The Red (14-4) won its first NCAA tournament game since 2002 Friday, playing under the bright lights at Schoellkopf Field in front of a rowdy home Cornell crowd. Canisius, the 2016 MAAC conference champions, was able to mostly play toe to toe with the Red all first half and went into the break tied 6-6 with Cornell. In the second half the Red found its groove and pulled away from the visiting team to win 15-11 and advance to the quarterfinal round in the NCAA tournament.
The game was a story of two halves; in the first, the Red came out slowly and Canisius built a two-goal lead early, with the first coming from sophomore Canisius player Erica Evans, currently second in the nation in scoring.
“We tried some different defensive looks on [Evans],” said Cornell head coach Jenny Graap ’86. “In particular we started the game with a face guard. She’s so fast and she was able to get some cuts in there against the face guard, so we went away from that strategy a little bit and then we threw our backwards zone against them a little bit, I thought that had some success as well, that left her a little more free but I still think that was a good defensive play for us.”
After some initial struggles, the Red was able to tie the game up and then trailed for the rest of the game. During the halftime intermission, although the score was knotted up, the women knew they weren’t playing to their ability and that they had to refocus.
“It was getting a little rocky at first, but we pulled together at halftime in our locker room,” said senior offensive anchor Olivia Mattyasovszky, who is also a staff writer for The Sun. “[We] really looked at each other and said, ‘We need to do this for each other, we need to dig in and be patient, we need to do the little things correctly.’”
Cornell came out like a different team in the second half, getting out to a three-goal streak in the opening minutes of the half, building a cushion so Canisius was not able tie up the game again.
Junior Amie Dickson and sophomore Taylor Reed both finished with hat tricks. Sophomore Joey Coffy, Mattyasovszky and junior Catherine Ellis each had two. Also critical to the game was a number of key saves from junior goalie Renee Poullott.
The Red entered the game riding the momentum from its Ivy League tournament victory last weekend, but the Griffins were the team that started the game playing the best.
“We always go into these new seasons with a brand new mentality, a fresh start,” Coffy said. “I think Canisius did a really good job of taking that into mind and playing really hard. You know the past doesn’t matter, it doesn’t matter what we did in the Ivy League tournament, it doesn’t matter what we did in the regular season, it matters right now, it’s one and done”
Once the Red was able to settle in to a rhythm in the second half, the team pulled away and never looked back.
“It was very, very neck-and-neck in the first half, but we really rallied together and got support from the side from our teammates,” Coffy said. “We did a really, really great job of taking care of our possessions on offense, working hard on the draw control and playing really great defense like we have all season and that translated into a win.”
The Red’s next game will be another showdown at Ithaca, against visiting UMass (19-1), a team that defeated Cornell rival Princeton in an overtime victory on Friday.
“UMass is a very good team,” Mattyasovszky said. “We know that we can’t wait until halftime to push each other for that score, we need to start the game with that fire and determination, and if we do that there’s nobody that can stop us.”