For years, Cornell and Princeton have dominated Ivy League men’s lacrosse. The perennial powers have been facing each other since 1922 and have combined to win at least a share of 44-of-54 Ivy League titles. Recent history has been no different as one of the two schools has won at least a share of the last 16 Ivy League titles including this year’s crown.
Thus, it was no surprise that the two teams played for the inaugural Ivy League Tournament Championship on Sunday May 9 at Schoellkopf Field on the campus of the Big Red. The tournament was comprised of four teams. Top-seeded Cornell played fourth-seeded Brown while third-seeded Yale faced the Tigers, the second seed, on Friday May 7.
Those matchups came about following the final weekend of the regular season when the Big Red won at Princeton 10-9 which helped to force a four-way regular season tie at 4-2 in conference play between the four schools. Cornell and the Tigers each went 2-1 against the other three teams while Brown and Yale each went 1-2. The Big Red’s head-to-head victory over Princeton gave them the edge in securing the tournament’s number one seed and thus being the host of the tournament.
Cornell disposed of a pesky Brown team 14-8 in the tournament semifinals on Friday May 7 to avenge a 13-10 home loss to the Bears on April 24. That was preceeded by the Tigers’ 7-6 win over Yale earlier that night. With the Big Red and Princeton facing off in the first ever league tournament championship game, nothing short of a spectacular game was expected and the two teams delivered on that with the Tigers prevailing 10-9 in overtime.
On a cold and windy day, Cornell and Princeton (11-4) played another close game that came down to the wire. Eight days earlier, The Big Red took a 9-3 lead on the Tigers into the fourth quarter before Princeton rallied with six goals in the final period, part of a 6-1 scoring edge. Trailing 10-9 with eight seconds left, the Tigers had two shots in the final eight seconds only to see one sail high and another hit the post as Cornell held on for the win in the final regular season game for both teams.
The win gave the Big Red a three-game winning streak over Princeton and a 7-1 record in its’ last eight games against the Tigers heading into the tournament title game. It was anyone’s game in a rivalry that has been relatively even with each school posting long winning streaks dating back to 1922.
Entering the title game, Princeton lead the all-time series at 36-33-2. Princeton logged 17 straight wins from 1933 to 1964 (the schools didn’t play every year during this stretch) and Cornell posted 22 straight wins from 1968 to 1989. The Big Red also owns the only NCAA Tournament win in the series which came in 2009 during their run to the National Championship game against 11-time national champion Syracuse.
So with the stage set based on a competitive history and only one of the last eight games being decided by double figures, the two teams played yet another thrilling game for the Ivy League Tournament Championship.
Only two man-up goals were scored in the whole game as the two teams
combined to go 2-for-9. Cornell (10-5), which finished 2-for-6 on the advantage, scored both of them in the first half en route to a 6-2 lead at intermission. Leading 3-1 with 5:55 left to play in the first quarter, the Big Red padded its’ lead by scoring the next two goals on man-up opportunities for a 5-1 edge.
Freshman attack Steve Mock scored with senior attack Ryan Hurley lending the assist for the first man-up goal with about three minutes left in the first quarter. Less than two minutes into the second quarter, Hurley scored off an assist from sophomore attack Rob Pannell, the 2010 Ivy League Player of the Year.
Trailing by four goals at the half was nothing new to the Tigers which have had to rally in recent matchups against their conference rivals to make it close. Just a week earlier, Princeton rallied from a 9-3 deficit to lose by just one.
“I give our guys a ton of credit,” Tigers’ first-year coach Chris Bates said. “We got down early again to (Cornell). It was a character comeback for us,” Bates added. “I thought we showed a lot of resolve and made some plays at the end.”
In doing so, Princeton turned the tables on some key statistics. The Big Red had a 20-4 edge in ground balls at the half including a 14-1 advantage in the second quarter. After splitting six face-offs in the first quarter, Cornell won all four in the second quarter. The Big Red also held a 26-17 edge in shots at halftime.
Bates said he had never seen a stat like his team being down 14-1 in ground balls.
“Going into halftime, our message was simple,” Bates said. “We felt we were playing pretty good half field defense. We had generated some shots. We just needed the ball,” Bates added.
“We did a much better job (in the second half) and we were more aggressive on the wings,” Bates said. “Peter Smyth did a great job facing off. We felt like we were in striking distance and would kind of just crawl back in.”
The Tigers started doing so with senior attack Rob Engelke scoring unassisted to open the third period scoring with 9:16 to go in the period. A little less than five minutes later, Hurley assisted junior midfielder Jack Dudley as Cornell took a 7-3 lead with 4:38 to play in the quarter.
While it looked as if the Big Red was taking control of the game, Princeton was still in it in large part due to the play of sophomore goalkeeper Tyler Fiorito who finished with 16 saves.
“I don’t think (being behind) is the place we want to be in being down a few goals,” Fiorito said. “Knowing that we are able to comeback and we’ve done it before, we definitely can do it again. We started coming one step at a time, one save, one stop, and one goal,” Fiorito added.
“I think that is what we try to do every time we get down, “ Fiorito said. “We’ll get back in the game. We’ve done it all year.”
Over the next 7:33, the Tigers came alive with a 4-0 surge to force a 7-7 tie. Engelke got things started with an unassisted goal and also helped to complete the run by assisting on a goal by junior attack Chris McBride with 12:05 to play in the fourth quarter. Inbetween, Princeton got goals by junior attack Jack McBride, the cousin of Chris, and senior attack Scott Mackenzie.
The teams would split four goals over the next 9:14 in the fourth quarter as the momentum went back and forth. Hurley broke the 7-7 tie by scoring unassisted to put the Big Red up 8-7. Just over four minutes later, Jack McBride scored unassisted for an 8-8 tie.
Just eight seconds later, sophomore defender John Cunningham scored unassisted as the Tigers took a 9-8 lead. Princeton’s lead would last more than four minutes before sophomore midfielder Roy Lang scored off a Pannell assist with just 2:51 left in regulation.
The four minute-overtime period started with Cornell senior midfielder Austin Boykin winning the face-off. However the Tigers would have a 4-1 edge in shots in the overtime. Following a successful clear by Princeton with 20 seconds left to play, a shot by Mackenzie went wide with eight second left. Princeton quickly gathered possession and scored the game-winner on a goal by Jack McBride with just one second left in overtime. McBride, right-handed, got off the shot with his left hand for the Tigers.
“I came up on my left and I think (the defender) thought I was going to roll back (to my right),” McBride recalled. “My lefty is not the most reliable, but luckily it worked out for me at the end.”
Big Red junior defender Max Feely was guarding McBride on the game-winning goal and thought it was to Cornell’s advantage to force McBride to shoot with his left side.
“We knew Jack McBride was a really strong righty so I was trying to get (the stick) to his left hand,” Feely said. “He got a step on me as he was going to his left. We expected him to go right most of the game but he certainly has a capable left hand.”
“I give our guys a lot of credit,” Big Red head coach Jeff Tambroni said. “I thought they fought hard and put ourselves in a position to be back in the game at the end. We gave ourselves plenty of opportunities to win it. Credit the Princeton defense for keeping them in the game and then capitalizing on that last play.”
It was a fitting end to a game between two heavyweights not only in the Ivy League, but on the national scene as well.
NOTE: Both teams advanced to the NCAA Tournament. In the opening round, seventh-seeded Cornell beat Loyola College 11-10 in triple overtime on Saturday May 15 in Ithaca, NY. One day later, Princeton lost 8-5 at home to Notre Dame. Cornell advances to the quarterfinals where they will play Army at Stony Brook University’s LaValle Stadium on Sunday May 23. Army beat two-time defending national champion Syracuse, the tournament’s second seed, 9-8 in double overtime in the first round on Sunday May 16 on Syracuse’s home field in the Carrier Dome.