January 15, 2014

#LMRanks: No. 18 Cornell Big Red (MD1)

by Corey McLaughlin | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McLaughlin Archive | College Preview 2014

Midfielder Connor Buczek trailed only Rob Pannell and Steve Mock in scoring last season as a sophomore. (Lee Weissman)

Previous: No. 19 St. John's Red Storm | Next: No. 17 Penn Quakers

Vitals

2013 Record: 14-4 (6-0 Ivy)
Coach: Matt Kerwick (1st)
Record at Cornell: 0-0

Power Ratings (scale of 1-5)

Offense: 3
Defense:
3
Goaltending: 2
Faceoff: 5

Top Returner

M Connor Buczek (Jr.)
Buczek posted 53 points last season, trailing only Rob Pannell and Steve Mock for the team lead. With the Tewaaraton Award winner and his running buddy now members of the Major League Lacrosse's New York Lizards, there may be more offense created out of the midfield. Watch former Ivy League rookie of the year Matt Donovan on attack, too. He will be looked at to fill multiple roles, as Donovan did when Pannell went down for most of the 2012 season with a foot injury.

X-Factor

FO Doug Tesoriero (Sr.)
Cornell isn't just going through a coaching transition, with former assistant Matt Kerwick taking over for the fired Ben DeLuca at the end of the fall, but also has significant personnel unknowns all over the field. Tesoriero ranked 12th in faceoff win percentage last season. He's their constant and could take pressure off an inexperienced defense and new-look offense.

NCAA Tournament Trend

2009 Runner-up
2010 Final Four
2011 Quarterfinals
2012 DNQ
2013 Final Four

What's New?

The head coach and the leading cast. Kerwick, the former Hobart and Jacksonville head coach and Georgetown assistant, had been in Ithaca for one season as offensive coordinator prior to DeLuca's firing in November. He takes over the helm for the entirety of the season, according to the Cornell athletic department. (On-campus interviews for the full-time position will occur after the season is completed; the hire of an assistant to replace Kerwick's position is in the process of being finalized.) On the field, top players on last year's Big Red team — Pannell, Mock, defenseman Jason Noble and goalie AJ Fiore — were part of a 16-member senior class. It's a new era for Cornell in more than one way.

Of additional note: two of the Cornell scrimmages that the university canceled in the fall as discipline for what it called a freshman hazing incident are back on the Big Red schedule for Feb. 9 and 14, respectively. Cornell will also scrimmage NCAA Division III runner-up RIT on Feb. 16. Ivy League programs can't start practice until Feb. 1 anyway, and without outside fall competition, Cornell will need to hit the ground running before its season-opener Feb. 22 against Hobart.

Telling Number

34
Even before the coaching change, Cornell's roster size was down from previous years. Heading into this season it stands at 34, down seven from last year and the lowest size for a Big Red team since 2005 when it had 35. The program has averaged 42.2 players per season over the last decade. In short, this Cornell outfit is not as deep as normal.

Enemy Lines

Matt Kerwick, a former head coach at Hobart and Jacksonville and a Big Red assistant last season, is Cornell's interim head coach for the entirety of the 2014 season. (John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com)

What rival coaches say

"This is a program that has had a model that has sustained itself over about a decade, how much though will this model come under pressure not only with a lot of new faces playing but also with the issues surrounding the team this fall... Gone are Pannell, Mock, and the deepest senior class in 2013. Buczek and Donovan now are marked men... Obviously lose plenty of tremendous players to graduation at both ends of the field including Tewaaraton Winner Rob Pannell but there still are some great players still in Ithaca in Buczek and Donovan... Tesoriero is back at the face off X which should help gain valuable possessions for Cornell and keep the ball away from the defensive end, where Cornell will be young at close defense and between the pipes... Buczek and Donovan will run the show now... Superman has left the building.

"As the rest of the league breathes a sigh of relief that Rob Pannell will no longer be torturing it, don't get too comfortable as the Big Red will still have two of the best Ivy League players in attackman Matt Donovan and Connor Buczek, who had 35 goals and 18 assists in his first full year of action for Cornell. Will the off-season incidents (freshmen lacrosse player hazing, firing of head coach Ben DeLuca) create distractions that detract the team from their preparation? There will be a step backwards, but only a minor step as there is too much talent here to prevent the Big Red from having a poor season... I feel badly for Ben [DeLuca, who was fired last fall in the wake of hazing incidents that shut down the fall season in Ithaca]. Sure, they will miss Rob Pannell, but they always have a deep and talented roster. Those kids play as hard as anybody, year in and year out. I expect them to play with their hair on fire again."

2013 Recap

In a Nutshell: Rob Pannell did not disappoint in his senior season, propelling the Big Red to the final four with Steve Mock alongside closely. A year after missing the NCAA tournament with Pannell sidelined for most of the season, the Big Red finished 14-4 and a perfect 6-0 in the Ivy League regular season. But they lost to Princeton in the Ivy League tournament semifinals and were unseeded in the NCAA tournament. They crushed No. 6 Maryland in College Park in the first round and third-seeded Ohio State back at Byrd Stadium the next weekend to set up a national semifinal tilt with Duke. The eventual champion Blue Devils prevailed 16-14 despite a second-half run by Pannell and company that erased an eight-goal deficit. Pannell became the all-time NCAA Division I men's points leader in his final collegiate game and won the Tewaaraton Award.

If we're counting the fall season as part of 2013, and for these season preview purposes it makes some sense, the entire Cornell program then went through a roller-coaster ride. Allegations of a hazing incident in Ithaca came to light in September, and the team was suspended from outside fall competitions as part of discipline handed down as a result of what the school termed "coerced consumption of alcohol by underage freshmen." The incident in question was later detailed on the university's hazing website. (Cornell has been very proactive with its anti-hazing policy since a 2011 incident involving the death of a student in a fraternity initiation.)

It wasn't until mid-November, though, that coach Ben DeLuca was fired, although the school declined to give a reason for the dismissal, other than to say new leadership was needed, and never tied it to the hazing incident. Either way, the decision sent shockwaves through the Cornell lacrosse family. DeLuca had been with the program in some capacity for 17 years. More than 250 people, including former Cornell head coaches, players and parents of former players, signed an open letter expressing their displeasure about the whole situation. DeLuca said he was dismissed "for reasons which still remain unclear to me," in his only public comments since.

High Point: Cornell vs. Maryland was billed a potential final four matchup that happened in the first-round. The Big Red scored a knockout with a 16-8 win. Pannell and Mock carved up the Terrapins defense. A similar pattern followed in a 16-6 quarterfinal win over Ohio State.

Low Point: The fall. See above.

2014 Preview

Best Case: The team controls only what it can control, puts the coaching change behind it, and moves on to entirely focusing on preparation, practice and games. Leaders emerge, or already have, to guide this team through as they look to prove any naysayers wrong. Buczek and Donovan pace the offense and recent MLL draft pick Tom Freshour holds down the defense, and maybe most importantly, a new goalie is found. There are four on the roster right now, including former Canadian under-19 team goalie Brennan Donville, junior William Joyce and a pair of talented freshman in Dan Nemirov (Ward Melville (N.Y.)), one of LM's Freshman 15 to Watch, and Christian Knight (Boys Latin (Md.)). If all that happens, Cornell will contend in the Ivy League.

Worst Case: The late start to the season, coupled with the inability to test themselves against opponents in the fall, really hinders early-season development to the point where a bad start is too much to overcome. Princeton, Yale and Penn emerge as the top three in the Ivy.

Lacrosse Magazine will continue its 2014 college lacrosse preview throughout January and into February, with team-by-team breakdowns of the top teams in NCAA Division I, II and III men's and women's lacrosse. Follow the countdown at LaxMagazine.com/LMRanks and on twitter at #LMRanks.


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