“There is no substitute for the Ivy League environment.”
According to head coach Jaro Zawislan, the eight Ivy League schools combine to form one of the most unpredictable men’s soccer conferences in the country, where each game is full of surprises. On Saturday night, over 700 fans witnessed just that, as No. 22 Cornell (9-0, 1-0 Ivy League) went on a 10-minute scoring spree and defeated Penn (2-8, 0-1), 3-2.
Kicking off the Ivy League portion of the 2012 campaign with a win was critical for the Red, according to Zawislan.
“It’s very important to start the season 1-0 in the Ivy League,” he said. “Ivy League men’s soccer doesn’t have the conference tournament of the end of the season, so you don’t have do-overs … Every game is almost like a play-off game.”
It was that must-win attitude which fueled the high level of competition that both Cornell and Penn brought to the field on Saturday night. The Red started the night in control of the field, dominating all of the chances on goal for the first 10 minutes of play; however, at just over the 11-minute mark, Penn sophomore midfielder Louis Schott locked his sights on the net and shot a rocket past senior goalie Rick Pflasterer. The Red was stuck in a 1-0 deficit for the third game in a row.
“We let up a goal pretty quickly and we need to change that,” Pflasterer said. “[Penn] came out hard and we should expect that. It’s an Ivy League challenge and all of the Ivy League games are high intensity, so we need to be on our game a little more coming off the start.”
After the early-game wake-up call, the Red’s performance on the field sharpened up and an offensive showdown began. After 20 minutes of trying to capitalize on chances and even the score at one-all, sophomore midfielder Conor Goepel lit up the scoreboard for Cornell. Junior midfielder/forward Stephen Reisert crossed the ball to the left side of the penalty box, where Goepel chested it down and rocketed it past Penn’s Tyler Kinn. The games was tied, 1-1, and the Red was back in control of the momentum on the field.
Less than three minutes later, junior forward Daniel Haber racked up his 14th goal of the season. Haber headed the ball into the net after Kinn deflected a shot by senior forward Tyler Regan. The goalie knocked the ball away after Regan took a hard shot, but Haber was waiting in the wings to tap it in for the lead. Sitting at 2-1, Cornell was in control of the game and exactly four minutes later, Reisert doubled the Red’s lead to 3-1.
“We were all really fighting at the end of the half and we were on a little bit of a ride of momentum,” Reisert said. “[We] just happened to be really putting it to them at that moment and it came to me and I scored it.”
Reisert scored his first goal of the season — and ultimately the game winner — after receiving a pass from Haber, who found his teammate alone on the right side of the box. Reisert slammed the ball and sent it past Kinn, giving the Red a comfortable two-point lead going into the second half.
After the break, Cornell maintained a competitive edge over the Quakers, leading in both shots, 10-4, and corner kicks, 10-3. While the game looked like it was in the bag for the Red, Penn was not going to go down without a fight. The Quakers scored its second goal of the night on a fluke bounce, which Pflasterer could only describe as a “weird goal.”
Penn senior midfielder/forward Travis Cantrell fired a hard shot towards the net, but junior Patrick Slogic’s head was in the way. The 6-5 defender tried to head the ball away from Pflasterer in goal, but the ball was knocked in the wrong direction, hitting the crossbar before falling into the net. Pflasterer was unable to change directions, slipping in the process as he tried to make the save.
Despite the narrowing gap, Cornell was able to hold onto the lead for the remaining 20 minutes of play and walk away with the ‘W’ — as well as an unblemished 9-0-0 overall season record. Saturday night’s game showed that anything is possible when two Ivies go head-to-head. Last year’s contest was equally eventful, as Haber scored at 88:33 to earn a 1-0 win over Penn, marking the first time the Red has beaten the Quakers since 2005. The victory is important for Cornell as it begins the Ivy portion of the season.
“There was a good performance on both sides of the ball, so we are going to take those 3 points and the first win in the Ivy League and keep building on it,” Zawislan said.Cornell has a full week to prepare for its next game — an Ivy League contest in Cambridge, Mass. against familiar foe Harvard on Saturday at 4 p.m. After digesting Saturday’s win, the Red is fully focused on the next game at hand.
“We’re all pretty stoked right now,” Reisert said. “The only thing we can really think about now is our next game, which is a really big one. We just have to keep on focusing and keeping our heads straight.”
With the season past the halfway point, each game becomes progressively more important as conference rankings begin to factor into which teams will make the NCAA tournament at the end of next month. With everything on the line, the Red is preparing for the challenge that awaits.“We’re coming for everyone and everyone is coming for us — that’s the way the Ivy League is,” Pflasterer said. “Any game can go anyway and we are excited to start off the season like this.”
With the win over Penn, Cornell advanced to 9-0-0 for the first time in the program’s history. Additionally, the team exceeded its goal count from last year, scoring its 26th of the season with Reisert’s game-winner. As the Red continues to shatter previous school records, including most consecutive games with a goal, fans are beginning to take notice. Over 700 fans came to support Cornell on Saturday, which was a season-high number. According to Zawislan, the fans are a “12th player on the field.” “Our responsibility is to keep going after positive results and stepping on the field and providing the fans that are supporting us with a quality product and excitement for our style of play,” he added.
Reisert and Pflasterer also recognized the fan’s support on the field, crediting the fans in the stands to multiple momentum shifts on the field as the players could hear the chanting throughout the game.
“The atmosphere here was just unbelievable and it’s been a long time since it’s been that way so hopefully it can continue,” Pflasterer said.