From game-winning goals to show-stopping assists, attacker Ben Reeves ’18 has powered the Yale offense in his first two years in New Haven. After winning All-Ivy Rookie of the Year during his freshman campaign, Reeves tallied 79 points during his sophomore year and was one of just five players nominated for the Tewaaraton Award, awarded annually to the best male and female college lacrosse players in the nation. When Reeves injured his hamstring in the first half of Yale’s season opener, questions emerged as to how the Eli offense would respond without its leader.
But the Bulldogs have hardly missed a beat without Reeves, scoring a combined 27 goals in their first two games. The Eli offense has received contributions from seniors to freshmen even as the roles of several of last year’s key contributors change.
“We don’t try and change anything we do just because one guy is out,” midfielder Eric Scott ’17 said. “When Ben’s not in there, some other guys have to step up in smaller ways, but everyone steps up their game a little bit, and collectively we come together and keep doing what we do.”
Yale’s offense had no trouble shaking off any offseason rust in the season opener as the Elis scored 16 times in a five-goal victory over Villanova despite Reeves missing the entire second half. The Wildcats jumped out to a 3–1 lead after the first quarter and trailed by just one goal heading into halftime, but they had no response for the Eli offense down the stretch, as Yale’s freshmen beat the Villanova goalie with shot after shot.
Attacker Jackson Morrill ’20 finished the opening game with five goals, one assist and just one turnover, demonstrating maturity in dodging, feeding and scoring that far surpassed his age. The Baltimore native is one of several new faces that the Bulldogs have relied on to replace the 59 goals scored by last year’s senior class.
Midfielder Lucas Cotler ’20 also has emerged as a scorer capable of shouldering the load left by the first senior class in Yale history to garner a No. 1 ranking midseason. Cotler scored two goals in the first contest of his collegiate career.
“[Morrill and Cotler] are both studs,” Scott said. “It’s going to be fun to watch them play over the next few years because from the fall to now, each of them has improved. They’re confident players and not afraid of big moments like being out at Maryland on Saturday.”
Despite missing Reeves for their matchup against No. 1 Maryland, the Eli offense still managed to keep the game close and fell by just a single goal. The 11–10 final score did not satisfy the Bulldogs, however. According to Scott, the team was disappointed with its performance on Saturday and surprised to have come so close to victory despite what players considered a poor effort.
Scott, who led Yale with a career-high five goals on the day, credited the loss to a slow start, noting that the team did not seem to find its rhythm offensively or defensively until the third quarter. The Bulldogs trailed 8–4 going into halftime after struggling to keep Maryland players like Colin Heacock, an honorable mention preseason All-American, out of the goal. By the time the clock wound down on the opening half, Maryland had outshot Yale 17–6.
The Elis seemed to find their rhythm upon re-entering the field, doubling Maryland in shots during the second half and outscoring the Terrapins 7–4 in the third and fourth quarters, although ultimately fell a goal short.
Among the highlights in the second half was an extra-man goal from distance by midfielder Jack Tigh ’19, who started every game last season at attack. The change to midfield was nothing new for Tigh, who played both positions in high school and was originally recruited to Yale as a midfielder. Tigh’s laser against Maryland, one of his three goals on the young season, demonstrated his offseason work on shooting from distance, which has added an extra dimension to the Yale offense.
“[Switching to midfield,] I had to work on taking different angles in order to get to the net and work on my outside shot more than anything else,” Tigh said. “Scott and 4have been helping out with that after practice.”
Tigh is not the only sophomore who has bounced between positions in his first two years in New Haven and delivered for the offense so far this season. Joe Sessa ’19, who started at attack against Maryland in place of Reeves, became the team’s go-to distributor with the Tewaaraton finalist out. Sessa leads the nation with an average of four assists in the first two games.
Listed at just 5-foot 5-inches, Sessa has deceived opposing defenders with his quickness early in his collegiate campaign. He has also transitioned from a scorer to a feeder this season. While serving as a role player on last year’s team, the Slate Hill, New York native scored six goals but did not register an assist. Sessa already has eight assists and a goal this season.
“Our entire team has this next-player mentality. Instead of having starters and backups, you just have the next guy up,” Cotler said. “Obviously we miss Ben [Reeves], but I think [our success is] a testament to how hard we all work during the off season.”
Yale hosts a stint of four games at Reese Stadium before traveling to Princeton for a conference matchup in late March. The Bulldogs take on Bryant in their home opener on Saturday at 1 p.m.