Last season, Harvard men’s lacrosse coach Scott Anderson said that the class of 2007 “could be the best class” that he had seen in his 27 years as a member of the Crimson coaching staff.
While that statement might still be true, the members of the class of 2008 served notice on Saturday that there is some major competition for that distinction.
Following in the footsteps of the current crop of sophomores, such as attackman Greg Cohen (11 goals and 15 assists in 2004), midfielder Brian Mahler (10 goals and four assists), and midfielder Evan Calvert (eight goals and four assists), the current crop of Crimson freshmen looked anything but inexperienced in Harvard’s 12-9 victory over Bucknell.
After all, inexperienced players usually don’t tally hat tricks.
Freshman attackman Zach Widbin did just that on Saturday, recording three goals in a second quarter that saw the Crimson outscore the Bison 6-1. Widbin was also third among all Harvard players with four ground balls, and he led the team with six shots on goal.
Not to be outdone, Brooks Scholl—Widbin’s classmate and fellow starting-attackman—was the Crimson’s second-leading goal scorer with two tallies. His seven shots led Harvard, and his three ground balls were good for fourth-best among all Crimson players.
“He is the most developed player as a freshman that we have ever had,” Anderson said of Scholl. “He looked like a college player from day one.”
On the defensive side of the ball, freshman Nick La Fiura started at defensive midfielder and saw extensive action, even forcing a turnover that led to Widbin’s second goal.
Also contributing was freshman defenseman Zach Carpenter, who played on Harvard’s man-down team.
Finally—and perhaps most impressively—freshman goalie Evan O’Donnell got the starting nod and made several key saves en route to his first collegiate victory.
“[The success of our freshmen] is a testament to our coaches’ recruiting, and also to our preparation,” said junior attackman Steve Cohen.
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Entering the season, no doubt the biggest questions surrounding the Crimson centered around a defense that graduated two starters, Hani Malone ’04 and Spencer Stenmark ’04, and a goalie, Jake McKenna ’04, who had started in goal for the past four years.
According to O’Donnell, the plan on Saturday was for him to start in goal, and then to switch with junior Craig Thomas if he began to struggle at any point.
“[With whom to replace McKenna] is the most complex issue we have,” Anderson said. “This year, we are asking the goalies to compete. We will play the one that develops the most quickly and who shows the most poise in the games.”
O’Donnell must have showed a lot of poise, because he ended up playing all 60 minutes of the game and finishing with 10 saves.
“A lot of goaltending is about momentum,” he observed.
A lot of questions were answered in front of O’Donnell as well, as junior defenseman Tom Mikula—the lone returning defensive starter from last season—joined with tri-captain Brian Wannop (second career start) and junior Josh Donohue (first career start) to shut down Bucknell.
“I thought [the defense] played great,” said O’Donnell. “The shots that they gave up were all very savable.”
The starting defensemen didn’t do it alone, however, as they were aided by long-stick midfielder La Fiura, man-down defender Carpenter, and junior Andrew Salamon, who pitched in when Donohue briefly went down with a leg injury.
While only in its first game, that Harvard man-up squad was certainly in midseason form, cashing in on three of its five opportunities.
“We take a lot of pride in [our man-up offense],” Cohen said. “We feel that any time we have the extra man, we should score. We just try to stay spread.”
Much of the success of the unit can be attributed to the three sophomores who saw action while the Crimson had the extra man.
The offense was, in large part, run through Calvert, who was positioned at the top of the box in front of the goal. He was able to keep the ball moving around, and he fed sophomore midfielder Carle Stenmark for a goal early in the second half. He also ended the Bison rally in the fourth quarter when he faked a pass to move his defender, then stepped in and ripped a shot high.
Stenmark contributed the aforementioned goal, and he also posted an assist in the first quarter when he found Steve Cohen across the field. Cohen took the pass, cut towards goal, and scored the goal while heading to the turf.
Interestingly, the only quarter in which Harvard failed to convert an extra-man opportunity—the second, when it went 0-for-2—was the quarter in which the Crimson scored half of its 12 goals.
Defensively, Harvard did a good job negating Bucknell’s man-up situations, holding them to 1-for-3 for the contest.
The second quarter was the only quarter in which the Crimson outscored the Bison...Harvard held Bucknell senior attackman Chris Cara to just two goals. Cara led all of Division I lacrosse in scoring last year with 38 goals, 40 assists and 78 points...With the graduation of Alex Vap ’04, sophomore midfielder John Henry Flood—who won 6-of-15 faceoffs—and junior midfielder Tom Boylan—who won 5-of-7—shared the Crimson faceoff duties.
—Staff writer Jonathan P. Hay can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.