A shot at immediate redemption arrives on Saturday night for the Harvard men’s lacrosse team. After a disappointing 16-7 loss to Albany on Tuesday night—the program’s worst defeat since 2011—the Crimson will face off against No. 10/12 Duke at 7 p.m. at Soldiers Field Stadium.
It has been a season of mixed results for Harvard (4-4, 1-1 Ivy) through the bulk of its early-season schedule. Strong wins over Georgetown and at Dartmouth have been tempered by near-misses against Massachusetts and Brown, a loss to No. 15/16 Hofstra, and Tuesday’s struggle against the Great Danes.
The Crimson sits at somewhat of a crossroads as the weekend nears, with both its regular season and Ivy League records even at .500. The potential momentum that would accompany a signature win over a perennial power like Duke looms large, especially with the majority of Harvard’s league schedule commencing next week.
But taking down the Blue Devils (7-4, 1-1 ACC) will be no small task. Duke has proven its mettle through a challenging schedule, emerging with impressive victories, including a tight 9-8 win over No. 5 Loyola and an 11-8 win over rival No. 6/7 North Carolina, one of its two road wins. Duke enters this Saturday’s matchup coming off of a 19-7 demolition of Georgetown last weekend; the Crimson escaped with a two-goal win over the Hoyas earlier this month.
The Harvard defense struggled on Tuesday to contain an Albany offense currently ranked first in the nation, and the Blue Devils, with a slightly less prolific seventh-ranked attack, will present similar challenges.
“In order to beat a team like Duke, we have to be sharp from start to finish,” senior goalkeeper Harry Krieger said. “We made a lot of mistakes in transition and penalty situations on Tuesday, and we are going to have to clean those up this weekend.”
Duke’s efforts are spearheaded by junior attackman Jordan Wolf, who tallies better than four points per contest and ranks as the nation’s 15th-best scorer. The Crimson will look to do a better job containing him than what they managed with Albany star Lyle Thompson, who notched four goals to go with four assists on Tuesday.
Stopping Duke will not be easy, but it is certainly not impossible for a Harvard defense that has been stifling at times this season. Its 8.29 goals allowed per game is good for 12th in the country. Krieger had been dominant between the pipes before Tuesday’s defensive debacle—prior to that game, his .586 save percentage led the Ivy League, and he has already nabbed Ivy League and NEILA Player of the Week honors. Besides Albany, only Holy Cross managed to tally double digits against Harvard.
Perhaps the Crimson’s offensive concerns merit comparatively more attention. Harvard has struggled to rack up goals this season in the manner it has in years past.
“We need to be executing better on offense [against Duke],” Harvard coach Chris Wojcik ’96 said.
Freshman attackman Devin Dwyer has emerged as a go-to option, and senior Alex White and junior Peter Shwartz have carried much of the remaining load on offense. But the shoes of Jeff Cohen ’12, last season’s leading scorer, have yet to be filled, and perhaps the most likely preseason candidate to pick up the slack, junior attackman Daniel Eipp, has yet to consistently replicate the offensive dominance of his first two seasons.
The Blue Devils’ top-30 defense will be among the best Harvard has faced, and a Crimson victory will be all the more difficult if its offense can’t muster better than the six goals it has averaged through its past three games.
Harvard might stand to benefit from the typically brisk New England spring temperatures forecasted for Saturday night; the Blue Devils have only played one game outside of North Carolina so far this season. But even with the conditions on its side, the Crimson will need a defensive effort consistent with its performances before last Tuesday and a sustained offensive attack that prolongs through an entire game what have largely been just flashes of greatness.
“[Duke is] a very well-rounded team,” Krieger said. “We can’t let them dictate the game…. We need to play our game and everything else should fall into place.”
Saturday’s contest will be nationally televised on NBC Sports Network.
—Staff writer James M. Acer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.