Heading into the 2018 season, the Harvard men’s lacrosse team returns the bulk of its squad from last year, having graduated only five seniors. In comparison, 15 seniors will be bidding farewell to Cambridge at the end of the current campaign. But despite the small size of last year’s graduating class, the Crimson lost a great deal more than two starters and three reserves.
With the departure of 2017 team captains Matt Ryan and Ryan Norton, as well as Colin Delea, Luke Mendola, and Jamie White, Harvard now has no players on its roster who were a part of the 2014 squad, the most successful in the program’s recent memory. In fact, that group was the only one in the past 20 years to win the Ivy League title, and the only one in the past 10 to advance to the NCAA tournament.
“Matt and Ryan were two voices that we’ll definitely miss this season, on the field and in the locker room,” new co-captain Joe Lang said. “But having a lot of the guys come back does help with the transition and keeping up our style of play.
Into the shoes of Ryan and Norton step Sean Coleman and Lang, two seniors who may not have the NCAA tournament experience but are nonetheless well-versed in the program’s values and goals. Both players also captained their high school teams in their senior years, and both will be entering their fourth seasons in significant roles for the Crimson.
Lang will be expected to hold down his usual role as an attack-minded midfielder. His production from the position over the last few years, including multi-point performances in 12 out of 13 games in 2017, earned him a spot on the New England Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (NEILA) Preseason First Team for the second straight year. Ahead of him in attack, Coleman and fellow senior Morgan Cheek will also look to provide a scoring punch for Harvard.
Cheek is another NEILA Preseason First Team selection whom the Crimson will lean on this year. After leading the team in points last season with 67, a total which put him at a career total of 141 points, Cheek begins the push into the top-10 all time for points in program history, only needing 30 more points to place him in the top five.
“There are a couple of seniors who have clearly already accomplished a lot in their time here,” said head coach Chris Wojcik ’96. “But the depth of the class is just as important to us, letting us play a lot of guys and keep everyone fresh.”
Speaking of depth, the sophomore class, with one full year of experience under its belt, is also ready to contribute in a big way. Two years after Cheek broke out in his sophomore season with 60 points, several talented sophomore attackers will hope to do the same. In particular, Ryan Graff, a starter alongside Cheek on the front line, will aim to build on a stellar 20-goal freshman campaign.
“We have young guys who are very hungry to improve, always down there practicing,” Lang said. “Even though we have a big senior class, there’s a lot of younger guys we’re going to need production from if we’re going to have a good year.”
On the other side, virtually the entire Harvard defense returns. With only Norton’s minutes to replace, senior Joe Kearney, junior Jonathan Butler, and sophomore David Strupp will look to continue building strong chemistry in front of returning senior goalie Robert Shaw.
Shaw was the third and final Crimson player to be named to a NEILA preseason team when he earned a spot on the second team. Like Cheek, the Canton, Mass., native will be climbing the team’s record books this season. He enters his third season as a starter only 12 saves shy of a spot in the top-10 for all time saves.
With so many returning players, the freshmen on the squad will have more time than usual to learn the ropes. Still, with two Inside Lacrosse top-50 recruits, defenseman Frankie Tangredi and midfielder Bryn Evans, Wojcik certainly has talented newcomers at his disposal.
“The freshman have impressed us so far with their preparation, and they’ll contribute this season, no doubt,” Wojcik said. “We’ll need everyone to play their role if we want to accomplish what we want to accomplish.”
—Staff writer George Hu can be reached at email@example.com.