March 27, 2008

Close Games Pose Challenge for Red

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No matter the sport, fans love the thrill of a close game. The excitement of the players and crowd is palpable when a game is tied and the clock is ticking down the final seconds, when everyone knows that it’s time to step up their game to hopefully clinch the victory for their team.
Despite the crowd-pleasing aspect, the women’s lacrosse team must dread looking at the scoreboard and seeing a close score when the game is winding down. From the 2004 season to the present, the Red is 2-8 in games decided by one goal — including its most recent two losses to University of New Hampshire and Penn.
In the game against New Hampshire, Cornell rallied from a three-goal deficit in the second half, only to see the game-winning goal scored against it with 30 seconds left in regulation.
[img_assist|nid=29158|title=Looking to bridge the one-goal gap|desc=Senior midfielder Katherine Simmons (14) scored a goal against Penn Saturday, but the Red dropped the contest, 7-6.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“Against UNH, we were tied with three minutes left on the clock and we had to hold the ball and work for a last shot and we unfortunately shot a little too soon and gave our opponents time to make the save and clear the ball and go down the field and score at the other end,” said head coach Jenny Graap ’86. “That was a learning moment for us in clock management and valuing the last possession and really working the clock appropriately.”
As important as it is for the entire game, clock management becomes even more important towards the end. If a team shoots too early and fails to score, it gives the opposing defense a chance to clear the ball and push the game up the field to its offense. On the other hand, a team should take any possible open shot to win or tie the game, because you never know when another chance like that might arise.
“That’s something we’re really working on. It comes down to decision-making,” said senior midfielder Katherine Simmons. “One-goal games, it comes down to capitalizing on a team’s mistakes and making the right decisions at the crucial moments.”
“There’re some really important differences in a close game: just valuing the possessions and working the clock differently,” Graap said. “It’s crucial that we execute well in different pressure situations near the end of the half or near the end of the game.”
In the Red’s most recent game, a 6-7 loss to visiting Penn, the Red was playing from behind and thus was a victim to the Quakers’ keep-away antics. After Simmons brought the Red to within one goal with 4:02 to play, Penn maintained possession of the ball and prevented Cornell from mounting any serious scoring threat.
“At Penn it was a different story, we were down by one so we were fighting to get possession and get the ball back and give ourselves a chance to take a last shot to tie the game but Penn got the ball,” Graap said. “We pulled our goalkeeper and scrambled around defensively trying to win possession back. Both one-goal games were very different the way they unfolded.”
Despite the eye-opening stat of 2-8 in games decided by one goal, Graap thinks that the team doesn’t have a problem with close games, especially since the squad can’t really be compared from one season to another.
“It’s not very similar from one year to the next; it’s a whole different unit, a whole different team. This year we have been on the wrong end twice in a row, and it’s pretty fresh in our minds.”
Close games often give lots of momentum, positive or negative, to both teams involved. While it might seem to outside observers that a one-goal loss could be devastating to a team’s morale, the players disagree. Just the fact that the game was so close with a deserving opponent is reason enough to be confident for the next matchup.
“It really shifts our morale high because we know that we competed,” Simmons said, “but it challenges us even more because we know that the changes that we could make are not that drastic. It’s the little things that we need to change, and that makes it harder to identify.”
“It’s clear that your team is on par with and pretty equal to the other team,” Graap said. “It comes down to desire and heart and wanting it. You have to earn it when both teams are so equal like that, it just comes down to who works the hardest to get the win. It’s a challenge for us to prove to ourselves how much we want it, and that’s what we have to get after: digging down really deep and doing whatever it takes to earn the victory.”
The Red faces a tough slate of opponents every year and expects to be able to consistently perform at a high level, so close games between elite opponents are a common occurrence every season.
“It’s important for [us] to learn from those situations and to be ready to execute more sharply when we’re in those close situations down the stretch,” Graap said. “The rest of our schedule is pretty tough, so I’d imagine we’re going to have very close games.”