March 7, 2016
Harvard held the Duke offense in check for more than 30 minutes in the Crimson's 14-9 win. (Peyton Williams)
Harvard held the Duke offense in check for more than 30 minutes in the Crimson's 14-9 win. (Peyton Williams)

Weekend Takeaways: Seniors Leading the Harvard Train

by Patrick Stevens | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Skepticism was a natural reaction to Harvard's 3-0 start. The Crimson won all three games in overtime, and in the wake of a 7-7 season in 2015, it was fair to wonder about the true capabilities of Chris Wojcik's most experienced team in Cambridge.

Saturday provided an answer: A 14-9 defeat of Duke that saw the Crimson hold the potent Duke offense in check for more than 30 minutes. Harvard won its share of faceoffs, and its Devin Dwyer-led attack applied pressure on the Blue Devils' defense throughout the day.

Brown and Yale remain major obstacles in the Ivy League, Penn is improved and overlooking Cornell is never wise. Harvard, though, very much belongs in the conversation for both a league title and a place in the postseason.

1. Harvard is fast emerging as one of the season's most fascinating — and senior-driven — teams

The Crimson (4-0) didn't need any extra time to take down Duke on Saturday in Hempstead, N.Y., and a full week to prepare after cramming three games into eight days to open the season helped Harvard.

Yet it is worth remembering Harvard's issues in recent years was never ability. The program attracted an influx of young talent earlier in the decade. It's just taken a while for it to fully mature.

It's happened. Harvard arguably arrived a little early two years ago when it landed an NCAA tournament bid. After a step back last season, the Crimson possesses a relatively older group eager to leave a greater legacy on the program.

"There's been a tremendous sense of urgency from our senior class," Wojcik said. "They have led the way and that has really permeated throughout the entire team. To me, that's the entire thing, that urgency in everything we do. That has translated into making every day count."

The fast start also has a bit to do with a pair sophomores playing alongside Dwyer, who has started since he arrived in Cambridge. When the Crimson thrived two years ago, Dwyer was an efficient feeder (12 goals, 35 assists) who deftly connected the offense. Last year, his scoring was needed more, and while a 20-goal, 29-assist season is a strong showing, Harvard was more predictable.

The emergence of Morgan Cheek and improvement of Joe Lang has galvanized the offense, allowing Dwyer to remain plenty effective (14 goals and 11 assists) without the necessity for him to do everything.

"They put a lot of pressure on an entire team defense," Wojcik said. "Those two are difficult to account for off the dodge. What that has done is allowed Devin to be the complete player he is. We relied so much on him to carry and distribute and it put a lot of pressure on him in the past. What Morgan and Joe have done is taken some pressure off Devin to be a goal-scorer."

A new-look coaching staff also boosted the Crimson. Eric Wolf came to Harvard from Albany to run the Crimson's offense, while former Cornell coach Ben DeLuca joined the Crimson to help on the defensive side. Former Rutgers faceoff ace Joe Nardella was hired as a volunteer assistant.

"With Ben and Eric and Joe coming in, they've had a huge impact on the team and the program," Wojcik said. "Ben and Eric in particular, they're winners and their resumes speak for themselves. They brought new ideas and new ways of doing things. We've incorporated a number of those ideas and you're starting to see it in the way we play."

Which is to say quite well. Dwyer had four goals and two assists and Cheek added three goals and three assists against Duke, while the defense contained Blue Devils star Myles Jones to an assist and just four shots.

Those sorts of performances suggest Harvard could not only reach only its third NCAA tournament in the last 20 seasons, but also prove capable of a deep push once it gets there. Improved and interesting, the Crimson warrants watching over the next two months.

2. Notre Dame passed its biggest test yet thanks to its defense

Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan has pointed out in the past that describing the Fighting Irish as a low-scoring team reliant on a stingy defense is an easy narrative for those outside his program to rely upon. And the Irish’s offense the last two seasons has certainly dispelled that way of thinking.

But the reason the Irish (4-0) are even now viewed as a defense-first bunch is because their defense is really, really good. Its latest masterpiece was Maryland’s picket fence line — one goal in each quarter — as Notre Dame earned a 9-4 victory in the Pacific Coast Shootout.

No Terrapin finished with more than a point, and Maryland’s starting six combined to shoot 2 of 21 against an Irish defense led by defenseman Matt Landis.

One last note: Yes, the final margin was five, but this was anything but a blowout. The Irish scored their last three goals in the last minute, and that marked the first time either team led by more than two. Maryland’s offense had its share of problems, but the Terps did a fine job at the other, holding Matt Kavanagh and Sergio Perkovic to a goal apiece (with Perkovic’s an empty-netter).

3. Villanova’s offense is a force

Is Villanova the Big East’s second-best team? It’s possible. Does it have the league’s best offense? While it might be too soon to nudge the Wildcats ahead of the efficient defending national champions, it’s definitely time to take notice of how effectively they can score.

A week after dropping 19 goals on Penn State, Villanova blitzed Delaware 23-13. It marked the Wildcats’ most goals in a game since a 24-7 defeat of Holy Cross in 1995.

Princeton transfer Jake Froccaro already has 19 goals and five assists during the Wildcats’ 3-1 start, and Devin McNamara added a seven-assist day against the struggling Blue Hens.  Villanova has scored at least a dozen goals each time out, and a visit from Brown at the end of the month suddenly holds the potential for one of the most entertaining regular season games this spring.

Princeton transfer Jake Froccaro already has 19 goals and five assists during the Wildcats’ 3-1 start. (Risley Sports Photography)

4. Georgetown was ready to finally get in the win column

After Tuesday’s humbling loss to Mount St. Mary’s, Georgetown midfielder Peter Conley assured reporters the Hoyas would be prepared to play Hofstra four days later.

And indeed they were. Instead of getting outworked and outwitted for the second time in a week, the Hoyas (1-3) held Josh Byrne and Sam Llinares to a combined two goals on 15 shots and established the sort of defensive identity coach Kevin Warne has tried to build his program on since arriving in the summer of 2012 while earning an 11-6 victory.

Hofstra (3-1) went scoreless for more than 20 minutes in a stretch spanning halftime, and it was the time all season Georgetown played in a manner that matched its preseason buzz. Are these the real Hoyas, or was Tuesday’s listless showing? It’s probably somewhere in the middle, but this was a promising step forward — and a way to avoid an 0-4 hole.

5. The new Syracuse offense, a bit like the old Syracuse offense

Friday’s trip to Charlottesville was a barometer for Syracuse’s reconstructed offensive lineup, and it passed its test against a Virginia defense still sorting things out. In a 14-13 defeat of the Cavaliers, the starting six combined for all the goals and all nine assists as the Orange improved to 4-0.

Tim Barber, Derek DeJoe and Nick Mariano all posted hat tricks for Syracuse, while mainstay Dylan Donahue added two goals and three assists. Midfielder Sergio Salcido scored twice on extra-man.

Virginia’s defense remains a work in progress, but the Orange’s balance is the most impressive facet of its latest victory. Syracuse collects offensive talent about as well as anyone, but exactly how this group would complement each other was a bit of an unknown entering the season. Four weeks in, it’s reasonable to suggest the group works together just fine.

Three Stars

Cole Johnson, Army: Had a hand in half of the Black Knights’ goals in a 14-5 defeat of Lafayette, providing six goals and an assist.

Blaze Riorden, Albany: Made 18 saves, including nine in the fourth quarter, as the Great Danes defeated Cornell 12-8 in a rematch of last year’s NCAA tournament first round game.

Matthew Varian, Drexel: The freshman scored as time expired to lift the Dragons to a 10-9 victory over Saint Joseph’s, capping Drexel’s rally from three goals down in the fourth quarter.

Game of the Weekend

Denver 13, North Carolina 12 (OT)

Down three with 6:32 to go, North Carolina rattled off the next four goals and took a 12-11 lead on Steve Pontrello’s score with 1:06 to play. But Denver tied it up on Zach Miller’s goal off an Austin French feed with nine seconds to go, and had a chance to finish off the game in regulation before Tar Heel goalie Brian Balkam stopped the Pioneers’ Connor Cannizzaro with two seconds remaining. Cannizzaro delivered in overtime, though, scoring 62 seconds into the extra period to seal the victory for Denver (5-0).

Connor Cannizzaro notched the winning goal early in OT against North Carolina on Saturday. The win sets up a 1-vs.-2 matchup between the Pioneers and Notre Dame on Sunday. (Peyton Williams)

Numbers of Significance

8

Hartford freshman Dylan Jinks had eight points in a 16-4 defeat of Manhattan, posting career highs in both goals (four) and assists (four) as the Hawks improved to 2-2.

12-0

Towson led 12-0 early in the third quarter of its 14-6 rout of UMBC on Saturday. The Tigers are 5-0 for the first time since 1992.

26

Johns Hopkins’ 17-7 rout of Princeton was the most lopsided game in the teams’ annual series in 26 years. The Blue Jays peppered Tigers goalie Tyler Blaisdell (20 saves) with 37 shots on goal while earning their largest margin of victory against Princeton since a 20-8 pounding to open the 1990 season.

71.4

Navy faceoff specialist Brady Dove won 71.4 percent of his draws (15 of 21) in the Midshipmen’s 13-6 rout of Bucknell. Dove had won only half of his faceoffs on the season prior to his matchup with the Bison’s Jarett Witzal, who entered the day with a 67.6 faceoff percentage.

Quote of the Week

“That was an old-school game. It was physical right from the first whistle. Both teams were really well-prepared and played great defense, and it just made it difficult to generate much offensively.”
— Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan after the Fighting Irish earned a 9-4 victory over Maryland in the Pacific Coast Shootout. The game was tied 4-4 until the Notre Dame went ahead with 5:22 to play.

How the Nike/LM Top 20 Fared

1. Notre Dame (4-0): Beat Maryland 9-4; next: Denver (Sunday)
2. Denver (5-0): Beat North Carolina 13-12 (OT); next: at Notre Dame (Sunday)
3. Duke (4-2): Beat Mercer 19-9; Lost to Harvard 14-9; next: Richmond (Monday)
4. Yale (3-0): Beat Bryant 14-4; next: St. John’s (Tuesday)
5. Syracuse (4-0): Beat Virginia 14-13; next: St. John’s (Saturday)
6. Loyola (4-1): Lost to Towson 10-8; Beat Holy Cross 10-9; next: Duke (Saturday)
7. Maryland (1-2): Lost to Notre Dame 9-4; next: at Drexel (Tuesday)
8. Brown (3-0): Beat Massachusetts 15-7; next: at Holy Cross (Tuesday)
9. Hofstra (3-1): Beat NJIT 19-4; lost to Georgetown 11-6; next: Ohio State (Saturday)
10. North Carolina (3-2): Lost to Denver 13-12 (OT); next: at Massachusetts (Saturday)
11. Johns Hopkins (2-2): Beat Princeton 17-7; next: Towson (Saturday)
12. Towson (5-0): Beat Loyola 10-8; Beat UMBC 14-6; next: at Johns Hopkins (Saturday)
13. Virginia (2-3): Lost to Syracuse 14-13; next: Saint Joseph’s (Tuesday)
14. Albany (2-1): Beat Cornell 12-8; next: at Massachusetts (Tuesday)
15. Marquette (3-1): Lost at Ohio State 12-8; Beat Detroit 10-8; next: Robert Morris (Saturday)
16. Harvard (4-0): Beat Duke 14-9; next: at Bryant (Tuesday)
17. Villanova (3-1): Beat Drexel 14-9; next: Penn (Saturday)
18. Boston U. (5-1): Beat Canisius 10-8; next: Colgate (Saturday)
19. High Point (3-3): Beat Marist 11-9; next: Providence (Saturday)
20. Rutgers (5-0): Beat Wagner 15-7; Beat Monmouth 12-6; next: at Stony Brook (Friday)

Five to Watch This Week

Rutgers at Stony Brook (6 p.m. Friday): Scott Bieda, who has 13 goals and 13 assists to spur Rutgers’ first 5-0 start since 2003 and the days of Delby Powless, leads the Scarlet Knights onto Long Island to face the explosive Seawolves (3-1).

Duke at Loyola (11 a.m. Saturday, CBS Sports Network): The Blue Devils are coming off their second loss of the season, though historically this is about the time John Danowski’s teams truly begin to piece together the on-field element. Loyola is seeking another victory over an ACC team to pair with its season-opening defeat of Virginia.

Towson at Johns Hopkins (2 p.m. Saturday): The Tigers (5-0) were impressive last week in defeats of Loyola and UMBC. They’ll try to go for the Baltimore-area sweep — and their second consecutive defeat of the Blue Jays (2-2) — when they visit Homewood Field.

Penn at Villanova (4 p.m. Saturday): The Quakers (2-1) handed Penn State an 11-7 loss on Saturday, but here’s guessing it will take more than 11 goals to slow down a Villanova team averaging 18.7 goals during its three-game winning streak.

Denver at Notre Dame (5:30 p.m. Sunday, ESPNU): A rematch of last year’s national semifinal (won by Denver in overtime) might also be a preview of Memorial Day this year. Both the Pioneers (5-0) and the host Fighting Irish (4-0) appear capable of deep postseason runs if they continue to progress over the next two months. This will provide an excellent yardstick for both squads.


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