The No. 3 Yale men’s lacrosse team marched into Pennsylvania once again this week and emerged victorious from arguably its most important game of the regular season.
The Bulldogs (2–0, 0–0 Ivy) came in as the underdogs but proved their prowess in an 12–10 defeat over the No. 1 Nittany Lions (3–1, 0–0 Big Ten) in which the Blue and White never trailed. Twice last season, the Elis put Penn State to rest — during the regular reason and in the 2019 NCAA Championship semifinal. Other than those two games, the Nittany Lions boasted a perfect record. Put simply, Yale is Penn State’s kryptonite.
“Our goal every year is just to try to get better than we were the year before and I think we’ve been able to do that over the years,” head coach Andy Shay said. “It’s just that the last two years we’ve gotten to the final game so it’s harder and harder to improve upon that.”
However, Shay and the Bulldogs continued their dominance over Penn State despite losing two of its top five scorers from 2019. Penn State returned all five of last year’s offensive threats, but a strong Eli defense thwarted its efforts of beating Yale for the first time since 1997.
The Elis jumped on the board first, as captain and attackman Jackson Morrill ’20 scored off the opening possession. Yale never looked back from then on. Although the first quarter was tightly contested and ended 2–1, the Bulldogs found their rhythm in the following frame. A flurry of goals from defenseman Chris Fake ’21 and attackmen Matt Brandau ’22, Christian Cropp ’21 and Matt Gaudet ’20 gave Yale a 6–1 lead in the second. Penn State got a couple back, but the Bulldogs went into the locker room with momentum in hand.
In the third quarter, the Elis faltered but still managed to find the back of the net twice to hold onto the lead. Notably, midfielder Logan Soelberg ’23 picked up the first goal of his career goal by dancing around a Nittany Lion and threading it by the netminder. The score read 8–6 heading into the last quarter of play. The Bulldogs were hungry and determined, and they clawed out a hard-fought 12–10 victory.
“Being a California lacrosse player, getting the speed of the game and not being able to dodge through the entire defense is new and it takes some getting used to,” Soelberg said prior to the matchup.
Faceoff specialist TD Ierlan ’21 had his work cut out for him as the senior was up against the likes of Gerard Arceri. The New York native holds the Penn State record for faceoffs won, has been named to the USILA All-American team twice, was on the Tewaaraton watch list last year and was second in the nation for faceoff wins last campaign as well. Yet Ierlan did not let those accolades deter him. At the X, Ierlan had a 62 percent success rate against the Nittany Lions — a considerable feat against such a formidable opponent.
Heading into the matchup, Penn State’s Mac O’Keefe and Grant Ament had tallied 28 points in just two games between them, making them the duo to watch out for. Nevertheless, Ament — whom the NCAA named the 2019 Most Outstanding Attackman — could not find the net more than once against the Bulldogs. Meanwhile O’Keefe, who set the Nittany Lions’ single season record for goals with 78 last year, found the back of the net twice. Stopping them was a key to Yale’s win. Furthermore, the Bulldogs prevented three of Penn State’s top four assist leaders from 2019 from picking up any assists at all.
Brody Wilson ’20 was once again solid between the pipes. He held it down and sent away eight shots, including a huge one-on-one save on Ament — who also broke the Big 10-point record on Saturday — in the third.
Despite leaving Happy Valley with a win, the Elis still have plenty to work on in practice. Coach Shay and his staff will likely focus on turnovers during the week. The Bulldogs had 23 turnovers on Saturday, 11 of which were forced by the Nittany Lions.
“I think both teams played pretty sloppy, but it’s always good to get a road win especially against a team as talented as Penn State is,” Ierlan said.
Yale will play its third consecutive road game next Saturday against UMass Amherst.
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Correction (Feb. 24) : Due to an editing error, the wrong final score was given – and has since been changed to reflect the actual score.