David Schamis

The No. 5 Yale men’s lacrosse team has not been ranked as the nation’s best team since the preseason, despite its status as the defending national champion. On Monday, the Elis will look to defy expectations again and claim their second straight crown when the Bulldogs take on No. 3 Virginia in the final of the 2019 national championship tournament.

The Elis (15–3, 6–1 Ivy), who pulled off two upsets to make it to Monday’s game — against No. 4 Penn in the quarterfinals and against No. 1 Penn State in Saturday’s shootout — are now poised to potentially make history. Last year, they upset Duke in the final to earn the program’s first-ever national championship. Now, despite an inconsistent and sometimes frustrating season, the Bulldogs are back in the final round against the Cavaliers (16–3, 3–1 ACC), who pulled off a shocking win in overtime against the Blue Devils on Saturday after trailing for most of the low-scoring game. Yale shocked the Nittany Lion’s potent offense with an early scoring run and held on through a partial Penn State recovery to win 21–17 thanks to a near-chokehold at the faceoff X from TD Ierlan ’20, high-percentage shooting and a tightened defense. Now, the Elis will attempt to maintain that offensive firepower while plugging up the sporadic holes in defensive coverage against a Virginia team that will likely try to slow the game pace down and wrestle for control.

“We like being the underdog,” head coach Andy Shay said. “If we look at the history of our program and how we’ve progressed over the years, we’ve spent a lot of years where people didn’t think we were good enough to compete in certain games. So rekindling that underdog mentality was good to have. We’re going to treat this the same way. These [Virginia] guys are incredibly talented, they’re an ACC team, they are higher seeded than us. We feel like we are squarely the underdog against them for sure.”

On Saturday, the Bulldogs took down Penn State for the second time this season, riding an explosive 10–2 first quarter to a 21–17 win against the country’s best offense despite Penn State posting a 7–2 second period.

Faceoff specialist TD Ierlan ’20 went 28 for 39 against the Nittany Lions; his stellar play all season, which has earned him a nod as a Tewaaraton Award finalist, has been a tremendous boost to a Yale program that has seemingly found its identity as a fast-moving, offensively deep squad.

The Albany transfer has faced little adversity at the X this season, with his nation-leading faceoff win percentage at .758 after Saturday’s bout. With his prowess at the forefront of the Elis’ success, he must close-out the season with another impressive performance against Virginia FOGO Petey LaSalla, who ranks 18th in the country.

“At this level all the FOGOs are really good, and [LaSalla is] no exception,” Ierlan said. “His reaction time is very good, he’s very well schooled, Long Island guy. He’s solid. We’re going to have our work cut out for us. Their wings are very talented, so we’re going to have to bring it.”

The Bulldogs will benefit from experience, as all of Yale’s starters have Championship Weekend experience, with the exception of attacker Matt Brandau ’22. However, despite a mid-game ankle injury, the first-year broke his own rookie program record after netting seven goals against the Nittany Lions on Saturday to lead the Elis in scoring.

But the Cavaliers have shown a knack for escaping with narrow victories. Although they trailed Duke on Saturday for most of the game, they managed a late comeback and won in overtime — their fifth extra-time game of the season and fifth overtime win. Yale will need to ensure that it stays on top of each play and cleans up its defense, which allowed three FOGO goals from the Nittany Lions’ Gerard Arceri on Saturday. Virginia, which trailed Duke 5–2 at the semifinal half, will inevitably try to take advantage of momentary slips.

“I think the playoff experience is something that helps,” attacker Jackson Morrill ’20 said. “When we’re in the game, I don’t think anyone is really thinking much about what we’ve done, for me, the last two years in the playoffs or in the Ivy League playoffs. We really do take it one possession at a time, one play at a time, and I think that’s something that helps us and carries us through all the good and bad moments.”

Despite the two teams not having met this season, Virginia’s head coach knows Yale well — Lars Tiffany is currently in his third year at the helm of the Cavaliers and spent a decade at Brown, another Ancient Eight school, immediately prior to joining Virginia.

Tiffany and Shay met often in Ivy play, and Tiffany coached the Bears to league championships and bids to the NCAA tournaments in 2015 and 2016, with Brown making it to championship weekend in 2016.

“Andy Shay has earned a national championship in 2018 and is on the precipice of potentially earning another one,” Tiffany said. “We’re in his way, because he is simply one of the best coaches in the game…When you can win 70 to 75 percent of the face-offs, you are now given the freedom and the license to play fast, to be super aggressive…Our job as coaches is to ensure that our men recognize it, how fast Yale is individually and how fast their tempo is.”

The opening faceoff for the title game against No. 3 Virginia is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Monday.

Angela Xiao | angela.xiao@yale.edu .

Cris Zillo | cris.zillo@yale.edu