When the six seniors on the men’s lacrosse team leave Schoellkopf Field and Cornell behind at the end of May, they will take with them four Ivy League titles – a feat last accomplished by the Class of 1983.
But measuring these men solely by the number of championships they have won would leave out the most defining experiences of their time with at Cornell. To understand what they’ve been through in four years means looking past the “Nicky” Bawlf trophy and laughing at the inside jokes in the lockeroom, seeing the scar on Kyle Miller’s right knee, remembering the day George Boiardi ’04 died in the middle of a game, feeling the energy from crowd of 11,000-plus spectators at a NCAA tournament quarterfinal game, hearing the pep band play the Cornell fight song at an away game and knowing how it feels to congratulate a teammate and best friend after he scores his first goal. These are the highs and lows of a day-to-day journey to overcome adversity and achieve their wildest dreams.
“I think we’re a real tight-knit group, just a group of guys who just kind of go out there and try to get it done every day,” said senior co-captain Joe Boulukos. “This class is just trying to grind things out and to do the little things and work as hard as we possibly can.”
As Derek Haswell points out, each member of the class brings this attitude to the team’s individual units on the field. Mike Pisco is a close defender, Miller plays goalie, Dave Bush and Cam Marchant lead the defensive midfielders, Boulukos is the star of the offensive midfield and Haswell has made a name for himself among attackers. However, the ability to lead a team to an Ancient Eight crown wasn’t always a given, according to head coach Jeff Tambroni.
“This group, more so than any other group that I’ve been with here, I think has really gone full circle, gone 180 degrees from their freshman to senior year,” Tambroni said. “If someone told me that they were going to win four Ivy League championships and they were going to leave the team the way they’re leaving it right now, I would have had a hard time believing that after their freshman year.”
Miller got a head start, originally joining the team as with the Class of 2005 before missing his sophomore season to fight bone cancer in his right knee. It was a fight that left him scarred in body but not in spirit, as he rejoined the team first as a manager and then as a full-time player, stepping back in to the crease against Binghamton on March 17, 2005. Due to a fifth year of eligibility, he will depart the Red after this season.
Boulukos was the only one of the group to see significant playing time in his rookie season, but he faced the same rough adjustment to college lacrosse that confronted Pisco and Marchant, as well as Bush and Haswell – both of whom walked on to the team.
“Freshman year was definitely difficult for me,” Bush said. “Coming in, I wasn’t really very skilled and everything was so new and everything went so fast, but I really just looked to the older guys for guidance. … We had good leadership that year, [and] them kind of showing us the way and getting that first taste of the title right as freshmen, it was a great experience and I think we were able to feed off that a little bit. Once you get the taste of it, you don’t want to lose it going forward.”
This humble hunger has characterized the senior class ever since – they deflect credit for their success to a coaching staff that demanded excellence, former teammates that taught them hard work and focus are the keys to building a winning tradition and the camaraderie of their classmates for keeping them motivated as their time in the red and white draws to a close.
“Some of us have played more important roles throughout the years than others, but I feel like over the last couple years, especially just filling in, our role had a certain position or a certain leadership throughout the team,” Pisco said. “I feel like each one of us, including Kyle coming back, has kind of found our niche. … I just feel like we do a great job of keeping each other intact and letting each other know what we need to do. Since we’re so close, we’re able to know exactly what we need and push that within ourselves and display that to the rest of the team.”
They all agree that the pivotal moment for this class came when they were faced with the death of a teammate.
“I think George’s death was a big turning point in our careers here,” Marchant said. “I think it really showed us the value of this Cornell lacrosse family and the value of life – it put things in perspective for us, and it taught us that you can’t take anything for granted, that just being here was so special, and I think that brought us together as much as any other circumstance as traumatic and as tragic as it was, it really did bring our family and especially our class, closer together.”
The adversity of dealing with death and at the same time, Miller’s recovery from cancer, only emphasized the sense of family each player felt around his teammates and coaches.
“[When I was] deciding whether even to come back to Cornell after going through my treatments, there was no better place for me,” Miller said. “I really relate it to looking back now, we had the opportunity when George passed away [for] everybody to go home to their families and everything and kind of spend some time apart. … What we wanted to do was be together. That’s what helped us get through that death and that definitely helped me get over the struggles that I had, coming back here and being around these people that made me happy and helped me get better.”
For three years, this group followed the lead of their upperclassmen; in 2006, they’ve blazed the path on their own.
“I think for this year’s senior class, they have at this point met just about every expectation that I think most people would have thought of this group,” Tambroni said. “I think we feel there’s still a lot more to be earned and to be strive for and to achieve so I think that these guys are very grounded and still very hungry to continue to keep moving on through these accomplishments.”
Thus far, the seniors have led the Red to a 10-2 record overall, a 5-1 mark in Ivy play and a bid to the NCAA tournament. Bush and Pisco also led the team in planning the 21 Run to honor Boiardi and raise money to fight children’s illiteracy in Ithaca, while Boulukos and Marchant have helmed the Save the Day fundraising efforts to help chronically and critically ill children.
“They kind of added another brick to the foundation of Cornell lacrosse,” Tambroni said. “These guys understand that it’s not about winning, and I think that’s why they win.”
And while they know they have a finite amount of time left in college lacrosse, they’re not ready to say goodbye quite yet. Commencement is on May 28, but even after four years of taking tests and writing papers, the seniors hope to be far away from Cornell that day. The Final Four will take place May 27-29 in Philadelphia, and the seniors have their sights set on a Memorial Day weekend in Pennsylvania.
“I think when you know your time is winding down and it’s your last shot you tend to grip the stick a little tighter and to let less things slide. But in order to get to that point, we’ve got things in front of us that we need to take care of,” Boulukos said. “That is a huge goal of ours, we’d love to get there. I’ve had dreams about it all year long … we’re just trying to take it step by step.”
Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Sports Editor