This Saturday, the Yale men’s lacrosse team will take the field for the first time in program history as the No. 1 team in the nation. Following a gritty 11–10 victory over Princeton last weekend, the Bulldogs host Penn at Reese Stadium in a contest between two teams tied atop the Ivy League standings.
But the Bulldogs (7–0, 2–0 Ivy) are not letting their No. 1 ranking distract them from a crucial league contest against a surging Penn team (5–3, 2–0) that has outscored its two Ivy opponents 29–16.
“It’s a one-game season in our view,” captain and defender Michael Quinn ’16 said. “Penn is always a really talented team. Our win on Saturday against Princeton was a gutty-team win, but we know we’re going to have to play a lot better moving forward.”
Yale will need to tighten up its defense if it hopes to maintain its perfect start. The Bulldogs allowed 10 goals, the most they have allowed all season, in last weekend’s battle with Princeton after only conceding an average of 6.3 goals in their six prior contests.
This weekend, the defense will fend off a talented attack unit featuring Nick Doktor, Simon Mathis and Alex Roesner. Although Doktor, a second-team All-Ivy selection last season, has scored nine goals this year, he is known more as a distributor. The senior averages 2.9 assists per game, which is the fourth most nationally. Mathis and Roesner, both freshmen, lead the Quakers with 14 goals each thus far.
Yale goalie Phil Huffard ’18, who has won the first seven games of his career after assuming the starting role at the beginning of the season, will have to continue to prove himself as the Bulldogs progress through the Ivy season. Huffard currently ranks third in save percentage in the conference, though he has faced fewer shots than any other keeper, and his seven saves per game ranks 59th of 69 goalies in the nation. Being in sync with his defense will be key to a successful day for the sophomore against Penn, which is the third-highest-scoring Ancient Eight school.
“I feel that in order for me to have a good game it starts with communication with the defense to try to limit the quantity and quality of the oppositions shots,” Huffard said. “At the same time, I personally have to be locked in on the ball whether it be a shot or a pass so I can get my feet set and square to the shooter.”
Huffard will not be the only goalie in the game with limited collegiate experience. Penn’s netminder Reed Junkin is only a freshman, but is averaging 12.9 saves per game, which ranks him fourth in the nation and first in the conference. However, his save percentage is just a few ticks higher than Huffard, and he has allowed nearly four more goals per game than Yale’s goalie.
Junkin, a three-time Ivy League Rookie of the Week recipient, will face a Yale offense led by attackman Ben Reeves ’18 who has tallied 20 goals and 16 assists this year, both team highs. He is not the only underclassman delivering thus far as Yale’s freshman class has combined to match Reeves’ 20 goals in its first seven games. With the team’s new No. 1 ranking now putting a target on the Elis’ back and both Yale and Penn battling for first place, one senior credited head coach Andrew Shay for helping limit any potential distractions.
“Coach Shay does a great job of keeping us under control and focused at the task at hand,” said midfielder Mike Bonacci ’16, who has scored eight goals this season.
The Bulldogs showed this poise last season in their 15–7 rout of Penn, in which then-attackman Conrad Oberbeck ’15 scored five goals on 14 shots while the rest of the team scored 10 on 22 attempts.
However, Penn won the most recent game the teams played at Reese Stadium, a 6–5 final in 2014. Recognizing the past defeat at home as well as the importance of this game for his team’s standing in the Ivy League, Shay emphasized the importance of having a large Yale crowd in attendance to establish a true home-field advantage.
“We need Yale students to help if we are going to beat Penn,” Shay said.
The Bulldogs have repeatedly proven themselves at home in recent history, as the team is 19–4 at Reese Stadium dating back to the beginning of the 2013 campaign.
According to the team captain, a Yale victory will also require the hustle that helped elevate the Elis to the No. 1 ranking.
“Ivy League games are incredibly intense and really close,” Quinn said. “You know you’re going to get every team’s best shot. It’s less about schematics and more about competing against teams that don’t like each other.”
The first lacrosse game between Yale and Penn was played in 1919. The latest chapter in the rivalry starts at noon on Saturday.