April 23, 2007

Men’s Lax Clinches Share of Ivy Title

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“Princeton is the reason we don’t sleep at night,” said men’s lacrosse head coach Jeff Tambroni after Saturday’s clash with the Tigers.
With a 10-6 win over the No. 5 Tigers, however, Tambroni and his players may have taken some strides toward curing their insomnia. No. 1 Cornell (11-0, 5-0 Ivy) and Princeton (8-3, 3-1) have shared or won the last 12 Ivy titles, and Saturday’s contest clinched a share of a fifth consecutive Ivy League title for the Red. Senior co-captain Matt McMonagle’s outstanding goaltending (19 saves) and a dominant midfield performance — with multiple-goal days from junior John Glynn (three) and seniors Henry Bartlett (two) and Brian Clayton (two) — paced a patient Cornell offense that spent the afternoon making the most of its opportunities against the nation’s best defense.
“[The midfielders] did a great job,” Tambroni said. “It was obvious that Princeton’s game plan was to go at [the attackmen]. … They even three-poled a couple of times during the game. Give our middies credit, I thought they did a great job of taking what was there and not forcing too much.”
The Red burst out of the gate, putting up four first-quarter goals on a Tiger side that had only allowed five first-quarter tallies all year. Across the board, Cornell’s players agreed that the first few goals allowed everyone to relax and play comfortably — especially after only putting up four goals in last season’s 4-3 win over Princeton.
“That helps a lot; it takes pressure off of us,” said McMonagle, whose 19 saves were a career-high. “It helped us tremendously. You take a deep breath because you know the offense is going to be fine.”
Glynn sparked the early rally, with two of the team’s first-quarter goals. What wasn’t surprising was the Red’s offensive success, however, but how the nation’s top offense was netting its goals. Usually waiting to feed slashing cutters to the cage, Cornell spent most of the afternoon relying on shots from 10 yards or more away from the net. Princeton’s defense smothered Cornell’s main slasher, senior David Mitchell, holding him without a point.
“In the last couple of games we had taken a hundred and something shots against Syracuse and Dartmouth,” Tambroni said. “We knew we didn’t want to take that many shots against this particular goalie we just wanted to take great shots. We thought that if we shot the ball with good angle, especially coming from the midfield down we were going to generate good shots and hopefully have some success.”
The particular goalie that Tambroni was referring to was Tiger netminder Alex Hewit, widely considered to be one of the best goalies in the nation. Tambroni admitted that last year he thought Hewit’s reputation and skill may have gotten in the attacker’s head a bit, and attributed the Red’s confident play to its early success.
“I felt like some of our first six or seven shots were very well placed and we were fortunate they went in and at that point our guys just started to play very relaxed and very confident,” Tambroni said.
Just as the team tried to pick the pace up to work the transition game, though, the contest took on the look of a stalemate in the second quarter.
“I think we may have been pushing it a little too much, and just making some Stupid mistakes,” Glynn said.
Cornell only got off six shots in the quarter and barely had the ball, losing both face-offs and barely even getting an opportunity to create offensively on two extra-man opportunities.
“In the second quarter we didn’t really play any offense at all,” Tambroni said.
In one long, frustrating offensive sequence for the Red, the attack held the ball for several minutes but could barely even get a shot off. With the crease packed with bright orange Princeton jerseys senior Eric Pittard would pace the end line, poke his head out from behind the goal only to find no one open and have to spin back and trot to the other corner. After rotating the ball around the top through the point several times, the Red eventually settled for a weak shot.
In response, the Red defense stepped up, shutting Princeton down completely for the entire stanza. The Tigers took 13 shots, and none of them went in. With the defense forcing the Tigers into poorly angled shots, McMonagle was a contortionist in goal, stretching to not just deflect shots but catch them cleanly, even venturing out of the crease to swipe a few ground balls.
“Our defense dictated when and where their shots came from,” McMonagle said. “They’ve been called a possession team but they showed today that they can run and gun and our defense did a great job of shutting that down.”
McMonagle couldn’t put his finger on why he played well, however.
“I’ve not been feeling too well all week or today,” he said. “It was a clear day out there and I just got some good looks at the ball.”
Despite stifling a late Princeton flurry, the Red knew they would have to pick it up offensively in the second half to finish off the Tigers.
“We were definitely frustrated with the offense at half time and we talked about it,” Glynn said. “We came out in the second half, and Brian just came down the middle and opened the flood gates for a few goals. Second quarter, weren’t moving as much and I felt like we just got back to that in the second half.”
Glynn added that the team stuck to the original game plan of focusing on off-ball movement, although Clayton’s goal — which sparked three quick goals right after halftime to make the score 8-3 — came off simply dodging and bullying his way past his defender. The Red transition game, which Tambroni pointed to as one of the worst aspects of the Cornell’s performance (21 turnovers), briefly sparkled on the three-goal spurt. Senior Ethan Vedder picked up a ground ball after a lost face-off and shoveled it ahead to Pittard, who slung in a low shot at Hewit’s ankles with the Tiger defense still backpedaling and on its heels.
With a 9-4 lead going into the fourth quarter, Tambroni pulled a new trick out of his sleeve. An enormous crowd of nearly 11,000 strong saw the Red do something they have not done all season — play possession lacrosse. The Red took one shot the whole fourth quarter.
“We felt like at the end of the game possessions were going to be more important that goals,” Tambroni said. “It was a low scoring game. We looked back to the Syracuse game and really felt like we mismanaged that game. When it was 15-12 … they had about four or five extra possessions at the end of the game that we probably shouldn’t have allowed them to have.”
Syracuse used those possessions to come back and tie the game before Cornell pulled it out at the buzzer 16-15. Tambroni was not going to let that happen again.
“I think we took that lesson into today’s game and when we saw that four goal lead with about 6 minutes left and knew that possession was going to be much more important than another goal.”
With 6 minutes left, and Cornell up 10-6, the squad went into complete lockdown mode. The Red took it down to the offensive zone and did not relinquish possession for nearly four minutes. No attacker ever did more than feign at dodging or cutting. By the time Princeton got the ball back with around two minutes to play, it had little time to create one — let alone four or five — opportunities to score. When the final buzzer sounded, the team congregated around McMonagle, visibly more excited than they have been after most wins this season. Still, Tambroni put things into perspective.
“The attention continues to grow, and the pressure continues to grow, but these guys seem to have fended all that off and continued to keep that straight arrow approach,” he said. “They have prepared like we’re 0-11 for every game.”