At halftime against Cornell, the Harvard men’s lacrosse team was tied, 6-6, with the then-No. 2 Big Red.
But this was not just halftime for the game. This was the halftime for the season.
To that point, the Crimson had gone 6-4, struggled against talented opponents, and had losses to UNC, Duke, UMass, and Albany, with hardly any impressive victories.
But the Harvard squad that emerged from the locker room break was not the team that went into it.
“We knew that if we played our best, we were going to win,” Harvard coach Chris Wojcik ’96 said. “I vividly remember seeing a genuine sense of confidence in our players’ eyes.”
The Crimson outscored Cornell, 6-1, in the third quarter, ultimately clinching the victory and taking a step in a new direction while handing the Big Red its first loss of the season. From that point, Harvard won four of its next five games, beating ranked conference opponents Princeton and Yale.
Harvard finished with the best record in the Ivy League, and ultimately came in second in the Ancient Eight tournament just one year after finishing 6-8 overall and 2-4 in the conference.
“The Cornell game was the turning point,” Wojcik said. “It was a breakthrough for us for the rest of the season.”
And perhaps even more importantly, largely thanks to the victory against the Big Red, the Crimson was able to put together a strong enough résumé to receive one of eight at-large bids to the NCAA tournament, in which it eventually succumbed to Notre Dame in the first round on May 10.
This was the first time that Harvard had defeated Cornell since 1999, breaking the 16-game streak of dominance by the Big Red.
Last year when the teams played in Harvard Stadium, the Big Red won, 14-12, coming back from a three-goal deficit to finish the game on a 5-0 run. This year, playing in Ithaca, the expectations for the Crimson were low.
“We’ve come close to beating Cornell before,” co-captain defenseman Joe Petrucci said. “But since I’ve been here, even though the score has ended up close, we never really were ready. They always had so much more confidence and would approach the game as if they had already won it.”
This time, however, things were different. In the end, Harvard did not just win the game, but won handily, and made a strong case for its emergence as a potential national power.
“Cornell has been the standard for the Ivy League over the last 10 years,” Wojcik said. “To beat them on their home field was a validation for our players that we can legitimately beat anyone.”
The Big Red jumped out to an early lead in the contest, outscoring the Crimson, 4-1, but Harvard came back to tie it with 13 minutes left in the second quarter.