Cornell women’s lacrosse (11-4, 6-1 Ivy) earned the right to host the Ivy League postseason tournament for the first time in school history this past Saturday by taking down Harvard 13-6 to close out the regular season with a 6-1 Ivy League record.
The team with the best league record hosts the tournament, and although Penn and Princeton also finished with 6-1 records, the Red won hosting based on the goal differential tiebreaker.
“It’s a privilege to host this event for the first time here at Cornell,” said head coach Jenny Graap ’86, who was just recently named Ivy League Coach of the Year. “It’s very special for the 2017 team, and particularly for our seven seniors. They’ve really done a great job this spring and they’re tremendous leaders. They’ve had the experience of competing in the Ivy tournament on the road throughout their careers, so now, for them to be able to host it, I think is that much more special.”
This year’s senior class has led every area of team play throughout the season. From Renee Poullot in goal, to Catie Smith on defense and to Kristy Gilbert, Catherine Ellis and Amie Dickson on offense. All of those women followed their head coach in All-Ivy honors, with Smith taking home Defender of the Year.
Heading into their final Ivy League tournament, the seniors have one outcome in mind.
“The main goal is to win the tournament,” Gilbert said. “Our strategy is to be disciplined and out-hustle our opponents.”
The Red enters the tournament hungry for another title, but it has a target on its back as reigning champions and the top seed. In 2016, Cornell grabbed the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament by first defeating Princeton, then top seeded host Penn. Defeating the Quakers for the crown came a week after the a loss to them in the regular season finale.
This year, Cornell will have to prevent Harvard, the No. 4 seed, from obtaining the same revenge. The Red and Crimson will face off for the second time in under a week in the first round of the tournament Friday evening at Schoellkopf Field.
Despite its dominant win last Saturday, the Red knows better than to overlook the Crimson this time around. Harvard’s team will return to Ithaca with redemption on its mind and its entire season on the line.
“Every team brings their best to the postseason,” Graap said. “That’s what we’re trying to focus on with our preparation for this week — not being stuck in the past, not thinking that we’re going to face the exact same Crimson team, but being ready for the competition, and being ready to bring our best, tweaking and changing a few things, too, so that we are not exactly the same either.”
If the Red successfully defeats the Crimson on Friday night in semifinals, it will advance to the finals on Sunday and compete for a second consecutive championship against either Penn or Princeton. The winner of the finals will earn both the title and the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Last year, the Red made it to the second round of the tournament, where it was defeated by UMass in a close 7-6 loss.
While this year’s team certainly has the potential to make it as far, or even further than last year, the Red is for now focused on overcoming the next obstacle in its path: Harvard. The Crimson come in as a highly physical opponent which promises to leave the Red a bit beat-up, regardless of the game’s outcome.
“I know we played Harvard last weekend, and we beat them last weekend, but just taking each game as its own and knowing that it’s going to be a team effort from everyone on the sideline, to all the starters,” said senior defender Christie Powell. “Regardless of your position, it’s focusing on the little things and staying positive, and just knowing that we still have to work so hard in order to achieve that goal.”
The path to that goal gets underway against Harvard 7:05 p.m. from Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca. Penn and Princeton will clash earlier in the afternoon, at 4:05 p.m., and the championship game takes place Sunday at 11:05 a.m.