In what might be the most important game of the season for the men’s lacrosse team, No. 5 Cornell (8-2, 3-1 Ivy) will face No. 6 Princeton (7-3, 3-0) tomorrow in a matchup between the Ivy League’s top-2 teams.
Despite looking up at the Tigers in the Ivy League standings, the Red has a better national ranking than the Tigers and defeated the Tigers, 17-4, when the two squads faced off last season. Cornell owns the No. 2 offense (12.2 goals per game) and defense (5.8 goals allowed per game) in the country, while Princeton has the 25th-best offense and fourth-best defense (6.1 goals per game). But a slip against Princeton, Cornell’s fiercest rival – the only squad with a winning record against the Red in the history of the Ancient Eight and the winner of the Ivy League from 1995 through 2004 – would spell doom for the Red’s hopes of defending its league crown and endanger its seeding in the NCAA tournament.
“Princeton is just playing so well and is so capable at both ends of the field. We’ve really got to bring a solid brand of lacrosse down there to secure a victory,” said head coach Jeff Tambroni. “I think any time you play a team of Princeton’s caliber with Princeton’s rich history of such success and tradition, it provides a wonderful environment to go down there and to compete and play. For us and for them, there’s just so much on the line right now. Every game is just so important, and a game of this magnitude becomes that much more important.”
Princeton is coming off a 9-7 victory over Harvard, a team Cornell beat two weeks ago, 10-3. The Red beat Dartmouth last Saturday, 18-9, in its biggest offensive outburst since 2001. With both teams riding momentum into such a highly anticipated game, Tambroni believes controlling nerves will be a key factor in the outcome.
“I think with all that on the line, there’s just that a lot of excitement going in and you hope that your kids play with the poise that they’re capable of,” Tambroni said. “Sometimes games like this can certainly drive the excitement and the energy level to a point where you don’t focus and make plays that you’re capable of and we just hope that our guys just play with the excitement and the enthusiasm of a very good game – which I think this game is going to be – but also play with the focus and the poise.”
The Red’s offensive strategy is still being refined after a string of contests in which players and coaches agreed the team was over-dependent on the midfield players. The team will look to play more balanced lacrosse, attacking from various angles and with numerous players.
“We’ve relied heavily on our midfield, and I’m sure Princeton is going to key in on our midfield,” Tambroni said. “But the bottom line is you still have to go to your strength and make sure that guys like [senior co-captain] Joe Boulukos and [freshman] Max Seibald are creating when we need them to. I think we’re going to try to take as much pressure off those two as we can, but we also realize that those are the two guys that have really spurred our offense and allowed us to break down defenses.”
According to Tambroni, Boulukos’ three goals and three assists and invaluable leadership earned him the “Man of the Match” against Dartmouth. Both Boulukos (19 goals, 11 assists) and Seibald (16 goals, 8 assists), despite their responsibilities on offense, have capable help.
Junior attacker David Mitchell is the nation’s leading scorer at 3.2 goals per game. Senior Derek Haswell is the team’s second leading scorer at 2.1 goals per game, the 19th best average in the nation. Senior Eric Pittard’s 19 assists in 10 games rank him 11th-best in the country. Between Boulukos, Pittard, Haswell and Mitchell, the Red have four players in the top-30 in the nation in points per game, all of whom have surpassed 30 points on the season.
Princeton has the fourth-best defense in the country, and although the Red holds an advantage in nearly every major statistical category on both ends of the field, one category the Red is sorely lacking in is faceoff percentage. The Tigers have won 47.4 percent of its faceoffs, while the Red has only won 43.4 percent. In a close game, faceoffs could be the deciding factor in who has the ball in the final minutes.
Defensively, the Red will be much more conservative than it was against the Green. Cornell took more chances against Dartmouth as it tried to start the transition game, but with so many weapons on the offensive end, Tambroni’s squad will not look to take any chances unless they are handed to the side.
“Princeton may not necessarily be that kind of a team that you want to do that to full time because they’re so capable offensively that they’ll just run right by you,” he said.
Princeton has an extremely balanced attack, led by Peter Trombino and Scott Sowanick. Although the next-closest Tiger has only 15 points, the team has four players with 10 or more goals scored – only one fewer than the Red.
“I think they do a wonderful job of sharing the ball, creating balance within their offense. I think every one of their guys is capable, I think that’s the team that scares you the most,” Tambroni said. “They play so many people at both ends that they can, No. 1, wear you down, and [No.] 2, they’re dangerous at every position and in every player that they put out there.”
Archived article by Josh Perlin Sun Assistant Sports Editor