As the saying goes, it’s lonely at the top. Cornell is the sole remaining team in the country without a loss or tie in the season. Ranked No.10 nationally, the Red is in for one of the most challenging games of the season, travelling to Providence, R.I., to square off against No. 18 Brown on Saturday afternoon.
The matchup between the two conference contenders is predictive of a battle on the pitch. Sitting at first and second place, respectively, in the Ivy League, Cornell (12-0-0, 3-0-0 Ivy League) and Brown (10-1-2, 2-0-1) have had very competitive, challenging schedules leading up to this weekend.
Preparing for the weekend, the Red has focused on both the mental and physical aspects that the team will need to succeed against Brown, according to senior goalkeeper Rick Pflasterer.
“We know [Brown is] a tough team and this will be a battle,” he said. “We believe in what we do and it will be a matter of who has more desire throughout the whole game. Our goal is to minimize their chances and maximize ours. If we can execute early on, it will boost us through the game.”
Reflecting on the past few weeks, Cornell has been consistently gaining momentum as the season has progressed. Last Saturday against Yale, the Red picked up its 12th consecutive win, shutting out the Bulldogs, 3-0, and breaking a school record in the process. Senior forward Tyler Regan, sophomore midfielder/defenseman Atticus DeProspo and junior striker Daniel Haber put Cornell on the scoreboard, as Pflasterer recorded his third shutout of the season.
According to the senior netminder, the pressure to keep the opposing offense scoreless is always present, regardless of which team the Red is competing against, because a shutout cannot result in a loss.
"I'm not fully satisfied unless our defense comes out with a shutout because ultimately I am responsible for our defensive result,” Pflasterer said. “If we don't let in any goals, we can't lose, so we're striving for that clean sheet."
After last week’s decisive victory, the Red finds itself at the top of the Ivy ranks with nine points for the second straight year. With four of the toughest matches of the season —Brown, No. 3-ranked teams Princeton and Dartmouth and No. 5 Columbia — still ahead on the schedule, Cornell will need to work hard to finish off the season on a stronger note than last year, where the team went 0-1-3 through the final four matches.
“It is definitely in the back of our minds that we went 3-0 last year and we didn’t come out with the Ivy League title, but this year is a completely different story,” said junior midfielder Stephen Reisert. “We have totally different focuses and we aren’t going to settle for anything less than coming out with the title. This weekend is a huge game and everybody knows it. We’ve been preparing for it like every other game this season and we are looking forward to hopefully coming out with a result.”
Despite Brown leading the overall series, 35-19-5, Cornell is prepared to match the Bears’ level of competition and intensity on game day. With both teams being nationally ranked and separated by just two points in the Ivy standings, the Red will have its work cut out for it.
“Every game that we play is going to be a huge challenge,” Haber said. “Historically, especially in the past few years, Brown has been doing well … as a nationally ranked team, they are probably the best opponent on our schedule and we know they are going to give us a run for our money. At the end of the season we might be looking back and saying that this is the game that decided the Ivy Championship.”
With their sights set on the conference title, the players have been “keeping their heads down,” according to Haber, as the team focuses on the task ahead.
“We know that we will have to execute the game plan on both ends of the field — we have to be sharp,” said head coach Jaro Zawislan. “As we go through the season, the margin for error gets smaller and smaller and so our team has to be sharper and shaper on both ends of the field. … We are striving in our training sessions to fine tune a few things and striving for perfection.”
On the other end of the field, the Bears have been working equally hard to achieve a winning season record. Last weekend, Brown edged Harvard out, 2-1, in an overtime victory, before shutting Boston College out 1-0 on Tuesday. The team’s offense has recorded 19 goals this season — much less than the Red’s 35, while the defense has held 13 previous opponents to just seven goals this season. In net, Sam Kernan-Schloss has a 0.56 goals against average — the lowest of any goalie in the Ivy League.
After Saturday’s game at Brown, Cornell will return to Berman Field for two games before closing out the regular season at Columbia.