Princeton Native Mooney Grows Into Force As Yale Men’s Lacrosse Wins NCAA Title
OVER THE MOON: Yale University men’s lacrosse player Robert Mooney, right, battles for the ball against Duke in the NCAA championship game. Princeton resident and former Lawrenceville School standout Mooney helped the Bulldogs top the Blue Devils 13-11 in the title game to earn the program’s first-ever national crown. Mooney, a rising senior defender, earned second-team All-Ivy League honors this spring. (Photo Courtesy of Yale Sports Publicity)
By Bill Alden
In the early stages of his athletic career at the Lawrenceville School, Robert Mooney stamped himself as a college prospect in both soccer and lacrosse.
But after suffering a injury in the fall of 2013 during his junior season with the Big Red boys’ soccer team, Princeton native Mooney turned his attention to lacrosse.
“I figured after that I was going to dedicate myself to lacrosse,” said Mooney, who did return to the soccer pitch for his senior season and was Lawrenceville’s top scorer. “That summer I went to a bunch of showcases and luckily I went to the Yale one and they ended up committing me.”
Making that commitment turned out to be a very lucky move for Mooney as he emerged as a key member of the Yale defensive unit by his sophomore season in 2017. This spring, Mooney earned second-team All-Ivy League honors on the way to helping the Bulldogs go 17-3 and win their first-ever NCAA title.
When Mooney arrived at Yale in the fall of 2015, he wasn’t overly optimistic about his prospects of ever contributing to the Bulldogs.
“I was actually not that confident going in; I thought I would be lucky to get time in my four years,” said Mooney.
“I worked really hard that summer and put on a lot of weight. I became one of the most athletic guys on the team and ended up getting time my freshman year so I surprised myself with that.”
In the 2016 season, Mooney got on the field in the opening game, recording a caused turnover and gaining a comfort level as Yale topped UMass-Lowell 17-7.
“It was nerve-wracking, I was nervous going into the first game but after that first run you kind of settle down and get into the flow of things,” said Mooney, who ended up playing in all 16 games that season and was second on the team in caused turnover (15).
“It isn’t too bad after that. College is more of a communication game and team defense; that took a while to get adjusted to. It is way quicker than high school.”
As a sophomore, the 6’4 Mooney grew into a force for the Bulldogs. “Our strength coach (Tom Newman) has a crazy program; I think that is one of the things that helped me in my sophomore year,” said Mooney, who had 22 ground balls and six caused turnovers as a sophomore.
“I put on 30 pounds to 215. In my freshman summer before I was like 185. I ended up coming in sophomore fall at 230 and then cutting weight.”
Coming into the 2018 season, Mooney sensed that Yale had the potential to be crazy good.
“There was an extreme dedication to it and everyone knew that this was going to be the year; we had the most talent returning,” said Mooney.
“Details went into every lift; any time we would mess up one detail, like someone put a foot on a line or someone jumped early on a whistle, anything like that, we would do crunches for 10 minutes.”
In late April, the Bulldogs displayed their talent, turning heads by routing No. 2 Albany 14-6.
“That was definitely a point when we realized how good we could be but coach [Andy] Shay keeps you focused and grounded the entire year,” said Mooney.
“The focus was on you getting better every week. Even if you win, he will find something that you need to improve on.”
The Yale defensive unit kept improving as the season went on. “It was definitely great to get Chris Fake [former Hun School star] in there, he is ridiculous,” said Mooney, who ended up with 18 ground balls and 14 caused turnovers this spring.
“Jack [goalie Jack Starr] ended up hitting his stride at the end of the year, which was great. From the communication standpoint, it got to end of the year and we were making plays without even talking. We knew where each other was with the chemistry between us.”
Although Yale ended the Ivy tournament by losing 14-8 to Cornell in the final, Mooney saw it as a blessing in disguise going into the NCAA tourney as the Bulldogs had fallen to Syracuse and Navy in the first round of the last two national tournaments.
“The loss to Cornell just showed us we weren’t as good as we thought we were,” said Mooney.
“We won a bunch of games that weren’t close and we needed something to tell us that we still have things to work on and we need to get better. I think it really helped us. In my freshman and sophomore year, we won the Ivy and went into the tournament all happy whereas I think going in with a hunger was a good thing.”
Eking out a 15-13 win over Massachusetts in the NCAA opener and then edging Loyola 8-5 in the quarterfinals showed Yale that it was getting better at dealing with tournament pressure.
“It was good to get a tight game early just to help with your nerves; when it gets tight and on the line and you pull it out, it gives you confidence,” said Mooney. “I think building off that, the Loyola win was a gritty performance.”
In the national semis, Yale faced Albany in a rematch and the result was similar to the regular season meeting as the Bulldogs pulled away to a 20-11 triumph.
“We were preparing for a tight game, we started out 7-0, which was great,” said Mooney. “That definitely gave us a little cushion to relax and get comfortable.”
Mooney knew that Yale couldn’t relax as it faced high-powered Duke in the NCAA championship game.
“Duke was a very talented team offense; we didn’t really focus on any specific player,” explained Mooney.
“We just focused on ourselves, our slides and recovering, making sure that we set the edge and played really good team defense.”
Yale jumped out to a 4-1 lead over the Blue Devils and built its advantage to 10-5 midway through the third quarter when Duke rallied to narrow the gap to 10-8. Mooney and his teammates, though, didn’t flinch in pulling out the 13-11 win.
“Our coach prepared us for that, a big thing with him is resetting, not getting too high or too low,” said Mooney.
“All week he preaches reset. If it is going really well, reset and get back to neutral. If we get scored on, who cares, just don’t take anything too personally, don’t get to high or too low. It is just play the game. I think we did a good job of that, getting a counter punch
every time they fought back. It was the ability to respond.”
As sticks and gloves flew in the raucous postgame celebration, Mooney was too involved in the moment to put the title in perspective.
“It didn’t really hit me after the game, I was kind of in shock,” said Mooney.
“Looking back on the season and all the work we put in, it is such a great accomplishment to end your season on a happy note. We are the only team in the country that had a happy ending to the season.”
Spending this summer living in New York City and working in the financial sector, Mooney will be making time for weight training and stick work knowing that Yale’s foes will be looking to keep the Bulldogs from experiencing another happy ending next season.
“It will give us more drive to do better, knowing that everyone is gunning for us,” said Mooney, an economics major.