February 27, 2011

Men’s Lacrosse Season Opener Gives New Coach DeLuca First Career Win

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Despite a blizzard the day before with snowy effects that could still be seen come Saturday afternoon, Schoellkopf Field was cleared off and the No. 6 men’s lacrosse team played its season opener against Hobart (1-1) as was scheduled. The squad powered through a hard game in the oldest collegiate lacrosse rivalry to notch a 14-9 win, marking not just the first victory of the season but also a first win for Ben DeLuca ’98 in his first game as the new head coach.

The Red (1-0) started off the game on the right foot, with three successive goals scored early in the first before the Hobart Statesmen found a chance to get on the scoreboard. The rest of the first half continued in this fashion, and after 30 minutes of play the score read 8-2 in Cornell’s favor.

“I think it was a great first half and definitely something we wanted to come out strong in,” said junior co-captain and attackman Rob Pannell, who led the Red with two goals and three assists in the first half. “They were fired up to play us [in the] upstate battle and we wanted to come out fired [up] and we did.”

The ability of the Red to hold the Statesmen to just two goals in the first half prominently showcased the home team’s strong defensive ability. Senior defenseman and 2010 All-American honorable mention Max Feely noticeably played a large role in this aspect of the game. Paired to block Hobart’s leading attackman/midfielder Chris Pedersen, Feely successfully held his offensive opponent to no goals or assists in the game.

“The guy that really leads the charge back there is senior Max Feely. He did a great job in his match up holding Hobart’s top scorer to no points,” DeLuca said.

Returning after the half-time break, Cornell still maintained a strong showing as it added another three goals, before the end of the third quarter in which Hobart’s momentum became almost tangible. The Statesmen rallied to a seemingly unstoppable five-goal streak that concluded in the beginning of the last 15-minute period. At that point, the score read 11-7, but Cornell came back and Hobart was unable to surmount the four-goal deficit that remained.

“We were kind of rushing things,” Pannell said. “We saw that Hobart scored a couple of quick goals and we kind of wanted to get one in the net really quick … for a second there we kind of got ahead of ourselves. We were still winning by four goals, and realized we needed to relax and play like we did in the first half.”

After a bit more back-and-forth between the two teams, including a man-advantage goal by freshman starting attackman Cody Bremner that marked his second goal of the day in his collegiate debut, the game finally concluded, 14-9.

As a whole the game highlighted good plays by the Red, such as the capitalization of chances with extra-man opportunities in which the team went 3-for-7. Additionally, sophomore goalie A.J. Fiore was able to make 11 saves and worked well with clears. The midfield displayed some crafty stick work, helping Cornell hold the slight edge in picking up ground balls, 31-29. On the offensive front the game saw goals scored by nine different players, with a tenth receiving a point for an assist.

“Having that many people score is great,” Pannell said. “It shows that our team is not just one or two guys that are taking on a lot of the load. It’s a very team-oriented offense and a team-oriented defense and that’s Cornell Lacrosse and that’s what makes us successful.”

The most troubling aspect for the Red was the face-off, as the Statesmen’s Bobby Dattilo — one of the best face-off men in the nation — controlled the game in that regard. Hobart plowed past Cornell in the 24 game face-offs, winning 75 percent of them.

“Hobart’s guy is one of the best in the country,” DeLuca said. “I think Mitch [McMichael] held his own along with our face-off unit. It wasn’t just a one-on-one battle, we really tried to make it a 3-on-3, and it forced them to clear the ball if they did win the face-off … it was a big reason we had success in the first half.”

As such, despite the impressive face-off showing by Hobart and its energetic momentum swing in the second half, the Red ultimately was able to garner the ‘W’ during this emotional experience for DeLuca in his first official game at the helm after 10 years of assistant or associate coaching for the program.

“I had quite a few alumni traveling in from California and Texas, all over, coming back. It’s pretty special to have that kind of support and have those guys coming back … my family’s there for every game so I lean on them for support, but it was pretty neat to see guys I went to school with like my co-captains come back for the game,” DeLuca said.

Indeed, to get the win in front of such a crowd of support during his first game was very special for the coach.

“It felt great … I need a little bit of time to let it sink in at this point,” DeLuca said after the game, particularly praising the players on the team for giving all of their energy towards the win.

In fact, the players went into the game with the desire to come out victorious not just for themselves and their team’s standing, but for the coach who has faithfully remained with Cornell for 10 years in addition to his time as an undergraduate player.

“He couldn’t have been more excited,” Pannell said. “The team wanted to get this win for him as bad as he wanted it himself, probably because we know how much he loves us, how much he cares for us, how much he loves Cornell [and] the tradition of the program, and he was very emotional … He tried to keep it together to inspire our performance, but he didn’t have to do that; we knew how important this first win was to him.”

Looking forward, the Red will play its second contest of the season tomorrow afternoon at 3:30 p.m. Cornell will travel to Binghamton take on the Bearcats, who sit 0-2 on the young season.

“Binghamton’s an extremely special game for us,” DeLuca said. “George Boriardi passed away for us in that game in 2004, so it’s a game that’s very near and dear to our hearts. They’re a tough team, a very well-coached team … them playing at home is going to make it even more difficult.”

DeLuca said that the team plans to review film from the Hobart game in preparation for the anticipated blue-collar style contest at Binghamton. He noted that while the game over the weekend went well, there still remains room for the team to improve on and certain areas he would like to target.

“I expect consistency,” DeLuca said, focusing on of his goals for leading players like Pannell and sophomore defenseman Mike Bronzino. “[I expect] very high effort and high intensity, those guys are our leaders on the field and they’re starting at a young age for a reason.”

Original Author: Reena Gilani