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Harvard Avoids Heartbreak in Westport, Bests Bucknell 13-12

The Harvard men's lacrosse team dug itself out of an 8-1 deficit to overcome Bucknell.
The Harvard men's lacrosse team dug itself out of an 8-1 deficit to overcome Bucknell. By Dylan J. Goodman
By Katharine Forst, Crimson Staff Writer

WESTPORT, Conn. — Picking up momentum after what was another rocky start, the Harvard men’s lacrosse team (3-0) fought back from an 8-1 deficit to silence the Bucknell Bison (1-3), 13-12, in what came down to a thrilling fourth quarter of lacrosse.

Battling at the intimate setting of Staples High School, the raucous Bucknell alumni roared with cheers as the Bison took off on an early lead. Fairfield County native freshman middie Peter Grandolfo felt right at home on the Staples turf, notching the first two goals of the game for Bucknell. The Bison had to work for its first offensive possession, however.

Harvard won the initial faceoff on a technical but was unable to convert on its first possession. The attack looked strong, moving the ball quickly around the perimeter, analyzing the middle for open lanes. Junior middie Miles Botkiss, who notched two clutch goals on the day, saw his opportunity, feeding senior attacker Graham Blake who was cutting along the crease. Blake – who is ranked first in the Ivy League and 24th nationally for most goals this season with just three games under his belt – fell prey to a timely back-check from the Bison defender, and the ball was knocked loose out of his stick for an easy ground ball and clear from Bucknell.

The Bison exuded confidence on the offensive end, moving the ball with pace around the fan. Sophomore attackman Michael Meyer, who quarterbacked the offense with five points on the day in the form of two goals and three assists, dodged hard down the right alley, making his move on his short stick matchup. Meyer kept his head up on his dodge and made the open feed to Grandolfo, who slyly backdoored his Crimson defender who got caught ball-watching Meyer as he drove to cage.

Freshman LSM Joost de Koning won the groundball battle for Harvard on the second faceoff, but the Crimson was again unable to capitalize on its possession time. Ball movement for the first two possessions looked solid for the attacking line, and the unit had no trouble finding seams in the Bison defense, but the Harvard attack was unable to put the ball in the back of the cage. However, as the quarter wore on and Bucknell’s confidence grew, the attack became frantic and its typically-mature, settled sets devolved into forced feeds into traffic and slower ball movement, allowing the Bison to organize its rotations and quickly shut down one-on-one drives.

Grandolfo tallied the second goal for Bucknell, attacking his matchup against sophomore LSM Sean Jordan with a hard set of back-to-back roll dodges that allowed him to push off of Jordan’s pressure and release a righty side-arm slinger from the top of the fan. Harvard was a second late to send the adjacent slide, and Grandolfo exploited the space between Jordan and sophomore SSDM Finn Jensen to find the back of the cage for a 2-0 lead.

Harvard came out of the gate slowly, not playing with the intensity it displayed in its gritty victory against Bryant on Feb. 20th. Harvard, currently tied for first place in the Ivy League with historic foe Yale (2-0), seemed reactionary against Bucknell, responding to the Bison rather than dominating the pace of play. Bucknell is currently tied for last place in the Patriot League with Loyola, and it was evident that the Bison traveled to Staples with a chip on its shoulder and something to prove. Harvard was not able to match this initial fire, and the slow start coupled with a slew of controllable mistakes saw the game tip entirely into Bucknell’s favor for a full 45 minutes of play.

“We were a bit tentative in the beginning, which goes against our offensive values,” sophomore attacker Teddy Malone said. “As the game went on we lit a fire beneath us as we realized we needed to get back into this game.”

The squad got off to a slow start but found its cadence in the fourth.
The squad got off to a slow start but found its cadence in the fourth. By Dylan J. Goodman

Botkiss killed the scoring drought with a much-needed man-up goal, temporarily squashing the Bison’s momentum, which saw it race to a 4-0 lead nine minutes into the first. Under Assistant Coach and Offensive Coordinator Neil Hutchinson’s tutelage, the man-up unit has proved to be an effective threat so far this season and was a bright spot in the Crimson’s first quarter offensive effort. The line moved the ball quickly around the fan, holding its space and showcasing its maturity by waiting for a clean take. Botkiss found his opportunity off a quick pass on the right wing, where he wound up and let the ball loose for a lefty cannon that painted the crossbar.

“We had a couple of plays and we talked about some of the things we wanted to focus on this week during practice, like spacing, moving the ball, not holding the ball for too long, and I think we all did that,” Malone added. “Our man-up group has been gelling well together, and I think that showed today.”

The Harvard bench went wild after Botkiss scored, celebrating its first goal in more than 12 minutes of play. The Crimson was unable to keep its momentum going, however, with the squad being forced back on defense after a loss at the faceoff X. The team mitigated the Bison’s offensive threat, locking down the attack for the full 80 seconds on the shot clock. But, on what would be just one of several technical fouls against Harvard, the squad was caught with too many men on the field, sending possession back to Bucknell.

The Crimson struggled with controlling its controllables for the first three quarters, turning the ball over to the Bison 12 times. In what was an uncharacteristic hour of play, the team – which prides itself on fighting for every possession – was outworked by Bucknell. On the last possession of the first quarter, junior goalie Max Nolan, who posted an impressive 15 saves on the day, stuffed the Crimson attack before hitting one of his SSDM with a deep outlet, giving him time and space to fly past the re-defending Harvard attack. Bucknell pushed the fast break, and with less than a second left on the clock, freshman offensive middie Hans Huber was able to sneak one past senior goalie Christian Barnard to send the Bison into the break up 5-1.

“After the first quarter I had to mentally reset. You know that happens as a goalie sometimes. Sometimes you don’t save every ball, and sometimes stuff goes in that shouldn’t,” Barnard said. “But, it really is about how you respond and you’ve gotta take it with the next play and remember that you’re here to win and you’re here to have fun.”

Bucknell continued with its onslaught throughout the second quarter, drawing first blood before extending its lead by three more goals. The Bison faceoff unit was lethal throughout the period, going 5-0 at the center mark. With the increased possession time, Bucknell was able to settle into its rhythm, and work its sets. Less than a minute into play, Meyer, who got a step on his defender while dodging cross-fan and looking for a feed in the middle, got his arms free and found the back of the net with a side-arm rip top shelf.

Barnard stopped the Bison’s next offensive attack with a big save, but the Crimson was unable to clear. Sophomore SSDM Owen Guest had no choice but to run through traffic, and was swarmed by the Bucknell ride before he could make it over the midline. The Harvard defense failed to give Guest an outlet pass, and the simple mistake cost the Crimson its well-earned possession. In what would be a first-half theme, the team struggled with taking care of the ball, focusing more on making big stops rather than on valuing possession time.

The Bison scored two more successive goals, extending its lead to 8-1, the largest differential of the afternoon. In a much needed break, Bucknell drew a one-minute penalty for a late cross-check against Blake, who had already lost possession of the ball. The Bison wouldn’t know it yet, but its late-hit against Blake would be the catalyst for Harvard’s comeback. A palpable energy shift could be felt in the stands as the man-up line jogged onto the field, its desire to answer Bucknell’s chippiness towards its teammate evident before the referee even blew the whistle.

The squad will need to string together four cohesive quarters of lacrosse to be successful in the competitive Ivy League.
The squad will need to string together four cohesive quarters of lacrosse to be successful in the competitive Ivy League. By Dylan J. Goodman

The attack spread the Bucknell defense thin, stretching itself outside the fan in an effort to catch the Bison man down unit on a late rotation. The attack slung the ball down low to Malone at the X, and the quick pass behind the cage caught Bucknell ball-watching. Junior attacker Sam King – who ranks first in the Ivy league for points and 16th nationally so far this season to pair with first in the Ivy League and eighth nationally for assists – held his space at the top of the fan as he noticed the Bison defense sag in towards Malone. This created ample room for Malone to lob a pass to King, who sent the ball flying past Nolan with 3:23 seconds left in the half.

After some back-and-forth play between the two teams, Harvard came up with a big stop and a successful clear with 40 seconds on the clock. King sent the Crimson into halftime with some much-needed momentum, converting a rebound from a missed shot by Botkiss on the left side of the crease. Botkiss nearly slipped his shot past Nolan, who was unable to retain possession of his save. King read the play beautifully from behind the cage, tracking down the ball as he quickly wrapped around the right side for a flick past the netminder. King was met with a late-hit from Bucknell that sent him flying, and the penalty carried over into the second half, giving the Crimson an advantage as it stormed the field after the break.

“He lit a spark in us, got us going again, and motivated us to see that the game wasn’t over and that no winning play was made yet,” Malone said about Head Coach Gerry Byrne’s halftime speech. “And I think that in that second half we made tons of winning plays that contributed to our victory.”

The attack clawed back two more goals at the top of the third, the first coming from an unassisted take by Blake. Sophomore offensive middie Finn Pokorny found success with a hard dodge down the left alley, sending a lefty bouncer past Nolan to make it a three-goal game. Despite the effort, Bucknell responded in kind, capitalizing on strong takes from Huber and Grandolfo to send the Bison up by five. Malone again came in clutch, shifting the energy with a slippery inside roll dodge that allowed him to get the inside lane on his defender around the right side of the crease before burying the ball past Nolan on the doorstep.

With three subpar quarters under its belt, the Crimson squad that stormed the field for the final 15 minutes of the game played with a hunger and confidence that sparked its comeback on the home-stretch of the afternoon. Harvard dominated the fourth quarter, notching more goals during that period than it had the other three combined. The Crimson, which has averaged 16.67 goals per game this season, was slow to generate offensively, only recording 14 shots on goal throughout those first three quarters. In his post-game interview after the victory against Bryant, junior defender Martin Nelson talked about the team’s need to adapt more quickly to its opponent’s style of play, an area that the team struggled with yesterday. In a similar fashion to Tuesday’s performance, it was not until the back-half of the third that the Harvard team took charge.

Despite its stellar record this spring, the Harvard team has had to work out several kinks during its first three matchups, narrowly avoiding disaster against two opponents that should have been manageable foes. The attack came out with all cylinders firing in the final quarter on Saturday, and it was Malone who started the scoring effort, striking paydirt less than a minute into the quarter. Starting with the ball behind after backing up a narrow miss by King, Malone sent his defender falling to the turf with a shifty roll dodge. With his defender sprawling, Malone ripped a lefty shot past Nolan from the elbow with time and space. The Harvard bench and fans went wild for Malone’s theatrics, and the raucous cheers droned out the announcer as he broadcasted the tally.

“What separates us from other teams is that we practice these situations every single day, like being down one with a minute left,” Malone said. “With so many different scenarios it makes your mind spin, but it pays off in moments like these.”

The team will welcome Merrimack tomorrow at 7pm on Jordan Field.
The team will welcome Merrimack tomorrow at 7pm on Jordan Field. By Dylan J. Goodman

Bucknell retaliated with a quick goal from sophomore middie Will Hopkins, but the Bison was unable to capitalize on the momentum, with Harvard sending four more past Nolan in less than three minutes, tying the game 11-11 with 9:33 on the clock. Botkiss scored the equalizing goal on a shifty face-dodge that allowed him to get underneath his defender for a strategically-placed shot off-stick hip high. The fourth quarter showcased 15 minutes of cohesive, unified, play for the Crimson.

“We just weren’t playing our brand of lacrosse and I think that in the second half we were able to get back to that. We were able to start getting some stops on defense, Deg was killing it at the faceoff X, and it resulted in more possessions,” Barnard said. “Our offense was able to move the ball around pretty well and overall just put the ball in the back of the net, which was good.”

Hopkins notched the next goal as well for Bucknell, this time on a man up effort. Nelson was sidelined for 30 seconds for pushing, and the Bison capitalized on its power play. The Crimson defense got muddled in front of the crease, and Hopkins exploited the chaos, cutting off the top of the stack for a feed from senior attackman Dutch Furlong that he finished behind-the-back along goal-line-extended.

Harvard did not allow the mistake to derail its comeback, and after losing the initial faceoff clamp to Bucknell, de Koning stripped the Bison FOGO, sending the ball flying out of his cross and out-of-bounds. Junior defenseman Collin Bergstrom brought the ball in-bounds before hitting junior SSDM Ray Dearth, who cleared across the midline, making a hard split-dodge against a Bucknell defender who met him at the 30. Dearth used his speed to his advantage, creating space as he barreled towards the goal. The Bison were slow to slide to the SSDM, and Dearth capitalized on their hesitation with a hard righty high-to-high finish from the top of the fan that flew past Nolan a mere 15 seconds after Hopkin’s goal.

Jogging back to the 50 with confidence, DeGennaro secured the clamp and the faceoff unit got the ball down to Malone, who pushed towards the cage. Malone sent his defender to the turf for the second time that afternoon, tripping up his opponent with a slight hesitation as he changed his momentum. The Bison defender fell over his own feet as Malone made a hard stop to look for incoming Harvard cutters from the box. As his defender went down, Malone switched to his left hand to increase his angle before sending a sniper past Nolan’s feet in a high-low finish that put the Crimson in the lead 13-12.

Neither team was able to find the back of the net over the next seven minutes of play. Bucknell pushed one last-ditch effort, taking a timeout on its offensive end to draw up one final play with 55 seconds on the clock. Barnard secured the Crimson victory with a massive save 30 seconds into the effort, clearing a long ball to the attacking end where Harvard played keep away till the final buzzer.

“It’s just taking it with the same attitude at all times. You can’t get frazzled when the game is close and you have to be calm, cool, and collected, and be able to make a play,” Barnard said. “And, fortunately, in the last couple of games we have been able to make one more play than the other team has, and end up with the victory.”

In what will hopefully be a stronger start, Harvard will welcome Merrimack to Jordan Field Tuesday at 7:00 pm. The game should prove to be an interesting battle as the Warriors (2-2) bested Bucknell 14-10 earlier this season. The action will also be streamed live on ESPN+.
—Staff writer Katharine Forst can be reached at

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