It will take an Ivy League championship or a top-12 national ranking for the Harvard men’s lacrosse team to earn an NCAA tournament berth at the end of the season, but that’s exactly the lofty goal that this year’s squad has set for itself.
But many observers aren’t expecting much from this year’s Crimson after last year’s 8-7 edition suffered from a propensity to prepare inadequately for games against lesser opponents and stumbled to a 2-4 Ivy record.
Yet, with their athleticism and motivation—the seniors have never beaten Yale—the Harvard players feel they’re being underestimated.
“I think there’s no reason we shouldn’t compete strongly for an Ivy League championship,” said junior midfielder Doug Logigian.
The road to the Ivy title, though, almost certainly goes through defending national champion Princeton, which has won its last 37 Ivy games and captured the past seven league championships.
Still, the Crimson, which was ranked No. 25 in Face-Off Yearbook’s Preseason Coaches Poll, is looking to change its approach to facing the top teams in the country.
“We can’t go in to those games just hoping to win,” Logigian said. “We have to go in expecting to win.”
Undoubtedly, much of that confidence will come from last season’s victory over then-No. 12 Duke, which the players are already citing as proof that they can compete with any team in the nation.
To join the nation’s elite, however, the Crimson will have to overcome the graduation of 14 seniors, including co-captain Dana Sprong ’01 and Roger Buttles ’01, the team’s two leading scorers, who accounted for 40 goals and 30 assists between them.
The rest of the team’s top 14 scorers, however, were underclassmen, so Harvard won’t necessarily struggle to find the net.
Indeed, the Crimson’s two most decorated returning players—Face-Off preseason Honorable Mention All-Americans Matt Primm and Logigian—didn’t shy away from the scoreboard either last year.
Primm, a junior, finished third on the team in both goals and assists, with 19 and 11, respectively, in garnering First-Team All-New England and Honorable Mention All-American honors. Logigian joined Primm as a First-Team All-New England selection, and his 22 goals were good for second on the team and a place on the First-Team All-Ivy squad.
Both expect even more from themselves this year.
“I really want to have the ball on my stick a lot of the time,” Logigian said. “I feel confident with it there and in my ability to make things happen with it.”
He won’t just be looking to score, though.
“If I’m drawing one of the better defensemen and beating him and being able to get the ball to somebody else, I’ll be just as happy doing that.”
Primm, too, hopes to equal or even surpass the 28 goals and 14 assists he amassed en route to earning Ivy League Rookie of the Year honors as a freshman two years ago.
Primm will be joined on the attack by classmate and converted midfielder Jay Wich, who appears to have recovered from the injury troubles that hampered him last year, and heralded freshman Mike McBride.
“As soon as [McBride] gets his confidence up a little more, he’ll be good for a couple goals a game,” Logigian said.
The Crimson will also look to the midfield to initiate much of its offense. There, the top two lines will consist of co-captains Michael Baly and James Christian and senior Derek Nowak, a former defensive midfielder who will be making the transition to a more offensive role, and Logigian and sophomores Jeff Gottschall and Alex Vap.
Vap, who collected the most ground balls last year of any returner, is also the team’s face-off specialist.
Harvard, then, may well be able to fill the offensive void left by graduation; replacing that experience will be a more difficult task.
“That was an unbelievable senior class and they had some great leaders,” Christian said. “This year, we’re trying to make up for that with our own senior leadership.”
And even though the Crimson is a young team, several of its sophomores and juniors saw significant time last year.
“We have a lot of young kids who already have a year under their belt,” Baly said.
To the extent that Harvard does lack game experience, its youth will be most apparent in front of its own goal. Junior Joe Nejman and freshmen Zack Chandis and Doug Kocic will play long stick midfielder in front of a defense consisting of senior Mike Packard, junior Andrew Crocco and sophomore Spencer Stenmark.
Crocco will assume the assignment of marking the opposition’s top attackman after the graduation of former co-captain Pete Zaremba ’01.
While Packard, Crocco and Stenmark comprise a formidable obstacle for any offense, depth among the defense is a question mark.
But Preseason Honorable Mention All-American goalie Jake McKenna can make up for a lot of mistakes. The sophomore finished last year ranked 14th in the nation in save percentage (.607) and 18th in goals-against average (8.92).
With a season-opening, 10-9 victory over No. 19 Bucknell on Saturday, the Crimson took the next step in announcing its arrival on the national scene. Now, it’s just a matter of convincing the lacrosse world that Harvard deserves to be there to stay.