Forget that the men’s lacrosse team (7-1, 2-1 Ivy) is ranked No. 4 in the nation and Syracuse (5-3, 2-1 Big East) stands at No. 12. Never mind that the last time the two teams met, on April 12, 2005, a seven-goal explosion by then-junior Joe Boulukos fueled a 16-14 win, the Red’s first victory in the Carrier Dome since 1987.
Tonight, when Cornell and Syracuse face off on Schoellkopf Field, the Orange will bring a tradition of excellence that dates back to 1916 and includes eight NCAA national championships, with the most recent title won in 2004. While the Red can claim three national titles in its own storied history, its last championship run was in 1977, and the Orange holds an all-time 56-34 record in a series that dates back to 1920. Furthermore, Cornell hasn’t beaten Syracuse in two consecutive seasons since posting a pair of wins in 1981 and 1982.
“Syracuse is a very easy lacrosse team to get up for because they’re such a talented, tradition-rich, such a storied lacrosse program, that there’s instant respect for a team like that,” said head coach Jeff Tambroni. “So it doesn’t take a whole lot of motivation or pregame talks to get your guys excited to go out and play.”
After opening 2006 with a win and four straight losses, the Orange will arrive in Ithaca riding the momentum of back-to-back wins against Loyola and No. 8 Princeton. Redshirt freshman Peter Coluccini has anchored Syracuse in the two wins, notching 15 saves against Loyola and making a career-high 19 stops in a 7-5 win against the Tigers this past Saturday.
“I think that’s the one guy on the defensive end that you have to do the best job with and just make sure that you understand his tendencies,” Tambroni said. “He’s just been extremely hot as of late. I think he had a tough start to the year, but in the last three or four games he’s really come on and given Syracuse and Syracuse’s defense a huge boost and the confidence that they’ve needed going on this stretch that they’re on right now.”
But Coluccini is not the only weapon in the Orange’s arsenal – a fact of which Tambroni is all too well aware.
“I think we’ve learned from past years’ mistakes that we’ve just over-prepared for this team because they’re just so dynamic and so talented as a lacrosse team,” he said. “[We’ve learned] that you can prepare a day, two weeks, a month, and still not be fully prepared to compete against this team.”
Tambroni emphasized that efficient shot selection and taking advantage of scoring opportunities will be a key part of the Red’s game plan. By limiting Coluccini’s chances to make saves, Tambroni hopes keep a lid on Syracuse’s transition game. Fresh legs and energetic play will also be crucial for the Red, Tambroni said, as the Orange rely on an up-and-down style of play that can turn lacrosse games into “track meets.”
Mike Leveille has been the most prolific scorer for the speedy Orange offense, as he has accumulated 15 goals and nine assists this season. Brett Bucktooth adds scoring power with 11 goals and nine assists in 2006, while Joe Yevoli has found the back of the net 12 times and handed out seven assists this year. Because of the many challenges breaking down the Syracuse strategy, Tambroni has chosen to turn Cornell’s focus inward in preparation for tonight’s game.
“This is no offense to Syracuse, I think more than anything it’s to the respect that we have of them – that sometimes less is more,” Tambroni said. “You don’t want to confuse your guys too much with a complex game plan because they get away from what they’re doing and what they’re doing well.”
After suffering its first loss of the season to Penn on April 1, the Red rebounded with a 10-3 win over Harvard this past Saturday, which Tambroni credited to harder and smarter team play. Despite having only three days to prepare for the Orange, Tambroni hopes Cornell will be able to maintain its concentration on the field tonight.
“It’s more along the lines of getting out there with the focus of what makes Cornell Cornell, and just making sure that our guys are staying true to themselves and coming out there and competing the way that we’ve competed when we’ve had success,” Tambroni said. “If we can do that, then I think we stand a decent chance. If we give anything but that kind of effort, a team like Syracuse typically exposes you and makes you look like an awful poor lacrosse team.”
Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Sports Editor