(Photo Courtesy of Harvard Athletics)
At one of the most historic and most underperforming programs (according to some) in the Ivy League, Gerry Byrne has the ability to build something special and all signs point to the winds starting to shift in Cambridge.
After a 12-year stint in South Bend, Ind. as the defensive coordinator for Notre Dame, Byrne made the jump back into head coaching (he spent three years in that role at Saint Anselm College) and Harvard ended up being the one job that was able to pull him away from the Fighting Irish.
His first year at the helm of the Crimson was an interesting one for sure, as the season was cancelled four games in due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Harvard boasted a 2-2 record, which included wins over UMass and Fairfield, and losses to Holy Cross and UAlbany. Both of their losses were by one goal and they only got to play one home game.
The Crimson ended the shortened season averaging 11.75 goals per game (42nd in DI), and allowing an average of 11.25 goals per game (37th in DI). Both of those numbers were an improvement from where they were at that same time in 2019, putting the Crimson on track to surpass their overall numbers from a season prior, and maybe do so significantly.
In addition to their efforts on the field, Byrne and his staff have been recruiting at a particularly high level. The Crimson bring in the No. 5 ranked freshman class, according to Inside Lacrosse. That top-five class included a pair of Under Armour All-Americans in Gilman, Md. attackman Sam King and St. John’s College, DC goalie George Alvarez, and a total of six players who are ranked in the Inside Lacrosse Top 100 for the 2020 class.
Multiple freshmen should be able to make significant impacts for the Crimson this season. And the same can be said for other young players on both ends.
Offensively, the Crimson return three of their top five scorers from a year ago in Austin Madronic (9G/5A), Nick Loring (5G/7A), and Kyle Salvatore (5G/2A) will be back and look to put up similar numbers. Madronic, a Victoria, B.C. native, has been and impact player for this Crimson offense at the attack spot since he first arrived on campus and looks to be the leader on that end once again. Loring and Salvatore each looked to be putting together the best season of their career when the season was cancelled. Having these three back will bode well for the Crimson offense in 2021.
In addition to those three top returning scorers, Isaiah Dawson (2G/1A), who started in all four games, is expected to put together a breakout season. A highly-rated recruit out of high school, Dawson only started one game as a freshman and showed some flashes. Big things could be on the horizon for the California native as a junior this coming season. Much of the same can be said for multiple other role players on the offensive end, such as attackmen Myles Hamm and Hayden Cheek.
At the faceoff dot, they return both Kyle Massimilian and Steven Cuccurullo. Massimilian served as their primary option at the dot last season, going 31-for-53 (58%). Cuccurullo served as the Crimson’s backup as a junior, taking at least three faceoffs in each game and going 15-for-50 overall (30%). Having both of those back is a good sign and if they get hot, should help benefit this offense with some extra possessions.
On the back end, things don’t look as promising for the Crimson, at least not at the moment.
The Crimson lose their entire close defense from last season, which is never easy to deal with. However, they do return senior Kyle Mullin (.567 SV%) in cage and he should put together another solid season and be the anchor in between the pipes that he has shown he can be.
Beyond Mullin, their top returner on the back end is Frankie Tangredi. A senior in 2021, Tangredi appeared in all four games last season and tallied 12 ground balls and three caused turnovers. Two-way midfielder Jack Frisoli (3G,6GB,4CT) will be their top short-stick back on the back end and is expected to churn out another strong season.
Freshman defensemen Jade Jernigan, Colin Bergstrom, Thomas Martinson, and LSM Logan Darrin will likely have the opportunity to make their mark early on and fight for a starting job with competitions at likely to take place at multiple close defense spots. And the same is true for the few juniors and seniors that will be back on the back end for the Crimson. And considering that Byrne is one of the best defensive minds in the game and seeing the improvement they made last season, this Harvard defense has a good chance at being pretty dang good, no matter who they have lost from the previous season.
If they do end up making that happen and their offense performs the way many believe it can, then Harvard could end possibly being a strong dark horse candidate in the Ivy League.