Rob Pannell is smart enough – getting accepted to Cornell would seem to be plenty of proof of that – to realize that he is not invincible. Even as he has registered six goals and nine assists in two NCAA tournament games and is preparing the Big Red (14-3) for Saturday’s Final Four clash with seventh-seeded Duke (14-5), the fifth-year senior attackman knows that there is a defenseman, a coach, perhaps even a scheme that can slow him as he continues his assault on a couple Division I records.
“Someone can always stop you,” Pannell said. “I’m sure Duke – with the great coaches they have – are going to figure out some defense that is going to try and stop me and do a great job of slowing me down. … I have the mindset that no one can stop me, and I think that’s what is important. By no means am I cocky or arrogant. I’m just very confident with the work that I put in and just with my level of play right going into the Final Four. And our team is confident as well. We’re instilling confidence in one another in practice every day and certainly with our first two wins in the tournament so far. A confident – but not an arrogant team – is a dangerous one.”
Pannell is closing in on the Division I record for most points in a NCAA tournament (25 shared by Cornell’s Eamon McEneaney in 1977 and Cornell’s Tim Goldstein in 1987). With 347 career points, Pannell is nearing the mark for most points (353 by Duke’s Matt Danowski).
Big Red coach Ben DeLuca said he is pleased that Pannell – a two-time Tewaaraton Award finalist who is the favorite to take home the honor given annually to the top collegiate player – is enjoying the fruits of his 42-goal, 53-assist campaign after being sidelined for most of last season with a broken bone in his left foot. But DeLuca said Pannell makes it look easier than it actually is.
“A lot of people would just feel that he’s a very talented individual and he goes out there and makes great plays,” DeLuca said. “But the fact is, very few people see the preparation that he puts in and the training that he puts in – not just physically in the weight room or on the field with conditioning and extra shooting and extra practice, but in the film room, he’s watching a lot of film and taking a lot with our coaching staff. I know I meet with him very regularly to discuss the mental aspects of the game and he’s very much a coach on the field for us and a leader on and off the field. So it’s been wonderful to watch Robert be able to come back and be able to have the season he’s had.”
Pannell will most certainly draw much of the Blue Devils’ attention this Saturday, which is a familiar development for him. But Pannell said his performances against Princeton in the regular season, the Tigers in the Ivy League tournament, and Maryland and Ohio State in the NCAA tournament – 13 goals and 16 assists – are the best four-game stretch of his career.
“Starting at the Big City Classic with Princeton when I had nine points there and then in the next Princeton game, I thought I played extremely well,” he said. “I only had five points, and unfortunately, that’s what it has come to. Lots of people will say, ‘He slowed down. He only had five points.’ But I thought I played extremely well in that game. I didn’t shoot particularly well, but I thought I did a nice job of creating. And then in these two games in the playoffs, they certainly have been the best two games that I’ve put together on the biggest stage of lacrosse against two tough opponents. But I can’t take all of the credit for how I’m playing. I have a great team around me right now and a great group of seniors and I’m only going to be as good as the guys around me are.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun