As the No. 10 women’s lacrosse team (10-2, 5-1 Ivy) sits just one win away from earning at least a share of the Ivy League title for the first time in the program’s history, much of the credit is due to an constantly improving defensive unit.
“They work so hard every game,” said head coach Jenny Graap ’86. “They have really come together as a unit.”
After holding Syracuse and Yale – two teams that average almost 22 goals a game combined – to just 11 scores this past week in two Cornell victories, the Red has now emerged as the No. 1 defense in the nation.
Senior goalie Maggie Fava, who earned Ivy League Defensive Player of the Week honors for her play in the two games, has been one of the key components to Cornell’s backfield success. Having played every minute of the season, Fava is second in the nation with a 6.92 goal against average and fifth in the nation with .539 save percentage.
“Fava is having an outstanding season,” Graap said.
However, Fava has not done it alone. Anchored by the leadership of senior captain Lyndsay Robinson and with the help of a breakout season from junior Anne Riordan, the unit has thrived.
“Riordan is having a breakout year,” Graap said. “She is playing exceptionally well while shutting down the top player on the other team.”
In fact, holding opponents’ top offensive player to a minimal impact on the game has become Cornell’s trademark. Against Syracuse, Riordan helped hold the Orange’s Kathryn Rowan, who had 41 points coming into the contest, off the score sheet. A few days later, she limited Yale’s Lauren Taylor – the leading scorer in the Ivy League – to just one assist.
Though the Red has been dominant on defense recently, the season did not start that way. In just its second outing of the season, Cornell surrendered 17 goals in a loss at Notre Dame.
“We were shocked,” Riordan said. “Everyone tried to do too much. There was no concept of sharing work and Notre Dame capitalized on that.”
Following the loss, the defensive unit came together to recommit itself to playing Cornell defense – a style that relies on cohesion and teamwork. Since that time, the Red has become a force in the backfield.
“The key to our defense is that there is absolutely no individual play,” Riordan said. “Everyone is always backing up everyone else. We can take risks because we know exactly how our teammates will react and cover our backs.”
Graap agreed with Riordan, also noting the improved performance since the beginning of the season.
“We’ve developed the chemistry to support taking risks,” Graap said. “We can anticipate picking off passes because we can think a couple of steps ahead. If someone slides out to double up on a player, someone else will slide to cover her back.”
In being able to establish this type of Cornell defense, Riordan believes that they have been able to dictate the play of opposing attacks.
“We are able to set the tone. We can control the game even when we’re on defense. If we do that, the other teams have no chance at all.”
Graap praised assistant coach Laurie Tortorelli for helping bring about the current defensive success by laying the groundwork over the past four years.
“She has really brought a lot of continuity to the program. She deserves a tremendous amount of credit for the defense in general.”
Meanwhile, Graap also applauded the great work done by the entire team, especially defensive starters Robinson, Riordan, junior Ashleigh Smith and sophomore Jessica Dwinell, for the dedication they have shown in making every effort on the defensive end.
“There are a lot of solid players that really form a strong nucleus back there. We have a lot teamwork and a lot experience.”