Coming off the heels of an expectation-surpassing 2018 campaign, Cornell men’s lacrosse is ready to begin its quest to defend its Ivy League championship and make even greater strides toward the program’s fourth national title.
The season opener features the 138th installment of the Cornell-Hobart rivalry — the oldest in collegiate lacrosse. The Red came out on top last year for its 86th win against the Statesmen, despite falling behind early.
“Against Hobart last year we started out pretty slow,” said senior captain Jake McCulloch. “Coming out more intense is something we need to focus on.”
Hobart has already had the opportunity to shake off the rust, having competed in two games already this season. And in the two games they have played, the Statesmen have tallied 43 goals.
“Hobart was short-handed in a large way last year; they were missing some key pieces,” said head coach Peter Milliman. “They are definitely deeper, they are playing faster. They are very good in the middle of the field right now.”
Milliman’s squad also faced Lehigh — its second opponent of the weekend — last year.
“Lehigh may be short-handed, but they have a lot of seniors,” Milliman said. “They are very good. They are going to play physical. Nothing is going to be easy.”
The Red managed to defeat the Mountain Hawks on the road last year despite being outplayed at the faceoff circle, which occurred several times last season due to injuries and a lack of depth and experience.
“The biggest change between last year and this year [with faceoffs] is the depth at that position,” Milliman said. “I expect our guys to compete a bit more consistently.”
Junior FOGO Paul Rasimowicz, who missed a good chunk of last season and most of the playoffs, is healthy and ready to lead the faceoff unit, Milliman said on Tuesday.
Though Rasimowicz will be the go-to guy, he will be joined in the faceoff platoon by sophomore Luca Tria and freshman Timmy Graham.
“Statistically, if you took the entire year out, we may not have looked like the best faceoff team in the country [last year],” Milliman said. “But we beat pretty much everybody after the third game of the season. … That lasted right up until playoffs.”
At goaltender, Cornell has just graduated fifth-year senior and 2018 team MVP Christian Knight, whose strong play in the cage at critical moments last season helped define Cornell’s postseason success.
Now, junior Caelahn Bullen is at the top of the depth chart, a slot he inherited in part because of his strong performance during Knight’s five-game absence last season. Joining Bullen is freshman Chayse Ierlan, a five-star recruit from Rochester who missed a good chunk of 2018 fall ball with a broken thumb.
“Right now, Caelahn is solidified as our starting spot in goal,” Milliman said. “But Chayse is very good, he’s very talented, he works hard, he’s a great teammate. … He’s going to be pushing Caelahn I’m sure.”
Another adjustment the Red will have to make this season concerns some new rule changes, most notable of which is the addition of an 80-second clock — 20 seconds for clearing the ball and 60 seconds for shooting it. In the past, shot clocks were activated at a referee’s discretion and teams could avoid having a timer put on them by making it look like they were trying to score without shooting the ball.
“[The 60-second shot clock] puts everyone on an even playing field,” Milliman said. “You can’t deceptively run an offense that can earn you more time. … It’s not subjective based on the referees that you have or the defense that you’re running.”
On the clear, Cornell struggled at times last year, finishing 47th in the country at an .860 clearing rate. Now, the Red will have a bit more of a time crunch in executing clears than they are used to.
“If you have a team that rides well, and it takes you 10 seconds to get your bearings, you have to be moving up the field quickly,” Milliman said. “I think 10-man rides are going to be interesting to see.”
Notable matchups on the schedule this year include highly ranked out-of-conference opponents — some old and some new. Early in the season, Cornell will have the challenge of facing No. 2 Penn State in Charlotte, North Carolina. The Red defeated the Nittany Lions last season, also at a neutral site.
Shortly before the postseason, Cornell will have a pair of road matchups at No. 20 Syracuse and No. 6 Notre Dame in mid-April. Cornell has won in the Carrier Dome as recently as last year, where it defeated the Orange in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
Cornell has not faced Notre Dame since the 2010 NCAA semifinal, when the Fighting Irish came out on top. Just like the Red, Notre Dame qualified for the NCAA tournament last season and is primed for another strong campaign.
Until then, Cornell will look to start the season strong this weekend and pick up right where it left off last year. Time will tell if the squad is worthy of its No. 4 ranking.
Faceoff is at 5 p.m. Friday in Geneva, New York.