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Soaking Up the Bennies

John Ince Cares

By Bennett H. Beach

This spring's lacrosse team was not one of your basic clutch ballclubs. In the Ivy League this season, probably only Princeton had as much talent as they Crimson, and yet Harvard ended up with an anemic 2-4 record, worse than last year. The Tigers turned out not to be too strong under pressure, either, dropping their last three league games. If Cornell beats Dartmouth Wednesday as it should, then nearly half the league (three of seven teams) will be in first place. Harvard is a solid sixth.

So if Harvard has talent, the what's the problem? Are the players basically complacent, was the team unlucky, does the coach stink, is there a lack of leadership and spirit? It could be that all of these are partial explanations, but it's hard to pin down.

Before Saturday's game against Yale, Crimson coach Bruce Munro said, "Whoever goes after it will win." It was quite clear that Yale was the team which went after it. As has been the case all year, Harvard was terribly inconsistent. One period the Crimson hustles with great determination, and then the next quarter, the team is about as aggressive as Bambi during menopause, if deer are indeed subject to such slowdowns. That was the pattern in almost every game. Harvard was routing Penn before the Quakers rallied for several late goals and then crushed the Crimson, 4-0, in overtime to take the win. Harvard led Dartmouth, 3-2, at the half, but then the Ivy cellar-dweller came back to triumph, 9-6, for its first Ivy win in three years.

Munro's team played well in both the first and third periods against Yale, but the Elis performed with reasonable ability in all four quarters. They went ahead, 6-2, before the Crimson decided to rally, but the deficit was too large, and Yale scored twice more. The Bulldogs are somewhat the antithesis of Harvard. They had no returning midfielders, so they adapted former attackmen and hoped that the sophomores would work out. Yale was 1-2 before it started to jell and won its final three contests to share the title. The Elis worked hard out there Saturday, controlled the ball, and passed with a fair amount of competence, taking advantage of opportunities. Of course they had more incentives. The championship was within range, and coach Dick Corrigan was coaching his final game in a long career. But they did it before a large Harvard crowd.

Munro said the next day: "It wasn't a bad game; we didn't play that poorly." This is true to an extent, but it depends on what is "good" for Harvard's team these days. The Crimson played about as it had all year, but that is not really "good" compared to how well a team with that much talent should play. It seems likely that the disasters of this season have warped Munro's sense of judgment. But a coach of a disappointing team cannot be held responsible for the state of his mind.

Some of the problems started with the hardships of early spring, of course. The team didn't play outdoors until the southern trip because the weather was prohibitive. The Crimson then made its trip. Losing four out of five to good teams who had been able to work outside would not have been reason for discouragement, but when half the team gets injured, that's reason. Three-quarters of the experienced defense was out of action, as were several other players. Kirby Wilcox and Pete Barber ended up sitting out the entire season. So Harvard was certainly not a lucky team and had a good alibi for early-season difficulties, but when most of the team was well again, there was not much of an alibi left.

The problem basically seemed to be a lack of inspiration. Anyone who ever watched the team run its token lap before practice knows this. With the exception of a precious few, the squad crawls through this lap at minimum speed. It's a joke in every sense of the word. This was reflected in the games most of the time.

One origin of this spirit may be the lack of financial backing for the lacrosse team. This may sound silly, but when the team can not even afford to have a small banquet at the season's end, it's hard to overcome the feeling that the sport is strictly minor league. More crucial is the fact that funds are necessary to hire another coach or two to help Munro. It is simply impossible for one coach to handle a team of almost 30 players during practice. Two volunteers with considerable ability came down when they could to help, but there is no money to send them with the team for away games. There is a definite need for at least one more full-time coach, but until there's some more money, this is clearly impossible. The situation is so bad that the team has about three lacrosse balls. This is not as it should be, even if one only considers that more people go watch the lacrosse game than any other spring sport.

The team got a boost yesterday, however. Midfielder Bruce Regan was elected as next year's captain. When Harvard was behind this spring, Regan was usually part of the small corps that brought the Crimson roaring back. It was like the cavalry coming to the rescue in Rin Tin Tin, except in Rin Tin Tin it was never too late--it often was too late in Harvard lacrosse games this spring. Even the most observant spectators can't catch Regan loafing. He stood out especially against Yale. Not only did he score three goals, but he was constantly hustling on defense. Regan took the ball from a Yale man to set up two of Harvard's goals. No one covered as much ground as he did on Saturday.

There were others who fought hard, too; John Ince, for example. At one point in the fourth period, Ince, who is not always eager to mix it up with the big boys, knocked Yale's much larger Carl Bates out of bounds to give the Crimson the ball. But such positive elements were offset by other less desirable things. Some might have noticed the number of hasty shots taken by the second midfield.

One player recently pointed out that lots of good lacrosse players are just degenerating on Harvard's team and not improving because of the shortcomings of the program. Regan is very eager to change all this. He talked enthusiastically yesterday about two thing: raising funds and organizing some fall activity. He wants to start a mailing campaign to Harvard alumni who have played lacrosse in an effort to stir up some interest which might bear financial fruit. This appears to be the only way that the team will be able to get the money it so sorely needs.

The idea for working this fall is strictly legal since it would be on an informal basis and would not involve Munro. The ruling is that such activity is a violation only if the coach directs it. Regan is familiar with a version of lacrosse which is played with five-man teams, and thus a league of about four teams could be set up with games twice a week. These are just in the thought process right now, but it's good that someone cares enough to change the dismal situation. Much will depend on the team's eagerness, but such a plan will certainly pay dividends, especially since the squad will not have to start from scratch in the spring.

There should be no shortage of talent next year, either. The attack is returning intact, with Cle Landolt and Phil Zuckerman combining with Ince. Zuckerman is fourth in Ivy League scoring to give the Crimson one of the most potent attacks in the circuit. The midfield returnees in addition to Regan are Rick Frisbee and the sophomore third line of Bucky Hayes, Charley Scott, and Ted Rumsey, the boy with the flashy motorcycle. Harvard's defensive unit was statistically about the most porous in the league, though it did not really seem that weak at all. Don Gogel, Bill Bennett, Pete Barber, Bob McDowell, Gino Giancola, and some more sophomores will return to make the defense fairly solid. An interesting battle will be between goalies John Cosentino and Kirby Wilcox. Wilcox was to have started again this season, but an injury put him out early, and he never made it back into the lineup for as yet undivulged reasons. In addition, there are a number of this year's freshmen who should provide valuable depth.

This season has been nothing less than a disaster. Having it appear as such in print will bother some of the players. After the pitiful Dartmouth game, one of them said to be kind to them since they had had a depressing enough experience just playing the game. But I was too subdued when I reported the game; I failed to demonstrate what a horror show it was. Out of all this misfortune and now critical press coverage, maybe something good will develop. Maybe next year all of Harvard's talent can be put together to make a winning, perhaps championship, team. The election of Regan is probably the biggest boost that Harvard lacrosse can be given right now. Much of the progress depends at this point on positive response by everyone involved, including some generous alumni support

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