Back in the day, Wilt Chamberlain had Bill Russell, the Bulls had the Pistons, and later the Jazz had the Bulls, and well, the Bills had whomever they were playing in the Super Bowl. Many people or teams in history have that one team or one person they just can’t get past, that they cannot beat no matter the situation.
The Cornell-Penn lacrosse matchups by no means have reached these levels, but for this year’s senior class, the Quakers (4-3, 1-0 Ivy) are the only Ivy team to down Red (6-0, 1-0) in their tenure, with Penn winning twice in the last three years.
“For the seniors, it means a lot,” said senior attackman David Mitchell. “It means a lot to everybody. It was frustrating because my freshman and junior year we went down to Penn with the mindset … that we thought we had everything in place and everything was going well. Maybe we were a little confident and Penn just brought it.”
“We can get a little revenge and even the score,” said senior co-captain Mitch Belisle.
Fortunately for the Red, the two losses came at Franklin Field in Pennsylvania, with the one win coming at Schoellkopf Field two years ago.
However, just like last year, the Red is going into the game with a spotless 6-0 record coming out of Spring Break. With a Penn team coming off three straight overtime games, including two double-overtime affairs, the Quakers have been in tight, one-goal games all year. Meanwhile, with the exception of the 7-6 Duke win, the Red has won most of its games by wide margins. Belisle says that the team has learned not to be complacent after last year.
“We learned that lesson the hard way last year: we came out 6-0 and maybe got a little lazy,” he said. “We’ve made an effort to make sure the games are going to be the have fire and emotion we’ve had all year. We can’t rest on our laurels.”
The Red will have to bring this intensity against a good Penn defense anchored by Joe Kelly and Matt Kelleher, who are second and third on the team in ground balls, respectively. Chris Casey and Greg Klossner have split time in goal this year to create an effective two-headed goalie tandem that has batted away 73 shots between them. Klossner has registered three of the teams four wins, but Casey has logged significantly more minutes in the cage and boasts more saves (40 to 33) and a lower goals against average (7.90 to 8.33).
All this means is that the Red won’t know what they will be seeing on defense until both teams walk out onto the pitch Saturday.
“It really depends,” Mitchell said. “Last year, it was a totally different guy. [in goal] This year it’s a freshman [Casey] so were not too sure what to expect. We’ve watched both of them, though, so we’re prepared for either or. … In the end, good shots go in.”
While Mitchell promises that the team prepared “ten-fold” more for this game than they did last year, that doesn’t stop the players from not really knowing what to expect out of an ever-changing Quaker defense.
“Penn is a good team, solid athletes,” Mitchell said. “I’m not even too sure what they’re going to do [on defense] and that’s just it. We’ve seen some scenarios in the past and we prepared for all of those and hope we can adjust on the fly. They really like to look at the matchups. If there’s a really good dodge, they’ll go to him early. If not, they’ll stop sliding completely. But that’s any defense. Mainly, I think they just do a really good job of communication.”
Mitchell emphasizes that the Red can’t get too wrapped up in the other team’s strategy because attention must be paid to the season-long goal of creating a smooth, flowing offense. The Red will not even have this opportunity if sophomore Tommy Schmicker and Junior John Glynn don’t control the face-off battle.
Penn presents a two-person team of Ricky Choi and Justin Lynch who have wrestled away an impressive 52.4 percent of face-offs, compared to 56 percent for the Red on the season.
When the face-off does go to the Quakers, they will try to move it up to Craig Andrzejewski, who is among the leaders in the nation, raking up 4.12 points per game. His 16 goals and 13 assists are tops on the Quakers, as are his 46 shots, more than any player on the Red. In fact, the Quaker offense is much more focused on a few players with three players putting up 40 or more shots, and another with 30 shots. Comparatively, the Red have one player with over 40 shots (Mitchell), but more shots overall as a team (256 to 255).
“We need to be cognizant of where [Andrzejewski] is at all times,” Belisle said. “That’s everyone’s role, not just mine. We can’t get away from the team defense that we’ve been playing. … They have a lot of other good finishers that may not get as much recognition because of the attention on Andrzejewski.”
And while Belisle also points to limiting the Quaker’s shots by driving their dodges down the sidelines to create bad angles, he also points to another, less tangible, factor that may help the Red this weekend.
“We can’t wait for some nice weather and hopefully some more people to come,” he said.
“I love this time of year,” Mitchell said. “As harsh as Ithaca gets in the winter time, the atmosphere is amazing and extra special at Schoellkopf this time of year.”