A year after coming so close to the final four of the NCAA tournament, ending an emotional ride during which the tragic death of a teammate weighed on the team for two months, the Big Red of Cornell expected to be good again.
And, after a 2-2 start, Cornell is back on course with a six-game winning streak. The Big Red started its recovery by crushing Ivy League rivals Yale, Penn and Harvard, asserted itself further with a 16-14 victory at Syracuse, then held off Dartmouth 12 days ago, 8-7.
Then came an effort that was equally symbolic and convincing. With league rival Princeton on postseason life support for a change, Cornell lowered the boom on Saturday with a 17-4 rout, thus clinching a share of its 20th Ivy League title and officially eliminating the Tigers from NCAA tournament contention for the first time since 1989.
It was the Big Red's most lopsided victory over Princeton since a 21-5 road win in 1988, and Cornell became the first Ivy League school since Yale (1989-90) to defeat the Tigers in back-to-back years. Princeton had won or shared the past 10 Ivy titles.
No. 5 Cornell will try to complete its first perfect Ivy season since 1987 at No. 20 Brown on Saturday. A win would be worth an automatic NCAA bid, and the Big Red then would take aim at its first final four since 1988.
"We're going to enjoy it while we can. We know it won't be long before Princeton is back where everybody expects them to be," Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni said. "We're not a great team by any stretch. We have good players who compete hard and give us a chance to win. We've been opportunistic."
Cornell has won only 47.7 percent of its faceoff attempts, but its takeaway-oriented defense and relentless offense have made up the difference.
The Big Red is shooting a solid 31 percent for the season and averaging 14.5 goals during its winning streak, during which two players - junior midfielder Joe Boulukos and senior attackman Kevin Nee - have produced seven-goal games.
Against 3-7 Princeton, which had erupted for 31 goals and a two-game winning streak, Cornell took early leads of 4-0 and 8-1 and generated an amazing 62 shots.
"Last year was such a roller-coaster season," said Nee, alluding to the early-season, on-the-field death of defenseman George Boiardi after he was struck in the chest by a shot, a late-season surge by the Big Red and the 6-5 loss to Navy in the tournament quarterfinals.
"Losing by one to Navy showed us if we worked hard in the offseason and carried it through, we could reach our potential. We're getting there."
Terps breathing room
That loud sigh of relief emanating from New England on Saturday came from the ninth-ranked Maryland Terrapins, who shut out No. 17 Fairfield in the second half and earned a 9-6 victory that turned into Maryland's biggest win of the spring.
Besides ending a 1-4 slide and its first three-game losing streak in 17 years, the Terps (6-5) took a huge step toward the winning record that would push them into the NCAA tournament. It also took the pressure off Maryland to upset No. 2 Virginia tomorrow night in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals at M&T; Bank Stadium.
A loss to the Cavaliers - who crushed Maryland, 10-2, on April 2 - would mean the Terps would have to win at unranked Penn (2-10) on May 7 to get into the NCAAs, based on the Terps' strength of schedule and their victory over No. 6 Georgetown.
"Monday was enjoyable. It's been awhile since we had a Monday practice when we didn't feel terrible," Maryland coach Dave Cottle said.
Taking on Towson
Top-ranked Johns Hopkins, which survived a classic battle with Navy in overtime on Saturday to remain unbeaten (10-0) and extend its home winning streak to 33 games, will try to extend its record against Towson to 30-3 on Saturday when it visits the 12th-ranked Tigers.
Sophomore midfielder Matt Eckerl gives Towson (9-3) hope. He ranks sixth in the nation in faceoff winning percentage (.631), and Hopkins senior Lou Braun (.619) is questionable with a sprained shoulder he suffered early against Navy.
Hopkins has not lost to the Tigers since 1996 and has won three of its past four at Towson by at least eight goals each.
ACC men, women
What: Atlantic Coast Conference men's and women's lacrosse tournaments
Where: M&T; Bank Stadium
Tickets: Men's, women's tickets sold separately. Weekend pass $20, students $15; semifinal only $15, students $10; final only $10, students $7
Parking: $10 per vehicle
Today's first round
No. 4 seed North Carolina vs. No. 4 Virginia Tech, 5 p.m. Tomorrow's semifinals
No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 3 Maryland, 1 p.m.
UNC-Va. Tech winner vs. No. 1 Duke, 3:30 p.m. Sunday's final
Semifinal winners, 1 p.m.
No. 1 Duke vs. No. 4 North Carolina, 6 p.m.
No. 2 Virginia vs. No. 3 Maryland, 8:30 p.m. Sunday's final
Semifinal winners, 3:30 p.m.
Patriot League men
What: Patriot League men's lacrosse tournament
Where: Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium
Tickets: All-session ticket (both games) $7 for adults, $3 for students under 18; final ticket $10 for adults, $5 for students under 18. Students with IDs from participating schools will be admitted free. For groups of 10 or more, tickets will be available for $2 each with advance purchases.
No. 1 Navy vs. No. 4 Lehigh, 2 p.m.
No. 2 Army vs. No. 3 Bucknell, 45 minutes after conclusion of first game Sunday's final
Semifinal winners, 1 p.m.
The week ahead
No. 1 J. Hopkins (10-0)
Schedule: at No. 12 Towson, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Skinny: Seven of the Blue Jays' victories have been by three goals or fewer, including three in overtime. Six different players have led Hopkins in scoring. The Blue Jays have carved out a clear path to another No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
No. 4 Navy (9-3)
Schedule: vs. Lafayette, Patriot League tournament semifinals, Friday, 2 p.m.
Skinny: Since that embarrassing, 11-6 loss to Georgetown on April 3, the Midshipmen have turned around their season with victories over Maryland and Army and the nearest of misses at Hopkins. Four players have scored at least 13 goals. Junior attackman Jon Birsner (23 assists) is the main reason why.
No. 9 Maryland (6-5)
Schedule: vs. No. 2 Virginia, ACC tournament semifinals, M&T; Bank Stadium, Friday, 8:30 p.m.
Skinny: The Terps shut out Fairfield in the second half on Saturday, and they will need a stellar defensive effort to advance to Sunday's championship game. Junior attackman Joe Walters is the heart of the offense, but senior attackman Andrew Schwartzman is coming off the best game of his career.
No. 12 Towson (9-3)
Schedule: vs. No. 1 Johns Hopkins, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Skinny: Should they pull off a major upset, the Tigers would clinch an NCAA tournament berth. Otherwise, they probably would need to win next week's Colonial Athletic Conference tournament to get in as an automatic qualifier.
Schedule: at No. 15 Albany, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Skinny: The Retrievers remain a legitimate threat to win next week's America East tournament and gain an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The dynamic attack duo of junior Brendan Mundorf (29 goals, 25 assists) and sophomore Drew Westervelt (21 goals, 21 assists) keeps on producing.
Schedule: vs. Hobart, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Skinny: The Greyhounds have dropped four straight and will miss the NCAA tournament for the fourth consecutive year. Loyola ranks 11th in scoring defense and is tops in man-down defense. The offense is still lagging.
Mount St. Mary's (6-8)
Schedule: at Manhattan, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Skinny: Back-to-back losses to Marist and VMI have damaged the Mount's postseason hopes.