ITHACA, N.Y. -- In a recent survey given to the 14 members of the Cornell men's lacrosse Class of 2015, the players were asked to answer a question: What is the weirdest lacrosse superstition you've seen? Eleven of the Big Red responded with some variation of, "The night before every game, Jordan Stevens sleeps in his equipment."
The response was a lie.
The truth is, Stevens doesn't really have any superstitions. What he has is the hard work and preparation to make him one of the best defenders in the nation.
As the team's defensive coordinator, Peter Milliman sees Stevens' efforts each day and knows that it's that hard work that leads to the 6-foot-1, 195-pound defenseman's success.
"Jordan is always looking to improve and his determination, work ethic and attention to detail are truly what differentiate him from other players," Milliman said. "He is constantly working on his stick skills, positioning and footwork, and he watches more film than any college lacrosse player I have ever seen. Jordan is a great individual defender and he is the leader of our defensive unit. We think he is as good a defenseman as there is in the country."
A native of Smithtown, New York, Stevens came to Cornell from Smithtown High School West, where he was teammates with James Pannell, the younger brother of Cornell great Rob Pannell (2013).
"I never played with Jordan in high school but I heard nothing but great things about him from my brother and my family," Pannell said. "Being from Smithtown, he stayed with me on his recruiting trip and he committed to Cornell shortly afterwards. From the first time Jordan stepped on campus, I saw in him the work ethic, drive and determination that have been consistent in the great players that have come through the Cornell lacrosse program. Jordan was a student of both the game and of the upperclassmen in the program. He took the time to learn what it takes to be his very best."
Being the very best includes being the backbone of a Big Red defense that has continued to improve throughout the season, allowing fewer than 15 shots on goal in five of their past seven contests. Additionally, the unit has held its opponents to fewer than 10 goals in eight of its nine victories on the year, including holding a pair of opponents (Hofstra and Dartmouth) to five or fewer goals.
Over the course of his senior season, Stevens has regularly matched up on the opponents' top scoring threat and has held his defensive assignment to nearly 1.5 points per game less than their season average. He's been even more impressive against Ivy League opponents, holding his matchup on average to two points fewer than their average against the rest of the conference.
"We usually put Jordan out on an island and we've come to expect that he will take away the other team's top threat," said Matt Kerwick, the Richard M. Moran Head Coach of Lacrosse. "He did it against Lyle Thompson from Albany. He did it against Conrad Oberbeck from Yale. He did it against Colgate's Ryan Walsh. We challenge him to match up on these great attackmen and he consistently does it. And he's not getting a lot of accolades but I think he's the best defensemen in the country and he shows it game in and game out."
"What separates Jordan is that he is always on," Kerwick continued. "He never takes a play off, in both practice and games. His focus is unmatched in all that we do as a team."
A cerebral player that doesn't put up gaudy caused-turnover numbers, Stevens is often overlooked, falling short of the national attention that the Big Red faithful thinks he deserves. But there is no doubt that Cornell opponents notice Stevens and appreciate what they see from him on the field.
"This year, Jordan has been one of the first players people mention to me after watching Cornell play," Pannell said. "I ran into Coach [Seth] Tierney on Sunday after Cornell defeated Hofstra, and the first player he praised was Jordan, and not just because of his play, but because of his presence and leadership all over the field."
For Stevens, the lack of national attention isn't unusual. It's just the Cornell way.
"It's been ingrained in our minds since getting here our freshman year that in the defensive end it's a unit," Stevens said. "We don't have guys who stand out or get major accolades. When that does happen it's usually because our team is having success. We have seven guys on our end of the field and the opponent only has six, so we try to work that advantage as best we can."
The other members of that defensive unit include fellow long poles Marshall Peters, Scott D'Antonio, Jake Pulver and Tony Britton, as well as sophomore goaltender Christian Knight. Stevens views the group as a huge part of his success and feels that the future is bright with this young group of players.
"There is a lot of good talent on our defense," Stevens said. "I know I play a big part in what we do, but I think our defense over the next two years is only going to get better."
A big key to the defense getting better will be learning from Stevens. And that's a responsibility that he knows he must bear.
"I like to think that if I'm doing my best other people will see that," he said. "I'm not trying to be anybody other than the best version of myself. I'm trying to get better each week and I think other guys recognize that and it's a motivation for them going forward."
Peters, a player that Stevens refers to as the best player on the Cornell roster, agrees that Stevens leads by example and that it's Sevens' effort that has brought the defense together and molded the young players into a cohesive unit.
"Jordan is one of the top players in the country but some of the things that go unnoticed are his communication and preparation," Peters said. "He is amazing because he knows where everyone else should be. He's always telling everyone where to go on the field. And I room with him on the road so I see the night before games that he's watching film of his matchup. He's watching his opponent's footwork and getting a sense of where he needs to be at all times. I think that's something a lot of us young guys look up to. I try to model my play off of that."
"Ever since I came to Cornell, Jordan has been my mentor and from a personal perspective, he's always there for me, both on the field and off the field. He really cares about people and he really exemplifies the 'well done is better than well said' motto that we have in Cornell lacrosse."
In the end, Stevens will wrap up his career as one of the best defensemen in recent Big Red men's lacrosse history. A four-year letter winner and a senior captain, he was a first-team All-Ivy and an honorable mention All-American selection a year ago. He will also graduate ranked in the top three in Cornell history for caused turnovers.
But more importantly, he will leave a mark on the Big Red program, not just for his efforts over the past four seasons, but for leading the way with the next generation of Cornell defenders.
Stevens is the ultimate team player -- a Cornellian through and through.
Even if he doesn't sleep in his equipment.