Like the Yankees-Red Sox or the Packers-Bears, rivalries are mostly created when two teams play each other so often that each matchup carries a special meaning. Berman Field will be the scene of one of these challenges tonight, as the men’s soccer team (5-8-1, 0-4-1 Ivy) takes on in-state rival Hartwick (5-4-6, 2-1-2 MAC) at 7 p.m.
The competitive history of this rivalry favors Hartwick. The Hawks lead the all-time series, 29-11-4.
“We’ve always had great games with Hartwick,” said head coach Bryan Scales. “It’s a rivalry dating back to the early ’70s. It’s been more of a hammer vs. nail rivalry, if you like, where Hartwick has always beaten Cornell, aside from a few occasions here and there. We haven’t beaten Hartwick in a number of years. For us it’s another game to get our guys back out there as we wind the season up.”
Cornell is coming off a 3-1 road loss to Dartmouth on Saturday, while the Hawks are coming off a two-game winning streak after battling through four straight ties. Tonight’s matchup will be Hartwick’s last regular season game before it enters the Mid-American Conference tournament next week.
“They’ve always been a good regional opponent,” said senior tri-captain Kyle Lynch. “Our coach played there, so it’s a very important game for him; a very important game for us. And it gives us credibility in the region. We really need to beat teams like Hartwick.”
Though the Red is statistically out of the running for the Ivy title, the team hopes to use tonight’s rivalry contest as a springboard for the final games of the season. In the teams’ last meeting, the Hawks swooped in on Berman Field on Oct. 24, 2006 for a 1-0 victory over the Red.
The Red’s offense, however, was generally in control that game, out-shooting Hartwick 13-8 overall, and 6-2 in the second half. The hard-fought loss galvanized a slumping Red to win the rest of its games that season.
“[It was] a disputed goal — tough to tell if it was goal or not, if it went over the line,” Scales said. “I know it hit off [junior goalkeeper Luca Cerretani’s] hands and bounced, and the linesman waved that it was a good goal. It was disappointing. I think we played pretty well in that game, and I think that that game gave us a little momentum going into the last two games of the season, which we eventually won.”
Hartwick’s Chris Jackson had that game-winning shot from 30 yards out, and the senior’s four goals this season make him second to Scottish junior John Boyle, who leads the Hawks with seven goals. There are some new faces as well on the Hartwick squad. Junior goaltender Joe Gibson, whose nine saves gave his team the edge last October, has been replaced by freshman Jeremy Vuolo. Vuolo sports a .746 save percentage over 13 games played.
In addition to a tough non-conference team, the Red will face opposition from the weather — with snow or heavy rain expected to fall on the Hill — and from within.
“I think whatever team is able to capitalize on their [scoring] chances tomorrow night is going to win the game,” Scales said. “I think we will have chances, and we need to just make sure that we’re able to concentrate and play in conditions that will be less than favorable. … For us to be successful, we need to get some timely goal-scoring, and we also need to be very good in the back in preventing chances. That happened in stretches against Dartmouth on Saturday, but it didn’t happen enough. And we had a couple mental breakdowns where we didn’t do what we trained to do … and it cost us.”
The coaching staff plans to use the same lineup as Saturday’s match. Scales was particularly happy about a certain aspect of that lineup — the reemergence of Lynch as a consistent force in the backfield after the defender has been plagued by injury all season.
“Kyle actually had a pretty good game against Dartmouth on Saturday,” Scales said. “His ankle felt good, and he played 90 minutes, and that hasn’t happened in a while. That was one of the bright spots for us — that he was able to get through 90 minutes. So we’ve rested him for the last two days, and now we’ll see if he can crank it up again [today]. He’s only got three games left in his college career, so he’s not going to let us keep him off the field.”
“[We want to] get some pride in the season — finish by winning these last games,” Lynch said. “[Injuries] haven’t helped, but it’s not an excuse. We have the players to compete with any team we’ve been playing this season.”