Yale Athletics

After winning its third consecutive Ivy League title last May, the Yale men’s lacrosse team had its tournament hopes dashed when it fell to Syracuse in a devastating one-goal loss during the opening round of the 2017 NCAA tournament.

However, the return of 70 percent of the team’s starting lineup, including two-time Tewaaraton Award finalist and 2018 captain Ben Reeves ’18, has garnered the Elis national attention and a No. 5 preseason ranking. While Yale’s 2018 schedule includes contests against four nationally ranked opponents and competitive Ivy matchups, if its opening scrimmage against Syracuse and its focus in preseason practices are any indicators, the team is poised to return to the NCAA Tournament and make some noise in May.

For the Elis — who have not advanced past the first round of the NCAA Tournament since 2013 — to soar to new heights this season, they will rely on a veteran roster that has played in plenty of big games while in New Haven.

“Everybody understands the expectations we have for them,” head coach Andy Shay said. “They put a lot of pressure on themselves, so for us as coaches it makes it easy to push them, it’s really not that much of an effort to push those guys. They want to accomplish great things in this year, and hopefully we can do it. They’ll need a little bit of luck too.”

Last year, Yale’s unselfish offense was a trademark of the team’s playing style. While Reeves, who led the team in scoring each of the last two seasons, will still draw most of the attention of opposing defenders, the 2018 Bulldogs boast a multitude of dangerous offensive players that will punish opponents for focusing solely on Reeves.

Attackers Matt Gaudet ’20 and Jackson Morrill ’20 both had standout rookie seasons, joining Reeves at the top of the Eli scoring list by tallying 32 and 20 goals apiece in their collegiate debuts. Meanwhile, midfielders Joseph Sessa ’19 and Jack Tigh ’19 also saw success last year and will return to the field as crucial offensive elements for the Elis. Sessa, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime against Penn to send the Bulldogs to the Ivy League championship game, also recorded 23 assists throughout the season, placing him second on the team only to Reeves.

Reeves, who battled injuries last season and still managed to average nearly three goals per game, said he cannot wait for his Bulldogs to get back on the field for their first game.

“It was a great experience to get up [to Syracuse for a scrimmage] two days into practice and get some reps against a top-10 team in the country,” Reeves said. “[Getting ready for Villanova] is really exciting. We train all year, year-round for this first game and the season, so it’s really exciting.”

One key member missing from Yale’s offense as it gears up for its season opener against Villanova this weekend is graduated midfielder Eric Scott ’17. Scott not only had 42 points in his senior campaign, but he also earned All-Ivy League honors and scored a career-high five goals against then-No. 1 Maryland last February. Midfielder Lucas Cotler ’20 will help fill the void left by Scott, alongside seven first-year offensive players including high school All-American midfielders Brian Tevlin ’21 and Steven Reilly ’21, as well as attacker Will Cabrera ’21.

“We’ve got a good group [of first years], they’ve all worked pretty hard,” Shay said. “Some guys are out with injury right now … [but] I think Will Cabrera and Brian Tevlin are gonna press in the midfield. Chris Fake ’21 is gonna probably see the field at close defense, and Jack Starr ’21 is pressing for the goalie spot. It’s definitely been a good, athletic group, and they understand what we need in the weight room and on the field.”

On the defensive side of the ball, Fake will join veteran defenders Christopher Keating ’18, Jerry O’Connor ’18, Robert Mooney ’19 and Aidan Hynes ’20. Hynes, who helped the Elis clinch a crucial win over Brown while defending the Bears’ star attacker and 2016 Tewaaraton Award recipient Dylan Molloy, will have his work cut out for him when the Elis face several of the nation’s top offenses.

Starr, the first-year goaltender, will also add depth to a Yale defense with the lowest goals against average in the Ivy League last season. Starr, whose accolades include leading the D.C. area in total saves during his senior year of high school, will likely see time in the net in the absence of last year’s starting goalie, Phil Huffard ’18. Yale will count on its primary faceoff man, midfielder Conor Mackie ’18, to deliver at the X as he returns after ranking first in the conference with a .534 win percentage last season.

After a stretch of nonconference games early in the season, the Bulldogs will settle into Ancient Eight play beginning against Cornell on March 17. Two nationally ranked Ivy foes — No. 17 Brown and No. 18 Princeton — also stand in the way of Yale’s fourth straight Ivy title.

Although the Elis have not advanced past the first round of the NCAA tournament since 2013, the team remains focused on its first game and on day-in-and-day-out accountability rather than the bright lights in May.

“[Accountability] starts from the top from coach Shay,” Keating said. “He really wants us to pay attention to the details, like we’re wearing the right stuff to practice, the right shoes to lift, that sort of thing. That sort of trickles down to other parts of people’s games, so they’re staying after practice and working on little things like that.”

To kick off the season, Yale will head to Frisco, Texas, to play in the Patriot Cup against No. 15 Villanova this Saturday.

Jane Miller | jane.s.miller@yale.edu