Darien's Craft named senior captain of Yale's lacrosse squad

It's safe to say that Yale University's lacrosse team is officially "back on the map," and it is thanks in no small part to Darien's Jimmy Craft.

The former standout defenseman for Brunswick High School and his Bulldogs posted a 12-5 record and advanced all the way to the NCAA quarterfinals last season before falling 7-6 to Syracuse.

Although the result was a disappointment, Craft reflected positively on last year's voyage, and the strong tournament run has him and his teammates thinking big for the upcoming season, during which Craft will serve as the team's lone captain.

"We have an end-of-the-year banquet every year celebrating the past season. We had a banquet, and I think it was two days after we got back after losing to Syracuse," Craft said. "We were all still a little frustrated with how that game ended up going, but at the banquet, coach announced who will be the captains next year and I was very excited."

However, Craft was quick to say that leadership will be a collaborative effort among the squad's eight seniors.

"I'm very honored to follow in the footsteps of previous captains, but it was also a moment to turn the page and start looking forward to next season along with the eight seniors to help lead the team next year," Craft said.

Craft was a key cog in a defense that permitted only 7.9 goals per game last season, and he scooped up 39 groundballs while forcing 17 turnovers.

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"Jimmy plays harder than almost any player we have. There isn't anyone that outworks him on the field," Yale coach Andy Shays said. "He cares immensely about the program and the players in it, and you can see that in how hard he plays. We talk about `motor' in our sport, and more specifically in our program, and Jimmy has the motor we want players to emulate."

"It was the most fun I've ever had with a team in my entire life," Craft said. "We were so happy to be around each other. There was never a time when anyone ever doubted what we were doing or was annoyed to be doing something lacrosse-related. It was a special season."

That "special season" culminated with the Ivy League Champions advancing one step further than they did in Craft's sophomore year, when they were defeated in the NCAA tournament's round of 16. That year, however, marked the school's first appearance in the NCAA tournament in 20 years.

"It was nice being able to build upon our sophomore year where we made it to the NCAA tournament after 20 years," said Craft, who is majoring in political science. "Beating Penn State (in the round of 16 in 2013) was a step in the right direction. We had bigger plans in mind, but we're hoping to build on the success of last year into this year."

Craft gave strong consideration to only two colleges: Yale and North Carolina. Although he had thought about North Carolina while growing up, he visited Yale first and came away quite excited after a chat with Shays.

"It was a unique visit. I sat in the office and all coach told me about was what I needed to do to be a part of Yale lacrosse," Craft said. "Coach shot me straight from day one on how I could improve as a person and as a player. I could tell from day one that he was extremely passionate about Yale lacrosse and confident in the direction the program was going in. I've never regretted coming here for a second."

"He has worked hard to become a better team defensive player," Shays said. "We have a team-oriented defense, and you need to engage your brain and your voice in order to be successful at it. Jimmy has worked hard at being more than just a highly-skilled athlete."

While attending Brunswick High School, Craft was also the school's starting quarterback, and he indicated that he still misses suiting up on the gridiron.

"Looking back on my high school time, I can tell you that playing Bruins football was hands-down my most rewarding experience in high school," Craft said. "I was fortunate to play for some great coaches. Playing football in high school was the first time I'd been exposed to a high level of personal accountability. I do wish I could put on the pads one more time."

As for lacrosse, Craft indicated that he and his teammates share a quiet confidence as it pertains to expectations for the upcoming season.

"I think we're returning a lot of big pieces from last year's team," Craft said. "We lost the senior class that taught me everything I've learned, but we return a lot of pieces on offense. We graduated some defense, but there's nothing stopping us from being a national championship contender."

jchik@bcnnew.comTwitter: @jchik17