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Lose and stay home. Win and play another day.
The Ivy League playoff scenario is that simple for the Harvard men’s lacrosse team (6-7, 2-3 Ivy) as it prepares for Saturday’s regular season finale against No. 15 Yale (8-4, 3-2) at Harvard Stadium. With a loss, the Crimson would finish fifth in the conference, just outside the top four that will vie for the Ivy League title in Ithaca, N.Y., next weekend. With a win, Harvard would leapfrog Penn and Yale to secure the tournament’s third seed.
The situation is a familiar one for the Crimson, which will conclude its regular season against the Bulldogs for the fourth straight year. Last season, Harvard traveled to New Haven, Conn. needing a victory to extend its season, but Yale edged the Crimson, 10-8. In 2011, Harvard beat Yale at Soldier’s Field, 9-5, to clinch the third seed.
“Ultimately, I just want to play the best game that Harvard lacrosse has done yet,” said Crimson captain Jason Gonos, who will suit up for his last game at Soldier’s Field alongside nine other Harvard seniors. “I think that we still have yet to put together our perfect game, and I’m confident that we can do that Saturday.”
To achieve that elusive game Saturday, Harvard will have to avoid the slow start that doomed the Crimson to a 14-6 loss at Princeton last week. If Gonos and his squad beat Yale, they will be guaranteed another crack at the Tigers.
Midfielder Alex White promises to factor heavily in the Crimson attack, as he enters his Senior Day with a team-high 20 goals on the season. White has yet to record a point against Yale in his four-year varsity career, but that may change tomorrow.
Freshman attackman Devin Dwyer has been Harvard’s top playmaker this season and leads all Crimson scorers with 26 assists and 40 points. Junior attackman Peter Schwartz and sophomore Murphy Vandervelde have also stepped up their game on the offensive end, filling the void left by injured All-Ivy attackman Danny Eipp.
On the defensive end, Gonos will be joined by Robert Duvnjak, who entered the season as the country’s top-rated defensive recruit. The freshman has recorded a team-high 16 caused turnovers this year. In the crease, goalkeeper Harry Krieger will start his last game at Harvard as he looks to build on his .544 season save percentage.
“As a defenseman, it’s so comforting to know that you have a goalie behind you who is going to make stops,” Gonos said. “[Krieger] really gives us the confidence to play aggressively against their offense.”
Gonos is trying to stay in the moment as he prepares to play his final home game.
“It’s definitely sad if you think about it, but I’m really not even letting it get in the way, really not drawing on it too much just because I know this team has a lot of lacrosse left to be played,” Gonos said. “I understand it wouldn’t be at home, but this season isn’t over, and I just want to get the win on Saturday and continue it.”
Yale is coming off a controversial 8-7 loss to No. 3/2 Maryland last Saturday. Officials ruled that a last-second shot from Bulldog sophomore Harry Kucharczyk ricocheted low off the Maryland goal post as time expired. After the game, Yale coach Andy Shay told reporters that the ball had bounced in and out off the flat iron of the goal.
Regardless of the outcome, the Bulldogs put up an impressive showing, forcing Maryland junior Niko Amato to make 24 saves—the most by a Terrapin goaltender since 2005.
“[Yale] appeared in control of a lot of the play and were really kind of right in it, neck and neck to the end,” Wojcik said. “They’ve shown that they can go toe-to-toe with top teams, and we’ve been in that spot as well, certainly against Duke and Cornell.”
Junior attackman Brandon Mangan leads the Bulldog offense with 30 goals and 52 points in 12 games this year. Sophomore Conrad Oberbeck and senior Kirby Zdrill have also reached the 20-goal plateau for Yale this year. At midfield, junior faceoff specialist Dylan Levings will challenge Harvard senior Rick Molé.
The Bulldogs have plenty to play for tomorrow as well. With a win, Yale would secure the tournament’s second or third seed and a first-round game with Princeton. With a loss, the Bulldogs would meet No. 6/4 Cornell next Friday.
But Wojcik doubts that either team will need any extra motivation come Saturday afternoon.
“It’s Harvard-Yale, so you can really throw everything out.”
—Staff writer Michael D. Ledecky can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @mdledecky.
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