Offensive efficiency, defensive creativity spark Cornell

Cornell is ranked No. 1 in the nation. The Big Red are 6-0, unbeaten and untouched. They were an afterthought in the preseason polls -- ranked No. 8 by most.

As the coach of Cornell since 2001, Jeff Tambroni has quietly made a reputation as one of the game's best. His teams have won 70 percent of their games. The work he's done this year exceeds any prior accolades. This Cornell team has come out of nowhere and is on the verge of a sixth consecutive season with more than nine wins.

How has Cornell done it? Offensive efficiency. The Big Red average 43 shots per game and hold opponents to only 28. They shoot 32 percent while their opponents hit the net only 21 percent of the time. They get off to a good start and dictate tempo. The Big Red have outscored their opponents 40-13 in the first halves of games.

Tambroni has had success with an underrated cast. Eric Pittard (a transfer from Virginia) averages four points per game. David Mitchell, from one of the coolest-named towns in the world -- Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, Canada -- leads the team with 16 goals.

"[Mitchell] has a knack for the goal and [is a] great target inside, but he is a wonderful athlete -- one of our best," said Tambroni. "At 6-2, he runs very well and has been as much of an impact on the ride and off the ground as he has been at scoring goals."

Look at their stats. Who are these guys? I've never heard of John Glynn, Brian Clayton and Henry Bartlett.

"Henry and Brian are both seniors," Tambroni said. "Henry has not played much, but he has hung in there over his four years as a backup and has waited his turn."

Bartlett is an overachiever, a worker on and off the field. Clayton is a true two-end midfielder.

"Brian Clayton has bounced from a starter to a second line middie over his career -- he has been overshadowed by Joe Boulukos, Justin Redd and Max Seibald -- but has been a consistent member of our lineup over the four years," Tambroni said.

Tambroni loves the intangibles that Glynn adds to the mix, calling him a "throwback middie." Glynn tore his ACL last year, but is back, providing the Big Red with depth at midfield.

Cornell's most heralded midfielder, of course, is Seibald, a sophomore who scored 19 goals as a rookie.

"Max is shooting only 16 percent," Tambroni said. "He draws the pole, gets the early slide. Max missed all of preseason with an injury and has received a ton of attention."

Seibald is terrific in the middle third of the field but has yet to find his rhythm in the offense. But when you watch tape of Cornell, he's invaluable. It's just a matter of time before he starts burying his shots.

The defense has held opponents to an average of 28 shots and less than six goals per game. It's a very simple science. Tambroni is eager to share the credit with assistant coach Ben DeLuca, a 1998 Cornell grad and captain for Dave Pietramala's Big Red as a senior.

DeLuca has been creative in assembling defensive personnel.

"Matt McMonagle has been consistent in goal, while Mitch Belisle and company have been steady in front of him … no real superstars, but they all grind. We have two converted short sticks playing close [Belisle and Danny Nathan], a converted goalie playing pole [Ethan Vedder] and a converted attack man playing short-stick [George Calvert]," Tambroni said.

In 2004, the Cornell program played for George Boiardi, a senior lacrosse player who died after being struck in the chest with a lacrosse ball during a game. His tragic death inspired and motivated. Cornell has been playing for his cause for the past three years. His legacy is alive in their culture.

"We are optimistically realistic," Tambroni said. "We are happy to be undefeated at this point, but realize we have so much to learn and so much to improve on with teams like SU, Princeton, Hobart and our Ivy League schedule in front of us."

The Big Red haven't played at home since Feb. 27. Cornell returns to Ithaca to play host to Penn at Schoellkopf Field on March 31 at 3 p.m. The Big Red's unblemished record will be tested by a trip to the Carrier Dome on April 10 and against rival Princeton on April 21. The glory days are back at Cornell.

Quint Kessenich played goalie for Johns Hopkins in 1990 and is a lacrosse analyst for ESPNU. E-mail him at quint@insidelacrosse.com. ESPN.com is working with Inside Lacrosse to provide you with news and analysis. Click here for more coverage.