Comeback Kids Look To Fly At Byrd Stadium
COLLEGE PARK, Md. – They have been called comeback kids. They have been called one of the most exciting teams in college lacrosse this year. Both descriptions fit the 2013 Yale men's lacrosse team as it prepares for a national quarterfinal showdown with No. 1 Syracuse Saturday at Byrd Stadium.
The 12-4 Bulldogs, who have trailed at some point in all 16 games this campaign, had the ultimate comeback last weekend at University Park, Pa., against No. 8 seed Penn State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Yale was looking for its first national tournament victory since 1992 and was trailing the Nittany Lions 5-1 at halftime.
Since the tournament began in 1971, there had been 52 teams held to a goal or less over the first 30 minutes, and none of them had won. The Elis made the adjustments on both ends of the field and went on a historic offensive run to advance with a 10-7 win over Penn State.
"We are trying to get better every day," said senior attackman Kirby Zdrill, who is fourth in Division I in shooting percentage and has a career-best 30 goals this season. "We approach every game the same way. We just want to improve upon our last performance. We have an underdog mentality."
That mentality has helped ignite his squad to its current, four-game win streak. The Blue has won nine of its last 10. As for the comebacks, the Yale captain has a solid theory on that.
"The resiliency comes from the level of care that everyone on the team has for each other, said senior defenseman Michael McCormack. I've never been on a team that cares more about each other than this squad does. We want to win for each other and we really care about Yale lacrosse. We understand how much this program means to everyone."
The Bulldogs, who practiced at Reese Stadium on Thursday morning before boarding an Academy Bus for their second trip to College Park this spring, got re-familiarized with Byrd Stadium today during a 60-minute practice a day before facing the 11-time national champions from Northern New York.
Wearing their blue and white tank-top practice jerseys on an 80-degree afternoon, the Elis were focused and loose during the practice on the synthetic surface named the Capital One Field, which they played Maryland on five weeks ago in Yale's second-to-last regular season game. That 8-7 loss, which had a controversial finish, is the only thing that prevented Yale from bringing a 10-game win streak back to the land of the Terrapins.
Andy Shay, the Ryan & Forst Family Head Coach, has Yale in the NCAA Tournament for a second straight season. A 20-year NCAA drought ended when the Blue won the first of its two Ivy League Tournament titles last May at Princeton.
Four of his first six seasons finished below .500, but the last four have brought back the memories of the late 1980s and early 90s when the Elis could matchup equally with anyone in the country.
The Yale Class of 2013 may not have seen the light of the national tournament in its first two years, but they have been part of a huge transformation under the 10th-year head coach. The last four seasons under Shay included two Ivy Tournament titles (4 appearances), one regular season Ivy championship, 42 victories and at least three NCAA Tournament contests. A win Saturday would mean the school's first national semifinal since 1990, when Yale's career scoring leader, Jon Reese, was putting the Bulldogs on the national lacrosse map.
There was clearly something or someone who made believers out of the current seniors and their teammates starting in 2010.
"Having Brendan Gibson as our captain our freshman year was one of the most integral parts to the success we have had," said senior defenseman Peter Johnson. "He really instilled in us the idea that nothing was going to be given to us, and that we had to earn everything. We can have success with hard work."
They put in the hard work, both in and out of seasons, but they still had to be tested to see how they would react to adversity. It's easy when you are winning to stay focused and confident in your system. It's another story when things go wrong.
"I remember our first Ivy game (2010) against Cornell. We came out loud and proud after a couple of wins but got smacked that day. We could have thought this was going to be just like the past, but we stuck to our core beliefs. Everyone was shocked with that [regular season] Ivy title our freshman year. Now it's expected from our program," said Johnson, whose squad faces the Orange for the second time in an NCAA Tournament game.
McCormack didn't hear the interview with his teammate before being asked about the person who may have ignited the 2010 team and ultimately helped change the culture of the program.
"Our 2010 team was a special one. Brendan Gibson was a huge part in changing the way everyone looked at this program. He helped put Yale lacrosse on the map," said McCormack, who pointed out the same things about his former captain that made the difference.
A big crowd at Byrd Stadium and a national TV audience watching on ESPN2 tomorrow will get to see the results of the transformation. The Bulldogs have already received rave reviews.
Video Clip of Yale practice at Byrd Stadium today
Listen to today's interview with Captain Michael McCormack
Filed by Steve Conn, Yale Sports Publicity Director