Maybe it’s fate.
Just over a month after lacrosse legend Richie Moran’s passing, Moran’s alma mater will meet the team he coached for 29 years in the national championship game when Maryland and Cornell play for the title on Monday.
There’s a lot tying the two programs together as they prepare for Monday’s title game.
“There’s a lot of DNA that’s shared between these programs,” head coach Connor Buczek ’15 said. “It’s fitting, especially in the year of Coach Moran’s passing, that this is how it finishes up on Memorial Day.”
Moran’s presence will loom large over the contest. Shortly after retiring from coaching in 1997, Moran responded to Maryland’s offer to return to his alma mater in an administrative position by leaving a note for his friend that read, “Cornell with Love.”
After only playing five games in 2020 and missing the 2021 season, this Cornell team has taken Moran’s signature phrase, “It’s Great to Be Here,” to heart. Moran’s death in the midst of this season heightened that mentality among the team.
“These guys are back with a renewed sense of purpose and a sense of urgency to do what they love to do and to do it together,” Buczek said in an interview before traveling to the Final Four last week. “When we’re talking about perspective and a renewed sense of urgency, I think [Moran]’s passing certainly had something to do with that.”
Reflecting on making the Final Four in his first season as head coach, Buczek credited the culture that Moran built.
“We had an incredible blueprint laid out for us, and for that I am grateful,” Buczek said. “When we’re talking about Coach Moran, it goes back to him and what he built. This family, and this culture and this tradition of success. We stand on the shoulders of giants.”
As he prepares his team to face the undefeated Terrapins, Buczek credited the team’s hard work, rather than fate, for bringing it to the title game.
“The fact that we are where we are is due in large part to the guys that we have in the room and the tradition and the precedent that’s been set at a place like Cornell,” Buczek said. “We can start talking about fate and destiny, but it’s a lot of hard work, a lot of perseverance, a lot of resiliency and great leadership that’s got us where we are.”
In 1976, Moran’s Cornell met an undefeated Maryland in the national championship game, in one of the greatest games in the sport’s history. Cornell won 16-13 in overtime to complete an undefeated season and give Moran his second national championship – five years after winning the inaugural national championship in 1971, also over Maryland.
That 1976 team featured Mike French, who for 46 years held sole possession of Cornell’s record for most goals in a season with 65 that year. On Saturday, fifth-year captain John Piatelli scored five goals in the Red’s win over Rutgers to tie French’s record. If Piatelli scores in the national championship game, he will take sole possession of the record.
Among the other ties between the two programs is Maryland head coach John Tillman, who played for the Red under Moran, and midfielder Jonathan Donville, who played for Cornell before transferring to Maryland for his final year of eligibility.
“For everyone on the team that played with him, [Donville]’s a great guy and one of our best friends. Obviously, we’ll put that aside for a little bit on Monday,” said senior goaltender Chayse Ierlan.
Whatever brought these two teams to the championship game won’t make Monday’s task any easier for Cornell. The Terrapins enter the title game as heavy favorites to complete an undefeated season.
“They’re a great team and they do a lot of things well. We’re going to have to come out and play our game of lacrosse and not worry too much about the external factors,” Ierlan said. “There’s a reason that we’re on this stage. The hard work that we’ve put in … we just have to play our game.”