This post has been updated.
NEW YORK — After a long seven-year drought, Cornell men’s lacrosse has reclaimed the throne as Ivy League champions.
Throughout the 2018 season, the Red continued to surprise and show that no challenge was too difficult for it. Today, Cornell did it again. Not even the nation’s best team — No. 1 Yale — was too big a challenge for the Cornell squad as they sent the Bulldogs packing, 14-8.
“We competed in every facet,” said interim head coach Peter Milliman. “We knew that there was a lot of uphill battles in the game today, we just needed to come out and compete … I thought we did a good job of that.”
In the early going of the Ivy League Championship, the lead continued to change hands between Cornell (12-4, 6-2 Ivy) and Yale (13-3, 7-1 Ivy). Neither team was able to grab a substantial lead and the Red entered halftime up a goal, 6-5.
“We struggled through some bad clears, we struggled through some turnovers,” Milliman said. “Guys just really rallied and stayed positive and stayed supportive and did an awesome job.”
But the underdogs wouldn’t have entered halftime close to Yale, let alone ahead, if not for the performance senior goaltender Christian Knight. After a stellar performance in the semifinal win against Brown, Knight stood on his head again Sunday, recording 16 saves on the day. Knight’s 35 combined saves set an Ivy League tournament record.
“This is one of the happiest moments of my life,” Knight said. “It’s a really special thing to accomplish with a really special team … We set our minds on an Ivy League championship, a tournament championship, during the fall. And this is what we’ve worked to since the beginning.”
For its part, the Cornell defense was outstanding in front of Knight. Assistant coach and defensive coordinator Jordan Stevens ’15 was the architect as the Red gameplanned to shut down a high-powered Yale offense.
“This ranks up there with the top couple of defensive games we’ve played this year,” Milliman said. “When you can give [Knight] an opportunity to see the ball and know where the shots are going to come from, it’s a lot different of a look.”
Perhaps the biggest defensive adjustment that came in the game was Cornell’s approach to Yale’s standout attackman Ben Reeves, the reigning Ivy League player of the year. In the first half, Reeves scored four of Yale’s five goals and had the Bulldogs still very much in the game at the break. In the game’s final 30 minutes, however, Reeves scored just one goal as Cornell pulled away for the win.
“[We made] subtle changes trying to pressure him a little bit when he was adjacent to the ball,” Milliman said. “Just make it harder for him to get the ball … deny him a few possessions.”
One of the most electric moments of the game came at the 14:24 mark of the fourth quarter, when senior defensive Jake Pulver scooped up a ground ball at Cornell’s own restraining line, took a few steps forward and fired the ball from more than midfield into an empty Yale net.
Take another look at the midfield strike from Jake Pulver — the first of the senior captain’s career. pic.twitter.com/cTZVBUuGNK
— Cornell Daily Sun Sports (@DailySunSports) May 6, 2018
“I knew he was throwing it into the net,” sophomore attack Jeff Teat said of the Pulver goal. “He practiced it; he’s good at it and he stuck that one. It was a big mental swing for us and we built off it. It was a big play.”
Pulver’s goal was the first in his four-year career and gave Cornell a 9-6 lead. It was from that point forward that the Red began to pull away. But it wasn’t the only goal by a Cornell defender on Sunday: sophomore Brandon Salvatore also netted a goal — just the third of his career.
On the offensive whole, Cornell was once again led by Teat, who was responsible for six points — including five assists.
With the tournament victory, Cornell has earned an automatic bid the NCAA Tournament.
“I feel confident to saying we are a good enough team to compete with some of the best teams in the country, if not all of them,” Milliman said. “When we play our best, maybe we can beat them all.”
Cornell’s spot in the NCAA Tournament will be revealed tonight at 9 p.m.