Riding on tonight’s men’s lacrosse showdown is more than just a win.
The Crimson (5-2, 1-1 Ivy) faces off against No. 14 (USILA Coaches Poll) University of Massachusetts (5-2, 2-3 CAA) in a night game between two early-season powerhouses.
“I think this game is always for bragging rights for best team in the state,” Harvard coach Chris Wojcik said.
With the Minutemen’s national ranking, tonight’s game takes on meaning beyond the standings. The Crimson is looking to regain its own national ranking, and a win against UMass could push the team back into the top 25.
Despite strong starts for both teams in the early going, Harvard and the Minutemen are coming off of disappointing losses, and both need the game to bounce back quickly before the full swing of conference play.
The Crimson lost its second game of Ivy League play against Dartmouth on Saturday, 9-8. After a back-and-forth game that featured four lead changes, the Big Green broke the tie with one second remaining on the clock to beat Harvard.
The loss ended the Crimson’s four-game win streak and dropped the team to 1-1 in league play.
“One thing our coach always tells us is that every game is an opportunity to play the best we can and play better than we did the last game,” sophomore defenseman Jason Gonos said.
After Harvard’s only other loss of the season, it came back in its following game to best then-No. 20 Georgetown. The Crimson once again looks to take down the ranked opponent to generate momentum into the second half of its season.
UMass lost a nail-biter of its own on March 19, falling to Penn State, 8-7.
Instead of losing on a last second shot, however, the Minutemen missed their own opportunity to score in the final seconds. Down by one and with time running out, Ryan Hantverk ripped a shot at the Nittany Lions’ net. But the ball ricocheted off the crossbar, ending UMass’ chance at the game.
“I think I can tell you [until] I’m blue in the face,” said Minute Men coach Greg Cannella in a post-game interview to umassathletics.com. “You have to score in the double digits if you’re gonna win college lacrosse games.”
In all four of the combined losses between Harvard and UMass, the losing team finished with a single-digit goal total.
But unlike the Crimson, the Minutemen have had a long time to recover with a 10-day hiatus since the loss against Penn State.
Harvard sees its own quick turnaround—its last game was on Saturday—as a distinct advantage tonight.
“Losing Saturday definitely left a bad taste in our mouths,” Gonos said. “It’s nice having a quick turnaround and [to have] the opportunity to play a good team to try to prove ourselves right away.”
After shooting only 8-of-41 against Dartmouth, the Crimson hopes to capitalize on its opportunities and finish its chances. Co-captain Dean Gibbons leads the Harvard squad with 26 points, 15 goals and 11 assists, and junior Jeff Cohen follows with 20 points, 18 goals, and two assists.
Both the Crimson and UMass are prolific with the stick, averaging more than 40 shots per game. This will be the 42nd time the two teams have played each other. The Minutemen lead the all-time record of 29-12, but Harvard has won two out of the last three games, including a 14-13 victory last season.
“We need all of our players to give their best efforts and to play their best team lacrosse in order for us to be successful tomorrow night,” Wojcik said. “Our game plan is just getting back to playing Harvard lacrosse.”