“I’m hungrier than those other guys out there. Every rebound is a personal challenge,” said famous NBA rebounder Dennis Rodman, when asked to describe his success on the court.
The No. 17 Red channelled the same inner drive over the weekend, as it strived to bounce back from a devastating 2-0 loss to No. 11 Brown on Oct. 20. In one week’s time, Cornell dropped seven spots in the national NCAA Division I rankings and fell to second place in the Ivy League, while Brown climbed six spots in the country and took control of the conference leaderboard by one point. With its destiny no longer in its hands, the Red (13-1-0, 3-1-0 Ivy League) needed to earn a crucial win against the visiting Princeton Tigers if it hoped to keep its dream of an Ivy crown alive — and it did, earning a 1-0 shutout.
“We want to strive for perfection, but we understood that last [week’s loss to Brown] had to happen,” said junior striker Daniel Haber. “Sometimes you need a hard loss like that to wake you up and show you that it's not going to be a perfect season. We're going to have to work hard for every win.”
On Saturday afternoon against the Tigers (6-6-2, 2-1-2), Cornell gave a dynamic effort on the field — muscling its way into Princeton’s defensive third and fighting to create scoring opportunities. However, true to the nature of many conference foes, Princeton pushed back and fought hard to stave off any Red attack.
“Like all the other Ivy League games, we knew it was going to be a grind,” Haber said. “We had some chances; [Princeton] had some chances. Our defense did a great job handling our set pieces.”
Yet, despite multiple attempted shots on goal, the first half of play proved scoreless for both teams. Senior keeper and tri-captain Rick Pflasterer gave a strong performance in net, making one save in the first 45 minutes of play, compared to Princeton’s junior goalie Seth MacMillan’s two catches.
Wanting to grab the lead on the scoreboard, the Red needed to sharpen its execution on both sides of the ball.
“We just had to raise the level of play and clean up a couple of things on both sides of attacking and defending,” said head coach Jaro Zawislan. “In the game of soccer, that first goal is so important it definitely changes the dynamic of the play.”
Coming back after the halftime break, the Red approached the field with a renewed sense of urgency. Just over two minutes into the half, Haber struck and scored Cornell’s game winner — his 17th of the season. Junior midfielder/forward Stephen Reisert dribbled down the field, outmaneuvered Princeton midfielder Joe Saitta and closed in on the penalty box. He passed the ball off to Haber, who spun around and beat MacMillan for the goal. The national leader in points per game (3.00) positioned himself yards from the end line and ripped off a shot, which flew towards the far post and found a place in the side netting.
“I was waiting for the ball, waiting for the ball, and just trying to stay onside,” Haber said. “In the end, [Reisert] found me and I got a great pass and was able to put it in.”
A win against the Tigers was crucial for the Red in its hopes of staying in the running for the Ivy crown. With 12 points, Cornell is tied for second place with Dartmouth (8-6-0, 4-1-0) — who will travel to Berman Field on Saturday for the Red’s Senior Night. According to Zawislan, the team is back on track and remaining competitive in what has grown to be a very unpredictable conference.
“We are staying in business,” he explained. “The situation is where at this point in the Ivy League season you have to keep getting results, otherwise any result by the win can practically eliminate you from the contention for the Ivy League Championship because you start running out of the games where you can win the points.”
The win marked Cornell’s first win over the Tigers since 2006 and equaled the most victories the Red has compiled in a year since 1995. The team will look to rebuild a positive streak to close out the season, as it heads into its last home game of the year against Dartmouth on Saturday night.
“We have to keep improving because we always strive to be a better team for the following game,” Zawislan said.