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Why Does Cornell Always Lose?

On May 28, 1977, Cornell defeated Johns Hopkins for the NCAA lacrosse national championship. As one alumnus wrote on eLynah, who would have thought that 1977 would have been the last time that Cornell won a national championship in any of those sports that we really care about?

At that time, Cornell had just won back-to-back championships in lacrosse, and the Big Red had won two NCAA hockey championships over the previous ten years.

Of course, I should mention Cornell's recent championships in women's polo (2011) and lightweight crew (2006-8). Congratulations to those teams. But even at Cornell, polo and crew are relatively minor sports.

As happens at the end of every season, some will claim that the day has passed when Cornell could realistically win a championship in lacrosse, hockey, or wrestling. They will blame recruiting and the Ivy League ban on scholarships. They will blame an increase in parity and changes in the way these sports are played.

But the truth is that Cornell has put itself in a position to win that elusive NCAA title. Cornell's wrestling team was favored all year to win the NCAA title, but figured out a way to finish second. Cornell's women's hockey team was a title favorite this year, but fell in the national semifinal; a year earlier, as the underdogs, they lost a triple overtime heartbreaker in the NCAA final.

And who else watched that 2010 women's final and was constantly reminded of that 2006 NCAA men's quarterfinal, when Cornell lost a heartbreaker in triple overtime? Or the year before, when the Cornell men lost in just one overtime in the quarterfinal? Both teams were legitimate NCAA contenders. And of course, the 2003 men's hockey team was the most talented team since the 1970s, but lost a controversial and heartbreaking game to New Hampshire in the NCAA semifinal.

Now, for men's lacrosse. Heading into the NCAA quarterfinal round, this year's squad was a popular pick among the experts to win it all. That dream ended in the first half when Cornell gave up nine unanswered goals to eventual champion Virginia. In 2010, Cornell reached the final four. In 2009, Cornell had the lead and the ball with seconds remaining in the NCAA title game against Syracuse, but found a way to lose. Much as I would like to, I will never be able to erase that game from my memory. And I should also mention 2007, when Cornell lost a frustrating game to Duke in the national semifinal in Baltimore.

My goal here is not to remind Cornell fans of our painful recent history in the NCAA tournament. Instead, I hope that I have demonstrated that Cornell has been within reach of a meaningful NCAA title so many times over these last few years. Since 2003, we have seen three Frozen Fours in hockey and three in lacrosse, plus a runner-up finish in lacrosse. Statistics says that we should have been able to come up with at least one title during that stretch.

I would rather be in our position than in the position of a school that hasn't even come close to winning anything. Still, what is it about Cornell that dooms us to these oh-so-close finishes? Why couldn't the 2003 men's hockey team fulfill their mission as the best team of our generation and take home the trophy in Buffalo? Why couldn't the men's lacrosse team hold on for just a few more seconds in 2009 in Foxboro? Why couldn't the women's hockey team get that elusive goal in overtime in 2010 in Minneapolis? Why couldn't the wrestling team play to expectations and take home the trophy in Philadelphia?

I have seen many of these games in person. I often look back and think, what if? But I still don't know what makes us lose these games. I just don't know. And next year, we'll lace up our lacrosse cleats yet again and take to the field, pursuing our goal, and our dreams.

Elie Bilmes | Posted on May 31, 2011 (#)

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