Great to be Here: Maryland, Cornell Meet in an NCAA Final with Plenty of Similarities

PHOTO BY RICH BARNES


EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Cornell coach Connor Buczek sat down Sunday morning and offered a simple — and oh-so-familiar — benediction on the eve of the Big Red’s national title game date with Maryland.

“It’s great to be here,” Buczek said knowingly.

On the surface, it’s an obvious sentiment. Seventh-seeded Cornell had gone nearly two years without playing a game. A hundred days later, the Big Red (14-4) will play for their first national title since 1977.

But it’s far more than that. It was former Cornell coach Richie Moran’s trademark philosophy, so much so that Moran used those five words as the title for his autobiography.

And the late Moran, who died April 25, is the biggest of the ties that tightly bind two of the sport’s blueblood programs.

Moran is a 1960 Maryland graduate who went on to have a 29-year run in Ithaca, winning national titles in 1971, 1976 and 1977. The team the Big Red knocked off in 1971 (the first NCAA title game) and 1976? None other than Maryland.

Maryland coach John Tillman? He’s a Cornell graduate who played for Moran and has gone on to lead the top-seeded Terrapins (17-0) to nine NCAA semifinal appearances since 2011. This year marks Maryland’s seventh Memorial Day date in 12 seasons.

The Terps also feature midfielder Jonathan Donville, who played three years at Cornell and graduated last year. He has 30 goals and 22 assists entering Monday’s meeting with his final game.

“I think it’s cool for the Cornell program,” Buczek said. “I think this place is very special for a lot of reasons, and I think you see that crossover. You see a lot of that Cornell mentality that coach Tills took from his time playing for coach Moran. … There’s a lot of DNA shared between these programs, and rightfully so.”

So much of what makes Cornell’s push to its first NCAA final since 2009 is how much it leaned on that DNA in trying circumstances. Buczek, 28, is the youngest coach to lead a team to a national title game. He did it in his first season as a head coach, though he got the job more than two years ago after Peter Milliman left for Johns Hopkins.

A two-time First Team All-America midfielder who graduated from Cornell in 2015, Buczek built a young staff and maintained a roster steeped in the ethos Moran helped instill during his nearly three-decade run and later as something of a program patriarch, a man who connected the generations of Big Red players.







Even as coaches have changed at Cornell, much has remained the same about the Big Red’s approach — Tough, disciplined, unrelenting — all of which were on display in a 17-10 semifinal pounding of Rutgers on Saturday.

“We talk a lot about the long Cornell bloodline,” faceoff specialist Angelo Petrakis said. “There’s a lot of historic players that came through and Cornell alums do a lot for us. It was awesome to make them proud [Saturday] and celebrate the moment.”

Those traits tend to mirror how Tillman has built Maryland. He immediately took the Terps to NCAA finals while unseeded in 2011 and 2012, then lost to Denver in a championship game snoozer in 2015 and North Carolina in gut-wrenching fashion in 2016.

Then came the breakthrough of 2017, the Matt Rambo-led team that ended a 42-year title drought in College Park. That team wasn’t undefeated — last year’s was up until a 17-16 loss to Virginia on the last day of the season.

Now the Terps are back, yet again without a loss on the ledger, and against the program with which it shares so many similarities.

“It’s crazy how coach passes and then the two teams he was most aligned with, his alma mater and a place he called home for so long, they’re playing for a national championship,” Tillman said. “It’s the craziest thing. Coach was very successful and had a great way of impacting people positively. Maybe there’s still some mojo in the works. I know he’s looking down proud. He impacted so many of us.”

Buczek was understandably complimentary of Maryland, noting how the Terps have created issues for everyone they’ve played. At the same time, this Cornell team’s legacy is already secure (though it could obviously swell with another victory).

For Maryland, winners of 34 of its last 35, it has built toward Monday for the last 364 days, ever since a perfect season was spoiled in the end. The Terps haven’t taken much visible satisfaction in any of their accomplishments, from Big Ten regular season and tournament titles to their victories to clinch spots in the semifinals and title game.

“I don’t feel like it’s a complete failure if we don’t win,” Tillman said. “Sure, there’s going to be disappointment, because that was one of the things you were hoping to do. But we’ve accomplished a lot so far. I think the guys would like to finish it off the right way, but that’s a really good Cornell team that’s standing in the way.”

One that’s come a long way from not seeing the field for nearly 23 months.

“Coming off 2020 getting canceled and 2021 not playing, you have to have fun with it and enjoy it out there,” goalie Chayse Ierlan said. “At the end of the day, that’s why you play.”

Which is why it’ll be great for both Cornell and Maryland to be here come Monday afternoon.

Most Recent

2023 NCAA Lacrosse Rankings: No. 6 Syracuse (Women)

Health and goalie play seem to be the only things standing in Syracuse's way.

2023 NCAA Lacrosse Rankings: No. 6 Notre Dame (Men)

Snubbed by the NCAA Selection Committee, there's plenty of fuel for Notre Dame's fire.

Time Away Couldn't Stop Record-Setting Jane Earley

Earley registered a school-record 80 goals after essentially missing two years.

2023 NCAA Lacrosse Rankings: No. 7 Rutgers (Women)

Coming off a history-making season, Rutgers is catching nobody by surprise in 2023.







Twitter Posts