At times, Ben DeLuca is like so many opposing defensemen who are caught watching Cornell fifth-year senior attackman Rob Pannell’s wizardry. Unlike those defensemen, however, DeLuca, who is the head coach of the Big Red, is not tasked with guarding Pannell.
“Sometimes I definitely catch myself watching in awe some of the things that he does and some of the plays that he makes,” DeLuca said after Pannell recorded a game-high seven points on four goals and three assists in the team’s 16-8 upset of sixth-seeded Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament Sunday. “But to be honest with you, my coaches and I try to stay focused on our jobs – making adjustments, making sure we’re recognizing what’s going on in the game, doing the best we can to put our guys in the best situations to be successful. But there are certainly times when I don’t know if I’m shaking my head, but I just kind of thank the Lord that we’ve got No. 3 on our squad and we’re not playing against him because on a weekly basis when we practice against him, it’s a bear. It is a bear trying to defend him and account for the things that he can do.”
Pannell, a two-time Tewaaraton Award finalist, may have seized the lead in the race for the annual honor that goes to the top collegiate player. Of course it helps that Albany sophomore attackman Lyle Thompson’s candidacy may have ended with the Great Danes’ 19-14 loss to fourth-seeded Denver on Saturday.
In the first half, Pannell was too strong for Terps sophomore defenseman Goran Murray en route to posting two goals and two assists. He had a more difficult time against senior long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt in the second half, but still managed to amass two goals and one assist.
Pannell’s last goal of the day seemed to deflate Maryland. He curled around the right post, stopped, moved to his left, spun 180 degrees back to his right and backhanded the ball past redshirt junior goalkeeper Niko Amato to give Cornell a 10-6 advantage with 37 seconds left in the third quarter.
“That’s where I was aiming – surprisingly,” Pannell said. “I had one of those earlier in the season, and I had kind of gotten away from that because Coach isn’t too fond of those things, but I think it was the right time to do it. It was a clear look at the goal, and it went in. I wouldn’t have been surprised if Amato had saved it because he’s unbelievable, but I think I caught him by surprise a little bit.”
Terps coach John Tillman said Pannell is just as dangerous with his head up as he is bulldozing opposing defensemen with his head down.
“He’s a great player and I think what you have to do is give him his due,” Tillman said. “He’s going to make plays, and it may not even be a situation where he runs by anybody. He just always has his head up and there were a couple times when he didn’t really create any leverage, yet somebody made a real quick cut and he can throw it on a guy’s ear and create instant offense and suddenly create some things.”
Pannell conceded that Bernhardt was a difficult matchup, but do not take that as a concession on his part that he can be contained.
“I was surprised, but I’m happy to take on any defenseman,” Pannell said. “I welcome any challenge with open arms, and the five guys around me on offense did a great job of making plays as well. I’m only going to be as good as those guys around me, and they certainly made plays throughout the whole game.”Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times