In a hotly contested game last season, the Brown men’s lacrosse team scored four unanswered fourth-quarter goals at home to beat Harvard, 11-9, in the squads’ Ivy League opener.
For both teams, this Saturday’s rematch in Cambridge carries the same weight as that game did a year ago: beat a conference rival, set the tone in the Ivy League, and get in position for a postseason run.
“It’ll be an exciting game,” said Crimson junior goaltender Jake Gambitsky. “Brown always brings out a good crowd, and we’re hoping we get a lot of Harvard fans out there. It’ll be a fast-paced, high-energy game.”
The Bears (3-1) have given their fans plenty of reasons to be excited recently. The team, led by eighth-year coach Lars Tiffany, has won its last two games after finishing last season with its first winning record since 2010.
Much of Brown’s early success has been the result of outstanding defensive play. Sophomore goaltender Jack Kelly has posted the eighth-best save percentage in the country at 60 percent.
The Bears have a potent offense as well, with freshman attackman Dylan Molloy earning his second Ivy League Men’s Lacrosse Rookie of the Week nod four days ago after scoring a combined seven goals in victories over Hartford and Hobart.
Brown attackman Sam Hurster has also had a hot hand. The senior racked up a career-high six goals in the win against Hartford.
“They play a quick, scrappy kind of game,” said Crimson co-captain and defenseman Joe Petrucci. “They like to run in transition and try to score a lot of points in a hurry.”
The Brown offense has a tough challenge to overcome, however, as Gambitsky has been solid in the net for Harvard. The junior won recognition as the Ivy League Player of the Week after helping the Crimson get two wins with a 12-save performance against Quinnipac last Tuesday and a career-high 18 saves against Georgetown on Saturday afternoon.
“Having a guy like that playing goalkeeper is huge for us as defensemen,” Petrucci said. “It allows us to go out there with the confidence that we can leave it all out there when we have him playing behind us.”
The Harvard attack will be bolstered by the return of sophomore attackman Devin Dwyer. After a breakout freshman year in which he put up 43 points in 14 games, Dwyer was forced to sit out the first four games of this season with a hand injury. He came back in last week’s contest against Georgetown and led the team with five assists and five groundballs.
“[Dwyer] is great to have on the team because he makes everyone around him better,” Petrucci said. “He uses his great vision to give other people opportunities to score.”
Peter Schwartz, the Crimson’s co-captain midfielder, has provided another spark to the squad’s offensive attack. In the game against Georgetown, he put up five points and made three of his four shots on goal.
“We just need to go out there and play our game,” Schwartz said. “We’ve put the work in, and we know our strengths. Now we just have to use them.”
The Bears’ lineup has relied on its speed to generate scoring opportunities. Many of its 53 points this season have been the result of an aggressive transition game.
“We’re going to have to play disciplined defensively,” Petrucci said. “Get them away from the goal, keep the ball off our half of the field, and move the ball around well.”
In this matchup, each team hopes to set the tone for its midseason stretch of games that will follow.
Brown’s next matchups include Bucknell University and Providence College, two squads that are coming off of recent losses.
Harvard will face stalwart opposition when it travels to Chapel Hill, N.C., to face the No. 5/4 University of North Carolina. The Tar Heels’ offense, which averages 16.2 goals per game, is second only to No. 13/13 Albany, which beat Harvard, 14-8, at the beginning of the month.
But, for now, the Crimson has to remain focused on Brown, which finished tied with Harvard for fifth in the Ivy League in 2013. In 2014, both teams are a threat to break the top four of the conference and secure an Ivy tournament bid.
For Harvard, last year’s game in Providence mirrored other conference losses to Cornell and Yale in which the Crimson jumped out to an early lead but could not hold on.
Harvard coach Chris Wojcik ’96 and the team enter this year’s league play with a new motto.
“Our team’s motto this year is ‘buckle down,’” Schwartz said. “That means we go out, play hard, and get the job done.”