April 6, 2010

Dartmouth Upset Adds Intrigue to Ivy League Race

by Brian Delaney | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Dartmouth attackman Ari Sussman celebrates one of his four unassisted goals in Saturday's upset of Cornell at Gillette Stadium. The Big Green and other traditional Ivy League also-rans have a new window of opportunity with a conference tournament in May.

© Kevin P. Tucker

The inaugural Ivy League men’s lacrosse tournament is still a month away, but already it’s shaping up to be a fascinating debut.

After a weekend in which Dartmouth beat Cornell for the first time in 13 games, and Princeton beat Brown to move to 3-0 with a winning margin of four goals, the programs typically out of the running for an automatic NCAA berth are, at this point, seeing the postseason possibilities.

“We feel like every game is winnable if we can match or exceed the intensity of our opponent,” Dartmouth first-year coach Andy Towers said.

A week ago, nobody may have believed Towers. Dartmouth was coming off lopsided losses to North Carolina and Duke, followed by a devastating defeat to Harvard after the Big Green had jumped out to a 9-3 lead.

But at Gillette Stadium on Saturday, in front of 6,000-plus fans, Dartmouth ended a longstanding streak of futility against the Ivy League’s most recent power program.

And as Towers pointed out, Dartmouth did not play a perfect game. It didn’t “play very well offensively, didn’t handle it well, execute well,” but it still won. The Big Green didn’t have its entire first midfield line, but it still won.

And that speaks volumes about where the Ivy League finds itself in early April, as postseason races gather momentum.

“It’s absolutely the most parity I’ve ever seen, and it stems from still only having 60 Division I teams out there,” Towers said. “Reality out there is the same teams are up top, but these other great players have to go somewhere if they want to play Division I lacrosse.”

A key piece of Dartmouth’s win Saturday was the 23 saves from 5-foot-6 sophomore goalie Fergus Campbell. He was making his second start after opening the season behind Michael Novosel on the depth chart. Senior attackman Ari Sussman, a first-team All-American caliber talent, scored four unassisted goals.

“This means big things for us,” Campbell said. “We were 0-1 going into [Cornell] in the Ivy League. We had a rough loss to Harvard, who we outplayed in the first half. By beating Cornell, we gave our team so much more confidence. We knew we could hang with the best of them.”

Dartmouth has company in that line of thinking.

Four teams will qualify for the Ivy League tournament, to be played May 5 and 7 at the home field of the top seed. Only Penn (0-3), which took Princeton (3-0) to overtime two weeks ago, is a long shot. Cornell (2-1) still needs to play Harvard (1-1), Brown (1-1) and Princeton. Each of those teams is nationally ranked.

Of the seven top goal scorers in the league, six play on different teams. Of the eight top set-up men in the league, all seven teams are represented. At this point of the season, no Ivy League team has shown it can consistently play on the level of Virginia, Syracuse or North Carolina. (Princeton gets its shot against the Orange on Saturday).

But the gap in talent within the league has clearly closed.

Princeton first-year coach Chris Bates has guided his team to five wins by margins of three goals or less, including one-goal victories over Penn and Yale. Perhaps the easiest part of the former Drexel coach's transition has been keeping his team level-headed.

“Absolutely, and that’s usually a challenge,” he said. “You can’t look beyond any week. That’s a struggle for any coach at any program.”

Towers said his biggest challenge now is to make sure Dartmouth doesn’t finish the season with the Cornell win as its highlight. The Ivy League tournament has enhanced the window of possibility.

“No doubt about it,” he said. “And where we’re sitting, traditionally in the lower half of the league, we’re hoping it’s as untraditional a finish as possible.”
Ivy League News & Notes

Cornell saw the return of senior close defenseman Michael Howe in Saturday’s game. Howe missed the first eight games, and all of preseason, while rehabbing a shoulder injury. He was pivotal in Cornell’s run to the 2009 NCAA championship game… The Ivy League’s four 20-goal scorers to this point include Yale’s Brian Douglass (24), Cornell’s Ryan Hurley (26), Brown’s Andrew Feinberg (20) and Harvard’s Jeff Cohen (20) … Princeton freshman Jeff Froccaro has three game-winning goals, a league high… Saturday’s Princeton-Syracuse game will be played at the new Meadowlands Stadium, as part of the Konica Minolta Big City Classic. Princeton won that matchup last year, 12-8… Coaches have lauded Mike Murphy’s work in his first season at Penn. The Quakers are 4-6 overall and 0-3 in the league, but nearly made a miraculous comeback at Yale on Saturday. Trailing 10-0 with two minutes left in the first half, the Quakers lost 16-14. Corey Winkoff went for five goals, two assists. Douglass had seven goals for the Bulldogs.

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