For the first time since 2014, the NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse world is going to have a repeat champion, the 2019 NCAA Lacrosse Championship being their second in a row. Yes, like the 2013-14 Blue Devils before them, Yale will walk into Lincoln Financial Field this afternoon the defending champions, and they’ll keep their belt. You can read all the reasons why this won’t happen over on Ryan Conwell’s post, but he’s wrong. I mean, alright, sure, I got assigned this position because I covered Yale-PSU, but I STAND BY IT. We all watched Saturday, right? Yale took on the #1 offense in the country, and they dominated a shootout. So, allow me to explain why the kings keep their crown today:
The X Factor
The Linc is plenty used to TDs, but this one is new to them. Yes, Tristan David Ierlan continues in Ben Reeves’ shoes as the Bulldogs’ Tewaaraton finalist, and his impact has been obvious. Since Yale ended his Albany career in last year’s quarters, the nation’s best college FOS has taken his talents to New Haven and blown away the competition. He’s won 78% of his draws this season. On Saturday, he went up against fellow All-American Gerard Arceri and he still won 28-of-39 draws, several of which lasted over thirty seconds. With Penn State throwing three different guys at him, he kept on rolling. He had 20 ground balls, and Penn State had 33 as a team. I mean, c’mon, this man is a possession machine. You better get a lead early and hold on for dear life, because trying to come back against a team who owns the X like this is incredibly difficult.
His competition is a freshman. He’s a successful one, who has won over 60% of his draws and who won the final eight against Duke, but he’s not TD Ierlan. Nobody in college lacrosse is TD Ierlan. Heck, there are maybe four pro players who can even make an argument that they’re as good as Ierlan. Virginia, 5-0 in overtime games, has won the opening face in every single OT game so far. Good luck getting the ball first against Yale, should it go to overtime.
The Young Gun
Last year, Ben Reeves was massive in securing Yale’s first national championship. He’s gone now, and it would have been easy to point to that as a reason why repeating was going to be so much harder for Yale. Well, those shoes might still be a bit big for Matt Brandau, but you wouldn’t know it if he stuffs them with an extra pair of socks. Despite missing a few minutes with a rolled ankle against Penn State, the rookie put up seven goals and an assist in the semifinals to help carry the Bulldogs past the Nittany Lions.
Brandau, the #17 ranked recruit in the country entering the season, has been fantastic this year, putting up 47 goals and 22 assists. An offense that could have lost a step has instead continued to thrive this season, and Brandau stepping into such a large role as a freshman is a big factor in that.
Rollin’ in the Deeeeeeeeeeeeeep
Speaking of that Yale offense, hoo boy this squad is on fire offensively. They just dropped 21 goals on the #1 team in the country. Along the way, they tied the record for most goals in a quarter in an NCAA semifinal, previously set in 1976. Eleven players put up at least one goal on Saturday. Virginia barely scored eleven goals, period. Virginia hasn’t proven themselves to be anywhere near as deep.
Say the defense does a good job and shuts down Jack Tighl (and that’s no easy task). Which midfielder covers John Daniggelis? Joseph Sessa had four points on Saturday, and that’s now the guy the defense has to put their third middie on. That’s just line one, man, and we haven’t even mentioned the attack yet. Virginia has to cover Jackson Morrill, Matt Gaudet, and Matt Brandau. Luke Eschbach had two points last game. Brian Tevlin did too. So did Christian Cropp.
Virginia managed to outlast Duke, but the Blue Devils don’t have depth like Yale has depth. Every single defender on the field is going to have their hands full against the Bulldogs. Any one of those starters could go off, and that’s not something I think is true for Virginia. I can see Dox Aitken or Ryan Conrad going off for 5+ goals, but who else? If this turns into a shootout, Yale has more weapons.
2019 NCAA Lacrosse Championship Prediction
If Yale plays the way they played on Saturday, I don’t think this game is close. Virginia was shaky against Duke, and they relied on Alex Rode to make 17 saves to escape with the 2OT win. If Rode doesn’t have arguably the best game of his career, the Cavs aren’t even here today. Now, it’s more than possible that Yale does not score ten in the first quarter. Likely, even. That said, what’s the defining thing for 2019 Virginia? That they’re the Cardiac Cavs. They’ve needed a ton of late comebacks, including last game against Duke. Nobody wins eight straight faceoffs against TD Ierlan, especially not a freshman winning 60% of his draws. If this becomes yet another game where Virginia has to claw their way back, they’ll have to do so against a team with one of the greatest faceoff specialists in the game’s history, backed by a team that just beat the highest scoring offense in over a decade in a shootout. I can’t see it happening. I think Yale jumps out to a lead in the second half, and the Virginia comeback attempt fizzles. The Bulldogs will win the 2019 NCAA Lacrosse Championship.
Yale 16, Virginia 10