With an infusion of youth and a large crop of veteran talent, Harvard looks to shake up the Ivy standings and make it back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.
Coming off a 2009 season in which it surpassed all expectations, the Harvard men’s lacrosse team is geared up for an even bigger and better run in 2010.
After finishing the season ranked 17th in the country with an 8-5 record, the team earned a No. 12 ranking in the LaxNews and Inside Lacrosse 2010 preseason national polls.
The Crimson returns its four leading scorers while also bringing in an impressive freshman class ranked third-best in the country according to Inside Lacrosse. The group is headlined by midfielder Jack Doyle–the second-highest rated recruit in the nation–and attack Peter Schwartz, who was named New England Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (NEILA) Preseason Co-Rookie of the Year.
“We were very excited about the class,” said third-season Harvard coach John Tillman. “They have a chance to take this program and do some things that haven’t happened here in a very long time. What they brought [was] a very high commitment level, a high expectation level and a lot of energy and enthusiasm.”
Youth will be a key to this year’s team as the roster carries 28 freshmen and sophomores and just seven seniors.
Tillman can only hope that at least one of those freshmen can give him the same sort of first-year production that he got out of 2009 NEILA Rookie of the Year Jeff Cohen, who led Harvard with 34 goals (ninth on the Crimson’s all-time single-season list) and 41 points in his first season. Though Cohen’s 2.62 goals per game average was seventh in the nation, the attack still sees room for improvement in his play.
“I’m trying to improve some things I didn’t do so well last year like riding and picking up ground balls,” the sophomore said. “I’m trying to let the game come to me, not trying to do too much, and trying to finish the opportunities I get.”
Cohen is joined on the attack by junior and fellow Long Islander Dean Gibbons, who was named to the NEILA Preseason All-New England team for the upcoming season. Gibbons’ 21 goals and 27 points both ranked second on the team. Sophomore Kevin Vaughan, who had five goals and seven assists as a rookie, will be in the mix, and Schwartz will also compete for time at the position.
“I think that we will see [Schwartz] getting some significant playing time this spring,” Tillman said of the freshman. “He was a guy in the fall who all the coaches agreed was always on the field when good things happened.”
The team is also expecting a big year out of senior midfielder Jason Duboe, a candidate for the Lowe’s Senior Class Award and an Inside-Lacrosse Preseason All-America honorable mention. Duboe was tied for third on the Crimson with 19 points in 2009. He will be joined at offensive midfield by senior co-captain Travis Burr, the NEILA All-New England second-team selection whose 16 goals in 2009 ranked third on the team. Sophomore Jesse Fehr, who had a team-high 11 assists in 2009, is also expected to contribute at midfield.
The defense is led by Burrs’ fellow captain and Inside Lacrosse Preseason All-America honorable mention selection Billy Geist. Last year, Geist picked up 20 ground balls and led a Harvard defense that ranked third nationally in scoring defense, allowing on average just 6.69 goals per game.
“We play a very team-oriented defense,” sophomore Paul Pate said. “It’s not really an individual sort of thing, but it’s very focused on communicating with each other and sliding across the field.”
Pate and the rest of that unit are set to defend a still-unnamed starting goalie. Following the graduation of three-year starter Joe Pike ’09, the team is left with a three-way battle for the position. Senior Sam Michel, sophomore Christian Coates, and freshman Harry Krieger are competing for the 2010 starting job.
“We aren’t sure [of the goalie] right now,” Tillman said. “They all have different strengths. All the guys have shown strong performances at times, and I think that’s a good thing for us, it’s a real healthy competition.”
Whomever Tillman chooses to play between the pipes will have a difficult task ahead of him. The team faces a tough schedule, with half of its 12 games coming against teams ranked by Inside Lacrosse–at home versus No. 2 Duke, No. 7 Princeton, and No. 15 Brown, and away against No. 6 Cornell, No. 13 Georgetown, and No. 17 UMass.