May 25, 2010

Bronzino Headlines Cornell's All-Freshman Defense

by Brian Delaney | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

There was a period in late February when Jeff Tambroni said it would be a bonus if either Michael Howe or Mike Bronzino, both close defensemen, contributed anything to the 2010 Cornell men’s lacrosse team.

Howe, a senior, was coming off major shoulder surgery after performing at a high level on the Big Red’s NCAA runner-up team in 2009.

Bronzino, a freshman, suffered a broken wrist that required surgical repair in the team’s final postseason scrimmage after solidifying himself as Cornell’s third starter at close.

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Fast forward to Sunday’s quarterfinal at Stony Brook, when both Bronzino and Howe played meaningful minutes in the Big Red’s 14-5 rout of Army. While Howe has been slotted to the valuable role of experienced fourth close defenseman, Bronzino is emerging quickly into an impact player as one of three freshman starters on Cornell’s defensive unit.

Tambroni singled Bronzino out in Sunday’s post-game.

“Mike Bronzino, in particular, he really stood out all game,” Tambroni said. “On the ground, in transition ... it was so impressive that he did what he did.”

Bronzino was tasked with defending 40-goal scorer Garrett Thul, who at 6-foot-4 owns a six-inch height advantage. Thul finished with one goal on a heads-up play, but one where he picked up a loose ball that had been knocked to the ground and scored.

Bronzino didn’t get individually beaten all day, and on more than one occasion he forced Thul into either a turnover or a shot that made for easy work for freshman goalie A.J. Fiore. He forced ground balls on the ride, and helped the Big Red dominate possession time despite Army’s 13-for-23 work on faceoffs.

“The big thing was just playing our system,” Bronzino said. “And having all the other guys around me as support. That was just the big thing, playing within the system.”

Said Fiore: “He was pretty spectacular. He definitely came in and played with just a tremendous amount of heart.”

Mike Bronzino has returned from a broken wrist to make an impact on Cornell's defense, which starts three freshmen.

© Myles Tintle

Bronzino, a graduate of Conestoga High School (Pa.), even scored a goal himself, one of four transition tallies — rarely seen by this slower-paced Cornell team — three of which were scored by defensemen.

“They are a different team than what we saw at the beginning of the year,” Army coach Joe Alberici said. “The Bronzino kid wasn’t playing, [Jason] Noble’s first start might have been against us, maybe second at best. Those two guys are excellent.”

For Bronzino, everything about Sunday — from the fact that he was making just his fifth appearance of the season, and third start, to his first goal, to his defense of Thul, to the quarterfinal win — all of it felt a little like winning the lottery.

“It’s kind of crazy,” he said. “Because I had no expectations whatsoever of this when I broke my wrist. I just have to thank the training staff ... to get me back where I could play again.

“Probably until a week ago, it didn’t feel normal.”

Bronzino did not attend last year’s championship weekend in Foxborough, where Cornell fell to Syracuse 10-9 in overtime in one of the most dramatic finishes in tournament history. But he’s been to a final four weekend in Philadelphia, and was almost giddy Sunday when asked about the prospect of playing in front of 50,000 people.

“I can’t imagine playing in front of that,” he said.

He’ll soon know the feeling. And when he’s on the field, Tambroni will consider himself lucky to have Bronzino in the starting lineup. For most of this season, his status was in jeopardy.

“He was such a presence off the ground,” Tambroni said. “He provided such a source of enthusiasm and productivity from defense into our offensive end... You look at these freshmen, the way they’ve played down the stretch, it’s been pretty remarkable.”

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