May 4, 2007

M. Lax Looks for Perfection Against Hobart

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Traditional Slope Day Schedule: wake up, drink (orange juice, of course); bake under the sun on the Slope; listen to some band that inevitably half the student population will be upset with; watch the men’s lacrosse team battle Hobart. O.k, so maybe the last part is not in the classic Slope Day pattern. For members of the lacrosse squad, though, this is the only tradition they’ve ever had on the last day of classes.
“I don’t even know what I’m missing,” said senior long-stick midfielder Ethan Vedder.
What many Cornellians will be missing, though, is the 129th chapter in the oldest rivalry in collegiate men’s lacrosse.
“It’s nice to be a part of one of the oldest rivalries in sports. It’s an unbelievable chance to play in this,” said senior attackman David Mitchell.
For the Red (12-0, 6-0 Ivy), however, this game will signify more than a rivalry. It is a chance for the team to finish undefeated on the regular season for only the ninth time in program history, and the first time since 1987 — around when many of the players on the squad were born. Still, for the team, this is just another game — another chance to go out and play hard.
“[The season] would be pretty amazing if I took a step back to take a look at it,” Mitchell said. “What’s done is done, though, we’re looking to just be 1-and-0 every game. Whatever’s happened in the past, it certainly helps but we can’t really look into it. You have to just continue to take it one game at a time.”
In the last game of the season, the themes for the Red will be intelligence and a return to basics. The last two weeks have featured matchups against teams in Brown and Princeton that effectively shut down the Red’s feeding game to the crease — a trademark of the offense for much of the season. Much had been made of Cornell’s ability to take what was given to them by the defense — with the middies leading the way on offense — but Mitchell argues that the team should also make sure they are asserting themselves on offense.
“It’s a combination,” he said. “In the last few games, teams have been very mindful of the inside game. That has given us an outside game, but it’s not just about taking what we get. We need to make them give us what we want. We’ll have to dictate on offense, dictate the looks we get.”
While this seems easier said than done, Mitchell emphasizes that simply sticking to essentials of team play can help the Red. He pointed out that last year, the Statesmen (5-8, 1-6 ECAC) played their defense fairly straight up, sliding early on sophomore Max Seibald and Joe Boulukos ’06, but not favoring man-to-man matchups too heavily. The Red should expect to see much of the same this year, but Mitchell warns there is now way to tell until game day, so it’s best to prepare with the basics.
“As the season wears on, you have to step up the complexity and sometimes that complexity takes away from the bare essentials like ‘ride hard’ and ‘ground balls.’ … It’s just fundamentals that we need.”
Part of dictating tempo on offense comes down to a consistent transition game, something the Red struggled with last week. According to Vedder, the Red was able to run intelligently against Hobart last year and he pointed out that Hobart’s nature should allow for those transition opportunities to continue this year.
“[Last year] we had some of our defensive middies take fairly open, smart shots during the game,” Vedder said. “[This year] they are not going to try to possess the ball the entire game so there are always going to be opportunities.”
Tambroni is also hoping the Red will convert some of its opportunities inside as well. Last week, the Red was able to create some inside opportunities — Mitchell had 11 shots — but wasn’t able to finish. Tambroni attributed it to trying to be too precise around the cage, and emphasizes that the Red must capitalize on those opportunities in the crease.
After facing two of the best goalies in the nation the past two games in Princeton’s Alex Hewit and Brown’s Jordan Burke, Cornell may get a boost in finishing this weekend as it faces a Hobart squad that has played “musical chairs” with its goaltender selection this year, starting three different net-minders. Brandon Baer has started 8-of-13 contests for the Statesmen, but has given up 10.52 goals per game with a .500 save percentage.
Even after fixing its own internal problems, though, the Red’s biggest challenge may still come in the form of a quick, high-powered Hobart offense.
“They do a great job of going from defense to offense, they play a very up-tempo style of lacrosse and they are extremely capable with a ton of weapons in the offensive end,” Tambroni said. “You just have to make sure you’re playing good team defense and not worrying so much about one or two guys.”
The “one or two guys” Tambroni referred to are Jamie Kirk and Daryl Veltman.
“One of the first things you look at is Kirk as a feeder and Veltman as a finisher and when Kirk has the ball you have to know where Veltman is because they … aren’t afraid to throw the ball in there to tight spaces. Credit Veltman, he seems to handle the ball regardless of where it’s thrown or when it’s thrown and still be able to direct it toward the goal.”
Kirk averages more assists per game (2.85) than anyone in the nation, while Veltman has netted 32 goals, the same as Mitchell. Nonetheless, Tambroni insists on balance on the defensive side of the field.
“You have to do a great job of staying on Kirk’s hands as he is just such a capable feeder,” he said. “But he can also beat you off the dodge, so if you spend too much time pushing out there and staying on his hands, he’ll run by you.”
The other dangerous aspect of Hobart is its efficient man-up offense. Converting extra-man opportunities at a clip of .550, the Statesmen boast the third-best man-up unit in the nation. Tambroni insists that you can’t go into a game aiming not to foul, but instead must be intelligent with when you foul. There is little the man-down unit for the Red can do to prepare, though. The one thing Vedder says the squad can do, however, is force Hobart to keep the ball moving.
“If we make them pass the ball a lot and don’t give them the open shot early and make them pass four, five, six times, and make them earn that shot, so be it. … We will need to defend them far away from the goal. They’re a team that will get shots, and we need to make sure they get the outside shots, the low shots.”