SYRACUSE, N.Y. — When top-seeded Syracuse faces off against Ivy League-champion Yale in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Division I Lacrosse Tournament, the Orange will be staring at a mirror image of sorts.
Just like Syracuse (14-3), the Bulldogs (12-4) seem to thrive when they’re down. Just ask Penn State.
Yale trailed the No. 8 Nittany Lions 5-1 at halftime last week, then rallied to win 10-7, becoming the first team in NCAA history to cap a victorious comeback after scoring only one goal in the opening half.
Not bad for an unseeded team.
“This run has been awesome,” sophomore midfielder Colin Flaherty said as he contemplated Yale’s first trip to the NCAA quarterfinals in 21 years. “It’s been a lot of fun really raising the bar even further for Yale lacrosse just a little bit higher. It feels great just to be part of, not only Yale lacrosse history, but really to put our program more on the map, having little kids looking up to us.”
The Bulldogs and the Orange will play today at Maryland’s Byrd Stadium, and the other matchup pits third-seeded Ohio State (13-3) against resurgent Cornell (13-3), which surprised sixth-seeded Maryland 16-8 last week. The other two quarterfinals are at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis on Sunday and feature Denver (12-4) against North Carolina (13-3) and Notre Dame (11-4) against Duke (13-5).
Syracuse is coming off a comeback of its own, a 12-7 victory over Bryant. Those Bulldogs bolted to a 2-0 lead in the first minute of play and added two more goals to lead 4-0 midway through the first quarter.
The six seniors on the Syracuse roster are focused on reaching the Final Four for the first time, something that once was a rite of spring for the Orange. Syracuse advanced to the national semifinals 22 consecutive years (1983-2004) but hasn’t won a championship since 2009.
“They’re going to be a really tough nut to crack,” Flaherty said.
So, too, are the Big Red, who are making their third quarterfinal appearance in four seasons. They will square off against the Buckeyes for just the fourth time in the history of the two programs. Ohio State holds a 2-1 series lead and upset Cornell in the 2008 tournament.
“They’ve been there before. They have the tradition,” Ohio State coach Nick Myers said. “They’ve been at the top of the poll from the very beginning of the year. For a lot of reasons, they’re the clear favorite, but we’re obviously very confident in who we are right now and looking forward to this opportunity.”
It promises to be a tough task with Tewaaraton finalist Rob Pannell leading the Cornell attack. He had four goals and three assists against Maryland as the Big Red scored a season high against the Terps’ normally stingy defense. The Maryland loss was its most lopsided in the postseason since a 19-7 defeat vs. Princeton in the 1997 NCAA final.
Pannell, who sat out last year with a broken bone in his left foot, has 143 goals and 339 points in his stellar career, third all-time in Division I and just four behind Joe Vasta, an Air Force star in the 1980s.
“He’s not just a scorer. He’s a guy who when you slide over to him, he carries a double team as well as anybody in the country and finds the open man,” Myers said. “We’re not going to change who we are, but we’re certainly going to make some variations to our defense to certainly try to keep him as contained as possible.
“It’s a team that’s averaging 15 goals a game.”
Myers’ players are on the same page.
“You know, he’s getting the national spotlight. It’s not for no reason,” Ohio State midfielder Dominique Alexander added. “He is playing at a high level and he’s very good. We want to limit the chances he touches the ball, obviously.”
Easier said than done.