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Men's Lacrosse Gears Up for 2022 Campaign With Pair of Scrimmage Victories

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The men’s lacrosse team took the field against Holy Cross and St. John’s for two preseason scrimmages this past week. With two victories under its belt, the team is poised for a strong upcoming season.

On Tuesday, February 2nd, the Crimson faced off against Holy Cross. The team was able to decisively take control of the game from the initial whistle.

On the defensive end, one-on-one coverage was strong from first-year midfielder Ray Dearth and first-year defenseman Martin Nelson. Sophomore Collin Bergstrom did a solid job at x, covering well behind, and shutting off the roll dodge for Harvard.

Consistent between both Tuesday’s scrimmage and Saturday’s play was that the slide packages were a step behind in recovering to the second pass out of the double team, leaving open possessions from the top for Holy Cross to capitalize on outside shots.

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This mistake affected the Crimson in particular against Saint John’s, causing it to trail for the first two quarters. In both instances, the d-unit meshed better later in the game, with more communication and quicker recovery out of the double. Communication was clearly something that Harvard did well throughout its later possessions, and was effective in the fourth quarter when the defense successfully shut down the Crusaders’ two-man-up possession.

Communication also came into play in closing the double team. The defense was successful in quickly sending the slide to pressure the ball and force errant passes. Capitalizing on these changes in possession, the defense and midfield did a good job of quickly clearing the ball, consistently utilizing the entirety of the field to get the ball to the attack with about 70 seconds left on the shot clock for the attack to sub in and set up its sets.

Clearing had been a point of emphasis for Coach Byrne that the coaching staff looked to improve between fall and spring play. When asked about ways that the team practiced to improve this crucial aspect of play, Bergstrom emphasized the importance of repetition.

“It’s a lot of reps. It’s something that we work on everyday…. Everyone has to be on the same page communicating, which is really what it showed today,” he said.

Harvard’s offense worked well as a unit, with confident one-on-one drives and slick cutting on the inside; first-year middie Miles Botkiss was shooting well, driving from up top. Sophomore attackman Sam King did a particularly good job of seeing the inside, working the ball from behind, while sophomore attackman Brennan McBride and senior attackman Austin Madronic were consistently open on the inside, working the middle in the absence of junior attackman Hayden Cheek, who did not play against Holy Cross.

The midfield caused sloppy passes on the ride and capitalized on the Crusaders’ mistakes by fighting for loose balls. Play was strong for the middies on the offensive end with junior Nick Loring driving well, and senior Charlie Olmert putting the ball in the back of the net a few times.

Defensive midfielders like juniors Zach Hobbes and Chase Yager, as well as Dearth, were physical and effective on the clear, causing turnovers and capitalizing by cleanly clearing upfield. They were particularly effective in shutting down drives from up top, and were reliable pieces of the defensive unit.

Man-up play for the Crimson was also a strong point, with the offense effectively holding its space, quickly moving the ball, and taking strong drives from x; King took it to the cage with a shifty question mark up the left side.

In Saturday’s game against St. John’s, Harvard started slowly. Play on both ends of the field was disjointed, with errant passes and missed slides.

“We got to come out better. But, I think we did a good job of learning from our mistakes and picking up the pieces when things are going wrong. I think we showed a good amount of fight today, to battle back and win this one,” Bergstrom said.

The turning point for the team came in the second quarter with a fast break goal by Madronic, who scooped up the ground ball on the ride for an easy take down the middle of the field. After his score, the Crimson started playing with more confidence and poise.

“We wanted to start a little hotter than that, but we were down and we showed some resilience coming back,” Madronic said.

The second quarter also brought a shift in defensive cohesion. Throughout the first quarter, the slide package was late. The defense began to jump the double, moving to help against one-on-one takes that should have been left for solo defending, and was late to recover, leaving St. John’s offensive players open on the wings.

“[We learned] from our mistakes… When things got tough, we came together and figured it out, and picked the energy up in the second quarter,” Bergstrom noted.

The defense was particularly solid in the second half of the game, gelling together much more cohesively. Sophomore defenseman Thomas Martinson was a key piece of this three-man unit.

In the scrimmages, faceoff play was split between senior fogo Stephen Cuccurullo, who dominated against Holy Cross, and sophomore fogo Andrew DeGennaro. Both played well, with DeGenaro even scoring on a dig to himself that turned into a fast break goal against St. Johns.

On the wings, play was marked by quick release from sophomore long-stick midfielder Greg Campisi, who was able to work with Yager to pick up loose balls and clear out of trouble to the offensive end.

Offensive movement was driven by senior Austin Madronic and sophomore Graham Blake. Madronic was shifty on the inside, getting open and finishing well. Blake didn’t see much action till the second quarter, but once he joined the rotation, he made noise from x, with a couple of shifty plays wrapping around both sides of the cage.

His vision was a point of emphasis, as he was able to facilitate plays from behind. He was also lethal in the transition game; his super clean face dodge on the fast break turned into an easy point-blank goal for Harvard.

“Our guys did a good job communicating and talking, and they were open. I remember one play in particular, we had a good play call and Brenny [sophomore attacker Brennan McBride] ended up flashing and getting open and calling for me so it was pretty easy to find him and he finished the ball. Our guys made it easy,” Blake said.

Blake and Madronic both commented on the need for keeping up pressure and tempo on the offensive end.

“We shared the ball well today. It’s not always easy … it keeps it constant if we are sharing the ball and playing up tempo,” Blake said.

Madronic added, “We showed constant pressure from the start…. We are constantly running our offense and getting good looks.”

Madronic attributes the team’s success to its motion offense.

“We were really patient and when we did that we had success. Inversely, when we weren’t patient on offense, it was a little bit sloppy and turned into a game that they could play, picking up ground balls and getting out of their defensive end,” Madronic said.

Goalies were rotated in each game, with senior captain Kyle Mullin taking the first quarter, sophomore Christian Barnard in for second, sophomore George Alvarez in third, and junior Jack Schlendorf finishing up for the Crimson. Barnard and Alvarez had particularly strong showings against St. John’s, while Mullin had a clean game against Holy Cross.

“I think the season is going really well, and we’ve learned a lot from our scrimmage,” Cuccurullo said. “I’m looking forward to seeing our offense play.”

He had particularly complimentary things to say about the team’s underclassmen, calling out first-year midfielder Owen Gaffney, sophomore attackman Sam King, first-year midfielder Andrew Perry, and Botkiss.

The Crimson will take the field for the first time since 2020 on Feb. 19 as the team welcomes the New Jersey Institute of Technology to Jordan Field.

-Crimson staff writer Katharine Forst can be reached at katharine.forst@thecrimson.com.

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