Men's DI Semifinal Preview: Yale, Albany Searching for Championship Appearance

PHOTO BY RICH BARNES

Yale and Albany will battle Saturday at Gillette Stadium for a chance to play in the NCAA title game.


The stage is set for the first game of Saturday’s Division I Men’s semifinals. In the “marquee” matchup, Maryland and Duke square off with six combined national championships and a slew of final four appearances. Two of lacrosse most historic programs will make for an intriguing game, to say the least.

But the first game on Saturday? We’ll see two teams that have one combined final four appearance and no NCAA championship game appearances. Yale and Albany will meet at noon, desperate for a chance to take its program to a level that it's never been — a shot at the NCAA title. 

But don’t expect either team to come out tentative. The Bulldogs and Great Danes boast two of the best offenses in the country, both apt to take more chances than most teams in Division I men’s lacrosse.

The game might be played in broad daylight, but fans at Gillette Stadium might see fireworks all game long. 

And in case Albany needed any more fuel, one of its two losses came to this Yale team — a 14-6 drubbing on April 22 thanks to a dominant day from faceoff man Conor Mackie. Great Danes star Connor Fields was not 100 percent, and still might not be, but he should factor much more in this matchup.

Get ready for a high-flying, intense rematch in the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Here’s a breakdown.

Offense

Scoring Offense
Albany: 14.61 (1st)
Yale: 13.61 (4th)

This game could provide enough offense for the entire Championship Weekend, and then some. Yale and Albany have combined for just seven games under 10 goals this season — and two of the Great Danes’ coming with an injured Fields.

Albany has had one of the top offenses throughout the season, battling with Cornell for the No. 1 spot. Led by a 2017 Tewaaraton finalist in Fields, who sits tied for the team lead in points despite missing multiple games due to a sprained MCL. He re-injured his knee in the loss to Yale earlier this season, sitting out the majority of the game.

But Fields is not alone on this explosive offense. Freshman Tehoka Nanticoke, once the top recruit in the country, has showcased athleticism and a habit for #SCTop10 plays in his short career. He’s a strong attackman with 49 goals and 32 assists in his first season with Albany. With Fields still working back from the knee injury, Nanticoke’s role will be of even more importance on Saturday.

As will the role of talented contributors on the Great Danes offense. Jakob Patterson, Kyle McClancy, Sean Eccles and Justin Reh all have over 20 goals this season and can take over a game if needed. All four had multiple goals in the win over Denver in the NCAA quarterfinals.

But they’ll be up against an almost equally powerful offense at Yale. Led by USILA Player of the Year Ben Reeves, the Bulldogs could be the best offense in the country when everything is clicking. Just take the 27-goal blowout of Brown on April 14 as an example.

Reeves is second in the nation in points (102) and goals per game (3.11), and he’s been consistent throughout the season. His worst point total in a game this year has been four points, while the highest was an eight-point game against Marist.

Against Loyola’s Foster Huggins last weekend, Reeves tallied three goals and three assists to lead the Bulldogs to their first final four since 1990. He makes this offense tick, but he has a few talented underclassmen like Jackson Morrill and Matt Gaudet to chip in.

Morrill had a career day against UMass in the first round, dropping seven goals to lead the way. Gaudet had his big day with a seven-goal outing in a win over Penn on May 4.







Defense

Scoring Defense
Albany: 8.00 (4th)
Yale: 8.56 (11th)

As much as these teams make their mark with offense, they can’t be looked past on the other side of the field. Albany has allowed opponents to reach 10 goals just six times this season, while Yale held its foes to seven such games.

Although they might not get the recognition of Fields and Nanticoke, the Great Danes’ defensive stars have stepped up this season. Stone Sims leads the team with 18 caused turnovers, while Troy Reh has chipped in 16 this season.

Reh led the team with 19 caused turnovers last season, and also helps out on the faceoff wings. Matt Perla has also had a strong defense in the back with 28 ground balls and nine caused turnovers. 

In the first game against Yale, Albany allowed three goals and an assist to Reeves, and a hat trick from Gaudet. It did hold one of the most talented players in the nation, Jeff Teat, to a goal and an assist in the win over Cornell.

The Bulldogs, however, will boast the best all-around defensive player on the field in Saturday’s matchup. Freshman Chris Fake came onto the scene quickly for Yale, eventually earning USILA Second Team All-American honors.

Fake sits third on the team with 17 caused turnovers and sixth with 27 ground balls. He’s been regularly matched up with the opposing team’s top threat. He was paired with Fields in the first matchup before he went down, and shifted to Nanticoke for the rest of the game.

He caused four turnovers on the day and held the Nanticoke-Fields combo to just one assist combined. Senior Chris Keating is also an All-American defenseman, earning Third Team honors.

Keating leads the team with 23 caused turnovers and is second with 50 ground balls. Yale has the players to match up with Albany’s vaunted offense.

Faceoff

Faceoff win percentage
Albany: 78.4 (1st)
Yale: 61.7 (7th)

Albany’s TD Ierlan leads the nation in faceoff win percentage, and just went toe-to-toe win arguably the top faceoff man in college lacrosse history. Ierlan and Denver’s Trevor Baptiste tied 15-15 in faceoffs at Hofstra in the quarterfinals.

That should give Ierlan plenty of confidence and momentum going into Championship Weekend. However, he’ll have to shake the visions of his matchup against Yale’s Conor Mackie.

Mackie, who sits seventh in the nation with a 64.6 faceoff win percentage, had the upper hand most of the day against Ierlan. He won 13 of 21 faceoffs and helped Yale blowout the Great Danes. Mackie hasn’t lost a faceoff battle since March 17, and he’ll have plenty of reason to believe he can continue that streak.

Both Mackie and Ierlan have recorded a perfect faceoff game this season. Mackie won 15 of 15 against Fairfield on March 10, and Ierlan has done it three times — 20-for-20 against Vermont in the America East title game, 24-for-24 against Stony Brook on March 31 and Cleveland State on March 5. 

Goalie

Albany might have its biggest advantage in the goal, with JD Colarusso manning the cage all season. He sits sixth in Division I with a 57.4 save percentage, good enough to earn him USILA Goalie of the Year honors.

He recorded 11 saves in the thrilling comeback win over Maryland in March, 10 saves in the season-opening win over Syracuse and 12 saves in the America East final against Vermont.

While Colarusso, a senior, has the experience to rise to the occasion, Yale will rely on freshman Jack Starr, who has stepped in and provided relative consistency for much of the season.

Starr sits 44th in Division I with a 48.5 save percentage. He had nine saves in the quarterfinal win over Loyola last weekend and the first-round win over UMass, and he seems to be improving as the season progresses. 

It’ll be an entirely different setting and stage for Starr, but if he can be consistent throughout, he’ll give Yale a chance to stay in the game, and possibly advance.

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