May 6, 2012

Yale Wins Ivy League Title, Puts Princeton on Bubble

by Justin Feil |

Senior attackman Matt Gibson tops the heap with good cause for celebration: Yale is the hottest team in the country heading to its first NCAA tournament in 20 years after a 15-7 win over Princeton in the Ivy League final. 

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Matt Gibson ended a career of heartbreak and frustration against Princeton University.

The Yale senior attackman had two goals and four assists to lead the Bulldogs to their first Ivy League men's lacrosse tournament championship with a 15-7 win over host Princeton on Sunday. Yale's ninth straight win gives it the Ivy League's automatic qualifier and its first NCAA tournament bid since 1992.

"I knew we could do it and I knew it was our goal," Gibson said, "but it hasn't really settled in until now."

In four previous meetings with Princeton (11-4), the tournament Most Outstanding Player had a combined four goals and two assists for Yale (11-4). He equaled that point total in his final showdown with the Tigers, who won the Ivy League regular season title, but now are on the NCAA tournament bubble. Selections will be announced at 9 p.m. Sunday on ESPNU.

"As a team, we clicked," Gibson said. "It wasn't a personal effort. I was getting open, but guys were making passes and I found myself in the right spot. It feels good to finally do pretty well against them. I have a lot of respect for their defense and Chad Wiedmaier especially."

Wiedmaier, Princeton's All-American senior defenseman, had shut out Gibson in their last Ivy League tournament meeting in 2010, but this time there was no stopping the Bulldogs. They never trailed after jumping out to a 4-0 lead.

"I'm really proud of them," said Yale head coach Andy Shay. "I'm really excited to spend another week with them. I'm really happy. I wasn't ready to stop coaching them."

The Yale offense repeatedly worked patiently for high-percentage shots. Deron Dempster, the hero of the Bulldogs' Ivy League semifinal win over Cornell with eight goals, had three goals, while Colin Flaherty and Brandan Mangan added two goals apiece. Ryan McCarthy delivered a pair of assists. Dylan Levings was 14-for-23 on faceoffs to keep the ball away from the Princeton offense, and the Bulldog defense behind goalie Jack Meyer's nine saves visibly frustrated Princeton when they did have it.

"I don't think any of us prepared for this season to end," said Princeton head coach Chris Bates. "I give Yale a ton of credit. I thought they played great and played hard and made plays for themselves. At the end of the day, I don't think we did what we needed to do to win a playoff game, a critical game."

Princeton was unbeaten in Ivy League play in the regular season to win the regular season crown. Now it must wait until the selection show to see if it got into the NCAA tournament.

"We're seriously on the bubble and on the fence here," Bates said. "You need to win big here today to obviously solidify it. For good or bad, you need the big wins."

When the teams last met on March 24, it was Yale that came away frustrated when Princeton handed them an 8-7 loss in five overtimes in New Haven, Conn. Yale trailed late in that game 9-6 before forcing overtime, only to fall in the fifth extra frame.

"It was devastating, especially against them," Gibson said. "We got them last year, but they've been beating us for a while. To come back and then lose, it was obviously rough, but we knew we could play with them. Coming into this game, we knew we were a different team."

The Bulldogs started to change after the 8-7 regular-season loss to Cornell that preceded their epic overtime match with Princeton. Yale refocused on fundamentals and got back to basics. To emphasize the point, they began filling a water cooler with pennies for every good thing they did, and the little things have added up quickly, like the pennies, which now total close to 20,000.

"When we first started loading it up, it would make noise," Shay said. "Now, it doesn't make any noise. It weighs about 35 pounds."

It certainly got a lot heavier after Sunday's win. Yale has been doing plenty right lately in putting together its second-longest win streak in program history since winning its first 14 games in 1990.

"It was kind of a reality check going 2-4," Gibson said. "We've had pretty good seasons the last two seasons, and then to have a setback like that, we didn't change as much in terms of practice or structure as much as attitude. We let our heads get a little too big in the beginning of the season. We kind of got back to that blue collar mentality. No one has given us respect for a while. It was getting back to who we were as a team."

Yale has gotten as hot as any team in the country, and the Bulldogs' dominant showing in the Ivy League tournament shows they're playing their best of the year in time for the NCAA tournament. The dominance was a surprise even to Yale. Princeton and Yale's last four meetings had been decided by one goal apiece, and the last two had gone into overtime.

"We came in expecting a one-goal game," Gibson said. "That's been the story of our year."

Yale had gone to overtime four times this season, and had only had one game during its current win streak decided by more than two goals. The Bulldogs broke out first on Friday in a 14-10 win over Cornell in the Ivy League tournament semifinal. They built an eight-goal lead against Cornell, and then did so again late in the game against Princeton on Sunday.

"We were just shocked," Gibson said. "Even after the Cornell game when we came out and made a statement, we knew we could do it, but we didn't know how to handle [the big lead], and they kind of came back on us. Then this game, we made an even bigger statement."

Gibson found Conrad Oberbeck less than three minutes into the game. Five minutes later, Mangan scored, then he provided another two minutes later and the Bulldogs led 3-0 after the first quarter. It was 4-0 when Gibson hit fellow senior Matt Miller. Princeton scored the next three goals, with Matt MacDonald providing two of them, including a spectacular over-the-shoulder flip with 6:37 left in the second quarter. Gibson answered a minute and a half later for a 5-3 lead going into halftime and Princeton never got closer.

"They're a phenomenal team," Gibson said. "I expected a run. I expected a dogfight because it's the Ivy League championship; it's two good teams. They obviously have a lot of great players, but the defense did its job and we dealt with their pressure really well at the end of the game. As surprised as I am, we handled it really well."

Dempster started the second half by bullying his way to goal for a 6-3 lead. It was 7-3 after Levings won the ensuing faceoff and bounced one by Princeton goalie Tyler Fiorito, who finished with just four saves. Alex Capretta gave Princeton hope with back-to-back goals to make it 7-5 with 11:20 still to play in the third quarter, but Yale withstood four shots over three minutes.

Yale's defense shut out Princeton over the next 22:44, by which time the Bulldogs had built a 13-5 lead. Meyer and the defense did the rest, as the sophomore goalie continued his development in his first year starting.

"He's playing much better, and he knows what he has to do," Shay said. "He has to remain focused. He has to do the same things as everybody. He has to do the right things. He's got to be fundamentally sound, and he's paid attention to that."

The final four minutes were a mere formality, as the Bulldogs enjoyed avenging their last loss this season.

"We knew we had changed as a team," Gibson said. "We were on a losing streak when we lost to them, and we knew we were going to bring a different all-around game than we had last time. We looked at it as a brand new slate coming into it."

It's also a new slate as Yale advances to its first NCAA tournament in 20 years. The Bulldogs are 2-3 in NCAA appearances, and in their last appearance they beat Princeton to reach the semifinals.

"We go in with an underdog mentality no matter what," Gibson said. "We've played excellent lacrosse in the tournament obviously, but we still have a very blue collar aura about our team. We base our game on fundamentals, details and hustle.

"We're a very hard working team. This is something new for us. We don't think we're anything. We're happy to be here and we're happy to be moving forward."

All-Ivy League tournament selections were: Brown's Roger Ferguson; Princeton's Alex Capretta, Mike MacDonald, Chad Weidemeier; and Yale's Michael McCormack, Dylan Levings, Peter Johnson, Deron Dempster, Matt Gibson and Jack Meyer.

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