Cornell women’s lacrosse (6-8, 3-4 Ivy League) made history on Sunday, as it ended the regular season with a win over Florida (14-2) — the No. 2-ranked team in the country.
“We knew we had nothing to lose … it was our final game being at Schoellkopf, and we had the determination to compete,” said senior attacker and tri-captian Libby Johnson.
The Red finished the season with a losing record, recognizing weeks ago that its postseason tournament chances were over. Yet the team was able to maintain a competitive attitude through the end of the year, and as a result, managed to end the 2011 season with one of the biggest wins in program history.
“It’s the highest ranked team that Cornell lacrosse has ever beaten — it’s a historical day,” Johnson explained. “It proves to ourselves and the whole lacrosse community that if you work hard and come together as a team, you can beat anyone.”
While still a young team, the Gators have proven themselves to be one of the top teams in the nation during the 2011 season. Florida entered Sunday’s action on a 14-game winning streak, but Cornell was able to capitalize off the uncontrollable advantages it had over Florida — namely the great distance the Gators had to travel and their recent extended time off.
“[Florida] hadn’t [played] a game in two weeks, and they don’t do well when they travel,” said junior tri-captain Jessi Steinberg.
“We knew going into it that Florida had two weeks off and potentially could come out a little flat,” added senior defenseman Cara Grealy. “We were confident that we could hang with them and give them a good fight … It was the last game of [mine and Libby’s] season and entire career, so we wanted to play hard and give it our all — we had a no regrets kind of attitude.”
Cornell started the game strong, with top scorer Steinberg contributing two goals early to set the tone forthe game. A third goal came from Johnson, putting the Red up, 3-0, before Florida was able to counter. The teams then traded scores, and Cornell was about to end the half ahead by three, 5-2, until sophomore attacker Caroline Salisbury expanded the lead by scoring with one second left in play.
“It was a pivotal point in the game … with one second left [Salisbury] ripped a shot, and it gave us confidence,” Grealy said. “Being on the other side of that, if someone had done that against us, it definitely would be a little demoralizing.”
“[Salisbury] was the perfect person to have that shot — the one person on our team that could have made it happen,” Johnson said. “It was awesome to go into the locker room with that kind of moment. We were all just so pumped up with having a four goal lead.”
By the end of the game, as the score stood at 8-6, Cornell began stalling for time, trying to keep the ball out of Florida’s possession as much as possible. With less than five minutes remaining, junior midfielder Shannon McHugh sealed the deal with her second goal of the day, finalizing the score, 9-6.
It was the first time this season that Florida has been out-shot in a game. The Red countered Florida’s 20 shots on goal with 24 of its own, limiting the Gators to less than half their average goals per game (14.4).
Freshman Cat Thomas was chosen to guard one of Florida’s leading scorers, while coaches had junior Ali O’Neil defend against another one of the nation’s top scorers. Both girls were able to successfully hold their opponents to only one goal each.
Junior goalkeeper Kyla Dambach was the foundation of the defense, putting in an effort that kept Cornell in the game.
“[Dambach] had nine saves,” Johnson said. “With her, [Grealy] and [junior defenseman and tri-captain Caroline Helmer] leading the defense, it was an incredible effort to watch. Our defense was what won us that game.”
The game was also momentous in that it was the 150th career win for head coach Jenny Graap ’86.
“It’s awesome that we can be part of such a huge victory for her,” Steinberg said. “It has to be a great milestone for her, and I’m happy we can help get her to that point.”
The team has come a long way this season, seeing great improvements from the first few games of the year. Cornell’s schedule was one of the toughest in the nation, as the Red not only faced fierce competition in the Ivy League, but also faced top teams in non-conference play, Helmer noted..
“I think in the beginning it took us a while to find our stride,” she said. “Every game taught us lessons throughout the season. Everything we put into our season culminated with this win.”
“We aren’t making it to the Ivy tournament, but beating the No. 2 in the country is really uplifting,” Steinberg added. “We can compete with top teams, and it’ll be great for us to come in next year with this win on our shoulders.”
“We definitely went in knowing we had nothing to lose [in the] last game of the season, and wanted to play with a lot of pride and leave it all on the field,” said sophomore midfielder and defenseman Kate Ivory. “We wanted to play well for our seniors.”
Graduating this year are Johnson and Grealy, as well as manager Heather Garson. All three have been extremely dedicated to the lacrosse program for all four years, Steinberg noted. The team has seen these upperclassmen develop into great role models.
“[Johnson] and [Grealy] have been huge huge forces on our team,” she said. “[Grealy] is a great defender and [Johnson] a great attacker. They were huge contributors to the team emotionally and with their skill. It’ll be hard to recover. Garson is our team manager — she does film, she breaks up the clips [and] she travels with us. She does everything the coaches need her to do and is always working. The three of them will be greatly missed.”
“It was great to send the seniors off with this historic moment in Cornell lacrosse,” Helmer added. “And it’s a good sign moving forward into 2012.”
“I can’t imagine ending a career on a better note,” Johnson said. “We have been really supportive of one another, on and off the field … We played for each other and that really showed. It’s a testament to our work ethic, that even though we didn’t make the Ivy League tournament, we came out with this win.”
Original Author: Rebecca Velez