As Ivy Play Begins, Yale Focused on Small and Big Picture
In his first six seasons at Yale, Andy Shay's teams won just eight Ivy League games and athletic director Thomas Beckett had to constantly remind the coach that Yale lacrosse would not turn on a dime.
It would be more like to an ocean liner turning around in the sea, but once it does it will be a beast moving in one direction that people will have to look out for.
Beckett has been proven to be a prophet because in the last six-plus years Yale has won 68 games and three Ivy League tournament titles. Now with a 5-0 start and a top-5 ranking in 2016, you can understand why some might think this could be the year Yale returns to the final four for the first time since 1990.
"We're in this position because we only worry about today," Shay said. "Our goals always begin with win the Ivy League and make the NCAA tournament but maybe, yes, this group has earned the right to focus on something loftier than that but that is only because we understand the value of winning the day."
Knocking on the door of championship weekend is an understatement.
In the 2013 quarterfinals Yale had a two-goal lead on Syracuse with a little more than three minutes left only to see Syracuse score two goals in 44 seconds to tie before Dylan Donahue netted the game winner with 13 seconds left to play.
Two years later on the same field at Byrd Stadium, Yale had a three-goal lead on Maryland in the fourth quarter erased by four unanswered goals by the Terps. Adding to the heartbreak was a shot by Michael Keasey with less than 25 seconds left that hit the crossbar and was ruled no goal. If you bleed blue and white you feel it hit the net and should have been ruled a game tying score.
Both Syracuse and Maryland went on to play for the national championship in each of those years. The Bulldogs, however, insist those bitter losses are in the rearview mirror.
"The immediate shock of walking in the locker room and knowing the season is over and the seniors will never play again is disheartening," Keasey said. "It's not fun. You use it as motivation during the summer but once you get back on campus you try to forget about it. 2016 has been a whole new page and we are trying to focus on us. It would be a fatal flaw to worry about how close we've been."
"The seniors have knocked on the door but we don't even have to talk about it," Yale coach Andy Shay said. "It's an ultra-motivated group that knows it has to work really hard." (John Strohsacker)
Yale's trademark under Shay has become solid defense and that is the case once again this year. Anchored by senior Michael Quinn the Bulldogs have yet to give up double-digit goals in a game and are allowing fewer than six goals per game.
"He's the best defenseman I've ever coached," said Shay. "He can win his matchup and he can even bully some matchups if you want him to. He gets what we want to do and he's really thrived in our system."
Before Yale fans can start debating whether to go to Geno's or Pat's in Philadelphia on Memorial Day weekend, the Bulldogs have to take care of business in the Ivy League. That begins Saturday when Yale travels to Ithaca to play Cornell, a team Shay has never beaten in the regular season.
"I have a ton of respect for that program," Shay said. "I have been here 13 years and it seems every year you hear whispers that this is the year Cornell is down. I don't believe it. We expect a physical game. They expect a physical game. It's a war, it always is."
"Ivy League play always brings a whole new level of intensity," Keasey said. "We know each other really well and we know that coach Shay hasn't beaten them in the regular season. We're going to have to win the faceoff game and we can't let them dictate our offense."
With Brown also off to an undefeated start and Harvard showing it can do more than hang with programs such as Duke, the Ivy League has to be viewed as a toss-up. But Yale is the only program that has had recent experience of going toe to toe with the big boys in May.
"The seniors have knocked on the door but we don't even have to talk about it," Shay said. "It's an ultra-motivated group that knows it has to work really hard."
Sounds like it.
"We have gotten close to achieving success on a high level," Keasey said. "Getting to the final four would be an unbelievable story. It would be the big-ticket item."
Eamon McAnaney is the play-by-play voice of ESPN lacrosse and has contributed to LaxMagazine.com since 2014. He was a defenseman at Notre Dame and was captain of the Fighting Irish's 1991 team. Check out more from Eamon here.
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