In its final contest before postseason play, the No. 5 Yale men’s lacrosse team looks to quell Harvard on the road prior to vying for the Ivy League championship as the league’s second seed.
This weekend, the Bulldogs (10–2, 4–1 Ivy) conclude their regular season by travelling to Harvard (5–7, 1–4) in hopes of putting an exclamation point on a season that, while broadly successful, is not without its blemishes. Coming off the program’s first national championship last May, the Elis have progressed steadily since the preseason. This culminated earlier in the week in their most dominant performance yet earlier in the week, scoring 24 goals against local rival Quinnipiac while limiting the Bobcats to eight. On Saturday, Yale hopes to send off its seniors on a high note and put together a complete game before it begins its title defense.
“This season, we got off to a little bit of a slow start on defense,” defender Chris Fake ’21 said. “But we stuck to our principles of paying attention to details and kept working on getting better, and now we are starting to see the results of that effort. Our last couple games have been better, but we still have so much more to work on and plan to clean up the rest of the small details in the coming games.”
Though Harvard currently has just one Ivy win under its belt, the Crimson nonetheless remains a significant, albeit inconsistent, threat. In March, the team fell just shy of Brown in a 16–14 decision. The Bears, one of three squads vying for the final two spots in the Ivy League tournament, have been competitive all season, barely trailing Yale for most of the meeting between the two teams before the Elis pulled off a strong fourth quarter to grab a comfortable lead and win. Harvard recorded a low-scoring victory against still-winless Dartmouth for its lone conference triumph and also defeated Albany — a program that made it to the national championship semifinals just a season ago — by one.
Harvard has struggled mightily against the Ancient Eight’s top tier of competition this season. The Crimson fell to No. 9 Cornell 19–11 and to Penn by 13 goals to begin April play. But Harvard’s offense looked rejuvenated last week against Princeton, when it fell by four but still managed to notch 15 scores.
The Crimson will also benefit from their home advantage — it last beat Yale in 2017 to keep the Elis from a perfect conference record that year and boasts a 6–2 mark in the two teams’ last eight meetings played at Harvard. Meanwhile, Yale emerged victorious on its last road trip against Albany in torrential rains but conceded its lone Ivy loss to Penn in Philadelphia.
Despite beginning the season with a shaky one-goal loss to Villanova, the Elis have since found their footing. Yale has benefited immensely from the dominance of faceoff specialist TD Ierlan ’20, who leads the nation in win percentage at the X with a .776.
“At this point in the season, you can always get a little bit better, but everyone’s pretty much where they are,” Ierlan said. “It is getting towards the end of the year, but you still gotta get your work in.”
Despite the graduation of a talented senior class that boasted most wins in program history, the Bulldogs also found their rhythm on both sides of the ball. Attackers Jackson Morrill ’20 and Matt Gaudet ’20 — who both started as sophomores and recorded 40-score seasons in 2018 — have settled into their respective responsibilities. Morrill, who was recently named one of the 25 finalists for the 2019 Tewaaraton Award along with Ierlan, has stepped up to the plate as the primary playmaker on offense this season, often aided by rookie attacker Matt Brandau ’22. The Eli attack has also benefited from a long list of scorers, as Yale’s experienced second and third lines are regular contributors to goal tallies.
The return of Fake, an All-American rookie, anchored the Elis through the early part of the season, but their defensive operation has tightened considerably since. Yale kept shot-happy Albany off the scoreboard until the final minute of the first half last week — largely due to aggressive defense and strong goaltending from Jack Starr ’21.
The outcome of the Harvard game has no impact on the Ivy League Tournament — the Crimson is already out of contention, while Yale secured its 10th consecutive postseason appearance with a win earlier in the season against Brown.
The tournament will begin at Wien Stadium at Columbia on May 3. Second-seeded Yale will face off with the third seed — either Brown, Cornell or Princeton — and, if victorious, will then take on the victor of the semifinal between top seed Penn and the fourth seed — to be determined this weekend.
“Hopefully in the playoffs … there’s going to be a distribution of the pressure,” head coach Andy Shay said. “But right now in the regular season [the pressure of being the defending national champion is] definitely palpable when we get out there against some teams.”
The opening faceoff against the Crimson is slated for 3:30 p.m. on Saturday at Harvard Field.
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