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Cornell playing underdog card in week leading up to NCAA semifinals

When your team knocks off a third seed and a sixth seed by a combined margin of victory of 18 goals in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament, you should no longer be considered an underdog, right?

That is not how Cornell coach Ben DeLuca, however, sees it. Despite the Big Red (14-3) evicting Ohio State (the third seed) and Maryland (the sixth) by a combined score of 32-14, DeLuca thinks that his team is the underdog as it prepares to face seventh-seeded Duke (14-5) in Saturday’s first of two national semifinals.

“When you look at all the rankings and seedings, we’re unseeded, we’re lower ranked, and we are squarely the underdog, and I think we’re OK with that role and that moniker,” he said during a conference call Tuesday morning. “With regard to our margin of victory, it may have looked easy, but I can tell you that it hasn’t been easy by any means. Our guys have worked extremely hard in practice, and they’ve prepared very well and executed on game day, and we’ve been very fortunate to win our two tournament games that we have. I’m not sure if it’s going to be an advantage or disadvantage. We’re coming in with a great amount of confidence, and I think we draw upon the amount of experience that we’ve had throughout the season – a number of tight games and one-goal games where we’ve been in some different circumstances and different situations to where our team has responded. So I think we’ve grown and matured throughout the season and prepared for this opportunity.”

Cornell’s obvious superiority in the first two tournament games almost seems like a thumb in the eye of the selection committee, which elected to keep the team unseeded despite the Big Red losing three games by a combined total of three goals.

The snub is viewed differently by Rob Pannell and Jason Noble. Pannell, the fifth-year senior attackman and two-time Tewaaraton Award finalist, said he thinks he and his teammates are over not getting seeded.

“I think we have the right attitude that we just wanted to get into the tournament and we were happy to play anybody,” he said. “That’s the attitude we’ve had from the time we found out we were playing Maryland until now. We’re just happy to still be playing, we’re just happy to still be together, playing with one another to keep the season go as long as possible.”

Noble, the senior defenseman, differed with his teammate.

“That’s always in the back of our heads, not being seeded,” he said. “But we realize that our play at the end of the season didn’t indicate that we deserved a seed. But like our team is willing to say, we’ll play anyone anywhere and anytime, and I think that’s been our focus in the past two games.”

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