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Continuing the Golden Age After 2010

It should be clear to Big Red sports fans that the spring of 2010 was the historical high-water mark for Cornell Athletics. The season was marked by not only the unprecedented success of teams like women's hockey and men's basketball, but also the continued success of teams like men's hockey, women's softball, men's lacrosse, wrestling, and track and field.

In the weeks since, however, it has become clear that this pinnacle of sports success will not be matched in 2011. Two of the individuals responsible for this success, basketball coach Steve Donahue and lacrosse coach Jeff Tambroni, left for bigger paychecks at non-Ivy schools. Moreover, as unprecedented numbers of Cornellians have signed professional contracts, we are reminded of how many talented athletes played their last games on East Hill this spring. Basketball players Ryan Wittman, Jon Jaques, Jeff Foote and Louis Dale have signed contracts to continue their professional careers. If Joe Scali continues his professional career in Italy, as he is expected to do, then all six graduating seniors from the hockey team will be playing professional hockey next year. Add to this the early departure of Riley Nash, and the team's roster is severely depleted.

Going down

For men's basketball and men's hockey, 2011 will be no 2010. The basketball team will be anchored by junior guard Chris Wroblewski, but no other returning player will have averaged more than 3 ppg this past season. With the other Ivies hungry for a chance to beat Cornell after three seasons of Big Red domination, the team's inexperience may lead to some early losses in Ivy play. Many fans expect Cornell to compete again for the Ivy title, but another run past the first round of the NCAA tournament is highly unlikely.

Men's hockey loses 49 percent of last year's total offense, including three career 100-point scorers. Cornell's defense and goaltending should remain strong, but it's not clear where the scoring will come from. Mike Schafer and his staff have done a great job of keeping Cornell competitive every year, but Big Red fans should expect to lose a lot of close, low-scoring games next season. Another ECAC title is unlikely.

Staying steady

Look for men's lacrosse and women's hockey to repeat some of their 2009-2010 successes. Tambroni's replacement as lacrosse coach, Ben DeLuca, is regarded pretty highly among Cornell fans. The lacrosse team's losses to graduation are more than offset by the continued development of players like Rob Pannell, Steve Mock, and goalie A.J. Fiore. The team likely overachieved in 2010 by reaching the Final Four, but a repeat appearance is certainly possible. If that happens, perhaps Cornell's fourth trip to the Final Four in five seasons will be the one which finally brings home a title.

Similarly, the women's hockey team returns most of its key players, including forward Catherine White and goaltender Amanda Mazzotta. The team will also receive a boost when gold medal-winning Olympian Rebecca Johnston returns to campus. As with lacrosse, this year's team may have overachieved by nearly winning the NCAA championship, but another strong season is likely in 2011.

Moving up?

The Cornell wrestling team, which finished second at this year's NCAA championships, is the early favorite to win the NCAA title. Kyle Dake, Mack Lewnes, and Cam Simaz are expected to compete for the championships in their weight classes.

Although Andy Noel, Cornell's athletic director, has angered some hockey fans by cracking down on traditions at Lynah Rink, he deserves credit for putting together this Golden Age of Cornell sports. The challenge for Noel will be to battle shrinking budgets and coaching departures to sustain this high level of success in 2011 and beyond.

Elie Bilmes | Posted on August 01, 2010 (#)

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