Only one Division I men’s lacrosse program in the nation is carrying an undefeated record into the second week of April. No. 1/3 Yale, the winner of nine straight to begin its season, can extend that streak to 10 with a win over Dartmouth, one of the weakest opponents on the Bulldogs’ 2016 schedule.
The Bulldogs (9–0, 3–0 Ivy), fresh off a 19–3 blowout victory over Sacred Heart, face a Big Green squad (1–8, 0–2) that is ranked 64th out of 68 Division I teams in scoring margin and also fell 10–8 to mutual opponent Sacred Heart earlier in the season. The Bulldogs are not letting the short week or the Big Green’s winless record in the Ivy League lessen their focus on earning a win.
“It’s the same week as always,” head coach Andy Shay said. “We are going to keep working on us and trying to get better. Dartmouth is a huge league game so we’re excited about it. We have a lot of respect for their program and league games are always a battle.”
Dartmouth’s only victory this season came on March 19 in a 13–12 final against Michigan, a men’s lacrosse program founded just four years ago. The Big Green is averaging 18 turnovers per game, the most in the Ivy League. Dartmouth has also been sloppy on clearing opportunities, having cleared the ball successfully from the defensive zone to the offensive zone 77 percent of the time, the fifth-worst rate in the nation.
The Big Green’s possession woes have been intensified by its struggles picking up ground balls. The team collects 25 ground balls per game, also worst in the Ivy League. Despite Dartmouth’s poor start to the season and lackluster statistics, the Bulldogs insist they are not taking their Ancient Eight foe lightly.
“Any competition in the Ivy League is intense and you develop rivalries over the four years,” said midfielder Michael Keasey ’16, who has scored 19 goals through nine games.
One Dartmouth player Yale will have to keep an eye on is attackman Wiley Osbourne, who has been one of the few bright spots for the Big Green. The junior has 16 goals and 12 assists this season, which are both team-highs and rank among the top 10 of the Ivy League. Yale captain and defender Michael Quinn ’16, who typically guards the opponent’s top attackman, will likely cover Osbourne on Saturday.
While Dartmouth enters the weekend on a four-game losing streak, during which it has lost by an average of 8.5 goals, Yale enters on the heels of a dominant 16-goal victory versus Sacred Heart — a fact Quinn believes gives the team momentum for the journey to Hanover, New Hampshire.
“The Sacred Heart game was the first time in three or four weeks, probably since the Bryant game, where we really came out and played our brand of lacrosse,” Quinn said. “We were able to flip the script on some of the performances the last couple of weeks where we got the win but didn’t play at the level we need to this time of the year.”
The Bulldogs showed tremendous improvement on faceoffs and extra-man offense against the Pioneers on Tuesday. The Elis went 15 of 26 at the faceoff X against Sacred Heart, winning 58 percent of draws even though they came into the game winning only 46 percent on the season. Yale also converted on 60 percent of its extra-man opportunities in the win, after only converting on 22 percent of chances through its first eight games.
That improvement on faceoffs and extra-man situations may continue against Dartmouth, a team that is 54th in the nation in faceoff percentage, winning only 42 percent of draws, and 60th in man-down defense, allowing goals on 45 percent of its opponent’s opportunities.
The biggest question mark for the Bulldogs heading into Saturday’s game is in goal. Goalie Phil Huffard ’18, who started the first eight games, missed Tuesday’s contest with a leg injury, and his status against Dartmouth has not been determined.
“It will probably be a game time decision whether I play or not, but [my leg] is feeling better everyday,” Huffard said.
Netminder Hoyt Crance ’19 made his first collegiate start against Sacred Heart in place of Huffard and made nine saves while only allowing two goals in 50 minutes of action.
Quinn said the team will be in good position no matter who suits up in net.
“If it is a long-term injury, then we’ll be focused on the next guy up,” Quinn said. “[Crance] played really well against Sacred Heart. It was great to see him step up.”
Crance is not the first freshman to play well when called upon this season. Long-stick midfielder Robert Mooney ’19 has seen increased playing time in the last few weeks after long-stick midfielder Brian Pratt ’17 sustained an injury. Mooney has caused 10 turnovers and picked up 10 ground balls thus far in his freshman campaign, including a collected ground ball that led to Yale’s thrilling game-tying goal versus Penn with less than a minute in regulation. The Bulldogs ultimately won that game 11–10 in overtime to preserve their unblemished mark.
Also among impact newcomers are midfielder Brendan Mackie ’19, who has been playing with the first-line midfield recently. Attackman Jack Tigh ’19 has started every game this season, scoring six goals and tallying six assists. The freshmen attribute much of their success to the veteran leadership on the team, whose roster includes eight seniors.
“We tip our hats to the upperclassmen,” Tigh said. “They brought us in together and made us a family since day one. They were there helping us move in and everything.”
Yale has not lost to Dartmouth since the 2009 season, when the Bulldogs dropped a 14–13 overtime contest. Saturday’s action begins at 1 p.m.