(Photo Courtesy of Yale Athletics)
Very few programs have ascended to the top tier of college lacrosse quicker and found as much success in recent years than the Yale Bulldogs.
In 2010, just two years removed from a dreadful 4-10 (0-6 in the Ivy League) season during Andy Shay’s fifth year in New Haven, the Ivy League introduced a conference tournament for lacrosse. Yale went 10-4 overall in the first two seasons of the Ivy League tournament era and fell in the semifinals both years.
But in 2012, the Elis really turned the corner.
Yale went 11-5, won the Ivy League tournament, and made their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1992, losing to Notre Dame in the first round. Every full season since then, except for 2014, Yale has been in the Ivy League title game and made the NCAA Tournament.
And of course, they reached their highest peak in 2018, when they climbed to the top of college lacrosse and took down Duke to win their first NCAA title in program history. They returned to defend their title in 2019 but ultimately fell to the Virginia Cavaliers. And if the 2020 season would have been completed, they very well could have made it back to the pinnacle of the sport.
Heading into the 2021 season, Yale looks to be the favorite in the Ivy League once again and is eying a third consecutive trip to Championship Weekend. If they do in fact make that third straight Championship Weekend trip, they will be the first Ivy League team to do so since Princeton made three straight trips from 2000-2002.
And while Yale does loose 43 points with the graduation of Matt Gaudet, as well as Jackson Morrill and Lucas Cotler, who are using their fifth-year of eligibility at Denver, the Bulldogs have more than enough talent to not only keep their top spot among the elites in their conference but make that third trip to Championship Weekend.
The biggest factor in Yale having the potential to go the distance again lies at the faceoff dot, obviously. TD Ierlan has been one of the top faceoff men in the nation since his first two seasons at UAlbany, and since his arrival at Yale ahead of the 2019 season, you could argue that he has elevated them to an even higher level within the sport. Ierlan went 84-for-110 (76%) during the shortened 2020 season and holds practically every NCAA record in the book, as far as the faceoff position is concerned. He is, without a doubt, the best faceoff man in the nation, and him being able to come back for a fifth season only increases Yale’s chances of staying at the top of college lacrosse.
Ierlan is the obvious x-factor for this team. But least we forget, Yale also has Joe Neuman as their backup at the dot. Neuman hasn’t seen too much action during his college career yet, but when he has he has certainly lived up to the hype. He is a more than capable backup that the Bulldogs can deploy when Ierlan needs a breather without risking any loss of momentum.
Outside of housing, arguably, the best one-two punch at the faceoff position in college lacrosse, Yale has a plethora of talent, both young and veteran, on both ends of the field that is certainly going to either take that next step or continue their dominance this spring.
Yale might have lost 43 points from last year’s offense, but they still return junior attackmen Matt Brandau (10G/6A), who was their second-leading scorer last season, as well as Thomas Bragg (8G/2A), who should get a starting nod after serving as the Bulldogs’ primary reserve attackman last year. Bragg easily fits into that Jackson Morrill role as an all-around playmaker who can attack and quarterback an offense from multiple spots on the field. Brandau and Bragg on the same line should be a pretty deadly combination for defenses this season.
Juniors Kyle Zawadzki and Brady McDermott, and sophomore Skyler Wilson all return and look to be prime candidates to take over at that third attack spot. Zawadzki was the most productive of the three last season, but they all saw significant time in the four games that the Elis got in before the season was cut short.
Additionally, the Bulldogs return two of their top three offensive midfielders in seniors Brian Tevlin (5A) and Christian Cropp (4G/1A). Sophomore Logan Soelberg (1G/1A) will also return after being their primary reserve at the midfield spot last season and should see increased production this spring.
On the defensive end, the Bulldogs return senior Chris Fake (4GB/1ACT), who has been their top defenseman and one of the best poles in the Ivy League and nation since his freshman season, as well as junior Bryce De Muth (4G/1CT). A first-time starter last season, De Muth played very well and should only increase his play in 2021. With the loss of Will Weitzel, Xander Martin looks to be a prime candidate to step into that slot as the Elis’ third starting pole. He saw played and started in one game (vs Villanova) last season as a freshman.
Jack Starr should be fully healthy again and return as the starter in between the pipes for Yale in 2021. A full-time starter as a freshman and sophomore, Starr missed the first two games last season due to injury. He did play the entire second half against UMass and started in their final game of the season against Michiga