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In Tough Ending, Harvard Men's Lacrosse Falls to Yale, Ending 2022-23 Season

Sophomore Sam King tussles for the ball with a Bulldog in a season-ending matchup against Yale on Apr. 29. Though King scored its 100th point of the season, the offensive effort couldn't stop Yale, who beat Harvard 14-11.
Sophomore Sam King tussles for the ball with a Bulldog in a season-ending matchup against Yale on Apr. 29. Though King scored its 100th point of the season, the offensive effort couldn't stop Yale, who beat Harvard 14-11. By Dylan J. Goodman
By Katharine Forst, Crimson Staff Writer

In a season that was highly touted by the lacrosse community as being a breakout for the Harvard men’s lacrosse team, the young squad finished decisively lower in the ranking than was expected. Despite building on the young team led by mostly first-years in the 2022 season, the Crimson was unable to make a repeat NCAA tournament appearance.

Ranked No. 13 heading into the season, the inclusion of new first-year players like attackman Teddy Malone, SSDM Owen Guest, and defenseman Charlie Muller seemed to round out the gaps left open with the graduation of several key players, but the overall cohesiveness of the team felt markedly less than in past years.

Even with this new recruiting class making an instant effect on the lineup, the team lagged in some areas that needed improvement last year, as well as areas in which it excelled in the 2022 season. Losing FOGOs Kyle Massimilian and Steven Cuccurullo, as well as goalie Kyle Mullin, was perhaps the most impactful. Stepping in at the faceoff X were first-year Matt Barraco — who sat out of fall ball with a back injury — and sophomore Andrew DeGennaro, who played third-string to the two seniors last season.

Faceoff play was an area that the team needed to improve last year, and is something that put Harvard at a disadvantage this season as well. In goal, Mullin — who started every game and is now the starting goaltender at Rutgers, an impressive program that defeated the Crimson in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last year — was succeeded by junior Christian Barnard. Goaltending was an area of strength last year, and while something that started a little shaky, became progressively more solid as Barnard gained confidence in the role.

While the loss of these three fifth-year seniors in these two integral areas of play ultimately shaped the team’s success in those positions, there was an additional area of play that lapsed in comparison to last year: offense. Perhaps it was losing dynamic dodger and initiator Austin Madronic, who now plays professional box lacrosse with the Saskatchewan Rush, but there was something missing within the offensive units.

The team’s last two games of the season against Princeton and Yale are clear markers of this shift on the offensive end. In both of these games, the offense felt a step behind its opponent. The lines were unable to attack the middle and were forced to choose outside lanes that afforded the guys less-than-desirable outside shots. They were stuck in these matchups because the defense was able to rotate and send help, which left the Crimson unable to make the skip pass and hit the backside for better looks. This created a sort of frantic feeling that was present in many of the offensive sets throughout the season and led to poor decision-making in some integral moments.

This rushed play was only compounded by the fact that the offense was at a disadvantage in possession time due to losses at the faceoff. A thread through the last two seasons was pressure put on the defensive squad to perform at a disproportionate level in order to stop the fast break on the faceoff, lock down on sets, and then clear to the offense for an opportunity to score. The defense, composed of a young group of players led by sophomores Tommy Matinson, Collin Bergstrom, and Martin Nelson at low D, senior Chase Yager, and sophomores Ray Dearth and Andrew O’Berry at SSDM, and junior Greg Campisi at LSDM, all stepped up to the plate game after game.

Led by Head Coach Gerry Byrne, who over two stints at Notre Dame ran the renowned defense for the Irish for sixteen seasons, the young defense has excelled and grown markedly since 2022. However, despite these changes, there were moments of greatness on both ends of the field that allowed Harvard to remain competitive. These glimpses of cohesiveness in which the team worked together as a single entity across the turf are indicative of why it ranked so highly before its first game against the University of Virginia.

“Entering the season ranked No. 13 in several media and coaches polls reflected our 2022 success and NCAA Tournament appearance and the youth movement that had become the foundation of our team,” Byrne commented. “Unfortunately that youth helped fuel some of our inconsistency but also created moments of brilliance that shined in victories over Brown and Cornell and our battle with No.1 Virginia to start the season.”

This inconsistency ultimately proved to be the downfall of the team at the end of the season as the Crimson was unable to build on momentum stirred with an upset victory over No. 6 Cornell. As is often written about this particular group, youth is the key factor in how the players are defined. As a lineup of first-years and sophomores quarterbacking a squad competing with teams that boast starting sets composed of upperclassmen and graduate students, there seems to be a lack of scarcity and intensity that inform the mindset of the team. With this squad, there is no end in sight, which makes every play feel redeemable. Unlike the Crimson, but as is the case with a team that plays mostly seniors, there is a feeling of finality with every game. The end is in sight —every ground ball, shot, and defensive slide might be the last. Harvard had all the pieces this last season, but what it missed was this feeling of drive, of fire to win and compete on the biggest stage, and to meet the level of teams that brought that competitiveness to the field.

“We went down against both teams early which ended up costing us the game — I think that is the biggest reason we didn’t achieve our goals this season,” Barnard said. “We did not score or get stops in key moments of the game and gave up too many runs to other teams. I believe that we had all the pieces that we needed, but just didn’t put them together at the right times.”

Having these pieces and players necessary to compete is essential to winning, but so is having the right mindset. Framing a season and a team around having opportunities down the line ultimately limits the capacity of the current team, and leaves room for failure in the present with a hope for success in the future. It is interesting to watch the program grow, to either fail or to rise and meet challenges, because with so much potential, the lessons learned through the last two seasons should ultimately guide and predict future successes.

Senior Nick Loring cradles the ball in Harvard's last game of its 2022-23 season against Yale. Despite a comeback in the fourth quarter, the Crimson was not able to score enough on the Bulldogs, losing 14-11.
Senior Nick Loring cradles the ball in Harvard's last game of its 2022-23 season against Yale. Despite a comeback in the fourth quarter, the Crimson was not able to score enough on the Bulldogs, losing 14-11. By Dylan J. Goodman

Allowing other schools to dictate games — which forced the Crimson to chase the lead on the scoreboard — is indicative of youth. As the squad matures, it has the ability to make an impact and shift to a more confident mindset backed up by the desire to win and the ability to do so. However, it does not excuse the fact that this focus lapsed in for quarters at a time in many games.

“I think missing the Ivy League tournament is inexcusable and we need to take that mindset into next year. We all need to be better,” Barnard commented.

Echoed by sophomore attackman Sam King, this sentiment of “doing better” ultimately fostered a feeling of frustration within the team: “The season as a whole was very frustrating partly because of what we knew we were capable of. We had flashes of great quarters and halves but struggled to play a complete game for a lot of the season. I think that was a problem for both the Yale and Princeton game,” King noted. “That being said, we have a lot to learn from and the guys returning are hungry and ready to do what it takes to be better next year.”

Looking into the next season, there is only room for the team to do better. With upperclassmen like Barnard and King emphasizing the team’s need to perform at the level they know they are capable of, the tenacity in bouncing back and excelling past the performances of the last two seasons is palpable.

“All you can ask for as a team is the opportunity to control your own destiny at the end of the year and that's exactly what we have,” junior attackman Graham Blake remarked. “We have a really talented group that hasn't begun to scratch the surface of how good we can be.”

Despite the constant emphasis on the younger players in this program, there were twelve seniors who contributed to the victories earned by the team. Plagued by the Covid-19 pandemic, two canceled seasons, a coaching change, and other adversities, this group of seniors led the squad through an unprecedented amount of turmoil to the most successful last two seasons seen since the 1990s. While the year might have ended more abruptly than 2022, their remarks on the program are indicative of how much they have invested in Harvard Lacrosse, and showcase their confidence in the team’s ability to grow in future seasons:

“My journey with the Harvard lacrosse program has been the most incredible and fulfilling experience of my life. No words can truly capture what this program, and all its members, have meant to me and my time here. I have been blessed to live out a childhood dream, all while showered with love from 50-plus of the most amazing, dedicated individuals you could ever meet, and it was better than I ever could have imagined. I will forever be grateful to Coach Byrne and the coaching staff for welcoming me into the program and thank you to my family for pushing me and supporting me in pursuing this. It was worth every ounce of effort and more.” — Connor Bond

“Playing Harvard Lacrosse has been the greatest honor of my life. I feel privileged to have been part of such an outstanding program surrounded by the best friends, teammates, coaches, and family in the world. While I will miss putting on the jersey, I am beyond excited to stay connected and watch this program thrive in the years to come.” — Hayden Cheek

“The past five years have been the best of my life. I’m so grateful for my time on this team, and all that I’ve been able to experience because of this team. I’ve gained friends that will last a lifetime and shared memories with them that I will never forget. Thank you, Harvard Lacrosse.” — Isaiah Dawson

“Being on the Harvard men’s lacrosse team throughout my career at Harvard has been an unforgettable and incredibly memorable experience that I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life. The quality of men inside the program, the people around the program, and the alumni base constantly made me better as a person, and I am eternally grateful to have had the opportunity to wear the jersey for four years. I am so excited about the future of Harvard Lacrosse, and cannot wait to support the future teams from the sidelines.” — Bryn Evans

“Being a member of this team has been the most rewarding experience of my life. Thank you to my teammates for making it so special. The program is in great hands and I’m excited to see all of the future success.” — Zach Hobbes

“I’m so excited to see where this program is going but at the same time believe I also need to give credit where credit is due. So, thank you to Coach Wojcik for recruiting our class. Going to Harvard has been the single most impactful decision in my life, and I can’t thank him enough for taking a chance on me and my class. I love where we are as a program and am excited to see Coach Byrne take our team to an Ivy League title.” — Ollie Hollo

“Playing Harvard Lacrosse has been, by far, the greatest experience of my life. Nothing could possibly compare. I have never before done something so demanding yet so delightful, so frustrating yet so fulfilling, and so bizarre yet so Best. I have cherished every moment I have spent as a member of the Harvard Lacrosse team. I’ve loved it all. I have made so many indelible memories and met so many incredible people. I have learned a lot during my time at Harvard and one thing I know for sure is that there is not a greater group of young men on the planet than those in the Harvard Lacrosse locker room. I’ll miss you, boys, the most. Finally, I want to thank everyone from the bottom of my heart who helped make my dreams come true. Roll Crimson.” — Tommy Joyce

“Being a part of Harvard Lacrosse has been the greatest honor of my life. I’m beyond grateful to my teammates and the coaches for making these four years so special. While it’s hard to see my time in the Harvard jersey come to an end, I know the guys in our locker room will always be family and I can’t wait to see what they can do in the future.” — Nick Loring

“It’s been an honor to play Harvard Lacrosse. I’ve met my best friends in the world while playing the game I love. My recruiting class has faced tons of adversity — most notably, two seasons being canceled because of Covid[-19] during our time in college, but at the end of the day, we can confidently say that the program moved in the right direction in a meaningful manner during our tenure. I am extremely excited to see what the future holds for Harvard Lacrosse.” — Jack Schlendorf

“Being a member of this team has been one of the most valuable and rewarding experiences of my life. Through the highs and lows of every season, I am eternally grateful for the teammates and coaches that have shaped me into a better person. More than anything, what will sting the most about departing from Harvard and this program is no longer being able to step into the locker room every day with 50 of my best friends and guys that I love. While the end is bittersweet, I know that these friendships I’ve made will last well beyond my time here.” — Chase Strupp

“I really can’t imagine what my time at Harvard would have been like without the lacrosse team. The friends that I made among my teammates, the lifelong connections I’ve discovered with alumni, and the bonds that I’ve formed with all of my coaches have made this a life-altering experience, and I couldn’t be more grateful for that. This is a truly unique group of individuals that Coach Byrne has gathered here and I know they are all going to go do amazing things on and off the field in the future. It has truly been an honor to be a part of this team, even for the short time I got to be here.” — Chase Yager

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