Last May, the Yale men’s lacrosse team captured its third Ivy League Tournament title in four years in a thrilling 11–10 victory over Princeton. Less than a week later, Yale fell in devastating fashion to the sixth-seeded Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament despite holding a three-goal lead with seven minutes to play.
The 2016 Bulldogs are simultaneously hoping to build on last season’s successes while remaining motivated by their disappointing finish to last season.
“I would say our greatest strength is the unselfishness of our team,” Yale head coach Andy Shay said. “We have a number of players who aren’t concerned about individual accolades, and I think that goes a long way.”
The team will be led by captain and defender Michael Quinn ’16, who received All-Ivy First Team honors a year ago and was recently named a preseason All-American by Inside Lacrosse magazine.
Quinn is not alone in receiving early attention; the team as a whole is ranked ninth in the nation according to the USILA/Nike Preseason Coaches Poll. The ranking is the highest among all Ivy teams, and other publications such as Lacrosse Magazine have tabbed Yale as the favorite to win the Ivy League title.
While the Bulldogs did win the Ivy Tournament, they finished in a tie for fourth in the regular season with a 3–3 record. However, this year’s team has more ambitious goals than capturing the conference championship.
“Five to 10 years ago, making the NCAA Tournament was the goal,” midfielder Michael Bonacci ’16 said. “This season, our goal is to win the National Championship.”
At the same time, the team is not overlooking any opponents. Shay said that the team remains focused on “winning the next game,” a sentiment shared by his players.
In a schedule that includes five ranked opponents — three in the conference — the team understands that nothing has been accomplished yet.
“We haven’t won a game yet. This is a new team and a new year,” Bonacci said.
Offensively, the Bulldogs will have to reinvent themselves after the graduation of attackman Conrad Oberbeck ’15. Culminating with being honored as the Most Outstanding Player of the Ivy League Tournament, Oberbeck scored 39 goals last year in the regular season. Oberbeck also added a team-high 23 assists for a total of 62 points, fourth best in the Ivy League.
However, Shay said his team is accustomed to replacing lost production.
“Conrad stepped up when other guys … graduated. We expect the same increased role from a host of other players,” Shay said. “We may be a slightly different offense this year. It is all a work in progress, but we are used to replacing strong players.”
Last season, the Bulldogs replaced star attackman Brandon Mangan ’14, who tallied 45 points his senior year; two years ago, the team replaced attackman Kirby Zdrill ’13, who scored 30 goals in his final campaign.
Among the players expected to increase their contributions are Bonacci, who returns from an ACL tear that cost him the second half of last season, and attackman Ben Reeves ’18, who was selected to the Coaches’ Preseason All-Conference team. In addition, midfielder Mark Glicini ’16 was picked by the Chesapeake Bayhawks — where he will play this summer — in the MLL Draft in January.
Defensively, Quinn will anchor the Bulldogs. The captain forced a team-high 19 turnovers last season while also ranking second with 36 ground balls. Shay said he trusts Quinn’s leadership, noting that he is “an exceptional player and person whose first priority is normally his teammates.”
According to Lacrosse Magazine, Reilly Naton ’16 is projected to start at long-stick midfield while Christopher Keating ’17 and Camyar Matini ’17 will round out the starting defensive unit.
The biggest question for the Bulldogs comes between the pipes. Goalie Eric Natale ’15, who led the Ivy League in goals-against average, graduated and Shay has not yet publicly named a starter for the upcoming season. The Bulldogs do not have a single player on the roster who has played over 20 collegiate minutes in net. Whoever gets the nod will likely have one of the best defenses in the conference in front of him, as last year’s squad allowed the least number of goals in the Ancient Eight.
Lacrosse Magazine projected that Paul Huffard ’18 will start at goalie, though Dylan Meyer ’18 and Hoyt Crance ’19 were also mentioned as potential contenders for the starting position.
The Bulldogs will also lean on contributions from the freshman class in many aspects of the game. Quinn said the class of 2019 will make an immediate impact due to their athleticism. Attackman Joseph Sessa ’19 and midfielders Jack Tigh ’19 and Brendan Mackie ’19 are the most likely candidates to see extended playing time right away.
Yale opens its season on Saturday when it visits UMass Lowell. While players and coaches said their undivided attention is focused on the River Hawks, the schedule includes several other high-profile meetings throughout the course of the season.
The Bulldogs host No. 4 Maryland on Feb. 27 in a hopeful revenge game from last season’s controversial loss in the NCAA tournament, when a last-minute Yale shot attempt to tie the game appeared to potentially cross the goal line but was not ruled a score on the field. On April 16, Yale plays No. 10 Brown, which several media outlets have picked to win the Ivy League. As this game is a late-season battle, it may be crucial in determining the Ivy League regular-season title and seeding for the league tournament. Yale ends the regular season at home against rival Harvard, which landed 15th in the preseason USILA/Nike Poll.
Close games characterized the 2015 season. Seven of Yale’s games last year were decided by a one-goal margin. Yale went 3–4 in those tight contests, ultimately concluding with the Maryland defeat.
For Yale to flip the script this season, it will look to its eight seniors, who have never made it past the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. However, according to Quinn, his class is prepared to “carve its legacy.”
The 2016 campaign gets underway on Saturday at 1 p.m.