Skip to main content
Yale's Matt Brandau in action against Harvard

Weekly Cover: This is Matt Brandau

March 20, 2024
Matt Hamilton
Rich Barnes

Early in Yale’s victory over Colgate on Feb. 21, Matt Brandau yelled at Andy Shay for the first time.

Coming off the field at Casey Stadium in Albany following a goal that he helped create, Brandau, Shay and offensive coordinator Colin Nesdale were discussing the next few offensive sets. Halfway through the conversation, Brandau barked — or in his words “encouraged loudly” — what should come next.

“Just give me the ball!” he shouted.

Shay was equal parts surprised, impressed and a bit humored.

“It wasn’t disrespectful at all,” he said. “I thought it was hilarious.”

When a consistent leader by example speaks, Yale’s players and coaches tend to listen. Brandau finished with 13 points on six goals and seven assists, a Yale single-game record and one point shy of Michael Sowers’ Ivy League mark.

“Because he yelled at me and I was mad, I pulled him out before he broke the all-time record,” Shay joked.

The unquestioned leader of the Bulldogs offense proved his worth to everyone watching that day at Casey Stadium. Through four-plus seasons at Yale, he’s done plenty to show the college lacrosse world that he is among the best in the nation.

In 2024, Brandau must shoulder even more of a load on the Yale offense. Attack mates Chris Lyons or Leo Johnson are among seven starters out for the season due to injuries.

Brandau has scored 165 goals and dished out 129 assists in his career, his 294 career points second only Ben Reeves (316) in Yale history. By season’s end, he will likely be the program’s all-time leading scorer.

Although cemented as one of the best players in program history, Brandau has not always matched that same image in his mind.

“The one who has the lowest opinion of his ability is Matt,” Shay said. “If that kid had an inflated sense of ability, he’d be even scarier.”

“I tend to be my harshest critic,” Brandau said. “I wouldn’t say I lack confidence, but I struggled getting down on myself and there was negative self-talk. It’s something I’m still working on and I’m very cognizant of it when I’m on the field.”

The one who has the lowest opinion of his ability is Matt. If that kid had an inflated sense of ability, he’d be even scarier.

Yale coach Andy Shay

Although Brandau’s faith in himself took time to develop, he has had allies at every stop in his lacrosse journey. He found out just how much potential he had as soon as he stepped on the field at Boys’ Latin (Md.) his freshman year of high school.

An undersized but athletic attackman, Brandau wasn’t sure where he fit in a Boys’ Latin program that boasted future Tewaaraton Award winners Pat Spencer and Logan Wisnauskas. He looked destined for the junior varisty, but coaches Gene Ubriaco and Bob Shriver added him to the loaded varsity roster and gave him a chance to start as a freshman.

“I remember when they told me I made varsity, Coach Shriver put a little asterisk on it,” he joked. “I was 5-foot-6, 150 pounds soaking wet. He said, ‘If we don’t think that you can produce at the varsity level, we might look at putting you on JV.’ Coach Ubriaco leaned back in his chair and gave me a wink and a thumbs up and said, ‘You’re gonna be fine.’”

After an injury, Brandau was thrust into the starting lineup that featured Spencer and Wisnauskas. He proved to Ubriaco and Shriver that he could be a mainstay on varsity, and not too long after, Ubriaco was singing his praises to college coaches across the country.

“Matt had a great feel for the game, even as a freshman in high school,” said Spencer, who starred in lacrosse at Loyola and basketball at Northwestern and recently signed a two-way contract with the NBA’s Golden State Warriors. “The thing that impressed me the most about him was his work ethic. He wasn’t the fastest, strongest, or the most athletic every time he played but he had a motor that few matched. He wanted it. Definitely proud to see it all pay off for him.”

At that point, Shay heard about an undersized but talented future attackman that he needed to check out.

“He just texted me and said, ‘You’re going to regret not taking this kid,’” Shay said. “He didn’t want the guilt on my hands. ‘This is going to be entirely your fault if you don’t take him.’ Geno’s been right about a lot of things. I hadn’t seen Matt enough to move on him and he yelled at me and said, ‘Don’t be an idiot.’ In my experience, when people try and talk me out of being an idiot, they’re right.”

Split images featuring Logan Wisnauskas (9), Matt Brandau (38) and Pat Spencer (10) at Boys' Latin
Brandau (38) played alongside future Tewaaraton winners Logan Wisnauskas (9) and Pat Spencer (10) on Boys' Latin's attack in 2015.
John Strohsacker

Yale offered Brandau early in his recruiting process, and he got to campus in the fall of 2018 — fresh off the Bulldogs’ national championship run led by Reeves. During his freshman fall, Brandau suited up against the U.S. Men’s National Team at the USA Lacrosse Fall Classic.

Brandau had just a few weeks of practice under his belt, but he made a strong first impression. He scored four goals against some of the top players in the world, a performance that caught Shay’s attention and proved he belonged on the stage.

“After I saw that, I was like, ‘Interesting,’” Shay said.

“It was pretty surreal being a first year on campus and looking up at guys that you just watched win a national championship and accomplish your dream,” Brandau said. “That game was important for me, just to have a good experience under my belt and to know that the hard work I put in led me to a spot where I’m able to contribute.”

Shay admitted he might have been too patient with his offense during Brandau’s freshman season — one in which he started five out of Yale’s 17 games. Still, the freshman accumulated 74 points with Jackson Morrill and Brendan Mooney helping him find time and room to shoot. He broke the school’s freshman record for points and assists in a season, and shattered the single-game freshman record with seven goals in the Bulldogs’ NCAA semifinal win over Penn State that May.

Brandau had established himself as a rising star in college lacrosse when the pandemic started in 2020, causing him to miss the next two seasons at Yale. He withdrew from the university to save his eligibility, opting to shoot on his twin brother, Chris, a goalie at Maryland at the time, at their home and help out as an assistant on the Boys’ Latin staff in 2021.

Related Article
Banged-Up Brandau Leads Yale Past Penn State into NCAA Final
Read More
Related Article
Brandau Sets Yale Single-Game Scoring Record
Read More

As Brandau prepared for the 2022 season, his first full season since 2019, he used the lessons he learned from Morrill as he took on a role as a feeder.

“Jackson and I don’t jump off the charts athletically,” he said. “His vision and the way that he is able to kind of control the defensemen with his movement was always so impressive. Watching a ton of film and watching how he moved in practice was so essential for my play behind the goal.”

Brandau was poised to have his best season in 2022 when he fell awkwardly after dodging March 13 against Denver. He felt a pain in his shoulder that would later be diagnosed as a severe tear of the rotator cuff. Of course, he still finished the game with eight points.

In Brandau’s words, there was no way he wasn’t going to play out the season and be there for his teammates. He knew there would be plenty of pain associated with playing on a torn rotator cuff, but he learned on the Yale athletic training staff to help ease the grind.

He finished the 2022 season with 57 goals and 42 assists, finishing second in the nation in points per game and second among Yale’s single-season points list. He was one of the top producing offensive players in Division lacrosse, and he did it while battling an injury that would have left many on the bench.

“I had a rock in my shoe earlier today and I’ve been complaining about it for the entire afternoon,” Shay joked. “That’s just who Matt is. Tough as nails.”

“I had just sat out two years. There was no way that I was going to miss it,” he said. “If I could hold a stick and I could throw a ball, there’s no way that I was going to miss time.”

In 2023, a full healthy Brandau quarterbacked one of the nation’s top offenses. He helped turn Johnson and Lyons, an elite finisher, into two of the biggest threats in the Ivy League. Brandau finished with 70 points, good for 14th in the country in points per game.

With Johnson and Lyons going down in the offseason, Shay and Brandau both knew his role would change heading into his final season at Yale. Through five games, Brandau has 11 goals and 24 assists — staying true to his skills as a feeder. However, the critic within himself knows he can score more often.

“I’ve done a pretty good job distributing and getting assists, but I’m not hitting the net nearly as much as I would like,” he said. “I’ve got to work on that.”

Brandau’s role was in its clearest view Saturday, when he tied a school record with eight assists in the Bulldogs’ 17-15 victory over Harvard.

According Chris Brandau, it was as animated as he’d seen his brother after a victory in recent memory. Known for humbling his twin in Instagram comments after a highlight or honor comes his way, he was quick to call out the flaws in the historic game.

“He didn’t have any goals. That’s pretty brutal,” joked Chris Brandau, who transferred from Maryland to Dickinson and graduated last year. “He’s how old now? 25? And he can’t put up one? As he was walking off the field, he looked up to me in the stands and I just put up a zero with my hands. He just put his hands up with, ‘What the hell, man?’”

If Brandau is gaining confidence in his game as he leads Yale toward another NCAA tournament bid, he’ll always have his brother to keep him in check.

Shay, who needed convincing to bring Brandau to New Haven, is now hoping his star attackman gets the recognition he deserves.

“He’s one of, if not the best player in the country,” Shay said. “I’d like to see him exceed what he’s done here, which would mean great things for both the team and him.”