The Cornell men's lacrosse team is on a mission.
After being unseeded in the 16-team NCAA Division I tournament, the Big Red wants to prove that it was slighted and is one of the best teams in the country.
After Cornell defeated No. 3 seed Ohio State, 16-6, on Saturday in the quarterfinals at Maryland's Byrd Stadium, there are few who will argue.
In fact, the Big Red just might be the best.
"We were excited to hear our name called on Selection Sunday," said Cornell coach Ben DeLuca, who is in his third season. "Were we surprised we were unseeded? A little bit. We're going to be underdogs from here on out, but it's not something we're not prepared for."
The Big Red (14-3) knocked off No. 6 Maryland, 16-8, in an opening-round game last week in College Park, but Saturday's win against Ohio State (13-4) was even more impressive. Cornell attackmen Rob Pannell and Steve Mock combined for 15 points as the Big Red led from 32 seconds into the game, when Mock scored the first goal.
This win was sound and methodical as Cornell took apart the Buckeyes in every phase. Mock had seven goals, and Pannell had two goals and six assists. Cornell outshot Ohio State 37-20 won 16 of 26 faceoffs and had a 39-28 advantage in ground balls.
The Big Red appears to be peaking at the right time.
"I've been impressed with our focus in practice, and we've spent a lot of time developing depth, not just working on our first team," DeLuca said. "We've grown in tremendous fashion from the start of the year. We're playing our best lacrosse right now, but we know we can play better."
It's hard to imagine that Cornell could play any better. The Big Red is averaging 15 goals per game in the postseason and shut down Ohio State and its top attackman, Logan Schuss, who finished with one goal and two assists.
Despite playing variations of zone and man-to-man defenses in the first half, Ohio State couldn't stop Mock or Pannell, and the Buckeyes also lost 11 of 16 first half faceoffs. Cornell led 11-3 at the half, and the rout was on.
"They've got guys that can put the ball in the back of the net," Ohio State coach Nick Myers said. "It's not necessarily just one guy that hurts you. I think, to be honest with you, they just had more possessions. When you give a team like that a lot of opportunities to get in a rhythm, they can find it.
"We struggled a little bit to come up with some loose balls in the faceoffs," he said, "and I think that was key. I think that contributed to them getting into a bit of rhythm on the offensive end. It's a great group of guys that we prepared for."
The Big Red will face the winner of Sunday's quarterfinal between No. 7 seed Duke and No. 2 seed Notre Dame next Saturday in the semifinals at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
According to DeLuca, his team focuses more on itself than on the next opponent. Of course, the opposition has to focus on Mock and Pannell. Pannell, a Tewaaraton Award finalist and two-time winner of the Jack Turnbull Award as the nation's top attackman, is considered by many to be the best player in the college game. By halftime Saturday, he already had five assists, three of which came on goals by Mock.
"We stressed all week in practice about shooting, being selective and staying disciplined," Pannell said. "We wanted to stick with our game plan, and when we do that we tend to be very successful."