Consistency, preparation and focus are the name of the game for collegiate lacrosse. Development and improvement are inevitable if teams and players focus on these key ideas.
These factors have been especially important for the success of the Cornell men’s lacrosse team, given its large freshmen class. With 17 freshmen on the roster, head coach Matt Kerwick emphasis on senior leadership has been key in helping all of the younger players transition to collegiate lacrosse and college in general.
Despite a talented crop of freshmen and a senior class that has consistently provided leadership all season, the Red has struggled this season, posting just a 6-6 record including a 1-4 conference record.
“I think that our team has developed very well through the season,” said senior midfielder Ryan Matthews. “On the offensive end, I think our chemistry is improving and we are becoming more comfortable playing with each other.”
Matthews has 17 goals and three assists on the season thus far and has proved to be one of the Red’s most consistent players.
The senior leadership is definitely working, as evident by the success of the freshmen, who have proved themselves to be some of the most valuable players on the team.
Freshman attack Colton Rupp is leading the team with 22 goals; freshman midfielder Ryan Bray is tied with senior midfielder John Edmonds for most assists with 12 and also has nine goals; freshman midfielder Clarke Petterson has nine goals and four assists. In addition to those three, freshman attack Anthony Teixeira has four goals and four assists. Rupp, Teixeira and — most recently — Petterson have all won Ivy League Rookie of the Week at some point in the season.
“The younger guys have done a great job thus far,” Matthews said. “They continue to improve everyday.”
Senior midfielder John Edmonds has also been a key leader on the team.
“It’s nice playing with Edmonds,” Rupp said. “He’s really showed us the way, and all the seniors have whose us what college lacrosse is like and how hard we work here, and it’s just been a great opportunity and really exciting so far.”
Edmonds is one of the few offensive players on the team who saw much play time last year. Even the upperclassmen on the squad this season did not play much in 2015, a year that was highlighted by the elite play of the class of 2015.
Rupp is only the fifth player in Cornell men’s lacrosse history to have at least 20 rookie season goals.
Edmonds noted the freshman class’s marked improvement.
“I think they’ve really done a great job adapting to the change of college lacrosse,” he said. “They’ve picked it up extremely quick, and they continue everyday to get better and better, which is extremely impressive.”
Many of the freshmen were thrown into the fire immediately, tasked with carrying the offensive load against powerhouses like Virginia, a team that Cornell upset earlier in the season.
“I think all the freshmen have improved throughout the year making better decisions and realizing how college lacrosse is played,” Bray said.
Most of the class agrees that the fast pace of collegiate lacrosse is the biggest difference between high school and college.
“Everything moves faster in college and there’s less room to make mistakes,” Teixeira said. “You have to be sharp every day.”
At least four freshmen have started in each of the Red’s past 10 games. After a thrilling win over Syracuse, Kerwick said that they “weren’t freshmen any longer” after seeing so much valuable time on the field throughout the course of the year.
With a young team, though, comes fewer expectations, and, following the Red’s loss to Penn State to begin the season, the Red has not been ranked in the top 20 all season.
Yet there have been bright spots. In addition to strong offensive development, Cornell is also dominating the face-off and ground ball game, just as in last season.
Junior midfielder Domenic Massimilian, who broke out last season and finished with an incredible 151 ground balls and .645 faceoff percentage (first in the Ivy League, seventh in the country), is having a solid season once again with 109 ground balls and a .637 faceoff percentage. He now ranks sixth in Cornell history for most career ground balls third for most career faceoff wins. His most dominant performance of the season came in a 19-5 blowout of Dartmouth where he won 17-of-20 faceoffs.
The Red’s defense has also been solid, with senior goalkeeper Brennan Donville and senior defender Tony Britton providing sound leadership.
“We [have] always had an expression on our team,” Donville said. “We say ‘well done is better than well said.’ If there’s something you want the freshmen to do, if there’s a way you want them to play or way you want them to act when they’re with Cornell lacrosse, you don’t tell them how to act that way [but] try to show it everyday in practice.”
Cornell’s man-down defense ranks first in the nation, and Britton’s 32 caused turnovers put him ninth in Cornell history. Britton ranks 18th in the country in caused turnovers per game with 1.64.
However, a recent loss to No. 3 Brown this past Saturday, all but sealed the Red’s postseason fate, and this weekend’s game against Princeton is mostly about pride.
“We have to put this one behind us because now it’s a pride game against our biggest rival in Princeton next weekend,” Kerwick said. “The focus has to go to that.”
Nevertheless, Brown has the best offense in the country, and it’s important that the Red look at the positives that have come away from the season. Kerwick has stressed senior leadership and mentorship all season and firmly believes that it is up to the players, not him, to determine their lacrosse fate.
“We say to these guys all the time ‘it’s your team, it’s not our team,’” he said. “ It’s up to you guys to bring the intensity and the effort and if you do that and we put the practices together that we think are necessary to win, those two things combined are going to give the outcome we want.”