March 6, 2009

Men’s Lacrosse Up Against Top-Ranked Virginia

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The No. 4 men’s lacrosse team is off to a quick 2-0 start to the 2009 season and will get the chance to make a loud statement on Sunday when it takes on No. 1 Virginia at Klockner Stadium in Charlottesville, Va. A team as deep and talented as the Red would be favored in most games, but against the Cavaliers, who are off to a perfect 6-0 start this season, Cornell would have to be considered the underdog. Underdog or not, head coach Jeff Tambroni has a plan for his team.
“We’re going to stay away from the underdog/favorite [mindset] and just focus on the little things that we can do against Virginia,” Tambroni said. “They have weaknesses, like every other team, and we’re going to make sure we try to exploit those.”
As if Virginia’s perfect record was not intimidating enough, the team is coming off of a tight 13-12 win last Friday at the Carrier Dome against Syracuse, which was ranked No. 1 in the nation at the time. The Cavaliers followed that win with a 19-3 thrashing of Virginia Military Institute on Tuesday.
Cornell hasn’t played a regular-season game against Virginia since 1971. The 1988 NCAA semifinals marks the last time the Red toppled the Cavaliers. The two teams last met in the NCAA tournament in 2002, a game that Virginia won, 11-10. Although it has been a few years, Tambroni knows exactly what he is getting into with the Cavaliers.
“They’re an extremely talented team, that’s what you expect when you play a team like Virginia,” Tambroni said. “They’re going to have depth at every position, athletes at every position … each and every year.”
Last time out, the Red needed a late-game goal from senior captain Max Seibald to take the 9-8 win over Army. Cornell took 55 shots in that game, compared to 38 by Army, but solid goaltending by the Black Knights and occasionally inconsistent shooting from Cornell kept the score close.
“We’ve got to shoot more efficiently against Virginia; I don’t anticipate us getting 55 scoring opportunities against Virginia,” Tambroni said. “There will be a limited amount of looks; 55 shots is a lot of shots with a Division I lacrosse game.”
Cornell focused all week in practice on creating the “best shot available” against a talented backfield — sophomore goalie Adam Ghitelman has a .568 save percentage and a goals-allowed average of 6.85 this season — like Virginia’s. Capitalizing on more possessions will be key against a speedy Virginia team that could quickly turn a missed shot from Cornell into a goal on the other end.
“We’ve got to tighten up our transition into our defensive end,” Tambroni said. “Virginia is certainly a team that can expose you athletically.”
The Red’s defense was the biggest question mark heading into the season, but it has performed well so far in 2009. Virginia will be the biggest challenge by far to the backfield so far this season.
“We’re going to have to play hard, play together if we want to compete but we’re excited for the challenge,” Tambroni said.