Offense wins games, they say, but defense wins championships.
If the time-honored aphorism is true, then the men’s lacrosse team has the makings of a champion. The strength of the Red lies in keeping the ball out of its net, and head coach Jeff Tambroni will be counting on his defenders to hold opposing scorers down.
The Red certainly has a good starting point upon which to build its defense. Cornell permitted a meager 7.62 goals per game last season.
Last season’s total of 99 goals against was the best effort by a Cornell defense since 1982, when the Red allowed just 90 goals and finished third in the nation.
The 2002 model of the Red defense isn’t too much different from last year’s fifth-ranked ‘D.’ Cornell lost just one defenseman from last season, Bobby Werhane ’01.
“The same guys who started last year are basically the same guys [this year]. We’re a year stronger, I’ve been playing with most of them for two or three years now,” said senior goaltender Justin Cynar.
Cynar is the core of the defense, coming off a season where he posted a .614 save percentage, ranking him ninth in the country. His 7.38 goals against average was good for fifth in the nation. That figure is a testament to both Cynar’s freakish ability to shut down strong teams, as well as the defensive unit’s talent for keeping opposing shot counts down.
His tendency to make clutch saves is almost being taken for granted by the rest of the team, which has seen him turn in superb performances over the past three seasons.
“Justin Cynar isn’t extraordinary anymore because we expect him to [play well] every game,” explained Tambroni.
Cynar was named a preseason first-team All-American, as was junior tri-captain Ryan McClay, the only non-senior defenseman to garner such an honor. He has been named to the All-American team in each of his seasons with the Red, and was also selected for the U.S. World Championship team’s roster this coming summer. McClay had 54 ground balls last year, second only to senior faceoff specialist Addison Sollog.
“Personally, I want to be one of the top five guys in the country,” McClay said of his individual goal for the season. “The only way that’s going to happen is if our defense is one of the top five in the country. And I think we can be.”
Senior tri-captain Brandon Hall will also play a major role in keeping opposing offenses in check. Hall’s 34 ground balls ranked fourth on the squad last year, and he recorded 35 ground balls the season before.
Junior Chris Viola and sophomore Tim DeBlois should also have an impact on the Cornell defensive effort.
From the midfield position, senior longstickman Josh Heller, a preseason third-team All-American, will provide solid support for the defensive corps. Heller, a tri-captain, will likely draw the opposing teams’ best midfielder. Heller has been named to the All-Ivy team twice.
Backing up Heller will be seniors Bill Flannery and freshman Kyle Georgalas, a product of McClay’s alma mater, Mahopac High School.
Junior Frank Sands and sophomore George Boiardi will also be key contributors to the defense from their midfield position. The pair could be the most athletic players on Tambroni’s squad.
“Our middies are the most athletic bunch on the field, and getting them to know the defense is going to be a big help,” noted Cynar.
The athleticism of the defense as a whole, paired with the intense work ethic that characterizes the team should make for another season of low opposing scoring totals.
“It’s not our goal to improve our rank as much as it’s our goal to play better as a defense together,” concluded Tambroni.
Archived article by Alex Fineman