natale seems prepared to be a strong last line of defense for Shay’s team.

One potential cause for concern for the Bulldogs is their performance in the face-off circle. The team graduated Dylan Levings ’14, who appeared in every game and won a solid 58 percent of his face-offs in his final season, earning honorable mention All-Ivy status. This season, the Bulldogs will rely on Reese, son of All-American Jon Reese ’90, to pick up where Levings left off.

“Getting to practice and play against Dylan Levings for the last two years definitely helped me to grow as a player … I’ve definitely tried to work harder this year than ever before, but my preparation has remained relatively the same,” Reese said.

Altogether, the Bulldogs appear primed for a return to the success they have had in previous seasons, but they will not make the mistake of looking too far ahead on their schedule.

“We’re not thinking about past or future Ivy League titles and tournament appearances because we can’t control any of that. We’re focused on … taking care of the details that will help us get a little better each day,” Cimbalista said.

The Elis face No. 7 Maryland at Reese Stadium this Saturday at 12 p.m.