Yale Coach Andy Shay Not Concerned About Championship Hangover

PHOTO BY GREG WALL

Yale defenseman Chris Fake stalks Duke attackman Joey Manown during the NCAA championship game at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Fake, a second-team All-American, "looks better than ever," according to coach Andy Shay.


The eye test told you Ben Reeves and the Yale men’s lacrosse team were in store for a special season last spring. The laser test, it turned out, foreboded the same result.

Whenever the Bulldogs played on national TV — as they did in their final eight games stretching through the Ivy League and NCAA tournaments — the superlatives “bigger, stronger and faster” reverberated throughout the broadcast. With its 10-man ride, epic runs to the end line and physical brand of offense, Yale bullied opponents en route to its first-ever NCAA championship. A school-record six players were drafted by Major League Lacrosse teams, including Reeves, the Tewaaraton Award winner at No. 4 overall.

Coach Andy Shay saw it coming before any of us.

Four years ago, Shay started leaning more heavily on the strength and conditioning coach Tom Newman. Yale uses the AS Index, which combines an athlete’s physical measurements with his performance in drills like the 40-yard dash, 20-yard shuttle and vertical leap to create a standardized score. It’s like an SAT for physical aptitude.

According to Shay, Reeves ran a laser-timed 3.94 in the 20-yard shuttle, which for comparison’s sake would have put him alongside Penn State cornerback Grant Haley and Oklahoma tight end Jordan Thomas as the top performer in the NFL combine.

Anyone concerned about a championship hangover should know that as a team, these Bulldogs have scored even better than last year’s group. The incoming freshman class, ranked No. 2 by Inside Lacrosse, has better metrics than the senior class that first operated under this system in 2014.

Newman’s program also includes a Facebook group in which players post pictures of their meals to track nutrition and recovery.

“We do some interesting things in the weight room that allow us to empirically measure guys, so they can rely on hard data to see how hard they’re working,” Shay said. “We don’t really waste a lot of time on metrics that don’t matter to us. For instance, we don’t care how much a guy benches. We care how big he is and how explosive he is. We measure that, and the guys know that they have to compete against themselves to improve that. Our aggregate level of athleticism is always improving.”

“Since we started doing this,” Shay added, “the people we’ve put on the field, empirically speaking, have been more athletic every single [season].”

Lacrosse fans will get their first look at the defending NCAA champions Saturday, when Yale takes on the U.S. national team in the Team USA Fall Classic at Tierney Field. The game (12 p.m. ET) will be streamed live on US Lacrosse social media and Lax Sports Network.

The Bulldogs will look drastically different than they did in May without Reeves’ imposing presence on attack, Tyler Warner’s chaos-inducing ways in the midfield, Conor Mackie’s moxie on faceoffs and Christopher Keating’s veteran poise on defense. Midfielder Jason Alessi and defenseman Jerry O’Connor also went in the first several rounds of the MLL draft.

But the numbers say Yale will be just a big, just as strong and just as fast as the team that defeated Duke 13-11 on Memorial Day.

Shay’s projected starters for Saturday are Jackson Morrill, Brendan Rooney and Joseph Sessa on attack; Jack Tigh, John Daniggelis and Christian Cropp at midfield; Chris Fake, Will Weitzel and Douglas Pula on defense; and Jack Starr in the goal.

Morrill, the team’s top returning scorer with 40 goals and 32 assists, will be just steps from the National Lacrosse Hall of Fame, where his great grandfather, Kelso, grandfather, Bill, and father, Mike, are all enshrined.

Tigh (35 goals, 14 assists) and Fake (29 ground balls, 18 caused turnovers) are returning All-Americans. Shay said Fake “looks better than ever.”

Shay identified long-stick midfielder Brian Ward as a potential breakout candidate. Ward, a third-line middie last year, was given a long pole out of necessity. For various reasons, including injuries and two-sport standout Robert Mooney’s decision to play soccer as a senior, the Bulldogs are down eight poles this fall.

But the big story line this fall, of course, is Yale’s addition of TD Ierlan, the Albany transfer who set NCAA single-season records for faceoff wins (359), winning percentage (79.1) and ground balls (254). Memorably, he faced off to a 50-50 stalemate with NCAA career record-holder Trevor Baptiste when Albany faced Denver in the NCAA quarterfinals. They’ll renew the rivalry Saturday, with Baptiste taking faceoffs now for Team USA.

“I don’t know of a bigger-name transfer ever in our sport,” said Shay, noting that even Hall of Famer Del Dressel, who transferred from Harvard to Johns Hopkins in 1981, played all four of his seasons with the Blue Jays.

Shay had heard rumors about Ierlan’s interest in transferring. Cornell was considered the frontrunner. His brother, Chayse, is a freshman goalie for the Big Red.

“He didn’t have any plans to look at us,” Shay said. “Cornell’s got a huge family pull.”

Shay took a shot anyway, even if the 15-year coach isn’t one for wooing.

“We don’t recruit by saying, ‘Here are our nice facilities,’” Shay said. “We say, ‘You’re going to get yelled at a lot, you’re going to get pushed and you’re going to get challenged.’”

Knowing Ierlan was looking for a more rigorous environment both athletically and academically, the approach normally reserved for wide-eyed prospects worked on Ierlan, who was a standout wrestler and member of the chess club at Victor (N.Y.) High School.

The junior faceoff specialist fits in just fine at Yale, the only point of friction being a friendly argument with junior attackman Thomas Duran over who gets to be called TD.

Ierlan also provides another antidote to the typical post-championship letdown. Albany lost to Yale in the NCAA semifinals, a game that frequently comes up in film review.

“We don’t throw it in his face by any means, but we have a lot of footage from the Albany game that we use as teaching film,” Shay said. “Every time it comes on, he says, ‘Oh man, again?’ We’re going to lean on that pretty heavily. When you’re in a leadership role, you should be pissed off after last year, and I bet he is.”

After playing Team USA on Saturday, Yale will return to New Haven, Conn., for a ring ceremony next Friday, an alumni game Saturday and then a scrimmage against Notre Dame on Sunday. It sounds like Shay has already turned the page.

“It was the first final four that I ever coached in,” he said. “One thing everyone always says is it’s like a drug and you just want to get back. That’s absolutely the truth. Our guys are excited to play someone again.”







FALL FOCUS
IVY LEAGUE

Yale, the defending national champion, reigns supreme entering the Ivy League’s 2019 season. However, Cornell — the Ivy League tournament champions — will hope to upstage the Bulldogs. Behind them are a handful of challengers that could compete for NCAA tournament spots in 2019. Teams listed in the order of last year’s regular-season standings.

Yale
6-0 IVY LEAGUE, 17-3 OVERALL

The Bulldogs took the Ivy League regular-season crown, and weeks later, the NCAA championship. Ben Reeves led Yale to the top of the conference standings in all four seasons, but a new age is upon this program. To repeat, coach Andy Shay and his team will have to find a new go-to man. It helps that TD Ierlan will be taking faceoffs after transferring from Albany.

CORNELL
4-2 IVY LEAGUE, 13-5 OVERALL

The Big Red broke onto the scene in 2018, winning the conference tournament and making a run to the NCAA quarterfinals. With Jeff Teat (now a junior) on the field, the sky is the limit for Cornell. Teat’s 99 points last season accounted for 24 percent of the Big Red’s offense, and he should continue that efficiency next season. Junior Clarke Petterson is also back to help lead the Cornell offense. Chayse Ierlan, TD’s brother, will enter as a talented freshman goalie.

PRINCETON
3-3 IVY LEAGUE, 8-5 OVERALL

The Tigers lost their first three Ivy League games in 2018, but responded with three straight conference victories to cap the season. With Tewaaraton threat Michael Sowers returning, this offense will continue to click. Princeton will need to improve on the 59th-ranked defense to compete against the top teams in the Ivy League.

PENN
3-3 IVY LEAGUE, 7-8 OVERALL

The 2018 season was highlighted by an upset of then-No. 1 Duke at Franklin Field. But the Quakers struggled entering Ivy League play, losing to Cornell, Yale and Brown in consecutive games. Simon Mathias comes back to lead the offense, but Penn loses All-American long pole Connor Keating to graduation.

BROWN
3-3 IVY LEAGUE, 6-9 OVERALL

An up-and-down year ended with four losses in five games for Brown, which allowed an average of 23 goals per game in two losses against Yale and Cornell. A good chunk of the offense returns, but it’s the defense that will be a focus going into the 2019 season. The Bears finished 60th in the country in scoring defense and the task won’t get easier next season.

HARVARD
2-4 IVY LEAGUE, 7-6 OVERALL

Morgan Cheek is not walking into the Harvard locker room in 2019. He put up 200 points in his four-year career and will be missed on the Crimson offense. But the Cheek legacy continues without Morgan, as brothers Watson and Hayden featured on the roster for next season. 

DARTMOUTH
0-6 IVY LEAGUE, 2-11 OVERALL

It’s been three seasons since Dartmouth last won an Ivy League game, but Ben Martin and George Prince return to form a veteran offensive duo. Plus, the starting defense of Austin Meacham, Kellen Paradine and Kyle Clampitt are also back.

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