On the final day of the regular season, the Cornell laxers scored one of their best performances of the year on perhaps the team’s biggest stage thus far, running away from rival Princeton, 17-11, in the Big City Classic at MetLife Stadium.
The Red’s victory over the No. 12 Tigers (8-5, 3-3) cements No. 6 Cornell (12-2, 6-0) as the favorite going into this weekend’s conference tournament.
“[O]ur guys never quit and kept their foot on the gas and kept the lead at a manageable level, a manageable distance, and we were able to come out of here with the win,” head coach Ben DeLuca ’98 said. “And again, the leadership of our captains … I can’t say enough [about] how important their influence on our team has been this year. And to see it come to fruition, today in particular, under the big lights and [on] the TV with everyone watching, it’s extremely satisfying for me as a head coach and for our coaching staff.”
The Red nabbed an early pair of unassisted goals from senior attackman Rob Pannell in the captain’s final regular season performance. From there, sophomore Matt Donovan scored two of his own in the first and second periods to extend the lead to 4-1, with Pannell tacking on another unassisted goal later in the quarter to give Cornell a decisive 8-1 advantage. The Red led, 9-3, at halftime.
Pannell, who became the Ivy League’s all-time leading points leader last week against Brown, wrote another chapter of his Cornell legacy Saturday with five goals and four assists — more than doubling his career goals against the Tigers.
“It’s great for my confidence,” said Pannell. “[C]oach DeLuca’s been getting on me quite a bit and he pushed me to that next level … I had my best week of practice this week. To go out there and do it in practice is probably the hardest part, and game-day is when it’s fun — when I enjoy [lacrosse] most. So [if] my teammates and coaches [hadn’t] pushed me to that level this week, I wouldn’t have had the game I had tonight.”
Despite building a significantly early lead, however, the Red couldn’t sleep on the Tigers in the second half. Princeton scored three consecutive unassisted goals in the third quarter and a late goal from star junior midfielder Tom Schreiber put the Tigers within striking distance — down 13-9 with more than 11 minutes remaining.
“They fought back in the second half like we knew that they would,” DeLuca said.
Still, Cornell remained confident, riding the defense and senior attackman Steve Mock — who scored two goals within the final 3:06 — to a 17-10 advantage and eventual 17-11 final.
“I think we just stuck to our game-plan, really,” said senior goaltender A.J. Fiore, who made 13 stops on the afternoon. “We really wanted to force them down the side. They really try to play a two-man game and try to get to the middle. That’s probably the most dangerous area of the field so I thought our defense in general played really well altogether and just made them take shots that probably weren’t the best look, and I was just seeing the ball really well.”
Another big factor in the Red’s victory was shutting down Princeton’s Tom Schreiber, who was held to only two goals.
“It wasn’t personally all me,” said senior defenseman Jason Noble, who covered Schreiber for much of the game. “We threw a bunch of looks at him and we just emphasize playing the team system. We weren’t relying on any one man or just me to stop him. We wanted to stick to our gameplan, stick to our team defense, really didn’t want to change anything out of the ordinary to accommodate them so we were just playing the team system. [We were] a little more focused on him than any other player, but we were getting early slides to him, making him move the ball, and making them make uncomfortable passes.”
While the victory cements the Red’s perfect Ivy League regular season record, perhaps the sweeter part of the game was avenging last season’s 14-9 defeat at the hands of the Tigers.
“Fresh in our minds was the loss that we took to them last year at their place,” DeLuca said.
The Tigers will remain fresh in mind, as Cornell and Princeton will face each other again next weekend in the Ivy League Tournament’s opening round at Schoellkopf Field.
Despite the daunting task of knocking off a high-ranked Princeton squad two weeks in a row, coach DeLuca said he has been impressed by the way the Red has been playing as of late.
“[I] could not be more excited for our guys,” DeLuca said. “Our guys prepared extremely hard this week in practice. We battled, knowing we were going to face a very tough opponent, a very dangerous opponent. This was a league game — the Princeton-Cornell game in any situation is always one of the most important of the year for our program and to elevate it, to put it on this stage in MetLife Stadium … and to get a win in the manner in which we did today, just can’t say enough about the way that our seniors and our captains led our guys in practice and prepared in the right way.”
Original Author: Chris Mills