Nike/LM NCAA Preview: No. 14 Cornell (Men)
Perhaps no team in the Ivy League was hit harder by graduation losses than Cornell. Its top four scorers from 2015 are gone. So is its top defenseman.
The Big Red will have a new look, but it's hard to count them out in the dog-eat-dog Ivy race. One of the top faceoff guys in the country and good goalie play are luxuries to have.
Cornell at a Glance
2015 Record: 10-6
3 Big Things
1. How will new-look offense pan out?
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
“Like most teams, our ground ball play is the number one stat on our game board after each game,” Kerwick said. “We out-ground balled every team we played last year except one. That’s really important to us.”
Cornell's top four scorers — Connor Buczek, Matt Donovan, John Hogan and Dan Lintner — were among last year's seniors. "Certainly some new faces for us," on offense, Kerwick said. John Edmonds will carry the offensive load for Cornel, at least early, likely starting on attack alongside a pair of freshmen, Ryan Bray and Colton Rupp. Edmonds as a sophomore played on attack before running on the first midfield alongside Buczek and Hogan last season and notching 21 goals and nine assists. "It's kind of his turn," Kerwick said of Edmonds. Of the freshmen, "It's always tough to rely on a freshman at the attack position, but it's like anywhere else, our best guys are going to play." Senior Bradlee Lord is also in the running for significant playing time on attack.
2. Experience back on 'D' and young depth in midfield
For all the inexperience Cornell will have on offense, it has more returners on defense. Jordan Stevens is gone, but starter Marshall Peters — who can play close and pole — and sophomore Jake Pulver, who played in 16 games last season and Tony Britton, who played in 15 — are back, along with a pair of experienced short-stick midfielders, senior Matt Schattner and sophomore Jack Bolen. Look for the Big Red to stay aggressive on defense. "It should be the part of our team that is going to have to lead the way early in the season as we find our way offensively," Kerwick said. In the midfield, sophomores Jordan Dowiack and Kason Tarbell, along with Matthews, figure to get the most offensive run. Freshman Petterson and Jack McCulloch will be two-way middies.
3. Looking to start strong after early 2015 NCAA tourney exit.
The 2015 season did not end close to how Cornell wanted it to, losing to Princeton 11-7 the semifinals of the Ivy League tournament before bowing out in the NCAA tournament first round to Albany a week later. You know, they were on the other end of Great Danes goalie Blaze Riorden's end-to-end rumble. "Our last two games last year were not our best efforts," Kerwick said. "Our guys are playing with a little bit of an edge this fall. You always want to finish with your best and we didn't feel like we did that in the Ivy tournament and then against Albany. You always want to put last year behind you, but I think there's been a little bit of an edge with our approach in the weight room, conditioning and on the field."
Christian Knight (Jr.)*
* returning starters
A true faceoff specialist has never won the Tewaaraton, but this is more of nod to Massimilian's impact. He'll be important for a team that lost its top four scorers from a season ago. The Texas product won 65.3 percent last season, good enough to be the Ivy League's top faceoff man as a sophomore, seventh best in Division I and break the Cornell single-season records for faceoff wins and percentage. He won the faceoff battle in 14 of 16 games. After scoring only one goal in 2015, he worked this offseason on adding more offense to his game. "He's only getting better," Kerwick said. "He had a very good fall. He's getting more comfortable with the ball in his stick. He's doing a little bit more for us."
Cornell will play a lot of freshman this year. Petterson, a do-it-all midfielder from The Hill Academy (Ontario), is one of them. Brodie Merrill of the Hill says Petterson is the most complete player the program has ever had and reminds him of longtime NLL pro Gavin Prout. "He played in every situation, the top of man up, played man down with a long pole. He scored huge goals and made the plays when the team need it the most," Merrill said of Petterson, who is in the running to make the Canadian under-19 national team. Kerwick plans on using the versatility. "He's a utility guy. He'll play off the wing, he'll play some defense. He's very capable on the offensive end. He's a true midfielder," Kerwick said. "He'll most likely be one of the leaders on that under-19 Canadian team. He's a tireless worker, always shooting. He loves to play. Those are the guys that succeed for us."
The former Johns Hopkins transfer has battled injuries throughout his career, but if healthy, the 6-foot-2, 210-pound Matthews will start on Cornell's first midfield as a senior. "He's really coming into his own," Kerwick said. Matthews saw action in only six games at Cornell last season, but expect to see more from this midfielder who can shoot on the run with both hands.
Biggest Question Mark
Who will be in goal?
Christian Knight, the 2014 Ivy League Rookie of the Year, was sidelined in the fall for injury and academic reasons, Kerwick said, but he expects him to play in the spring assuming a bad ankle is healthy enough to play on. The primary backups are former Canadian U19 goalie Brennan Donville, who is a senior captain, and former walk-on Dan Nemirov from Ward Melville (N.Y.).
Cornell faceoff man Domenic Massimilian is the best at his position in the Ivy League. (Larry Palumbo)
What rival coaches say about the Big Red
"Replacing Buczek, Donovan, Lintner, Hogan and Stevens is going to be a monumental task. Their strength is at the faceoff and they will need their young talent to step up and play big immediately.
Obviously this is a team that has lost a ton to graduation but the Big Red, no matter the coaching staff or the players, seem to just keep being competitive year after year and can't imagine that will change much.
Lots of holes to fill. I think they may be in for a really tough year.
Short this stock. With Pannell's fifth year finally exhausted, the rest of the Ivy League thought the party was finally over in Ithaca after the 2013 season. Wrong again, as Cornell was a part of more Ivy titles and NCAA tournaments the last two years. But now, the fundamentals do not add up to another Ivy crown. Jeff Tambroni's final recruiting class has graduated and the tumultuous turnover of Ben DeLuca to Matt Kerwick caused recruiting to suffer. Kerwick is starting to sign top recruits again, so the problem will not be long-term. But for now, the rest of the Ivy League will benefit.
I keep saying they're going to surprise everyone. People are counting them out, and that's exactly where you don't want to put Cornell. They play with an edge and attitude. They play angry. If they have the ball [a lot], and they should, they'll be tough."
The number of upperclassmen on the 2015 Cornell roster, the same as the number of freshmen.
20 Penn St.
April 12 vs. Syracuse
Depending on how Cornell fares it its other non-conference games earlier in the year and the first half of the Ivy League schedule, this upstate New York battle could carry significant NCAA tournament resume implications for the Big Red. They'll have a chance to make the Big Dance through the Ivy tournament, but at-large berths don't grow on trees. A win against the Orange likely will help significantly. By mid-April, the nighttime temperatures in Ithaca — it's a 7 p.m. start — shouldn't be too bad.
What's new is old. Connor Buczek, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2015 Major League Lacrosse draft who finished his Cornell playing career last year, is serving as a volunteer assistant coach for the Big Red while he attends graduate school. "He's been busy, but he's a machine," Kerwick said. "The goalies aren't overly excited that he's shooting on them every day. It's been a great addition to our staff." ... Penn State and Lehigh were added to the schedule. The season-opener against the Nittany Lions will be the first time former Cornell head coach Jeff Tambroni has coached against his former team, and it comes in Ithaca.
The offense will no doubt look different, but things are better than bleak in Ithaca. Don't overlook the Big Red in the extremely tough Ivy League race.
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