BALTIMORE, MD - MAY 29: Cornell Big Red fans look on before game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during the 2010 NCAA Division 1 Lacrosse Semifinal Championship game on May 29, 2010 at M & T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Attention people that aren't Rob Pannell: Rob Pannell is feelin' feisty, and your face is directly in the path of his feisty fist. You have been warned. Your pre-2013 "Rob Pannell Safety Kits" are no longer usable. Please await instructions on how -- if at all -- you may avoid Rob Pannell cutting a path of destruction through your universe.
Lacrosse Magazine recently ran a series of pieces on Cornell's fifth-year automated exploding machine. (Part I, Part II, and Part III). In the conversation, Pannell talks about the insanity that was his recruiting, his injury last season that sidelined him for, functionally, the entirety of the Red's campaign in 2012, and the underlying motivations that constitute Pannell. They're fascinating reads about a guy that has done everything in his career except win a national championship.
And that's the really interesting part of the Pannell interviews. Pannell is, as much as any player I've seen, completely and totally focused on bringing a championship to Ithaca in his career. It's not like Pannell is trying to give Cornell something it's never had before (the Big Red had a dominate program under Richie Moran, winning three titles, and have been in the national conversation for 40 years); it's that he wants this so bad for his teammates and the program that took a chance on him out of Deerfield Academy. Just look at his comments:
Do you still have unachieved goals, and feel your resume isn't complete?
Yes. I want a national championship, probably more than anybody in the world. That's about it. On an individual basis, I feel I've proven myself.
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What would get in your way of winning a national championship?
Having experienced all different types of seasons — losing in the championship, semifinals and quarterfinals, winning and losing Ivy League championships, not making the playoffs — I know what it takes. I know the attitude and effort it takes, from a whole team, collectively. Nothing is stopping me from opening my mouth in practice at this point, from throwing people out for doing the wrong thing, or making an example of someone, for being that guy in practice who will call you out, and making sure things are done the right way. Things need to be done the right way in order to achieve success.
Gut-wrenching experience to lose in national championship game as a freshman?
If we win that national championship, I do not have the career that I have had. I possibly could have become satisfied. Maybe I just go in cruise control until I graduate because I have that ring. Thinking you're going to win a national championship one second and losing it literally the next second, you experience a whirlwind of emotions. It fueled me for the years to come, saying, "I need to get back there. I have to get back there." Constantly. Every day, somehow that game pops into my head one way or another. Obviously I would want to win the national championship. I want that win more than anything in the world. But it not happening allowed me to continue be self-driven and self-motivated.
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If you don't get hurt in 2012, how was the season supposed to go?
Cornell goes undefeated, 19-0, and wins the national championship. That's it. That's what our senior class made our mission for our final season together. That's what we said. All the other goals would have fallen into place. It was very unfortunate that I got hurt and we were unable to accomplish that together, as a class.
This is why college lacrosse is the best brand of the game going. Everything for Pannell appears built around putting Cornell in a position to achieve total victory in Philadelphia. He knows exactly what kind of player he is -- dominant, yet excruciatingly discontent in his abilities -- but it isn't about what kind of player Pannell thinks he is; it's about what kind of player he can be to help his team become the kind of team he thinks it should be. It's all substance for Pannell (the right kind of substance, if you want to get specific), and that is what is going to make the Red such a pain in the ass to deal with next year: Pannell is ready to play, and he's going to make sure that his infantry is the strongest in the battle.