Sporting Life

Spring sports highlights

Men's lacrosse and women's tennis in postseason play.

Alex Goldberger ’08 is an Olympics researcher at NBC.

TD Paulius/Midwest Lacrosse Photography

TD Paulius/Midwest Lacrosse Photography

Matt Gibson ’12 battles Notre Dame in the NCAA lacrosse tournament. View full image


On the heels of consecutive ten-win seasons and with a roster stocked with skilled upperclassmen, the men’s lacrosse team entered this spring with lofty expectations—only to have them crushed by an early losing streak. It took hard work and creative tactics to transform 2012 into the Bulldogs’ finest season in two decades.

The first upset was a home loss to Sacred Heart that head coach Andy Shay called “a world-shaker.” A second followed five days later at Lehigh, and then another at No. 3 Cornell, a sloppy game in which turnovers and an illegal stick violation helped turn a first-half lead into a maddening 8–7 loss. “We were probably a little delusional about how talented we were,” Shay says. “I realized that I had let a lot of things slip.”

With the team suddenly reeling, and about to face perennial power Princeton, Shay invited the seniors to his house for dinner. It was a conciliatory evening amid a fortnight of turmoil. They diagnosed problems. The coach told his players he had full faith in them. They ate grilled shrimp and chicken marsala. “That kind of calmed us all down a little bit,” says Matt Gibson ’12, the team’s leading scorer.

Hoping to recapture the team’s detail-oriented, hard-working ethos, Shay brought an empty five-gallon water jug to practices. Whenever someone made a sound play, or showed an extra bit of hustle, or spoke up in the face of low morale, the coaches would add a penny to the jug. It became a literal accounting of all the little things that go into a winning season, a tangible symbol of the team’s recovered identity.

Yale lost to Princeton that weekend in a five-overtime contest, the longest in school history—but the team was back on track. They won their next seven games and reached the four-team Ivy League tournament, hosted by Princeton.

In a rematch with Cornell in the semifinals, the Bulldogs dominated: at one point in the fourth quarter they held a nine-goal lead, and their 14–10 victory was Yale’s first over Cornell since 1999. Two days later they pulled off a rout over Princeton, winning the Ivy title in a 15–7 game that sent Yale to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1992.

Yale lost to Notre Dame in the first-round NCAA matchup. But for Gibson, the result did little to temper the thrill of wresting the Ivy crown from the league’s two long-reigning powerhouses. “We came in as a one-win team in the Ivy League, so to do that was really special,” he says. As for the jug, the money eventually went to the Make-A-Wish Foundation. By the time they had it shipped to South Bend for the Notre Dame contest, it held about 13,000 pennies.



Three years ago, Elizabeth Epstein ’13 was a senior at the Francis W. Parker School in Chicago, a small private school that had no particular reputation in tennis—until she arrived and became the two-time state champion.

At Yale, Epstein, a first-team All-Ivy honoree, is once again helping an unheralded program burnish its tennis reputation. Yale has asserted itself as the dominant team in the Ivy League, compiling a perfect 7–0 conference record and reaching the second round of the NCAA tournament for the second consecutive year. Unbeaten at home, Yale rose to its highest-ever national ranking (No. 18) before losing to No. 5 Stanford in the national round of 32.

Epstein, who will serve as captain next year, believes clashes with national championship contenders have become an annual rite of spring. “It shows how far our program’s come,” she says. “It used to be great that we made it into the NCAA tournament. Now it’s expected.” 


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