It may not have been pretty, but Penn men’s lacrosse needed a win and somehow found one in Ithaca against Cornell.
In a back-and-forth, sloppy affair, the Quakers overcame a two-goal deficit in the fourth quarter to defeat the Big Red, 10-9.
Leading the charge for Penn (4-3, 1-1) was sophomore Simon Mathias. The attackman, renowned for his consistency, showcased his explosiveness when Penn needed it most, scoring six points and coming up with the two biggest assists of the season.
With Cornell (1-6, 0-2) up by a goal and riding considerable momentum, Mathias set a pick for sophomore midfielder Joe Licciardi behind the cage, creating a favorable short stick matchup for the star attackman. Then Mathias with the ball, drove his man up the left wing and began to re-dodge, drawing a slide from Licciardi’s man. Mathias then astutely beat the help slide by passing the ball immediately to Licciardi on the doorstep for an easy finish, tying the game with about five minutes to play.
While the tying goal was an example of textbook offensive execution, the game-winner was anything but. The Red and Blue, possessing the ball with only a few minutes to play, were assessed a stall warning, meaning that they had to get a shot on target in the next thirty seconds or Cornell would be granted possession.
After a Reilly Hupfeldt offering went high and wide, Mathias picked up the ball in the back corner of the field with four seconds remaining on the shot clock. While many teams would opt to simply dump the ball in the opposite corner to set up their ride, the Quakers showcased some aggressiveness, risking a transition-sparking turnover to take one unlikely chance at a goal.
From that corner of the field behind the goal, Mathias rocketed a pass to the crease where a cluster of Penn and Cornell players awaited. Somehow, the pass got through the sea of white and red uniforms and found its way to JJ McBride on the high crease with about two minutes left on the game clock. McBride, a junior midfielder who had never scored prior to this game, demonstrated great concentration catching the ball through traffic and finishing for his third of the contest.
While Mathias and McBride delivered arguably the best performances of their respective careers, they weren’t the only Quakers to step up. Defensive midfielder Austin Kreinz, an unsung hero for the Red and Blue all season long, had a standout game without registering a single point. Facing a disorienting ten-man ride from the Big Red, the senior cleared the ball effectively every time he was asked to do so, absorbing checks throughout, demonstrating extreme toughness.
Apart from clearing the ball, Kreinz was also a significant contributor for a Penn defense that only allowed nine goals, three of which were scored off of fast breaks. Leading that charge defensively was sophomore goalie Reed Junkin who, after struggling in recent weeks, came up huge with several timely and unexpected saves.
The Quakers will need Junkin’s strong play to continue, as a matchup with perennial Ivy League powerhouse Yale looms next weekend.
However, if the Quakers aim to defeat the Bulldogs, they’ll need to perform at a higher level than they did against Cornell. Penn’s unforced turnovers and stagnant offense nearly resulted in Cornell’s first Ivy win of the season and, if not addressed, will surely result in Yale’s third.
Still, a win’s a win, and this particular win was massive, keeping Penn in the playoff hunt.