In just his second year on the sideline, John Tillman, the Frisbie Family Head Coach for Harvard Men's Lacrosse, guided the Crimson to an 8-5 record, as the team posted its first winning campaign since 2004. A season-opening victory at No. 5 Duke, a national ranking as high as No. 11 and five All-Ivy selections highlighted a very successful 2009 for the Crimson.
Harvard, which owned the nation's third best scoring defense during the year, had several individuals post standout performances this spring, including attacker Jeff Cohen. The freshman led the team with 41 points and 34 goals, which ranks ninth on the Crimson's all-time single season list. Cohen was third in the conference and eighth in the nation in goals per game and recorded six hat tricks and three game-winning goals. Between the pipes, senior goalkeeper Joe Pike was among the country's best, finishing third with a 6.73 goals-against average and capping his career with 426 saves, the sixth most in program history.
The Crimson began its 131st season of men's lacrosse with a road matchup against the fifth-ranked Blue Devils in Durham, N.C., Feb. 22. Duke tallied the game's first goal, but Cohen, who picked up his first career hat trick, found the back of the net twice in the second quarter to help Harvard gain a 3-1 advantage at the half. In the third, Jason Duboe, Cohen, Travis Burr and Max Motschwiller strung together a four-goal run, giving Harvard a 7-3 lead with 15 minutes remaining. Duke got within two scores with two minutes remaining, but Jeff Wannop clinched Harvard's upset victory by netting an unassisted goal with five seconds to play. Harvard controlled play for much of the game, due in large part to the play of Andrew Parchman, who won 10-of-17 face-offs on the day. The 9-6 win, Harvard's first against a top-10 team under coach Tillman, propelled the Crimson into the national spotlight and to the No. 14 ranking in the USILA poll the following week.
Harvard continued its strong start by toppling Stony Brook, 12-4, in another road contest Feb. 28. Attacker Dean Gibbons, making his season debut, put four shots into the net, while Jesse Fehr handed out four assists to lead the offense. After three quarters of action, the Crimson owned a 10-1 lead and scored on all three of its man-up opportunities to move to 2-0 on the season.
Up next, the Crimson, ranked 11th, hosted No. 17 Massachusetts in the first Harvard men's lacrosse game played at Cumnock Turf. On a warm afternoon on March 7, the Minutemen scored five of the game's first six goals and held on for a 7-3 win, giving the Crimson its first loss. Harvard won 8-of-12 face-offs and outshot UMass, 39-21, but the Minutemen were successful on 19-of-21 clear attempts and led in ground balls, 29-24. Gibbons tallied two of the Crimson's three goals, while Nick Sapia added the other score.
On the following Friday evening at Cumnock Turf, Harvard rebounded with a strong effort in an 18-7 win over Hartford. The Crimson exploded for six goals in the opening frame and tacked on six more scores in the third to put the game out of reach. Cohen tallied five goals, while Burr had four and Fehr contributed a hat trick. Nick Smith, who won 14 face-offs, snared a career-best 15 ground balls as Harvard moved to 3-1 entering its Ivy League opener against Penn March 21. In that contest, the Crimson allowed only five shots by the Quakers in the first quarter, while the offense supplied five goals and carried a 5-1 advantage entering halftime. Harvard's defense allowed only three more scores the rest of the way en route to an 11-4 triumph and its first Ivy win of the spring. Nine different players accounted for the Crimson's 11 goals, while Pike stopped four shots for his fourth victory.
A trip to Georgetown March 25 began a stretch of four games away from Cambridge for the Crimson. Harvard, which moved back up to No. 11 in the national poll, played a seesaw game against the Hoyas, that included seven ties. After Christian Oberbeck won the opening face-off, he found Kevin Vaughan for the game's first goal only six seconds into the action, putting Harvard ahead 1-0. Georgetown grabbed the next two goals, but Motschwiller scored unassisted with only two ticks left in the frame to tie it, 2-2, after the first 15 minutes. Each team added two more goals apiece in the second before Georgetown broke a 4-4 tie with a goal at 12:45 of the third. However, the Crimson again came back to tie the game on a shot by Gibbons late in the third and then grabbed a 6-5 lead on a goal by Burr off a pass from Gibbons at 14:30 of the fourth. Georgetown, though, managed three of the next four scores, including two within 19 seconds in the final minute to move ahead, 8-7. The Crimson still had time for dramatics as Cohen netted the equalizer with 22 seconds to play in regulation, but the Hoyas grabbed a sudden 9-8 victory on a shot by Ricky Mirabito that beat Pike, who finished the game with 12 saves, at 1:19 of overtime.
The Crimson then traveled to Marietta, Ga., for a neutral site game against Presbyterian March 27. In its strongest performance of the season, Harvard mustered 17 goals, while surrendering only two by the Blue Hose, and grabbed 44 of 63 ground balls on the evening. Gibbons led the Harvard onslaught with five goals, including three in the first quarter, while Matt Hull had a career day with three goals and three assists for six points. Pike and Christian Coates each stopped four shots for Harvard, while Sam Michel finished the game in net and recorded one save.
Harvard, which owned a 5-2 record at this point of the season, returned to the Ivy portion of its schedule to face No. 3 Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y., April 4. The Crimson, which proved all season it could hang with the nation's best teams, rattled off six goals in the first period to hold a 6-3 advantage. Duboe added a goal in the second, but that was all the offense Harvard created in the quarter, as the Big Red cut the deficit to only one goal, 7-6, by the halfway point. In the third, the teams combined for nine goals, including four by Harvard, to create an 11-11 tie with 15 minutes to play. Cornell grabbed two quick scores in the fourth to hold a 13-11 lead before Burr got Harvard back within one score, 13-12, off a pass from Duboe with 4:35 remaining. The Crimson, though, could not muster another goal and dropped its first Ivy contest of the season.
Next, the team faced its second of three straight ranked opponents in No. 2 Princeton April 11. In a road game eerily similar to the matchup with the Big Red, the Crimson led after the first period of play, 3-2, but the Tigers bounced back to force a 5-5 tie at the midway point and led 8-5 after three. With 12:10 remaining in the fourth, Gibbons was the catalyst of a Crimson scoring run with a goal off a pass from Vaughan. Duboe and Vaughan added goals midway through the frame to get the Crimson to within one, 9-8, with 4:59 left. Princeton's Jack McBride added an insurance goal with 1:58 on the clock, but Gibbons kept the Crimson in the game with his third score of the afternoon 42 seconds later. Harvard won the ensuing face-off and Duboe fired a shot on net, but goalkeeper Tyler Fiorito grabbed the ball to clinch a 10-9 Princeton win.
After suffering three one-goal losses in its last four games, Harvard returned to Cambridge to host No. 14 Brown under the lights at Harvard Stadium April 15. With the Crimson needing a victory to stay in the race for an NCAA at-large bid, Gibbons put Harvard on top, 1-0, with a score less than two minutes into the game. Brown managed three of its own scores in the first and carried a 3-1 advantage until Gibbons scored again midway through the second. After the teams traded goals later in the second, the Bears went on its second 3-0 run of the night in the third to hold a 7-3 lead. With 1:15 remaining in the third stanza, Duboe netted an unassisted goal and then Cohen rattled off back-to-back scores in the fourth, including a man-up score, to pull Harvard within one, 7-6. The Crimson though could not get closer as Brown emerged with an 8-6 victory, dropping the Crimson to 5-5 overall and 1-3 in the Ancient Eight.
Up next, Harvard snapped its three-game losing streak by taking down Holy Cross, 11-4, in its final non-conference game of the season April 18. Cohen provided a big spark on offense, scoring a career-high six goals, the most for a Harvard player since 2007. Cohen tallied three of his goals in the fourth quarter as Harvard pulled away in the second half by outscoring the Crusaders, 8-3. The Crimson was successful on 19-of-20 clear attempts and snared 28 ground balls, compared to only 11 by Holy Cross.
On April 25, Harvard hosted archrival Yale on Senior Day, and the Crimson performed well before 3,023 fans at Harvard Stadium, topping the Bulldogs by a 13-8 margin. Pike, making his final home start, turned aside 11 shots, while Parchman claimed 14 face-off wins. Offensively, Cohen found the back of the net five times, while Duboe dished out three assists and scored two goals of his own for a season-best five-point effort. The victory also clinched Harvard's first winning season since 2004. In the season finale at Dartmouth May 2, the Crimson won 11-of-17 face-offs, including nine by Parchman, and held off the Big Green, 8-5. Pike stopped 11 shots, while Cohen recorded his sixth hat trick and Gibbons and Motschwiller added two goals apiece. The Crimson moved to 3-3 in the Ivy League standings to finish fourth and grabbed its eighth overall win, the most for the program since 2002.
Following the season, Duboe, who ranked third on the Crimson with 19 points on 11 goals and eight assists, and defender Sam Slaughter, who snared 27 ground balls this spring, were selected to the All-Ivy League second team. Cohen, Gibbons, who netted 21 goals and handed out six assists in only 10 games, and defender Billy Geist, who caused 11 turnovers, garnered honorable mention status. The Crimson also earned seven nods to the New England Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (NEILA) All-New England team, including Cohen who was tabbed the NEILA Rookie of the Year. Duboe and Slaughter earned spots on the first team, and the foursome of Gibbons, Motschwiller, Burr, who tallied 16 goals, and defender Eric Posner, who was second on the team with 36 ground balls, were named to the second team.
In addition, Slaughter became the first Harvard player since 2007 to be selected to play in the USILA North/South All-Star Game, held at Harvard Stadium May 22. He was also one of 19 players from New England to be honored on the NEILA Senior Scholar-Athlete team.