Nike/LM NCAA Preview: No. 20 Harvard (Men)
Is this the year the stars align for Harvard?
The Crimson boast a mammoth senior class — bolstered in part by six players who withdrew from the university temporarily as sophomores in 2013 and missed the season for undisclosed reasons — and an overhauled coaching staff that now includes former Cornell head coach Ben DeLuca as defensive coordinator.
That's not to mention a legitimate Tewaaraton contender in Devin Dwyer.
Harvard is ranked No. 20 in the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine Preseason Top 20.
Harvard at a Glance
2015 Record: 7-7
3 Big Things
1. Overhauled staff brings DeLuca back to the Ivy League.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
After the first two seasons under Chris Wojcik saw mediocre slates, Harvard's schedule has been beefed up the last three seasons. The Crimson have paired a deep league schedule with a non-conference slate that has featured Duke, Albany and Penn State. Harvard will face that trio again this year, along with Yale, Brown and Cornell.
Harvard brings in a brand new support staff in 2016 to back Wojcik, highlighted by the return to the Ivy League of former Cornell head coach Ben DeLuca. DeLuca coached Cornell for three seasons (part of 18 in the Ivy League as a player and coach) before a hazing scandal ousted him.
DeLuca spent the last two years as a defensive assistant at Duke, and will inherit a middling defense that adds back two huge pieces in Bobby Duvnjak and Stephen Jahelka.
Eric Wolf shifted schools to go from Albany to Harvard and will oversee the offense. Wolf's offenses led the country in scoring the last three seasons. Wojcik also added former Rutgers faceoff standout Joe Nardella to the staff.
2. It's now or never for a massive 15-player senior class.
Once a highly-touted recruiting class, this year's group of Harvard seniors have one last chance to leave their stamp on the Crimson program after an up-and-down tenure at the school. The 15-player class in the largest Wojcik has had at Harvard and is incredibly seasoned, averaging 16.27 starts and 31.53 points throughout their careers.
The Crimson will have to ride the class' experience one last time to be successful in a competitive Ivy League. "We really are excited about not only what this class brings on the field but what this class has done for our program in terms of leadership and what this class has done for our program in terms of the evolution of our culture," Wojcik said.
3. Jahelka and Duvnjak are healthy and hungry.
Stephen Jahelka and Bobby Duvnjak's steadiness on defense led to high expectations a season ago for the Crimson. But injuries plagued the pair, Jahelka able to play only two games while Duvnjak missed the entire season. Now, the duo with 57 combined starts returns to anchor the Harvard defense that ranked 62nd in scoring defense a season ago.
Jahelka and Duvnjak's return shifts Matt Ryan and Ryan Norton out of the picture, but deepens the Crimson defense. "They're very experienced, accomplished defensemen who both have played from their freshman year on," Wojcik said. "I think combining with Walker Kirby at close defense could provide tremendous ability but outstanding leadership."
Bryan Moore *
* returning starters
The senior attackman has recorded three seasons of at least 43 points entering his final year of eligibility, directing the offense as the straw that stirs the drink. He has been named on the Tewaaraton Award watch list the last two seasons. "He's really developed into an excellent finisher, rides really hard, been one of our best ground ball guys," Wojcik said. "The final piece for him is to be as effective as a dodger."
One of the most highly-touted recruits in the country, Sullivan should take over faceoff duties from day one at Harvard after a decorated career at Garden City (N.J.) High. The US Lacrosse All-American won 77 percent of his draws in high school.
Wojcik pointed to Breit as possibly the best athlete on the team, albeit one slowed by injuries in his career and limited to eight games a season ago. He should chip in on a senior-laden defense. "As a long-stick middie, he's an exceptional disruptor between the lines," Wojcik said. "He's excellent on ground balls and he's great in transition."
Biggest Question Mark
Chemistry on Defense
While Jahelka and Duvnjak's return to the lineup bodes well for Harvard, the pair has little experience on close defense with Walker Kirby, their last start together coming in a 17-11 thrashing at Duke in March 2014. That game is one of just three that the trio has started together.
Harvard's 12.29 goals per game ranked 10th in Division I in 2015. (Peyton Williams)
What rival coaches say about the Crimson
"They are very talented as always and bring back a number of key contributors. Jahelka and Duvnjak should be part of a great defense. Dwyer will have some weapons at his disposal on the offensive end as well. Addition of Eric Wolf to that staff will be interesting to see if they play more up tempo. They have the athletes to do it."
"On paper, as talented a team as there is in the Ivy League and one of the more talented ones in college lacrosse. Injuries hurt them a lot, especially on the defensive side of the ball. But if this group stays healthy, watch out, especially with some fresh ideas on staff with the hiring of two new assistant coaches — one who obviously has had a myriad of success in the Ivy League already as an assistant and head coach."
"So what do you get when once upon a time you have seven sophomores suspended from school for a year then all return with an extra year of eligibility A massive senior class by Ivy League standards that is very talented and smarting (yes, smart guys smarting) from last year's 2-4 league record. This team can beat anyone (those two league wins last year were over Yale and Cornell). And now with Ben DeLuca on staff running the defense, the intensity of the program just ratcheted up three notches. It is scary to think what happens when you combine a great defensive coach with great defensemen (Jahelka, Duvnjak, Kirby). NCAA team in 2016."
"Two senior classes to draw from. Name me one Harvard player who has improved during his time in Cambridge and/or one who has done anything in the MLL."
Harvard lost just seven of its 266 points from a year ago to graduation, a shockingly low 2.63 percent. Crimson seniors started just 15 games in 2015 and now Harvard returns its top 12 point scorers to lead a deep attack.
23 Holy Cross
27 at UMass
5 Duke *
8 @ Bryant
12 @ Penn St.
22 Boston U.
March 19 vs. Brown
For Harvard, the season-ending tilt at Yale or the early April contest at Cornell could end up being just as vital as Brown's mid-March visit, but they won't be as telling. The game against the Bears will open Ivy League play for both schools and should be a decent barometer of each team's caliber — especially plotting Brown's run-and-gun vs. Yale's slow-and-steady philosophy.
Harvard’s stadium has a new name: Jordan Field. The facility, opened in the fall of 2010, was previously known as Soldiers Field Stadium and will remain a shared facility with the women’s lacrosse program and both soccer teams. The name honors Jerry Jordan, a former Crimson football player.
Harvard perennially falls short of expectations, it seems. But the senior class is loaded and motivated. If Jahelka and Duvnjak hold up, with DeLuca calling the shots on defense, there's plenty of scoring punch to put the Crimson back in the NCAA tournament.
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