The Yale Bulldogs earned the crown this weekend, beating Duke 13-11 for the NCAA DI Men’s Lacrosse Championship. There were five significant factors that combined to push the Bulldogs to achieving the program’s ultimate goal of a first-ever national title. These five factors propelled Yale to win when it counted most.
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— NCAA Lacrosse (@NCAALAX) May 28, 2018
Five Reasons the Yale Bulldogs won the 2018 NCAA DI Men’s Lacrosse Championship:
The Yale Bulldogs just completed the best season in school history, taking home a certain piece of hardware they desperately wanted to win! Here’s my take on the key things that led to Yale winning the National Championship:
Yale’s Half-Step Edge
Against Albany, the Yale Bulldogs were the more athletic team, and this was true across the board – at almost every single position. Now, to be clear, I am not comparing Yale’s defenders to Albany’s defenders, but instead I am comparing Yale’s D to Albany’s O, and vice versa.
For example, Yale’s attack was bigger, stronger, and faster than Albany’s defense. When you saw the players standing next to each other, the Yale players were simply thicker, and looked stronger. When you saw the two groups fighting for GBs, Yale’s attack still held an edge, and this half-step dominance across the board resulted in extra chances, lots of required slides, and the ability to open the game up via one on one dodging. No one could match up with Ben Reeves effectively, and the athletic mismatches allowed Yale to play smart lacrosse, while creating relatively open passing lanes for skips and backside or crease looks.
On the other end of the field, it was not even close. Yale’s defense was all over Albany from the get go, and none of the Albany attackers were able to consistently gain a step or create space against the stout D of Chris Fake, Chris Keating and Co. On Monday, Yale showed a very similar ability, and while the gap of athleticism was not as evident against Duke, Yale still held an edge and all three of Yale’s early goals were a result of athletic play, a stretched defense, and the half-step advantage.
Yale’s impressive athleticism was even more evident in their midfield play, and it spanned from face off wins from Conor Mackie to short stick dominance from the likes of Tyler Warner, John Daniggelis, Jason Alessi, and Jack Tigh. Tigh got back right into it on Monday when he dropped two early goals against Duke in the finals, and all of the Yale shorties were playing hard, and smart, and using their speed, strength, and size to gain an edge all over the field. Another great example of Yale’s athleticism was showcased against Duke when Jack Rooney caught a pass inside, took a solid hit from behind, and still managed to simply turn and fire one low for Yale’s 4th goal of the game. Yale was a fast but immovable object this weekend, and their strength was fully on display.
Starr Made Big Saves
Jack Starr has been a very consistent keeper all season long, but with Yale playing super serious team ball all weekend, there were long periods when Starr would not see a lot of rubber. When he did, it was from some of the top scorers in the game, and on some pretty good looks. Both Albany and Duke created some good chances, but Starr was there more often than he was not, and made a couple of absolutely unreal saves, as well as the vast majority of the saves he should have made. One in the second quarter against Duke was especially impressive as the ball got kicked over to the backside and Starr managed to get across, stay high, and still make a stick save that most goalies would never make. When Yale needed him, Starr was there, and it allowed the Yale defense to play with even more confidence as both games of the weekend wore on.
Yale Bulldogs Don’t Panic
Yale went up early on Duke in the championship game, but Duke clawed their way back in, scoring some nice goals to make it 4-3, but at no point did Yale’s defense look flustered, or angry with each other. They came together after goals, talked, shook their heads in agreement, and then got back to work.
When the Yale Bulldogs offense allowed Duke to create turnovers, the same thing happened. Yale rode, tried to get the ball back, and if they did not, they simply reassessed, got back to work, and scored on the next possession. They were methodical, patient, tough, and most importantly they played together the whole time, making the entire unit better, efficient, and keeping them very much in control.
Check out this post-game interview between ESPN’s Paul Carcaterra and Head Coach Andy Shay:
— NCAA Lacrosse (@NCAALAX) May 28, 2018
Pace Of Play & ZONE?
Yale did a great job of controlling the pace of play all weekend long. They avoided stall warnings, kept pressure on defense without overextending, and threw some new looks and wrinkles at Duke for short bursts, keeping the Blue Devils on their heels and uncomfortable.
Right before the second quarter ended, with Yale up 6-4, the Bulldogs went into a zone, and it looked a lot like the Wesleyan zone from the day before, where the middle is clogged with two tandem sliding players, and the outside box pushes offensive guys to non-dangerous areas, or directly into double teams. Duke couldn’t figure that short zone look out, and it allowed Yale to keep a 2-goal lead, and take it into the half. In the early moments of the second half, Yale took an opposite approach and began to press out and cover Duke players when they were 25 yards away from the goal. Both scenarios forced Duke to reset, burnt valuable minutes off the clock, and kept Yale in control, and dictating pace of play.
Both of these teams are highly capable, and can play fast or slow, but Yale’s ability to use little wrinkles when they needed to gave them an important edge. Early in the third quarter Yale scored their 9th goal of the game (their second on the man up), completing a four goal run that spanned the end of the first half and the beginning of the second. When Justin Guterding scored a goal to make it 9-5, Duke tried a similar approach and locked off Alessi, but he still got the ball, made space, and then found Matt Gaudet to put Yale back up 10-5.
When Duke tightened the game back up to 12-9, Yale ended up scoring a long possession to take the lead back to 4 goals, at 13-9. As the time was winding down, Duke had to extend and press, and Yale was able to use that to their advantage, and line up a beautiful opportunity for Gaudet to finish. Yale won the very next draw, and time continued to wind down on Duke’s fantastic season.
The Yale Bulldogs were incredibly impressive in their ability to not only create chaos, but also in how they managed it.
Breaking Runs & Breaking Hearts
One of the things that stuck out to me more than almost anything else was Yale’s ability to keep any Duke (or Albany) runs strictly limited to one or two goals (ok, maybe three) at a time made a big difference. Lacrosse is an up and down, emotional game, and when any team strings together a couple consecutive goals, the make up of a game can change quickly. Between time outs, key ground balls, face offs, goals when they were needed, and defensive stops, Yale was able to keep Duke and Albany on an flatter emotional line for much of the game.
For example, when Duke did manage to score 3 straight goals in rapid succession late in the third quarter, Yale called a timeout, and while they lost the next draw, the D answered with a key stop and the Yale offense went back to work, draining the clock, and forcing Duke’s D to shift out of shape. Lucas Cotler dodged to the middle, got back outside and stung one high to push the Yale lead back to 3. Duke got one back within a minute on a nice goal from Justin Guterding but Conor Mackie won the ensuing face to his wing man, Robert Mooney, who then found Alessi, and Yale was back up, 12-9, with less than 30 seconds to play. Mackie won the final draw of the quarter, Yale got a decent look, and they effectively closed out the quarter, still in control, having weathered Duke’s most recent run successfully.
Even when Duke started to really press, and brought the game back to a 2 goal margin at 13-11, Yale won a draw backwards, cleared the ball with athleticism, and then burnt time off the clock before the refs put on a quick stall call. Yale let the clock wind down, to about 15 seconds before even taking a step, Duke did not press, and Yale managed to get a rest with only a few ticks left on the shot clock. With 1:15 left, Duke doubled but Yale let as much time wind down before they called their final timeout.
A missed open goal opportunity by Reevers to put the game on ice gave the ball back to Duke, but with only a minute left in the game Duke was unable to get the two goals they needed to force OT. Alas, the Yale Bulldogs were crowned 2018 NCAA DI Champs!