The lacrosse postseason arrives in Ithaca on Friday as the No. 2 Cornell men’s team looks to lock up the Ivy League’s automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA tournament to go along with its regular season title. The top-seeded Red (11-2, 6-0 Ivy League) will take on fourth-seeded Yale (10-3, 3-3) in the day’s second semifinal game at 8 p.m. at Schoellkopf Field.
The first game of the day will pit No. 2 Penn against third-seeded Harvard and is set to begin at 5 p.m.
Cornell’s prolific offense comes into the weekend as the second-best in the nation, averaging 13 points per game. Leading the charge is junior attackman and co-captain Rob Pannell, who was unanimously chosen as Ivy League Player of the Year for the second consecutive season on Tuesday. Pannell leads the nation with 5.46 points per game and is considered the prohibitive favorite to win the Tewaaraton Trophy, given to the most outstanding college lacrosse player each year.
Pannell is only one piece of a dynamic Red offense, however. The unit also features senior attackman David Lau, junior midfielder Roy Lang and sophomore attackman Steve Mock. Lang received first-team All-Ivy League honors, along with Pannell, and Lau was voted to the second-team. Despite missing two games, Lau ranks second on the Red with 35 points, while Mock, who also missed some time, has scored 27 goals on 69 shots this year. A strong presence near the net, Lang has 22 goals and six assists in 2011.
“We’re definitely confident. I think we definitely have some experience just working together,” Lau said of the team’s offense.
“Coming off a couple wins that we’ve strung together here, the team is ... confident, but our confidence comes not from our success, but from the way we practice,” added senior midfielder Jack Dudley.
While the Cornell defense has improved throughout the season, one question going into the Ivy tournament is who will be minding the Cornell net come game time — sophomore A.J. Fiore, or freshman Andrew West? West played well after replacing the struggling Fiore early in Cornell’s win over Princeton on Saturday.
“A.J. had an off-day, but we’re confident he can bounce back,” Lau said, declining to say who the starter would be. “We’re pretty confident with both goaltenders.”
Without mentioning names, Dudley added that he expects the situation in net to be “business as usual.”
Whoever plays in goal will be solidly protected by long-stick midfielder and first-team All-Ivy choice Max Feeley, who has become one of the best at his position in all of lacrosse. With sophomores Jason Noble and Mike Bronzino, as well, the Red’s defensive unit has proven the team isn’t just about offense.
Yale has had a solid 2011 regular season as its program continues to grow in national prominence. The Bulldogs picked up a couple of impressive road wins this year, including a triple-overtime victory at Penn, 10-9, on April 1 and a win at Georgetown on April 23, 13-8.
In the two teams’ only meeting this season, the Red beat the Bulldogs in Ithaca, 10-8, behind Mock’s four goals and two assists — dished to Lau and Pannell. Midfielder Gregory Mahony was the high scorer for Yale in the contest, finishing with three goals.
“Yale has played us tough before. It’s going to be a great challenge for us,” said Dudley.
If Cornell moves past the Bulldogs, the Red will likely not have a preference of an opponent for the final game. Cornell barely snuck by both the Crimson and the Quakers with an identical 13-12 score in two games this season. On March 26, Cornell beat Penn at home in overtime, when Lang scored the go-ahead goal in the extra period. On April 9 in Cambridge, Lau had one of the finest games of his college career, netting five goals to go along with three assists as Cornell escaped with the win over Harvard.
When asked about who would win the other semifinal — Penn or Harvard — Lau couldn’t make a prediction.
“You never know in the Ivy League, especially this year,” he said.