April 11, 2001

Dissecting the Loss

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So you’re reading the game story, reading the analysis and trying to figure out what the heck happened, right? Sure, 14-10 isn’t that bad of a loss for the men’s lacrosse team, especially to one of the best teams in the nation. But, if anything, Syracuse doesn’t appear to be as strong as it was last year.

So why then? Why couldn’t this Cornell team repeat the triumph of last year, taking down the top-flight Orange squad for the second year in a row? Syracuse was 2-2 in its last four games and lost 14-13 in a hard-fought match with Loyola when it squandered a late lead. Shouldn’t this have been our year again then?

Well, no.

Our focus should be less on what Cornell did wrong compared to last year, but more on what Syracuse did right. This can be broken down to four simple points that added up to a four-goal loss for the Big Red.

1. Location, location, location. Syracuse has lost 11 games in its 20 years in the Carrier Dome. While it’s true that Cornell is responsible for two of those losses, the Dome ranks as just about the ultimate in home advantages.

There’s a couple of reasons for this. The one that seems most evident is not really the biggest factor. The crowd yesterday was not all that impressive in terms of size or volume. The pep band and those that made the short trip were a loud contingent for the Red, holding their own in the big stadium. Two other things played more into Syracuse’s favor though.

First, playing in the Dome is like playing lacrosse in a 747. The pressurized environment makes for a very strange feeling. Something isn’t right, though it’s hard to put your finger on exactly what that is. Syracuse is used to that, Cornell is not.

The second reason location is so important is weather. Last year, Cornell-Syracuse was played in the wonderful elements of Ithaca, N.Y. In a slew of weather that could best be described as “really shitty,” Cornell did to Syracuse what teams in the AFC East do to the Colts when they play on the road. Syracuse is better when it’s not slipping and sliding, and when its precision passing is, well, precise.

2. Penalties. Last year Cornell took four penalties, but gave up no goals to Syracuse when a man down. The squad also converted on both extra-man opportunities (EMOs) it was presented with. While Cornell was again perfect this year with the extra man (three for three), the squad took an extra three penalties this year and yielded two goals. This may not sound that bad, but to beat Syracuse, this team had to play perfect. Holding a great EMO team to 2-for-7 normally would be great news, but yesterday it was not good enough. The penalties were good penalties, products of the hard play head coach Jeff Tambroni asked his team to play, but when you spend a good bit of time killing off penalties the offense can get out of synch and the defense gets tired.

3. Defense and goaltending. Last year, Cornell gave up 12 goals to a Syracuse team that was likely more potent on offense than this year’s group. When it had to last year, the Red defense clamped down, holding the Syracuse offense without goals for long periods of time, including the last half of the last period. This allowed a patient Cornell offense, led by Sean Steinwald ’00 and eventually then freshman Michael Egan to get the Red back in the game.

For his part, junior goalie Justin Cynar played well yesterday, and was very good in several situations. Regardless, his performance was nowhere near as magnificent as his game against the Orangemen last year, not so much a knock on yesterday’s game but more a tribute to last year’s unworldly performance. Head coach John Desko talked yesterday about how important it was for Syracuse to take Cynar out of his game, and for the most part the Orangemen managed to keep the junior from getting much momentum until the fourth quarter. By that point, it was too late. The defense let him down at times, but nonetheless Cynar did not have his “A” game yesterday.

4. Pulling away. While Cornell never allowed itself to get more than a goal or two behind last year, yesterday the squad was staring directly into a 13-7 hole just into the fourth quarter. Six goals against a quality defense and an even better goaltender just wasn’t going to happen, not in 15 minutes and not on the road. Had Cornell managed to keep the deficit down to two or three, it could very well have pulled away at the end, just as it did last year.

There you have it, my four keys to yesterday’s game. It wasn’t a great loss, but the team has a lot to build on from and showed flashes of brilliance yesterday. In the meantime, we’ll just have to wait for next year, when the location, location location is once again Ithaca.

Archived article by Charles Persons