With an 11-10 victory over Ivy League rival Yale on Saturday, the Harvard men’s lacrosse team finished its regular season with possession of the Ancient Eight title.
The No. 16 Crimson (9-5, 5-1 Ivy) entered the fourth quarter tied with the 13th-ranked Bulldogs (9-4, 3-3), 9-9, but two quick goals gave Harvard the lead it needed to hold on to win the game.
Strong play by junior goaltender Jake Gambitsky, who recorded five saves and gave up only one goal in the fourth quarter, was essential for the Crimson in these waning moments.
“Jake was the biggest difference in the fourth quarter,” Harvard coach Chris Wojcik ’96 said. “When it mattered most, he was the best player on the field.”
With the win and the program’s first Ivy League title since 1990, the Crimson will host the conference tournament next weekend.
Harvard’s sole league loss this year came against Penn, and that matchup was decided in sudden-death overtime.
“I am so proud of our players,” Wojcik said. “They have worked so hard for this, and winning the Ivy League championship is a testament to them and how much they’ve done.”
Harvard struck first in the match, as sophomore attackman Deke Burns caught a pass from classmate Devin Dwyer to give Harvard the advantage.
But Bulldog senior attackman Brandon Mangan responded quickly to tie the game, and proceeded to convert again, putting Yale up by one.
Co-captain Peter Schwartz then drew a Bulldog penalty after driving for a shot, and followed that up with a goal, assisted by Dwyer. After a quick faceoff win, sophomore midfielder Mark Glicini tallied for Yale to put his team back up. Dwyer notched his third assist a few minutes later, finding senior midfielder Daniel Eipp to tie the game heading into the second quarter.
At this point, Gambitsky had made six crucial saves to keep Harvard in the game. The Crimson had won only two of seven faceoffs, and was losing the possession battle, but still went into the break tied.
“Jake came up clutch for us,” co-captain defenseman Joe Petrucci said. “He’s built up a lot of confidence throughout the year, and he is really the backbone of our defense.”
Dwyer got his fourth assist on a pass to sophomore attackman Will Walker to start the second period. Two minutes later, sophomore attackman Ian Ardrey also notched a goal, sprinting around the goal for a diving shot, putting Harvard up by two.
But it was not long before the Bulldogs answered, as Mangan scored again, and then junior attackman Conrad Oberbeck tied the game.
The Bulldog defense seemed unable to control itself, giving up a total of six penalties before the end of the second quarter. Junior attackman Murphy Vandervelde scored on two of these, shooting from about 12 yards out each time, giving the Crimson a two-goal lead heading into the half.
Yale scored man-up to start the third period, but sophomore long-stick midfielder Jack Breit scored his fourth goal of the season, assisted by Burns, to answer for Harvard. Burns followed his assist with a goal of his own, giving the Crimson its largest lead of the day, 9-6.
Two more goals by Oberbeck narrowed the lead, and then Bulldog junior midfielder Shane Thornton tied the contest going into the fourth quarter.
Eipp and sophomore midfielder Sean McDonagh scored for Harvard, the latter of whom was assisted by Dwyer. This marked Dwyer’s sixth assist of the game, a career-high for the sophomore attackman, who will finish the season leading the Ancient Eight in assists with 30.
“[Dwyer] is a great player because he makes everyone around him better,” Wojcik said. “He is able to really see the field and it is a special skill that he has. His distribution really made our entire offense better.”
Over the course of the last 1:45, when the Crimson got the ball back with a two-goal advantage and were looking to ice the game, the team began to struggle. Harvard gave the ball back to Yale three times in the final stretch, one of which resulted in a goal.
But the Crimson held on, largely thanks to two key saves by Gambitsky. The goaltender finished with 14 saves on the day, his most since a March 8 victory over Georgetown. Saturday’s contest marked the fifth straight game in which Harvard gave up 10 goals or fewer, four of which have been key conference games. The Crimson has conceded the fewest in-conference goals of any Ivy League team this season.
“This was a complete team win,” Petrucci said. “We played hard, we fought, and we put ourselves in position at the end to win.... This senior class has put in four years of hard work, and it’s an unbelievable feeling to win the Ivy League championship. No one can take this away from us.”
—Staff writer Theo Levine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.