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Rivalry Week: Cornell-Syracuse and the Central New York Lacrosse Experience

This one is for all the salt potatoes.



I'm not from Central New York and I no longer live there. My time in the region was limited to the four years I spent there as an undergraduate at Syracuse University. Through that brief period, though, I learned a few things about Central New York and its people: (1) The local food and drink offerings, while delicious, are designed to kill you in both quantity and in approach (between garbage plates, Dinosaur BBQ, the notion of salting boiled potatoes to the point that you should seek immediate medical attention, and the region's dedication to winemaking and brewing, I probably should have kicked off somewhere around 2001); (2) The locals in the region have an abiding love of lacrosse and they're some of the most dedicated and intelligent fans in the country; and (3) If you argue either of the first two points, you are likely to be run over by one of the locals' tractors.

There's something special about the attitude of Central New York and the experience that it provides. That's what makes the resurgence of the Cornell-Syracuse rivalry a different kind of animal in college lacrosse's landscape. Unless you experience Central New York first-hand, I'm not sure that the rivalry translates as well as, say, Maryland-Hopkins. Maybe this meandering story and some accompanying words will help:

I was a sophomore at Syracuse back in 2000. The Orange were destroying faces that year (Syracuse was undefeated, a perfect 7-0, to start its season and ranked first in the nation), and some friends and I piled into my functional trash can known as a 1995 Hyundai Elantra -- it had a tape deck! -- and decided to drive down to Ithaca to watch Syracuse take on Cornell in a Tuesday night bonanza (the Red were ranked ninth at that point). The weather was Central New York-pleasant: Bitterly cold, blustery, and raining. Despite the conditions, I painted myself up, moved to the back bleachers, and anticipated that the Orange would uncork a beating on the Red, a fact that would keep us happy for 60 minutes (Syracuse had already dropped preseason number one Virginia in their opening game, followed that up with a victory over a Hopkins team ranked in the top 10, and hammered their last two ranked opponents (Brown (14th) and Loyola (third)) by a combined score of 32-14). Throw in the fact that the Orange hadn't lost to Cornell in its last dozen or so meetings and it felt like we were all going to be treated to another impressive performance from a team that looked like the unquestioned favorite to win the national title that season.

It wasn't the largest crowd that Schoellkopf has ever hosted, but the morons that came out -- for both sides -- were into the game from start to finish. I don't remember all the specifics of the game, but Cornell -- then under the direction of Dave Pietramala -- played their tails off that day while the Orange seemingly went through the motions. When the final horn sounded the Red had earned a huge 13-12 victory, the first for the program over Syracuse in around a decade. Cornell celebrated; we miserably walked to the car and took the drive back up I-81. You could palpably feel the disappointment for the Syracuse fans in attendance, not only because a potentially perfect season had been lost but because the loss came against a regional foe that the Orange had dominated for such a long period of time. For the Cornellians, you could see the pride in finally erasing the curse that had seemingly been over the program for what likely felt like an eternity.

After that game, Cornell became more than just a piece of Syracuse's schedule like Hobart or Binghamton or any other New York State opponent. The Red proved that they could compete with the program up the road that had asserted itself as Division I's alpha male. In function, the game flipped the Cornell-Syracuse narrative: Cornell would no longer be the little brother that had fallen on uneven times after dominating the 70's; Syracuse was no longer without legitimate competition on its playground. It was the contemporary spark in a rivalry that serves as the manifestation of Central New York -- heartfelt pride, localized in a region that takes things personally.

Cornell-Syracuse just isn't "a lacrosse thing"; it's a "Central New York thing." It's now ingrained in the culture of the region differently than it has been in the past, and it has adopted the thrust of Central New York itself. I guess the easiest way to explain the rivalry is like this: Instead of going to Dinosaur BBQ and only recommending the pulled pork plate, you now have arugments about whether the proper recommendation is the pulled pork plate or the brisket plate. And some folks just go for the pulled pork-brisket combination platter because it's all so good.

Here's the tale of the tape going into the weekend affair:

Adj. Offensive Efficiency 38.64 (5) 36.55 (10)
Adj. Defensive Efficiency 22.68 (5) 25.04 (12)
Adj. Efficiency Margin 15.96 (1) 11.51 (6)
Pythagorean Win Expectation 83.92% (1) 76.36% (5)
Pace 73.91 (4) 67.01 (27)
Possession Margin +1.18 (22) +0.22 (32)
S.o.S.: Opponent Adj. Efficiency Margin -1.15 (43) 1.76 (17)
S.o.S.: Opponent Pythagorean Win Expectation 51.00% (31) 56.61% (13)