Boris Tsang / Sun File Photo

Women's hockey will be one of many teams to watch on East Hill this season.

August 25, 2021

After 18 Months Lost to COVID-19, Cornell Gears Up for New Year of Play

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Following the suspension of intercollegiate athletic competition due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic over one year ago, Cornell athletics readies for a full-scale resumption of play this year. There are numerous exciting developments and stories to watch as Cornell’s sports teams return to the fold. 

The 2020 season cancellations were perhaps the most heartbreaking for the men’s and women’s hockey teams, both of whom finished atop the polls in their respective end-of-season rankings. 

Led by head coach Mike Schafer ’86, men’s hockey proved dominant in February, ripping off nine straight wins to enter an ECAC Tournament that was ultimately canceled. Meanwhile, Doug Derraugh ’91 and the women’s team only suffered two losses the entire year and held the No. 1 seed in the ill-fated NCAA Tournament. 

Having graduated two phenomenal groups of upperclassmen, returning to the same heights of the 2019-20 season may prove difficult for both squads. That being said, Schafer and Derraugh have established tried-and-true recruiting pipelines that have provided a steady stream of talent. In short, both teams are primed to be national contenders this upcoming season. 

Across the street from Lynah Rink, Cornell football will return to Schoellkopf Field for its first action in nearly two years. In his most recent season, head coach David Archer ’05 guided the Red to its first top-half Ivy League finish since 2006. Working in Cornell’s favor is the fact that 21 players are returning for their fifth years, thanks to a one-time exemption granted by the Ivy League due to the pandemic. 

Notable players in this group include quarterback Richie Kenney, safety Logan Thut, cornerback Kenan Clarke and linebacker Lance Blass. While the Red has not claimed an Ivy League title since 1990, this motivated squad will seek to bring home the hardware to East Hill. 

One of Cornell’s most dominant teams, wrestling, will go into the season under new leadership for the first time in nearly three decades. Following former head coach Rob Koll’s departure this off-season for Stanford, former assistant Mike Grey takes the reins. 

During the 2019-20 season, the Red saw its streak of 17 straight Ivy League titles snapped, a dominant run that stands as the longest title run in Ivy League athletics. That year, though, four wrestlers took the year off to train for the Olympics, including 141-pound star Yianni Diakomihalis. Boasting a reloaded roster, Cornell will look to reclaim the Ivy title as well as its spot in the upper echelon of the wrestling hierarchy. 

Another team with a promising trajectory is field hockey. In the team’s first season under Andy Smith, the Red propelled from last to third in the Ivy League standings, a significant jump from 2018 to 2019. Equipped with a balanced roster consisting of senior leadership and young talent, Cornell will attempt to dethrone long-time Ivy champion Princeton.  

Following a last-place finish in 2015, volleyball has steadily climbed the standings, notching third-place finishes in three straight seasons. With a cohesive unit under the direction of head coach Trudy Vande Berg, the Red hopes to make the leap from third to first and claim the conference crown. 

Men’s and women’s basketball are both eyeing returns to the Ivy League Tournament. The last time the men’s team appeared in the conference postseason was back in 2018 when then-junior guard Matt Morgan was leading the Red by posting 22.5 points per game, a mark good for 11th in the nation. 

Now without Morgan and the Class of 2021, which consisted of four senior starters, the Red largely consists of unproven talent. The most notable returning players are junior forward Jordan Jones and senior guard Dean Noll, who averaged 7.3 points and 6.4 points per game, respectively. Cornell does have 10 new players — six sophomores and four freshmen — who have yet to see any court time. The Red’s success could be contingent on the contributions from these newcomers. 

Meanwhile, women’s basketball made the conference tournament as recently as 2019, but they are looking to rebound from a seventh-place Ivy finish in 2020. Without its leading scorers from 2020 — then-senior forwards Laura Bagwell-Katalinich and Samantha Widmann — Cornell will need new faces to step up. But with long-time head coach Dayna Smith still at the helm, the Red has had a penchant for beating expectations. 

Baseball may be playing its final season at Hoy Field’s current location in the middle of campus near the Engineering Quad. Pending approval, Hoy Field will shift to a more remote site east of the East Hill Plaza with construction scheduled to be complete by 2023. 

In a tough conference, the Red has finished above .500 only twice in the last eight years, with the most recent occasion being in 2017. Softball has also encountered similar difficulties. The Red’s best finish in recent memory came back in 2012 when it sported a 25-23 record.  

Prior to the cancellation of the 2020 season, women’s lacrosse rattled off a 4-2 record in a promising start. Jenny Graap, the team’s head coach since 1998, has made the team a consistent contender, netting two Ivy League regular-season titles and five NCAA Tournament appearances. 

Lastly, men’s lacrosse will aim to reach the same heights that it did in the shortened 2020 season. Led by then-head coach Pete Milliman and then-senior attacker Jeff Teat, the Red raced off to a 5-0 start, capped by a thrilling 18-17 victory over Penn State, which was ranked No. 2 at the time. 

Cornell was a clear contender for the national title, but COVID-19 abruptly ended the season. Now, the team is led by Connor Buczek ’15 after Milliman’s departure to Johns Hopkins. Buczek, a PLL all-star and former Ivy League Player of the Year back in 2014, possesses impressive credentials and spent five seasons with Cornell as an assistant prior to his elevation to head coach. If the Red can retain the offensive prowess that Buczek cultivated as an assistant, then the team is primed for a successful 2022 campaign.