Aaron Snyder/Sun Sports Editor

Senior Angelo Petrakis is one of the faceoff specialists in the committee that Cornell uses.

March 9, 2023

PREVIEW: Men’s Lacrosse Gears up for Another Top Program in Penn State

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No. 3 men’s lacrosse (4-0) is in the midst of its toughest stretch of the season. Coming off of a win against No. 9 Ohio State, the Red will return to Schoellkopf this Saturday, March 11 to take on another Big Ten opponent, No. 8 Penn State (4-1). Cornell is seeking to improve to 5-0 for the third consecutive season.

The Red had its most notable win of the year this past Saturday, March 4 when it beat the Buckeyes, 16-13. Cornell was able to build a large lead in the first half, finding open looks off of efficient ball movement and field awareness.

“We pride ourselves on playing six man offense and making sure that everybody’s working for opportunities with or without the ball,” said head coach Connor Buczek ’15.” “We did a really good job spacing the field well, sharing the ball and creating good opportunities for our offense and not just settling.” 

On defense, Cornell was able to create pressure, taking away Ohio State’s best offensive option, All-American Jack Myers. Freshman defenseman Brendan Staub led the charge with five ground balls and two caused turnovers.

“I thought we had a good game plan and went in and defended their knowns well,” Buczek said. “I thought we executed well — I thought our defense played well and picked up the ball in our defensive end very well and then cleared well. All of those things lead to being able to avoid second chance opportunities.”

The Red also continued its success on the ride, as the team’s swarming, tenacious mentality helped turn defense into offense. Cornell currently ranks fifth in the country in ground balls per game — at 39.25 — and fourth in caused turnovers per game, at 11.50.

“We spend a lot of time preaching the tough, gritty plays that maybe don’t show up on the stat sheet,” Buczek said. “For us, it’s a mentality thing — work hard, earn extra possessions, find ways to shift the field in our direction, and realistically, those guys’ efforts have created some great plays.”

Faceoffs remain a work in progress for the Red, which went 14 of 33 and a faceoff violation in the fourth quarter. The 42 percent win rate at the x is somewhat misleading, as Cornell was able to recover multiple ground balls at midfield following faceoffs. 

Freshman faceoff specialist Jack Cascadden, who scored his first collegiate goal in the contest, took the majority of the reps at the x. However, the plan for the time being is to run faceoffs by committee.

“Those guys [faceoff specialists] take a lot of wear and tear and there’s a lot of ups and downs and possession changes and quick goals and all that sort of stuff that I have to imagine makes it hard on a singular faceoff guy,” Buczek said. “We’re fortunate that we’ve got a few of them that we feel very comfortable with and guys that have given us a good spark.”

Cornell now prepares to face a Penn State team which is currently on a three-game win streak — its last two wins coming against fellow Ivy League programs Yale and Penn. The Nittany Lions are led by head coach Jeff Tambroni, who is in his 13th year at the position. Tambroni previously was at the helm for the Red for 10 seasons, serving as head coach from 2001-2010.

“They’re a great team — they have the ball on offense, they share it well,” Buczek said. “Defensively they’re strong — they’ve got a new starting goaltender this year that has had a great start to the season… So for us, it’s going to start where it always does, we got to make sure we win some faceoffs, we got to make sure we get some stops on the defensive end, and then offensively hopefully take that next step forward and continue to progress with sharing the ball with spacing and continue to take the next step shooting.”

Though it faces a series of challenging contests in the coming weeks, the team is not interested in getting ahead of itself. Coach Buczek emphasized the importance of a day-to-day mentality.

“We even try to dial it in a little closer from week to week to day to day,” Buczek said. “If we can have a great day of practice today on Tuesday, that sets us up for a good opportunity on Wednesday and a good opportunity on Thursday. So that’s kind of the way we’re looking at this, where you can get caught looking ahead with the slate we have coming up. But realistically for us, there’s no big games or big days. There’s just days.”

The Red’s contest is set to start at noon at Schoellkopf Field. It will be available on ESPN+.