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The Boys are Back: Redefining Cornell Lacrosse
The heart of any team is its head coach and for Pete Milliman, in his second year with the Big Red, it’s a responsibility he takes seriously. And not just to carry on Cornell’s winning tradition, but to build a strong community of men with integrity, heart, and conviction to impact the field and world around them in a positive way. This season the team took time to reflect and reshape its culture.
“The thing that remains the strongest impression from this Cornell team is the strength of Peter Milliman’s persona,” says Terry Foy, Inside Lacrosse. “The faith and trust he earned from his team, and how committed he was to communicating a specific message about who the team needed to be in order to reach its goals.”
The 2018-2019 season saw an electric offense led by senior attackman Clarke Petterson and exciting beginnings for Australian newcomer and face-off specialist Tim Graham. Ultimately, the season ended too soon in an upsetting loss against defending national champions Yale, but even the disappointment of missing out on the National Championship tournament couldn’t take away the importance of what Milliman and his team built this season.
Here’s a look at some of The Season’s highlights:
The drive and heart behind the Big Red doesn’t just come from a desire to win. The team’s history is deeply tied to its future and every time the guys enter the locker room, they’re reminded of that history. There are two numbers that are sacred for the Big Red — #10 and #21. The number 10 belonged to Eamon McEneaney, an attacker who led his team to championship glory in 1977, but was tragically killed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“He was one of the all-time greats,” reflects senior attackman Clarke Petterson.
Number 21 belonged George Boiardi, a defender who lost his life on the field fending off a shot.
In honor of Boiardi, Cornell gives out the “Hard Hat” every year to a player who demonstrates an exceptional work ethic. That player brings the Hard Hat to every practice, every lifting session, and every game, as a reminder for the whole team of those who have come before them and the legacy of commitment and tireless effort.
“The type of person he was, the type of teammate he was, is who we’re always chasing to be,” says assistant coach and Cornell alum Connor Buczek.
The dream of being a walk-on is one few players get to realize, but for 27-year-old junior Hunter Hughes, the idea of trying out for the team wasn’t even his — it was the players.
Hughes is no stranger to intense training and pressure. He spent several years in service to his country as an army sniper with a tour of duty in Iraq before returning to the United States. After coming home, he started playing pick-up games with friends on the weekend and coaching a high school lacrosse team. At the same time, he was applying to colleges to see what his next chapter might be. Once word circulated around his team that he’d been accepted to Cornell, the guys told him he had to try out for the team.
Hughes is committed to never taking the opportunity for granted—being an example to his younger teammates.
“It isn’t ever something I would have thought I’d be doing, but I love that I am,” says Hughes. “To be able to put on that jersey every day and go out there and be able to just go at it with those guys, there’s not much better than that. I want to be able to set an example of work ethic and putting in that time.”
One thing The Season 2019 revealed about the Big Red squad is they truly are a family. Even on their days off, they make a point of spending time together, something that the guys recognize is pivotal to their success on the field.
"Last year, we really showed that just by caring about each other and wanting to spend more time together and with each other, that's kind of what took us to the quarter-finals last year," reflects Pettersen.
Each class of players has its own house and after four years together, the seniors are especially close-knit, setting the tone for the rest of the team in what it looks like to build that sense of family and community. For most of the guys, it means hanging out, eating snacks and playing video games, but the impact on the field is invaluable.
One of the players’ favorite moments of the season?
A hard-earned win against Notre Dame after a disappointing loss to longtime rival Syracuse. In the first half of the game, the Irish matched the Big Red goal for goal, but in the second half, the Big Red scored five goals in a row — with two from senior attackman Clarke Petterson.
“It was a great game in the pouring rain, and we came out with a big win,” says Petterson. “After the game we had a 10-hour bus ride home which at the time was not fun at all, but looking back on it, it was a great way to end the weekend. Those are the games and moments you remember.”
Though the season ended too soon, Milliman’s belief in his team’s journey was inspiring. In the final match-up against Yale, he praised their work ethic and encouraged them to see everything they’d accomplished as a team over the course of the season.
Halfway through and still down, Milliman had faith in their ability to come back — “It makes me proud. This is the kind of team I want to coach. Keep going after it, don’t ever stop.”
And even after a tough loss, Milliman put things into perspective and modeled humility for his team, saying he was proud of the team they had become over the course of the season.
“Keep your head in the right place right now. Your job is to leave it better than you found it,” said Milliman. “I can take a loss with you guys if I feel like we’re doing everything we can and on the field today is as much effort as I’ve seen us give all year. But always being the team that we commit to be is the most important thing.”
With a strong team culture in place, faith in one another, and motivation high to make a return to the National Championship tournament, we’re ready to watch Cornell take on the 2019-2020 season. Tweet us your predictions for the championship roster at @STXmlax!