July 19, 2009

M. Lacrosse Suffers Heartbreaking Loss in NCAA Finals

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When rising sophomore midfielder Roy Lang scored to put the men’s lacrosse team up 9-6 with 5:37 left in the NCAA finals, it seemed like things were going too smoothly against defending national champion Orange. It had been a close, hard-fought game, but the Red was getting all the breaks — Syracuse attackman Stephen Keogh’s goal in the fourth quarter was waved off because of a nearly imperceptible crease violation, Cornell was drawing penalties to keep possessions going and the team’s goalie Jake Myers ‘09 was at the top of his game, holding Orange attackmen Kenny Nims and Keogh to just one score in four shots on goal.
Lang’s goal, which followed captain Max Seibald’s ‘09 second score of the day, might have been the most favorable omen of all: Prior to yesterday, Cornell was 7-0 in games where the athletic rookie midfielder scored a goal.
With the three-goal cushion, Cornell kept grinding away the clock, controlling the ball on offense and drawing frustrated penalties to lengthen possessions further — the same strategy the team used in its semifinal upset of top seed Virginia.
But then, as is prone to happen when playing a talented, experienced team like Syracuse, the other shoe dropped. Orange defenseman Matt Tierney stripped Cornell sophomore midfielder David Lau to set up a goal by Keogh on the other end, and with 3:37 to play, Cornell’s lead was cut to two. Cody Jamieson’s bouncing shot from the doorstep was next, trimming the lead to just one with 2:46 to play.
The next moments were tense, hurried and unsettled — situations that favor Syracuse’s quick-strike offense — and culminated in Orange attackman Kenny Nims scoring his first of the day on the tail end of a circus-act play. An aggressive Syracuse ride gave the Red problems all day, but none bigger than the turnover it forced as Seibald passed the ball upfield for the clear.
“We had an opportunity to clear the ball, and I picked the ball up off the end line and passed it up,” Seibald said. “I probably should have just ran it out myself. I’ll probably never forget that.”
The turnover led to ground ball scrums in Syracuse’s end and near the midfield line, and Orange midfielder Matt Abbott flung a desperate, over-the-shoulder pass towards the Cornell goal just as Red defenders were converging on him. Lang, playing near the cage, was able to barely get his stick on the looping pass, but Nims somehow caught it and fired a lunging goal past Myers for the equalizer with 4.5 seconds on the clock.
“To be honest, I never did think we were going to lose,” Nims said after the game. “Our guys never give up. … Never count us out.”
And just like that, the game was tied for the first time since rising sophomore attackman Rob Pannell scored his only goal of the day to put the Red up 5-4 with 5:08 to play in the second quarter. Technically, another 84.5 seconds of lacrosse was played after Nims’s goal, but with all the momentum Syracuse had built up at that point, the trophy celebration might as well have started then and there. Cornell was actually able to shrug off the Orange’s rally and win the face-off in overtime, but Syracuse defender Sid Smith checked the ball away from Cornell rising senior attackman Ryan Hurley and the team was off to the races. Syracuse’s Dan Hardy dumped a pass off to a wide-open Jamieson near the Cornell net, and Jamieson nearly replicated his earlier goal to hand the Orange its first lead of the day, and the only one that mattered.
“[Hardy] got the ball in a shooting situation and wound up,” Jamieson said. “Dan is a guy you have to defend, so my guy slid up and Dan found me open in front of the crease and I just took a shot.”
Jamieson’s shot ended the Red’s season in heartbreaking fashion and helped Syracuse overcome a career day by Cornell midfielder John Glynn ‘09, who clearly had no intentions of going home empty-handed on Memorial Day. Glynn scored the Red’s first two goals of the day, then assisted on the next two; he also won 10-of-20 face-offs and picked up a team-high nine ground balls to help enable the Red to play its control-oriented offense that had thwarted high-octane Princeton and Virginia squads in previous rounds. But the strategy seemed to backfire in the end — Cornell’s offense lost its rhythm and Syracuse was able to force turnovers and regain possession.
“In the second half, once we got a two-goal lead and maintained that two-goal lead for a long time, we got out of that groove and let Syracuse push back on us,” Glynn said. “We weren’t attacking as much.”
We just got away from that offense that was successful for us in the first half, and too much holding back with the ball. It bit us in the butt.”[img_assist|nid=37506|title=Sudden death|desc=Goalie Jake Myers ’09 and Red defenders look on in horror as Syracuse’s Cody Jamieson finds the back of the net for the game-winning goal to hand the Orange the national championship and end the Red’s 2009 season.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Hurley finished with a goal and two assists; Pannell with a goal and an assist; and Seibald with two goals, but it simply was not enough to dethrone the Orange. After the game, Seibald weighed the horrors of those last four seconds with his memories of the last four years on the Hill; his statements offered a glimpse — in his last postgame press conference in a Red uniform — of what makes him the unquestioned leader of this Cornell squad whose disciplined team play and passion was able to shock fans, analysts and No. 1 seeds alike.
“Four seconds away… it seems to be a number that haunts us,” he said, referencing the team’s similarly heartbreaking loss to Duke in the semifinals of the 2007 tournament. “For no one believing in us and us coming out and doing what we did and having control of this one until the end, that’s why we play the game. … I’m proud of every one [of my teammates], and I wouldn’t trade this group of guys for a national championship. The experience I’ve had with these guys for the last four years and this last year, I wouldn’t trade it for a ring.”