– The No. 12 Yale men's lacrosse team has divided its schedule into three one-week seasons.
Season One commences Saturday night with a big nonconference game at No. 5 Albany (9-2), which had a nine-game winning streak snapped last week. Then there's that little rivalry game at Harvard April 29, or Season Two. The following weekend is Season Three when the Bulldogs (8-3, 5-0 Ivy League) play in the conference tournament, which they will host as the No. 1 seed. They have won it the past two years.
All of this builds toward a potential fourth season, but the Bulldogs aren't really talking about the NCAA Tournament or the possibilities of what can happen there. They are well aware they're overdue for some damage, having been knocked out in the first round each of the last two seasons and absent from the Final Four since 1990.
"We know what we're capable of," senior midfielder Eric Scott said. "We do our best to put on the blinders, and not really care about what everybody else has to say, because at the end of the day it's just how well we go out and perform.
"So we know we have to take one step at a time here. Looking at the NCAA Tournament now is a little bit of a stretch because we have to do so many things in the meantime to get there."
Yale has won seven straight games after starting 1-3, including a 12-11 loss to then-No.1 Maryland Feb. 25. The Bulldogs rank in the top 10 nationally — and top three in the league — in goals per game (14), assists (nine), points (23), ground balls (33), shot percentage (35) and a really big one, faceoff percentage (60.7), all areas they needed to improve on after that losing streak.
"Anybody can beat anybody on any given day," Yale coach Andy Shay said. "We have a lot of respect for the teams that we lost to. It's just one of those things where we didn't know if we were that good of a team at the time, and I still don't know how good we are. I don't know where our ceiling is."
Yale is led by junior attackman and first-team All-America Ben Reeves (28 goals, 28 assists). Reeves spent last summer working at the University of Rochester doing research on tumors of the neural crest while shadowing a pediatric oncologist at Strong Memorial Hospital.
He's coming off a career-high 10-point game (five goals, five assists) against Brown. Scott, third on the team in scoring (21) and second in points (32), is one of 10 finalists nationally for the CLASS (Celebrating Loyalty And Achievement For Staying In School) Award, which recognizes student-athletes who have demonstrated excellence in the classroom, community, in character and competition. He had four goals against the Bears. Both began the year on the Tewaaraton Award Watch list. The award goes to the nation's best lacrosse player.
Junior midfielder Conor Mackie, who works with Habitat for Humanity, is one of the most prolific faceoff men in the nation. He has won 60 percent of faceoffs during the winning streak, including a 17-for-33 against Brown. He gives a high-scoring offense more opportunities.
"In basketball you score, the next team gets a turn," Shay said. "In baseball, the other team comes up after three outs. Conor is playing well in denying the other team the at-bats or the ball and that's definitely unique to our sport and an advantage because if you can get 55-60 percent of those, it can become a compound effect."
Junior goalie Phil Huffard of Darien has rebounded from a rough start to be a leader on the defense.
"We challenged our current starter," Shay said. "Ended up starting a freshman and I think [Huffard] took that personally, and I think he took it the right way. At the end of the day, he's been awesome ever since. He re-committed his practice time and stayed after and did stuff on his own. He basically had to play with a chip on his shoulder, but he did it."
Season One starts Saturday night at Albany, which boasts the country's leading scorer in goals per game in junior Connor Fields, probably the favorite for the Tewaaraton. The teams have split the last four games.
"Incredible," Shay said. "It's going to be fun. They'll probably put 4,500 in the football stadium under the lights ... very intense, a slugfest."