Nearly a year ago, the men’s lacrosse team stood tied with Syracuse at 15 apiece as the seconds ticked down. Head coach Jeff Tambroni called a timeout with just seconds on the clock. Junior co-captain Max Seibald, then a title-less sophomore, looked at his coach and simply asked for the ball. It wasn’t a Keyshawn Johnson “gimme-the-damn-ball” statement, it was merely Seibald exhibiting his developing leadership and confidence.
Sure enough, even though he had had a quite game in a match full of offensive fireworks and highlight-reel saves, Seibald beat his defender and netted the game-winner.
The Red (8-1, 3-0 Conf.) learned a lot about itself and its future captain that night. It showed that it was a team that would not back down — a team that pulled it out with its back against the wall. It was a key moment in a special season that ended one goal short of the National finals.
[img_assist|nid=29622|title=Watch the shoes|desc=Senior co-captain Matt Moyer (left) didn’t let the elements stop him, or his team from a 15-6 victory over the Crimson on April 7, 2007.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Tonight, Cornell faces an even steeper challenge than it did last year. Despite returning largely the same team, Syracuse is now ranked No. 1 in the country, as compared to its No. 18 ranking last year.
“They put in more time in the offseason,” said senior co-captain Danny Nathan. “They’ve realized that they are extremely talented, but their work ethic is also an essential part to becoming more successful. I think they’re playing a little bit harder than they did last season. I think that’s a big reason why they’re playing better.”
On the other side, Cornell, who was ranked No. 1 when it pulled out the last-second win in the Carrier Dome last year, is now No. 5 in the nation. What has not changed for the Red, though, is that tonight’s matchup has the chance to be a character-defining game.
Players and head coach Jeff Tambroni have pointed out that, at times, Cornell has lacked that same scrappy hustle and team play that was ubiquitous in last year’s squad. In order to get past Syracuse’s fast-paced, run-and-gun offense, Cornell will need both of these things.
“If we’re working together on defense and not just concentrating on our own matchups, but worrying about each other’s men and their whole offense as one unit, I think that’s the way to stopping this potent offense,” Nathan said.
Syracuse is fourth in the country in scoring, and gets off an average of 46 shots per game, nearly seven more than Cornell. The offense revolves around Mike Leveille, who is third in the country in points, with 40 (22 goals, 18 assists). The Red was able to shut down Leveille last year, but he has stepped up his game, already surpassing his point total from last year.
“Since his freshman year, he’s always been a phenomenal lacrosse player,” Nathan said. “He’s very balanced and solid in every aspect of the game. He can do it all. Our matchup against him is going to help stop him, but to stop a guy like that we’re going to have to play as a team.”
The Orange has also gotten a big boost from Kenny Nims, Steven Brooks and Brendan Loftus. Nims and Brooks were big contributors last year, but Loftus did not start a game until this season, where he has been penciled in every game and put up 16 points.
“He seems confident out there and he’s a talented player,” Nathan said. “He’s a big, strong, fresh kid and I think they probably just gave him a shot and he’s stepping up and playing well.”
With Syracuse’s uptempo style of play and an aggressive defense, the attack gets plenty of chances. Nathan emphasized that the need was not to necessarily limit those chances, but just to make those chances harder — “poor-angled shots, shots that are farther out or forced,” as Nathan put it. Both Nathan and senior co-captain John Glynn emphasized that the Red could keep pace with the Orange — Tambroni has always emphasized conditioning for his squads — but would like to control some of the action.
“We can definitely run on them if we have the opportunity,” Glynn said. “We’re going to play our style of lacrosse and try to dictate the tempo we want to play at.”
This could be especially important against a Syracuse defense that forces the action and tries to create offense with its defense.
“They don’t like to wait for an offense to set up,” Glynn. “They like to come after you and use their sticks a lot. They want to be the one that dictates how they want to play their defense.”
But after graduating its starting goalie, Peter Coluccini, who had 22 saves in last year’s matchup, the Orange has had to rely on freshman John Galloway in net this year. Galloway has competed well, but taken his lumps getting used to collegiate lacrosse, ranking 32nd nationally in save percentage.
“He’s definitely one of the keys to their defense,” Glynn said. “Hopefully, with the atmosphere and us getting on top of him early, we’ll just throw off his game and have some success.”
Another big part of controlling the tempo tonight will be decided at the face-off ‘X.’ Syracuse’s Danny Brennan has won an astounding 69.3 percentage of his face-offs, the best rate in the country. Glynn said the team’s goal is to be .500 at the ‘X.’
“[Brennan] either wins it forward or pulls it back, and they have some great guys on the wings that are scooping up a lot of balls for him,” he said. “We’re going to have to really try and pressure him off the ‘X’ and try and make him make some plays that he’s not as used to making.”