Within the past decade, the Ivy League conference has made a name for itself in the soccer world. The league has consistently sent about three teams to the NCAA tournament since 2005, meaning that in addition to an automatic conference bid, other teams were entered into the tournament based purely on skill. Last year, half of the Ancient Eight –– Brown, Dartmouth, Harvard and Princeton –– progressed to the postseason, proving just how competitive this conference is. With such a competitive group of opponents, the Red must put in a tremendous amount of effort in order to remain a worthy contender in the league.
“Not many conferences can say that they get half of the conference into the [NCAA] tournament. Conferences like the Big 10 and ACC might, but you don’t see that from many other conferences which send only one team,” said Cornell head coach Jaro Zawislan. “You know that when you compete and you’re competitive within an Ivy League conference, that means that you are competitive at the national level.”
The Red has played three of its seven conference games of the season thus far. Although it lost the games against Penn and Yale, these losses came by a margin of only one goal. Cornell also played to a draw against defending league champion Harvard.
“You can look at other conferences and you look at the best team and then you look at the worst team and the spread is just ridiculous. You look at the Ivies; the team that comes in eighth place and the team that comes in first place play each other, and that’s still going to be a one-goal game so it’s not like there’s any easy games,” said sophomore forward Tyler Regan.
Regan is one of three transfer students who have joined the Red from previous collegiate play outside of the Ivy League. Zawislan notes that while it has been necessary for these newcomers to adjust to this conference’s style of play, each of them –– along with the freshmen joining the team –– have all made this transition relatively easily into the intensity of the Ivy League.
In order to remain competitive in the conference, the players have to be aware of their surroundings in every game situation. Due to the short length of the fall season, Ivy League teams match up with one another only once per season, meaning that the turf played on changes from year-to-year when the same two teams meet.
“It’s a credit to the coaches; they do a lot of scouting; they get film, they know what they’re talking about so before a game we know what we’re going into; we’re not blindsided by anything,” Regan said.
This method has proven successful, as evidenced by the tie against Harvard.
“Harvard has been a very strong team both away and at home,” Zawislan said. “Especially at home, the team has done very well ... our game was one of the very few in which they lost any points.”
Most integral to Cornell’s attempt to remain a worthy opponent is the amount of hard work that goes into each practice, dating back to the preseason.
“We put a lot of work into the preseason that’s really paying off now. The fact that we can outlast teams and that we can keep our style of play through 90 minutes and 110 minutes –– you need to be really fit for that. The work we put in over the summer and in the spring everyday in practice is really starting to pay dividends,” said junior midfielder Jimmy Lannon.
While the current ranking shows Cornell occupying seventh place, this ranking is by no means set in stone.
“In the Ivy League, everybody always loses some points because everyone is so competitive and anybody can beat anybody else. Without looking back at our previous games, we know that we still have an opportunity going into every new game,” Zawislan said.
The players are not deterred by the current standings, since they know they have the ability and time to turn things around. This follows the team’s mindset to approach every game as an individual matchup, without worrying about previous results.
“The consensus is this will be another season where there will be multiple bids in the Ivy,” Zawislan said. “The situation is where the goal is to make sure we’re not only getting Ivy League wins, but also to focus on the big picture where not only one team gets in but also the second, third and maybe even fourth-ranked teams do, too. Anyone on the upper half of the conference can get in, or in the worst-case scenario, just be on the bubble of getting into the tournament.”
With that in mind, the Red approaches the rest of the season with a mind to do work and make the NCAA tournament.
“That’s a goal that I’ve had especially since my first year, and even before Coach Zawislan got here –– it was a tough situation. To really see the turnaround that we’ve made and be in the position that we can make that tournament is a credit to the coaches and a credit especially to the players who put in all the work. We’ve come a long way,” Lannon said.