Robbie Short

Despite three crushing losses early in the season, the No. 17 Yale men’s lacrosse team has hit its stride with just four games to go in the regular season. Winners of their last five and undefeated in Ivy League play, the Bulldogs host Dartmouth on Saturday to begin a crucial juncture of their schedule.

Yale (6–3, 3–0 Ivy) steamrolled St. John’s (1–9, 0–1 Big East) on Tuesday afternoon 23–7 to build on its midseason momentum. The 23 Bulldog tallies represented the team’s highest offensive production in 27 years, as the offense moved the ball with ease despite a light rain in Queens. A return to conference play this weekend against the Big Green (1–7, 0–2) provides an opportunity for the Elis to march closer to their first Ivy League regular-season title since 2010.

“We truly dominated in all phases of the game [against St. John’s], but for us specifically on the offensive end we shared the ball about as well as we have all year,” attacker Jackson Morrill ’20 said. “It was the unselfish play as a unit that really set the tone early in the game for us.”

Although the Red Storm won the opening draw, injuries limiting their two best faceoff men would plague the hosts throughout the day. St. John’s sent four different players to the X throughout the contest, but none had much success against a Yale team that entered the contest having won 58.2 percent of its draws this year. The Bulldogs went on to win 25 of 33 faceoffs on Tuesday afternoon.

Attacker Matt Gaudet ’20 got the Bulldog offense started with a highlight-reel goal, as he did this past Saturday against Penn. The freshman caught the ball on the doorstep and fired a behind-the-back shot into the back of the net. Gaudet finished with three goals against St. John’s, as did midfielders Jack Tigh ’19 and Brendan Mackie ’19.

Yale started Phil Huffard ’18 in goal for the second straight game. The junior, who also started Yale’s first four games, saved two of the three shots he faced in the uneventful first half. Up by 13 goals, Huffard was pulled at halftime as the Bulldogs began to empty the bench. In all, 10 Yale players netted goals in the blowout win.

Morrill led the Bulldogs with four goals, and attacker Ben Reeves ’18 continued his team-leading production, tallying two goals and four assists. With Reeves and company picking apart the Red Storm defense to find open Elis for easy finishes, Yale enjoyed a 14–1 lead at halftime.

“Ben [Reeves]’s been getting better and better and healthier and healthier,” head coach Andy Shay said. “It’s what we expect. He’s one of if not the best player in the country. We’re very fortunate to have him.”

The Elis’ 16-goal win came without the services of defender Camyar Matini ’17, who injured his knee on Saturday against Penn after starting Yale’s first seven games.

This Saturday’s opponent, Dartmouth, saw its only win of the season in a late-February victory over a mediocre Vermont team. Since the two-goal defeat of the Catamounts, the Big Green has lost five straight games. Most recently, Dartmouth fell  to Harvard and Cornell during the past two weekends’ matchups.

Dartmouth scores an average of just 7.12 goals per game, the third-worst in the nation, while Yale is third-best with 13.67. But the Big Green is third-best in the country at forcing opponent turnovers, an aspect of play with which Elis have struggled. Yale combined to commit 30 turnovers in its last two wins against Penn and St. John’s.

Yale’s control of possession will likely receive a boost from its advantage over Dartmouth at the X. Midfielder Conor Mackie ’18 has led a Bulldog unit to a 60.5 faceoff win rate over the past few weeks, and will look to continue his upward trend at the X against Dartmouth midfielder Tucker Brown, whose 41.4 percent mark is on par with opposing faceoff men from recent Bulldog wins.

Reeves, midfielder Eric Scott ’17 and the crew of Eli freshmen will need to limit their errors in order to showcase the same offensive explosiveness they demonstrated earlier in the week. So far in the 2017 season, the Bulldogs rank fifth in NCAA Division I lacrosse with a 36.3 shot-conversion rate, nearly double Dartmouth’s 20 percent success rate.

A return to conference competition against a tame Big Green offense could see Yale settle back into a single-goalie scheme this weekend. While four Eli goaltenders all recorded playing time in Tuesday’s lopsided win, Huffard’s consistent play over the last two games has positioned him to close out the season as Yale’s primary goalie.

“Heading into this week there are a lot of lessons we can learn in game management and just composure as a whole,” Huffard said. “We’re still growing as a team.”

The action begins at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Reese Stadium.