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Fresh Start for Ranked M. Lax

By Jonathan P. Hay, Crimson Staff Writer

Despite its unfamiliar struggles last season, the Harvard men’s lacrosse team begins its 2004 season in a very familiar place—among the top 25 teams in the nation.

Although the Crimson struggled through a frustrating 2003 campaign—finishing 5-10 (1-6 Ivy) and suffering its first losing season since 1999—the team still managed to obtain enough votes to be ranked in the Face-Off Yearbook Division I preseason coaches poll top 25, just as it was in 2001 (No. 20), 2002 (No. 25) and 2003 (No. 21).

“[Number 25] is a good place to be,” Harvard coach Scott Anderson said. “It shows that people recognize that we have talent and are just not sure how the pieces will fit together.”

Of course, the Division I coaches are not alone in their uncertainty about how the pieces will fit together for the Crimson. The team enters the season needing to replace its leading point-scorer from last season in tri-captain attackman Matt Primm, last year’s MVP tri-captain defenseman Andrew Crocco as well as two of its three top midfielders in Jay Wich and tri-captain Doug Logigian.

“We have a different kind of team this year,” Anderson said. “Primm, Logigian and Wich were a lot of our offense last year.”

Although the team lost some key players, Harvard greatly improved in a key area—depth.

“We’re not really trying to replace the seniors player by player,” Anderson said. “We have more depth this year so we’re trying to get more out of more people.”

The increase in quality options this season can be mainly attributed to the influx in talented freshmen that have arrived as a result of an excellent recruiting year. Likely the biggest name among the recruiting class of ’07 is attackman Greg Cohen, who represented the United States in the 2003 ILF U-19 World Championships, recording nine goals in six games.

In addition to Cohen, attackmen Brandon Logigian and Brian Mahler as well as midfielders Evan Calvert, Adam Mahfouda and P.J. Maglathlin were all tabbed by Anderson as freshmen who may see significant minutes this year.

“The freshmen are mature athletes, for their age,” Anderson said. “But freshmen are freshmen. There are a lot of variables. We’re trying to get all of them to put pressure on themselves.”

“We’re going to have to rely on several of [the freshmen],” added captain Hani Malone. “They’ve shown a huge improvement and they just need to get comfortable.”

Although there are questions surrounding several key positions, there is no question about who will be between the pipes for the Crimson, as captain Jake McKenna will be the starting goalie for the fourth consecutive season.

“In lacrosse, maybe more than in any other sport, goaltending is a huge issue because of the [large] variability in save percentages,” Anderson said. “Good goaltending is the foundation of every good team.”

McKenna finished 18th in the nation in goal-against average last season and picked up Honorable Mention All-Ivy accolades. He was also tabbed as a preseason All-America pick by Face-Off Yearbook for the second straight season. Despite this, Anderson believes that his starting goalie could achieve even more this season.

“Expectations were so high last season,” Anderson said. “He almost tried too hard. [But] he finished last season with five of the best games I’ve ever seen a goalie play.”

Holding down the fort in front of McKenna are two returning starters, captains Malone and Spencer Stenmark. Along with Crocco, they anchored a defense that last season finished 17th in the nation in goals-allowed average and had the eighth-ranked man-down defense.

“Crocco is a huge loss,” Malone said. “He’s an amazing athlete, and he also had a lot of know-how. It was like having a coach on the field with us.”

Replacing him in the starting defense this year will be sophomore Tom Mikula, who spent last year at long-stick midfield. Although the transition might be difficult for Mikula, he has the advantage of learning while surrounded by three capable veterans.

“We’ve still got myself, [Stenmark] and McKenna,” Malone said. “We’re certainly not naked back there.”

At midfield, Harvard is looking to overcome the loss of two of its highest-scoring midfielders in Wich and Logigian. But the increased depth of the Crimson is extremely evident here, as seniors Jeff Gottschall and Alex Vap—who won over 60 percent of their faceoffs last year—are joined by a hoard of younger contributors, including juniors Zach Chandis and David Patterson and sophomore Tom Boylan.

“We can run 12 good midfielders right now,” Anderson said. “[Due to] injuries last year, sometimes we only had one line.”

At attack, Harvard hopes that its increased depth will allow it to compensate for the loss of Primm, who was the top point-scorer in a group that already had difficulty scoring goals at times last season.

“[The lack of scoring] affected the way we had to play last season,” Anderson said. “The defense felt like they had to be perfect. We have a lot more offense this year, no question. We just have to put the pieces together.”

In addition to the talented freshmen, the Crimson attack includes senior Anders Johnson, junior Mike McBride and sophomores Sean Kane, Colin MacLeod and Steve Cohen. These five returning players accounted for over half of the Crimson’s goals last season, headed by Kane, who led the team with 21.

“Kane is a great example of what we want from [this year’s freshmen],” Anderson said. “He made that transition really quickly, and he’s a guy who is going to show these younger guys the way.”

Although Harvard clearly has the talent to compete with the best, its road to the NCAA Tournament is not going to be easy. The Crimson is joined in the top 25 by four other Ivy League teams, led by No. 4 Princeton and including No. 12 Cornell, No. 20 Dartmouth and No. 22 Yale.

The winner of the league receives an automatic bid to the tournament, while the remaining teams must fight for an at-large bid.

In addition to its tough Ivy League games, Harvard’s schedule includes stops at No. 7 UMass, Bucknell and Denver—both tied at No. 23.

Harvard looks to open its season on a strong note as it hosts Hartford this Saturday at 1 p.m. The two teams met last year, with the Crimson taking a 9-3 decision on the strength of a McBride hat trick.

—Staff writer Jonathan P. Hay can be reached at hay@fas.harvard.edu.

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