Earlier this month, the No. 6 Yale men’s lacrosse team was the talk of the lacrosse world, flaunting an undefeated record and the No. 1 ranking in the nation. Now, one day away from their regular season finale against rival Harvard, the Bulldogs are reeling.
The Bulldogs have fallen in back-to-back weekends versus top-five competition, though last Saturday’s contest against Albany is perhaps more noteworthy for the loss of captain and defender Michael Quinn ’16 to an ACL tear than the team’s loss on the field.
With Quinn now out for the remainder of the season, Yale (10–2, 4–1 Ivy) is in danger of losing three consecutive games for the first time since 2012. The Bulldogs will attempt to clean up their mistakes from the last two weeks and regain momentum for the postseason in their clash with the Crimson (7–6, 3–2).
“We have had a lot of our flaws exposed in the last two games, which I hope is a good thing,” midfielder Mike Bonacci ’16 said. “Harvard is a great opportunity to work on the weaker parts of our game because soon enough every game is going to be do or die. Obviously there is a lot of off-the-field hype and the media loves this game but this is just one more game in what we hope is a great rest of the year.”
The Bulldogs will not be able to take their opponent lightly. The Crimson has won the last three meetings between the two teams, including a narrow 8–7 victory to cap last year’s regular season. Despite the efforts of Yale attackman Jeff Cimbalista ’17, who led all players with three goals, and a 38–29 shot advantage for Yale, the Elis failed to overcome a 5–1 halftime deficit.
Harvard enters the 2016 chapter of the rivalry after last week’s 16–12 victory over Princeton, which clinched the Crimson a bid to the Ivy League Tournament along with Brown, Yale and Penn. On top of bragging rights, this year’s matchup has significant seeding implications for the upcoming conference playoff.
With a win Saturday, Yale would secure the second seed — Brown has already locked up the top seed and home-field advantage — but a loss would set up a three-way tie between the Bulldogs, the Crimson and Penn. In that case, a random draw would decide the remaining seeds.
The Elis, likely unwilling to leave their seeding up to chance, must focus on Harvard attackman Will Walker, who scored six goals in last Saturday’s clash with Princeton in a performance that earned him Ivy League Player of the Week honors.
However, Walker is not the only senior attackman the Bulldogs will have to slow down. Devin Dwyer has averaged 2.7 goals and 2.1 assists per game this year, placing him fifth in the nation in points per game, behind a trio of Ivy Leaguers which includes Brown attackmen Dylan Molloy and Kylor Bellistri and Yale attackman Ben Reeves ’18. Sophomore Morgan Cheek rounds out Harvard’s starting attack, and he is putting up an impressive 3.4 points per game, second most on the team.
With Quinn out, Yale will not have one of the nation’s best lockdown defenders to cover one of the three lethal Harvard attackmen. However, Quinn remains confident in his teammates’ ability to fill the void.
“We’ve gone through a lot of adversity this season as far as injuries go,” Quinn said. “A lot of experienced guys have gone down, but that’s not an excuse. Our motto is ONE: Only Need Everybody. We preached in the fall that depth would be needed if we wanted to do something special. When injuries happen we don’t sulk about them. We just focus our efforts on the next guy up and go from there.”
With regards to Yale’s depth, head coach Andy Shay will have a tough decision as to who will start in goal for the Bulldogs. Phil Huffard ’18 has started every game this season except for two, when a knee injury kept him on the sidelines. Hoyt Crance ’19, who started in place of Huffard during those two contests, replaced the sophomore at halftime of last week’s game.
While Huffard was replaced after a first-half performance that included a meager one save and seven goals allowed, Shay said following the loss that the team discussed playing both goalies entering the game and that they would “give them a chance” to earn the position.
Crance decisively outplayed Huffard last weekend, making six more saves while allowing the same number of goals as Huffard. Shay must now decide between the more experienced Huffard and the hot-sticked Crance, though it is possible he may elect to use both netminders.
One of the greatest struggles for Yale in its two losses, particularly in the second half of games, has been at the faceoff X. The Bulldogs won just 28 percent of faceoffs in the final 30 minutes and overtime against Brown and Albany, significantly lower than their season average, which hovers just below 50 percent.
The Elis have an opportunity to turn around their faceoff woes against Harvard. The Crimson is the worst team in the Ivy League from the X, winning only 39 percent of its draws this season.
Beyond the statistics, however, lies the intangible effect of playing in this rivalry matchup. Quinn noted Yale is more focused on itself rather than the history of the Harvard–Yale series.
“The Harvard-Yale rivalry is pretty big in every sport, but more so than ever, especially after our performances the last two weeks, we’re focused on us and getting better,” Quinn said. “Both teams get extra fired up for this game.”
The first Harvard–Yale lacrosse game took place in 1882, a contest in which Harvard prevailed 2–0.