For the first time since its heartbreaking 10-9 overtime loss to Syracuse in the NCAA national championship, the men’s lacrosse team returned to the field, hosting Penn State and Bucknell in the 2009 Fall Ball Tournament this past Saturday. It marked the first time during head coach Jeff Tambroni’s 12-year tenure with the team that Cornell hosted the round-robin tournament.
Besides providing coaches and spectators with a preview of the new-look Red –– one that returns only four starters from last season –– fall ball practices have also been a good learning experience for the program, according to Tambroni. Whereas in years past the team could always rely on one or two players at each position returning to aid the development of the offense and defense, this time around the Red is “starting from square one ... at certain positions,” Tambroni said in a press conference.
Nowhere is this positional ambiguity more evident than at midfield, where the team looks to fill the void left by graduated seniors George Calvert, Rocco Romero, three-time second-team All-American John Glynn and 2009 Tewaaraton Trophy winner Max Seibald.
“[Those four guys] did a great job of leaving behind a fairly detailed blueprint about what we want to look like at the midfield in all facets of the game,” Tambroni said.
Names at the top of the list to take over include sophomores Roy Lang and Chris Langton, junior Jon Thomson and senior Chris Ritchie –– all of whom have been doing “a great job ... picking up where [Seibald and company] left off,” Tambroni said.
The Red is more established at the attack, with the likes of returners sophomore Rob Pannell and senior co-captain Ryan Hurley; both successfully managed the offense in Saturday’s scrimmages by getting their teammates involved in plays. Rounding out the attackmen are junior David Lau and sophomore Scott Austin, who Tambroni acknowledged made some nice plays on the weekend.
Although the Red attack is not as ambiguous as is the midfield, Tambroni said that there is still a need for the team to get stronger in the area and develop more presence on the right hand corner.
The Red maintains a strong veteran presence defensively, despite being without the services of graduated senior Matt Moyer. Tambroni credits junior Max Feely and senior Pierce Derkac with stepping up their leadership roles and picking up more of the slack and responsibility that has been left behind. Right there with them have been seniors Andrew MacDonald and Michael Howe, both veteran faces on the team along with classmate Austin Boykin, who Tambroni said has done “a good job of picking up where he left off last year.” The Red hopes that having an already-established defense will allow its offense time to grow at the pace it needs to.
In evaluating Saturday’s contests, Tambroni credited several of his players with providing necessary depth, including sophomore attackman/midfielder JJ Gilbane, junior midfielder Shane O’Neill and Thomson; according to Tambroni, all of them are in the running for considerable playing time this spring. A group of freshmen also logged some quality minutes –– namely Kyle Ewanouski, Tom Trasolini, Thomas Keith and Cody Levine, who scored a goal in Cornell’s opening game against Penn State.
“[The freshmen are] showing signs that they’re going to be pushing those veterans for quality playing time, which is nice to have a little competition as we go into the winter months,” Tambroni said.
This sense of competitive spirit will also extend to the goalkeepers, in what is shaping up to be a two-man race between junior Mat Martinez and freshman AJ Fiore heading into the offseason. Who gets the start will be largely determined by which player does a better job of establishing the leadership and stability the Red will require come February.
Regardless of who is named Cornell’s starting goalie, he will have to “gain some valuable experience on the job ... and grow up quickly,” Tambroni said.
The same can be said at the face-off X; replacing Glynn will be by no means an easy feat, especially when considering the presence he managed to establish there, both offensively and defensively.
With eight practices under its belt, the Red is two-thirds of the way done with fall ball and is hoping to use its four remaining practices before the break to make the necessary adjustments and move the program in the right direction.
“We were exposed in a lot of different areas: offensively, defensively, riding and clearing –– both good and bad,” Tambroni said. “It’s what you want as a coach; it’s what you want as a team ... to take these fall ball experiences, both practices and scrimmage events, and just try to build on them.”