Five Takeaways from Virginia-Cornell
1. No Matter The Tempo
As ESPN's Quint Kessenich appropriately pointed out on the broadcast of Virginia-Cornell on Saturday, there were very few — if any — transition opportunities for either team. The Cavaliers played an up-and-down, run-and-gun game against Syracuse two weekends ago and won, and they played a slow-it-down, half-field game against Cornell and won. Virginia has proven they can win at whatever tempo the game dictates.
An interesting side note: Neither Virginia coach Dom Starsia nor Cornell coach Ben DeLuca directly pointed the finger, but they both suggested the other side slowed down the game pace. Starsia alluded to Cornell taking its time early while feeling out its offense without Pannell, while DeLuca hinted that Virginia's zone defense forced the Big Red to be patient.
I asked Starsia about the Cavaliers winning with both a frenetic and controlled pace...
"I would call it good news, if that's indicative of who we are. You have to be able to play like that. In our sport, if you're a team that likes to get up and down the field and you're playing against a good team determined to slow it down, you can't force them to play with the rules the way they are right now," Starsia said. "You have to be able to win a half-field game sometimes, you have to be able to win a low-scoring game sometimes.
"I've been on the short end of the score enough in which a team that I had that might have been very athletic just couldn't get going enough, because the other team was determined to play slowly. Being effective in a half-field game, if that's what's required, we need to be able to do that. I do feel like we can play both ways. We were able to get and down the field last weekend. Cornell is not really a team that slows the ball down, but it became a little bit more of a slower game — two teams playing good defense. It was hard to get to the cage, especially in the first half. We need to be a team that's resilient that can react to different situations and win is different ways. If this is the beginning indication of that, then hopefully we're headed in a good direction."
2. A Half-Step Slow
Playing its fifth game in 14 days on Saturday, Virginia didn't have its usual extra burst. Starsia said several times he knew facing Cornell would be the toughest game of its two-week stretch, and he was right.
"Truth be told, all I said at halftime was that we just looked sluggish at both ends of the field. We looked sluggish on defense — just a step. Just a little sluggish," Starsia said. "Matt White double-clutched on a shot, and everything just seemed like we were in sand a little bit. All we were talking about was trying to be a step quicker. With everything that we've talked about already, it's 30 minutes more of lacrosse. Let's be a step quicker, let's just get to the ball, let's get it up and get it out. Attack a little quicker, shoot a little quicker. We had a little bit better pace to how we played in the second half."
What does it mean? Well, the Cavaliers won't play more than one game a week again until the ACC Tournament — they play each of the next four Saturdays, then face Duke on Friday, April 13 — but Virginia clearly can handle a quick turnaround.
3. Six Quarterbacks Instead of One
It will take time for Cornell to find its offensive identity without Rob Pannell, but the Big Red proved Saturday they're going to be just fine, thanks. They still have a top-flight offense that's going to give opponents fits, they still belong in the top 10 and they still are the team to beat in the Ivy League.
But part of replacing Pannell, an elite passer, is establishing a feeder-finisher dynamic. When asked whether Cornell will look for one player to fill Pannell's shoes or use a by-committee approach, DeLuca said: "I think [by committee] is more of the philosophy — that team, selfless mentality. We think we have six quarterbacks on the field. Matt Donovan, Steve Mock and Connor English are capable of being quarterbacks at attack, and then in the offensive end other guys like Chris Langton, Max Van Bourgondien, Roy Lang, JJ Gilbane, Scott Austin, all those guys are capable of running our offense and exploiting matchups. We're really trying to focus on balance and taking what a defense is going to give us and capitalizing on the opportunities we're able to generate."
4. Play of Cornell's Poles
DeLuca said his long-stick defenders' ability to lock off adjacent slides was critical in the second half, particularly the fourth quarter, against Virginia. The Cavaliers scored only one goal in the final regulation period, as Cornell's close defense bottled up Virginia's dodgers.
"Our poles were great, and they're young," DeLuca said. "We have a core of juniors with Mike Bronzino and Jason Noble and Thomas Keith, and then Tom Freshour as a sophomore and Jordan Stevens as a freshman, those guys are getting a lot of time. They provide us with athleticism, and they provide us with the ability to be multiple on defense to frustrate some offenses. So we're just starting to scratch the surface of our ability and our capability in the defensive end."
Cornell goalie Andrew West made a point of highlighting the play of Bronzino, who was tasked with covering Steele Stanwick.
"Our goal is always to allow under eight goals per game, and we failed that today," West said. "But there were times where we really did play phenomenal defense. Mike Bronzino was all over Steele Stanwick. I think he had one kind of garbage goal. ... Bronze and Stanwick had been going at each other all day. I heard them jawing."
5. Roy Of All Trades
What can't Roy Lang do? On Saturday, he played offense, short-stick defense, man-down defense and close defense. He scored one goal, and he played cover defense on Virginia's Chris Bocklet. But Lang wasn't on the field in overtime when Cornell tried to set up its final possession, so it begs to wonder whether he had been on the field too much.
"Roy brings so much to us at both ends of the field, but particularly on the defensive end, he allows us to be athletic, to cover some guys that otherwise exploit matchups on other teams," DeLuca said. "One of the things he really does well for us is spark transition offense, getting into the ball and allowing him to clear the ball and generate. He's just a phenomenal athlete. He can go all day. What we want to do is keep our guys fresh and rotate them. Roy, as a senior leader, has accepted being a jack-of-all-trades. He's on just about every faceoff. He's going to play a lot of defense. He's going to play some offense. Depending on the matchup, he may score a lot of goals, he may not. His impact can be seen and felt more outside of the stat sheet than a lot of guys on other teams."