With three days before the start of May, and just eight days until the Ivy League men’s lacrosse tournament commences, the No. 6 Yale men’s lacrosse team is trending in the wrong direction. The Bulldogs have dropped their last two contests, albeit against two top-five ranked teams, after winning their first 10 games and peaking as the No. 1 team in the nation.
To make matters worse, captain and defender Michael Quinn ’16 confirmed to the News that he tore his right ACL in Saturday’s loss to Albany and will miss the remainder of the season.
Yale must rely on the remainder of its senior class, which still comprises three of its 10 starters and has scored a third of the team’s goals this season, if it hopes to rebound and make a run into late May.
“[The seniors] have a special resiliency to never get too high or too low,” defensive coordinator Andrew Baxter said. “This group has always been about the process and the steps it will take to win games and reach goals. The seniors have been able to use their experiences to teach and share with the younger guys.”
Even without Quinn’s presence, the Yale defense can lean on vocal leader long-stick midfielder Reilly Naton ’16, who has picked up 22 ground balls and forced seven turnovers this year. Additionally, midfielder Mark Glicini ’16, drafted with the 30th overall pick in the Major League Lacrosse draft by the Chesapeake Bayhawks prior to this season, has grabbed 33 ground balls and played at a level for four years that Quinn noted has been underrated.
Offensively, midfielder Jonathan Reese ’16 has initiated Yale’s attack from the faceoff X while midfielders Michael Keasey ’16 and Michael Bonacci ’16 are second and fifth, respectively, on the club in scoring, combining for 38 goals on the year.
Bonacci knows all too well what Quinn is currently going through. After tearing his ACL last season, Bonacci was forced to miss the final nine games of the season before bouncing back this year.
“An ACL injury is absolutely devastating emotionally and physically. It’s an athlete’s worst nightmare,” Bonacci said. “We work too hard for one wrong step to knock you out for your season, especially your senior year. Quinn didn’t even play in the fall because of back surgery so he worked his tail off just to step on the field this year. His job here is far from done because we still need him to be a leader.”
Elsewhere in the senior class, attackman Shane Carr ’16 has come to life as of late. After having scored just once in his first three seasons, the Lansdale, Pennsylvania native has struck four times in the last four games. Carr, who Quinn referred to as the team’s “voice of reason,” has been a valuable boost for what had been a struggling extra-man unit. Prior to Carr finding the net against Dartmouth on April 9, Yale’s man-up offense had only scored on 31 percent of its opportunities. Since, the team is converting at a 55 percent clip. The senior class has contributed five of Yale’s six goals on the power play, just one example of the group’s ability to convert struggles into emerging strengths.
“I think as a class we’ve seen polar opposites,” Quinn said. “Experiencing the highs and the lows has helped us keep everyone focused.”
The class of 2016’s freshman year was one of the best in Yale history, as the team won the Ivy League tournament and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals for just the third time in program history. However, high expectations the following year never materialized as the Bulldogs missed the national tournament after a 9–5 record and first-round exit in the Ivy tournament.
In 2015, Yale finished a disappointing 3–3 in Ivy League play and barely snuck into the conference tournament, but proceeded to defeat Brown and Princeton to claim the Ancient Eight title. The Bulldogs nearly translated that momentum into an NCAA first-round upset of Maryland, but instead the Elis saw a three-goal lead disappear in the fourth quarter before losing by one.
Unphased by the disappointing exit, the Bulldogs jumped out this year to the best start in school history since 1990. Now having lost two consecutive contests in addition to its emotional and physical leader on the field, the seniors will have to once more regroup and refocus with just one game remaining in the regular season.
“As a class we have faced a lot of adversity over our four years,” Keasey said. “I truly believe there is nothing we as a team can’t handle.”
A main reason for that confidence stems from the camaraderie the group has developed over the past few seasons.
Bonacci noted that these relationships were first formed at a box lacrosse camp in Canada, where the current seniors were sent by the coaching staff during the summer before their freshman year. The camp served to bring together the members of the class of 2016, who span six different states from Massachusetts to California, home of Keasey and attackman JW McGovern ’16, respectively.
“We’ve become best friends and that goes a long way on the field,” Bonacci said. “When those relationships form, you’re not playing to win games but for your best friend next to you. It’s hard to vocalize how much we mean to each other.”
That on-the-field chemistry has manifested itself in 42 victories, as compared to just 17 losses in the group’s four years.
When asked what they want their legacy to be, Bonacci and Quinn gave nearly identical answers, citing an objective given to them their freshman year from that team’s seniors.
“We hope to leave this program in a better place than where we found it,” Quinn said. “My teammates would agree we have the best coaching staff in the country. When you come into something that’s thriving, it can be hard to make it better but that’s our goal.”
This year’s seniors are five wins away from becoming the winningest class in program history. Although only one contest remains in the regular season, the Bulldogs could play as many as six games in the postseason.