When a lacrosse team scores 15 or more goals, as the Red did in a four-game stretch that included wins over No. 16 Yale, Penn, Harvard, and No. 7 Syracuse, guys who do the “little things” usually get overlooked. But in a game like the Red had Saturday, a hard-fought 8-7 win over No. 11 Dartmouth, the little things are what win games.
What are those little things? Ground balls, clears, and forced turnovers — statistics that are usually secondary to goals and assists for most people. But they are statistics that are at the heart of what the defensive midfield position is all about.
“They do get overlooked,” said Cornell head coach Jeff Tambroni about the Red’s defensive midfield. “Not by the players or coaches, but by those who judge the talent of college lacrosse players.”
However, the purpose of this unit isn’t to score goals, it is to create scoring opportunities by controlling possession and quickly moving the ball upfield to the Red’s talented attacking corps.
If the team finds itself in a struggle though, it can simply be the unit that controls possession for the team, allowing it to have a chance at timely scores. Tambroni believes they are doing a good job in both facets.
“They’ve been fantastic in transition, getting us a lot of the offensive opportunities we’ve had” he said. “[They also] enable us to get more possessions with their work [in the middle of the field].”
The work of a defensive midfielder is usually made harder because, with the exception of the long-pole position, they all play with shorter sticks than true defenders use, thus making it more difficult to force turnovers and control the ball.
“It’s the toughest position to play in college lacrosse,” Tambroni said. “They do everything that defensemen do, just with short sticks. That’s what is the most impressive thing about the position.”
Two of the players who are key contributors to helping the Red offense from the defensive midfield position are junior Dave Bush, who is third on the team with 32 ground balls, and junior Mike Pisco, who plays the long-pole position and has a team-high 35 ground balls.
Despite not being listed as a defensive midfielder, senior J.D. Nelson serves a similar role, as he is in charge of the bulk of the faceoff duties for the Red. Nelson has won 47 percent of his faceoff attempts, while he has collected 34 ground balls.
Because of all this talent that Tambroni has to work with in the middle of the field, he changed some of his coaching styles this season to showcase his team’s speed. This allows the Red to find more ways to get transition opportunities and also more shot attempts by getting them the ball as often as possible.
“It was a conscious coaching change based on personnel,” Tambroni said. “When you have the athletes that can run from defense to offense [quickly] … and we have the guys will the skill to do that, you try to get more transition chances.” So far this coaching strategy has worked. Despite the fact that Tambroni has said he has had to live with some more turnovers because of the faster pace his team has adopted, the Red has put up an average of 11.89 goals per game and has outshot its opponents by an average of just under 10 shots per game.
Hopefully for Cornell, it can continue this scoring pace in its remaining regular season games — contests with Princeton, No. 18 Brown, and Hobart — and into the NCAA tournament. If it can, all those little things that the defensive midfielders do will amount to some big things on the national scene.
Archived article by Chris Mascaro
Sun Sports Editor