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Dartmouth Lacrosse Greets Undefeated Cornell

  • Fifth-year Dartmouth men's lacrosse coach Andy Towers and the Big Green (1-4) host No. 2 Cornell today. The Big Red (8-0) won last year's meeting, 21-5. Valley News - Tris Wykes

    Fifth-year Dartmouth men's lacrosse coach Andy Towers and the Big Green (1-4) host No. 2 Cornell today. The Big Red (8-0) won last year's meeting, 21-5. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Dartmouth freshman midfielder Don Stephan (10) is one of numerous freshmen and sophomores seeing significant playing time for the Big Green this season. Ivy League rival Cornell, the country's No. 2 team, visits Scully-Fahey Field on Saturday. Valley News - Tris Wykes

    Dartmouth freshman midfielder Don Stephan (10) is one of numerous freshmen and sophomores seeing significant playing time for the Big Green this season. Ivy League rival Cornell, the country's No. 2 team, visits Scully-Fahey Field on Saturday. Valley News - Tris Wykes Purchase photo reprints »

  • Fifth-year Dartmouth men's lacrosse coach Andy Towers and the Big Green (1-4) host No. 2 Cornell today. The Big Red (8-0) won last year's meeting, 21-5. Valley News - Tris Wykes
  • Dartmouth freshman midfielder Don Stephan (10) is one of numerous freshmen and sophomores seeing significant playing time for the Big Green this season. Ivy League rival Cornell, the country's No. 2 team, visits Scully-Fahey Field on Saturday. Valley News - Tris Wykes

Hanover — Dartmouth College has had plenty of sports teams worth watching over the years, but the visiting lineup has also been periodically impressive.

Just last month, the Clarkson women’s hockey team skated at Thompson Arena, en route to a national championship. Before that, basketball teams from North Carolina and Duke, the North Dakota men’s hockey squad and the Maryland women’s lacrosse side all gave Upper Valley fans a glimpse of elite talent in their backyard.

Another such opportunity arises today in men’s lacrosse, when undefeated and second-ranked Cornell (8-0) pulls into town to face a young and injury-depleted host. The Big Red was written off by some after a hazing scandal last fall helped cost third-year coach Ben DeLuca his job and led to his interim replacement by Matt Kerwick.

Cornell has won 15 of its last 16 meetings with Dartmouth and was ranked third when it pummeled the visiting Big Green last spring, 21-5. The Big Red has captured the last three clashes by a combined score of 47-18. Dartmouth’s last victory in the series was an 8-6 upset of then-No. 6 Cornell at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., in 2010.

The Big Red graduated 16 seniors last spring, including NCAA career scoring leader Rob Pannell, and returned only four starters from a national semifinalist squad. However, you couldn’t tell by looking at recent results.

“They’re the best (program) in Ivy League history and they’re doing great things this season, considering what they lost,” fifth-year Dartmouth coach Andy Towers said of an opponent that has won or shared 10 of the last 11 Ancient Eight titles. “To play the only undefeated team in Division I lacrosse is a phenomenal opportunity for us.”

Dartmouth enters allowing 13.4 goals per game, ranking 64th among the 67 NCAA Division I teams. Cornell, meanwhile, boasts the third-best offense at 14.4 goals per contest. Attackman Dan Lintner is fourth among Division I scorers at 3.63 goals per game and must be licking his lips at the prospect of facing Dartmouth goaltender Blair Friedensohn. The sophomore’s .427 save percentage is second-to-last among the 60 netminders ranked by the NCAA.

In addition, a virus has run through the Big Green roster recently and Dartmouth lost four defenders last week, two to knee injuries and two because of concussions. Included in that quartet is senior co-captain Eric Clemmenson, who is out for the season with a ligament tear.

“It means we have to somewhat redefine ourselves,” said Towers, who earlier this season had 19 of his 40 players sidelined and who didn’t have enough healthy players for a full-field scrimmage until Wednesday.

“We can put other people in who can perform, but we can’t replicate Eric’s ability to lead the defense, get ground balls and cover the other team’s best player.”

On Friedensohn, the coach is succinct: “We’re not saving the ball at 50 percent and it’s killing us. Blair has played great at times and been inconsistent at other times. We plan to play him and (freshman) Jake Landman this weekend.”

Goaltending has been a pleasant surprise for Cornell, where freshman Christian Knight beat out three teammates, including sophomore Brennan Donville, a candidate to play for Canada at the next world championships. Knight is 4-0 as a starter after debuting in that role against then-No. 2 Virginia. He has a 9.40 goals-against average and a .573 save percentage.

A point of emphasis for Dartmouth will be avoiding penalties. The Big Green stops the opposition’s man-up unit just 37 percent of the time, the worst mark in the country. Cornell, meanwhile, is fifth in the man-up rankings, scoring 55 percent of the time. During Dartmouth’s 16-7 loss at Harvard last weekend, the Crimson scored on 4-of-6 man-up chances, while Dartmouth was scoreless in six.

Towers said that he and his players have been frustrated by what he believes is inconsistent application of an increased focus on hits to the head. What’s a penalty in one game never draws a whistle in the next, he said.

“Most of the college coaches hope that games aren’t over-officiated and that they’re decided on the field,” Towers said. “It’s a physical game and hopefully the refs will let us play. Dartmouth’s taken a beating over the years and we’re letting teams know that’s not the case anymore.

“We may get knocked out, but we’ll go down swinging.”

Senior defenseman Evan Bloom said memories of last season’s rout “burn in a lot of our guys’ minds right now” and that his team is determined to avoid a repeat today.

“It was a long trip and it wasn’t a good day for Dartmouth lacrosse in any way,” Bloom recalled. “There are a lot of things going against us right now, but the main focus this week has been on what we can accomplish. We know we’re capable of a lot better showing than we had last year.”

Dartmouth’s faceoff game has been bolstered this spring by the work of junior Phil Hession, who’s won 52 percent of his draws. During the previous five seasons, the Big Green averaged less than 45 percent.

Hession “has unbelievable speed and tenacity and he’s really become a student of the technique,” Towers said. “The other part is we use two long sticks on the wings in Bobby Osgood and Dennis Foster.”

If Dartmouth’s players and coaches need inspiration, they can look back nearly 35 years to May 9, 1979, when a Cornell team with a 39-game Ivy League winning streak was upset on Chase Field, just behind the Co-op Food Store parking lot. The Big Green hadn’t beaten the Big Red since 1965, and six times since that time had surrendered 20 or more goals in a game against its league rival.

Cornell won the 1976 and 1977 national titles and was the runner-up in 1978, but a raucous crowd saw Dartmouth spring a 12-11 stunner. Bob Garry scorched the grass with a low shot for the deciding goal.

Dud Hendrick, Dartmouth’s coach at the time, recalled fans standing four and five deep, completely circling the field.

“You’d have thought we won the national championship,” he wrote in an email this week. “For those few days, Dartmouth was the talk of the lacrosse world.”

It will be again, if today’s result goes the Big Green’s way.

Notes: Big Green junior attackman Adam Fishman, who had 11 goals and 10 assists last season, is expected to make his 2014 debut against Cornell after overcoming an injury. Teammate and senior midfielder Brendan Rotanz, a starter who scored 12 goals last year, made his first appearance of the season last weekend. … Dartmouth junior attackman Adam Hull is out for the season after undergoing back surgery. Towers said the Long Island, N.Y., product, who has played only 14 college games because of injury but who has 17 points, “was someone we felt could become the all-time leading scorer in school history when we recruited him.”… The Big Red will bring a pair of radio broadcasters to the contest. … DeLuca is now the volunteer assistant coach at Duke.

Tris Wykes can be reached at twykes@vnews.com or 603-727-3227.