February 24, 2011

Men’s Lacrosse Opens 2011 Season in Oldest College Lacrosse Rivalry

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On the surface, the 2011 men’s lacrosse squad looks vastly different from the 2010 team. With Ben DeLuca ’98 serving as the new head coach for Cornell in addition to 11 graduated seniors, there are new faces in every aspect of the team. But at the core, the No. 6/5 men’s lacrosse team still is composed of a strong group of players on every front, and again will be led by a coach who also bleeds Cornell Red — arguably more so than his predecessor. As such, when the team opens up its 2011 season tomorrow at 12 p.m. at Schoellkopf Field in the oldest rivalry of collegiate lacrosse against upstate opponent Hobart, the Red will strive to prove that it is still the same top national team that it has been in previous years, when it reached three Final Fours in the past four years. Junior co-captain and attackman Rob Pannell said that the transition for the players between coaches was not an issue, as the Red passed the head coach title to DeLuca, who previously served as the associate coach. “It hasn’t been as big of an adjustment as for other programs [transitioning to a new head coach]. He’s a Cornell alumni, been in the program for 10 years, this is his 11th. Him and Coach Tambroni share a lot of the same characteristics and they bring that same intensity to the field,” Pannell said, adding that the biggest difference came in DeLuca’s more defense-oriented philosophy.As it takes the field tomorrow, the Red will host the Hobart Statesmen in the 133rd matchup between the two teams, making for the longest-standing lacrosse rivalry at the college level — one Cornell has dominated, 81-47-4. Hobart comes off of a 9-8 come-from-behind victory last weekend in its season opener against Robert Morris. If Cornell can manage a win over Hobart, DeLuca will join the ranks of just four of the Red’s nine previous coaches, who hold a first-year victory over this foe. For the Red to come out on top, a huge factor will be having a high level of energy.“They come every year [thinking] it is a game that … makes or breaks their season — if they win this, their season will be complete,” Pannell said. “They’re coming in here fired up and we know we’re going to have to match that intensity. We’ve been practicing all week and we’ve been having a great week of practice so far. If we have a good week of practice it leads us into having a good game during the weekend.”This logic was proven especially true in the Red’s two non-Red-White scrimmages it has participated in since 2011 started. The first scrimmage took place at home against Colgate, where Cornell play looked a little rough after an equally rough week of practice. But, a turnaround was seen, as the team played well leading up to the scrimmage at Johns Hopkins and produced testifying results.“I think the Colgate scrimmage after only four days of practice was a little sloppy,” DeLuca said. “But the guys really came back focused in that first full week of practice prior to [the scrimmage against Johns] Hopkins. We went down to Johns Hopkins, performed pretty well there at a pretty high level.”Cornell will enter the game with solid players on each attack, midfield and defense. With a focus on the defensive aspect, DeLuca mentioned that sophomore net minder A.J. Fiore, who was the starting goalie for the Red last year, has stepped up into a more leading role. “A.J. has been great, he’s been taking steady steps,” DeLuca said. “He’s really moving forward to become a leader of our defense this year. Last year as a freshman, he focused more on stopping the ball and that’s a huge priority but this year he’s taken the next step of becoming a more vocal leader of commanding our defense from in the cage, and he’s done a great job in the clearing game as well.”For Hobart, however, it will be midfield rather than defense that is expected to be its strongest point. “The ground-ball game is going to be extremely important. The face off is going to be extremely important for us as well — they have a fantastic face-off guy,” DeLuca said.Last year, the Red was led by Austin Boykin ’10 on the face off, so with his departure Cornell had to find a just as solid replacement. “Junior Mitch McMichael is stepping into that role, but it’s really going to be a face off by committee,” DeLuca said. Senior co-captain Jack Dudley and senior David Lau, who do well with picking up ground balls for the team, will also lead midfield for the Red. Finally, on attack, the Red will of course be led by 2010 Ivy League Player of the Year and two-time All-American player, Pannell. Last season, Pannell and Ryan Hurley ’10 created a good duo in playing offensively and scoring, so with Hurley’s graduation Pannell will have an adjustment to make.“Every year it’s definitely a challenge, graduating seniors and having new freshmen come in. The graduation of Ryan Hurley is tough for me because we played together for two years and worked so well together,” Pannell said. “Steve Mock is one of the guys who played towards the end of last year and was really successful in his playing, and has grown a lot over this year as well. Coming into this year, I’m looking for … me and him to deliver our own chemistry for these next two years that we have together. No one’s going to replace Ryan Hurley, but you can have guys come in and adjust to their style of playing and go from there.”Many other starting returners on the team and are also joined by new strong freshmen, such as Cody Bremner.“Cody Bremner is starting attack right now, and having come here never having playing field lacrosse — up in Canada they play indoors — and he’s done a good job of working hard and getting used to playing indoor,” Pannell said. With all of these factors and, according to DeLuca, a steadily improving week of practice, the Red looks forward to its first game of the season tomorrow, and hopefully the program’s first win under the new head coach.

Original Author: Reena Gilani