As I write this, I am on the northbound Amtrak Regional 88, travelling a few hours later than I had hoped. Original plans called for an 8am Acela, with a connection via Rt. 128 out to Gillette Stadium to watch the men's NCAA Lacrosse Final Four semifinals where Cornell is facing Virginia in the 'nightcap" after Syracuse drilled Duke 17-7 in this afternoon's opener. In the past year or so, since a Memorial Weekend drive to Gillette/Foxborough last year, to the day, I became very interested in the sport. It was a sport that I enjoyed with friends in high school but played only on a rare few days when hockey wasn't king.
Since that time, the Lyons family has enjoyed quite a run with the younger generation of the family all playing lacrosse competitively and quite successfully. Most recently, my niece, K, participated in her third straight women's Div II Final Four for C.W. Post. They have won a national title while playing runner-up in the last two.
Then, our affiliation with the Boston Blazers indoor lacrosse league (NLL) and the Boston Cannons outdoor lax (MLL) further increased my admiration for the game and appreciation for the talented players who compete, especially Dan Dawson and Mitch Belisle of the Blazers - two huge players who also happen to be fans of Johnnie's on the Side restaurant in Boston, 138 Portland Street... just a block from the TD Garden and a few doors down from the Blazers' 200 Portland St offices.
Well, as I write, the Cornell Big Red are hammering the University of Virginia, 15-6, with a little less than four minutes in their semifinal. Looks like a Syracuse vs. Cornell national championship game coming this Monday at Gillette where we'll be doing some tail-gating along with my good high school buddy, Bob and his charming wife Susan and the family. Their son, an All-American attackman for Cornell as a freshman is among the top crop of Long Island-based lacrosse plyers who make up a huge part of the big-time LAX programs from the likes of Balimore to the northeast to a growing portion of the athletes in the Denver/Colo Springs area to a legion of players from Ontario and Western Canada.
Here is a cool "ESPN Sports Nation" chat with Rob held prior to the semi-final today and check out ESPN's terrific coverage of the sport tat makes NHL hockey look like a day at the ballet.
Tim Pelham NY: Rob, What's it like as a freshman quarterbacking an offense that is midfield dominated? Your play reminds many of the late great Eamon Mac, did you ever see him play?
Rob Pannell: Unfortunately for me I have never seen Eamon play but have heard many great things about the player and teammate he was. That is quite the compliment. As for quarterbacking an offense with such a dominate midfield, it just makes my job that much easier. Max, Johnny, and Rocco are all great players who know the game very well and have helped in my transition to the college game. They are also great to have on the other side of your passes because they are all great scorers.
Ivyman, Litigious, NY: Cornell is a whole lot different from Quinnipiac where you were heavily recruited. What attracted you to each school, and were you recruited by any other Ivies??
Rob Pannell: What attracted me to Quinnipiac was that it was a beautiful campus and it was very close to home so that my parents could make the trip to all my games. Cornell however, is a longer trip. Cornells reputation as an ivy league school and the great education I would receive while here along with the tradition and success of the program is what attracted me. Coach Tambroni is also an incredible coach who I have had the opportunity to play for. I was also recruited by Brown and Harvard, but Cornell seemed like the right choice for me.
Will: Sachem, New York: Rob, You played for Smithtown West and played in a number of rivalry games on Long Island against Smithtown East and others, did you gain experience from high school that helped you against a rival like Princeton?
Rob Pannell: Playing in those games aginst against rival opponents in high school such as West Islip, Ward Melville, Smithtown East and both Sachem schools along with others definitely helped in playing against a rival like Princeton. Being able to come out confident and compete in the big games at the high level necessary and this started in high school. Also losing some of those games in high school makes you want to win them that much more in the next opportunities you get which have come for me here at Cornell.
Zach (Lexington SC): Rob, with the fresh young talent that the Ivy League has (with you leading the way), how excited are you that your League is on the way back up as one of elite conferences in the nation?
Rob Pannell: It's great knowing that you are able to compete against the best and having the Ivy League increasing in talent year after year just makes it that more fun to compete and prepare harder for each opponent. With players like Weidmaier and Fiorito on Princeton and other freshmen in the league the talent is increasing each year and continuing to be competitive which is great.
Lorrie: How's does it feel to be the Ivy League Rookie of the Year?
Rob Pannell: Its an incredible honor to be named Ivy League Rookie of the Year, knowing the people who have one it in the past such as Max Seibald. Knowing that I was awarded the honor over other freshmen such as Weidmaier and Fiorito on Princeton is quite the honor being that they both had unbelievable seasons as well.
Dustin(Edina, MN): Rob - How is your team planning on slowing down Virginia's transition game?
Rob Pannell: On offense we are hoping to control the ball and take best shot available as much as possible and at times we think we can run with them. They are a incredibly athletic team thought and is tough for any team to run and gun with them for 60 minutes.
Laxfan: Rob, Who would you say your biggest and craziest fan is?
Rob Pannell: I would have to say my biggest fan is my mom who is at every game and always there cheering me on, although my sister and uncle are probably going to be mad I didnt say them. Unfortunately I am not as lucky as Rocco Romero on Cornell to have a crazy fan in the pep band, so I would have to say my craziest fan is my sister who although doesnt make it to all my games, is always watching them on the computer and telling everyone she knows about me.
James (CT): Rob, was lacrossse your favorite sport growing up? Did you play in your town or elite travel teams?
Rob Pannell: Growing up I was always a big baseball player and had never considered playing lacrosse till 5th grade which is old compared to the age kids start now. The decision to make the transition from baseball to lacrosse was definitely one of the best ones I have ever made though. When I was young I always played on my town teams and during high school I played on Team Long Island during the summer which was a blast.
Jim Franklin Lakes, NJ: Rob what has the coaching staff done recently to get the team prepared for success? You've been playing great team lacrosee recently.
Rob Pannell: Our coaching staff has just been stressing our senior leadership and allowing our seniors to lead the way for us with all the experience they have had in their 4 years here. Coach Tambroni is an incredible motivator and gets the best out of our team in practice everyday. Our preperation in practice has been the key to our success.
Jason (Ithaca, NY): Hey Rob, can you talk a little about the leadership of this year's senior class, and what they've done to help prepare some of the underclassmen in getting ready for these huge games.
Rob Pannell: With the 4 years our seniors have experienced here at Cornell having won 4 Ivy League championships and having been to 1 final four already they know what it takes to compete at the highest level and win at that level as well. Our underclassmen look for them to lead our team and show us the way to victory and thus far they have done that.
Jared, NY: Rob, I hope you are happy with your Cornell decision. How have you enjoyed campus life high above Cayugas waters? Good luck Saturday!
Rob Pannell: The campus has been great. Your always discovering something new to do. It has everything someone would need while away at college and the gorges are unique compared to other college campuses. Thank you for your support.
Brent (Wayne, PA): Who do you think the best defenseman in the NCAA is now?
Rob Pannell: The NCAA is full of great defensemen and I am going to be facing a few of them this Saturday. Chad Weidameir on Princeton is one of the better defensemen I have faced this year. Syracuse and Duke also have great players on defense who will be showcasing their talents this weekend. As for saying who is the best, I havent faced all of them, but there are a bunch of great defensemen who do particular things well that other do not.
One of them happens to be on my team as well in Matt Moyer.