Boasting one of its best starts through seven games in recent history, the No. 4 Yale men’s lacrosse team will face one of its toughest challenges of the season when it plays host to Penn this Saturday.
After cruising to a blowout victory last weekend against Princeton, the Elis (6–1–0, 2–0–0 Ivy) will look to capitalize on the momentum they built during their six-game winning streak when they go toe-to-toe with the Quakers (5–4–0, 1–1–0) in their third Ivy League matchup of this year’s campaign.
“I think we’re always going to be a work in progress, so I think our focus is just going to be to continue to improve,” head coach Andy Shay said. “They’ve made steady improvements, so I think we’re in a position now where we like where we’re at … but we’ve got a long way to go. I think we’re making progress.”
The last time they faced off against the Quakers, the Bulldogs relied on goals from eight different offensive players to clinch the quadruple-overtime win that sent them to the Ivy League Championship game. Throughout the 2017–18 season, the Elis’ offensive depth has been one of the key pillars of the team’s success. Nine Yale players notched tallies in last week’s dominant win over Princeton, and the Bulldogs will need that kind of offensive success again in order to produce an equivalent result against Penn on Saturday.
Captain and attacker Ben Reeves ’18, who ranks seventh in the country with 3.14 goals-per-game, will have the help of attacker Jackson Morrill ’20 — who sits second on the team behind Reeves in both points and assists — and attacker Brendan Rooney ’19, who contributed three goals for the Bulldogs in his first career start. Additionally, the experience of attackers Matt Gaudet ’20 and Jack Tigh ’19, as well as midfielder Lucas Cotler ’20, will be crucial against Penn goalie Reed Junkin. The Penn netminder was named to last year’s Ivy League Tournament All-Tournament Team and saved a career-high 20 shots against Princeton earlier this season.
“One of the things the offensive guys focused on early is just flaunting unselfishness,” midfielder Conor Mackie ’18 said. “Because we have so many different [offensive] weapons, by doing that it allows a lot of different guys to participate in the offense and make it more difficult to handle. It’s great to see a level of unselfish play and sharing the ball and putting good players in a system that works well.”
The Elis have also tallied impressive face-off stats on the defensive side end of the field. Mackie continues to dominate, ranking 20th nationally in face-off winning percentage with .582 and 7th in ground balls, scooping up an average of 8.71 per contest.
While Yale’s offense garners much of the attention, the defense has also continued to improve throughout the season and now boasts multiple players ranked nationally in their respective categories. Defender Chris Keating ’18 currently ranks 10th in the nation in caused turnovers, with an average of 2.17 per game. Despite being a rookie, goalie Jack Starr ’21 currently sits at a goals against average of 8.74, which is just under that of Penn goalie Reed Junkin.
“It’s interesting also having Chris Fake [’21] on defense, who’s a freshman,” defender Jerry O’Connor ’18 said. “So it’s two seniors and two freshmen, which is an interesting dynamic. But they’re growing and they’re getting better with each game. I think it’s kind of cool to see as a senior, to see the little things in a game that aren’t in the game plan, but they start to just become better and more mature lacrosse players as the season goes on.”
Penn’s mediocre record does not entirely reflect the details of their spring season, which includes a 10–9 victory over No. 5 Duke and a two-goal loss to No. 8 Villanova. The offense is spearheaded by attackers Tyler Dunn and Simon Mathias, who have tallied 18 goals a piece thus far and rank ninth and tenth in goals per game in the Ivy League, respectfully. Four players on the roster have at least 14 goals this season.
The Quakers head to New Haven coming off a tough 20–13 loss to No. 13 Cornell, in which they blew a 10–8 halftime lead. Their single conference victory came courtesy of a convincing 14–7 rout of Princeton two weeks earlier.
“Playing Penn … it’s always going to be a tough game,” defender Tyler Warner ’18 said, whose younger brother Jared is a midfielder for the Quakers. “Those guys always give us their best shot. They always give us a great test, so we’re always looking forward to our Ivy League matchups. Everybody in our league’s very tough, and Penn’s just the same.”
The contest against Penn will commence at 1 p.m. on Saturday at Reese Stadium.
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