Since Cornell men’s lacrosse was playing Brown in the Ivy League tournament semifinal two weekends ago, it has been playing for its season. Each game since then could have been the Red’s last.
Since preparing for that game, Cornell (13-4, 6-2 Ivy) has taken on a mindset to breed the success that it has cultivated: win one more game, earn the chance to play another. And this week it will do that once more.
“We want to spend more time together,” said junior attack Clarke Petterson. “What we’ve talked about is just enjoying the moment of every game pretty much since that Brown game.”
If unseeded Cornell is able to stun the world of college lacrosse and knock of top-seeded Maryland (13-3, 5-2 Big Ten) on Sunday, it will earn one more week together — exactly one more week, in fact.
The Red is just one win away from reaching Championship Weekend, a place the program has not been since 2013.
“We, pretty consistently, have been playing some of the top teams,” said interim head coach Peter Milliman. “I don’t think the confidence has ever been an issue for us. I think we’ve always known that we can compete with the best teams.”
After defeating Syracuse on the road in what was technically an upset victory this past Sunday, the Red has earned a date with the No. 1 Terrapins at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis — just half an hour across U.S. Highway 50 from Maryland’s College Park campus.
“I guess it’s a neutral site but it doesn’t seem that way,” Milliman said. “It doesn’t really matter where you’re playing, you just know who you’re going after … We spend most of the week focusing on ourselves and doing the best we can for us.”
As Cornell has extended its season these last few games, defensive adjustments made in the second half have been abundant.
In Cornell’s last two games it has given up just five second-half goals, a stark contrast to the 12 it has allowed in first halves. Credit for this strength may be due to assistant coach Jordan Stevens ’15, who helms Cornell’s defensive unit.
“Coach Stevens is a great mind,” said senior goaltender Christian Knight. “It’s hard to predict what every single offense is going to do coming into the game … And a lot of credit goes to [Stevens] for figuring out what we have to do on the defensive end to counter them.”
On offense, Cornell has been focused on handling opponents and their approach to sophomore attack Jeff Teat, one of the nation’s leading scorers and the Red’s best offensive weapon. Syracuse employed a strategy similar to that of Brown in the Ivy League tournament, using a shut-off tactic to place their best defender on Teat and lock him off from creating plays.
In response, Cornell has deployed five-on-five offensive sets to allow the Red’s remaining offensive players to work with more space without Teat — but also without the opponent’s most talented defender.
“I think [the five-on-five offense] is going really well, we’ve improved,” Petterson said. “We’re adding in new sets in that five-on-five … And just learning how to play that five-on-five because it’s very different from six-on-six.”
Possession wise, Syracuse dominated the Red both on ground balls and faceoffs in the first-round game. The Red has had a slump at the faceoff X in the absence of sophomore FOGO Paul Rasimowicz, who suffered an upper body injury on April 21 in the Red’s regular season contest against Brown.
In the four-game stretch since, Cornell has lost 55 faceoffs and won just 31. Despite that disparity, Cornell has won three of those games while losing the faceoff battle in all of them, thanks in part to possession efficiency.
The Red boasts a best-in-the-nation shooting percentage, scoring on 40 percent of the shots that it takes. In other words, through what little possessions Cornell has been earning, it makes the most of its offensive opportunities.
As for the opponent, the Terrapins sport an excellent man-up offense, scoring a goal on over 50 percent of their extra-man opportunities. The clash with Maryland will be the third time this season that Cornell has faced an opponent ranked No. 1 in the nation, having lost closely to then-No. 1 Albany early in the year and later defeating then-No. 1 Yale to win the Ivy League tournament.
The last time Cornell faced the Terrapins in the NCAA tournament was in 2014, when Maryland claimed a controversial, one-goal victory on its home turf in the first round. Knight, a fifth-year senior and Maryland native, is the only member of the team who was on the field that day.
Cornell’s quest for revenge over the Terrapins will start this Sunday at noon at Navy, as the Red plays for a spot on the biggest stage in college lacrosse.