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The No. 13/16 Harvard men’s lacrosse team jumped on Penn State early, scoring four straight goals to open Saturday’s matchup at Soldiers Field Lacrosse Stadium. The Crimson (3-1) never trailed at any point en route to a 12-9 victory over the visiting Nittany Lions (2-3).
After killing off an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty assessed on the opening face-off, the Harvard offense capitalized on its possession advantage by sprinting to a 4-0 lead just six minutes into the contest. Junior midfielder Sean McDonagh, who finished with a goal and three assists, opened the scoring by converting off a dodge from the wing.
“If [the Nittany Lions] get rolling, they’re a tough team to beat,” junior tri-captain Stephen Jahelka said. “Everyone was just concentrating on...[how] this game’s really about us, and if we come out fast, it doesn’t matter what they’ll do. If we play our game plan, we’ll be able to compete with them everywhere.”
On a quiet day for junior attackman Devin Dwyer, a pair of midfielders stepped up to lead the offense for the Crimson. McDonagh played the role of facilitator from up top, while freshman midfielder Joe Lang continued an impressive start to his collegiate career.
Coming off a break-out performance against Quinnipiac, Lang turned in another stellar effort on Saturday, notching four goals and helping to put the game away late in the second half. In the opening minutes of the fourth quarter, Lang beat his defender from behind the goal to cap off a 5-1 Harvard run and extend the lead to five scores. When sophomore midfielder Drake Kreinz scored to pull Penn State within three, Lang answered less than a minute later, ending any hope of a comeback.
“When you combine his speed, his ability to make plays with both hands, and...a really high lacrosse IQ...he’s just a really productive player that teams really have to account for,” Harvard coach Chris Wojcik '96 said. “I’m most impressed that he plays like an upperclassman. He doesn’t look like a freshman out there.”
The Crimson offense has been clicking on all cylinders this season, and Saturday’s game was no different. Harvard now ranks sixth in the country in scoring at 14.25 goals per game after scoring less than 11 per game a year ago.
On the other end of the field, injuries have kept the Crimson from realizing its potential thus far this year. However, Harvard welcomed Jahelka back into the fold at close defense against the Nittany Lions. The captain was one of the anchors of the Crimson defense a year ago, and his presence was immediately felt on Saturday, as Harvard allowed fewer than ten goals for the first time this season.
Junior Bryan Moore was solid in goal, making a number of key saves, especially early on, to help solidify the Crimson defense. The Baltimore, Md., native had five first-quarter stops, including two that stymied Penn State’s game-opening man advantage. Moore has established himself this season after playing sparingly in his first two years. As a result, Harvard is now spoiled for choice in the cage, as Moore and tri-captain Jake Gambitsky, the longtime starter, have both shown the ability to lead the defense and make key plays.
Going forward, the Crimson will continue to make adjustments as significant contributors such as juniors Jack Breit and Bobby Duvjnak return from injury and the coaches determine how to allocate playing time in goal. In the meantime, Saturday’s game offered an encouraging sign to a unit laden with talent when at full strength.
“We have had different lineups most games.... In that regard I think we’re still trying to build chemistry with our unit.” Wojcik said. “But I feel like we’re on an upward trajectory in terms of our defensive play, and that was our best defensive performance of the year so far.”
—Staff writer Phil Delamater can be reached at email@example.com.
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