In sports, the beauty about rivalry is that it can provide hope amid gloom. The worst of seasons can be salvaged with the satisfaction of that one victory over the team that everyone loves to hate.
Today, at 2 p.m. at Ohiri Field, the Harvard and Yale men's lacrosse teams get a shot at the redemption of rivalry. Both schools have suffered serious setbacks since last year, when Harvard cruised to the quarters of the NCAA tournament, and Yale advanced to the semis.
Harvard (2-8 overall, 1-3 Ivy) is currently on a five-game losing streak, having long ago dropped out of the national rankings. Meanwhile, Yale (7-6, 2-3) has dropped four of its last six games and has staggered to an unimpressive 18th position in the latest USILA poll.
The Game Part II
But the Harvard-Yale game, by its very nature, allows the Crimson and Elis to atone for past defeats.
"Recently, it has turned into a serious rivalry," Harvard Coach Scott Anderson said.
In lacrosse, the rivalry between the two academic bastions is a new one. In the distant past, when neither school was a national powerhouse, the game never had the aura of its counterpart in football or other sports.
In recent years, however, both schools have emerged into lacrosse's national spotlight, and the annual matchup has truly become The Game. Last year's matchup was the culmination of the Crimson's and Eli's lacrosse prowess.
In that game, Harvard's Don Rogers scored in sudden-death overtime to lift the then seventh-ranked Crimson over a second-ranked and undefeated Yale squad, 8-7. The goal, which silenced a crowd of nearly 3000 in New Haven, secured Harvard a share of the Ivy League title.
This year's game does not put the Ivy title on the line, an undefeated record, an NCAA tourney first-round bye--or even an NCAA tourney first-round bid. But it is Harvard-Yale, and that immediately lends the game an aura of significance.
Yale, like Harvard, suffered the perils of graduation last June. The Bulldogs lost two first-team All-Americas, record-setting midfielder Jon Reese and goaltender. Tony Guido, putting this year's squad's future into peril. The graduation of feeder Jason O'Neill and crease attackman Karl Wimer also removed some of Yale's offensive punch.
But, at the beginning of this season, freshman attackman Eric Zelko emerged as the Elis' major offensive force, tallying 26 goals in seven games. Then, Zelko broke his leg. Attackmen Kim Dunn (19 goals--21 assists--40 points) and Josh McHugh (24-3--27), and midfielder Brian Walter (26-12--38) are left to carry Yale's scoring burden.
In net, after the loss of Guido, freshman Rich Dressler has become the Eli's usual starter. Dressler has recorded a 9.30 goals-against-average in 12 games this season.
An Emotional Battle
Emotion carries teams to victory in a rivalry, and Anderson's squad will hope to harness that emotion today.
"People are saying that because Yale has not been that successful this year, they're not playing with a lot of enthusiasm," Anderson said. "That's not the case with us."