Yale's first men's lacrosse title is worth the wait

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Yale's national title dawns on head coach mid-interview (0:36)

Yale's Andy Shay grabs ESPN's Paul Carcaterra and screams "we're national champs" when it finally hits him that the Bulldogs are champions. (0:36)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- As the clock struck zero at Gillette Stadium on Monday and the scoreboard read 13-11 in favor of Yale over Duke, the key contributors to Bulldogs' first men's lacrosse national championship were apparent.

Coach Andy Shay, in his 15th season leading Yale, trailed his dog-piling players, hugging each of his assistant coaches. Shay, who posted losing records in four of his first six years, had not only gotten over the final-four hump that eluded him for so long but now had a trophy to validate his program's recent success.

Attackman Ben Reeves had just finished his last game -- a quiet one by his standard, with a goal and three assists -- for Yale, where he'll leave a legacy as the school's all-time leader in goals and points.

Senior Conor Mackie was alongside, having secured 14 of the game's 28 available faceoffs, with blisters across his hands to show for it. Sophomore attackman Matt Gaudet, championship weekend's Most Outstanding Player, had just capped a final-four performance that saw him tally 10 total goals.

But a closer look at the crowd putting on championship T-shirts and hats revealed a group that was not as obvious but just as influential in getting the Bulldogs to the pinnacle of college lacrosse.

One of Shay's first hugs went to Kevin Discepolo while Handsome Dan XVIII, Yale's Olde English Bulldogge mascot, jumped up in an attempt to join. Discepolo, who played for Shay 10 years ago, spent a few years in the private sector before coming back to be Yale's assistant athletic director of facilities, operations and events -- or perhaps more importantly, Handsome Dan's handler.

"I love him," Discepolo said of Shay. "He's like a second father. He's made me the man I am today. He does the same for all these guys. It's been a special weekend to be around the team. This means so much to us."

Discepolo then handed Handsome Dan over to university president Peter Salovey, who took him for a couple of laps in front of a throng of Yale fans who were chanting, "An-dy Shay."

Not far away was Jon Reese, who led Yale to its only other final four appearance in 1990 and now has ties to the school's football team. His name sits just below Reeves' in virtually every section of the Bulldogs' record book.

"To say that Yale University just won the national championship in lacrosse, it's surreal," said Reese, who calls Shay a close friend. "It doesn't make sense. It says so much about everyone involved with this team. It takes a lot to win in a sport where everyone is so evenly matched. To serve this university in the 28 years since I've graduated has been an honor."

Talk to anyone who has played for Shay at Yale and they'll tell you he's not the warmest coach, especially not right away.

"It's a high standard," said Reeves, who was selected fourth overall by the Dallas Rattlers in April's Major League Lacrosse draft. "Not just anyone can play here. You have to be bought in and willing to work hard. For some guys, it takes a little kick in the pants to get going."

Mackie fell asleep in a film session as a freshman, and senior Tyler Warner said he "accidentally" talked back to Shay during a practice in his freshman season. Neither ever made those mistakes again.

Even Gaudet was benched earlier this season, and Shay said the pair had a "spicy moment" in practice this week.

Each of those players, though, said their relationship with Shay loosened up as they matured.

"I'm really hard on them when they're younger," Shay said. "Once they get to this stage in their career, you want it to work out for them. You want to see them succeed, and I got to. Very often, I've had to end the year sitting with them in a locker room and crying with them. Now I don't have to. It's the best feeling."

Shay acknowledges coaching at Yale comes with a certain set of challenges, one of which is recruiting. The combination of having to clear Yale's academic standards and no scholarship help to offer is a lot to overcome.

But it might have just got a lot easier, as Shay's program secured the Ivy League's first lacrosse national championship since 2001 (Princeton).

"We're excited that kids are going to want to come to Yale now," Discepolo said. "We're on the map officially."

While the Bulldogs' first lacrosse national championship was long awaited, and certainly didn't come easy, Shay will bring back an impressive group that includes Gaudet, junior midfielder Jack Tigh (three goals against Duke) and sophomore attackman Jackson Morrill (40 goals this season).

"This is the new standard for us," Warner said. "We finally got to this weekend, and winning it is now the standard."