Robbie Short

Fresh off of back-to-back Ivy League wins over Cornell and No. 13 Princeton, the No. 20 Yale men’s lacrosse team travels to Philadelphia this Saturday to take on Penn in the Bulldogs’ third conference contest.

The Bulldogs (4–3, 2–0 Ivy) dominated the Big Red 17–8 and handed the Tigers a 16–13 defeat on the road in Princeton. This weekend’s opponent, Penn (4–3, 1–1), fell to Princeton by a nine-goal margin before beating Cornell by just a single goal the following week. However, Saturday’s game will not be easy, as the Bulldogs face one of the Ivy League’s rising powers. When the Elis and the Quakers faced off last season, Yale won just 11–10 in an overtime nail-biter.

“Over the past few weeks we have tried to focus on getting better every day,” captain and defender Brian Pratt ’17 said. “We have tried to focus on ourselves and the little details that have made the program successful in the past. We will never be as talented as some of our opponents, and we have to win games through our hustle, communication and grit.”

Although Penn already has three losses on the season, all came against ranked opponents including No. 2 Penn State and No. 19 Michigan, which has dropped 10 places in the NCAA standings since the contest. In the biggest of their four wins, the Quakers knocked off No. 14 Virginia 11–10 on Feb. 25.

Defensively, Yale will have its hands full. Attacker Simon Mathias, one of two co-Ivy League Rookies of the Year last season along with Penn goalie Reed Junkin, leads Penn’s offense again this season. Mathias tops the team with 15 goals and 24 total points.

The Quakers are statistically the most disciplined team in the Ivy League, committing the fewest turnovers and penalties in the conference. Penn draws just 2.29 flags a game and gives up few goals on the rare occasions that the unit is down a player. Opponents have converted on just 20 percent of man-up opportunities against Penn this season, making Saturday’s game a huge test for a Yale man-up unit that has scored on 25 percent of its opportunities in 2017.

However, the battle at the faceoff X may be the most crucial of the game. Yale’s faceoff man, Conor Mackie ’18, has 58.4 percent success compared to just a 42 percent winning rate for Penn’s faceoff crew. After last year’s game, in which Mackie won just five of 15 faceoffs while Penn midfielder Chris Santangelo won 16 of 22, the Bulldogs should be more confident heading into this year’s matchup.

“Obviously Simon Mathias is a great player, but we are treating this game as any other and relying on our fundamentals to win this game,” defender Robert Mooney ’19 said. “We must stay disciplined on our one-on-one defense and execute as a team to limit Penn’s offense.  If everyone focuses on their individual details and comes ready to fight, I think at the end of the day we will be happy with the result.”

On the other side of the field, four Yale offensive players boast more than 10 goals, led by attacker Ben Reeves ’18, who has scored 15 goals in just six games. After struggling offensively in the opening part of the season, the Elis have now improved from scoring six and nine goals against Bryant and UMass, respectively, to 17 and 16 goals against Cornell and Princeton. In Yale’s victory over the Big Red, 10 different Bulldogs found the back of the net.

“The offense has played well the past couple of games, but there is definitely room for improvement,” midfielder Jack Tigh ’19 said. “[Offensive coordinator] Stimmel does a great job at giving each individual player a weakness that they should focus on for that particular week.”

After missing the second half of the season opener against Villanova and the entire Maryland game with a hamstring injury, Reeves has returned to his 2015–16 form, when the attacker was one of just five players in the nation to be nominated for the Tewaaraton Award — college lacrosse’s Heisman Trophy.

Reeves may prove the difference on Saturday, as he did when the Bulldogs clashed with the Quakers last season. Although Penn held the Tewaaraton finalist scoreless for 60 minutes, Reeves scored the game-winner in overtime with his classic move, driving to his left from behind the goal and burying it in the top corner once he got above the goal line.

However, Reeves cannot do it all for Yale, which will need several other offensive players to step up after the graduation of midfielder Michael Keasey ’16, who scored four goals in last year’s game. The team will be increasingly reliant on its freshmen, including attacker Jackson Morrill ’20 and midfielder Lucas Cotler ’20, who have combined for 17 goals in seven games.

Currently second in the Ivy League standings behind Brown, Yale needs another quality conference win to boost its resume and to help overcome the slow start to the season. Coming off of two consecutive wins over Ivy League opponents, this weekend will pose a perfect chance for the Elis to continue their journey towards the Ivy League tournament. Brown is the only other team in the conference that has not lost in Ivy play, though the Bears have played just one game, a 13–8 win over Harvard.

“Penn is a very good opponent and they always give us their best game. Saturday is going to be a good fight and a difficult test for us,” Pratt said. “We are going to continue to try and get better for the rest of the week and try to improve during the game Saturday.”

The opening faceoff at Franklin Field is slated for 1 p.m. on Saturday.