Win over UMass Lowell a bright spot in difficult men's lacrosse season
Alone on the turf this past Tuesday, men’s lacrosse head coach Brendan Callahan let out a whoop. Callahan’s team had already left the Scully-Fahey Field for the locker room, jubilant after a 14-8 victory over the University of Massachusetts, Lowell.
The win was a bright spot in a season marked by eight losses out of 10 games so far. Dartmouth got off to a roaring start with five unanswered goals to begin the first quarter before the River Hawks managed three of their own. A trio of markers in the second and three more in the first three minutes of the third put Dartmouth ahead 11-4.
The team looked to be coasting from then on. Dartmouth slowed the ball down considerably after the first five minutes of the third. Substitutes who don’t normally see the field got action in the fourth quarter. UMass Lowell scored several more times, but Dartmouth had the game firmly under control.
It was a sharp contrast to last Saturday’s contest at then-No. 17 Yale University. The Bulldogs possessed the ball for most of the first half, opening up an 8-0 lead. In the second half, Dartmouth’s defense stiffened up, and the offense showed signs of life, turning the final score into a more respectable 13-6 line.
“Coming off the weekend at Yale, we played a good second half, and the feeling from the guys was that we’ve just got to keep playing like that,” Callahan said. “Tonight, I challenged them. I said, ‘Hey, if you want things to be different than they are, then do something.’”
If the Big Green is going to win its last three games, things will have to be different. Dartmouth is dead last among Ivy League teams in the most important offensive categories: goals per game (7.70), assists per game (4.30), shots per game (33.80) and shot percentage (.228). The Big Green scores nearly three fewer goals per game than the next-lowest team, the University of Pennsylvania. And these problems aren’t new. You have to go back to 2012, two seasons before Callahan’s arrival, to find a season in which Dartmouth didn’t trail the Ancient Eight in per-game offense.
So what’s the problem? Attackman Richie Loftus ’18, after racking up seven assists against UMass Lowell, thinks the problem is teamwork.
“We’ve played a little selfishly, and we haven’t had enough assists,” he said. “Today, we focused on getting assists, looking out for other people, getting other people open and kind of using your movements to help other people.”
The stats suggest that more assists could help — somewhat. Big Green scorers are assisted on 55.8 percent of goals, fourth in the Ivy League. No. 14 Princeton University, which leads Ivy League teams with 14.55 goals per game, also has the highest percentage of assisted goals. Yet No. 15 Yale gets assists on 55.4 percent of its tallies, a hair lower than the Big Green, and scores twice as more goals per game. In Ivy League play, assists aren’t the be-all end-all of offensive output.
Callahan believes the problem has been with execution.
“We’ve had opportunities,” he said. “Other teams’ goalies have had a lot of saves against us. We’ve hit a lot of pipes and shot wide. We have a low shooting percentage, so it’s been in our finishing.”
His team trails the Ivy League in shot percentage by a wide margin. The Big Green shoots fewer times per game than any team in the Ancient Eight, and it also makes fewer of those shots.
Dartmouth found the back of the net 14 times against UMass Lowell with an impressive .424 shot percentage. But those figures weren’t too far off what the River Hawks’ opponents have been doing all season. UMass Lowell allows 12.23 goals per game and sits at the bottom of the America East conference. The River Hawks entered the preseason ranked 65 out of 71 Division I teams by Inside Lacrosse. In this same ranking, the Big Green was No. 67.
No matter how bad a team the 2-11 River Hawks are, Tuesday was a step in the right direction for Dartmouth. George Christopher ’20 posted 14 saves and allowed eight goals. Freshman standout Ben Martin ’20 had a career day with seven goals — half of Dartmouth’s total score — to his credit.
If the Big Green is going to turn things around, Loftus and Martin will be leading the charge. More than half of Loftus’ 33 shots have found the back of the net this season. And Martin, the team’s leading scorer after Tuesday, has a shot percentage of .328.
“It’s nice to have this momentum, this team effort with all the pieces coming together,” said Martin of Tuesday’s win.
The Big Green will need to see a lot more pieces come together to make the Ivy League tournament. Dartmouth must win out against No. 13 Princeton, Penn and Brown University to have a shot at the postseason.