The Yale men’s lacrosse team’s 14–6 victory in April over then-No. 2 Albany was a season defining moment for the Elis. But as the Bulldogs and the Great Danes prepare to go toe-to-toe once again this Saturday in the Division I Final Four, the stakes are even higher, as the winner will advance to the 2018 NCAA national championship game.
No. 3 Yale will meet No. 2 Albany in a slightly different venue for their second matchup of the season. Instead of facing off in the friendly confines of Reese Stadium, which seats 1,250 fans, Yale and Albany will have their rematch at Gillette Stadium, the Foxboro, Massachusetts home of the New England Patriots, which seats more than 66,000.
After tournament wins over UMass and Loyola, Yale finds itself in the final four for the first time since 1990.
“It’s very exciting obviously for the program,” midfielder Conor Mackie ’18 said. “We’ve felt that it’s something that’s been building. We’ve been knocking on the door, having early exits in the tournament each year and having tight games, so it’s super special to have the opportunity to be in it at the end here, and hopefully we can take it one at a time this weekend.”
Mackie’s consistency at the faceoff X has been crucial for Yale’s success all season, especially when he won 13 of 21 faceoffs in April against Albany’s TD Ierlan, who leads the nation in faceoff winning percentage and is securing draws at a rate of 81 percent.
Mackie was not the only Bulldog to win a key matchup in Yale’s regular season thrashing of Albany. Defender and Ivy League Rookie of the Year Chris Fake ’21 held Albany attacker Tehoka Nanticoke, who leads his team with 49 goals this season, scoreless throughout the contest.
Albany also had to play much of the game without one of its best players, attacker Conor Fields, who left midway through the second quarter. On Saturday, Fields will return to the field, alongside Tehoke and midfielder Kyle McClancey, to challenge the Yale defense. For a Bulldog victory, Yale goaltender Jack Starr ’21 will need to replicate his success from last weekend, when the Washington, D.C. native had one of his best performances of the year, recording nine saves as he held Loyola to just five goals.
Yale’s offense also has its work cut out for it, as Great Dane goalie JD Colarusso ranks third in the nation in goals-against average. While all eyes will be on captain and attacker Ben Reeves ’18 to lead the offense on Saturday, hat tricks from Reeves, attacker Matt Gaudet ’20 and midfielder Lucas Cotler ’20 were all essential in Yale’s victory in April. Additionally, attacker Jackson Morrill ’20 and midfielder John Daniggelis ’19 have consistently posted multi-goal performances to help the Elis get to where they are now, and Morrill will be a focus of the Albany defense after recording a career-high seven goals against UMass two weekends ago.
“We have a lot of guys who have filled leadership roles and really helped me out [this year],” Reeves said. “It makes it really difficult for [opponents] when they have to deal with all of us.”
Saturday’s semifinal will be the first in Albany’s program history and just the second for Yale. The Bulldogs lost their only other semifinal appearance, in 1990, in double overtime.
As the Elis prepare to seek out their first national championship appearance, head coach Andy Shay said he has tried to strike a balance between letting his players enjoy the opportunity to play on lacrosse’s biggest stage and keeping them focused on the task at hand.
“We have great kids who are phenomenal students, and that’s not going to change whether we win this weekend or not,” Shay said. “They’ve overachieved on the field to this point, and they have potential to overachieve a little bit more … I want them to enjoy whatever the experience is, but I gotta keep them on edge and say ‘listen, we have a game too.’”
Yale and Albany will face off at noon on Saturday for a spot in Monday’s national championship game.
Jane Miller | firstname.lastname@example.org