Six seasons have come and gone since Cornell men’s lacrosse won an Ivy League Championship, including five since the team reached the finals and two years since it has even competed in the event.
But following its absence from the tournament, the Red (10-4, 4-2 Ivy) has reestablished itself as a legitimate contender in the conference, returning to the postseason this weekend with the hopes of climbing back on top.
Cornell had a strong regular-season Ivy campaign with its only two losses bookending conference play. The first loss came early in the season against now-No. 1 Yale, a likely finals opponent for the Red if it can get past Brown (6-8, 3-3 Ivy) in the semifinal on Friday evening.
Last weekend, Cornell coughed up its final game to Princeton in a 14-8 struggle as sophomore standout attack Jeff Teat was shut down, failing to record a single point. It was also the first time the group netted less than 10 goals since March 4 against then-No. 1 Albany.
“We needed to do a better job,” said interim head coach Peter Milliman. “Princeton played a great game, and we played an okay game. We definitely should have had a bit more form and we didn’t.”
Nonetheless, the Red already had the No. 2 seed in the conference tournament locked up heading into the final weekend of the regular season. Thus, the loss is a moot point for the team at this juncture.
“It’s never good to lose a game, but I think it was eye-opening for us to get back to the basics and start doing what we were doing earlier in the season,” said senior defenseman Jake Pulver.
Now, the squad will shift its focus back to Brown, who the Red steamrolled, 19-5, on senior day the week prior to the Princeton loss. The Red is undoubtedly carrying some of the confidence from that win to New York this weekend.
Against the Bears, Teat was in prime form, totaling 10 points in the contest. If he and the rest of the offense can cook up a similar performance on Friday evening, Cornell will put itself in a good spot to win. But nevertheless, Milliman’s squad is not getting too comfortable.
“We are definitely going to do things differently,” Milliman said. “We know we are not going to see the same Brown team again. The team that we played two weeks ago is not the best version of Brown that you’ll see.”
A win over the Bears would place the Red in the Ivy League Championship game against the winner of Yale and Penn on Sunday afternoon. But for now, the group is refusing to look past Friday’s game.
“We are focused on Friday, and we’re fighting to extend more days in the locker room with that group,” Pulver said.
On March 18 at Schoellkopf field, Cornell fell to Yale at home, 13-11, after faltering down the stretch. While the home team couldn’t come up with the win, it showed it has the potential to beat this very talented Yale squad.
The Ivy League’s top two squads know how to the bring the heat on offense. But as a team, the Red sports the nation’s best offense, edging out the Bulldogs — third in the nation — by a little under a goal per game.
On the other side of the ball, the advantage goes the other way, with Yale sporting a better defense than Cornell statistically. The Bulldogs’ unrelenting defense, led by Ivy League Rookie of the Year Chris Fake, has held teams to 8.22 goals per game.
With such an impressive resume, it’s no surprise the Ivy League’s top squad has been on a tear. Just like its conference foe from Ithaca, Yale has only lost one game since the two teams last met. What’s more, the Bulldogs have stayed perfect against Ivy League opponents thus far.
The Red’s path to an Ivy League title is not an easy one. Yet, if Cornell can channel the success it found in earlier wins against top opponents, including No. 12 Syracuse and No. 19 Penn State, then a pair of victories over Brown and Yale are by no means out of reach.
“We’re where we deserve to be; we are in a spot that we earned,” Milliman said.
And while postseason play is foreign to most of this squad, the current seniors have had a taste of postseason action and have been integral to the Red all season.
“Our senior leadership has been the most important thing to our success all year,” Milliman said.
That group lost in the tournament as freshmen, but the seasoned veterans now have another shot at the title.
“We are just very excited; we haven’t been here in a while,” Pulver said. “We are happy with how far we have come … but our goal is to go out there and win.”
Cornell takes on Brown in the Ivy League semifinal at 8:30 p.m. Friday in New York. If the Red advances, it will face the winner of Yale vs. Penn at noon on Sunday.
Dylan McDevitt ’19 contributed reporting to this story.