A record number of lacrosse fans turned out Friday night for the men’s lacrosse game against the Duke Blue Devils. Unfortunately, anyone who stayed an extra five or 10 minutes at the tailgate before coming in to watch the game missed the bulk of the action.
Duke began a stunning 8-0 scoring run less than a minute into the first quarter with Blue Devil Zach Howell putting one past Crimson rookie goalkeeper Harry Krieger with 14:13 to go. Just over a minute later, Harvard’s defense turned the ball over, and Duke’s Max Quizinari picked up a ground ball. The Blue Devils’ offense settled into its set—as it would do continually through the first quarter—undisturbed by the Crimson defense. At 12:51, Duke’s Steve Schoeffel tallied his 10th goal of the season on an unassisted shot, putting the Blue Devils up 2-0 just over two minutes into the half.
Duke picked up an unstoppable rhythm early in the first quarter—win the face-off, grab the ground ball, run the set, and capitalize on shot opportunities. Harvard gave up eight of nine face-offs in the first quarter alone and won only six of 20 ground balls. The Crimson never possessed the ball long enough to push up field and run its own sets. The Blue Devils controlled the momentum from the first face-off.
“We came out flat and a little too hesitant,” senior defenseman Ben Smith said. “We weren’t getting the tough ground balls and getting the 50/50 plays, and those 50/50 plays can make a big difference, especially in the beginning. [Duke] got some series off of that, and lacrosse is a game about getting runs. They went on a big run, the biggest run we’ve seen.”
Looking to the scoreboard in the first quarter and finding itself behind is not a new phenomenon for Harvard. In the Crimson’s first Ivy League game against Brown two weekends ago, the Bears opened up a 5-1 lead in the first quarter and had a 7-4 advantage going into the half. Last weekend against Dartmouth, Harvard was down, 4-3, after the first, but the Big Green extended that lead to 7-3 by the half.
Despite continually falling behind in the first half, Harvard has fought back in the second half to either win or play evenly with each opponent. Against Brown, the Crimson won the second half, 7-6. Against Dartmouth, it held a huge margin in the last two quarters, 10-4. And against Duke, Harvard played with the Blue Devils in the last half of the game, matching Duke’s goals, 2-2.
Harvard was able to come within one goal of Brown by the end of the game, and against Dartmouth, it rallied to a victory. The 8-0 deficit to the Blue Devils proved too much to recover from on Friday.
“Dartmouth went on a run and we got down, 9-3, but we were able to overcome the adversity and come back,” Smith said. “But in this one, I guess we didn’t make the big changes soon enough in our mentality. We just weren’t as organized as we should have been on defense.”
The Crimson repeatedly rallies by returning to the fundamentals of the game—focusing on winning faceoffs and 50/50 ground ball opportunities.
Harvard posts a young roster this year that continues to improve with experience. The rookie goalie, Krieger, played one of his best games against Duke. He recorded a career-high 17 saves and was successful on 17 of 21 clear attempts.
Now, with the potential loss of co-captain Billy Geist—who went down with an injury early in the first half against Duke—younger guys are going to have to step up.
“We have been able to rotate some guys down to where we need them,” senior midfielder Jason Duboe said. “And all those guys are definitely capable, because this system right now is more important than the individual. [Assistant coach Kevin] Warne has put in a system [where] you can basically plug people into the equation, and the results are still the same.”
In the coming weeks, Harvard must work on putting on the pressure earlier in the game, working within the system it has set up, and executing the plan on defense and offense.
“We have to work,” junior midfielder Andrew Parchman said. “We know we’re a great team—we just have to act like it. Unfortunately, it’s taken us a little longer than just the first quarter to buckle down and show what we’ve really got. But that can change.”
—Staff writer Jessica L. Flakne can be reached at email@example.com.