Just three days after earning its second consecutive Ivy League win, Cornell men’s lacrosse fell to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome Tuesday in a game that showcased just how much work the Red has left before it prepares to make a postseason run.
The Orange prevailed, 13-7, in large part because of its dominance in the middle of the field and winning the battle for possession, leaving Cornell’s normally high-powered offense few opportunities to impact the game.
“Tuesday was probably the best defensive game we’ve played all year. We just played 70 percent of the game on defense, and it was the first game that we’ve struggled on offense to a significant degree,” said head coach Peter Milliman.
The defensive improvement came after a string of struggles on that end of the field since the start of the 2019 season.
“We had to change some things defensively, about midseason,” Milliman said. “We had to make some significant system changes, and that set us back a little bit. And I kind of saw that that was gonna take a little while.”
But the offensive production left much to be desired against Syracuse, with the team scoring fewer than 11 goals for the first time all season. The Red’s identity since the start of last season has been a high-octane offense that converts on a substantial percentage of its possessions.
“I think our offense understands that the reliance on their production is big,” Milliman said. “But I don’t think that we should’ve had to score 15 goals on Tuesday to win. I also think we should have scored 15 goals. So it goes two-sided.”
One of the highlights in the loss was the performance of freshman goaltender Chayse Ierlan. The rookie from Rochester posted an impressive 17-save outing in his first career game at the Dome, widely regarded as the most difficult place to play in college lacrosse.
“I think he’s done very well, I’m happy with the mentality, I’m happy with his work ethic. I think he’s a great teammate and he fulfills his expectations when it comes to that,” Milliman said.
With a midweek rivalry game in its rearview, Cornell (7-4, 2-2 Ivy League) will turn to yet another difficult road game: a Sunday afternoon tilt at Notre Dame. Playing at the Carrier Dome and in South Bend in back-to-back games is no small feat for any team, but the Red is recognizing an opportunity to hone in on some of the things it needs to improve before the playoffs.
“This is a great opportunity for us on all facets,” Milliman said. “Because [Notre Dame] is a Yale-level defense, this is as good as it gets.”
Once Notre Dame is taken care of, Cornell will finish its season with Ivy games against Brown and Princeton — hugely important matchups if Cornell is to secure its second consecutive trip to the conference tournament in New York. Now, the Red hopes to reestablish itself on an upward trend in order to earn a place in the NCAA Tournament, either by winning the Ivy tournament or through an at-large selection.
“I think we’re in a better place. I think the [Notre Dame] game will be a good one for us — it would be a big win,” Milliman said. “But I think Brown and Princeton are going to be significantly bigger wins, so I’m not gonna dilute one with the other.”
Indeed, a victory over the No. 10 Irish would go a long way toward padding Cornell’s resumé for an at-large selection if the Red’s hopes of a second consecutive Ivy League Championship fall short. But for now, the focus remains on the latter as Brown and Princeton loom in the distance.
“Our conference is the first avenue that we know that we can use to get into the tournament, so that’s the one we secure first,” Milliman said.
All that said, converting mental preparation to performance where it counts will continue to be the focus for the team and its fans as the most important lacrosse of the season lies ahead.
“We have not competed well enough on gameday. And if I thought that we weren’t seeing what we needed to see in practice, I probably wouldn’t have the confidence that I do right now,” Milliman said. “There’s nothing that I’ve seen so far that concerns me that we don’t have the ability to compete with anybody. Consistency has been our issue. That’s what we need to do better.”
Cornell’s final regular season push starts at noon on Sunday at Arlotta Stadium in South Bend, Indiana.