As the final buzzer sounded at Princeton’s Class of 1952 Stadium on Saturday, Cornell men’s lacrosse saw the end of its impressive seven-game win streak — a run that helped catapult the team to near the top of the national rankings.
It was the second time in three years that Cornell’s regular season ended with a loss on its conference rival’s turf. But this time, the Red’s season isn’t over. The Ivy League tournament is less than a week away, and Cornell is one win away from a potential date with national No. 1 Yale for a rematch of a loss earlier this season.
“It’s obviously a disappointing loss,” said interim head coach Peter Milliman after the March 17 loss to the Bulldogs. “We wanted that one very badly. I felt like we were competing well enough to deserve it, but we didn’t earn it at the end of the day.”
The loss in its Ivy opener more than a month ago was Cornell’s last until Saturday afternoon. The Red amassed a seven-game winning streak that included wins over three nationally ranked teams including then-No. 7 Syracuse. And when asked if a loss could go a long way for a red-hot team about to enter the postseason, Millman struck a positive tone.
“I wouldn’t disagree with that,” Milliman said. “It’s never a bad thing to have yourself humbled a little bit … We know we need to get back to the basics; make sure we’re doing things right.”
Certainly, no team is invincible. And it’s not likely anyone expected this Cornell team to win every game left on its schedule en route to a national championship. But the tone from the beginning from Milliman and the others in the locker room has been that Cornell can win when it matters most.
“Our goal is not to ‘show well’ in the Ivy League or maybe sneak into the Ivy League playoffs, our goal is to win the Ivy League,” Milliman said on March 14.
That was Milliman’s message before the Red began its Ivy schedule. And after four wins and two losses in the conference to secure a second-place finish, Cornell has one more item left on its agenda before it can call this season a success.
Beyond the Ivy title, Cornell is a program that has at times found success in the NCAA tournament. But the loss to Princeton may have led to only one avenue for Cornell to get into the national playoffs: winning the Ivy League Championship.
With the regular season in the rearview mirror, Cornell has proven that it has what it takes to compete with some of the best in the country. Take a look at an early-season loss to then-No. 1 Albany, for instance. Despite losing every faceoff through the entire game, Cornell nearly knocked off the Great Danes, holding a two-goal lead as late as with 3:18 left in the final quarter.
To lose every faceoff in a possession-critical sport and nearly win is no small feat and Cornell did it against one of the best teams in the country. A few weeks later, against Yale at Schoellkopf Field, the Red hung tight with the team that is now the No. 1 in the nation. Neither team in that game ever led by more than two goals, and the match was tied with under five minutes to play.
If Cornell manages to take care of Brown, a team it beat by 14 goals less than two weeks ago, in the Ivy League semifinal on Friday, it is likely to get its second crack at Yale with a trophy and a tournament bid on the line. Saturday’s humbling loss to Princeton may have been the first step on the journey to getting one back on the defending champions.