It is said that hardship builds character. This seems to be particularly true in the case of the 2017 Cornell men’s lacrosse team.
Indeed, character is an important component of this program’s history, and the team has seldom found itself without hardship. The trials and tribulations that go into building such a successful program at a prestigious institution have certainly left their marks on this team. What is left behind is a program-wide commitment, not only to excellence, but also to resilience.
Cornell lacrosse was built on this resilience. Optimism and positivity are traits that are profound in its character. This year was no exception. Head coach Matt Kerwick told me, “As a coach, your goal is to improve throughout the year.”
Despite not being involved in the Ivy League tournament this year, the Red (5-8, 3-3 Ivy) found plenty of success in its quest to turn Kerwick’s words into reality. The Red encountered heavy struggles early this season, dropping its first five contests. After that stretch, the team went 5-3 and was able to boast significant improvement.
The culmination of the Red’s efforts to improve came this past Saturday, when the team downed its biggest rival in No. 13 Princeton, 18-17. In one of its most impressive offensive showings of the season, the team reminded us how dominant it can be, and made that tough stretch to start the season feel like a distant memory.
Despite this improvement, at first glance the team looks as though it is a shell of its former self. Four years ago, the Red was knocking on the door of a national championship, and today, it sits on the outside looking in at the conference tournament. Such an evaluation is partially true, but it is short sighted.
“Division I lacrosse has changed immensely in the last five years,” Kerwick said. “All you need to do is look at the scores each week. The depth of talent across the country has created so much parity in our game.”
Kerwick’s insight produces a reassuring message for fans of Cornell men’s lacrosse. As the nature of college lacrosse changes dramatically, a program with such deep character and history is poised to succeed. Recruiting is the biggest challenge that comes with the increase in parity that Kerwick describes. Every year there are more and more programs around the country ready to compete at a high level.
But the Cornell staff has proven its ability to recruit effectively in the ever changing market for high school players. Take for example the very talented freshmen who joined the squad this year. Despite the team’s shortcomings at times this season, Jeff Teat, Connor Fletcher and Brandon Salvatore have undoubtedly been a bright spot, and it bodes well for the future. These young men represent a core around which to build an offensive and defensive unit. As the NCAA considers rule changes to the recruitment process, the ability to adapt accordingly will be paramount to building up the program. But a steadfast commitment to the program’s values will underscore the coaching staff’s biggest asset.
Of Cornell, Kerwick said he “truly believe[s] there is no better place to compete.” He is not alone in this belief. This is a message that can resonate with the young stars at the lower levels. The optimism in upcoming recruitment efforts coupled with an incredibly strong finish to the season leads one to believe that some of Cornell’s best days may still be ahead.
With all this confidence in the future, the Cornell coaches are not losing sight of what is right in front of them any time soon. The team stands at a crucial turning point. As the coaching staff makes concerted efforts to improve the team in every way, it needs to continue building on the progress that has been made. Their efforts in this regard will determine what the future truly looks like.
“Nothing can take the place of hard work, execution and upper class leadership,” Kerwick said.
This is indicative of the team’s commitment to one of its proudest mottos, and one that will stick with players, coaches and fans as the team looks ahead: well done is better than well said.