Courtesy of Rich Barnes/Yale Athletics

On a national level, the class of 2020 was the most successful men’s lacrosse class to grace the Yale history books so far. The Bulldogs, who hoped to make their third consecutive trip to the NCAA finals this year, have seen massive success in recent years: one national championship, one Tewaaraton winner, three Ivy titles and seven NCAA appearances. Despite losing the 2020 season due to COVID-19 and four seniors to professional leagues, the Elis appear set for another dominant season in 2021 and retain a key player in faceoff specialist TD Ierlan ’21.

While the Blue and White have captured the national spotlight in recent years, they rose to prominence in the lacrosse world quietly. Prior to 2018, the Bulldogs ranked No. 1 in the nation only once before. That was in 1883. 

In addition to the class of 2020, one of the key parts of Yale’s dominance has been head coach Andy Shay. Well before the Elis were hoisting trophies, Yale was scraping the bottom of the Ancient Eight barrel. But since taking over in 2003, Shay has taken the rag-tag program from the bottom of the Ivy League to number one in the nation through a very important shift in culture.

Faceoff specialist TD Ierlan ’21 is set to return in 2021. (Photo: Rich Barnes/Yale Athletics)

From the moment Shay stepped foot on campus, the team felt his presence.

“After only brief meetings, it is clear that he brings a style of intensity and intelligence to the game,” goalie Roy Skeen ’04 told the News back in 2003. “It is refreshing and infectious.”

From the start of the 2004 season — in which the Bulldogs finished Ivy play with a measly 1–5 record — Shay emphasized hard work and intensity. Unbeknownst to most, Shay and his staff were slowly changing the culture at Yale, which ultimately turned Yale men’s lacrosse into the powerhouse that it is today.

But that change didn’t happen overnight.

“One thing about coach Shay is that when he first came in, the intent was not to become a national contender, but he wanted to change the culture … from there it was about laying that foundation,” said Jason Alessi ’18, a member of the 2018 national championship squad. “Each year he got better and better and instilled that belief that we won’t be the most talented, but we’ll be the hardest working, the most gritty, chasing down every ball. The goal eventually changed from winning one game to two games, to then winning an Ivy championship. Eventually it became competing on a national scale, and that came from all those years prior where he laid that foundation.”

His hard work paid off when the Bulldogs finally captured a national championship in 2018. The team, led by Tewaaraton Award-winner Ben Reeves ’18 MED ’22, defeated Duke in the finals, 13–11, to give Yale its first NCAA lacrosse title. 

The following year, the Bulldogs hit the ground running. Despite losing some of their top dogs, the Bulldogs were hungry to repeat as national champions. They eventually fell short, losing to UVA in the finals by four goals, but showed the world that they were here to stay.

In 2019, the Bulldogs defeated Penn State to advance to the national championship before falling by four to UVA. (Photo: Yale Athletics)

The Elis began their 2020 campaign ranked third in the major preseason polls, but quickly rose to first in the nation after defeating Villanova and then-No. 1 Penn State. However, the Bulldogs were defeated 13–10 by Shay’s former team, the UMass Minutemen. They would go on to recover from that loss, defeating Michigan in their next matchup before the season was canceled due to the coronavirus. Although the season was cut short, four members of the squad were named All-Americans and named to the Tewaaraton final watch list.

“All of us really only have one goal, and that’s to make it back to Memorial Day,” All-American defenseman Chris Fake ’21 said. “And now that we don’t have the chance to do that this year, the accolades that we have accrued over four games really [don’t] mean too much. We are just looking forward to next year.”

While their title hunt was disrupted, the Bulldogs remain hungry to compete for another national championship in 2021. They will feel the loss of 10 seniors, three of whom earned All-American honors.

The Elis are ripe with talent, and it is no surprise that the nation has taken notice. In addition to showing their ferocity at the collegiate level, multiple Bulldogs were selected in the 2020 Major League Lacrosse draft to compete professionally. Ierlan was taken first overall, and joining him were attackman Matt Gaudet ’20, midfielder Will Renz ’20 and defenders Will Weitzel ’20 and Aidan Hynes ’20. Yale led all schools with its five selections, including two in the first round, giving it the most draft picks of any school since 2018. A short while after the MLL draft, Gaudet and Hynes heard their names called in the Premier Lacrosse League’s college draft as well. Yale and Johns Hopkins were the only two universities with multiple selections.

Yale led all schools with five selections in the 2020 MLL draft. (Graphic: Akshar Agarwal; Photos: Yale Athletics)

Despite the loss of most seniors, fans can rejoice in the fact that the number one selection in the MLL draft and the most prolific faceoff man in the history of the sport, TD Ierlan, will be returning for one more season. Ierlan holds numerous all-time records in ground balls, faceoff wins, faceoff win percentages, and more, making him the most dangerous man to face off against at the X. 

With the return of Ierlan and a strong incoming class, the Yale men’s lacrosse team seeks to reclaim its throne atop the nation.

Akshar Agarwal |

Margaret Hedeman |