Many defenses might have rejoiced about facing a Cornell offense without two-time National Attackman of the Year Rob Pannell. Not Virginia coach Dom Starsia.
“I thought it actually made our job a little tougher [with] him going down because we talked to our team after our game on Tuesday night, and I told these guys that it was hard not to be let down a little bit, that he wasn’t playing,” Starsia said after watching his top-ranked Cavaliers edge the No. 3 Big Red, 9-8, in overtime at theKonica Minolta Face-Off Classicat M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore Saturday.
“So for us to think, ‘Huh, we’re undefeated and No. 1 in the country and now Pannell’s not playing,’ I felt like we had to fight through that emotionally and be prepared to play a team that could handle not playing with him,” Starsia continued. “They’ve already done it in some early scrimmages and stuff, and they’ve got a lot of players. … So over the course of six or eight weeks or however long it takes for Rob to get back on the field, Cornell will have to learn to adapt, but I thought that we were going to get a burst of energy from them. It certainly wouldn’t have been easier if he was playing, but I don’t think it helped us that he wasn’t playing.”
Still, with Cornell using a starting attack of senior Steve Mock, junior Connor English and freshman Matt Donovan to make up for the absence of Pannell, Virginia (7-0) did not have to worry about a Big Red player dodging from behind the net.
With all of the initiating occurring in front of senior goalkeeper Rob Fortunato, the Cavaliers limited Cornell to its fewest number of goals since May 29, 2010 when Notre Dame ousted the Big Red, 12-7, from the NCAA Tournament semifinals.
“We knew they had a bunch of good personnel, and we knew we were going to have to prepare not just for Rob Pannell,” sophomore defenseman Scott McWilliams said. “They have a bunch of good midfielders, and they started attacking from the midfield a little bit more. But we knew they were still going to be a very good team.”
*Mock and English scored two goals each, but no other player had more than one goal. Still, Cornell coach Ben DeLuca is confident that the offense can find someone to fill the quarterback role that Pannell so effortlessly managed. “I think that’s more of our philosophy, more of that team, selfless mentality,” DeLuca said. “I think we have six quarterbacks on the field, and I think [freshman] Matt Donovan and Steve Mock and Connor English are capable of being quarterbacks at the attack, and [midfield] guys like [senior] Chris Langton, [junior] Max Von Bourgondien and [senior] Roy Lang and [senior] J.J. Gilbane and [senior] Scott Austin are capable of running our offense and exploiting matchups. So we’re really focused on balance and taking what a defense is going to give us and capitalizing on the opportunities we’re able to generate.”
*English, who transferred from Virginia in the offseason, was quiet until the fourth quarter when he scored a pair of goals within 21-second span. Starsia said he cringed as English began to make his mark. “Just looking at Connor English on the other side, saying, ‘Please, not today,’” Starsia said. “It almost happened late.” DeLuca was pleased with English’s display. “He’s evolving as a player,” DeLuca said. “I think he’s done a wonderful job. He’s bought in the whole way as a guy who came in just this spring, and we’re trying to bring him along gradually. The injury to Rob forced our hand a little bit, and I think he’s capable of doing that, and we were thrilled for him to have that type of spark in the second half and bring us close.”
*Senior midfielder Roy Lang finished with a goal on three shots, but he spent a good portion of Saturday’s contest as a short-stick defensive midfielder. Lang, who led the midfield in scoring last season with 27 goals and nine assists, will be employed in a number of roles, according to DeLuca. “I think Roy brings so much to us at both ends of the field,” he said. “But particularly on the defensive end of the field, he allows us to be athletic, to cover some guys that otherwise exploit matchups on other teams. And I think one of the things he really does well for us is spark transition offense. Getting the ball and allowing him to clear the ball and generate. … Roy as a senior leader has accepted being a jack of all trades. He’s on just about every faceoff, he’s going to play a lot of defense for us, he’s going to play some offense. Depending on the matchup, he may score a lot of goals or he may not. I think his impact can be seen and felt more outside of the stat sheet than a lot of guys on other teams.”