The No. 9 Cornell men’s lacrosse team will travel to Princeton, N.J., tomorrow, where it will take on the No. 7 Princeton Tigers. The highly anticipated matchup will take place at 5 p.m. at Princeton’s Class of 1952 Stadium and will also be aired live on ESPNU.
The Red (8-4, 3-2 Ivy) will be looking to bounce back from last weekend’s tough home loss to Brown, a loss that placed the Red in a three-way tie with Yale and Brown for second place in the Ivy League. The Tigers (9-3, 4-1 Ivy) also had a tough weekend, falling to Harvard, 11-8, in Cambridge.
With the last game of the regular season inevitably comes speculation regarding the playoffs. After an unpredictable weekend, the last three spots in the four-team Ivy League Tournament are still up for grabs, with five teams vying for them (only Princeton is guaranteed a spot and only Penn is already knocked out). To further complicate matters, the way games are scheduled this weekend makes it theoretically possible for the Ancient Eight to end the season with a four-way tie for first place.
Whatever the implications of this game may be, the Red maintains that it is not looking at this as anything more than just another game against a quality opponent.
“We’re trying to put aside all distractions; we’re focusing on one game,” said associate head coach Ben DeLuca. “We’re really focusing on Princeton. Princeton is a big enough task as it is… the Cornell-Princeton game is one of the biggest games of the year, year in and year out, so that carries enough weight. We’re just going to work on our getting one win, ending the regular season the proper way and hopefully setting [ourselves] up for a run at the postseason.”
Sophomore attackman Rob Pannell agreed, saying, “It’s just a matter of not looking at all that’s going on. It’s just another game against a very good opponent, and we know that if we go in there and play the way that we are capable of playing that we will be successful."
In the Tigers the Red will find an extremely accomplished opponent that has already secured at least a share of the Ivy League title and will be looking to take the top seed in the Ivy League Tournament.
"They have an incredible amount of talent on their roster from top to bottom,” DeLuca said. “They returned a lot [of players] from their quarterfinal team of last year and that’s certainly a strength of theirs. [This year] they ran a new system offensively; it’s a little more freelance, a little more open. Defensively they have the same personnel or similar personnel and a coach that’s worked with them before, but they also seem to have opened things up a little bit defensively as well in terms of ... pressuring opponents and forcing them into mistakes.”
Like Princeton, the Red has also had a solid season, but has suffered from a pair of losses to unranked Brown and Dartmouth.
“We had a good week of practice going into Brown, but I think it definitely could have been better,” Pannell said. “I think the level of energy we played with against Brown was not consistent throughout the game.”
However, the Red knows what went wrong in those games and has worked to make corrections in preparation for the showdown with Princeton.
“Obviously we’re coming off of a pretty disappointing weekend against Brown and we want to correct some mistakes that we made,” DeLuca said. “In preparation for Princeton we’ve just really done a good job of studying film, putting together a great scout report and game plan and executing that game plan early in the week … in preparation for their unique offensive sets and defensively some of the personnel they have back there. It needs to be a total team effort. We never single out individuals, ‘Hey, this guy needs to play better than this guy.’ But I think we’re certainly going to look to our captains, Pierce Derkac and Ryan Hurley, to lead the way along with the rest of our senior class.”
With stellar performances coming from players such as Pannell (who has tallied over half of the Red’s assists this season), Hurley (who notched his 123rd career point last weekend), as well as Derkac (who forced two turnovers and had eight groundballs last weekend), the Red knows that it will be able to hang in there with the Tigers and has an excellent chance of earning a share of its eighth-straight Ancient Eight title.
If the Red beats Princeton tomorrow it will gain the first seed in the Ivy League Tournament, provided Brown beats Dartmouth. If the Red loses, the loss will open up a litany of possibilities that could place the Red anywhere from second to sixth place in the final Ivy League standings.
“We’re treating it as a championship game and actually it is; the Ivy League title is still on the line,” Derkac said. “It’s a one-game season right now; basically all of the marbles are going to be on the table. We hold our destiny in our own hands this weekend.”