In each of the past three years, the result has been the same.
Every time the current seniors on the Harvard men’s lacrosse team have taken on Cornell in a regular season contest during their collegiate careers, the final scoreboard has read: Cornell 13, Harvard 12.
Last year, the one-goal defeat cost the Crimson an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. Harvard got another shot at the Big Red in the Ivy championship game a few weeks later, but fell, 15-6.
So in this season’s version of the rivalry, the Crimson (5-4, 2-0 Ivy) only has one goal: to finally get over the big, red hump.
"I’ve had this game circled since last year when we lost to them in the Ivy League tournament," sophomore attackman Dan Eipp said. "I’ve never felt so down than after that game."
"[The three straight 13-12 losses are] definitely kind of a funny thing that have been in the back of everyone’s mind this week," tri-captain Terry White added. "We need to get a little motivation from it and then put that behind us and have confidence in our gameplan when it comes time to play."
But pulling out a win in Ithaca will be no easy task. No. 5 Cornell (7-1, 3-0) currently holds the longest home winning streak in the nation at 13 games and is 62-23 all-time against Harvard.
This season, the Big Red offense is as good as ever. Cornell ranks seventh nationally with 12.75 scores per game and has tallied 16, 17, 18, and 19 goals in individual contests this year.
But for the past six matches, that attack has been without one giant piece—senior Rob Pannell, who is widely considered to be the best player in the country. The 2011 USILA National Player of the Year, Lt. Raymond Enners Award winner, and No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 Major League Lacrosse Draft broke a bone in his foot in Cornell’s Mar. 3 defeat of Army, leaving him out six weeks.
With Pannell out, a number of players have picked up the offensive slack. Steve Mock leads the squad with 18 goals, while Chris Langton and Connor English have each scored 13 times. Matt Donovan paces the squad with 11 assists.
"[Pannell’s] obviously a great player," White said. "He does huge things for them. But I think what we’ve seen this year is that they have a really balanced offense and a ton of different guys contributing. It’s almost going to call on us to play a more complete game defensively. We’re not using [Pannell’s injury] to take them lightly, because it’s more difficult to beat a team than it is to take down a single person."
But the Cornell defense will certainly have its eye on one individual—Harvard senior attackman Jeff Cohen, who ranks second in the nation in goals (36) and goals per game (four). This Saturday could potentially be a historic one for Cohen, who is just two tallies away from tying Dave Bohn ’60 for first place on the Crimson all-time scoring list.
"We’re not really sure what exactly their defense is going to do, but it’s very probable that they’ll shut off Cohen," said Eipp, who ranks second on the team with 19 scores. "I personally don’t think that’s going to throw him off his game, because he’s so good in the crease that he finds a way of getting open and scoring."
The Big Red has been inconsistent in Pannell’s absence, taking No. 1 Virginia to overtime but struggling against Ivy foes Yale and Dartmouth, whom it beat by just one and two goals, respectively.
Nonetheless, Harvard will have its hands full against a Cornell defense that ranks eighth in the country playing in front of sophomore goalie Andrew West, who is ninth nationally with a 7.37 goals-against average. But Eipp thinks the Crimson—which is off to its first 2-0 start in conference play since 1998—can get the job done.