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By all standards, the Harvard men's lacrosse team should have little trouble today dismantling Vermont at Centennial Field.
While the Crimson consistently plays against the top teams in the nation, the Catamounts continue to struggle against smaller Division I schools such as Villanova and Colgate. Last year the Crimson trounced the lowly Catamounts 16-3, at Ohiri Field. And even Vermont coach Jeff Thomsen conceded, "We're just learning how to compete with the big guys."
But this season, the Crimson knows that it cannot take any games for granted.
After a dismal season-opening loss to C.W. Post, Harvard played strong against powerhouse Cornell, dropping a close contest, 9-8. The Crimson, however, could not sustain its intensity. Four days later, the laxmen put on a lackluster performance against a much weaker Boston College team, just barely scraping by the Eagles.
Harvard now finds itself at another crossroads. After a solid performance against Army two weekends ago, the Crimson pulled off a stunning upset of nationally-ranked Pennsylvania on Sunday, shocking the Quakers, 12-11, in overtime at Ohiri Field.
"As far as the roller coaster goes, we were on the down side for a while," Tri-Captain Tim Reilly said. "Now it looks like we're on our way up. I only hope we can keep riding it through Wednesday."
Harvard also needs a solid victory over the Catamounts if it hopes to maintain its momentum heading into an ominous April schedule that features games against Brown, Yale and Princeton.
To defeat Vermont the laxmen must continue the solid transition game they played against Penn. In that game the Crimson capitalized on unsettled situations and defensively contained the Quaker fast break.
The Crimson must fight for ground balls as it did on Sunday. By dominating possession against Penn, the Crimson was able to play the game at its own tempo, something it had failed to do in previous performances.
Harvard's main challenge, however, will come on offense. Against B.C., the Crimson failed to open up a significant lead. The Eagles scored first, and, as B.C.'s confidence grew, the two teams traded goals for most of the game.
"The longer you let them stay in the game, the bigger their confidence gets, and that's where something can go drastically wrong," Reilly said. "If we can mentally take away [Vermont's] momentum, we can bury them easily."
Harvard will look to Reilly, dominant attacker Mick Cavouti and freshman standout Mike Porter to charge the net early.
But if the Crimson does not put away the Catamounts early, it could be a long day in Burlington.
The Catamounts first line of Tim Moriarty, Frank Shipman and Tim Shannehan can be an offensive threat. Tri-Captain Moriarty posseses a dangerous shot and Shipman is coming off a strong freshman season in which he tallied 25 goals and 15 assists. After leading the Catamounts last year with 37 goals and 20 assists, Shannehan, one of Vermont's all-time leading scorers, is a speedy attacker with excellent passing skills.
On defense, long-sticks Sandy Bernhardt and Dave Giarrusso will be assigned the unseemly task of trying to contain the prolific Cavouti. Bernhardt will call upon his outstanding speed to keep pace with the wiley Harvard attackmen, while Dave Giarrosso, a sturdy 6'1" junior, will play a tough, physical game to repel the Crimson attack.
Vermont's main strength comes between the pipes, with Tri-Captain Chris McCabe. Among the top 10 goalies in the nation last year, McCabe recorded a 9.63 goals against average and an impressive .646 save percentage last year. The Crimson will have to shell the net early if they hope to overpower the experienced goalie.
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