A week after defeating the No. 1 team in the nation and laying claim to the Ivy League tournament championship, Cornell men’s lacrosse is on the road once more to take on its rival Syracuse in the first round of the NCAAs.
The Red (12-4, 6-2 Ivy League) is the road team this weekend despite boasting a number of resume items over its central New York rival — including a head-to-head victory over the Orange (8-6, 4-1 Atlantic Coast) at Schoellkopf Field April 10.
“I don’t think it really makes a difference whether it’s here or whether it’s [in Syracuse],” said junior attack Clarke Petterson. “We’re excited to have another week together … We’ll play them [in Ithaca] or we’ll play them in [Syracuse coach John] Desko’s backyard. We’re just excited to be together.”
The advantages of seeing a team for the second time this season aside, Cornell knows that it has a difficult task in front of it as it prepares to face one of its biggest rivals on the national stage.
“We know Syracuse well, it’s a team we’ve got a long history with,” said interim head coach Peter Milliman. “They’re a great team, and we’re really excited to get a chance to compete.”
The last time that Cornell and Syracuse faced each other in the NCAAs was the 2009 national championship game. In a thriller, Cornell had a one-goal lead in the final seconds, but the Orange tied it with nearly no time on the clock and went on to win it in the opening seconds of the overtime period.
“The Syracuse game is always fun, it’s always a little chippy and both teams are going as hard as they can,” said senior midfielder Jordan Dowiak. “We’ve had a pretty storied past playing each other … All the alums are excited from both programs, and it should be a fun one.”
Sunday’s contest marks the first time since 2015 that Cornell finds itself in the NCAA tournament. But back then the Red was the home team — an advantage that proved unhelpful as Cornell suffered a first-round loss to Albany.
The current seniors are the only members of the team who were around for that last appearance, and just five of them even stepped on the field. The team will look to the oldest class for guidance as it has all year long in preparing for the spotlight of the national playoffs.
“The seniors on this team have really led the way, all the way through,” Milliman said. “My best contribution to that would be allowing them and supporting them in doing that.”
A major part of what has brought Cornell to this point has been its high-powered offense — a unit that features one of the premier players in the country in sophomore attack Jeff Teat. Teat, the fastest player to 100 career points in Cornell history, plays on a line with Petterson, a classmate of his at The Hill Academy in Ontario prior to coming to Cornell.
“A lot of it just comes from ball movement and body language and reading each other’s eyes,” Milliman said of the relationship between the two Canadians. “Putting [Petterson] on the same attack line with Jeff has really allowed the two of them to create some scoring that we didn’t even know was there.”
While Teat and Petterson are the two highest scorers on the nation’s second-best offense in Cornell, the Red’s offense has some unique characteristics that have left opposing defenses a very difficult task.
A Cornell player records an assist on nearly 70 percent of the goals that the team scores — the highest rate in college lacrosse. What’s more, to go along with the Red’s deadly top attackmen is the nation’s second highest scoring midfield, led by Dowiak and sophomore Jake McCulloch.
“A lot of our confidence will come from our offensive production,” Milliman said. “If we get a chance to get the ball in our offensive end, we can compete there with some of the best teams offensively.”
How far Cornell will go this tournament remains to be seen, but it’s a safe bet that the potency of its offense will carry it to wherever it may go. The action starts at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse at 7:15 p.m. on Sunday.