April 30, 2010

Get Ready for Some Ivy League Madness

by Brian Delaney | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Corey Winkoff (center) and Penn are the only ones out of the playoff race, as Brendan Gibson (left) and Jeff Cohen (right) try to lead their teams into the inaugural Ivy League men's lacrosse tournament.

© John Mecionis

Moments after his team knocked off No. 8 Cornell, and moments after the final score of Harvard’s upset of Princeton was announced at Schoellkopf Field, Brown coach Lars Tiffany likened the 2010 Ivy League men’s lacrosse race to the competitiveness and depth of SEC football.

“Fortunately and unfortunately, no one is a superpower this year,” Tiffany said. “The reason I say unfortunately, they’ll go get a big win or a couple big wins against ACC schools and it helps the rest of the league. This is one of the years where we’re all very tough, but we haven’t gotten that big marquee non-conference win, and here we are like SEC football, just beating each other up.”

There are three league games remaining, all to be played Saturday, and pending the results of those games, the regular season can end in any one of the following ways: Princeton wins the title outright, or a two-way tie, three-way tie or four-way tie occurs.

Entering the season, this was supposed to be a four-way race: Brown, Cornell, Harvard and Princeton. While none are top-five teams at the moment, the rise of one team has added unexpected spice to the league picture.

Yale.

Andy Shay’s Bulldogs are 9-3 after last week’s home loss to Bryant. Yale, ranked No. 17 nationally, is 3-2 in the Ivy League with the opportunity to share a league crown for the first time since 1990.

Putting Yale’s season in perspective: no one in the outside world saw this coming.

In his first six seasons, Shay’s record in Ivy play was 8-28. On four occasions, his teams had either one or no wins.

This year, he’s starting three freshmen at close defense – Phil Gross, Peter Johnson and Michael McCormack – and contending. Yale’s best wins are a 13-12 decision over now No. 9 Massachusetts on March 5, and a 14-11 victory at Brown on April 27.

“I think we’ve got phenomenal leadership,” Shay said.

Two of his top scorers are brothers: senior Matt Gibson has 26 goals and 18 assists, and sophomore Brendan Gibson has 16 goals and 15 assists. Both hail from Chaminade on Long Island.

“They’re really tough blue collar kids,” Shay said. “They care about the game and the name on the front of the jersey. They’ve helped change the culture.”

Brian Douglass leads Yale with 29 goals, one of six players with double-digit goals on the season.
If Yale beats Harvard on Saturday, it will qualify for the league’s inaugural tournament. But there are so many possibilities remaining that Princeton Sports Information Director Jerry Price spent 1,016 words dissecting the scenarios in a post on Sunday.

So the Bulldogs must keep things simple; as must everyone else.

It’s still possible that Dartmouth qualifies for the Ivy tournament, and Cornell doesn’t. The only certainties are that Princeton is in, having already captured a share of the league crown at 4-1; and Penn, at 1-5, is out.

Princeton, Cornell and Brown all made the NCAA tournament last year. Harvard has been a well-publicized program on the rise for several years now under coach John Tillman. But Yale is the team no one gave a second thought to back in February.

Now, they must. Beginning Saturday with Harvard. And once the Ivy League tournament comes around, Shay feels the first two games will be coin flips – and that depth will decide the championship


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