Four teams — No. 1 Penn State, No. 2 Duke, No. 3 Virginia and No. 5 Yale — have advanced to this year’s NCAA Division I Lacrosse Championship Weekend in Philadelphia. In Saturday’s semifinal games, the Bulldogs are slated to take on the Nittany Lions for a chance to defend Yale’s 2018 crown in Monday’s championship game.
OWN THE X
Faceoff specialist TD Ierlan ’20 has been a critical key to the Elis’ success all year while Yale has worked to plug occasional holes on both sides of the ball. Since the junior transfer from Albany arrived in New Haven, he has delivered possession for Yale more than three-quarters of the time to lead the nation in faceoff win percentage. The Victor, N.Y. native’s lock on the X has effectively carried the team through its many nail-biters and made the Bulldogs a team for whom it’s never too late to rule out the possibility of a comeback. Ierlan, the Ivy League Player of the Year and one of five finalists for this year’s Tewaaraton award, will continue to be the Elis’ most important weapon during their championship weekend run, particularly as Penn State’s offense is particularly adept at converting on its opportunities — if Ierlan can keep the ball out of the Nittany Lions’ sticks and altogether away from the Yale cage, the Elis have a much higher chance of playing their own game and making it to Monday’s final.
The then-No. 6 Bulldogs upset then-No. 2 Penn State by one in a low-scoring bout early in the season. Ierlan was critical in that win, delivering 25 wins on 31 total faceoffs, including a memorable victory from a 40-second long lock. The Nittany Lions’ offense has only flown higher since, and Yale will look to Ierlan to again deliver dominance at the X to contain Penn State’s attack.
Penn State boasts arguably the best offense in college lacrosse this year, outscoring opponents 301–178. To keep up with such a high-octane attack, the Bulldogs must limit the number of shot-opportunities the Nittany Lions get through long, drawn-out possessions that end with a tally in the score sheet. Hard cuts to the cage and clean passes have become stout pillars of Yale’s success this season, and individual heroics will prove to be less effective against an underrated and disciplined Penn State defense. Much like last weekend’s 19-goal outing against No. 4 Penn, bouncers and top-corner rips will be the most successful shot-types during Championship Weekend, as netminders — like Penn State’s Colby Kneese — have had months of preparation stuffing simple finishes.
SEVER THE TANDEM
Junior attackers Grant Ament and Mac O’Keefe have become the nation’s most powerful scoring duo. Ament, a 2019 Tewaaraton Award finalist and the commander of Penn State’s offense, has an uncanny ability to see the field and set up his teammates for easy scoring opportunities. Through 16 games, Ament has tallied an impressive 91 assists to go along with 27 goals. His partner, O’Keefe, can seemingly finish from anywhere on the field, whether at the edge of the crease or from distance. His outrageous 75-goal output and 18 assists on the year are a testament to his talent and the prowess of an emerging powerhouse program. With a solid performance from the Eli defense key in Saturday’s semifinal bout, defender Chris Fake ’21 and the rest of the rotation must look to disrupt the connection between the Nittany Lions’ terrifying offensive tandem.
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