Last season, the Red hosted Princeton on Oct. 30 and lost, 3-2. It was the team’s penultimate Ivy League game of the season and second conference loss, crushing its hopes for a title, as the contest was essentially the league’s championship game, according to head coach Donna Hornibrook.
“It was the best game that our program has played since [my arrival at Cornell],” she said. “We’re not that team this year.”
In fact, the team will post its first losing record in Ivy play since 2004 — the year Hornibrook took over the program.
The drop in results has been a source of adversity for the team. Sophomore forward and leading scorer Hannah Balleza acknowledged that in comparison to last year, this season has been hard to swallow.
“We lost some really tough games to teams that we easily beat last year, so it’s been extremely frustrating for all the players and the coaches,” she said.
In particular, the club defeated Columbia, Penn and Colgate last season, but has lost to all three teams this year. However, the Red remained competitive in those contests, indicating to Hornibrook that the team is not far from being a title contender.
“I look back at the Penn game … we hit the goalpost and that would have tied the game. We were carrying the play. I really felt like that was a momentum changer,” she said. “And then we were pushing Columbia, we were carrying the game and hit the goalpost on a penalty shot which would have tied the game. It’s one or two plays a game, but that’s the difference between winning and losing.”
Hornibrook noted that with an experienced team, it is possible to have more control over the critical plays. However, Cornell suffers from a lack of experience this year, springing from two areas — youth and adjustment to new positions. Of the 23 players on the roster, 16 are underclassmen (six freshmen), and according to Hornibrook, eight or nine of the starters this season are adjusting to new positions.
Nonetheless, the team has won three of its last four games, which junior midfielder Katie Laventure credits to the players getting more comfortable in their roles and to the development of chemistry on and off the field.
“[The chemistry] builds trust that definitely translates to our game play,” she said.
Senior co-captain and goalkeeper Alex Botte believes the off-field chemistry on this year’s team is the best it has been in her four years in Ithaca, pointing to a loss at Yale, 7-2, on Oct. 1 as a turning point in the season.
“Our team got together and really defined what we were looking for this season,” she said.
Botte and the other Red captain, senior forward and midfielder Olivia Boyd, have both been pleased with the emerging leadership from younger players, including Laventure and junior midfielder Genevieve Collins. Among the sophomores, Boyd believes Balleza and midfielder Mallory Bannon have assumed strong roles on the field. Botte mentioned fellow goalkeeper and sophomore Carolyn Horner as a player who is not only vocal, but also well-respected.
The foundation for future success appears to be forming, but the Red will first look to finish the 2011 season strong in its four remaining games. The team hosts Brown and Rugters this weekend, before ending the year with games at Princeton and Dartmouth next weekend.