Ivy Results Loom Large Selection Sunday
by Brian Delaney | LaxMagazine.com
Cornell goalkeeper A.J. Fiore will start Friday against Yale in the Ivy League semifinals after getting pulled last week against Princeton in favor of Andrew West.
© Greg Wall
ITHACA, N.Y. — There they sit, one after the other, encumbering spots 15, 16 and 17: Penn, Yale, Harvard.
Thursday afternoon's latest computer rating rankings at LaxPower.com infer that this trio of Ivy League men's lacrosse teams is firmly entrenched on the NCAA tournament at-large bubble. Judging by RPI, Penn (14) has a step on the other two; Harvard (21) and Yale (25) aren't far behind.
The Ivy League is one of six conferences that reward their champions automatic berths to the NCAA tournament's 16-team field. Cornell will host the Ivy tournament Friday and Sunday, and it will do so with a one-versus-three mentality.
Ranked second in the latest USILA Division I coaches poll with an RPI of three and — at the minimum — an at-large berth locked up, Cornell offers a mouth-watering resume booster for one of these opponents game enough to pull off an upset.
"I don't know how that would shake up," Yale coach Andy Shay said. "But they're a top-five RPI team."
Yale (10-3), the fourth seed, gets first shot at Cornell (11-2). The game is slated for 8 p.m. Friday night, three hours after Penn (8-5) and Harvard (9-5) face off. The championship will be contested at noon Sunday, televised by ESPNU.
Yale's three losses came at the hands of the other three teams in town this weekend. Cornell ran the regular season table for the first time since 2007, but is no shoo-in to make it eight in a row.
Consider these final 2011 regular season scores as reason to believe:
» Cornell 13, Penn 12 (OT)
» Cornell 13, Harvard 12
» Cornell 10, Yale 8
» Penn 10, Yale 9 (3OT)
» Penn 7, Harvard 6 (2OT)
» Harvard 9, Yale 5
Add the postseason nature to the equation, and this weekend's games should — at the very least — entertain.
"It'll be a lot more intense," Cornell coach Ben DeLuca said. "You have that one-and-done mentality, win or go home, and I think that's something we've tried to press into our guys the last few weeks, knowing we've played teams with their backs against the wall, who desperately need a win to extend their season. This is really no different."
The champion of the inaugural Ivy League tournament, Princeton, did not qualify to defend its crown — a testament to the league's depth, as well as the Tigers' injury problems. Princeton suffered a number of close losses, including a 9-8 defeat to Harvard on April 23, and a season-ending 9-7 loss to Cornell last weekend at Schoellkopf Field.
Cornell (11-2) is playing for the highest NCAA tournament seed possible. Rob Pannell was named Ivy League Player of the Year Monday, Cornell's first two-time winner of that award since Eamon McEneaney won it in 1975 and 1977.
Pannell has 34 goals and 37 assists for a Division I-leading 71 points, well over five points per game. Against Yale earlier this year, he had two goals and two assists. And that, Shay said, didn't explain the half of it.
"His impact was felt," Shay said. "He had a lot of hockey assists as well. He's truly the best player I've seen in a long, long time, and we hope we can do a few different things and give them some different looks."
Friday's two underdogs, judged by seeding, have a strong staff to lean on. Both teams are considerably better at the faceoff "X." Yale ranks No. 2 in Division I (.656), and Harvard boasts a .553 winning percentage. If a Cole Yeager or Dylan Levings (Yale), an Andrew Parchman or Gabe Mendola (Harvard), gets on a roll, the complexion of both games could change fast.
Penn vs. Harvard will be a contrast of styles. The Quakers' average win is 8-7. Harvard, led by all-league attackman Dean Gibbons, terrific midfielder Kevin Vaughan and marksman Jeff Cohen, wants to speed the game up.
Cornell's biggest issue entering the weekend comes between the pipes. Last weekend, Princeton jumped out to a 6-1 lead 17 minutes in. Starting goalie A.J. Fiore was pulled, and freshman Andrew West stopped five of seven shots on goal to earn the win. DeLuca said Fiore will get the start Friday. Yale saw both goalies — West played the third quarter — in the two teams' first matchup.
"A.J. will start," DeLuca said. "Everyone has a bad day... The last time when we went through that, when we brought in Andrew West and not only did Andrew play well, the following game A.J. responded very well. He's done a great job in practice this week, and we're real confident with A.J. as our starter."
Shay said Yale must do a better job of shooting on Cornell's goalies. In that 10-8 loss on March 19 in New Haven, the Bulldogs had 14 shots saved by the combination of Fiore and West.
"It's hard to get good shots against these guys," Shay said. "They're a great defense. When you get your opportunities, you have to bury them."