While it is in the driver’s seat for earning an Ivy League title and an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament, the No. 6 Cornell men’s lacrosse team (7-2, 4-0 Ivy) might be faced with its toughest challenge of the season when it hosts Princeton (3-6, 2-1 Ivy) tomorrow afternoon at Schoellkopf Field.
It might not be unfair to say that the Red finds itself in some unfamiliar waters, facing the Tigers — league or co-league champions since 1992 — as the Ivies’ undefeated pacesetter. With three teams deadlocked in second place with only one loss apiece, a Cornell win would ensure the Red at least a share of the league title. A Dartmouth victory over Brown this weekend would give Cornell the Ivy’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Thus, all of these implications make tomorrow’s game against Princeton potentially the most important encounter of the season.
“With the playoff structure as it is right now, with it being so tight outside of the automatic qualifiers … it’s important to win any way you can,” said Cornell head coach Jeff Tambroni.
Although on paper Princeton’s record does not seem too flattering, looks can be deceiving. Five of Princeton’s six losses have come to opponents ranked within the top-17 — an all-star list which includes No. 1 Johns Hopkins, No. 4 Virginia and No. 7 Syracuse. The Tigers will be fighting for their postseason survival, as a loss would prevent Princeton from having any shot at winning the league title or even get a berth into the NCAA tournament because of their sub-.500 record.
The Red has struggled against the Tigers in the past. While an overtime goal by senior Justin Redd pushed the Red to victory at Princeton last year, that win snapped an eight-game losing streak against the Tigers. In addition, Princeton has not lost to the same Ivy League school in consecutive years since the 1989 and 1990 seasons.
“I think they’ve got three losses to three of the best teams in the country and if you put any team in the Ivy League into their schedule, we’d all probably be going into the game with the exact same record that Princeton [has],” Tambroni said. “The teams in the Ivy League understand how good Princeton is and how talented they are outside of their record because of the competition they play.”
Princeton, which is coming off a dominating wins over Butler and Harvard a week ago, will be lead by the attacking trio of Peter Trombino, Jason Doneger and Scott Sowanick – a group which has combined for 43 goals and 25 assists so far this season. On the defense end, Tigers goaltender Dave Law, who boasts a 7.56 goals against average, will try to stop a prolific Cornell offense, which has average 12.5 goals in four league games this season. The Red is coming off three wins in eight days, capping its run off with an 8-7 win against Dartmouth. While Tambroni acknowledges that the team did not play its best game against a rugged Green squad, he said that this past week of practice helped his team refocus and fully prepare for tomorrow’s game.
“I just felt like in [those] last eight days, we’ve worried so much about our opponents that we haven’t had anytime to worry about ourselves,” Tambroni said. “I think we let a lot of stuff go and it really showed at the end of the week against Dartmouth.”
One Cornell player who is on a hot streak is junior Joe Boulukos, who after coming off his seven-goal, one-assist performance at Syracuse over a week ago, was named Division I Player of the Week by Inside Lacrosse, as well as Ivy Player of the Week. Senior attack Sean Greenhalgh will look to continue his streak of 28 consecutive games of finding the back of the cage for the Red, while classmate Kevin Nee’s 21 goals makes him Cornell’s third leading scorer. The Red’s defense has also allowed a mere 6.25 goals a game in this year’s league action.
Yet, Tambroni knows that all those statistics can be thrown out the window with a potent Princeton team coming to town. He said that the Red will need to keep mistakes and sloppiness to a minimum and perform well in half-field sets. While Cornell has been solid in close encounters – it is 9-0 in regular season one-goal games – Tambroni said his team needs to be gritty and tough against a hungry Princeton team if it wants to come away with the win.
“I think we have to believe that we can beat them because this is an extremely talented team and they’ve had such a strong hold on the Ivy League for the last number of years,” Tambroni said. “[Princeton] is still the team in the Ivy League to beat.”
Archived article by Brian Tsao
Sun Assistant Sports Editor