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In the end, the Harvard men’s lacrosse team had 30 seconds to turn around its season. Down one goal to No. 15 Yale with less than a minute to play in the final frame of regulation of the final game of the regular season, the Crimson’s highly efficient man-up unit took the field.
Harvard cycled the ball around the perimeter, giving it to Henry Mumford just outside the crease. As the game clock dipped under 25 ticks, the walk-on senior teed up Harvard’s most important shot of the season from point-blank range.
But the ball caught the leg of Bulldog goalkeeper Eric Natale and bounced wide. With 14 seconds left, sophomore power-play specialist Murphy Vandervelde ripped one last outside shot, which Natale easily corralled. The buzzer sounded as Yale walked away with an 11-10 victory.
With the win, the Bulldogs landed the second seed in the Ivy League Tournament, which they would go on to win. The Crimson, meanwhile, missed the postseason for the second straight year.
The final half-minute of Harvard’s season succinctly summarized a frustrating spring of close calls and missed opportunities. In a year of highs and lows, the Crimson elevated its game and went toe-to-toe with top-ranked competition, only to fall short at key junctures.
“We were competitive, and we were really close to turning some of those losses into wins,” coach Chris Wojcik ’96 said. “While on paper it wasn’t what we had hoped, I think that we played some great lacrosse for long periods of the season, and our guys certainly can be proud of that.”
Cornell and Duke met in Philadelphia on May 25 for the first game of the Division I NCAA tournament’s semifinals with a spot in the national championship on the line. Less than two months ago, Harvard had both the Blue Devils and the Big Red on the ropes late in the second half.
On March 30, the Crimson led then-No. 10/12 Duke at Soldier’s Field Stadium by two with less than eight minutes of regulation to play before the Blue Devils clawed back for a 12-11 win. A week later, Harvard held a three-goal lead at home with less than 10 minutes to play before then-No. 2 Cornell scored five unanswered down the stretch to win, 14-12.
In hindsight, the tight games against the national semifinalists speak to the talent of the 2013 Crimson squad. Yet that home stand, which also included a 16-7 rout at the hands of Albany, was perhaps the toughest stretch of Harvard’s season.
“It was a very frustrating time because we knew we had the ability,” captain Jason Gonos said. “We knew we could have won those games, but at the end of the day, we didn’t.”
The Crimson rebounded with impressive wins over Quinnipiac and then-No. 16/14 Penn. The latter game, a 9-8 overtime victory at home, represented the high point of the team’s spring. A game-winner from Vandervelde on the man-up staved off a late Quaker comeback and put Harvard back in the Ivy League playoff hunt.
“I’d definitely say that the highlight of our season was winning against Penn in overtime,” Gonos said. “It was definitely a culmination of a lot of hard work, so it felt very good to get that win.”
Harvard entered the season having to adjust to big-name departures and a new defensive system. But veteran leadership and breakout performances allowed the Crimson to match its record from the previous season and nearly pull off some major upsets.
The Class of 2013 came up big for the Crimson this year. Senior Alex White paced the Crimson in goals scored with 22. Classmate Harry Krieger was a consistent presence in goal for Harvard, and Gonos served as the Crimson’s first solo captain since 2000.
Freshman attackman Devin Dwyer and classmate defenseman Robert Duvnjak, both named top-five recruits by Inside Lacrosse, made an immediate impact in their first season with the Crimson. Dwyer led the team in points (43) and assists (27) to capture All-New England Rookie of the Year honors. Duvnjak led Harvard in ground balls.
Vandervelde and junior attackman Peter Schwartz had breakout seasons for the Crimson. Vandervelde entered the season with no collegiate goals to his name and was held scoreless through the season’s first six games before exploding for hat tricks against Penn, Duke, and Albany. Schwartz was second on the team with 18 goals after scoring four in his sophomore season.
Next year, the Crimson will have to contend with an increasingly talented Ivy League that made major strides on the national stage this year. But Gonos believes that the team is headed in the right direction.
“They are returning a number of guys all over the field, and the guys coming back and the guys coming in as freshmen are all great players and have all proven themselves in all different ways,” Gonos said. “I see us definitely getting over the hump next year.”
—Staff writer Michael D. Ledecky can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @mdledecky.
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