April 28, 2008

W. Lax Holds Off Harvard

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Just four days after suffering a rough loss to Syracuse in its final home regular-season game, the Red rebounded with a hard-fought, 12-9, victory over Ivy rival Harvard that gave Cornell second place in the Ivy League and kept its postseason hopes alive.
The Red closes out the Ivy season with a 5-2 conference record (10-5 overall), which is good for second place to Ivy champ Penn. The Quakers, incidentally, defeated No. 1 and three-time defending national champion Northwestern, 11-7, over the weekend. Although Cornell won’t be awarded the Ivy champion’s automatic berth into the NCAA tournament, Cornell’s victory over Harvard coupled with a win next weekend at Notre Dame could greatly improve the program’s chances of receiving an at-large berth into the tournament.
“It was a must-win for the program in order to remain in consideration [for the postseason],” said head coach Jenny Graap ‘86. “It means our team is now … in a position where our season is in our own hands and we do have to beat Notre Dame to have a chance at the postseason.”[img_assist|nid=30270|title=Spin move|desc=Sophomore attacker Kathryn Dewey (19) led Cornell with four goals in the team’s win over Harvard.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
The Red was helped into its current position through the efforts of sophomore Kathryn Dewey (four goals) and senior co-captain Katherine Simmons (three goals, two assists). Simmons has accumulated 41 points on the season, good for third on the team behind classmates Courtney Farrell and Noelle Dowd, and has made her presence known in every Ivy contest.
“She sets the bar very high for herself. … She’s just willing to put in the work, that’s the bottom line,” Graap said. “She’s always been a workhorse on our team and someone that brings energy, brings enthusiasm and brings that determination to every contest.”
The Red’s three-goal margin of victory on the scoreboard hides some of the difficulty the team had when playing scrappy Harvard. Cornell took the lead with 10:21 left in the first half off of an unassisted goal by Dewey, but the Crimson never let the visitors run away with the game. Before Dowd scored the last insurance goal of the game with just 32 seconds left, Harvard threatened the Cornell defense several times.
“They definitely were a team that didn’t want to go away,” said junior defender Deirdre Lafferty. “We were really good about picking up on their key plays and making sure that we stopped them from making those plays. From then on, it was just a matter of team defense, supporting each other on the side.”
“They were feisty and they fought the whole way so it was important for us to stay focused on the field and keep the emotion and intensity high,” said freshman attacker Libby Johnson.
In addition to Harvard’s consistent offensive pressure, the Crimson’s zone defense — which was the first zone defense the Red had seen all season — gave the Red offense fits and pressured Cornell into 21 turnovers.
“[The zone defense] definitely threw us off a little bit even though we’d been practicing against it,” Johnson said. “We had to work with it for awhile until we found the openings, and we were most successful when we were patient and just worked the ball around until we found the perfect shot.”
It’s hard to find the perfect shot when turning the ball over, as Cornell was throughout the entire game. Graap blamed her team’s sloppiness as much as Harvard’s pressure for the mistakes.
“Some of the turnovers for us were errant passes and poor decisions trying to throw a feed to a cutter who really wasn’t open,” she said. “It was a combination, and I definitely give Harvard credit for their hustle and their heads-up play. They were very aggressive and consistent throughout the game and they caught us a couple times making some sloppy plays.”
Johnson agreed that the team could have played a cleaner game, especially on the offensive side of the ball.
“It was mostly us being sloppy,” Johnson said of the turnovers. “I don’t really know where that came from; we weren’t necessarily nervous for the game. We were making not the smartest decisions and not taking care of the ball as well as we should have been.”
Whatever problems the offense had in keeping control of the ball, they were offset by the Red’s significant 17-6 advantage in draw controls. Lafferty corralled five of the draw controls and credited her teammates with the efficiency inside the draw circle.
“[Simmons], [senior Charlotte Schmidlapp] and even one of our freshmen, Michelle Winglee, did a great job of really placing it so that we knew where it was gong to go each time,” Lafferty said. “Also, [senior] Ashleigh Smith and [junior] Kelly Hansen were really pivotal in helping me because they would box out for me and that would free me up to go and get the draw control.”
A solid overall team effort got the Red a chance to prove itself next weekend and in the postseason, and the team knows the significance of its victory over Harvard.
“The win was huge for our program,” Graap said. “…The win on the road at Harvard was a very big one and a great way to culminate the Ivy League season for our team. … This weekend’s game is huge for the seniors on the team and everyone else.”