We've got some good news and some bad news.
First, the good stuff. If Harvard's lacrosse team pulls off a victory in its collision with Cornell at 3 p.m. today on the B-School field, it will be one of the biggest sports happenings around these parts in years.
And now, ahem, for the bad. Cornell may be the best team in any college sport this season, and the Big Red machine just set the NCAA record for consecutive wins (34) with a 16-11 romp Saturday over Johns Hopkins, the number-two squad in the nation. The Ithacans seized the NCAA crown in '76 and '77 and they return five (count 'em, five) All-Americans from last year's championship squad.
So why does Crimson coach Bob Scalise respond to a question about whether Harvard can win with a quick, unhesitant, "Yep--definitely"?
The Crimson's 1978 resume tells the answer. The 12th-ranked squad, following a 1-2 start, came alive in its last three games to score 63 goals while holding the opposition to 15. Scalise has the offense--which alternates between a 1-4-1 setup and a rotating 2-2-2 system--working like a gem.
The transition from offense to defense and the handling of unsettled situations have looked rusty at times, but Harvard lacrosse has finally reached the point where it can stay in a ballgame with Cornell.
"We have to execute really well--that's the key," Scalise said before practice yesterday. "We do a lot of stuff the way they do, so it comes down to how we execute."
Injuries could be one factor that throws the Crimson's execution off. Co-captain midfielder Bobby Mellen and freshman defenseman Haywood Miller both have serious shoulder injuries, but both will suit up and play, though their roles may be limited. The list of walking wounded also includes crease defender Frank Prezioso (ankle), and attackmen Jimmy Ossyra (knee) and Billy Forbush (shoulder).
"We have to control the tempo on defense, and we can't let the game get out of control," co-captain Hank Leopold said yesterday. "We'll need to control loose-ball situations, come up with more ground balls, and not let them beat us on fast-breaks to keep them from setting up five-on-fours or five-on-threes."
The problem for Harvard boils down to the fact that Cornell has virtually no weaknesses. Keying on the stars, like attackman Tommy Marino or middies Bob Henrickson and Craig Jaeger, would accomplish little, since the whole Big Red lineup is impressive.
The one possible crack in the dike is in the cage, where John Griffin replaces All-Universe goalie Dan Mackesey. But Griffin has the best defensive line in the country playing in front of him, and he turned in his best performance to date against Hopkins, with 17 saves.
In Harvard's favor, goalie Ken First has been playing well, the offensive statistics speak for themselves, and the team is psyched to the sky for today's tilt.
"I think it's going to be a close game--not more than three or four goals either way," Leopold said. "The score should be 12-10 or something like that."
Don't be surprised if that's 12-10 Cornell, but then, don't shut your eyes to the possibility that the news will be good when you pick up the morning paper tomorrow.