College men’s lacrosse fans have circled Saturday’s matchup between Yale and Brown on their calendars since the start of the season. The clash, now just one day away, has only increased in hype throughout the past few weeks.
The two Ivy League foes enter the game in Providence, Rhode Island having outscored their opponents more so than any other programs in the country, and their rankings have accordingly risen to near the top of the national polls. While No. 4/5 Brown (9–1, 3–0 Ivy) features the nation’s leading scorer and goaltender, No. 1/2 Yale (10–0, 4–0) boasts the lone undefeated record in the nation and possesses an opportunity to claim a share of the Ivy League regular season title with a victory.
Saturday’s contest will go a long way in deciding home-field advantage in the Ivy League Men’s Lacrosse Tournament, and it will also provide each team with an opportunity for a quality win to impress the NCAA tournament selection committee.
“The Brown game has been hyped up a lot, but we’re trying to boil it down,” captain and defender Michael Quinn ’16 said. “It’s first and foremost an Ivy League game and worth as much as any other in the conference. I think our teams have developed a nice little rivalry. The media enjoys the storyline between us, but we’re not caught up in that.”
Indeed, the matchup’s storylines are rich.
Perhaps the biggest narrative entering the weekend is the standoff between Brown’s prolific offense, which averages 16.9 goals per game — over three more than any other team in the nation — and a Yale defense that is ranked third in the nation for only giving up 6.6 goals per game.
Brown’s starting attackman trio of Dylan Molloy, Kylor Bellistri and Henry Blynn has scored 104 of the team’s 169 goals this year. Molloy, a junior, averages 3.4 goals per game, tying him with Villanova attackman and Princeton transfer Jake Froccaro as the nation’s leading scorer. Remarkably, Molloy is also tops in the nation with 3.4 assists per game.
However, if the Bulldogs focus all their attention on Molloy, they may get burned by the seniors Bellistri and Blynn, who have scored 3.3 and 2.7 goals per game, respectively, ranking them fourth and tied for 15th in the nation, respectively. Brown’s fast-paced play will prove a tough task for a Yale defense that has yet to allow more than 10 goals in a game this season.
“Brown plays an up-tempo style that it is very confident in and is difficult to prepare for,” Yale defensive coordinator Andrew Baxter said. “We need to adhere to our details defensively and make sure that we have a sense of urgency for 60 minutes.”
When Yale plays the aggressive defense Baxter described, it has had success taking the ball away from opponents. The Bulldogs have caused a nation-best 9.8 turnovers per game this year. Despite Brown’s hot start to the season, the Bears have been sloppy with the ball at times, turning it over 15.6 times per game, ranking them a paltry 55th out of 68 Division I teams. The pairing of a Yale strength and Brown weakness may prove decisive in the Elis’ favor should they earn a few extra possessions.
Goaltending will also be key to stopping the Bears’ assault. Phil Huffard ’18 has missed the last two games with a knee injury, but is hoping to get back on the field for the Ivy League showdown.
“My knee is feeling a lot better, but I’m still probably a game-time decision,” Huffard said.
If Huffard is unable to play, the Bulldogs will turn to goalie Hoyt Crance ’19. The freshman has saved 15 shots and allowed only six goals during Huffard’s two-game absence, good enough to earn him Ivy League Rookie of the Week honors this past Monday.
While much of the attention entering the game centers on Brown’s offense and Yale’s defense, an equally interesting battle will take place at the opposite end of the field. The Bulldog offense ranks in a tie for sixth in the nation in scoring, led by attackman Ben Reeves ’18, whose 2.7 goals and 2.3 assists per game combine to rank him ahead of all Division I players except Molloy in points per game.
Brown’s best solution for Reeves and the Yale offense resides in the net. Goalie Jack Kelly leads the nation in save percentage, having turned away 63 percent of opponents’ shots.
Although Kelly leads the nation in his craft, Brown’s most valuable asset against the Bulldogs overall may be at the faceoff X. Midfielder Will Gural has won 68 percent of the faceoffs he has taken this season to distinguish himself as the nation’s third-best faceoff man. Gural will take draws against Yale midfielders who have combined to win just 50 percent of their draws. A large deficit at the X, and thus in controlling initial possession, could spell trouble for the Bulldogs against Brown’s quick-striking attack.
The Bears, whose sole loss this season came on April 5 in overtime versus nonconference opponent Bryant, have proven their ability to put together pronounced runs of dominance during Ivy League play. Brown scored eight unanswered goals to close out its game with Princeton on April 2, and then followed that up with 11 unanswered scores in just over 23 minutes against Penn last Saturday. Unsurprisingly, Brown won both games, each by an 11-goal margin.
Meanwhile, Yale defeated Princeton and Penn in a pair of thrillers, with each finishing 11–10 in the Bulldogs’ favor. The discrepancy in how Yale and Brown have competed against these two mutual opponents does not have the Eli players worried, ahead of what will be the de facto Ivy League regular season championship game.
“The transitive property does not apply in lacrosse,” midfielder Mike Bonacci ’16 said. “That is not to say Brown is not an excellent lacrosse team, but individual matchups are so important in this game that it is tough to predict how a game will go simply based on how two teams played against another.”
Saturday’s game is set to begin at 1 p.m. in Providence.