For the past two years, the Yale men’s lacrosse team has commenced its season on a sour note with an overtime loss to Villanova. This past weekend, the Bulldogs rectified that history.
The Blue and White (1–0, 0–0 Ivy) defeated the Wildcats (0–2, 0–0 Big East) 18–12 on a cold yet bright opening day in Pennsylvania. Despite dropping openers for two consecutive years, the Elis were clicking on multiple fronts as they pulled away with the win, and faceoff specialist TD Ierlan ’20 added another NCAA record to his collection. Five different Bulldogs found the back of the Villanova net: attackman Thomas Bragg ’22, midfielder Lucas Cotler ’20 and attackman Matt Gaudet ’20 registered four goals each, while attackmen Matt Brandau ’22 and captain Jackson Morrill ’20 each added three. Meanwhile, on the defensive end, Brody Wilson ’20 held it down between the pipes with a career-high 13 saves, having never lost any games in his five starts.
“You’re gonna have first game jitters. You’re gonna make mistakes,” head coach Andy Shay said heading into the matchup. “With a team as good as Villanova, if we don’t limit our mistakes, it’s gonna be a tough day.”
Yet Yale’s two preseason scrimmages against No. 5 Syracuse and Fairfield proved to have shaken the jitters out of the Bulldogs.
The Elis’ preparation showed in the opening quarter. Despite letting one in quickly, Cotler fired a shot unassisted past Villanova’s goalkeeper Will Vitton to initiate a turning of the tides in favor of the Bulldogs. Yale did not look back for the next 13 minutes, netting five straight — the last of which was the 125th career goal for Gaudet. By the end of the first, Yale led 7–3.
The Wildcats roared back in the second with a four goal run before the Elis retaliated. The Bulldogs only managed to score twice while letting in six on their own end for a halftime tally of 9–9. Still even at 11 a-piece halfway into the third, the Blue and White finally broke free. Yale showed the Wildcats that they have something to prove this season as they outscored their opponent 9–3 in the second half and pulled away with a dominant 18–12 victory. In the last 19 minutes, Yale netted seven consecutive points, and Wilson allowed only one ball between the pipes with 21 seconds to go.
“Going into this one we knew what Villanova was capable of, and if we didn’t bring a full team effort, we would start off 0–1 again,” Cotler said. “Their style of play is really tough to defend, they’re ultra-skilled and very athletic, so Villanova is a good first litmus test. We had guys step up in different spots throughout the game and make tough hustle plays. I think that was one of our keys to the win.”
While both teams managed only one penalty each for the first 30 minutes, a series of Wildcat mistakes in the third and fourth quarters gave the Bulldogs a significant advantage. During the second half of play, Villanova totalled five minutes and 30 seconds of penalty time compared to Yale’s one minute.
Ierlan, who broke his own national records for faceoff wins and ground balls last season, made a cumulative 23 wins on the X. Further proving himself the most prolific faceoff specialist in NCAA history, Ierlan etched his name into the record books yet again this weekend as he set the all-time record for most ground balls with 762.
“The record was nice to break but it’s an accomplishment for our whole unit,” Ierlan said. “They always do a great job of giving me space to exit and get 50/50 ground balls.”
In the net for Yale, Wilson held down the posts. Though Villanova and Yale each made 25 shots on goal, Wilson made several stops from a close range which prevented the home team from gaining a lead in the second quarter.
“It felt good to finally beat Villanova after losing to them the past two seasons,” Wilson said. “We had to rely on some young guys to step up due to injuries and their next man up mentality is one of the reasons I think we were successful.”
Defenseman Xander Martin ’23 was the only first-year to make his first career start on Saturday.
The Bulldogs will face yet another early test as they take on No. 1 Penn State next weekend in enemy territory, a rematch of the 2019 NCAA semifinal.
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