Men’s Lacrosse Drops Final Game to Princeton, Blames Poor Offensive Execution



This story was first published on May 1 here.

The Cornell men’s lacrosse team (6-7, 1-5 Ivy) finished its season on a disappointing note on April 30 with a 7-6 loss to rival Princeton (5-8, 2-4 Ivy). Although the game had no postseason implications, the Cornell-Princeton rivalry is one of the oldest in collegiate lacrosse and there is always pride riding on the game for the sake of the rivalry regardless of each team’s standings.

Early goals from senior midfielder Ryan Matthews and sophomore midfielder Kason Tarbell left the Red with an early 2-0 lead with 11:26 remaining in the first quarter. However, three late first quarter goals from Princeton junior attack Gavin McBride (and one from junior defenseman Marshall Peters) left the teams tied 3-3 going out of the first quarter. The Tigers outscored the Red 3-1 in the second quarter to send the game to halftime with Princeton leading 6-4.

But something changed in the second half, and the Red were able to limit the Tigers to just one goal.

Junior midfielder Grant Mahler did not feel like anything in particular caused this second half improvement.

“I don’t think we did anything too crazy team-wise,” he said. “We just were able to get more comfortable with the game.”

It was the Tigers’ senior night and also the last game ever for the Red’s eight seniors, which meant there was a lot of excitement and nerves going into the matchup.

“There were probably a bit of nerves at the beginning,” Mahler said. “But [we] knew that six goals in second half would be too many, and [the defense] was able to come through for us in the second half.”

Head coach Matt Kerwick agreed, adding that the emotional battle of a game like this can be quite difficult.

“I think through the course of the game there’s a lot of emotions when you know it’s your last one,” he said. “So I think the guys battled and really fought to the last whistle.”

The Red’s defense was excellent all game, as senior goalkeeper Brennan Donville picked up 10 saves to accompany his seven allowed goals, and the Red also won 11-17 faceoffs and picked up 33 ground balls (to Princeton’s 28). Mahler won four of seven restarts.

It was on the offensive side that Red struggled most.

“Defense for sure was great, especially in the second half,” Mahler said. “ [But] we were struggling to get the ball in, so just finishing on a few more of those opportunities would have been key for us.”

The Red has faced the problem of failing to finish opportunities all season.

“I thought the effort as usual was very good,” Kerwick said. “We’ll just have to execute at a better level.”

Although the Red outscored Princeton 2-1 in the second half, this was not enough to overcome the Tigers’ early lead.

The game marked the first time since 1988 Cornell and Princeton have played each other with neither team ranked nationally. This season also marks the first time since 1994 that neither Princeton or Cornell has at least finished with a share of the Ivy League title.

It was a difficult year for both teams, but the Red knew going into the year that development over the course of the season would be a process, with such a young team.

The team’s shining moment came during the Red’s surprising upset of No 9. Syracuse.

In a season categorized by inexperience, youthful mistakes and overall subpar play by the standard’s of the program’s illustrious history, the 10-9 win over Syracuse on April 12 was a hard-fought victory.

The game was just the second in the 103-game history between the programs that went to overtime, the other came in 2009 in the national championship, a game that Cornell would go on to lose.

After the Orange won the opening overtime face-off, the upset seemed in doubt. But when the Red forced Syracuse into a difficult shot that sailed out of bounds, Cornell took over on offense and the team went to work to try to win on its home turf for the first time in a month.

On the ensuing possession, two Cornell shots were off the mark, but Cornell regained possession each time. The third shot would be the one to make the headlines.

“I felt like I got a step on my man,” senior midfielder Ryan Matthews said. “I figured I should take a shot out of it and I ended up getting a good look. But again, it’s because of the way we’ve been moving the ball as a team. We’re playing really well together.”

With two defenders and all eyes on him, Matthews snuck the ball past the Orange’s goalie.Following the shot, Matthews was mobbed by his teammates and ended up at the bottom of a pile of dozens of Cornell lacrosse players.

“It was an amazing feeling,” Matthews said. “I think we deserve it as a team. We’ve been working like crazy, trying to put everything together. It just came together tonight.”

However, the victory did not extend to the rest of the season. Nevertheless, the Red’s Ivy League championship goal is a constant each season.

“We want to win the Ivy League every year,” Mahler said. “We weren’t able to do that this year, but hopefully we can bounce back and have a successful season next year.”

Adam Bronfin contributed reporting.

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