Making Transition to Defense from Midfield, PHS Grad Lis Emerged as Star for Cornell Lax
GETTING DEFENSIVE: Cornell University women’s lacrosse star defender Taylor Lis, right, stymies a foe in a game this season. Former Princeton High standout Lis enjoyed a superb career at Cornell, earning honorable mention All-Ivy League honors in 2019 as a junior and then helping the Big Red get off to a 4-2 (2-0 Ivy) start this spring before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo provided courtesy of Cornell Athletic Communications)
By Bill Alden
During her first two years with the Cornell University women’s lacrosse team, Taylor Lis toiled as a back-up midfielder, making a total of seven appearances through her sophomore season.
But switching to defense near the end of her second campaign in 2018, former Princeton High standout Lis emerged as a star on the Cornell backline.
In her junior year, the 5’9 Lis started all 16 games, registering 11 ground balls and five caused turnovers on the way to earning honorable mention All-Ivy League honors.
This spring, Lis kept up her good work, coming up with six ground balls and three caused turnovers to help the Big Red get off to a 4-2 (2-0 Ivy) start this spring before the season was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In reflecting on her progress, Lis sensed that getting moved to the backline would be a big plus for her.
“It was definitely a tough transition but one that I expected on a certain level,” said Lis.
“It took me a while to develop my offensive skills and then it turned out that we needed someone in the back line. That is where I liked playing the most so I transitioned into that role and that is when I started to play in every game.”
While Lis was a high-scoring midfielder during her PHS career, she always prided herself on her defense.
“Throughout high school, I was a player who was scoring goals and I enjoyed that,” said Lis, who also starred for the Tiger girls’ soccer program.
“But the thing I loved most about playing is when I had a challenge and we had a tough team matchup one-on-one with one of the players on the other team who we had identified as a big scoring threat. I loved having the opportunity to take that on as my mark on defense and try to shut them down.”
That mindset served Lis well once she became a mainstay of the Cornell defense.
“In my junior year at Cornell, I was not only a starter on defense, I ended up being someone who was selected to mark up some of the better players on the teams that we were playing,” added Lis. “I really enjoyed having that opportunity again.”
Earning honorable mention All-Ivy honors that spring was icing on the cake for Lis.
“That was a huge surprise for me, just coming on and being a starting player and someone who was a contributor on the field was all I was hoping for and the only thing I had my eye set on,” said Lis.
“I can still remember the meeting we had when my coach came out to announce All-Ivy recognition. I had no idea that I was someone who could be in contention for such an award. It was just such an honor to hear my name called and have my team recognize the contributions I made on the field.”
Another highlight during the 2019 campaign came when Cornell made the Ivy League postseason tournament where it lost 11-6 to Princeton in a semifinal contest.
“The intensity and the stakes were higher; we wanted to be able to prove ourselves and prove how far we had come that season,” said Lis.
“Unfortunately we fell to Princeton which was a big disappointment. We did come back in the second half and we held them to quite a few less goals than they had scored in the first half there and made a little bit of a comeback. It wasn’t the outcome we had hoped for but I am proud that we were able to stay strong throughout the game and not give up. We proved that we earned our spot to be in the tournament.”
Coming into this spring, Lis was determined to build on her breakthrough junior season, both individually and team-wise.
“My goal was hey that was awesome that I was able to achieve that honorable mention so let’s see what I can do this year, maybe I can make second team or first team All-Ivy,” said Lis.
“The bigger part of it is the team success. My best memory of Cornell was in my freshman year, even though I wasn’t playing much, just being part of a team that won the Ivy League and made it to the NCAA tournament. That was so fun for me and so exciting for our team. We have been trying to get back to that place ever since my sophomore year. We were looking forward to this year, not only being in the Ivy tournament again, being in that final game and winning the tournament and making an appearance in the NCAA tournament.”
In the early stages of the campaign, Cornell was on track for those goals, getting off to a 2-0 start in Ivy play, pulling out a 9-8 win over Harvard on February 29 and then routing Columbia 20-2 on March 7.
“We got the win by one goal at the end over at Harvard’s field,” said Lis.
“It was an exciting game for us. We knew that we needed to get a bigger goal differential in games like that to be able to set ourselves up for success against the top Ivy teams like Princeton, Penn, and Dartmouth. We came out against Columbia and we won 20-2. We really proved ourselves, like you know what, we can play tough games and dig out those gritty wins but we can also take care of our business early and put a team away when we are the better team on the field that day. I think we proved it to them the entire game. We were excited about that win and hoping that it would propel us forward into the other Ivy League games.”
But there were to be no other games this spring as the 2020 season was canceled days after the victory over Columbia due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was emotional and grim definitely; it came as a shock to us,” said Lis, recalling the team meeting where the players learned of the cancellation.
“I think being up in Ithaca, we hadn’t grasped the full
severity of the situation of the pandemic, especially with there not being any identified cases yet in that upstate N.Y. area. It was something we had on our radar but we didn’t really realize the impact it could have on our season at that moment. I thought if something was to happen, it might have been a stricter implementation of the restrictions. It was a big jump from what we had heard the weekend before, just that there might be some limits on the number of fans and things like that. To have the whole season canceled, it was tough to process at first but given the situation I am glad that the Ivy League has taken every precaution to help ensure the safety of our parents, our fans and us on the field. I understand where they were coming from.”
While the ultimate decision was understandable, it was particularly tough on Lis and her classmates.
“We never would have expected this kind of ending to our senior year,” said Lis.
“We had so much that we still wanted to do in terms of on the field and making it to the tournament. We were looking forward to our Senior Day and having the banquet and the recognition that the grade before us had gotten. We were looking forward to spending our last few weeks on campus when the warm weather in Ithaca would come. We had a lot of things that were a little unfinished for us. We are looking forward, whenever it is safe to do so, to returning to Ithaca together for one final goodbye and do all the things that we wanted to do in the nice weather — go back to the field and play a little pickup lacrosse, go to the gorges and sit in the sun, so hopefully we will get to do that one time soon.”
Since returning to Princeton in mid-March, Lis has been in constant contact with the squad.
“I keep in touch with my teammates, especially my grade,” said Lis.
“We were talking every single day. We also have a lot of team activities that we have been doing online. We have Zoom meetings with our coaches, with just us, and to discuss our plans for next year and then we also do some fun things. We had some trivia nights and we will get on life and one of our teammates will make up a Cornell section and then we will have a “your teammates” section. It sounds silly but anything you can do to keep in touch.”
Along with her teammates, Lis has been keeping up her conditioning.
“We all ran in the Headstrong 5K to raise money for cancer,” said Lis, who has been maintaining her stick skills through workouts on a bounce-back net in her backyard.
“We all ran the 5K separately at our usual practice time on one Monday afternoon so it was like we were all doing something together even though we were all apart. We had an Instagram up on our Cornell lacrosse page that had pictures of all of us in our Cornell gear
getting ready for the run.”
As Lis gets ready to begin the process of applying to medical school, looking to start in the fall of 2021, she feels that her time at Cornell, even with the abbreviated senior year, will serve her well in the future.
“I can’t say enough about my Cornell experience, I just loved it there, everybody I met, my team, my coaches, and all of my classes,” said Lis, who is deciding between working as a medical assistant in New York City over the next year or pursuing a grad program that will allow her to play one more season pursuant to extra eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the shortened 2020 season.
“I think I have grown in every way since I have gotten there, all for the best. I have really honed my leadership skills; I got a chance to get involved in a lot of different organizations on campus that I have really loved.”