Since 2012, Yale has turned the Ivy League men’s lacrosse tournament into its private playground. The Elis have won the four-team event and the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament that goes with it in four of the last five years, beating Princeton in 2012, 2013, and 2015 and Harvard last year. Only Penn, in 2014, has broken the Elis’ streak. Yale won this year’s Ivy League regular-season title and will host the tournament for the first time.
The Elis will face Penn in the second semifinal at 6:00 p.m. Friday, May 5, while Princeton and Brown meet that day at 3:30 in New Haven; the winners face off at noon on Sunday, May 7. The tournament winner likely will be the only Ivy to advance to the NCAAs, which would be the first time since 2008 that the league has received only one bid to the big dance and only the second since the NCAA expanded its tournament to 16 teams in 2003.
Friday’s first game should be a scoring frenzy. Princeton (9-5 overall, 4-2 Ivy) and Brown rank second and third in Division I in goals per game, with averages of 14.64 and 14.43, respectively, and the Tigers beat the Bears 21-11 on April 1. Attackman Michael Sowers ’20 has been the best freshman in the country. He has 37 goals and 40 assists on the year so far, one point shy of Princeton’s single-season scoring record of 78 set by Michael MacDonald ’15 two years ago. Attackman Gavin McBride ’17 has notched 51 goals and 15 assists, while Zach Currier ’17 has 22 goals and 34 assists to go with 114 ground balls. The college game’s most versatile midfielder, and one of its most dominant, Currier could be a first-team All-American. Goalie Tyler Blaisdell ’18 has saved a respectable 54.4 percent of shots for the Tigers.
But the team’s two weaknesses were fatal in a 16-13 loss to Yale on March 25. Eli freshman Conor Mackie won 26 of 33 faceoffs, and Princeton completed only 15 of 21 clears. That’s been a season-long problem for the Tigers, who rank 64th in clearing among the 69 teams Division I at 82.5 percent, though Princeton has cleared the ball at a 90.65 percent rate over its last six games.
Brown (9-5, 4-2 Ivy) is led by senior attackman Dylan Molloy, who won the Tewaaraton Trophy last year as the best player in college lacrosse. He has 38 goals and 25 assists despite missing the team’s last two games, wins over Bryant and Dartmouth. Molloy, who broke his ankle late last season and had surgery days after the Bears’ overtime loss to Maryland in the NCAA semifinals, is expected to play on Friday, a team spokesperson said.
Molloy is joined on attack by freshmen Jack Kniffin and Luke McCaleb, while midfielders Stephen Hudak, Matt Graham, and Michael Panepinto add scoring punch. Freshman Phil Goss has started every game in goal and saved 51.2 percent of the shots opponents put on cage. The Bears love to push the ball under first-year coach Mike Daly, who won three NCAA Division III titles at Tufts. That makes for entertaining lacrosse but could leave the winner of Friday’s semifinal worn down on Sunday.
Yale (8-5, 5-1 Ivy) is agonizingly close to being one of the best teams in the country. The Elis have one-goal road losses to Maryland and Albany, both top-10 squads. Yale has the NCAA’s seventh-best faceoff unit, which gets the ball to an attack led by junior Ben Reeves, who has 32 goals and 31 assists on the year. Reeves is joined on attack by freshman Matt Gaudet and Jackson Morrill, whose father was an assistant coach at Princeton in 1989 after a great career as an attackman at Johns Hopkins University. A season-ending injury to starting defenseman Camyar Matini against Penn has left Yale young on the defensive end. Even though Yale has been the league’s best team, it is far from a lock this weekend. The Elis dropped their last two games of the year, against Albany and Harvard, and only one of the previous seven hosts of the tournament has emerged victorious (Cornell in 2011). In three of the last four years the host school has lost in the semifinals.
On Friday, Yale will face Penn (7-5, 3-3 Ivy). The Elis won the regular-season contest 14-12, though Penn scored six of its goals in the last eight minutes of the game. Penn coach Mike Murphy used to employ a more deliberate pace of play, and he could try to control the tempo against Yale in an effort to shorten the game and conserve energy for a possible appearance in the final. Sophomore Simon Mathias, last year’s co-Ivy rookie of the year along with Penn goalie Reed Junkin, leads the team in scoring with 26 goals and 19 assists; Junkin has saved exactly half of the shots he’s faced.