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This Saturday, the No. 7 Harvard men’s lacrosse team (4-1) looks to rebound as it faces off against Penn State (4-2) at Penn State Lacrosse Field. The last time the two teams faced off, the Crimson squad earned an early lead against the Nittany Lions, maintaining a close lead throughout most of the game before finally widening the margin at the end of the third quarter, resulting in an overall 12-9 victory.
However, with home field advantage this time around, Penn State may have a slight leg up on Harvard in what is certain to be a grisly battle between the two teams.
The Crimson is coming off of a tough loss against Bryant (4-2) this past Tuesday night with a final score of 12-9.
While Harvard held the lead at the end of the first half, putting up six goals and only giving up four, the tide quickly turned after the intermission. In the second half, the Bulldogs started to fight back by winning more face-offs and outshooting their opponents, ultimately overcoming the deficit and taking the lead.
“We look at the loss as a learning opportunity,” Harvard coach Chris Wojcik ’96 said. “It was a game that we did not execute as well as our game against Duke or the other wins, but you look at why, then you apply those lessons and we come out better at our next practice.”
While the loss for Harvard may have bruised its morale, it came just three days after the team managed to defeat then-No. 4 Duke in a 14-9 upset victory.
Led by senior attackmen Devin Dwyer and Morgan Cheek, the squad came out swinging in the first half, establishing a 10-5 lead. After an even scoring second half, Harvard not only pulled off the win, but also walked away with a 4-0 record, the first time since 2002 that the team has had such a successful start to the season. Looking forward to Penn State this weekend, the Crimson hopes to sustain its momentum from the hot start in spite of the hiccup that occurred Tuesday night.
“We just look at every team as our next competition,” sophomore attackman Jake Scott said. “We don’t really focus too much on who we’re playing. We focus on our team and practice, translating that on game day, and we have trust in our preparation.”
This preparation is thoroughly complemented by Harvard’s strong contingency of seniors. There are currently 15 seniors on the roster, whose leadership has paved the way for the team’s successful record thus far and will certainly be a major asset in the upcoming game against Penn State.
Dwyer in particular has sparked the Crimson offense, which is averaging just over 11 goals per game as a unit. The veteran has 16 goals on the season, followed by Cheek with 10 through the first five games. With two goals and an assist against Bryant, Dwyer has tallied a point in 38 consecutive games with the Crimson.
“Our strengths are, in transition, our offense,” Scott said. “If we win the face-offs and get the ball on offense, we will put ourselves in a really good position against [Penn State].”
While Harvard is recovering from its first loss of the season, the Lions most recently rolled to a 16-7 victory over Furman. Despite three close quarters, Penn State broke out in the third frame, outscoring its opponent 9-2.
The Crimson defense will be tasked with defending a balanced Lion attack. Against Furman, Penn State had six different players score two goals. The Harvard defense is averaging just over 10 goals allowed per game behind sophomore goalie Robert Shaw, who has started all five games in the 2016 campaign. Shaw had 17 saves on Tuesday against Bryant, which was the first loss of his career.
Harvard will need to play clean to get past Penn State, as turnovers and face-offs plagued the Crimson against the Bulldogs. Harvard turned the ball over 16 times compared to just 10 for Bryant, while the Bulldogs claimed 15 of 25 face-offs.
“Face-offs and possessions is something that we struggled with [in the game against Bryant] and is an important focus,” Wojcik said. “Penn State is a really good team. They’ve had a great start to this season, so I think it’s going to be a tough game. We’re going to have to be ready going down there and play really well to be successful.”
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