Hugh Kelleher Bull Dodging His Way into a Pivotal Role for Cornell

PHOTO BY RICH BARNES


EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — Hugh Kelleher didn’t know that he broke Jaryd Jean-Felix’s stick in half until hours after he bulldozed through the Rutgers defense.

It wasn’t until he scrolled through social media and found highlights of himself lowering his left shoulder, unleashing a shot to the top left corner of the cage and meeting Jean-Felix’s stick with his bodyweight that he realized what he had done. “Might be time to put a pole on 27,” suggested ESPN’s Anish Shroff on the broadcast.

“I saw the video and realized I hit his stick. I was like ‘Oh wow,’” Kelleher said. “I shot it and my momentum took myself into him. Watching it now, have to admit it does look pretty cool.”

The Cornell sophomore middie was simply doing his job for the Big Red — clear the lane, reach optimum speed and dare the opposing team to get him to slow down. He’s admittedly not the most polished player in college lacrosse, but he knows his 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame can help Cornell win lacrosse games.

Kelleher did just that on Saturday afternoon, tallying three goals — including two on his patented bull dodge — to help push Cornell past Rutgers and advance to its first NCAA championship game since 2009.

The former high school football running back and linebacker’s goals provided a spark for a roughed Cornell offense, which created havoc for the Rutgers defense all day.

“He’s a beast athletically. He’s such a matchup problem,” Buczek said after Kelleher’s big day. “With the physical attributes that he has, maybe he hasn’t had the type of production that would indicate that type of athlete, but he’s growing up and continues to work on his craft and show up day-in and day-out like it’s his last opportunity.”

With his aggressive approach to dodging, Kelleher is no stranger to contact. However, he’s hoping he’ll be more intact than the defenders he meets.

“The long break at half helped heal any of the soreness,” he said after Cornell’s win. “No bruises or anything like that. [The hit on Jean-Felix] I feel, because that one hurt a bit.”

Kelleher grew into a dominant force at General Douglas MacArthur High School in Levittown, N.Y., where he played football, basketball and lacrosse. If he wasn’t bull dodging through defenses during lacrosse season, he was playing both running back and middle linebacker for the Generals.

The 2020 graduates' football highlights include barreling through opposing offensive lines and wrapping up quarterback and forcing errant throws or breaking tackles en route to plenty of yards after the catch. He was a physical specimen even when he was a sophomore at MacArthur.

His favorite part of playing football?

“Hitting people,” he said. “I played middle linebacker, so I usually led the team in tackles.”







Already a lacrosse commit to Cornell, Kelleher knew his path would lead to Ithaca (even if he was all-state in football). His ability to chase down quarterbacks and juke out tacklers translated perfectly to the lacrosse field, where he was a two-time captain for MacArthur.

He capped a successful high school career during the COVID-19 shutdown in 2020, and he’d enter an entirely new challenge with Cornell that fall. Handling the Ivy League’s cancelation of the 2021 season required a different kind of strength for Kelleher.

Last spring, he stayed home on Long Island, following Cornell’s team workouts and shooting around with teammates like Angelo Petrakis, Dom Doria and Jayson Singer. It comes as no surprise that Kelleher’s measurements in the gym are beyond that of a typical lacrosse player.

Bench: 315 lbs.
Squat: “It’s pretty high up there.”

Kelleher maintained his 220-pound figure throughout the worst of the pandemic. By the time the fall rolled around, Kelleher and the rest of the 2020 recruiting class were ready for a taste of college lacrosse.

From the start, Kelleher’s ability to get downhill stood out to Buczek and his staff. The sophomore scored in his first five games, tallying two goals and an assist in his debut against Albany. The dodging prowess was beyond his years, but both Kelleher and Buczek knew his shot needed to develop.

“He’s been helping me out a lot with my shot, ever since I stepped on campus in the fall,” Kelleher said of Buczek. “It’s come a long way, but I still have a long way to go. [Buczek]’s long-range shooting ability is something I’d love to have in my game.”

Kelleher admitted he’s fortunate to have one of the top midfielders of his generation as a head coach. Buczek, recently retired from the Premier Lacrosse League, has watched Kelleher closely and offered tips during practices throughout the season.

He’s seen the highlights from his sophomore middie — like the overtime game-winner in a thriller at the Carrier Dome or his hat trick against Hobart — but the consistency is the next step for Kelleher. He missed each of his four shot attempts in the quarterfinal win over Delaware and was 1-for-8 in the tournament entering Saturday.

His fortunes changed with a 3-for-5 shooting day against Rutgers.

“He works hard and shoots a million lacrosse balls,” Buczek said. “Last week, I don’t know if he put one on cage. This week, he was shooting well. We were talking about it and I said ‘I think he’s going to have two goals this weekend.’ Sure enough, he’s got two by the end of the first quarter and then he got another.

He’s a fantastic competitor and athlete. He’s a guy that’s just getting better at lacrosse and his ceiling is so incredibly high.”

While it’s easy for Buczek and the coaching staff to get excited about the future for Kelleher, the Big Red must focus on figuring out the riddle that is Maryland. Physicality is a guarantee on Memorial Day, and it just might fit Kelleher’s particular set of skills.

If he can get his shot going again on Monday, he could be a threat to the Terps’ defense.

“I knew I was going to be able to dodge, but my stick skills aren’t as good as they should be, so I had to work on that throughout the year,” he said. “Hopefully, it’s all coming together at the end of the year.”

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