This past Saturday afternoon, Harvard men’s lacrosse hosted No. 6 Princeton in perhaps the most symbolic game of the regular season. It was Senior Day, prefrosh weekend, and Alumni Day—when some Crimson lacrosse legends returned to their roots—all combined into one at Harvard Stadium. And if the crowd of nearly 3,000 fans wasn’t enough motivation for the Crimson, the prospect of qualifying for the Ivy League tournament was a compelling reason to leave it all out on the field.
Harvard did not disappoint its diverse array of fans, as the Crimson (6-5, 2-3 Ivy) toppled the Tigers (9-3, 4-1) for the first time in nearly 20 years. With an 11-8 victory, Harvard not only snapped Princeton’s perfect record in Ancient Eight competition this season, but also pulled within one more win of an Ivy League tournament berth.
Sophomore attack Kevin Vaughan posted a hat trick for the Crimson, scoring once in the first quarter and twice in the fourth.
“Vaughan’s been huge for us, more than in just attack,” co-captain Billy Geist said. “He’s played some midfield, and he’s just a ground-ball machine. Whenever we want the ball in safe hands, we give it to Kevin.”
Vaughan’s fellow attack, junior Dean Gibbons, added a pair of goals and posted an assist, as Harvard dictated play for almost the entire game.
“The offense shot the ball really well today,” Geist said. “[Princeton’s] goalie is one of the best in the country. He was an All-American last year.”
Vaughan got the scoring started midway through the first, whipping a pass from Gibbons past Tiger netminder Tyler Fiorito.
Though Princeton came back to tie it less than two minutes later on a Jack McBride shot, Gibbons put his squad back on top with two minutes to go in the first.
With Tiger Mike Grossman’s goal in the second quarter at 11:32, the game was tied, 2-2. But that’s as close as Princeton would come. Three straight goals by Crimson senior midfielder Jason Duboe, sophomore midfielder Andrew Pataki, and freshman attack Peter Schwartz allowed Harvard to pull away at the close of the first half.
“I used to play offense,” Pataki said. “But the coaches moved me to midfield a month and a half ago. That really gave me a lot of freedom to push in transition. I saw an opportunity in the middle of the field, and I was able to put it away.”
The Crimson’s win also confirmed a timeless mantra: defense wins games. Despite being outshot, 25-12, in the second half, Harvard managed to surrender only four goals. Freshman goalie Harry Krieger recorded 13 saves before senior Sam Michel took over between the pipes to end the game.
Vaughan’s third goal of the game, which came off an assist from classmate Terry White with 3:44 to play, gave the Crimson its biggest lead of the game at 10-6.
Though Princeton would score two of the game’s last three goals, an unassisted tally from sophomore Evan Roth gave Harvard some added insurance, and the team rode out the 11-8 win.
“It was definitely a lower-scoring game than we’re used to,” Geist said. “But the defense finally came through for us.”
This last home game for the Crimson also marked Senior Day, a tradition in which the younger players recognize the achievements and leadership of veteran team members.
“We have seven seniors on the team, and this [win] was definitely for them,” Pataki said. “All week, our mindset was to give it our all today. The seniors have given so much to the program, especially during the turnaround period.”
Senior Day may have come and gone, but the season isn’t over just yet for Harvard. If the Crimson defeats Yale in its last regular season game next Saturday, it will clinch a spot in the Ivy League tournament.
The outcome of this tournament decides which Ancient Eight teams will move on to the 16-team NCAA field.
“We have to take it one game at a time,” Geist said. “I’m not sure how it all shakes down mathematically. Yale has beaten a lot of quality opponents this year, but the [Ivy tournament] will certainly be our focus this coming week.”