Of all the Ivy League schools, I've always held a special distaste for Cornell. It's hard to say why, exactly. Maybe it's that my enduring image of the school will always be Andy Bernard (“I went to Cornell. Ever heard of it?”), or that their marching band actually marches (utterly lame), or that they have the temerity to claim that they also “go to school in New York.”
Regardless of the rationale, this weekend's athletic results were quite satisfying for the true Cornell-hater. Men's and women's basketball swept a doubleheader from the Big Red, while in the pool, men's and women's swimming did the same. #beatcornell, indeed.
I'll leave the swimming analysis to someone who has actually completed the swim test, but both basketball teams passed their first Ivy League test with flying colors.
Conference play—known in the Ivy League as the “14 Game Tournament,” as the league champion is determined by the round-robin regular season rather than a postseason tournament—is a unique and difficult challenge, which I can only analogize to the Triwizard Tournament in Harry Potter. The foes may be Crimson and Big Greens rather than dragons and merpeople, and the venues may be university gymnasiums rather than mazes, but the sense that danger lurks around every corner and that sinister forces are pulling the strings is exactly the same. Every game is intensely fought, all the teams are talented, and the back-to-back scheduling only adds to conference play's grueling nature. No game can be taken for granted.
With the confidence generated by the end of nonconference play (winning seven of its last eight, bulldozing five teams by more than 20 points, and nearly toppling St. John's at the Barclays Center), the men's team entered Saturday's game riding a wave of optimism about its chances in league play. But a good start to the campaign would be imperative—last year, the men's team dropped its home opener against Cornell, a stunning loss that kicked off a 1-7 stretch and the most disappointing Ivy season in recent memory.
We saw no such result, thankfully, on Saturday.
It was not a perfect victory. Columbia struggled to match Cornell's energy down low, and the Big Red's commitment to stopping the three-point shot kept the game a little too close for comfort at halftime. But after the break, Alex Rosenberg—who has recently been playing the most inspired basketball of his career, regularly putting up 20 points per game—and Cory Osetkowski came out with a burst of energy. The Lions expanded the lead to 15 within the first five minutes of the second half—a sufficient cushion to secure a precious Ivy victory. With their next five games out on the road, this win was a necessity if the Lions are going to make a run at the top of the table this year.
For women's basketball, the story has been a little different. After a season-opening victory, the Light Blue dropped their next nine games. Head coach Stephanie Glance came in with impressive credentials and a positive personality, but early results from the Lions didn't show much improvement.
Saturday, though, everything was sharp—the offense had movement and direction rather than the aimlessness that characterized the Paul Nixon tenure, and a defense that regularly allowed 80 points per game early this season played aggressively and smartly to limit Cornell to 64 points. The Lions built a seven-point lead entering halftime, topped by senior Taylor Ward's insane half-court buzzer-beater that sent the crowd into a frenzy.
In past years, this team has had a tendency to collapse in the face of a run from its opponents, making it very difficult to battle back into contests. But when the Big Red took a one-point lead at 43-42, the Lions didn't back down, matching Cornell shot for shot until first-year sharpshooter Carolyn Binder hit her fourth three-ball of the night to give the Lions a lead they wouldn't relinquish. Ivy play can be dangerous—that was certainly proven true for favored Cornell.
Andy Bernard's ilk drove back to Ithaca crying, and that's good enough for me. It was a successful start to the Ivy League season for Columbia's squads, and the aura of optimism around Levien Gymnasium will continue for at least another week.
Peter Andrews is a Columbia College senior majoring in history. He is a member of Spectator's editorial board, head manager emeritus of the Columbia University Marching Band, and is a sports broadcaster for WKCR. For Pete's Sake runs biweekly.
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