After spending three weeks as the nation’s No. 1 team in the USILA Coaches Poll, the previously undefeated Yale men’s lacrosse team fell to No. 4 in both major polls after a 14–12 loss to No. 3 Brown last weekend. The Bulldogs need to bounce back quickly as they prepare for a Saturday game against No. 6 Albany — a team that threatens to knock Yale even further down the national rankings.
Although Albany (9–2, 5–0 American East) fell early in the season to No. 5 Maryland and No. 8 Syracuse, the Great Danes will come into Reese Stadium having won their last six games. Yale (10–1, 4–1 Ivy) fell to Albany 12–11 last year in a similar battle between two top-10 teams. Last season’s defeat, as well as the fresher memory of last week’s loss to Brown, has the Bulldogs fired up to face their out-of-conference opponent.
“Practice this week has definitely been intense,” midfielder Mike Bonacci ’16 said. “Coming off a loss always fuels the fire, but we have no time to dwell on this past weekend because there is a very talented Albany team coming to town on Saturday.”
The clash at Reese Stadium will feature two of the best offenses in the country. Yale enters the matchup averaging 13.2 goals per game, and Albany is not far behind, averaging 12.9, putting the two teams at seventh and ninth in the nation, respectively.
Yale’s offense is led by attackman Ben Reeves ’18, whose 29 goals and 25 assists this season rank him fourth in Division I with 4.9 points per game. Albany attackmen Seth Oakes and Connor Fields anchor the Great Dane offense, averaging 2.7 and 2.6 goals per game. Oakes and Fields combined for seven goals against the Bulldogs last season.
While Albany has proved lethal in 6-on-6 offense this year, the Great Danes have been most dangerous this year on the extra-man, scoring on 50 percent of their opportunities, the sixth-highest nationally. Yale, which allows 3.1 man-up opportunities per game, will likely struggle if it commits a significant number of penalties on Saturday.
Forcing another kind of mishap, turnovers, is also a major part of Albany’s game. The Great Danes have caused an average of 8.6 turnovers per game this season, ranking them seventh in the nation in takeaways.
“They are a team that likes to push the tempo of the game, so we have to make sure we get back on defense and match up,” goalie Phil Huffard ’18 said.
Though Albany has given up 9.5 goals per game — 2.2 more than Yale, and a middling 25th among D-I teams — the Great Danes have a big asset in net. Senior goalie Blaze Riorden is ranked third in the nation in save percentage after stopping 60 percent of the shots he has faced this season.
Riorden made national headlines last year for his running the length of the field, dodging and scoring in Albany’s opening game of the NCAA tournament against Cornell.
“They feed off of their goalie for momentum,” captain and defender Michael Quinn ’16 said. “He has the ability to win them games.”
While Riorden, Oakes and Fields return for the Great Danes, Albany will be without Lyle Thompson, who had three goals and four assists against Yale in the two teams’ 2015 matchup.
Thompson, who now plays professionally for the Florida Launch, is the all-time NCAA leader in career points and assists.
“Lyle Thompson gave us some trouble last year,” Quinn said. “As a team Albany got us away from playing our style of lacrosse, like Brown did last weekend.”
Like they have been all season, faceoffs will be crucial for Yale on Saturday. The Bulldogs won only nine of 29 in last week’s game at Brown, but they will have a chance to improve against Albany, a team that has been similarly mediocre from the faceoff X this season. Yale comes into the contest having won only 48 percent of its draws, while Albany enters the battle with a mark of 46 percent.
The faceoff battle is one of many fundamentals the Bulldogs are working on after last week’s loss against Brown, according to midfielder Michael Keasey ’16.
“We are going back to the basics and focusing on us this week,” Keasey said. “We will have to work to get quality shots to beat [Albany’s] defense and goalie.”
Saturday’s game will start at 12 p.m.. In other Ivy League action on Saturday, Brown travels to Cornell with a chance to secure home-field advantage at the Ivy League Tournament, which begins on May 6.