They’re always in the back of our heads in practice,” Jack McBride ’11 said in April, referring to Cornell’s lacrosse team. The focus is mutual, and it has produced matches of exceptional intensity since the Big Red broke an eight-game losing streak to Princeton with an overtime win in 2004. Cornell went on to win five of the next six meetings, including a 6–4 victory in the 2009 NCAA quarterfinals that Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni called “nothing short of a slugfest.”
The squads played two more classic games last month. At Princeton May 1, Cornell jumped out to a 9–3 lead after three quarters before the Tigers rallied to close the gap to 10–9 with three minutes left. Princeton had several chances to tie, but Cornell held on for the win and a share of the Ivy League title along with Princeton, Brown, and Yale — the first four-way tie in the history of Ivy League lacrosse, and the first time since 1969 that the men’s champion has had two losses.
The first Ivy League Men’s Lacrosse Tournament allowed for a second showdown this year. Former Princeton head coach Bill Tierney had lobbied for such an event as a way to determine the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA tournament, but his departure for the University of Denver last June left successor Chris Bates to enjoy the fruits of Tierney’s labor.
Cornell hosted the four-team Ivy tournament thanks to a series of tie-breakers, and the Big Red’s 14–8 win over Brown on May 7 set up a rematch with the Tigers, who edged Yale 7–6. The teams’ second game in nine days bore an uncanny resemblance to the first. Cornell led 7–3 early in the second half, but Princeton took a 9–8 lead midway through the fourth quarter on a goal by longstick midfielder John Cunningham ’12.
Cornell tied the score with three minutes to go and won the next faceoff, but Princeton goalie Tyler Fiorito ’12 sent the game to overtime with two saves in the last minute of play that left him with 16 stops for the game, one more than he had May 1.
The teams traded possessions in the extra period before the Big Red threw the ball out of bounds with 25 seconds left. Princeton cleared, and McBride got the ball behind the Cornell goal with time running out. He got a step ahead of his defenseman and scored his third goal of the day with one second remaining in overtime to give his team a 10–9 win.
McBride, who is right-handed, scored the winner with his left. “We didn’t have much time, and I thought that I’d gone right all day,” he said. “I figured I’d go left. It’s not my best shot, but I think it surprised them.”
That decisive shot will be one more thing in the back of both teams’ minds as they await the next installment of one of college lacrosse’s great rivalries.