If character reveals itself in the face of adversity, this Saturday afternoon may prove to be the first gut check in a young season for the Harvard men’s lacrosse team. The Crimson, which dropped a 7-6 decision to No. 19 Hofstra last Saturday, will look to bounce back as it travels to Washington, D.C. to face off against the Big East’s Georgetown Hoyas.
The contest is a decisive one for Harvard (2-1). A win would send the team into next Tuesday’s matchup at perennial-power Duke with a 3-1 record and a chance to turn heads nationally, while a defeat would put it at risk of entering Ivy League play with a sub-.500 record if things go poorly against the Blue Devils.
Georgetown (1-1), which has finished in the middle of the pack in recent years in what is arguably the nation’s strongest lacrosse conference, is coming off of a 12-7 victory over Detroit Mercy last Saturday. The Hoyas, who qualified for the NCAA tournament in eleven consecutive seasons prior to 2007 but have failed to do so since, fell to No. 4 Maryland, 16-11, in their only other contest of the year.
“Georgetown is a very talented, well-coached team,” Crimson coach Chris Wocjik said. “They present challenges all over the field.”
The Hoyas’ attack, which was clicking on all cylinders in last season’s 16-15 Harvard victory in Cambridge, is headed this year by junior attackman Travis Comeau, a Big East preseason first-team selection who leads the team with six goals over two games. Fellow Big East first-teamer Zack Angel, a senior midfielder, isn’t far behind after tallying five early-season goals.
But the Georgetown attack has been forced to retool after losing the 2011 leading-scorer Davey Emala, who transferred to North Carolina, and assist-leader Ricky Mirabito, who graduated. Plugging those holes are unproven commodities: redshirt sophomore Zac Guy is returning from what was a season-ending wrist injury, while junior Jason McFadden has recently made the transition to attack.
“They get up and down the field, and they push the tempo,” Crimson co-captain Kevin Vaughan said. “They play a similar style to us.”
The Hoyas welcome a few new faces to a defense which was average last season, allowing just over ten goals per contest. Junior Patrick Murray and graduate student Bobby Boyle anchor the back line, while Matt Winter and C.T. Fisher have split time in net and allowed a combined 23 goals thus far.
With such a small sample size to study this season, Harvard, says Wocjik, isn’t entirely sure what to expect from Georgetown on Saturday.
“They are very athletic,” Wocjik said. “I expect them to come out with a strong game plan. Last year was a high-scoring game, but both teams are playing a little different this year, so we don’t necessarily expect that.”
But the lack of information on Georgetown isn’t necessarily a bad thing for a Harvard team that has turned its focus inward after a frustrating loss to Hofstra last weekend.
“We’re very disappointed in losing [on] Saturday,” Wocjik said. “The important thing is we learn from it. We’ve got a long season ahead of us and our goal is to get better and apply what we’ve learned.”
The main aspect missing in last Saturday’s loss was an offensive spark—the Crimson held the Pride to just seven goals but could only muster six of its own. Senior attackman Jeff Cohen tallied a hat trick on three unassisted goals, but the offense lacked the rhythm it had achieved in Harvard’s first two contests, in which it scored 11 and 14 goals, respectively, while getting off over 40 shots in each game.
Part of Harvard’s lackluster offensive performance, says Vaughan, can be attributed to Hofstra’s willingness to sit on the ball and slow the tempo after jumping out to an early lead.
“Hofstra took away a lot of what we like to do,” Vaughan said. “The main thing we learned is that we have to play better settled offense, and we have to take care of the ball when the transition opportunities aren’t necessarily there. We have to be better at slowing the game down when we need to and dictating the tempo on our own terms.”
The Crimson will look to the usual suspects to step up against the Hoyas: Vaughan has tallied five goals from the midfield through three games, sophomore attackman Daniel Eipp has scored six while adding a team-best 4 assists, and Cohen’s ten early-season goals put him on pace for one of the best scoring seasons in Harvard history.
“Right now, we’re focused on Georgetown,” Wocjik said. “That’s really it.”
—Staff writer James M. Acer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.