Ithaca, NY – As an eerie fog seemingly grew out of the turf on Schoellkopf Field in Ithaca, 11,480 fans were treated to two great lacrosse games. The first saw the #2 Navy Midshipmen hold on for a one goal win over host institution (but lower seed and hence wearing away jerseys) Cornell Big Red, 6-5. The story of the day was Cornell’s freshman goalie, Matt McMonagle, who stopped twelve Navy shots in the first half (fourteen total), along with the play of Cornell’s defense in shutting down Navy’s transition attack. Unfortunately for the Big Red, they couldn’t quite get enough offense to move on to the Final Four. Two goals by Ian Dingman and Graham Gill, along with two assists by Jon Birsner, were the main offensive contributors for Navy. Goalie Matt Russell contributed twelve saves, though they weren’t as headlining as McMonagle’s, every Midshipmen would agree they were equally as important. Senior Andrew Collins and junior Sean Greenhalgh each matched their Navy counterparts and had two goals apiece.
There was much more fog than scoring in the 1st quarter, as both teams felt each other out to the tune of a scoreless period. For portions, Cornell shut off Navy’s leading scorer, Ian Dingman, with a short-stick defensive midfielder. Neither team could get much going offensively, and both goalies turned away whatever attempts were made. Finally, Navy needed an extra-man opportunity to break the ice. The penalty came after defenseman Mitch Hendler had sent Andrew Collins’ stick helicoptering out of his hands. Hendler scooped up the looseball and started it up-field. The penalty came due to a Tim DeBlois push. Of course, McMonagle wouldn’t just let Navy score. He turned away the first Navy shot on the man-up, only to have the rebound scooped by Dingman. McMonagle turned away his shot, but the third attempt was taken by Graham Gill as he picked up the rebound and fired it into the net from about ten yards out.
Cornell, playing at home for the final time during an emotional season, would respond. Sean Greenhalgh added the first goal. Greenhalgh’s goal made everyone wish that the dive was still legal (minus defenses). As we were treated to the excitement of a diving goal, only Greenhalgh was careful not to start or finish in the crease. Andrew Collins would give Cornell their only lead of the day at the 6:50 mark of the 2nd period. Collins picked up a loose ball, jumped, and despite being hammered by a Navy defenseman was able to put the ball in the back of the net. (see pictures 17 & 18)
As they have all year, Navy fought back quickly and evened the score. Ian Dingman put a lefty shot coming out of a high sweep as he passed a nicely set pick by one of his teammates. With 5:30 to go in the half, Navy would take the lead for good. Billy Looney took a Jon Birsner feed and ripped it from about 17 yards out past McMonagle to send Navy into the half with a 3-2 advantage.
The fog would disappear sometime around the half, which seemed like a good sign for more good lacrosse. Apparently it meant that more good defensive lacrosse would be played. Navy’s lone goal in the 3rd came early from an extra-man that had carried over from before the half. Somehow the penalty was called with :05 left in the 2nd and Navy’s Joe Bossi scored his lone goal of the day off another Birsner feed with 14:03 to go in the 3rd quarter. Navy was credited with an extra-man goal. In any case, it was at the tail end of a penalty for cross-checking. Now facing a two-goal deficit, Cornell was in need of someone to step up and make a play. Joe Boulukos did just that. With just about nine minutes to go in the 3rd, Boulukos crushed a Midshipmen who was attempting to clear the ball. Cornell gathered the loose ball, and Justin Redd found Greenhalgh on the fast break to cut the lead back to one.
Afterwards, Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni. Had this to say, “"Our goal was to make it a fifteen-minute lacrosse game. To get to a point where we get into the fourth quarter and then we have a chance." That was exactly what they got. Credit the Cornell defensive strategy and execution by all parts, specifically the short-stick defenders and goalie. It gave Cornell the opportunity they wanted heading into the 4th quarter facing a 4-3 Navy lead.
With 5:29 gone in the 4th quarter, Ian Dingman used his size and plowed his way through the Cornell defense leaving McMonagle with no chance on the point-blank shot. The largely Cornell crowd was momentarily deflated. Kevin Nee would again pull Cornell to within one as he isolated his man and beat him one-on-one for the unassisted goal with 7:33 to play in the game. In what would be basically the only transition goal of the game for Navy, Graham Gill responded sixteen seconds later as he scored on a Navy clear.
Cornell was forced to watch as Navy possessed away a good chunk of the 4th quarter. Eventually Cornell got the ball back and Andrew Collins (picture #41 & 42) isolated his man beating him underneath with only 1:57 left in the game and a one goal navy lead. Navy gave Cornell a gift, as in rare form they went off-sides with about 1:30 left in the game. Cornell couldn’t get anything done on the 30 second man-up opportunity.
Navy got possession again and used a timeout with :36 left on the clock. This would be the start of from my vantage point, a strange end to a great game. From the timeout, Cornell set into a pressure defense. They wanted the ball. Apparently the net was wide open, because Matt McMonagle intercepted a Navy pass with maybe 25 seconds left on the clock somewhere near the edge of the box in what was a great defensive play by all Cornell defenders. As McMonagle tried to clear the ball, I couldn’t help but think why Cornell didn’t use their final timeout. Instead, the ball was coughed back up to the Midshipmen, leading to a cross-check penalty with 18 seconds remaining.
The next strange part was off of the dead-ball start, Graham Gill took the ball in for Navy with two Cornell long-poles awaiting the whistle. The furthest referee from the box blew his whistle starting play. Gill went to pass the ball immediately, but instead it fell out of the back of his stick and out-of-bounds. While this was going on, the other ref blew his whistle stopping play, meaning that it wasn’t a valid play. Navy kept possession and ran out the clock securing their first berth in the Final Four since 1981.
Cornell was successful in shutting down the Navy transition game, but unable to penetrate the Midshipmen defense. The last two Cornell goals came off of isolation plays where Cornell offensive players just beat their man looking to go to the net. It seemed that that may have been a better tactic for beating the Navy defense. However, early on the patient Cornell offense did slow down the Navy transition.
”At this level, at this time, if your goalie’s not playing well, you’re not going to win,” said Navy coach Richie Meade. While McMonagle did have two more saves than Navy’s Russell, as Meade pointed out, “he [Russell] played like a first team All-American.” As Cornell coach Tambroni pointed out, “we couldn’t crack their goalie, he played as well as Matty did today.” Both goalies displayed their abilities, but at the same time they showed the great defensive schemes and execution where these teams are giving up shots that are generally low percentage shots. Both teams did a very good job of that today.
While it was an exciting game, there were 42 turnovers by these top-flight teams. Navy did hold a 31-24 groundball advantage and a dominant 12 to 1 face-off advantage. Tambroni had this to say about the face-off situation: “Our goal today was to not necessarily win the face-off, but to not allow any goals off the face-off. If we can eliminate any goals off the face-off, which we did, we’d have a chance regardless of what the statistics were at the end of the game. I thought J.D. Nelson did a decent job even though the statistics are overwhelming in Navy’s favor, he tied him up and allowed our defenders to get back and play defense. I’d much rather defend than giving up a goal and just going right back to the face-off X because their just so talented in going from the face-off to the offensive end.”
For Navy, they return to the Final Four for the first time since 1981 and have to face yet another Ivy League team in Princeton. It will be interesting to see if the Princeton pace of lacrosse will be enough to shut down the Navy transition. In either case it should be a great match-up.
|Andrew Collins||(2, 0)|
|Sean Greenhalgh||(2, 0)|
|Justin Redd||(0, 1)|
|Dave Pittard||(0, 1)|
|Kevin Nee||(1, 0)|
|Matthew Mcmonagle||14 (0.700)|