Men's Lacrosse Looks to Climb Ivy Standings
A top-heavy Harvard roster graduated 15 seniors in 2016—a class that included two Ivy League First Teamers and a nominee for the Tewaaraton Award, which recognizes the top collegiate player. In the wake of this mass exodus, the 2017 Crimson has mighty shoes to fill.
Last season, Harvard fought to a perfectly even campaign—8-8 overall and 3-3 in the Ivy League. Media members projected a similarly middling record this year. In early February, the inaugural Ivy League preseason poll slotted Harvard at fourth behind Yale, Brown, and Penn. The Crimson received points in the national poll but landed just outside the top 20.
“There’s certainly no one key to our success this year,” tri-captain Ryan Norton said. “But as a team we are focused on being the best we can be in all facets of our lives. We believe that striving for excellence both on the field and in the classroom is vital to our team’s success.”
Missing this year is attackman Devin Dwyer ’16. Last season, the then-senior combined with then-sophomore Morgan Cheek to account for 132 points, good for 44 percent of Harvard’s overall offense.
While Cheek returns, Harvard will miss Dwyer’s productivity. The veteran’s mark of 72 points in 2016 tied the third-highest single-season total in program history, and his four-year aggregate of 211 points ranks third all-time for the program. Dwyer tallied a point in a record 49 consecutive games—a streak which began during his freshman year.
Already, Cheek has proven that he can produce in Dwyer’s absence. In Harvard’s season-opening win at UMass Lowell, the junior notched seven points (four goals and three assists). Still, as any first-grade student can tell you, two is better than one.
“My favorite part about this year’s team is our chemistry,” Norton said. “This is definitely the most close-knit team I have been a part of. Being a cohesive unit on and off the field is another key component to our success.”
The newcomers to the team may well be the deciding factor between a year labeled as “rebuilding” or one in which the team competes for an Ancient Eight title. Of the 300 points that Harvard amassed 2016, the graduating class accounted for 171.
“This year we really want to play fast and push the tempo in transition, and defend teams in transition,” junior goalie Robert Shaw said. “We’ve really got to dominate teams between the lines, on ground balls, faceoffs, and early offense [and if we do so] we’ll be able to have a pretty good season.”
With 57 percent of the Crimson’s offense now graduated (read: investment analysts on Wall Street), Frisbie Family Head Coach Chris Wojcik ’96 will have to look elsewhere for an attacking spark.
In Harvard’s first tilt of the season, that spark came from two freshmen—attackman Ryan Graff and midfielder Dalton Follows. Hailing from Bloomington, Minn., Graff scored three goals off six shots on goal, tallied five ground balls, and caused two turnovers. Meanwhile, the Canadian Follows fired home two scores and scooped three ground balls of his own.
Both underclassmen have deep ties to the Crimson. The father of each player played lacrosse for Harvard. Robert Graff graduated in 1987, and Peter Follows graduated in 1986 after skating for the hockey team.
On the defensive side of the ball, three new faces have appeared. With the departure of Ivy first-teamer Bobby Duvnjak, Stephen Jahelka—the Denver Outlaws’ 14th overall pick—and All-NEILA second-team selection Walter Kirby, the Crimson’s stalwart defense has transitioned to a younger core. Tri-captain Ryan Norton spearheads the unit, and Jonathan Butler (sophomore) and top-50 recruit David Strupp (freshman) round out the trio.
Last season, the team ranked fifth in the Ivy League in goals allowed, conceding nearly 11 scores per game. Meanwhile, Harvard posted 11.4 goals every contest, good for third in the Ancient Eight.
The Bears boasted the most potent obvious by a huge margin—over 16 goals an outing, over four more than nearest competitor Yale. The Crimson may need to approach this level of explosive scoring in order to keep up with top league opponents.
Inside the crease is one place where Harvard sports some consistency. Robert Shaw returns for his junior campaign after playing in all 16 games a year ago. The Canton, Ohio native made 181 saves in his first year as a starter and stopped 53 percent of shots.
“Obviously, we lost a bunch of guys from last year who had been playing for a long time, but we’ve got a lot of new guys who are ready to step into new roles,” Shaw said. “We have a big freshman class—15 guys—and all of them have been doing a good job so far this year. It’s definitely a little different than last year when we had a lot of seniors on defense, but we’re doing our best so far this year, and I’m looking forward to playing with these guys for the next few years.”
With Shaw returning, as well as Cheeks, Norton, and other key contributors, the Crimson has the task of battling off top-ranked opponents. Every year, the Ivy League sports some of the best programs in the country, and it is in this jungle of predators that Harvard must carve out a place.
—Staff writer Will V. Robbins can be reached at email@example.com.
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