To become Ivy League champions for the first time since 1990, the Harvard men’s lacrosse team will have to put the past behind it and defeat No. 13 Yale on Saturday in New Haven.
“We are very excited about this game,” co-captain Joe Petrucci said. “Obviously, Harvard-Yale is a huge rivalry, and we will be playing for an Ivy League championship. It’s something the senior class hasn’t done in their careers here, so it’s really exciting.”
The past seasons have witnessed even matchups between the Crimson (8-5, 4-1 Ivy) and the Bulldogs (9-3, 3-2). Yale came away from the 2013 contest with an 11-10 victory that clinched a spot in the Ancient Eight tournament, while Harvard ended the season empty-handed.
The New Haven squad ultimately went on to win the tournament last year and appear in the NCAA Tournament, where Yale advanced to second round play before eventually falling to Syracuse by one goal.
“If we win this game we…earn the right to host the Ivy League tournament,” Harvard coach Chris Wojcik ’96 said. “We earned our spot into the tournament, and now we just need to lock up the championship.”
The Crimson remains undefeated at home, so appearing at Harvard Stadium in the tournament would undoubtedly give the Crimson an advantage.
But before focusing on their standing in the tournament, the players must first find a way to maneuver against a tough Yale team on the road.
“They’re a team that we don’t like, and they don’t like us,” Petrucci said. “It’s always a dogfight.”
This year, the Crimson will have to defeat noteworthy Bulldog attackmen and a formidable talent in faceoffs.
“[Yale’s faceoff man] Dylan Levings is as good as anyone out there,” Wojcik said. “He gets them the ball and allows them to control the pace and tone of a game.”
So far this season, Levings has posted a 59 percent overall faceoff percentage, a 65 percent conference percentage, and 82 ground ball pickups. Indeed, the 2013 Ivy League tournament MVP will be a worthy opponent for veteran Crimson faceoff man, senior Gabriel Mendola.
“Faceoff is one of the most important aspects of the game, but it is also one of the least predictable aspects of the game,” Wojcik said. “All I know is we have a great faceoff guy in Gabe Mendola, and they have a great faceoff guy in Dylan.”
Mendola has performed well this season, scrambling for 55 percent of faceoffs and earning an Ivy League Player of the Week award following his pickup of 20-of-26 faceoffs at the midline against the previously undefeated Cornell.
“Brandon Mangan and Conrad Overbeck are [also] outstanding [Yale] players,” Wojcik said. “We will really have to watch out for them.”
Mangan and Overbeck, with 39 and 43 points for the season, respectively, may pose a threat to the strong Crimson defense led by junior goalkeeper Jake Gambitsky.
“We don’t really game plan for any specific player,” Petrucci said. “We focus on playing our team defense better than they play their team offense.... They have a very talented offense and some skilled players, but we are going to work very hard in our preparation to take care of them.”
Gambitsky enters the weekend with 129 saves, with a crucial 10 stops coming last Saturday against Princeton to clinch the 9-8 victory against the Tigers.
Harvard’s junior longstick midfielder Brian Fischer and Yale’s Overbeck enter the matchup as Ivy League Players of the Week. Fischer anchored the Harvard defense against Princeton, keeping critical Tiger attackers silent in the week 10 matchup.
“We needed the victory against Princeton not just for the Ivy League title but also for our own mindsets,” Petrucci said. “The overtime loss against Penn was tough to shake off, but we were able to forget about it and play our best game against Princeton.”
Historically, the Bulldogs hold the series advantage over the Crimson, leading 60-33.
But this year’s Harvard team is unlike any Crimson squad within the past decade. For the first time in more than ten years, the squad enters the final game of the regular season with a winning record in both overall games and conference matchups.
“This year as opposed to years past, we have really been focusing on the details,” Petrucci said. “In practice and watching film, we are always focusing on the little things that can give us that edge. And in a one or two-goal game, those little things are what can make a difference.”
—Staff writer Caroline L. Ferguson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.