Think Cornell men’s lacrosse looks forward to playing Dartmouth each year? History suggests that they do, and probably any other year the confidence would be at a level that would allow the team to look at Dartmouth as an easy win.
But 2017 is not a typical Cornell year, and the team knows it cannot take any matchup for granted.
“Anyone can beat anyone,” said junior midfielder Jordan Dowiak. “There’s no real underdog anymore.”
Despite the caution the team holds, no other team in recent history has been able to gang up on Dartmouth (1-6, 0-1) as much as the Red (1-6, 0-2 Ivy). Cornell’s most convincing win in last year’s sub-.500 season came over the Green, a 19-4 decision on the road in Hanover.
The year before: 8-2 in Ithaca, and before that 19-4, 21-5, 7-5 and 19-8 — you get the picture.
The last time Cornell lost to Dartmouth was in 2010, a 8-6 stunner in favor of the Green in Gillette Stadium. At the time, Cornell was 7-1 on the season. And the Green? 2-4. Cornell made it to the national semifinals that year.
It was a blip on the radar in a series where Cornell has been seemingly unable to lose as of late. Just one year before the stunner in Foxborough, Cornell returned to form and took a 19-6 win in Hanover.
But one thing remains different in this season than in years past; Cornell has not been the usual dominant self the team typically aims to be.
“We can’t overlook anybody right now obviously where we’re sitting,” said head coach Matt Kerwick. “The margins now are a lot smaller than they’ve ever been. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing … if you’re not ready and you don’t come out playing hard and playing well you’re going to come out on the short end of it.”
“We’re backing ourselves in a corner right now,” he added.
The Green — which has had its own share of season troubles — still presents a good opportunity for Cornell to notch its first league win of the season.
Dartmouth touts the lowest-scoring offense in the Ivy League with 52 goals — 22 behind the next highest team in Cornell. The Green’s defense, however, has given up a respectable 86 goals, the almost exact average for the seven Ivy teams.
On the other hand, Cornell has allowed a staggering 105 goals so far this year; almost 80 percent of the goals allowed last year with plenty of games left to play.
But that stat is skewed by the fact that 16 goals were conceded in each of the team’s first five games. Since then Cornell has found its defensive rhythm a bit, holding opponents to 10 or less goals in the last two games.
“We have to find a way to play well at both ends and do that consistently if we are going to pull these games out,” Kerwick said. “We’ve found our way defensively [as of late] and have found our identity there.”
The “scrappy team,” a term Kerwick used to label Dartmouth, is paced by junior attack Richie Loftus’ 14 goals and 19 points. In the net resides freshman George Christopher, who earned the starting role his first year and has put up a .475 save percentage and 76 total saves.
Freshman phenom Jeff Teat leads the way for the young Red in both goals and assists. His 15 goals and 14 assists are team highs in both regards. Classmate Connor Fletcher is next, also with 15 goals and six assist of his own. A third of Fletcher’s season goal total came in the 10-9 loss to Penn this past weekend.
“Some of those freshmen playing serious minutes for us have done an awesome job,” Dowiak said. “They’re playing like older guys even though they only have seven college games under their belts.”
The game against Dartmouth wraps up a three-game homestand for Cornell, which, after Saturday, will play only twice more at Schoellkopf before the end of the regular season. With three Ivy League games left after Saturday — only one more in Ithaca — Dartmouth presents a perfect opportunity to salvage what is left in the season.
“It’s an important one for us,” Kerwick said. “We’re focused on playing our best game of the season on Saturday.”