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Harvard Avoids Heartbreak in Westport, Bests Bucknell 13-12

The Harvard men's lacrosse team's comeback against Bucknell, in which it was down by a whopping seven goals, earned the squad the moniker of the Comeback of the Year.
The Harvard men's lacrosse team's comeback against Bucknell, in which it was down by a whopping seven goals, earned the squad the moniker of the Comeback of the Year. By Dylan J. Goodman
By Katharine Forst, Crimson Staff Writer

Grit. Determination. A desire for victory. These traits are what define a team that, against all odds, can find success. However, an additional attribute aided Frisbie Family Head Coach Gerry Byrne and his men’s lacrosse team in its comeback victory against the Bucknell Bison earlier this season: preparation.

In what was a seemingly hopeless first half, Byrne’s squad dug deep to overcome a seven-goal deficit that had tipped all of the momentum into Bucknell’s favor. The Crimson team remained composed and drew on the maturity of its starting lineup to methodically chip away at the Bison’s lead. Its tact in implementing the scenarios Byrne had thrown at it all season — like being two-goals-down with a minute remaining, or being locked-down on defense defending a mock one-goal lead — had equipped the team with the tools needed to compartmentalize each goal as an individual battle and slowly claw its way back into contention.

It is the team’s strive for success that has defined it as a competitive program that is ready, and deserving, to find victory against top programs. Its desire to win, manifested against the Bison, is also what secured the squad’s endeavor the honor of The Crimson’s Comeback of the Year.

“As much as you can, you practice being behind. And so we’ll add elements to our practice, particularly early in February and January when we’re training. So the fact that one of our earlier games required us to come back, we’d already kind of done those scenarios, where there’s say six minutes left in the game and you’re down three. We’ll play a scrimmage where we execute that. And, pretty consistently, we came back against our scout team,” Byrne said. “So, they knew the drill, they knew what you had to do, knew how important the ride was and the different things we do within the ride, and the different things we do on the faceoff. You have to practice it to be good at it, and I think we had really practiced it well in February.”

In a season that was defined by an early slew of slow starts, Harvard picked up momentum in its contest against the Bison late in the second quarter, notching two goals with about three minutes left in the half.

Under Assistant Coach and Offensive Coordinator Neil Hutchinson’s tutelage, the man-up unit proved to be an effective threat throughout the season, and it was a bright spot in the Crimson’s offensive efforts against Bucknell. The Bison, with 3:43 remaining in the second quarter, drew a one-minute penalty for a late cross-check against senior attackman Graham Blake. The Lewisburg, Penn. program wouldn’t know it yet, but its late-hit against Blake would be the catalyst for Harvard’s comeback.

A palpable energy shift could be felt in the stands as the man-up line jogged onto the field, its desire to answer Bucknell’s chippiness towards its teammate evident before the referee even blew the whistle. The Crimson was ready to avenge the hit against its teammate and show the bottom-tier Patriot League program who was going to travel home victorious.

The attack spread the Bucknell defense thin, stretching itself outside the fan in an effort to catch the Bison man down unit on a late rotation. The attack slung the ball down low to sophomore attackman Teddy Malone at the X, and the quick pass behind the cage caught Bucknell ball-watching. Junior attacker Sam King held his space at the top of the fan as he noticed the Bison defense sag in towards Malone. This created ample room for Malone to lob a pass to junior attackman Sam King, who sent the ball flying past Nolan with 3:23 seconds left in the half.

The team, which has come into its own during its 2024 campaign, will need to build on its successes to find glory in the competitive Ivy League.
The team, which has come into its own during its 2024 campaign, will need to build on its successes to find glory in the competitive Ivy League. By Dylan J. Goodman

“We had a couple of plays and we talked about some of the things we wanted to focus on this week during practice, like spacing, moving the ball, not holding the ball for too long, and I think we all did that,” Malone said. “Our man-up group has been gelling well together, and I think that showed today.”

After some back-and-forth play between the two teams, Harvard came up with a big stop and a successful clear with 40 seconds on the clock. King sent the Crimson into halftime with some much-needed momentum, converting a rebound from a missed shot by Botkiss on the left side of the crease. Botkiss nearly slipped his shot past Nolan, who was unable to retain possession of his save. King read the play beautifully from behind the cage, tracking down the ball as he quickly wrapped around the right side for a flick past the netminder. King was met with a late-hit from Bucknell that sent him flying, and the penalty carried over into the second half, giving the Crimson an advantage as it stormed the field after the break.

“He lit a spark in us, got us going again, and motivated us to see that the game wasn’t over and that no winning play was made yet,” Malone said about Byrne’s halftime speech. “And I think that in that second half we made tons of winning plays that contributed to our victory.”

The attack clawed back two more goals at the top of the third, the first coming from an unassisted take by Blake. Sophomore offensive middie Finn Pokorny found success with a hard dodge down the left alley, sending a lefty bouncer past Nolan to make it a three-goal game. Despite the effort, Bucknell responded in kind, capitalizing on strong takes from Hans Huber and Peter Grandolfo to send the Bison up by five. Malone again came in clutch, shifting the energy with a slippery inside roll dodge that allowed him to get the inside lane on his defender around the right side of the crease before burying the ball past Nolan on the doorstep.

Despite trailing by four after 45 minutes of play, Harvard dominated the fourth quarter, notching more goals during that period than it had in the other three combined. The attack came out with all cylinders firing in the final quarter, and it was Malone who started the scoring effort, striking paydirt less than a minute in. Starting with the ball behind after backing up a narrow miss by King, Malone sent his defender falling to the turf with a shifty roll dodge. With his defender sprawling, Malone ripped a lefty shot past Nolan from the elbow with time and space. The Harvard bench and fans went wild for Malone’s theatrics, and the raucous cheers droned out the announcer as he broadcasted the tally.

Bucknell retaliated with a quick goal from sophomore middie Will Hopkins, but the Bison were unable to capitalize on the momentum, with Harvard sending four more past Nolan in less than three minutes, tying the game 11-11 with 9:33 on the clock. Botkiss scored the equalizing goal on a shifty face-dodge that allowed him to get underneath his defender for a strategically-placed shot off-stick hip high. The fourth quarter showcased 15 minutes of cohesive, unified, play for the Crimson.

“It’s just taking it with the same attitude at all times. You can’t get frazzled when the game is close and you have to be calm, cool, and collected, and be able to make a play,” Barnard said. “And, fortunately, in the last couple of games we have been able to make one more play than the other team has, and end up with the victory.”

Harvard did not allow a Bucknell goal on a 30-second man-down-play derail its comeback, and after losing the initial faceoff clamp to Bucknell, junior SSDM Ray Dearth used his speed to carry the ball across the midline. The opposing defense was slow to slide to the SSDM, which allowed Dearth to capitalize on their hesitation with a hard righty high-to-high finish from the top of the fan that flew past Nolan a mere 15 seconds after Hopkin’s goal.

The team will be one to watch in the 2025 season as its underclassmen-driven squad looks to make a name for itself on the field.
The team will be one to watch in the 2025 season as its underclassmen-driven squad looks to make a name for itself on the field. By Dylan J. Goodman

Jogging back to the 50 with confidence, DeGennaro secured the clamp and the faceoff unit got the ball down to Malone, who pushed towards the cage. Malone sent his defender to the turf for the second time that afternoon, tripping up his opponent with a slight hesitation as he changed his momentum. The Bison defender fell over his own feet as Malone made a hard stop to look for incoming Harvard cutters from the box. As his defender went down, Malone switched to his left hand to increase his angle before sending a sniper past Nolan’s feet in a high-low finish that put the Crimson in the lead 13-12.

“To come back with six or seven goals, most people haven’t been in games like that. So, it’s unbelievably memorable. When you’re in those games and you can kind of feel the momentum shifting at times and it’s kind of an injection of juice and enthusiasm and momentum into your players,” Byrne said. “And when the game is over you just have this high, and the morale of the team was a reminder that we’re never out of any game.”

Harvard clung to its lead as the clock wound down to zero. Hindsight may be 20/20, but as the team rushed the field to embrace its goalie and celebrate its hard-fought victory, it seemed inevitable that it would spend the remainder of its season posting tough performances against the best teams in the nation. In what was ultimately a one-goal game, Byrne’s squad showcased why it deserves the title of Comeback of the Year.

—Staff writer Katharine Forst can be reached at

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