I braved the arctic tundra that was Fairfield, CT on the first day of lacrosse season. Why do this? Because it was a chance to see Yale with a full roster. Yale travelled down to Fairfield to scrimmage the Stags in what was Fairfield’s final tune up. The Stags open with Lehigh next week. Yale hosts a tournament next weekend with DIII champs RIT and NESCAC powerhouse Wesleyan.
In the fall, Yale scrimmaged Marquette and got pretty thoroughly handled. Marquette had a faceoff edge, and scored somewhere in the neighborhood of 16-18 goals. Noteworthy though, is that Yale saw several players take the fall semester off to preserve an extra spring semester. Matt Brandau, Thomas Bragg, Jack Ocken, Bryce DeMuth, and Jack Stuzin all were unavailable in the fall. All were back to play Fairfield, with the exception of Ocken who didn’t suit up.
For Fairfield, it’s about building on a .500 season a year ago. The CAA was a battleground last season. A game or two makes the difference between a conference win and NCAA tournament trip or watching from home come April. They lost some weapons to graduation, but also return one of the best young players in the CAA in Jack McKenna.
The Good: Andrew Baxter is still on the sideline as the head coach, which means a couple things. The team will be tough, they’ll know who they are, and they’ll ride incredibly hard. These teams in some ways reflections of each other. The ride that Yale still employs is the ride developed by Baxter in his time with the Bulldogs. Both teams deployed basically the same ride yesterday on settled clears, and both did it well. Fairfield had multiple ride back goals forced, which was a bright spot. The other bright spot was McKenna. At 6’6, McKenna spent his freshman year as a sizable offball target with excellent hands and finishing skills. His 43 goal freshman year won him CAA Rookie of the Year. Against Yale, McKenna was more assertive as a dodger and initiator. At times using picks, at time on his own, he showed the ability to run by defenders as good as Bryce DeMuth. With his length, starting a dodge from the endline means he reaches GLE in only two or three strides, so even the slightest misplay of angles or footwork from defender means McKenna draws a slide or gets a good look at the goal. He’ll be a star in the CAA this year.
The Bad: The shooting was not where you’d want it to be. Temperatures were frigid and I’m sure that played a role. But a possession that sticks out to me was a very lengthy one for Fairfield. They had multiple shot clock resets, and generated maybe 5-6 quality looks in a single possession, but constantly missed the net with their shots. It’s definitely a positive that they could generate decent looks at goal, but that’s half the battle. That long possession ended empty because the shooting just wasn’t on the mark. There were highlight reel behind the back goals with zero angle, and there were open looks from 12 yards that missed the net. You could see where the team can get to, shooting just wasn’t consistent enough. Last year, Taylor Strough was one of the better shooters in the CAA, but he graduated, along with Mikey Drake. It’ll be a team effort to raise the shooting level to where it needs to be. The Fairfield clear is also a work in progress, but that can happen in February, and Yale is one of the better riding teams in the nation. The other spot for improvement was the faceoff spot, where Yale had a sizable edge. The Bulldogs raced to a 10 goal first period because they were playing make it take it against a Fairfield D that was under assault.
The names to watch: Jack McKenna, a major weapon. Fairfield also has pair of transfers, Davis Allen and Reilly Sullivan, who both are over 6’3, 220lbs.
The Good: Midfield depth. Yale ran Brad Sharp, Jack Monfort, Brady McDermott, Johnny Keib, Thomas Bragg, and Logan Soelberg at midfield. Sophomore Max Krevsky got some run as well. Patrick Hackler also looks like he’ll do it all for Yale this year, as he takes wings on faceoffs, plays defense, and stays on the field for offense even with the top middies like Sharp. They played in different combinations, all of which were effective. Leo Johnson was also incredible, routinely separating from his man. Scoring was unofficial, but I had him in the neighborhood of 5-6 goals. Matt Brandau, a Tewaaraton hopeful, had a quiet day, because it was just a feast for Johnson and the midfield. Faceoffs were another strong point. Nick Ramsey has been the guy for Yale, but Machado Rodriguez was excellent as well, starting multiple breaks. The faceoff dominance propelled Yale to a 10-2 first period. It looks like holding Yale scoreless for extended stretches will be difficult, so if they are playing make it take it, opponents are in for a tough day.
The Bad: Really not too much. The clear from a save situation needs work. Fairfield scored three goals on ride backs after saves in particular that I recall. So “unsettled” clears, handling pressure, and making good decisions in those situations were not great for Yale. The defensive midfield also felt a bit top heavy. Stuzin is outstanding at LSM, but the players that spell him weren’t as dynamic. Hackler is excellent at SSDM, but it was mix of players after him who were a step down. Carter Henry looked to be the top of those SSDMs, and ideally Ocken is in the lineup as part of the top pair when the season arrives. It’s hard to point to an outing where Brandau and Lyons didn’t produce a ton of goals as a negative, because the rest of the offense scored so many and Brandau and Lyons didn’t need to.
The Names to Watch: Leo Johnson looks like he’s taking a leap, which is scary because he was already very good. At media day, Coach Shay was asked if the Brandau/Johnson/Lyons pair reminds of him those Reeves/Morrill/Gaudet attack groups. He pointed out that the players are different in style and what they do. But for me, Johnson is starting to feel very much like the Jackson Morrill to Brandau’s Ben Reeves. Other names to watch going forward are Hackler, as mentioned, and Brad Sharp. Sharp is a very smooth dodger, who is almost deceptive in the way he creates separation from his man.