20-10 to Penn St. 16-8 to Hobart. 17-6 to Albany. 0-3 record.
This is uncharted territory for Cornell men’s lacrosse, who is desperately looking to get in the win column before the season-opening slide grows too steep. Not since 1997 has this program opened its season so poorly, making it “a team that’s searching a little bit right now,” according to head coach Matt Kerwick.
Now, a trip to Costa Mesa, Calif., — the first in program history to the The Golden State — to take on No. 13 Virginia is on the docket, which has the potential to provide unnecessary distractions for a team looking to get back to its core strengths and winning ways.
But if you ask members of the team, it might actually present the perfect scenario to right the ship. Hours busing and flying to make it to the west coast might just be what the young team needs to fully mesh.
“Maybe [it will be] a nice trip with the team and some camaraderie getting together,” said junior midfielder Jordan Dowiak. “We are an extremely close team as it is, but with a bus ride to Buffalo, and a long flight to California, you can only get closer together, so hopefully it works out.”
Last season in itself was a disappointment for Cornell as the first season below .500 in the millennium. The Red started its year with an identical schedule to this year’s, going 1-2 in those first three games.
But even in those two losses, Cornell kept those games competitive, with games often being decided in the final quarter of play. This year, Cornell trailed Penn St. 7-3 at the half, 7-4 against Hobart and a whopping 9-1 against Albany.
Kerwick admitted that Sunday’s 17-6 loss to Albany was the team’s worst of the year thus far.
“To do that in our home opener was really disappointing for all of us,” he said.
While the team includes a young group where over half of the team is made up of underclassmen, it still has eight of its top 10 scorers from last year still on the roster. So far, those eight have not quite seen the production they are accustomed to.
“We need to right this thing and the only way it happens is if we stick together and keep working hard in practice,” Kerwick said. “There needs to be a lot more urgency to what we are doing every single day.”
Part of that urgency, Kerwick and Dowiak say, has to come on those 50-50 balls, especially ground balls, of which Cornell has been outworked 105-86. Faceoffs, too, have been an incredibly glaring hole for the Red, as its opponents have won over two thirds of faceoffs on the season. Cornell led in faceoffs by a similar margin in 2016.
“We pride ourselves on winning ground balls, especially on Schoellkopf and it’s something we didn’t really do last week against Albany,” Dowiak said. “So it’s something we are really setting to get back on track with.”
“They need to react quicker,” Kerwick said of his boys in red. “They need to be more in tune [as] plays [are] developing as opposed to just reacting after they develop. As a coach, you always preach that you play what you practice, and we have been doing some great things in practice but it hasn’t shown up on game day yet. That’s going to be key that we go out there and just let it fly on Saturday.”
Under Kerwick, the Cornell program has found success against the Cavaliers with a 2-1 record over the past three seasons, including a 14-10 win at Schoellkopf in 2016. But this year, UVA tapped longtime Brown head coach Lars Tiffany as head coach.
Most recently, Tiffany led the Bears to a 16-3, national semifinal destined 2016 season. When Tiffany’s Brown squad marched into Ithaca last season and departed with a 22-5 dominant win over Cornell, 11 different Bears recorded a point on 53 shots.
UVA’s coaching staff also consists of another first-year in volunteer assistant coach Rocco Romero ’09, a former Cornell midfielder. Romero was a part of two final four teams for the Red, including the 2009 runner-up squad. In that 2009 senior year on East Hill, Romero saw action in every contest and finished fifth on the team in scoring.
Now, he has teamed up with a fellow Ivy alumnus in Tiffany and has helped lead the Cavaliers to a No. 13 ranking, 4-2 record. Four of those wins have over several quality teams, the strongest of which being now-No. 12 Loyola (Md.). The Cavaliers’ two losses have been one-goal affairs to perennial powerhouse No. 8 Syracuse, and newcomer to the spotlight No. 10 Penn.
A lot is at play this weekend. A loss in California would keep the Red winless with Ivy play quickly approaching in the coming week. It also, most noticeably, would leave the flight back east all the more dampered.
“This could be great timing for this team to take a trip together and bond. It’s is a business trip,” Kerwick said. “This isn’t about anything else but going out there and playing against Virginia on Saturday.”
“It’s not going to hurt playing in 80 degree weather as well,” he added.