Given last year’s 14-3 record and the Red’s trip to the NCAA quarterfinals against powerhouse UVA, there were great expectations for the men’s lacrosse program as it entered the 2012 season. Already more than halfway through the season, Cornell sits atop the Ivy League with a perfect 3-0 conference record, in addition to its 7-1 record overall. Winning key games in March against Ivy rivals Yale, Penn and Dartmouth, as well as nationally ranked Denver, put the team in a good standing as it heads into the last four games of the regular season against Harvard, Syracuse, Brown and Princeton.
Highlights of the season so far have included winning the season opener against Binghamton on Feb. 28 at Schoellkopf. The Red ran off with its 14th straight victory in a home season opener with the 17-12 win over the Bearcats. Senior captain and Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award finalist Rob Pannell scored a career-high 10 points in the game. Only four days later, Cornell welcomed the Army Black Knights to Schoellkopf, where the Red handily won its second game of the season in an 18-7 blowout to a team which beat Cornell 11-9 the year before. Freshman attack Matt Donovan impressed coaches and fans alike in his second collegiate game, scoring four goals and two assists in the victory that earned him the honor of Ivy League Rookie of the Week — his first of three for the season so far.
“[Donovan] has been steady from the beginning and it’s impressive to see him contribute in that fashion,” DeLuca said. “He’s … worked extremely hard. He’s far from perfect and has work to do on his game, but the effort that he gives on a daily basis is impressive.”
Showing that consistency and offensive execution is what wins games, the Red dominated Canisius, 19-4, on March 6. A major credit to the win was the Red’s face-off unit comprised of sophomore Doug Tesoriero and senior Mitch McMichael. The midfielders combined to win 20-of-26 re-starts at the face-off “x.” Throughout the season, assistant coach Paul Richards has been working specifically with Tesoriero and McMichael, trying to help the face-off pair improve its wrist work, execution and speed. At this point in the season, the face-off unit has won 100-of-187 re-starts, giving the team a 53.5 win percentage.
“We stated off pretty strong at the beginning of the year, such as against Canisius. About halfway through the season so far we had a bit off a bad stretch against some pretty good face-off guys,” McMichael said. “We started off strong and tailed off in those games against Denver and Yale, but in the past games we picked up. … Our goal as a team is 55 percent and I think overall we are right around there.”
After beginning the season with a perfect 3-0 start, the Red suffered its first and only loss of the season to national powerhouse Virginia. Traveling to Baltimore, Md., Cornell lost 9-8 in overtime at the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic. Missing reigning national player of the year Pannell due to injury, the Red fought a hard battle, which featured a late game rally by junior attack Connor English, who scored consecutive goals in the span of 21 seconds.
Returning from the upset, Cornell hosted Yale on March 17, beating the Bulldogs, 8-7. While earlier games in the season featured double digit scores for the Red, Cornell struggled to connect in the offensive end of the field against Yale, as well as to execute at the face-off “x,” where it only won 6-of-17 re-starts. Playing against fellow Top-10 team Denver a few days later, Cornell barely escaped with a 9-8 overtime win. Both teams were very evenly matched, which slowed down the offense and made scoring more difficult. The defense put up a strong wall for the Red, staving off any overtime efforts by Denver. Leading the defense this season are juniors Mike Bronzino, Jason Noble and Thomas Keith and senior Roy Lang, according to DeLuca.
“The sole senior back in that end is Roy Lang, who we have asked to change his role slightly this season … which I think has helped us play more aggressively,” he said.
Noble and Bronzino are stepping up this season to fill the space left by Max Feely ’11, who graduated last May.
“Last season we lost [Feely], who was the leader in the defensive end,” Noble said. “Mike and I needed to step up our vocal communication with people on the end of the field and communicate with everyone so they know where they are going with the right position. We are trying to take more of a leadership role on the defensive end and getting everyone on the same page.”
In recent weeks, Cornell has fought hard to return to the level of play it was at during the first few games of the season. The Cornell brand of lacrosse is known for its consistency, execution and high-intensity, which is something that DeLuca says the team is working hard to get back to.
“We’re trying to take it one game at a time and try to improve on a daily basis in practice and improve on game day — keeping it simple and focused,” he said. “Knowing that there are expectations and discussions out of the locker room, but we are trying to maximize our potential to be as successful as we can.”
Cornell beat Penn, 16-11, and Dartmouth, 7-5, over the past two weekends, as the team continues to work towards its season goal of remaining undefeated in the Ivy League, as well as undefeated at Schoellkopf. Spearheading efforts on the offensive end of the field are seniors J.J. Gilbane and Scott Austin, junior Steve Mock, English and Donovan, according to DeLuca. Sophomore Andrew West, junior A.J. Fiore and senior Brian O’Donnell have shared time in net for the Red.
While DeLuca said that there is always room for improvement, the efforts that have been seen on all ends of the field have been producing results that cannot be discounted.
“Our records speak for themselves — the bottom line is we are finding different ways to win, fighting through adversity, coming from behind, not playing to our potential [and] fighting through injury,” DeLuca said. “It’s never the same game in every game and it’s frustrating, but at the same time when you step back the guys have found decent amount of success despite the adversity. … We’ve scratched the surface with utilizing the depth of the roster with the perseverance and their ability to pull out wins despite their circumstances.”
The Red will graduate nine seasons at the end of the season —Chip Daugherty, Matt Restaino, Austin, Gilbane, Lang, Langton, McMichael, O’Donnell and Pannell.
“Every time you think that it’s almost over you just want to work harder and make more of the time you have left because your days are limited,” Gilbane said.