There may be no greater jubilation to experience in the game of lacrosse than that which comes from winning an overtime game. Cornell and Army both felt that joy over the weekend in multiple-overtime first-round NCAA tournament victories and will face each other Sunday (ESPNU, noon ET) in the quarterfinal round, with an opportunity to advance to the Final Four in Baltimore on Memorial Day weekend. Sunday's game is the first of a doubleheader at Stony Brook's Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium.
The Cornell Big Red advanced with an 11-10 win at home over Loyola, after junior defender Max Feely scored his first career goal in the third overtime period. Cornell withstood a Loyola comeback, as the Greyhounds rallied from a 9-2 deficit to tie the contest.
The Army Black Knights pulled the biggest upset of the tournament's opening round, a 9-8 double-OT win at second-ranked and two-time defending national champion Syracuse at the Carrier Dome. Devin Lynch's winning goal gave Army its first NCAA tournament win since 1993.
For these teams, the positive impact of the overtime wins stands out even more, because they've been on the wrong side of those kinds of games too many times for their liking over the past two years.
All four of Cornell's losses since the start of April have been by three goals or fewer. The Big Red held a fourth-quarter lead in an 8-7 regular-season loss to Syracuse that reminded some of last year's national championship game, also won on the game's final play by the Orange. The most recent example came in the Ivy League championship game, a 10-9 overtime loss to Princeton during which the Big Red held a four-goal lead in the second half. Holding on against Loyola and getting the win vanquished any negative thoughts.
"It actually felt very similar to Princeton in that we kind of blew a lead in the second half, which is extremely frustrating, especially for the defense because we pride ourselves on not giving up goals," Feely said. "It's not enough to play a half of lacrosse, you have to play a full 60 minutes."
The team's second-half trend might cause some discomfort on the sideline, but Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni preaches a different approach at this time of the year.
"I don't think it's really a concern; I think the bottom line is we just talk to our guys about the end of the day, at this point in the year as long as win, it doesn't matter how we win," Tambroni said. "If we score more goals in the first half, in the second half, first quarter or fourth quarter, it doesn't matter. As long as you put more on the board than they can, I think we'll be satisfied."
Army's season has turned for the better after a 1-4 start that included two overtime losses. One of those was a 12-11 loss to Cornell. In 2009, Army lost 10 games, the most in the program's 92-year history to that point. Five of those defeats were by a single goal. This team has taken steps forward and distanced itself from those negative trends.
The Black Knights have won eight in a row and 10 of 11. The overtime win at Syracuse was Army's fourth straight win in games that have gone to overtime. They're realizing the joy after being on the losing end far too often. Junior attackman Jeremy Boltus has 33 points during Army's eight-game winning streak. Three of those came in the win over Syracuse including an assist on the game-winning goal.
"Early in the season we had a couple one-goal losses and I think it was the first overtime [win], Colgate maybe, that we were going into overtime and it was like, 'Here we go again. We have the talent, we have all the ability, but the ball never bounces our way,' stuff like that," Boltus said. "With the recent history of this season, we've been knocking them out, all one-goal wins now and we have all the confidence in the world."
That confidence shows when Army has been able to get the big faceoff win, big save, or defensive stop in crucial situations. They build on that momentum at the offensive end where a number of talented options can hurt opposing defenses.
Sophomore long-stick midfielder Tim Henderson, an All-Patriot League First Team selection, said that a return to the lineup by some key personnel helped turn Army's season around and is looking forward to Sunday's rematch with the Big Red.
"We're excited to get back out and play them again. We lost by one last time and we've got everyone back," Henderson said. "We're rolling right now so we feel confident going in there."
These two teams have seen both ends of lacrosse's emotional spectrum, so each will be familiar with the jubilation or disappointment that will come Sunday afternoon at Stony Brook.
Joe Gladziszewski is an editor of InsideCollegeHockey.com.