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Yale men's lacrosse jumping Notre Dame to No. 1 hard to fathom

Maryland goalie Kyle Bernlohr (#35), bottom, tries to dive ahead of Yale's Eric Scott, center, and Jeff Cimbalista to gain possession of the out of bound ball in the fourth quarter of a 2015 NCAA men's lacrosse tournament game in College Park.
Maryland goalie Kyle Bernlohr (#35), bottom, tries to dive ahead of Yale's Eric Scott, center, and Jeff Cimbalista to gain possession of the out of bound ball in the fourth quarter of a 2015 NCAA men's lacrosse tournament game in College Park. (Kenneth K. Lam / Baltimore Sun)

When various NCAA Division I men's lacrosse polls were released this week, there was some shock, dismay and disappointment. Yale, No. 3 the previous week, was No. 1 in the United States Intercollegiate Association poll.

Oh my.

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It had to be a misprint. April Fools' Day had come early. How could Yale jump over No. 2 Notre Dame, which might play the toughest schedule in the country?

Are you kidding me?

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"Not surprised that Yale was No. 1 this week," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. "I told a number of people that was likely to happen. None of the [Ivy League schools] have played the schedule that the ACC grinds through in the regular season but the poll reflects 'what have you done for me lately.'

"These things work themselves out by the end and the tournament standings take into account the strength of your entire schedule. So, for me, Notre Dame did not really get snubbed and they will get their due before it is all said and done."

The debate came after previous No. 1 Denver lost 15-10 last week to Penn State. It appeared obvious that Notre Dame would climb to No. 1 and Yale would move from No. 3 to No. 2.

Instead, Yale was bumped to the top spot.

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"I wasn't surprised with the Inside Lacrosse media poll but mildly surprised at the USILA coaches poll," ESPN lacrosse commentator Mark Dixon said. "People are really liking this Yale team. As Maryland thrives, I think a deciding factor for many was evaluating each of their wins over the Terps. Yale's 8-5 win over Maryland wasn't as close as the score would indicate while Notre Dame's 9-4 victory [against Maryland] was closer than that.

"Weekly polls are very fickle. I don't think Yale is too excited or Notre Dame very disappointed at this week's rankings. The only rankings that matter come out the Tuesday after Memorial Day."

But polls do matter, especially to those teams who think they might have been snubbed. It's safe to assume that either Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan or his players have plastered these latest polls up on a bulletin board somewhere in the locker room.

Yale (7-0) is a good team and the Bulldogs, along with Brown, are the only two unbeaten teams in Division I. But there still isn't enough evidence to prove to me that Yale is better than Notre Dame, even though the Bulldogs are allowing only 6.86 goals per game and scoring 12.57.

The Ivy League appears strong this year, but let's not go overboard just because three teams — Brown (7-0), Harvard (5-5) and Yale — might get into the postseason.

"I love Yale's balance," Dixon said. "They are known as a defensive team, and for good reason. They give up less than seven goals a game and have a bona fide Schmeisser Award candidate in defenseman Michael Quinn.

"What gets lost is the fact that this team can score effectively, too, averaging just about 13 goals per game. They erased a 7-1 second-half deficit against St. John's to win 13-8 and attackman Ben Reeves is the best player you've never heard of."

But while Yale has Reeves, Notre Dame has attackmen Matt Kavanagh (seven goals, 11 assists), Mikey Wynn (20, one), midfielder Sergio Perkovic (13, two) and probably the best defenseman in college lacrosse in Matt Landis.

Notre Dame struggles offensively running half-field sets, but the Irish thrive with constant defensive pressure and forcing turnovers into goals.

Notre Dame has beaten Georgetown, Maryland, Virginia, Ohio State and lost only 9-8 to Denver in overtime. Maybe the most impressive fact about Notre Dame is that the Fighting Irish are allowing only 6.57 goals per game against great competition, not Bryant, St. John's and Fairfield, some of the teams on Yale's schedule.

Notre Dame also has history on its side. Cornell is the last Ivy League team to make it to the Final Four (2013). Yale made it in 1990 and Brown in 1994. Notre Dame has made it to the championship weekend five times including as finalists in 2010 and 2014.

Maybe Yale's perch at the top spot is a sign of things to come. Dixon says keep any eye on other rising teams, like Brown, Towson and Air Force.

It is strange seeing other teams at the top besides Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Syracuse or Cornell. It will be interesting to see if lacrosse has lost its charm without those teams in that position.

"College lacrosse is more interesting now than ever before," Dixon said. "It's amazing how many upsets we have seen this season and the fact that they just haven't been reserved for February. That said I still think the perfect cocktail for big crowds in Philadelphia would be Syracuse, Hopkins, and Maryland. Of the traditional powers, and any programs for that matter, they have the most loyal fan bases that travel.

"If the fourth team is a Navy or Army we may see a record crowd. It's important to note that these teams have built their tradition over decades and decades. It takes time."

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