A historic Yale men’s lacrosse season this year included a No. 1 national ranking at one point, an Ivy League tournament title and the team’s first NCAA tournament home game since 1990. But after an upset loss this weekend, an NCAA tournament win will remain noticeably absent from the Bulldogs’ 2016 list of achievements.
The No. 4-seeded Bulldogs (13–3, 5–1 Ivy) fell 13–10 to Navy at home on Sunday, leaving the tournament early with their first loss to a team outside of the national top 10 this year. Despite outshooting the Midshipmen 39–34 and picking up seven more ground balls than its opponent, Yale came up empty-handed as Navy’s previously struggling offense came to life and goalie John Connor saved 12 Yale shots.
“I give [Navy] a lot of credit,” Yale head coach Andy Shay said. “They struggled [at the end of the regular season], and it’s not often you take two weeks off and come back the way they did. It was a huge challenge for us, and we came out on the short end of it. I’m sure [Navy players are] pleased with their effort, and they should be.”
The 3,526 fans in attendance, marking the most at Reese Stadium since Yale played Princeton in the 1990 NCAA tournament, saw an incredible display of grit, as captain and defender Michael Quinn ’16, who tore his ACL three weeks ago against Albany and told the News the following week he was out for the season, played nearly 50 minutes of the game.
Despite having Quinn for the first time in four games, the Bulldogs had little answer for the Navy offense, which had not scored more than five goals in its last three games but scored 13 on Sunday, tying the Midshipmen’s second-highest total of the season.
“Coach Sowell and [assistant] coach [Michael] Phipps really got us back to being ourselves and get back to the things that we had gotten away from,” Navy captain and attackman Patrick Keena said.
Navy looked rusty after its two-week break in the first quarter. Attackman Jack Tigh ’19 scored the first two goals for the Bulldogs, which were both assisted by attackman Ben Reeves ’18. Tigh would finish the day with a career-high three goals.
Later in the quarter, Reeves and midfielder Jason Alessi ’18 found the back of the net to give Yale a 4–1 lead with 6:50 remaining in the first quarter.
However, Navy eventually found its grove and scored the next four goals of the game to take a 5–4 lead. Two of those goals came from midfielder Casey Rees, who led all players on Saturday with four goals.
Yale goals from attackman Jeff Cimbalista ’17 and midfielder Will Robinson ’18 gave the Bulldogs their last lead of the game at 6–5, and the teams went into halftime tied at seven.
Navy outscored Yale 5–3 in the second quarter largely because of success at the faceoff X, which would prove to be a theme of the game. Behind faceoff man Brady Dove, whom Shay described as an “absolute bull” and a “warrior”, the Midshipmen won seven of nine faceoffs in the quarter, and they finished the day capturing 62 percent of the draws.
“A lot of our offensive success has to do with how much we have possession,” Navy head coach Rick Sowell.
Although Navy scored two goals within the first six minutes of the second half, the most prominent highlight of the third quarter was the effort of the Navy defense, and in particular, its anchor in net. Connors made six saves in the quarter, as many as Yale goalie Hoyt Crance ’19 would make in the entire game.
Connors, a senior, finished the day with 12 saves in one of the biggest games of his collegiate career. But when asked if it was the best game of his career, he was quick to note that while he played a great second half, he let in several goals he thought he should have saved in the first 30 minutes.
Connors and Sowell also credited the defense for limiting Yale’s inside shots. Whatever the cause, the Bulldogs scored just once in the third quarter and entered the final 15 minutes trailing 9–8.
Keena tallied the first goal of the fourth quarter, capping a two-goal and four-assist performance, before the Bulldogs were set back in another way a few minutes later.
With about 10 minutes remaining in the final quarter, Quinn’s injured knee finally gave out, and he immediately hobbled to the sideline in conspicuous pain. Not only did Quinn pick up two ground balls and force a turnover in his 50 minutes of action, he also inspired his teammates by playing on the injury.
“He did it for Yale,” Shay said. “He’s just such an impressive leader. I’m really proud to be associated with that kid. When he went down against Albany, it really affected our guys emotionally. Just to have him there as a presence was huge.”
Quinn, number 44, played most of the game in a knee brace and wrap before falling to the ground and leaving the game in the fourth quarter. (Courtesy of Yale Athletics)
The teams traded goals before Reeves scored to tighten the score to 11–10 with 6:54 remaining. Reeves finished the game with three goals and three assists and, on the same day, was named one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, college lacrosse’s Heisman Trophy for the most outstanding player. In the award’s 16-year history, Reeves is the first Bulldog to be named a finalist.
However, Reeves and the offense could not bring the Bulldogs back, as Navy scored the final two goals of the game and escaped with a 13–10 victory.
“I won’t deny that [this win] does mean a lot, and I’m so happy I can go with [this senior class],” Sowell said. “They came in at a low point, and just to see the program come from where it did and where we’re at now, it took a lot of hard work. We get to be together another week and get to put the jerseys on one more time.”
Navy will face No. 5 seeded Brown in the quarterfinals next week. No. 1 seeded Maryland, who Yale beat 8–5 in February, beat Quinnipiac 13–6 in other NCAA tournament action.