April 13, 2007

No. 1 M. Lax Travels to Dartmouth for Ivy Tilt

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Crimson, Orange, Green. The men’s lacrosse team will continue to make its way through the Crayola box of colors tomorrow as it travels to Dartmouth for its fourth Ivy contest of the season.
After defeating Harvard and Syracuse this past week, the Red (9-0, 3-0 Ivy) begins a string of three Ivy matches to finish off its Ivy schedule. After a relatively uneventful win over Harvard last Saturday, Cornell squeezed out an exhausting, emotional win over Syracuse Tuesday night, racing the Orange up and down the field for a 16-15 buzzer-beating victory. For senior co-captain Mitch Belisle, the main task for the team is to simply refocus after such a draining win.
“Coming out of Syracuse, the biggest thing for us is just reinvesting the emotion,” Belisle said. “Everyone kind of let out a big sigh of relief. We need to prepare for a huge Ivy League game that can determine our fate in the Ivy League. We need to get the fire back in our bellies.”[img_assist|nid=22873|title=Ride, captain, ride.|desc=Senior Eric Pittard (5) challenges a Syracuse defender Tuesday night in the Red’s 16-15 win. Pittard leads the Red to Dartmouth this weekend to take on the Green.|link=node|align=left|width=100|height=73]
Dartmouth (4-4, 1-1) has had a made a habit out of low-scoring, tight games this season, sparring in three one-goal affairs. The Green secured wins in two of these contests, both against ranked opponents (then-No. 16 Notre Dame and then-No. 18 Brown). The win against the Bears was in quadruple overtime. The team has also won by a two-goal margin and lost by three goals. The Green’s numerous close calls this season may be attributed to a defense that likes to slow down the pace of the game, resulting in less passions on each end for both teams.
“We have to take them out of their game,” said senior attackman David Mitchell. “We can’t let them get comfortable. Maybe slowing it down is something they like on defense. We have to be ourselves, too, and play lacrosse like we know how. We have confidence that if we play hard and play together we’ll be successful.”
For a successful attack, the Red will have to get by Ryan O’Connor and Andy Gagel, the mainstays of a Dartmouth defense that has not given up double-digit goals since its March 3 tilt with Fairfield. According to Belisle, though, the Green’s offense — which, similar to the defense, has only tallied double-digit goals once since the team’s Feb. 24 opener against Duke — is actually the strength of the team.
“They [the offense] are the strong point of their team,” he said. “They’ve been getting some big numbers from their two main scorers [Ari Sussman and Nick Bonnaci]. We’ll have to key in on them and also play great team defense which we’ve had some issues with.”
Sussman, a freshman, exemplifies the youth of the Dartmouth attack, and leads the team with 18 goals, adding 10 assists for a team-high 28 points. Brian Koch, a sophomore right behind Sussman with 16 goals, is third on the team with 23 points. Bonnaci — who will Belisle’s assignment tomorrow — is the veteran of a young offense, and has equaled Sussman’s point total with 15 goals and 13 assists. Belisle explains that his strategy on Bonnaci will rely on looking back to previous matchups.
“I have a pretty good idea about him,” Belisle said. “I’ve matched up against him the past two years. He’s a real quick and shifty player, so I’ll have to keep my feet moving the whole time.”
Offensively, the Red has been pushing the tempo in transition the last two contests. After firing off an astounding 52 shots against Harvard, the team continued the shot barrage against Syracuse with 50 more — a pace which aided the Red, but spiraled out of control at times.
“We’re going to keep playing the way we’ve been playing, but we’ve got to work on playing more intelligently,” said senior midfielder Henry Bartlett. “Some of it’s just repetition [on drills in practice], another part is just shooting smatter shots; knowing when to pull it out and settle it down and knowing when to attack. Communicating better to your teammates will be a big part of that.”
Communication has also been a focus of the defensive unit this week in practice preparing for the games. In order to play coherent team defense, Belisle stressed the importance of talking on the field.
“A lot of it [team defense] is communication and trusting each other and knowing we will be there if we need to slide or send a double team,” Belisle said. “Having confidence is another major part of it, too. Giving up 15 goals to Syracuse was a shot to our confidence.”
The offense and defense can only determine the flow of the game to a certain degree as much is controlled at the face-off “X.” After several early-season dominating performances by sophomore Tommy Schmicker, the face-off specialist has cooled off since Spring Break against several particularly good face-off teams in Duke, Harvard and Syracuse. Tambroni has recently been going to a three-headed face-off team of Schmicker, junior John Glynn and sophomore Max Seibald to try and reverse the trend.
Dartmouth presents the weakest face-off team the Red have seen in a while, winning only 42.9 percent of the midfield battles. The Green do not have a clear cut face-off specialist, with no one lining up for more than 93 face-offs (Kyle Lagratta) on the season. Schmicker by comparison has racked up 143.
Still, Mitchell says the team is not too worried about setting any one particular tempo.
“I don’t think it’s necessarily that we want to slow it down or speed it up,” Mitchell said. “I don’t think we have any number of shots in mind that we want to take. You take what you think are good shots. If you think there are 60 good shots, you take 60 shots. If you think there are 15, you take 15. It depends on the looks we get.”
Meanwhile Bartlett brought up the fact that it is more important to have the whole team on the same page than to worry about the tempo.
“[I want to help] get the middies and attack to work together … just keep working on communication,” he said.