Timmy Xi/Sun Staff Photographer

Men's lacrosse celebrates a goal against Harvard at Schoellkopf Field on Apr. 20, 2024.

May 1, 2024

Rematch With Penn Awaits Men’s Lacrosse in Ivy Tournament Semifinal

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5-1. That’s how men’s lacrosse concluded its Ivy League slate in the regular season.

Cornell clinched the top seed in the Ivy League with a convincing 15-10 win over Dartmouth, though one slight error prevented it from a perfect conference record.

The lone loss? To Penn, when Cornell traveled to Philadelphia and was sent home after a heartbreaking 11-10 double-overtime loss.

Now, on its home field, the No. 7 Red has another chance to upend the No. 16 Quakers, a matchup that was all but guaranteed as seeding was finalized. A couple of big wins by No. 13 Princeton over No. 12 Yale and Penn slid the Tigers up one slot, pushing the Quakers down to the fourth seed.

“We went there and didn’t get the job done and left some plays out there,” said head coach Connor Buczek. “And the nice part is now [we] get an opportunity to –– I don’t know if ‘right that loss’ is the right way to say it, but [we get] an opportunity to take care of business, and [it’s] obviously always nice to be at home to do that.”

Penn (8-5, 4-2 Ivy) has taken six out of the last 10 matchups against Cornell, the latest being the double-overtime win on March 30. The Quakers’ Cam Rubin posted six goals –– including the deciding score –– in Penn’s win.

“They play such a unified style. They do a great job supporting their own ball defender. They do a great job covering up the easy opportunity behind it, and they just do a really good job being on the same page,” Buczek said. “Obviously, having a great goalie behind it makes everything look a little bit more seamless.”

In net for the Quakers is veteran goalkeeper Emmett Caroll, who boasts the nation’s third-best save percentage –– 59.4 percent –– and who made 17 saves in his last outing against the Red.

“They’re not necessarily concerned about the bad shots because they know they have a good goalie that can gobble those up,” Buczek said. “So it’s important for us to play through sets and not expect anything easy.”

Four Cornell goals in the March 30 game came off the stick of senior attackman CJ Kirst, who has only further established himself as one of the top attackmen in the nation. Coming off of a seven-point performance against Dartmouth –– his seventh game this season with five or more points –– Kirst will look to be a leading force on and off the field.

Kirst also awaits the announcement of the Tewaaraton Award finalists on May 9, after the senior was tabbed a finalist in 2023 and a nominee this season.

“I think the numbers are great. I think when you roll that tape, I’m not sure there’s many guys in the country that do as much [as he does offensively],” Buczek said. “But he is so unique in how he competes and how he makes everybody around him better. … I think he’s the best player in the country, in my opinion.”

Uncertainty on the attack persists, though, as fifth-year attackman Michael Long did not play or dress for Cornell in its season finale against Dartmouth. Long, who has consistently battled injuries throughout his elongated undergrad, is still a question mark heading into Friday night’s contest.

“I hope so,” Buczek said when asked if Long will slot into the lineup for Friday’s game. “The expectation is that [Long] will be in the lineup for us Friday.”

Another threat for Cornell is freshman attackman Willem Firth, who was recently named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Firth has posted 21 goals and 12 assists for 31 points in 13 games for Cornell, including a recent five-point performance against Harvard at home.

Other postseason award recipients for Cornell include first-team honorees Kirst, senior midfielder Hugh Kelleher and junior defenseman Jayson Singer. Long and sophomore long stick midfielder/defenseman Brendan Staub earned second-team honors, while fifth-year attackman Spencer Wirtheim, Firth and senior face-off/midfielder Marc Psyllos were honorable mentions.

While Cornell (9-4, 5-1 Ivy) flaunts weapons on its attack and a growing defensive corps, home turf is perhaps the biggest advantage the Red hold. Cornell has yet to lose on its own turf this season, posting a perfect 7-0. The Red’s last loss at Schoellkopf came at the hands of Michigan in overtime of last year’s NCAA Tournament first round.

“We take a lot of pride in protecting George [Boiardi]’s house and making sure that we are playing good lacrosse and honoring that tradition on Schoellkopf,” Buczek said. “For us to be able to sleep in our own beds, to be able to have a home crowd, to do all those things in your normal routine at home is so important.”

This year’s Ivy League Tournament marks the first in Ithaca since 2013.

“I don’t think I’ll ever forget that crowd as a player, … just an incredible crowd and really cool atmosphere,” Buczek, who was a sophomore at the time, said. “Not sure there’s many better places in college lacrosse.”

The Red got to the same position in 2023, facing Yale in the Ivy Tournament semifinal in New York City. After a promising run, Cornell was handily defeated by the Bulldogs, 22-15, on national television. 

“We try to separate those things out,” Buczek said when asked about getting redemption after last year’s disappointing tournament appearance. “I don’t think we will do too much looking in the hindsight as much as we are just focused on our opponent and excited to be at home and in the friendly confines. … Hopefully [we will] take care of business and play deep into the weekend.”

Cornell’s game against Penn is the second of two primetime, nationally broadcasted games as part of the Ivy League Tournament. The Red will get a shot at advancing to the tournament finals for the first time since 2018. 

“As you look at the end of the regular season, you hope you’re pretty close to a product that is capable of winning National Championships and Ivy League Championships, and I think we’re getting there,” Buczek said. 

The Ivy League Tournament semifinal will take place under the lights at Schoellkopf Field, as the opening faceoff is slated for 8:30 p.m. The game will be broadcasted nationally on ESPNU and live on ESPN+.