Tied at halftime in its game against then-No. 2 Cornell, the Harvard men’s lacrosse team turned a corner and essentially started a new season.
It was one of the greatest second halves in program history.
The Crimson went on a 6-1 run in the third quarter and, ultimately, held on to beat the Big Red, taking sole possession of the top spot in the Ivy League after early nonconference losses to UMass, Albany, UNC, and Duke.
After the Cornell game, Harvard went on a tear, winning three of its next four games, including victories against ranked conference opponents Princeton and Yale. Its only loss came against 11th-ranked Penn in overtime on the road in Philadelphia.
The Crimson won its first regular season conference title since 1990 and went into the Ivy League tournament as the top seed and host, needing to win it to guarantee itself a berth in the NCAA Tournament. Harvard’s résumé was strong after its recent wins, but the early losses made its chances of receiving an at-large bid to the tournament more tenuous.
“Winning the championship for the first time in 24 years was a huge accomplishment,” Harvard coach Chris Wojcik ’96 said. “The league was very strong this year, and I am very proud of what we did.”
In the first round of the conference tournament, the Crimson challenged Yale and won by a single goal for the second time in two weeks over the Bulldogs. However, it lost to Penn again in the final.
Harvard was then forced to await the NCAA Selection Committee’s decision with trepidation, not knowing if its losses would come back to haunt it.
Finally, at the very end of the selection show, the Crimson found out that it would receive the final at-large bid to the tournament and would play against Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind. This was the first time that Harvard had been to the national tournament since 2006. The team ultimately struggled against the Irish and lost, 13-5, in a game that it never led in.
“Our guys got a taste of what it is going to take to win at an elite level,” Wojcik said. “It is a building process to being able to win late in May, but the experience from this year is going to be big for us.”
Harvard’s leadership came primarily from its senior class, headlined by co-captains Peter Schwartz and Joe Petrucci. Schwartz, a midfielder, finished with the second-most points on the team and was named second team All-Ivy, while Petrucci anchored the Harvard defense throughout the season.
“Finishing our careers as Ivy League champions is really special,” Petrucci said. “It has been a lot of work over the last four years to get to this point, and to finally see it all pay off is a really great feeling.”
However, a large portion of the Crimson’s talent is concentrated in its younger classes.
Sophomores Devin Dwyer and Bobby Duvnjak were both named first team All-Ivy. Dwyer missed the first four games of the season, including the Albany and UMass defeats, but still managed to lead the team in points. His 35 assists were the most in the Ivy League, with the second-highest being just 23. Duvnjak ranked second on the team in turnovers forced and was a key component of the Harvard defense all season.
Rounding out Harvard’s All-Ivy selections were junior goaltender Jake Gambitsky, sophomore defenseman Stephen Jahelka, sophomore attackman Will Walker, and senior midfielder Carl Zimmerman.
“Coming into the season, we felt disrespected in the league,” Petrucci said. “No one really expected us to finish first and have a great season like that. Instead, we went out and proved everyone wrong.”
Next year, with many of the key contributors from this team returning, the Crimson will no longer be regarded as an unlikely candidate to win the Ivy League. Harvard has emerged as a potential force to be reckoned within the scope of national collegiate lacrosse.
“We took a big step forward for the program this year,” Wojcik said. “But our guys still finished the season yearning for more. We had a lot of success in the conference, but we still need to take big steps to win at the national tournament level. Next year, we have to be even better and even hungrier.”
—Staff writer Theo Levine can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.