May 14, 2011

Hartford Can't Hang with Speedy Big Red

by Brian Delaney | | Live Blog Replay

David Lau scored four goals and added an assist Saturday in second-seeded Cornell's 12-5 NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament victory over Hartford.

© Greg Shemitz

ITHACA, N.Y. -- One of the lasting impressions from Cornell's 12-5 NCAA first-round shakedown of Hartford on Saturday night was a first-quarter play from senior David Lau.

Lau, an attackman, spent several seconds trying to secure a loose ball one yard away from the midfield line. Once in control, he eluded two would-be checkers and started a three-on-three transition break at the Hawks goal. As a defender converged near the 25-yard line, Lau slowed his pace, looking to dump to a teammate. Hartford took those angles away.

Without warning, Lau exploded past his defender like a running back gaining the corner, and fired quickly past goalie Scott Bement to tie the game at three.

At no time was it more clear that game film wasn't going to help Hartford in one specific area.

"The one thing you can't simulate in practice is Cornell's team speed," Hartford coach Peter Lawrence said. "They just fly to the ball. Their attack, again, although small in stature, they're tough kids and they play very hard. They find those cracks to slip through."

And they exploit them.

For Cornell, attack talk always begins with Rob Pannell, a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist. But Lau's breakout senior season has solidified the Big Red's offense as elite – particularly when considering he started the year as a midfielder.

It wasn't until Cornell's fifth game, an 11-9 loss to Virginia on April 12, that Lau made his first 2011 start at attack.

"It's having another threat, a dual threat that's able to feed, able to score, dodge and draw attention," Cornell coach Ben DeLuca said.

Lau's reputation out of Cold Spring Harbor High School on Long Island was as a highly skilled, speed-based attackman. But a logjam at the position early in his Cornell career, coupled with a lingering hamstring injury, left him either ineffective or flip-flopping responsibilities.

Those days are long gone. Saturday was Lau's 12th straight game as a starting attackman. He's accumulated 25 goals and 17 assists in that span, including a four-goal, one-assist effort against the Hawks.

When asked about his own play, Lau was quick to deflect credit to his teammates. His answers are always simple, to the point, and brief. But he made clear Saturday that his hamstring's health certainly correlates to the numbers he's putting up.

"It's definitely had an impact," he said. "My game is a lot more speed, so being able to have that extra step and that full explosion has just been awesome."

After falling behind 3-1 in the opening minutes, Cornell settled in and methodically picked apart a Hartford team making its first NCAA tournament appearance. Cornell's defense did not surrender a goal for 41 minutes and 55 seconds, a stretch that lasted into the final minute of the third quarter. When Hartford's Aidan Genik ended the drought, his team trailed 10-4.

Cornell freshman Doug Tesoriero neutralized standout Tim Fallon at the faceoff X. The Big Red (14-2) held a commanding 44-24 edge in shots, and a 44-33 edge in ground balls. Hartford managed only 11 shots on goal, eight through the first three quarters. For the sixth straight game, Cornell's opponent failed to score more than seven goals.

"They're always on your hands," said Hartford attackman Carter Bender, who scored twice. "They have a lot of fast guys. They're kind of smaller, but they're quick. I think they are really good at getting on your hands and making it really difficult to get the ball around."

For Hartford (11-7), it was an acceptable end to an historic season. Three years after going 0-13, the Hawks found themselves in the NCAA tournament field for the first time. The first few minutes were played at a wild, frenetic pace filled with missed slides, turnovers and overthrown passes. Cornell eventually managed the adrenaline; Lawrence acknowledged that aspect affected his team for much longer.

Cornell will meet the Virginia-Bucknell winner next Saturday at Hofstra in a quarterfinal game. Whichever team wins that game will also concern themselves with figuring out how to negate Cornell's overall team speed.

Although Pannell absorbs the lionshare of attention, Lau's efforts Saturday served as an example of how multi-dimensional this Cornell team has become.

"They're the most complete team we've played to this point of the season," Lawrence said. "They don't really have a lot of weaknesses."

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