Judy Holland

No one expects a title defense to be easy, especially after graduating the class with most wins in program history. But the No. 4 Yale men’s lacrosse team has weathered the transition thanks in part to headline transfer TD Ierlan ’20 — the NCAA Division I record holder for both faceoff wins and faceoff percentage.

Ierlan, who arrived in New Haven this fall after two standout years at Albany, has become key to the Elis’ success as they adjust to an offense without, among others, Tewaaraton-winning attacker Ben Reeves ’18. Faceoffs give evenly-matched teams an approximately 50–50 chance of winning offensive possessions. Ierlan, whose junior-year transfer is highly unorthodox for the program, has instead delivered possession to the Bulldogs more than 75 percent of the time, making him the nation’s most effective player at his highly-skilled niche position. His play has blunted the loss of faceoff specialist Conor Mackie ’18, who graduated last year.

“[Former captain and attacker] Ben Reeves ’18 and I both reached out to [Ierlan] when he was granted his release,” captain and midfielder John Daniggelis ’19 said. “Prior to reaching out to him, I only knew what he was like as a competitor, from playing him three times in the past two seasons. Once we spoke on the phone, we seemed to connect well, and it was obvious that we were very similar.”

A native of Victor, New York, Ierlan was a member of his high school’s football, wrestling and lacrosse teams, and his experience as a successful wrestler — he broke a Victor record after he totalled 161 wins throughout his career — allowed him to develop a certain skill set that made him one of the top FOGO recruits. Although Ivy League schools appeared on his recruiting radar, he initially did not give strong consideration to their programs and committed, as a high school junior, to play for Albany.

In his rookie campaign with the Great Danes, he led the team to a quarterfinal appearance in the NCAA tournament and boasted the nation’s second-best faceoff percentage, just shy of Denver’s Trevor Baptiste, who had been widely considered the country’s most unstoppable force at the faceoff X.

In his second year of collegiate play, Ierlan etched his name into lacrosse history, setting Division I records in faceoff percentage, faceoff wins and ground balls, with .791, 359 and 254, respectively. His efforts, coupled with the scoring prowess of attackers Tehoka Nanticoke and Connor Fields, carried the Great Danes to the semifinals of the 2018 national championship, where they ultimately fell short 20–11 against Yale.

After the Great Danes’ ended their season against Yale, Ierlan drove three and a half hours to tell Albany head coach Scott Marr that he had decided to request a transfer, still unsure that he would be given a full release from the University.

But on June 7, Ierlan received release and could then transfer to any school in the country.

Yale head coach Andy Shay was the first to pick up the phone. Even then, however, Ierlan told the News that he was convinced he would end up at Cornell alongside his brother Chayse, now a first-year netminder for the Big Red. But the Bulldogs kept their eye on Ierlan.

“When we learned that he was interested in transferring last year and then finally spoke to him, all we had to do was introduce the program and the guys, and he felt like this was exactly where he needed to be,” Shay said. “He’s never been a guy that expects more notoriety than anyone else, and he’s a nose-to-grindstone, head-down kind of worker that meshes very well with what we do.”

Ultimately, the decision to join the Bulldogs was a combination of the school’s lacrosse program and its academic experience. Ierlan credits his teammates for embracing him and has leaned into the culture the Bulldogs pride themselves on — tough, self-disciplined and “blue-collar” — while adjusting to the new demands of life off the field.

From the get-go, Ierlan picked up with the Elis where he left off in Albany. In Yale’s season opener, and Ierlan’s first game in the blue and white, he won 18 of 25 meetings at the X against an already battle-tested Villanova squad. Ten games into the season, he now boasts a .769 faceoff percentage and picks up an average of 14.7 ground balls per game to lead the NCAA in both categories.

Now, after the Elis clinched their 10th consecutive Ivy League tournament appearance with a win against Brown last weekend, Ierlan looks ahead to an away matchup against his former team in the antepenultimate regular-season contest of 2019.

“I could go with the generic answer and say it’s just another game, but honestly it’s not,” Ierlan said when asked about the upcoming game against his former team. “I played there, and going back into that stadium and playing against a lot of my old teammates … Albany gave me two great years, really helped me develop as a player, and I’ll always be grateful to them and the coaching staff. I’ve got to put everything else to the side and just focus on the game for me, which will be hard to do going into an atmosphere like that.”

Ierlan and the Elis will travel to New York to take on Albany this Friday.

Angela Xiao | angela.xiao@yale.edu

Cristofer Zillo | cris.zillo@yale.edu