Courtesy of Judy Holland

In its first meeting since the 2018 NCAA Championship Semifinals, the No. 4 Yale men’s lacrosse team emerged victorious against Albany after a Friday night defensive battle in the pouring rain.

The Elis (9–2, 4–1 Ivy) broke up their stretch of conference matches with a road trip to take on the Great Danes (5–7, 4–1 America East) — a partial homecoming for faceoff specialist TD Ierlan ’20, who began his collegiate career at Albany before transferring to join the Bulldogs. In the heavy downpour, both squads turned to stingy defensive plays to begin the meeting. Neither was able to find the back of the cage until Yale broke through in the final minute of the first quarter. With Ierlan almost perfect at the X, the offense battled its way through tough Albany coverage, while the Eli defense held off attempts at a Great Danes comeback. Yale, which walked away with a 10–5 victory in the low-scoring bout, now has just two games remaining in its regular season schedule.

“When the game is so low-scoring, there is never really a solid stop in play, so conditioning comes into play, and the defense gets tired much quicker,” defender Chris Fake ’21 said. “It really just comes down to locking in mentally more than anything and focusing on the next possession and the next possession only, despite if we are tired or not.”

Because of the weather conditions, the Great Danes’ stadium — which is often filled to its capacity — was less full than usual. Ierlan, who owned an NCAA record-breaking win percentage at X for Albany last year, won the first faceoff but was not called into action again for almost 15 minutes, as the teams battled it out in back-and-forth rallies without scoring.

Goalie Jack Starr ’21, who has started all games for the Elis this year but was pulled for Hoyt Crance ’19 last week against Brown, had a strong week in practice and was back in goal against the Great Danes. Starr had a good showing all day but was particularly clutch in the mostly scoreless first period. While Albany goalie Nate Siekierski stopped two on-target shots from the Elis before the first goal, Starr ensured that the Danes stayed off the board with five critical saves.

“Our defense definitely stepped up and really played great when we needed them to,” attacker Matt Brandau ’22 said. “Knowing that they have our backs when we’re not playing well reduces our pressure for sure.”

Yale finally broke the scoring drought with a man-up goal from attacker Brendan Rooney ’19 with 59 seconds left in the first quarter. The Bulldogs returned for the second quarter and hit a steady offensive rhythm, picking up a goal every three minutes or so, while the Danes remained scoreless.

Ierlan was a particularly critical contributor against his former teammates. The FOGO leads the nation in win percentage and won 16 of the day’s 17 faceoffs, while Albany, struggling to contain him, hoped for violation wins. The junior won possessions with ease, generating offensive opportunities for Yale.

With four minutes left in the half and Yale owning a 5–0 lead, Ierlan won another faceoff without a struggle. An open space in front of him, he made a beeline down the field before a quick cut and shot for his third goal of the season, giving the Elis a six-score advantage.

“Everything’s just something you have to block out,” Ierlan said about the poor weather conditions and playing at his former home stadium. “Being back in the stadium was weird … it was easier than I expected but definitely still tough.”

Just as it seemed that the Great Danes might go scoreless in their own stadium for the first half, Albany broke through with its first goal of the night with a minute left. Yale won the next faceoff and played the ball. Siekierski saved the resulting shot with just 13 seconds remaining, and Albany cleared successfully. Although an initial shot went wide, the Great Danes put another one past Starr as the buzzer sounded, entering halftime down 6–2.

Starr and the defense continued to look tight all day, as Yale’s ten-man-ride put the pressure on the Great Danes. Albany narrowly outshot the Bulldogs 45–44, with a particularly stark 14–6 advantage in the final period. But Yale’s defense allowed the Elis to earn a 10–3 lead and, even when the Danes built up momentum with two man-up scores within 30 seconds, stopped it short to clinch the 10–5 win. As the two teams shook hands in line after the contest, Ierlan and his former teammates and coaches hugged before the Elis made the return trip to New Haven.

Yale plays one more game at home against local foe Quinnipiac before travelling to face rival Harvard in its regular season conclusion. Though the Elis ensured their place in the postseason Ivy League Championships last week, with a Saturday win over Dartmouth, No. 5 Penn will be the tournament’s first seed after an undefeated season in conference play.

The Elis host the Bobcats at Reese Stadium on Tuesday at 7 p.m.

Angela Xiao | angela.xiao@yale.edu