April 17, 2009

Clash of the Titans

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If ever there was a day for Cornell students to lose the apathy about athletics for a few hours and support their home team, tomorrow is that day. The men’s lacrosse team will host rival Princeton, the top-ranked team in the country, in a matchup that will be watched by clubs across the country because of its significance both for the Ivy League as well as the rest of Division I lacrosse.
Head coach Jeff Tambroni likes to say that no game is more important than any other. He takes this approach seriously, preparing for this match just as he and the team would prepare for any other.
“I think we’re [approaching] this match like every other game throughout the season,” he said. “Every game is a big game.
This is technically true, especially in lacrosse with its relatively short 13-game season.
“With only 13 games,” Tambroni said, “You really can’t afford not to treat every game the same way — with the utmost importance.”[img_assist|nid=36960|title=Leading the charge|desc=Senior captain Max Seibald (42), pictured here as a sophomore in the Red’s 10-6 win at Schoellkopf field in 2007, must have a big impact tomorrow for the Red to have a chance at toppling the top-ranked Tigers.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
But emotionally, all games are not created equal. Cornell (8-2, 4-0 Ivy), the No. 4/5 team in the country has so far faced and beaten Duke, currently No. 8, and Harvard, No. 17, and lost to Virginia, No. 2 and Syracuse, tied with the Red for No. 4. The Red has been inconsistent in these marquee games, coming through in some but not in others. The Tigers represent an important hurdle in the race towards the Ivy title and a berth at NCAAs, as well as a point of pride for a Cornell team that just might be getting sick of “almost” being the best.
“The fact that [the match] is against a No. 1 team, and a league rival, hopefully will bring more emotion out in the locker room and on the field,” Tambroni said.
Tambroni, the epitome of the even-keel coach, said his players will either find that emotion naturally within themselves, or they won’t have it all — he won’t be able to find it for them.
“That’s the kind of stuff that has to be genuine, it has to come from the heart,” he said. “When the team gets out on the field, hopefully they are going to think about who they’re going up against: the No. 1 team in the country … [hopefully] their hearts are going to beat a little bit faster, their blood’s going to boil a little bit. That’s human nature.”
According to Tambroni, the coaches are just trying to stay focused on strategy this week during practice — X’s and O’s only — so that the players are free to find that extra inner motivation which they can then channel into the best game plan the coaches can formulate.
Senior midfielder John Glynn says the team has been watching a lot of past tape, especially from this matchup last year when the Red was upset by the Tigers in Princeton, N.J. The then-No. 17/19 Tigers used an 8-0 scoring run to overpower the heavily favored No. 3/4 Red visitors, 11-7. The loss was the first of the season for Cornell against Ivy teams, bringing the club’s Ivy record to 4-1.
“We have talked a lot about how we felt last year,” Glynn said, “After losing to [Princeton] in their backyard. We watched the tape, it left a pretty bad taste in our mouths.”
While the favorite/underdog roles have reversed themselves, the contest will still feature Cornell as an Ivy League title contender that is still undefeated in the Ancient Eight. The difference is now the Red is the underdog, and the Tigers will have to win on Cornell turf.
Glynn said he felt this year’s team and last year’s squad are fairly similar in skill level, but that the Red this year have “been playing and practicing much better” than they were at this point last season.
There are expected to be several matchups to watch out for in this clash of Ivy titans.
“I think there are going to be a lot of great match-ups,” Tambroni said. “[Princeton] has a great freshman defender [Chad Wiedmaier] who I assume will be up against our own freshman attackman [Rob Pannell].”
The Princeton midfield lineup, a fresh-faced but deceptively dangerous trio of rookies, will be matched up against the Red’s senior threesome of Seibald, Glynn and Romero, a fearsome lineup, with Glynn and Seibald having just been named Tewaaraton Trophy nominees.
“The middle of the field and face-offs are going to be crucial,” Glynn said.
Ultimately, however, Tambroni stressed the importance of a big picture approach as far as matchups are concerned.
“In the end, you can discard all [of the matchups],” he said. Everything comes down to team philosophy, making it “less about one single man taking control of the game or one single statistic.”
Because the teams are fairly evenly matched, the offensive and defensive units n both sides will have to work extra hard to gain an advantage, something especially important because of Princeton’s team-oriented playing style.
Something Cornell has repeatedly emphasized throughout the season is the idea of cohesiveness. The Red will need to be very aware of this on the field, Glynn said, and the offense needs to be constantly reminding itself to spread out, make smart decision with the ball and try and control possession time. Also, there “can’t be any turnovers,” he said.
“We’re trying to [become more of a unit] every day, with each win and each loss” Tambroni said, stressing the incremental but continual improvements of his team. “I don’t think at this point there’s anything that doesn’t need improvement. Everything could use a little polishing. You just hope that every unit does its job a little bit better than it did before. And, if you can put it all together, if you can really improve on every facet of the game, the end result will hopefully be success.”
When talking about teamwork, Tambroni has a specific metaphor he likes to use. “Everyone has to pitch in a little,” he said. “Everyone has to grab the rope and just pull.”