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Men's Lacrosse Survives Late-Game Surge from UMass Amherst

Crank That
Junior midfielder Joe Land winds up before unleashing a rocket

The Harvard Men’s Lacrosse Team (3-0, 0-0 Ivy) rode a hot start in its home-opener to overcome the late-charging Massachusetts Minutemen (0-3, 0-0 Colonial) by a score of 11-7. The Crimson has now won three consecutive games against Massachusetts, its longest streak since 1984.

Junior attackman Morgan Cheek tied a career-high with 5 assists Saturday afternoon at Jordan Field, a mark which he set nearly a year ago against the same opponent. Cheek’s fifth assist on that day last season set up recent graduate Devin Dwyer’s game-winner en route to a 10-9 Harvard victory in OT.

“I tried to take advantage early,” said Cheek. “Coming out strong is one of the biggest things we can do, and we were helped out a lot by our defense playing equally well. It’s much harder to play from behind than with a lead, so once we got them behind we knew we were in the driver’s seat, and we just had to close it out from there.”

The Wellesley native spearheaded an early onslaught of Harvard offense that pushed Harvard four goals in front with 2:56 remaining in the first quarter. The Crimson led UMass 5-1 heading into the half time break, while Cheek was responsible for all five scores in the first 30 minutes of play, registering two goals and three assists.

“I thought we came out with a lot of good energy,” said Harvard coach Chris Wojcik. “And we matched that energy being able to execute, and hit our shots, and that was ultimately the difference in the game…On the offensive end, Morgan Cheek had an absolutely stellar game. He had his hand in almost all of our goals, and I thought he did a great job of making his teammates better. He was a huge boost.”

Cheek also potted four goals of his own, lifting his season point total to 21. The Minutemen looked more like “Hourmen” when it came to helping on Cheek, and the nation’s leading point scorer gracefully took advantage of their tardy slides.

“We played two defenses the previous two games that slid quickly,” Cheek said. “UMass Lowell played a zone, and Holy Cross almost pre-slid, and I think the strength of our team is that we’re really athletic, and we try to run by people, so I was really excited to finally have the opportunity to dodge.”

For the Crimson, junior goalie Robert Shaw stopped 21 shots, good for a career high. After the game, Coach Wojcik lauded Shaw’s performance as one of the best he’d seen in his seven years at the helm.

“Rob Shaw had an outstanding game,” said Wojcik. “He was great from the opening whistle all the way throughout. It’s as good as a goalie’s played in all my seven years here, and I thought he was a huge difference maker in this game.”

Through three appearances in the fledgling 2017 campaign, Shaw has posted a 64.9 save percentage and 8.00 goals against average.

“It feels good,” said Shaw, “but it was a good effort from the whole team. I saw a lot of shots that were easy to save because our defense forced some outside ones. It got a little close at the end there, and we let them back in a little bit, but we’ve been working really hard conditioning-wise, so we had the energy to pull it out.”

UMass’ Grant Consoletti’s man-up goal left the Minutemen trailing 8-7 with 5:06 left in the 4th, but the late push would go no further. After an extended scrum at midfield following a mishandled pass, junior middie Joe Lang picked up a ground ball with 4:11 to play. The Crimson delivered 36 seconds later, as Cheek threaded a pass across the face of the goal to freshman attackman Ryan Graff who converted on the doorstep.

“The way we fought for ground balls in the second half, particularly the fourth quarter, was a big part of winning some key possessions that allowed us to create scoring chances, which we finished late,” Wojcik said.

New faces continue to bolster Harvard’s cohesive play. The Crimson’s young defense, which features two freshmen in the regular rotation (Beau Botkiss and David Strupp) has yet to allow opponents into double figures. Meanwhile, freshman midfielder Nigel Andrews punched home his third goal in as many games, while his classmate Dalton Follows upped his season goal total to five after burying two against the Minutemen.

—Staff writer William V. Robbins can be reached at will.robbins@thecrimson.com.

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