Though the Yale men’s lacrosse team has returned to its winning ways with six victories in its last six games, the No. 2 Bulldogs will face their toughest test yet when they travel to Philadelphia to face perennial conference contender No. 13 Penn.
The Elis (6–1, 2–0 Ivy) recovered from a stumbling start to their title defense to re-emerge as one of the nation’s top teams. Over spring break, the Bulldogs tallied a particularly important win over No. 10 Cornell to reassume the mantle as the league’s top-ranked team. While Yale gained the upper hand in recent matchups against the Quakers, the Red and Blue (4–3, 2–0) will look to overtake the Bulldogs with a deep roster and high-powered offense. For Yale, the game represents an unfulfilled opportunity to hit the ground running on both sides of the ball and stay in control for a full 60 minutes.
“We think [the Quakers are] the best team in the league right now,” head coach Andy Shay said. “They’re playing at a high level, they have a couple of guys who are really helping them out right now in terms of making them more dynamic. … It’s going to be a huge challenge and we are absolutely the underdog in this game.”
In Yale’s last tilt — a 13–6 midweek thrashing of Air Force — the Elis relied heavily on pressure applied in the form of the 10-man ride, which resulted in the squad’s lowest conceded-goal total of the season.
The full-field press forced nine failed clears from the Falcons, one of which led to a remarkably lucky goal after attacker Jackson Morrill ’20 deflected a pass that eventually rolled into the net. Morrill led the way with five points and continued to embrace his role as the offense’s facilitator, finding teammates like attacker Matt Gaudet ’20 — who notched three goals — and slashing up an Air Force unit that ranks third in the country in scoring defense.
The Elis’ late burst against Air Force continued in the vein of other recent games, all of which the Bulldogs have won by comfortable margins. Against Princeton last weekend, goalie Jack Starr ’21 and the defense kept the Elis in the game, pulling out a career-high 16 stops as the offense initially struggled to find its footing.
“While we still haven’t had a perfect game, we’ve gotten closer to playing 60 minutes … of focused, tough lacrosse,” Starr said.
But to take down Penn just four days later will require a consistent team effort against Yale’s fourth top-20 opponent of the year. Although the Quakers dropped three straight games to open its season, Penn’s schedule was front-loaded with the nation’s best teams. The Quakers fell to No. 3 Maryland and No. 1 Penn State by a combined margin of two goals and also suffered defeat against No. 5 Duke. However, Penn rebounded with a victory against then-No. 11 Villanova, to whom the Elis fell in overtime in their season opener.
The Quakers have ridden their firebrand style of offense to victory since. In the Ivy League, they trail just Cornell in goals per game and Princeton in shots per game. Penn will bring its particularly strong conference record into the match at Franklin Field. It defeated the Tigers by nine scores in a 19-goal performance before escaping Ithaca with a 16–15 win over the Big Red last week.
Saturday’s rumble in Philly will ultimately come down to defense, since Yale and Penn’s top-10 scoring offenses are separated from each other by a razor-thin margin. The Bulldogs will look to shut down Penn attacker Adam Goldner, who ranks fourth in the country in goals with 3.57 per game.
Returning All-American Chris Fake ’21 has been tasked with defending the opposing team’s most threatening scorer all season long. Against Princeton, Fake limited the NCAA’s most prolific scorer in decades to just one goal. It will be critical to put a similar choke on Goldner and company as both squads seek to maintain their perfect conference records.
Offensively, faceoff specialist Td Ierlan ’20 will likely hand the Elis a solid advantage in possession with his dominance on the X — he is the nation’s best FOGO, owning a .781 percentage across seven games.
As the offense continues to adjust to the graduation of last season’s Tewaaraton winner Ben Reeves ’18, the Elis are still dealing with the uncertain status of midfielder Brian Tevlin ’21 — who returned to practice this week after surgery to donate bone marrow.
“I’m feeling pretty good,” Tevlin said at practice on Thursday. “I’m able to come back and start getting back into it, so it’s just about pain tolerance from here. … There’s definitely no regret in terms of my decision. I’m sure any of the guys on this team would probably do the same thing, so it’s exciting that it was able to be me.”
Yale should nonetheless benefit from its long list of scoring threats. Veterans Gaudet and Morrill are joined by a long list of players who have already recorded multiscore games, including rookie attacker Matt Brandau ’22, who contributed six to the Elis’ win over the Big Red to earn both Ivy League Rookie and Player of the Week honors.
Opening faceoff against the Quakers is slated for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Franklin Field.
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