The No. 1/2 Yale men’s lacrosse team is off to its best start since 1990, undefeated through 10 games and outscoring teams by a margin of 6.7 goals per contest. At the center of this historic campaign has been captain and defenseman Michael Quinn ’16, a humble leader who was initially overlooked by nearly every Division I program, including Yale.
Yet since stepping onto campus, Quinn has been a steady force on Yale’s defense. And last May, after leading the Bulldogs with 19 caused turnovers en route to being named first-team All-New England and a third-team All-American, Quinn’s teammates voted him captain for both his play on the field and intangibles off it.
“[Quinn’s] talent speaks for itself, but what differentiates him from others is his ability to keep us mentally focused on the task at hand and to not look past each opportunity that lies ahead,” midfielder Mike Bonacci ’16 said. “He is a hard-working and driven individual who has worked to be in the great spot that he is today. We attribute a lot of our success this year to his leadership.”
That team’s success culminated in the No. 1 ranking in both the media and coaches polls on March 28, a feat never before achieved in Yale program history. Key to that has been Quinn’s ability to regularly lock down the opposing team’s best scorer, leading a Yale defense that ranks third in the nation in goals allowed.
But the captain’s rise to prominence has been a long journey, one that started nearly two decades ago.
Quinn started playing lacrosse in kindergarten after his older brother took up the sport. Even though his father had never played the game, Tony Quinn learned alongside his two sons.
Tony Quinn, now the father of one of the nation’s top defensemen, says he used to be his son’s “test dummy,” a claim Michael Quinn firmly denies.
“He was a trooper for going out there and helping me improve,” the Yale captain said. “We used to throw and catch together, but I never tested out any checks on him. There were some points in high school when I probably wish I would have though.”
Tony Quinn grew to love the sport and became his son’s biggest fan, attending each one of his collegiate games. After a 19–3 Yale pummeling of Sacred Heart last Tuesday, Tony Quinn characterized his son as a dreamer, a quality that was tested during Michael Quinn’s journey to Division I lacrosse.
Quinn was not heavily recruited out of high school. According to the stalwart defenseman, not a single one of the Division I schools that he looked at was interested in bringing him aboard after his junior year at Chaminade High School in New York, a program which has now produced four of the Bulldogs’ last 11 captains.
“My parents suggested a postgraduate year, going to a boarding school and more or less repeating my senior year of high school,” Quinn said. “Once I brought it up to [Yale head coach Andy Shay], he said he’d be interested in offering me a spot if I went. I guess my journey is a little unorthodox.”
After a year at the Hotchkiss School, Quinn arrived at Yale poised to make an immediate impact, playing in all 17 games his freshman year and starting 13 of them as the Bulldogs reached the NCAA quarterfinals. Quinn has played in all but one game throughout his four years, while tallying 50 starts over that time. He has scooped up 124 ground balls and caused 62 turnovers in his 56 total contests with the Elis.
When asked to reflect upon his growth during his illustrious career at Yale, Quinn is quick to credit the Yale coaches for his improvement.
“My growth is a reflection of the coaching staff,” Quinn said. “I was a different player my freshman year. [Defensive Coordinator Andrew] Baxter has been an incredible coach at the defensive end. I can’t imagine wanting to play for a coach more than Coach Baxter. He makes the defensive unit feel like a family and invites us all over to his house at the beginning of every season.”
Baxter did not hesitate to return the praise, complimenting Quinn’s attention to detail and ability to lead by example, saying his captain carries himself with “a perfect blend of confidence and humility.”
Throughout Quinn’s time at Yale, the Bulldogs have posted a 42–15 record, winning the Ivy League Tournament and reaching the NCAA Tournament on two separate occasions.
However, Quinn said the relationships formed in his four seasons with the team matter more than any win or loss, whether it be upsetting No. 5 Maryland in February or falling in devastating fashion to Syracuse in the national tournament three years ago.
“We’ve won some awesome games and had some tough ones, but the bonds with my teammates and the culture of the team are special,” Quinn said. “It’s the off-the-field stuff that sticks out.”
Quinn admires his teammates, believing there are far better players on this year’s team than him. Nevertheless, Quinn’s talents were recently recognized by the Ohio Machine of Major League Lacrosse, which drafted him with the eighth overall pick in the January draft.
Despite his achievements on the field, Quinn believes his character off it is far more important.
“When I think about this team and this season, I just want to be the best teammate possible,” Quinn said. “More broadly into my life, whatever path I take, I want to be the best colleague and the guy people can lean on. My goal is to be a better person and a better leader.”
When Quinn’s playing days at Yale are over, he will play in the MLL, and at the end of the summer, he will begin work at Barclays.