Yale’s recent success – an 8-2 record and the No. 14 spot in The Sun’s rankings – should not be that shocking considering that the program earned a share of the Ivy League regular-season championship in 2010 and captured the conference tournament last year to advance to the NCAA tournament.
The Bulldogs’ emergence is certainly not a surprise to Maryland coach John Tillman, who occupied the same position at Harvard – an Ivy League rival of Yale’s – from 2008 to 2010. Tillman, whose No. 6 Terps (8-2) will play host to the Bulldogs this Saturday, credited coach Andy Shay and defensive coordinator Graham Niemi with building Yale into a perennial powerhouse.
“I think they’ve done a great job,” Tillman said Tuesday. “I think he and Graham Niemi, who is a Maryland alum, those guys have been there a while, and Andy and Graham are really smart guys. I think what they’ve done is they’ve gotten a good sense of what works at Yale and what works for them, and they’ve created a culture and philosophy that they feel like will help them be successful there. I give them a lot of credit because when they got there, it took a little time. I think they just tried to get a sense of what would be good and what would be bad and then said, ‘All right, this is how we’re doing it and here’s our blueprint,’ and they’ve stuck to it. They’ve gotten good players. They’ve gotten guys that buy into the system.”
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Competing with the likes of Maryland, Johns Hopkins and Syracuse takes on a different tenor in the Ivy League, which does not offer athletic scholarships, ordered lacrosse programs to designate 12 days of practice in which body checks are prohibited, and did not allow games to be played until Feb. 23. By then, Delaware had already played three contests.
Tillman said the Bulldogs have turned to the players to help shape the program to compete in the top echelon of Division I.
“Over the last couple of years, it just seems like they’ve asked the kids to raise their level of commitment and have asked for more leadership from their older players,” Tillman said. “You have certain limitations in the Ivies of how much you can practice. So it really falls upon your players to be accountable and things like that. And it really sounds like just from what I’ve seen and talking to those guys, their leadership has been very good. The kids have taken the initiative, and the captains have been essentially extensions of the coaches in terms of their approach and how hard they want to work and their expectations. When the coaches aren’t around, the captains and seniors are holding the guys to a high standard. They raised their level of expectation and they’ve played very hard.”