April 19, 2002

Ivy League Showdown: Cornell vs. Princeton

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The men’s lacrosse team (9-1, 4-0 Ivy) has won nine straight games, climbed the polls to No. 5, and taken down the top team in the country. Yet tomorrow, when the Red takes the field in Princeton, all of its past accomplishments won’t mean a thing.

The top two teams in the Ivy League will clash at Class of 1952 Stadium at noon with a share of the conference title on the line. For Cornell, a win ensures it a top finish for the first time since 1987.

Even with the stakes high, the Red is approaching this contest with the same mentality that has worked for it so far this season.

“I think we look at it as another game,” remarked freshman Sean Greenhalgh. “Sure, there’s a lot on the line, but it’s just another game.”

“We’ve been telling our guys not to make this a game about the Ivy League championship, and make it a game [that’s just] Cornell vs. Princeton,” agreed head coach Jeff Tambroni. “Be who we are and do what we do well. And we’re hopeful that what we do is to be successful on Saturday.”

The Tigers (5-4, 2-1) have history on their side. Princeton has hoisted the last seven Ivy championship banners and has defeated the Red six consecutive times. Those six Cornell losses include the only three times it has ever played at Class of 1952 Stadium.

In last year’s meeting, Princeton trailed 4-1 as late as the third quarter. With the Ivy crown at stake, the Tigers rallied to score six unanswered goals in a 7-4 win. That’s a result this year’s Cornell squad is not eager to duplicate.

“We know we have a great opportunity this year,” declared junior defenseman Ryan McClay. “We don’t want this senior class to look back on this season like last year’s class looked back on theirs.”

“I think the seniors feel that they have worked very, very hard their entire careers to put themselves at this point,” concurred Tambroni.

The Tigers’ star has not shone as brightly this season as it has in the past. Their in-conference win streak was halted at 37 games by Yale, keeping the Cornell record of 39 safe for a while. The Red is also ranked ahead of No. 8 Princeton — the first time since 1990 that the Tigers have faced a higher-ranked Ivy opponent.

“There’s a lot on the line, every year,” said senior co-captain Josh Heller. “It’s the biggest game of the year. It’s an Ivy League game, and it’s the one we want to get. I can’t wait for the game.”

If Cornell can hold off the Tigers, it will earn its 18th league championship, which would be one shy of Princeton’s Ivy record 19.

A Red victory would also mathematically eliminate the Tigers as well as the Bulldogs from a share of the Ivy title.

The spotlight will shine brightest on the matchup between McClay and his teammate on the U.S. national team, Princeton’s Ryan Boyle.

McClay successfully held Syracuse’s Josh Coffman, one of the nation’s top attackmen, to just one assist and no goals last week.

Meanwhile, Boyle leads the Tigers in points with 34 and assists with 20. He and Greenhalgh are the current Ivy League Co-Players of the Week.

In net, Red senior Justin Cynar owns the worst save percentage in the league despite owning the top goals against average in the league. However, his ability to perform extremely well in important games has been well-documented.

“Justin Cynar more than anybody is a quote-unquote big-game player,” noted Tambroni. “For one reason or another, I think that when the game is on the line, Justin Cynar has just been a guy that we can count on.”

Cynar’s counterpart, Julian Gould, is tops in the Ancient Eight with a .627 save percentage.

“He’s a very good goalie, and he’s extremely good low,” praised Greenhalgh.

The Red is coming off a week in which it knocked off top-ranked Syracuse, 15-11 as well as defeating Ivy opponent Dartmouth. Greenhalgh scored 11 goals in the two games, breaking the Cornell single-season freshman scoring record.

Princeton, on the other hand, has rebounded after a slow start to win three straight contests decisively.

“I don’t think that there are many secrets between Princeton and Cornell. Ultimately it’s a similar game with a similar team,” observed longtime Princeton head coach Bill Tierney.

The eyes of the lacrosse world will be on Princeton to see if the Red can defeat the defending national champions and unseat them from the Ivy throne. But as Greenhalgh put it, the magnitude of the game doesn’t come from its importance in the standings as far as his team is concerned.

“Just the fact that this is the next game makes it the biggest game of the year.”

Archived article by Alex Fineman