After downing No. 6 Loyola 8–5 last weekend, the No. 3 Yale men’s lacrosse team advanced to its first Final Four in nearly three decades. With its sights set on an appearance in the National Championship game, a formidable and familiar opponent stood Yale’s way: No. 2 Albany.
On a humid afternoon at Gillette Stadium, the Bulldogs (15–3, 7–0 Ivy) went toe-to-toe with the Great Danes (16–2, 5–1 America East) in a battle of the dogs. The big stage didn’t fluster the Elis, as they jumped out to an early lead that allowed them to coast to an easy 20–11 victory.
“We like to play like they play,” head coach Andy Shay said. “It was a hard fought game. I’m very proud of my guys for sticking to the details and grinding as much as they did today. They played a great game.”
The 2018 campaign saw these two programs clash for one of the biggest bouts of the season. However, fans packed the bleachers at Reese Stadium on April 22 only to behold a 14–6 blowout in favor of the Elis. Faceoff specialist Conor Mackie ’18 dominated Albany’s TD Ierlan, winning 13 of 21 battles at the X. Ierlan had entered the contest as the best faceoff specialist in the country, boasting an astounding .844 faceoff win percentage. Defender Chris Fake ’21 showed off his defensive strength and skill by shutting down Tehoka Nanticoke, one of the Great Danes’ top offensive threats. The Elis seemed to focus on the same key points of emphasis for Saturday’s semifinal game, which proved fruitful.
The Bulldogs looked hungry in the first 15 minutes of play. Roughly two minutes into the contest, midfielder John Daniggelis ’19 opened up scoring with an unassisted tally. Just under a minute later, attacker Jackson Morrill added his name to the scoring sheet by ripping one past Albany netminder JD Colarusso. Captain and attacker Ben Reeves ’18 made his presence felt early with an unassisted goal and an assist to attacker Matt Gaudet ’20 just over twenty seconds apart. Morrill, Gaudet and Reeves each scored again before Albany midfielder Sean Eccles managed to stop the bleeding with a tally at the end of the first frame.
The Elis led the Great Danes 7–1 at the onset of the second quarter and wasted no time on the offensive side of the field, as Gaudet sent one into the back of the cage for an 8–1 advantage just over a minute in. However, the remainder of the quarter became a back-and-forth contest when Ierlan scored off the faceoff. Midfielder Joe Sessa knocked in his 18th goal of the season before Albany attackers Justin Reh and Connor Fields and midfielder Jack Burgmaster sent shots past goalie Jack Starr ’21 to cut the lead down to just four goals. Gaudet resumed his offensive onslaught when he rocketed in two more shots into the back of the cage to give Yale an 11–5 lead. As the clocked ticked down on the first half of play, Morrill snuck his third goal of the day into the net for a 12–5 halftime lead.
“We make practice so hard that a game like this can’t ever get too big,” Morrill said. “The pressure we get, especially as offensive guys, from our defensemen during practice is incredible, so you’re always going to be prepared for a game like this.”
At the beginning of the third frame, Fields caught fire and cut the Bulldog lead to five when scored two goals almost 30 seconds apart. However, attacker Brendan Rooney ’19 answered with two tallies of his own, increasing the Eli lead back to seven. Then, it was Reeves’ turn to shine. He dominated the final seven minutes of the quarter, scoring three times to give Yale a 17–7 advantage heading into the final 15 minutes of play.
Recognizing the dire situation they found themselves in, the Great Danes went on the attack in the beginning of the fourth, scoring within the first minute of the last frame. Yale would answer with an unassisted notch coming from midfielder Christian Cropp ’21. Albany would tack on three more scores with Yale answering two of them. As the final seconds of the contest ticked away, the final score cemented itself at 20–11, sending Yale to the NCAA Championship game.
“It’s just about not letting the thrill of it all get to you,” Gaudet said when asked about how the coaching staff prepared the team for this stage. “Obviously Gillette Stadium is an incredible facility. It’s just about using your reset, which is something our coaches taught. It’s all about starting from square one and starting from scratch.”
The Elis will face either Duke or Maryland on Monday’s Championship contest.