Even since he became the head coach at Cornell six years ago, Jeff Tambroni’s squads have prided themselves on controlling play inbetween the 30-yard lines. However, when Tambroni and No. 6-seeded Cornell reflected on their 10-9 loss to UMass in the first round of the NCAA Tournament on May 13 at Schoellkopf Field, they were almost at a loss for words explaining unsuccessful clears, sloppy turnovers and the inability to pick up key ground balls. As a result, the Red failed to earn its way into the competition’s Final Four for the third straight year.
“I guess just overall, we’re obviously disappointed that our season comes to an end now, but not disappointed with the way our guys competed,” Tambroni said. “[It was] just uncharacteristic of our team, we thought that today, some of the turnovers we had down the middle of the field, I thought the game was won and lost in between the 30s.”
Although Tambroni noted that there was much to be proud about for a team labeled to be in a “rebuilding year” by some, Cornell justifiably had a bitter taste in its mouth after a game that was eventually decided by Andrew Recchione’s 20th goal of the season with 2:34 left in the contest after he rocketed in a shot from 15 yards out off a Clay Stabert feed.
In some ways, Cornell dug its own grave. Its notable troubles on face-offs this year, winning only 43.9 percent, came back to haunt the Red. UMass’ Jake Deane, who came into the contest winning 61.4 percent of face-offs, took 17-of-23 decisions against the combination of senior Ivy League Player of the Year Joe Boulukos and freshmen Max Seibald and Tommy Schmicker.
“When you look at the stats, they’re all fairly even except that one so it was a huge factor in the game,” said UMass head coach Greg Cannella. “We had 19 turnovers but any time they scored, it seemed like we got the ball back and any time we scored, it seemed like we got the ball back so I thought it was a huge factor and I give Jake a lot of credit for that.”
This problem was made worse by the fact that UMass won the ground ball category, 38-27, including holding a 24-14 advantage in the second half. Cornell also had some troubles clearing the ball during the game, being successful in 13-of-16 opportunities, while turning the ball over several times and failing to register any significant offensive momentum.
“We definitely played hard, that’s one thing we did consistently throughout the game,” said senior attack Derek Haswell, who finished with a goal and hit a pipe with a shot in the third quarter. “But we missed chances to pick up ground ball opportunities or catch balls coming over the midline that we just didn’t make.”
Despite Cornell’s troubles in the middle of the field, Cornell kept it close until the very end. Ivy League Rookie of the Year Seibald started making his presence felt all over the field — a role, which in years past, fell to his “mentor,” Boulukos. With less than six minutes to go, he won his second consecutive face-off against Deane, before finding junior Eric Pittard in transition and the attackman tied the game up at 8.
Then, on the ensuing face-off, Deane was able to pick up the ball but Seibald was able to force the Minuteman out-of bounds, giving Cornell the ball. Thirteen seconds later, after taking a hit, Seibald bullied his way around his defender and bounced one past goaltender Doc Schneider, who recorded 10 saves in the win.
“Coming down the stretch, taking the ball to the cage strong, the whole time I was thinking [about Boulukos], about the seniors and just trying to keep them around an extra week,” Seibald said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get that done.”
Deane, however, came through in the clutch, winning the game’s last three face-offs. As the clock ticked down, with 3:46 left in the contest, Fred Federico bravely darted right past his defender and blasted a shot by Cornell junior goaltender Matt McMonagle.
“I told the guys in the locker room that it takes a lot of courage to take a shot like that when you’re down by a goal and there are only a couple minutes to go in the game,” Cannella said. “But he’s that kind of a kid, so give kudos to him cause he did it against a pole and he was determined on the play and it was an outstanding shot.”
After Recchione’s tally put the Minutemen up, 10-9, Cornell had a pair of chances to even the score. Junior attack David Mitchell, who tallied a hat trick on the day, had a shot from close range saved within the final minute by Schneider.
Then, with 31 seconds remaining, Boulukos collected the ball and once again took his nemesis in the form of Jack Reid — the All-America UMass defenseman who had limited the Red midfielder to a single goal and a pair of unlucky shots off the metalwork that afternoon.
However, after trying to charge his way towards net, he was met by Reid and other UMass defenders, who forced the Cornell senior midfielder to put a meek shot on goal with seven seconds left.
“We knew they were going to go to the net and probably take one of our short sticks,” Reid said. “[Boulukos] did a hell of a job to get to the cage, [Schneider] got a piece of it and Sean Krygier came up with the biggest ground ball of the day. I think he saw me on the other side of the cage and did everything he could to get the ball there.”
“He’s just a big guy and he gets out in front of you and he covers so much ground, and when you think you’re by him he’s still able to get that stick out there and make a play,” Boulukos said of Reid. “I have to give him credit, he played great.”
As the Minutemen celebrated on the field after booking their trip to the next round, Cornell, for the third straight year, stood under the looming rain clouds, pondering missed chances and what could have been.
“When you aren’t picking up ground balls, when you’re not clearing at the rate you should be at this level of the game, at this juncture of the season, then you probably don’t deserve to win and UMass probably deserves to win because they made more plays,” Tambroni said.