April 2, 2007

M. Lax Defeats Penn With Big Second Half

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One day before the April showers rained down on Ithaca, the men’s lacrosse team rained goals on Penn all afternoon, picking up a 20-5 victory.

With the sun shining, the Red (7-0, 2-0 Ivy) got a chance to put on a show in front of its home crowd for basically the first time this season. Saturday marked Cornell’s first home game in over a month, and first home game where paltry crowd members didn’t have to dig their seats out of several feet of snow. Instead, a robust crowd of 4,268 fans cheered on the Red.

[img_assist|nid=22425|title=Twinkle toes|desc=Senior Eric Pittard (5) comes out from behind the net, looking to feed a linemate. The Red scored 15 second-half goals en route to a 20-5 win on Saturday.|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=69]

“We had been away for a while from Schoellkopf,” said senior co-captain Matt McMonagle. “It was a gorgeous day, and there were a lot of fans out there so we were just happy to have the opportunity to play in front of our home fans.”

“I think it’s pretty subtle [the crowd effect],” said sophomore midfielder Max Seibald. “When you’re in the game, you don’t hear it maybe as much as someone in the crowd. But it’s kind of nice if you take a step back every now and again and take a listen. You get a good boost.”

The Red came out with heart and energy, but not necessarily intelligence. The Red’s enthusiasm translated to a misguided over agressivenessness on defense. While they hounded the Penn (4-4, 1-2) attackers, knocking the ball out of their sticks and not allowing much penetration or movement, the Cornell defenders were whistled for six penalties in the first half.

“We had been playing defense quite a long time, and the fact that we were fouling as much as we did took the air out of the ball and created a tempo that was more conducive to Penn,” said head coach Jeff Tambroni.

Penn’s offense, described as efficient and sharp by the players, took little time in capitalizing. Quaker attackman Craig Andrzejewski fed teammate Alex Salihi cutting in front on the cage, and Salihi netted the opening goal with a running shot. The Red tried to pick the pace up and push the ball downfield more, but again over compensated, throwing the ball away several times on long, arcing passes down the field.

“We were forcing a lot of shots on offense end,” Tambroni said. “We were almost playing too quickly.”

Still, the Red proceeded to reel off four straight goals to end the first quarter, and then led off the second stanza with a tally, making the score 5-1. The run was highlighted by a fantastic no-look goal from senior David Mitchell. Junior Rocco Romero had tried, unsuccessfully, to find room to penetrate or any cutters to dish the ball to. He charged the cage, but ran into a wall of defenders and lost the ball. Mitchell — who netted five goals and an assist on the day — picked up the ground ball and flipped it over his left shoulder amidst four Penn defenders.

That goal made it 2-1, and goals by junior Henry Bartlett, Seibald and senior Eric Pittard — who went on to tally seven points — put the Red up by four. After a Penn goal off a dying shot that McMonagle took a stab at and barely missed, the game went stagnant. The Quaker’s deliberate attack couldn’t move the ball or penetrate, and most of its opportunities therefore came from 10 to 15 yards out.

“I think in the second quarter they did a good job possessing the ball and being very smart,” said McMonagle, who finished with nine saves, including several acrobatic ones that forced him to drop to his knees. “They are a very efficient offense, when they get their opportunities they finish them.”

The teams went into the locker rooms with the score at 5-2, almost identical to the score at the half of last year’s Cornell-Penn matchup.

“These guys to my left [Seibald, Mitchell, McMonagle] are some of the guys that do most of the talking in the locker room. They were firing each other up, yelling constructive criticisms to each other,” Tambroni said. “Not yelling at each other, but saying we have to do this and we have to do that. When we [the coaches] get in there it’s more about ‘X’s and ‘O’s and calming them down in terms of the way we were playing.”

Tambroni calmed the team down and told the squad to keep playing with the same energy, but to tighten up and focus the attention on making smarter decisions. Indeed, coming out in the second half, it was like night and day for the Red’s offense. The team created opportunities on offense and finished them at high clip.

“I thought we did a much better job between the 30s on ground balls,” Tambroni said. “I felt like we played just as hard in the first half as in the second half, but we trimmed things up a bit and played more intelligent and capitalized on the opportunities we had.”

“The middies did a good job just moving and maybe the attack did a better job today of just trying to flow a little better,” Mitchell said. “I think we just basically saw each other today. Maybe at times we jammed the ball a little but I thought it just went well. Everybody had a good day.”

The Red dominated the shot totals in the second half, getting off 16 to the Quakers’ 11 in the third period, and popping off 14 in the fourth, compared to seven for Penn. The Red shot 51 times on the afternoon, compared to 36 for Penn. The third stanza was the real breaking point, however, as the Red netted nine of its 16 shots, scoring every which way.

The Red scored in transition, off give-and-go’s, by feeding streaking attackers in front of the cage. A smothering riding game, and gaining control at the face-off circle — going 3-for-9 in the first half, 6-of-12 in the third period — allowed the Red to counter attack and net several nice goals. On one, Seibald picked up a ground ball at midfield on a failed Penn clear, saw only one defender ahead of him, and charged down the middle of the field. He drew the defender to him before dumping the ball off to Michell who deked the goalie for the senior’s fourth goal. On another, sophomore Rocco Romero scored off a dodge down the right side before netting the shot.

“Once we started winning face-offs it helped with our transition,” Seibald said. “[Junior] Johnny Glynn came in and jump-started our face-offs and did a great job. [Sophomore] Tommy Schmicker did a great job starting in the second half. I think our goal is to push the tempo starting in the defensive end and push transition, and I think we did a great job of just staying on top of the ball and pushing it forward.”

Even with the second-string players in, the Red continued to dominate, out-scoring Penn 6-0 in the last period, a testament to Cornell’s depth and conditioning.

“I think our conditioning is one thing that we have an advantage of over other teams because we just work so hard,” Seibald said. “That’s the basis for everything else and why I think we were pushing the ball so well.”

“I felt like those guys [the second-stringers] went in there and shared the ball and did a great job and certainly left a much better taste in our mouths knowing that we completed our tasks in the third and fourth quarters,” Tambroni said.