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Chip Malafronte | New Haven Register | April 27, 2018

Stakes are high as No. 1 Yale prepares to face rival Harvard

College Lacrosse | Top Plays

NEW HAVEN – It's already been quite a week for the Yale men's lacrosse team, with at least one more major event before it's finished.

On Sunday, in its biggest game to date, the Yale men's lacrosse team dominated second-ranked Albany. When the national polls were released a day later, the Bulldogs were voted the No. 1 team in the country.

On Thursday, senior Ben Reeves was named one of 25 nominees for the Tewaaraton Award as the nation's best player.

And on Saturday, Yale takes on arch-rival Harvard in a nationally-televised game (noon, ESPNU) with big stakes. The Bulldogs (11-2, 5-0) have already clinched the top seed in next week's Ivy League tournament.

RELATED: Cornell's Jeff Teat is ready for rematch with Yale

A Yale win would put the finishing touch on the Bulldogs' first perfect Ivy League since 1956. It may also guarantee Yale a home game for the first round of the NCAA tournament. Perhaps the most satisfying potential postscript for Yalies past and present? Victory eliminates Harvard from the Ivy tournament and ends its season.

Despite all the major developments it was business as usual on Thursday afternoon at Reese Stadium. Players rushed to the field from classes at 4, reviewed film for 20 minutes, stretched and hit the turf for practice.

Andy Shay's focus is on Harvard, a team Yale failed to beat two of the last three years, including a 9-8 loss in the regular season finale last April.

"I've just thought about winning the next game, beating (Harvard)," Yale coach Andy Shay said. "We have a lot of respect for them as a program; we know it's going to be a challenge. We don't look at what's going to happen if. I just don't even think about it. Just think about the opponent. It's certainly better for me."

Yale is only getting better as the season winds down, a good sign for a program with the talent to win a national championship next month.

Albany, ranked No. 1 for several weeks earlier in the season, was thoroughly outplayed on Sunday. Yale scored 14 goals, three more than any opponent has dropped on the Great Danes this spring. Senior faceoff specialist Conor Mackie took 13-of-21 from Albany's TD Ierlan, who'd won 85 percent of draws on the season, best in the country. And the defensive unit held Albany to a season-low six goals.

Mackie's play on the X may have been the most impressive development. The offense, averaging 18 goals since a 9-8 loss to Bucknell on April 4, is garnering much of the attention. But the consistent work of Yale's defenders has been remarkable.

RELATED: The face-off record book is being re-written

The Bulldogs have allowed double-digit goals only twice since Feb. 27 and are 10th in the nation in scoring defense at 8.31 goals-per game. On Sunday, freshman Chris Fake spent the first quarter shadowing Albany All-American Connor Fields; when Fields left with an injury, he shut down Tehoka Nanticoke, regarded as the top freshman recruit in the country.

"We all have a different style to run on defense, individually," Yale senior Jerry O'Connor said. "What makes us mesh so well as a group is we communicate well with each other. At this point, we hope to intuitively know what each player is doing in each situation. That communication as a defensive unit is something we've stressed all season, and something we've done pretty well."

Shay is pleased with his team's progress, but sees areas that need to be cleaned up with the postseason looming. But even he admits that against Albany, aside from shot selection in the third quarter, any criticisms are more nit-picky than genuinely concerning.

"We're a pretty good team right now," Shay said. "I would hope we continue to improve. They've answered the bell every week this year. If we continue to do that, every week we get to play, we're going to be a tough team to beat."

This article is written by Chip Malafronte from New Haven Register, Conn. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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