The 2002 season was a year of firsts and first in a whiles for the women’s and men’s lacrosse teams. The women soared to previously unattained heights, while the men grasped at glory not realized in nearly 15 years. Each ended its season dangerously close to a national championship and enjoyed extended stints ranked the top 10. Both groups will be remembered as one of the great sets of laxers to go through the University.
The season ended abruptly right where it began for the men’s lacrosse team: at John’s Hopkins’ Homewood Field. Cornell ushered in its season with an 8-5 loss to Georgetown in the stadium and ended it with a 11-10 loss to No. 3 Virginia in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. .
Willed to the date with the Cavaliers by its trademark stingy defense, the play of stalwart senior goalie Justin Cynar and a balanced, potent offensive attack led by freshman attacker Sean Greenhalgh, the Red’s unlikely ride to the postseason came to a streaking halt.
The Red’s ultimate demise mirrored much of what took place back on Mar. 2 against Georgetown. As with the opening match, the Red suffered from long droughts on the offensive end — failing to capitalize on several of its quality chances. Poor ball controll never allowed Cornell to command the pace of the game as the Red experienced difficulty sustaining possessions. Still, the story of the day was an unexpected breakdown on the defensive end.
Accorded with the unenviable task of marking snipper Connor Gill, junior first-team All-American Ryan McClay was outclassed for the better part of the day, and despite a strong effort from sophomore longstickman Tim DeBlois on the Cavaliers’ leading scorer, John Christmas, it was Christmas who delivered the final blow, scoring the game-winning goal with just under four minutes to play in the contest.
The opening 3 minutes foreshadowed much of the tempo of the game; a quick strike for Cornell answered by an onslaught of offense from Gill and the Cavaliers. Coming off its first NCAA tournament win against Stony Brook, the Red drew first blood just 11 seconds in as senior face-off specialist Addison Sollog took control of the draw and found McClay, who raced in and fired it passed UVA netminder Tillman Johnson. It would be Cornell’s first and last lead of the game.
Controlling the possession behind the Cornell net, Gill broke free when McClay appeared to loose his footing and scored unassisted at the 2:57 mark to even the score. Gill ended the day with 10 points, including nine assists. He had a hand in all but the final UVA goal of the game. Two Joe Yevoli goals gave Virginia a 3-1 lead.
Greenhalgh – held to just two goals in the game – tied the game just over five minutes into the second stanza on a well-placed feed from senior Billy Fort. The score was the culmination of a series of dazzling passes that left the Virginia defenders looking like deer in headlights. It was UVA who fed off the energy though, rallying for five straight goals to open an 8-3 lead after heading into the intermission up 6-3.
Midway through the third quarter, the Red began to mount their bid at a comeback. In a span of less than a minute, Cornell scored three times – the last one a mirror image of the game’s first goal.
All week long, head coach Jeff Tambroni had fielded questions about Virginia’s high octane transition game, but after successfully neutralizing it for the better part of the day, it was in part the Red’s ability to use the entire length of the field that keyed its second half resurgence.
As it had been all season, the Red’s success in transition was the product of a stellar effort by Sollog at the faceoff X. The senior won 16 of 25 draws, helping to keep the score closer than it might otherwise have been. On two occasions, Cornell drew to within one point at 8-7 and 9-8. The final ten minutes saw the game see-saw back and forth but Cornell was unable to regain the lead. Appropriately enough, it was Greenhalgh who tied the game at 10 off a pass from senior Andrew Collins. The marker was his thirty-ninth, capping a record season for a rookie. It took less than two minutes for UVA to answer though, with Christmas delivering the game winner.
Cornell had its chances throughout the game, even as late as the final minute. Questionable officiating plagued the Red all day long, but the team squandered many chances on its own as well. With the score 4-3 in the second quarter, it appeared Greenhalgh had tied the game but it was ruled that his foot was in the crease.
The Red also squandered two extra man opportunities – a facet of its game that has struggled for the better part of the season. Cornell controlled possession in the final minute but it was ruled that a pass that appeared to deflect off the stick of a Virginia player, did not, giving the Cavs possession with just over 40 seconds to go.
Cornell put forth a commendable defensive stand forcing UVA out of bounds with 38 seconds remaining. With time running down, Fort found senior Scott Lee right in front of the net, but his attempt at a shot was stymied by a tenacious defensive effort by David Berman. UVA regained possession in the final seconds and let time expire.
It was the first time that all of the NCAA quarterfinals game were decided by one goal. The win draws UVA a match with Syracuse, who edged Duke 10-9. It was likely the Red’s win over the then No. 1 Orangemen that sealed its bid to the NCAA tournament.
Women Shine As Well
The lady laxers concluded the best season in program history with a 12-10 setback at the hands of Georgetown in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament. After dashing records game after game, Jenny Graap ’86’s troops met their demise in an overtime thriller. On five separate occassions, the Red came back from deficits.
Cornell fought valiently, tying the game with 17 seconds left as Kate Hirschfield set up Sarah Fischer for the score. Georgetown would garner the game-winner just 12 seconds into the extra session.
Senior Lori Wohlschlegel, who returned from an ACL injury earlier in the season, scored three times in the first half before sustaining an injury that left her sidelined. It would be the final game in the brilliant senior’s career.
En route to the meeting with the Hoyas — Cornell’s first trip to the Final Four, the Red bested seven-time consecutive national champion Maryland and dropped regional foe Syracuse for the second time this season. The wins represented the first NCAA tournament wins in program history.
Senior phenom Jaimee Reynolds led a quartet of All-Americans. Reynolds earned first team honors, while classmate Carrie Giancola and juniors Sarah Averson and Erica Holveck were named second team selections.
Archived article by Gary Schueller