The men’s lacrosse team may be the facing the “sickest of the sickest” this Saturday.

“Saturday is a chance at playing a team that could be No. 1 in the country,” midfielder Jonathan Koenig ’08 said.

The Elis (2-3, 0-1 Ivy) go up against undefeated No. 3 Cornell (5-0, 0-0), who recently upset No. 2 Duke, when they travel to Ithaca, N.Y. Though the Big Red are highly ranked, the Bulldogs are used to tough competition. The Elis have faced four teams ranked in the top 20 nationally this season. During spring training, the Elis had two big wins against then-No. 19 Fairfield and Providence.

“We hit the ground running this year beating two top-20 teams,” Yale head coach Andy Shay said.

But last weekend’s loss to No. 14 Penn was a big disappointment. Shay said the Bulldogs did not have their legs when they played the Quakers.

Heading into this weekend, Shay acknowledged the Elis’ underdog status, but said he is optimistic and thinks anything can happen in the game.

“We’re the severe underdog,” Shay said. “There isn’t a lot of pressure. We’re going to go out and play hard. The best case scenario would be to win the game.”

Many of the players see Saturday as an opportunity to prove themselves, with nothing to lose. Dan Kallaugher ’06, the No. 2 faceoff man in the nation last year, said he wants the Bulldogs to focus on just playing their game.

“I expect us to play our game,” he said. “If we play well in our system, I think we can certainly make it a close game. If we play our system, if defense plays well, and offense meshes. It will be a whole team effort.”

Long pole Gray Eklund ’06, a leading defensive player, said the defense has been challenged in its last five games. Eklund said defense has a lot to prove after last year. But after a year of playing together, Eklund said he hopes the returning men will drive the team.

“Our problem last year was not getting the ball,” Eklund said. “To be a better team, defense wants to focus on transition plays and getting the ball to the offense.”

Kallaugher said he has already seen vast defensive improvement. This weekend, the defense needs to make the transitions and get the ball up to the attack so that players such as Dan Brillman ’06, David Schecter ’06 and Colin Neville ’06 have the chance to score. Last weekend, the Bulldogs had more shots (44-34) and more ground balls (31-27) than the Quakers but did not produce quality scoring chances.

Without a doubt, it will require an impressive team effort offensively and defensively for the Elis to defeat the Big Red.

Koenig said Shay wants the Bulldogs to focus more on winning the ground ball battle. The team that dominates the possession of ground balls is much more likely to win the game.

“We’re trying to do all the small things right — mixing it up and getting the ground balls,” Eklund said. “We’re going to do our best.”