One goal. That was the margin of defeat for Penn men’s lacrosse in both of their games against Yale in 2016, including an 11-10 overtime defeat in the regular season and a heartbreaking 7-6 loss in the Ivy League tournament.
On Saturday, the Quakers (4-3, 1-1 Ivy) will have an opportunity to avenge those losses against the No. 19 Bulldogs (4-3, 2-0) and raise themselves from the middle of the standings to the top of the pack in the Ivy League. A loss, however, would give the team a 1-2 record in the conference with games remaining against the likes of Harvard and defending regular season champion Brown, a precarious spot to be in for the Ivy tournament and the possibility of an NCAA at-large bid.
That said, the team will be handling this game just like any other.
“I wouldn’t say it’s do or die, but it’s definitely a big game, especially with some of the history behind Penn and Yale in the past,” said sophomore goaltender Reed Junkin. “They’ve been one of our major games every year. This win would bring us to 2-1 in the Ivy which would be big, but we’ve still got the rest of the season to go, so we’re just going to prepare as well as we can to get a victory on Saturday.”
If the Quakers hope to win, however, they will need to clean up their game considerably from last week’s game against Cornell. Though they were able to engineer a 10-9 win, the Red and Blue went a pedestrian 10-for-23 from the face-off spot and failed to clear the ball five times throughout the game. The Quakers were also outshot, picked up fewer ground balls, and committed 13 turnovers in the process. A win is a win, but those stats won’t be sustainable for Penn in the future.
Another worry for Penn comes in the form of Yale’s Ben Reeves, a member of the Tewaaraton watchlist as the top player in NCAA lacrosse. The junior attackman has racked up 15 goals and 14 assists in just seven games this season, good for tenth in the country for points per game. He had seven points in two games against Penn last season, and will certainly be looking for more this year.
“He’s excellent, he’s as good an attackman as there is in the country,” Penn coach Mike Murphy. said. “Thankfully, we’ve got our guy in Kevin Gayhardt who did a great job on him last year, so that’ll be his matchup again this week. But we’re going to have to be ready to support him out there as well with the rest of our guys. You’re never going to be able to shut him out, but if we can keep him from scoring four goals and three assists, that will certainly improve our chances.”
Despite the obstacles, the Quakers are confident in their ability to pull off the win. Even after hitting some bumps recently, coach Murphy praised the young Penn offense and honed in on some of the problem areas that Penn will be looking to fix up before the game against the Elis.
“A lot of the improvement is going to come from the face-off, ironically. A lot of those turnovers were actually face-off turnovers, so we’ve got to do a better job of cleaning some things up there,” he said. “Yale is an aggressive riding team, so we’ve got to be ready to take care of the ball in the clearing game.
“The difference between last year and this year is that we’re a lot more mature offensively,” he added. “We had a good freshman class last year, and those guys are now sophomores, so everybody’s a year older. We have everyone besides Nick Doktor back, and we’re a lot more comfortable in our offense and with what coach [Patrick] Myers is teaching.”