April 18, 2002

M. Lax Prepared For Ivy Showdown

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For the last two years, one game has decided the Ivy League championship — the Cornell-Princeton game. Since 2000, both teams have entered the annual contest undefeated in league play, and both times the Red (9-1, 4-0) lost, as the Tigers (5-4, 2-1) reeled off 37 straight conference wins.

This year, the tables have turned. Not only did Princeton lose its first league game in over seven years, it also comes into the game as an underdog. No. 5 Cornell is ranked three spots ahead of the Tigers, has a better overall record, a better record against common opponents and is undefeated in Ivy play. Princeton lost to Yale earlier in the year.

But don’t tell that to head coach Jeff Tambroni or anyone on his squad. Even though Cornell may be the favorite on paper, it certainly does not give itself that status.

“I’m sure [Princeton] coach [Bill] Tierney has got a team about being the underdog, but in my opinion and the guys’s, we’re still the underdog. We’re still the team that has lost to this team for the last three years, from our seniors’ standpoint. Until we beat them, we will be the underdog,” Tambroni said.

Cornell has not beaten Princeton since 1989 when the Red eked out a 4-3 win at home. Neither the coaches nor the players have ever beaten Princeton in their tenures at Cornell.

“As a senior class, there is one team that we have not beaten. Every year it’s a great game, with the Ivy League on the line,” senior tri-captain Josh Heller said, echoing Tambroni’s sentiments. “They’re the Ivy champs, and that’s the way we’re looking at it. We’re going in the underdogs in my mind.”

And lately, Princeton has been playing like the defending Ivy champion it is. With a pair of 18-4 wins over Harvard and Penn, sandwiching a 7-6 victory at Duke, the Tigers seem resolute on winning their remaining three Ivy League games.

“After watching the film on them, they’re very good. I don’t think their record shows how good they are,” junior tri-captain Ryan McClay said.

Three of Princeton’s four losses have been against top-five teams — Johns Hopkins, Virginia, and Syracuse. With its record, a win against a team like Cornell could be its last chance for an invite to the NCAA tournament, as either an automatic qualifier or at-large team. A loss to the Red would leave them on the outside of the 12-team tournament. On the other hand, a Cornell win gives the Red its first outright Ivy Title since 1987.

“They’ve beaten two teams that have beaten us. They’ve won nine in a row, we’re 5-4,” said Tierney comparing the two squads. “It’s interesting because when I started coaching, our goal had been to beat Cornell. These rolls have been reversed.”

Princeton can’t afford another loss on its season if it wants to reach the tournament.

“It’s not that we have a target on our back, as much as they have their backs against the wall. They are going to be an extremely hungry team,” Tambroni said.

“This is a must win game for them. They definitely think this is a chance to get in the Ivy League race,” Heller said, adding, “For us, we’ve never beaten them, so this is just as big a game for us as it is for them.”

Yet Tierney countered with his own logic: “Our seniors aren’t going out to win 3 of 4 games against Cornell.”

Saturday at 12 p.m., when senior Addison Sollog faces off against the Tigers’ Alex Vap, none of the rankings, media rhetoric, nor pre-game hype will mean anything. All that matters is which team is more focused and better prepared.

“This game is what I’ve been looking to all year and my entire career,” Heller said. “Since my freshman year, we’ve been trying to take the title away from [Princeton], and for three years we’ve failed. I don’t want to go out failing again. This is something I want, and I’ve always wanted.”

Archived article by Amanda Angel