The fate of Cornell’s season could very well be hanging in the balance tomorrow as No. 15 Cornell faces off against No. 10 Notre Dame in South Bend, Ind.
The women’s laxers, who finished in second in Ivy League play this year, will be playing the Fighting Irish in what will be both teams’ last regular season game. As runners-up in the Ivy League, Cornell is not guaranteed of a NCAA playoff berth, so the squad’s postseason hopes may be resting on the outcome of tomorrow’s game.
Notre Dame did not earn its automatic conference berth either, and so it will be looking to qualify for the postseason as well.
[img_assist|nid=30426|title=Feel the breez|desc=Senior Courtney Farrell (11) blows by a Yale defender in the Red’s 8-6 win April 19.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“I think this game is critical,” said head coach Jenny Graap ’86. “Definitely both teams will be fighting for postseason bids.”
A win against the Irish, who have been near the top-10 all season long, will shore up the Red’s case in front of the NCAA selection committee. However, a loss tomorrow will make it much less likely that the Red will see the playoffs this year. 16 teams qualify for the NCAA postseason tournaments, with eight automatic bids given out to the various league champions and eight at-large bids given to teams chosen by the committee.
“Defeating Notre Dame is going to put us in position to be considered for an at-large bid,” Grapp said. “It is not a given or a definite that in defeating Notre Dame that we will then be selected.”
While the Red come into this game confident after last weekend’s 12-9 road victory over Harvard, Notre Dame is fresh off of a stinging 15-14 loss in triple-overtime suffered at the hands of Georgetown in the Big East Championship semifinals.
Graap believes that her team has been continuing to improve even in the final games of the season. She notes increased contributions from her younger players on offense and defense as keys to the team’s development.
“Down the stretch I think that the squad has been improving in our communication and improving in our teamwork all over the field,” Graap said. “On the offensive end we have seen some of our younger players step up, especially towards the end of the season where they have confidence and they have more experience. That has been a nice trend because it does take some of the pressure and expectation off of the senior attackers. Defensively, we have also seen our younger players step us in the backfield.”
On the offensive end, Graap pointed to sophomore attacker Kathryn Dewey and freshman attack Libby Johnson, who are fourth and fifth respectively on the team in points, as underclassmen who have contributed more and more as the season has progressed.
The Red will need such balanced contributions as it faces off against the Irish, one of the top teams in the nation whose regular season resume this year includes wins over top-20 teams Duke and Georgetown.
Notre Dame is led by junior sniper Jillian Byers, who plays both attack and midfield. Byers, who last year was honored with First Team All-Big East and Second Team IWLCA All-American selections, has netted 62 goals and added 13 helpers so far this season, while scoring at .488 shooting percentage.
“[Byers] is someone that we are familiar with because we have seen her in the starting line-up for the last two years,” Graap said. “She is back again now as a junior. We are going to work hard as a team to hopefully minimize her shots and try to contain her as best as we can. She is an exceptional talent and she can take it one-on-one or get a feed and finish on a shot—she is a multi-dimensional threat.”
Cornell heads to Notre Dame as the underdog, but that is a role that has suited the Red well this year. Twice already, against Stanford and Yale, the Red has knocked off opponents that have been ranked higher nationally. Graap explains that her team is not intimidated by a higher-ranking opponent and that it is dangerous to read too much into the ranking system.
“This is not unfamiliar territory for us to be playing a team that is more highly ranked than we are,” Graap said. “I am not a big believer in the rankings defining much, I think that on any given day teams need to show up and earn the victory. A ranking is really just an arbitrary opinion from the outsiders.”
When two highly ranked teams are matched up, anything can happen on any given day, Graap said.
“I think when you get to the best teams in the country, it really just comes down to desire, teamwork, and throw in a little bit of luck and you are all set,” she said.