2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 18 Cornell (Men)

PHOTO BY PEYTON WILLIAMS

John Piatelli led Cornell with 45 goals in 2019 and another 20 in the abbreviated 2020 season.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 18 CORNELL

2021 Record: 0-0 (5-0 in abbreviated 2020 season)
Final Ranking (2021): Unranked
Coach: Connor Buczek (2nd year)

There weren’t many upsides to becoming a first-time head coach in the early days of the pandemic in the spring of 2020. The ultimate cancellation of Cornell’s 2021 season wasn’t one of them.

For the most part, anyway.

Big Red coach Connor Buczek, a first-team All-America midfielder at Cornell in 2014 and 2015, later an assistant coach and now in charge at his alma mater, did have one thing to show the program’s absence from competition.

Time. Lots and lots of time.

So Buczek and his staff put it to use. They had lots of theoretical and philosophical conversations, trying to determine exactly what direction they wanted to go and how they could go about improving the program.

They talked about identity and messaging and countless other variables. And they settled … on something that seems very, very familiar.

“As a guy that’s grown up in this system and grown up in all roles, as a player, as a coach, there’s certainly not a whole lot that changes,” Buczek said. “I think there’s a very tried-and-true blueprint here that goes back to the Ned Harkness/Richie Moran era, and it’s really cool talking to our alums going back to the 1970s national championships. Those guys have a very similar identity and a very similar expectation of what the Big Red look like on the lacrosse field. It very much comes full circle.”

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Virginia

2. Maryland

3. Duke

4. Georgetown

5. Notre Dame

6. North Carolina

7. Loyola

8. Yale

9. Penn

10. Rutgers

11. Lehigh

12. Denver

13. Army

14. Syracuse

15. Johns Hopkins

16. Delaware

17. Drexel

18. Cornell

19. Vermont

20. Bryant

If all goes well, by the time Cornell opens the 2022 season Feb. 19 against Albany — 713 days since beating Penn State in its last game in 2020, a mere 662 days since Buczek was first elevated after former coach Peter Milliman left for Johns Hopkins — the Big Red’s ethos and attitude should look similar.

The roster? Well, that’s another matter.

Many of the most recognizable names from a couple years ago, when Cornell was off to a 5-0 start, are gone. Jeff Teat and Connor Fletcher. Jonathan Donville and Brandon Salvatore. There are some holdovers, especially on a promising attack unit led by Michael Long and John Piatelli that is poised to be plenty effective even after Teat’s graduation.

Yet Cornell also stands as one of the biggest mystery teams in Division I. The Big Red didn’t play in 2021 and has a new coach. And it didn’t even practice much last year. Buczek said about half the roster was on campus in the spring, and the workouts they had consisted mostly of non-contact work and skill sessions.

But don’t confuse the lack of proven answers with an absence of talent. Just because only a handful of players on the roster have more than five games of college experience doesn’t mean there aren’t newcomers ready to contribute.

Attackman CJ Kirst would have played a role last season for the Big Red; he’ll definitely contribute immediately this season. Hugh Kelleher should etch out a place in a deep but largely untested midfield. Jack Follows, a Hill Academy product, figures to be a prominent piece of the Big Red’s defense.

“They’re all sophomores, but technically are freshmen in their playing experience,” Buczek said. “If those guys are really successful this year, they’re going to make us much better.”

The best source of success, though, will come from something Cornell has built and largely sustained for more than half a century. Since 2000, the Big Red has 14 NCAA tournament appearances under five different coaches. They have four trips to Memorial Day Weekend in that span, and in 2013, Buczek played on Cornell’s most recent national semifinalist.

For as deep as the Big Red’s staff dug, they came up with a sketch of a program that seems awfully similar to the roots of the program’s past success. And unlike the roster, there should be no mystery to the outside what Cornell will value moving forward.

“We want to be tough, gritty. It’s not always pretty, but we want to work hard. We want to be good in the middle of the field, and we want to be great with the [George] Boiardi hustle plays and the things that maybe don’t always show up on the stat sheet,” Buczek said. “To us, that’s success and how we compete at the highest level. Quite frankly, not a whole lot of that has changed.”







TOP RETURNERS

Gavin Adler, D, Sr.

A returning starter who forced four turnovers in 2020, Adler is one of a handful of knowns on the Big Red defense. Among the others: Long poles Joseph Bartolotto III (12 ground balls, six caused turnovers in 2020) and Danny Boccafola and short stick Harrison Bardwell, a mainstay in Cornell’s defensive midfield since 2018.

Michael Long, A, Jr.

One of the Big Red’s most experienced players with all of five career games, Long had 11 goals and eight assists in 2020. A strong all-around attackman, he’ll be one of Cornell’s most potent options on offense.

John Piatelli, A, Jr.

Jeff Teat drew more attention, and understandably so. But Piatelli led the Big Red with 45 goals in 2019 and another 20 in the abbreviated 2020 season. “If you turn on the tape, you see some of the things he does, how versatile he is, how well he plays with and without the ball,” Buczek said. “I truly believe he’s one of the best attackmen in college lacrosse and certainly a guy we’re going to lean on heavily with his experience and leadership and poise.”

KEY ADDITION

CJ Kirst, A, So.

Who’s going to team with Long and Piatelli? There’s a good chance it’s the latest Kirst brother to enter the college game. “As a young guy, he was as advertised,” Buczek said. “He came in during the pandemic year, so we never really got a sense for him, but was really impressed with him in the fall. He’s certainly in contention to play with those two this year.”

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Chayse Ierlan, G, Sr.

An honorable mention all-Ivy pick in 2019, Ierlan managed just a 40.2 save percentage in 2020. The Cornell staff thinks highly of the fourth-year player, who will be one of the team’s captains this spring, and sees a delayed bounceback year in the offing. “I think he’s poised for a great year,” Buczek said. “We’re really, really proud of him and the way he worked over the time he was away from the field. He certainly looked ready to go, so we’re excited to see him break out this spring.”

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Big Red:

“I think people will point to their coaching staff as a big question, but there are ZERO staffs in the country with as much experience in the Cornell model as the one they have now. I think there will be zero drop-off in culture, and that is what makes Cornell good.”

“Very little idea of what they’re going to be like. They have some known quantities there like the Piatelli kid on attack, but really hard to put my finger on them. They’ve always played really hard and they have such a strong tradition and kind of direct connection to that past with Connor Buczek coaching. I’m very curious to see who they are on the field.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

48.8%

The last time we saw Cornell on a field in a real game was that amazing battle with Penn State in March 2020. Since then, Jeff Teat has moved on and the team missed all of 2021. If you want to highlight an heir apparent, look at John Piatelli. He shot a career high 48.8 percent in 2020, and his efficiency marks were better for the third straight season. If he can maintain that efficiency in what will be a larger role, the post-Teat drop-off may not be too steep. — Zack Capozzi

Lacrosse Reference Glossary

Most Recent

2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 8 Duke (Women)

Duke's deep offensively, but who's going to distribute the ball?

2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 8 Yale (Men)

What do we make of two years off? "We have no measuring stick," says Andy Shay.

Behind the Whistle: Just Some Love and Support

In an IWLCA blog post, Brittany Hartmann discusses the impact of love and support.

Breaking Down Each Team in the Nike/USA Lacrosse D-III Women's Preseason Top 20

The undefeated reigning NCAA champion begins the season at No. 1.







Twitter Posts