Hun Alum Fake’s Emergence as Top Defender Helped Spark Yale Men’s Lax to NCAA Crown
TOP DOG: Chris Fake carries the ball up the field for the Yale University men’s lacrosse team as it battled Duke in the NCAA championship game. Former Hun School star Fake helped the Bulldogs top Duke 13-11 in the title game to earn the program’s first national title. Fake emerged as a defensive star this spring, getting named as the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, making 1st-team All-Ivy and second team All-America. (Photo Courtesy of Yale Sports Publicity)
By Bill Alden
For Chris Fake, a daily ritual this spring with the Yale University men’s lacrosse team helped mold him into one of the top defenders in the nation.
As the former Hun School standout looked to get up to speed in his freshman campaign for the Bulldogs, he drilled with with Yale senior attacker Ben Reeves everyday after practice.
“He is one of the best attackmen in the country and he was putting in a half hour after practice with me,” said Fake of Reeves, who won the Tewaaraton Award this spring given to the top college player in the country and ended his career as Yale’s all-time scoring leader with 316 points on 174 goals and 142 assists.
“It was just one-on-ones. I came to learn that no one was going to be as good as Ben Reeves, so that gave me a peace of mind throughout the season. I never faced anyone half as good as Ben Reeves.”
The 6’1 205-pound Fake enjoyed about as good debut campaign as one could imagine, getting named as the Ivy League Rookie of the Year, making first-team All-Ivy and second team All-American on the way to helping Yale win the program’s first-ever NCAA championship.
As Fake started training with Yale last fall, Reeves was just one of the Bulldog seniors who helped him out.
“When I first got there, as with most freshmen, I was a little out of place, but the seniors definitely did a ton,” said Fake.
“They put so much emphasis on developing us and so by the end of fall ball, I was much more comfortable playing with the guys.”
Reflecting on the early stages of the season, Fake acknowledged that it took him a while to develop a comfort level.
“It was surreal. I was so nervous, but after a couple of games I got my feet wet a little and I started getting more comfortable,” said Fake, who was joined on the Bulldogs by former Hun teammate Brendan Rooney, a junior attackman.
“I wasn’t that good at communication in high school, but it is definitely one of the biggest things that they stressed. I got more comfortable with that and started thinking quicker. That was probably the most important thing.
One of the more important wins of the regular season for Yale came when it stunned No. 2 Albany 14-6 on April 22.
“That was the biggest game we had on the schedule; it was their biggest opportunity to prove a point that we were one of the best teams in the country,” said Fake. “We just went out there with a nothing to lose mentality and we played well.”
Although the Bulldogs didn’t play well in the final of the Ivy tournament, falling to Cornell 14-8, it helped them develop the right mentality for the NCAA title run.
“I think our heads were way too big for the Cornell game and we thought we were going to roll them,” said Fake.
“Once we got out there, it wasn’t what we thought and after the game we realized we weren’t that good and we had to go back to fundamentals. It was just one of those things. We put a lot of focus on being underdogs. Not too many of us were big stars coming out of high school. The coaches wanted us to go back to fundamentals and play as hard as we could.”
After hard-earned wins over UMass (15-13) and Loyola (8-5) the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, Yale faced a rematch against high-powered Albany in the national semis.
“The Monday practice before the second Albany game, coach [Andy] Shay wrote down every possible excuse Albany had from our first game,” recalled Fake.
“They lost because Connor Fields got hurt, they lost because blah, blah, blah. We just had accept that those were true and a find a way to win without those being true so we just went back to playing as hard as we could.”
Yale played very well, jumping out to a 7-0 lead over the Great Danes on the way to a 20-11 win, earning a date in the championship game against perennial power and three-time NCAA champion Duke.
Once again, Yale got off to a hot start, going up 4-1 early in the second quarter and leading 10-5 midway through the third. The Blue Devils, though, fought back to draw within 10-8 but the Bulldogs held them off to prevail 13-11.
“I was so nervous, my mind-set was to go in there and whatever happens, happens and just work as hard as I possibly can,” said Fake.
“As the game started playing out, I just kept praying. We knew how much it meant for coach Shay and the seniors and everyone that came before in Yale lacrosse. That is mostly what we were playing for. It is nice to have the national championship under our belts; we couldn’t waste an opportunity to make everything that they have worked for come true. I think the intensity that we played with was the most important thing. We got off to a 7-0 lead over Albany and 4-1 against Duke. I think those teams weren’t ready for the intensity we brought.”
In Fake’s view, that intensity was fueled Yale’s unique team chemistry.
“I think what was really special was the bond that even the younger guys and the older guys had,” said Fake, who ended the season with 29 ground balls and 18 caused turnovers. “I was almost as good friends with the seniors as I was with the other freshmen. They said during the season that this was the closest team Yale has ever had. That was so important because we were playing for each other.”
And playing against Reeves every day helped Fake produce a freshman season for the ages.