May 8, 2011

Ivy Champ Cornell Poised for Another Run

by Brian Delaney | | Live Blog Replay

ITHACA, N.Y. – Cornell left nothing to question entering the 2011 NCAA tournament. The Big Red is firmly ensconced in the category of top contenders for a national title.

A three-minute non-releaseable penalty on Harvard's Kevin Vaughan helped turn a low-scoring affair into a Cornell blowout in Sunday's Ivy League men's championship game.

The Big Red used three man-up goals during that stretch to snap a 2-2 tie and go on to beat the Crimson, 15-6.

Cornell (13-2), ranked second in Division I, earned the Ivy's automatic berth in winning its 10th straight game. Cornell's starting attackmen combined for 14 points, and its defense held its fifth straight opponent to less than seven goals.

"They took it to us," Harvard coach Chris Wojcik said.

Cornell entered the Ivy League tournament with two lingering questions: goaltending and faceoff play.

Sophomore goalie A.J. Fiore was pulled during the first half of an April 30 win over Princeton. Freshman Andrew West played out the string, and played well.

Cornell coach Ben DeLuca gave Fiore a vote of support during the week, and the sophomore lefty responded with 19 saves in two tournament games and a save percentage of .684.

Fiore made eight saves in the Harvard win.

A.J. Fiore responded to being replaced in the regular season finale with 19 saves and a .684 save percentage in Cornell's Ivy League championship victories.

© Greg Wall

"I thought A.J. played an absolute great game," Cornell defenseman Max Feely said. "We definitely had some lapses where he bailed us out, and it's great having that behind you."

And faceoffs?

Cornell lost 16 of 22 draws in Friday night's semifinal win over Yale, but made up for it by hounding the Bulldogs into 24 turnovers.

Against Harvard, an above average faceoff team, the Big Red won 15 of 23.

"It's an incredible advantage to be able to have that ball in our sticks in the offensive end," DeLuca said. "When you have an offense like ours, the ability to get them the ball after you score, is huge."

Rob Pannell had two goals and three assists, but his contributions were spread out by a Crimson defense that attempted to shut him off.

Sophomore Steve Mock scored five goals, and senior David Lau finished with two goals and two assists to up his season point total to 41.

On several possessions, Pannell took his defender off to the side and let the attack work five-on-five.

Mock said the key was not to force anything.

"When he's getting shut off like that, it puts more pressure on me and David at the attack to take a little bit more of the load," Mock said. "I think we stick to what we do normally, making our first easy pass off the dodge."

Cornell will enter the 2011 NCAA tournament as one of several favorites, a departure from past seasons. Cornell's 11-6 win over Syracuse on April 12 has been followed by four straight convincing wins over Ivy opponents.

"We're on a stretch now," Pannell said. "We're a confident group, but by no means are we cocky at all. We know any team can be beaten on any given day, as we've seen this year in college lacrosse maybe more than any year. Any team is up for it this year."

Cornell is one. With three final four appearances over the past four years, only one question remains.

Is this the Big Red's year?

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