For the first time this season, No. 5 men’s lacrosse will be hitting the national stage when it hosts No. 16 Penn at Schoellkopf this Sunday, March 26. The game was flexed from its normal Saturday time at the beginning of the season and pits two premier programs, which are both looking to improve to 2-0 in Ivy play.
The Red (5-1, 1-0 Ivy) is coming off its best win of the year, a dominant 20-10 victory over Yale. Cornell flexed its offensive muscles from start to finish, opening with eight goals in the first quarter and scoring four each in the final three.
“I think that was a good reminder to us that we’ve got the pieces –– we’ve got a lot in place that can make us a very good team,” said head coach Connor Buczek ’15. “It was a good opportunity for us to put on display and play a full 60 minutes and close it out the way we wanted to.”
The Red’s game against Yale was also the season debut of senior attacker Michael Long. Picking up right where he left off in last season’s playoffs, Long scored three goals and an assist. Coach Buczek discussed the significance of having Long back.
“[Long’s] a senior leader for us, a guy that we can trust to do a lot of things,” Buczek said. “He gave us a lot of poise and confidence to manage a great team and be better on the offensive end from his presence alone.”
Senior goalkeeper Chayse Ierlan had arguably his best performance of the season, making 21 saves. Despite being sidelined for just over four minutes in the first quarter with injury, Ierlan finished with a 68 percent save rate. He has been a key part of a Cornell defensive unit which ranks eighth in the NCAA in scoring defense, at 9.33 goals allowed per game.
“He’s a stud –– we’re so lucky to have him back there,” Buczek said. “His senior confidence and ability to affect outcomes is becoming very evident. It’s the type of player he is, the type of worker that he is. But the type of leader that he is right now is what’s making the difference for our team.”
With this weekend’s game being flexed to a national audience, the Red now has an extra day to prepare. However, the push-and-pull of the season also takes away a day of practice going into the following week.
“It creates a little more room to get ourselves right and ready to go,” Buczek said. “The extra day is always nice, and on the back end you lose a day and that’s the give and take of it.”
The Quakers (3-3, 1-0 Ivy) won a tight 9-8 overtime game over Princeton last Saturday, March 18. Penn is no stranger to close games, as five of its first six contests have been decided by two or fewer goals, including two overtime wins.
Penn has been playing clean lacrosse on the back end, leading the nation with a .945 clearing percentage. The Quakers are also ninth in turnovers at 14 per game.
“They’re great off the ground — they’ve got a lot of great athletes and great lacrosse players,” Buczek said. “They’re a group that capitalizes when you make mistakes, so for us it’s important to play our game and to be tough off the ground and to manage those situations well. They’re certainly going to be a stiff test for us.”
The Quakers have had some trouble with penalties, however, averaging nearly five per game. For a Cornell team that has scored on 40 percent of its power play opportunities, this is certainly a facet of Penn’s game that can be exploited.
The Red’s contest is set to start at noon at Schoellkopf Field. It will be available nationally on ESPNU.