(Photo Courtesy of Penn Athletics)
Eight teams enter the weekend and only four will come out on the other side and advance to Championship Weekend.
Penn and Rutgers will face each other at noon on Saturday in Hempstead, N.Y. while Princeton-Yale follows at 2:30pm. Cornell-Delaware and Maryland-Virginia will take place on Sunday in Columbus, Ohio.
Here’s a look at some of the most intriguing storylines to watch during Saturday’s contests.
Rutgers vs Penn
The weekend gets underway at noon in Hempstead as the Rutgers Scarlet Knights and Penn Quakers go head to head. Rutgers is coming in off a convincing win over Harvard while Penn defeated Richmond in overtime in their first round game.
The Transition Game
Rutgers is known for their NASCAR offense. The second the Scarlet Knights’ defense makes a stop it’s off to the races. SSDMs Nick Teresky and Brennan Kamish, and LSM Ethan Rall can and have made impacts upon stepping over the midline this season. Whether it’s dumping the rock down to an offensive player, who either takes a step-down shot or moves it once more, or taking it to the rack themselves, that Rutgers rope unit is crucial in transition. And with playmakers like Ross Scott, Mitch Bartolo (a Penn grad transfer), Ronan Jacoby, and others on the opposite end, once the ball gets into that offensive zone there is a unit that can do some grave damage to almost any defense.
That very style of play is the very reason why Rutgers leads the rest of the pack when itv comes to clearing percentage (91.2%). And on top of it all, with the style they play, the Scarlet Knights can stack goals and create game-changing runs if given the chance. Penn can get out and run with D-middies like Piper Bond and LSM BJ Farrare heading that rope unit, but it’s not (or hasn’t been) to the level seen from the Quakers in 2019 and certainly not to what Rutgers is doing today. Neither team is what you would call “relentless” on the ride as Rutgers’ opponents have cleared 89% against them while Penn has allowed their opponents to go 85% in that category.
How much the transition game impacts this contest will be very intriguing. If able to make that fourth turn, can the Rutgers NASCAR offense sprint down the home stretch? How will Penn respond to that style of play and can they contain it?
What Does Penn’s Offense Look Like and How Does Rutgers Attack It?
The Ivy League Player of The Year, Sam Handley has been the leader of this Penn offense all season and the one man who the Quakers have leaned on the most, and rightfully so. Not only is the towering midfielder a threat physically as a ball-carrier who can create offense himself, but he is also a facilitator. He had three goals and one assists last week against Richmond and three goals and two assists against Yale in the Ivy League title game. But outside of Handley (throw attackman Dylan Gergar into the mix also), Penn hasn’t gotten a consistent level of production from anybody, really, since early in the year. That is especially true in their recent outings. Gabe Furey went 0-for-7 shooting and had three assists last week after going 2-2 against Yale. Cam Rubin has only scored two goals since having a two-goal outing against Brown on April 9th. Ben Smith had a career day last week as the hero with the game-winner and overtime-forcing goal. He ended the day with five goals and one assist.
Penn will initiate from the midfield with Handley. He will likely create a few plays from himself and set up others for chances. But who will that be? Is it Smith again? Is it Gergar or Furey? Or will it be like the Ivy semis vs Brown with eight different goal-scorers? This Quakers team has shown to have options, we’ll just have to see who’s day it will be on Saturday. And, likely, that will depend upon how the Rutgers defense plays the Penn offense. Handley most likely gets pole’d and will draw slides, but how else will the Scarlet Knights defense try to contain this Penn offense is something we’ll have to wait and see?
Which Goalie Makes The Bigger Impact?
Both Colin Kirst and Patrick Burkinshaw come into Saturday playing some of their best lacrosse of the season. Burkinshaw had a 15-save performance against Richmond. Kirst had 17-save game against Harvard. Who will be able to step up and make the bigger impact on Saturday?
Princeton vs Yale
In the second Quarterfinal game on Saturday, the Princeton Tigers and Yale Bulldogs will trot out on the turf at James M. Shuart Stadium for what will be the second meeting between these two Ivy League foes. Yale won the first meeting back in March by a score of 14-12. It’ll be one of two rematches this weekend.
The Princeton D vs Yale’s Attack
Last week, the Princeton close defense of George Baughn, Ben Finaly, and Colin Mulshine combined for three caused turnovers and held the Boston U. starting attack line of Louis Perfetto, Vince D’Alto, and Timmy Ley off the scoreboard and with goose eggs on the stat sheet. On Saturday, the Tigers will face another powerful attack line from Yale with Matt Brrandau, Leo Johnson, and Chris Lyons. The trio combined for 12 points (11 goals) last week in the 18-16 win over Saint Joseph’s.
A week removed from those impressive performances by each squad and the two meet each other in a rematch. During the first meeting between the Tigers and Bulldogs, Yale won 14-12 and Brandau went 5-3 while Lyons, who started at midfield, had a hat trick and Johnson had two goals. Brad Sharp started at attack that day and went 1-1. For Princeton, goalie Erik Peters made 13 saves with a 48% save percentage during that first meeting to anchor that defense. George Baughn drew the Brandau matchup. How will the matchup between these two units, each of which are similar in terms of having numerous guys who can step up any given day, play out on Saturday?
What to Expect From Yale’s Defense?
While Jared Paquette remained pretty steady in cage all season, the defense that he anchors has been on a downward trend. Over the past month, Yale has given up and average of 15 goals per game. That includes Brown putting up 20 on the Elis while Harvard, Penn, and Saint Joseph’s each put up 16. The fact is, the Bulldogs’ defense, led by Chris Fake, Bryce De Muth, and Michael Alexander at close, has regressed. Yale now ranks 54th nationally in scoring defense.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs will go up against yet another high-powered offense as Princeton is averaging 15.36 goals per game. That’s good for the fifth-best offense in college lacrosse, sitting just ahead of Yale. Attackman Chris Brown is the leading-scorer and quarterback at X while Alex Slusher and Coulter Mackesy join that attack line as strong shooters and creators in their own right. Sam English, Alexander Vardaro, Christian Ronda, and the Swiss Army Knife Jake Steves create havoc for any defense at the midfield. Needless to say, this will be a challenge for the Yale defense and if they can show improvement against this offense, it’ll be real.
The Faceoff Dot
Neither team is particularly world beaters at the faceoff dot. For Princeton, Tyler Sandavol has gone 185-for-339 (54%) this season. Nicholas Ramsey has gone 210-for-393 (53%) as the primary option for Yale. James Ball went 8-for-5 against Zach Cole last week, playing mostly in the second half.
The last time these two teams met, it was Princeton that won the battle at the faceoff dot as Sandavol went 18-for-28 (64%). Ramsey went 8-for-22 as the starter while Ball (1-for-5) and Machado Rodriguez (1-for-1) also saw some action. We’ll see this time around who gets the upper hand and how much it helps to fuel the outcome of the game.