February 15, 2008

A Bit of Valentine’s Love for Cornell Sports

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OH NO. It’s Valentine’s Day.
That’s what she said to me yesterday, and not because of fear from what some ex-boyfriend might try to do. No, my friend’s foreboding dread came from the knowledge that every year for V-Day, I proclaim my love for a Cornell sport in this column.
And 2008 is no different.
I’m struggling though: it’s my last semester, and there are so many things I love about Red athletics. Two years ago, I announced the beginning of my courtship with the track teams. Last year, I reaffirmed my love for the Heps Heroes (by the way, Heps is at Cornell this year), but revealed my passion for other Cornell sports.
So, track teams, I’m sorry to report that for the second straight year, I will not be monogamous. There are just too many Cornell sports cuties (… alright, that phrase is now banned), though you’ll always be my Valentine. Having experienced a little bit of every team in my time as a Sports Editor, let me share a thing or two that I love about every Cornell varsity sport.
(Warning: Skip around at your own peril).
Track
I’ve said so much about this group already, but I’ll say some more: the women have won 12 straight Heps (basically that means Ivy) titles. Twelve straight. And the men are not far behind that pace. How absurd is that?
Cross Country
X.C. season … it means track is almost here.
Softball
Dick Blood. That’s your coach’s name. And the funny thing is that his name is Richard, but he prefers Dick (so I’m told). I also love that pretty much the entire team has nicknames to replace their real names: from Bandit to Barry Larkin, Loco to Blaze, it never gets old … for me.
Finally, this team has finished in second place for three straight years. This year, for Valentine’s Day, I want ONE MORE WIN. Do it for me: after all, we’re Valentines now!
Actually … now that we’re Valentines … can I have a nickname too? Send ideas (and if you’re on the team, my official name) to softballjosh@cornellsun.com.
Football
The greatest slogan I’ve ever heard for a football team: 2006’s “Ring that Bell.” I know this team has struggled to compete with the best teams in the league, but how can you not love a team that uses a position called “the whip” on defense? That’s legendary.
Sprint Football
Technically, the NCAA views you as “lightweight football.” Think about that. Also, Terry Cullen is the Terry Cullen Head Coach of Sprint Football. He’s been coaching the team for 42 years. Wow.
Wrestling
Dear Rob Koll,
I still haven’t met you — the head coach of Cornell wrestling — but one day I will, and you’ll have no idea how important you’ve been in my life. Your ability to turn good quotes into great ones, twist mundane concepts into hysterical analogies and say things that make me stare in shock or grab my sides … it has meant so much to me as an editor. Thank you for being you.
Sincerely,
Josh Perlin

I’m sure you and your team will make fun of me/you now, but that’s also OK because my other love is how strong this program is. Wrestling takes home individual and team titles every season, is one of the nation’s best squads, has one of the most dedicated fan-bases I’ve seen in any sport and at any level … YET, SOMEHOW, the team slips under the radar of the student body. It should not, and it’s a travesty. If there’s one thing you should do if you haven’t done it already, aside from seeing a hockey game, it is
GET A COPY OF THE 2007-08 WRESTLING POSTER. MADNESS. BEST POSTER IN CORNELL HISTORY.
Really, you should, but you should also
GO SEE A WRESTLING MATCH AT FRIEDMAN. IT IS AMAZING.
And that’s my final thought about this team: it has THE BEST facility at Cornell. Go see a match at the Friedman Wrestling Center. Some common responses I’ve received to that advice have included: “The What?” “Where?” And my personal favorite: “Morgan Freeman has a building at Cornell?” No. It’s the Friedman Wrestling Center, the first and only stand-alone collegiate wrestling center in the country, the next building past Bartels and the second building after Lynah. Go there, Feb. 22 & 23. See a match. The atmosphere is the best at Cornell behind the Lynah Faithful, and far better than Newman Nation.
Basketball
Speaking of Newman, I’m seriously in awe of the level of talent on this year’s men’s squad. The Red could very well SWEEP the Ivy League, and although that’s looking way too far ahead for my liking, the fact that I can say that is incredible. Consider that Penn and Princeton have won the Ancient Eight for all but two of the last 40 years … it’s stunning. I’m in love.
By the way, the women are also in first place too. Looming in the distance are this weekend’s colossal clashes with Harvard and Dartmouth, the two teams tied with Cornell atop the Ivy League. I covered this team a year after it won one Ivy game (three all season!) and finished dead last. In two seasons, head coach Dayna Smith has transformed her program in incredible fashion. Worst to first, and the chance to prove you’re the best: it doesn’t get any better. So…
GO TO WOMEN’S BASKETBALL TONIGHT, 7 P.M. IT MIGHT BE THE MOST IMPORTANT GAME OF THE SEASON FOR ANY SPORT, AND THE BIGGEST IN TEAM HISTORY.
How cool is it that both basketball teams might win the Ivy League and make the NCAA tournament? If we win, I’m going. Basically, I love you basketball teams.
Fencing
Iryna Dolgikh, Russian gold medalist and world champion, is a fencing coach of incredible talent, wisdom and venerability. She is also author of the best quote in the history of Cornell athletics (not to mention the best accent in the history of Red athletics): responding to a reporter asking about the dangers of fencing, she simply stated, “there are many deaths.” And wasn’t kidding.
There is also a great story out there about how Dolgikh was once fencing back in the day, got stabbed through the leg, continued to fence afterwards — and won. We need more stories like this.
Some of the words used to describe Cornell fencing since Dolgikh arrived three years ago have included “crazy” and “fencing haven.” Either way, this program is getting better now after years of poor results, and it’s because of the great work put it in by Dolgikh and her coaching staff. Plus, “there are many deaths” is like a warning to all journalists to write good things.
Rowing
Lightweights: You are Cornell’s only National champion. You are our finest team. Enough said. And to all the crews — lightweight, heavyweight and women — you are arguably the most dedicated and physically fit group of athletes on campus. Your workouts: I don’t know if I’ve heard of anything like them. You deserve so much more credit than you get for doing what you do.
Squash
Maybe the most underrated college sport. If nothing else, it is certainly a personal favorite. The strength it takes to hit hard, the finesse you need to hit drop shots, the coordination you need to hit the ball properly and the angles you need to be aware of to play effectively make this sport so much fun, yet incredibly difficult to master. There won’t be any more home games this season, but go see a match next year …
And in headlines we call them squashers.
Lacrosse
Probably my favorite Cornell sport to watch. As I recently explained to women’s lacrosse head coach Jenny Graap ’86, I’m a convert: before I got to the East Hill, I had covered lacrosse but never really watched games for fun. Now, I can’t get enough of them. Cornell has two of the finest programs in the nation, and I love watching them. It was a pleasure for me to cover the men’s team two years ago and a thrill to see it soar to the NCAA semifinals last season. And the women’s program is fantastic too, it’s just … why is there no hitting? Personally, I think that’s absurd.
Golf
We have one of the best collegiate golf courses in the country. I should play before I graduate … maybe you should too.
Polo
The smell of horses in Oxley is overpowering — I hate it. But I love polo. The game is uniquely inspiring: seeing a group of horses jockeying for position while ferociously charging at you is an awe-inspiring display of speed and power. Moreover, the players are hitting a moving target with a small mallet from on top of a fast-moving and debatably controllable animal: that’s not exactly easy to do, yet over the last 15 or so years, nobody has done it better in the entire country than our Red riders. That’s truly impressive.
Equestrian
Nobody knows about this team, but it is the subject of the greatest article in the history of athletics public relations: “Meet the Horses: Introducing Peter,” which is a serious article on Cornell’s athletics website, profiling a horse. Yes, there is a serious article on Cornell’s athletics website, profiling a horse.
Tennis
So much fun to watch the personality of these teams. They have a great time on the court and always put on a show. It’s too bad the Reis Tennis Center is so far from campus because the crowds would file in for these teams. They’re competitive in every match and have flare and personality … and yes, that is possible.
Baseball
Watching a game from atop the Schoellkopf Field parking garage ranks among the best spectator experiences in all of Cornell sports. Period.
Soccer
Professionally, this might be my favorite sport of all. Cornell hasn’t been very successful, but I don’t care. I just love watching the games. Maybe I’ll imagine we have Zidane or Messi playing for us … we definitely don’t. (If you understood that last sentence, read on: my favorite team is Real Madrid, I’m a huge fan of Arsene Wenger, my favorite player of all-time is Zinedine Zidane and my favorite current player is Lionel Messi. It’s my V-Day column, so I can say this stuff).
Swimming
I love the title chase by last year’s men’s team. I feel awful for the women’s team’s 2006-07 season. I think this season will hold more parity between the two. That is all.
Field Hockey
Honestly, my favorite thing about this team is that it didn’t think we realized it was doing well, even though we were running league standings showing it in second place — the highest position of any Fall squad. Memo to the squad: we knew.
I’m just kidding … I think you just need to lighten up a little. Maybe click the link to (senior) Katie Bradshaw’s summer internship a few more times. What that’s doing on Cornellbigred.com, in the same place as links to the team roster, schedule and statistics, I have NO IDEA. Send your thoughts on that to sports-editor@cornellsun.com.
Gymnastics
2007 National Title*.
* sort of.
Seriously though, this team’s 2007 finish was not only incredible, it proved the program is making huge strides. I’m always a fan of improvement.
Volleyball
Deitre. The Return of Deitre. That saga was amazing, and it made for a great story with a wonderful ending: after leaving Cornell, Collins-Parker happily returned less than a year later to her position as head coach, while her husband landed a position as an assistant coach with the women’s basketball team. What better way to celebrate V-Day than find true happiness?
Hockey
First, I love how much the women are improving. I’m especially happy for the seniors, who have been through so much. A very bright future awaits this program thanks to head coach Doug Derraugh ’91.
As for the men’s team …
Wow. Lynah Rink. That atmosphere is amazing, easily the best at Cornell … oh and, yes, the team’s pretty good too. Fairly or unfairly, the success of this team seems to drive fan momentum for all of Cornell sports. It’s the linchpin sport of the University, the most critical one of all: when it wins, people are happy and optimistic; when it loses, a dark cloud shrouds the campus (it could just be the weather though).
It’s incredible that one team can have such a profound effect on people, and it’s something I’ll never forget. If there’s one thing I will always remember, it is sitting in the press box at Lynah, listening to the crowd, watching the Red break out through the neutral zone to the beat of thousands of fans chanting as one. Thank you for the memories.
I will always love you, Cornell sports. Whether we’re together or apart, thank you for everything. Happy belated Valentine’s Day.