April 7, 2011

Locked and Reloaded: DeLuca Proves Doubters Wrong With Early Success

Print More

Every preseason, the men’s lacrosse team faces some speculation as to how its season will turn out. Traditionally, the program has done well and has had solid play beyond the regular season schedule, having made 22 NCAA appearances in its history. Yet, every year, the question remains whether the team will live up to the hype of playing the intense style typical of Cornell Lacrosse. This year, there was some extra speculation regarding what to expect from the Red, as the head coach for the past 10 years, Jeff Tambroni, left his role at the helm of the team. Tambroni led Cornell to seven consecutive Ivy League titles, from 2003-09, including three NCAA Final Four appearances in the last four years. His departure resulted in the team, which was ranked as high as No. 4 in the nation in the preseason polls, facing even more uncertainty about the coming year.  Ben DeLuca ’98, Tambroni’s replacement and a former associate coach who has been affiliated with Cornell lacrosse for 16 years, has taken hold of the program and erased much of the doubt that was created after the coaching change was made in the offseason. DeLuca has been able to coach the team to tremendous success through the early season, leaving the squad currently as the only team still undefeated in the Ivy League.“The transition with coach DeLuca hasn’t really been that hard since he’s been in the system before as an assistant coach, so it hasn’t been that big of a transition in terms of our system,” said senior co-captain and midfielder Jack Dudley. “The biggest asset of coach DeLuca is that he just brings so much emotion to the table, just in terms of everything he does. He’s an emotional guy who brings a lot of energy and passion to our program and that rubs off on our players.”Junior co-captain and attackman Rob Pannell agreed with this sentiment, noting the comfort that comes with the fact that the new head coach has been an integral part of the program in the past. “A lot of teams have new coaches and guys that don’t really know the program, that don’t really know the players, and it makes the biggest difference in the world to have the coach here [be] one of the coaches that recruited you and that coached you for the past two years and not some total new guy coming in here,” he said.DeLuca’s biggest change in style would expectedly come from his more defensive focus, compared to Tambroni’s emphasis on the offensive game.“He takes pride in the defensive end, but it hasn’t changed the way practices have gone. We have a great offensive assistant, coach Rewkowski, and he’s really done a great job,” Dudley said. “The offense together has done a great job this season and the best thing that coach DeLuca has done is that he’s kept the same mindset of style of play as from when he was an assistant, and that’s huge for us.”The offense comes in ranked No. 2 in the nation, sporting a unit of attackmen led by leading scorer Pannell, who averages almost six points a game and leads all players in the country in that statistic. The co-captain also recently hit a personal milestone when he recorded his 200th career point in a home win over Dartmouth. Joining Pannell on the scoring front are senior David Lau and sophomore Steve Mock.“David Lau and Steve Mock have done a great job in stepping up to [Ryan Hurley’s ’10] scoring role,” Dudley said, explaining that voids left by the graduation of the previous year’s senior class are always difficult to fill. Senior defenseman Max Feely guides the defensive side of the field, joined by sophomores Thomas Keith, Jason Noble and Mike Bronzino. This combination has helped compensate for the graduation of Pierce Derkac ’10. “We have some sophomores stepping [up] all over the place, and they have done a great job of taking their game to the next level. They’ve been here for a year … and now they’re moving on to be leaders — more vocal on the defensive end, under senior Max Feely,” Pannell said. Another void that the program needed to fill came from the graduation of face-off specialist Austin Boykin ’10; however, junior Mitch McMichael, freshman Doug Tesoriero and sophomore Jason Noble have been able to make up for this loss.“Face-offs are more than just one guy; everyone thinks that losing Austin Boykin was going to be a huge loss. Well, it’s more than just one guy — there are three guys on the face-off X, and that unit collectively has done a great job in filling those gaps,” Dudley said.The Red has been able to remain a cohesive unit and has limited its struggles in the face of all the changes from last year’s program. While the squad has lost two games to nationally ranked opponents, both of these contests ended in close defeats, 11-9. Cornell also went on a streak in which it took down nationally ranked Yale, Stony Brook and Penn over Spring Break. This run has left the team standing with an overall record of 7-2, the same record that it had after nine games in 2010. The one difference now is that after three Ivy League games this year’s No. 6 squad remains undefeated in the conference. These results have helped the Cornell team meet its goal of dominating the Ivy competition in advance of the NCAA tournament. “Our primary focus is the Ivy League. A goal of ours is to go undefeated in the Ivy League, and the second is to go undefeated at home,” Dudley said. “Those are two goals we set up at the beginning of this year. We’ve won four games at home so far and we have one more … In the Ivy League we are 3-0 and we have three games left before the Ivy League tournament. We just have to keep that goal in front of us and keep working toward it, one game at a time.”In order to achieve this goal, the players are aiming to tackle the greatest criticism they have received to date — their inability to close out games. “I think it starts in practice. Having the mentality that we can’t slack off towards the end, that we’ve got to continue our play,” Pannell said. “It’s also our mindset coming out at halftime. The game’s not over; the score is 0-0 coming out from the half, and anybody can win … we really stressed that going into Dartmouth, and we were able to outscore them in the second half.”

Original Author: Reena Gilani