In The First Year of The Connor Buczek Era, Cornell Has an Abundance of Talent and Upside

(Photo Courtesy of Cornell Athletics)

The last time the Cornell Big Red took the field was March 8th, 2020 when they defeated Penn State, 18-17, in the Crown Lacrosse Classic in Charlotte, N.C. In that contest, the Big Red put together an impressive 10-goal run in the first half before having to ward off a second-half, eight-goal Penn State run. Jeff Teat scored the game-tying goal with 18 seconds left in regulation and Angelo Petrakis put in the game-winner just seconds later to push Cornell over the edge.

Cornell ended that shortened season with a 5-0 record and ranked in the top five.

Since that contest against the Nittany Lions, a lot has changed in Ithaca. Peter Milliman left Cornell to take over the reins at Johns Hopkins and after nearly a year as interim, Connor Buczek was elevated to head coach of the Big Red. The Ivy League cancelled sports for the entire 2020-2021 school year, leaving many teams – including Cornell lacrosse – without any competition at all last season. Lastly, Jeff Teat and numerous other key members of that 2020 Cornell squad have moved on.

Due to them not even playing a single game last season, it is difficult to gauge just how this team will look come February or early-March of 2022. But while Cornell hasn’t been able to suit up against another opponent in over a year, has lost some very talented veterans, and is led by one of the youngest head coaches in DI who has no prior head coaching experience, the Big Red still feature an uber-talented roster and are still a force to be reckoned with both in the Ivy League and nationally.

Losing Jeff Teat certainly puts a dent in this Cornell offense, after all, he led the Big Red in points all four years of his career while being a two-time Tewarraton Nominee and three-time USILA All-American. Players like that don’t just grow on trees. The Big Red have also lost top five scorers in Jonathan Donville, who will be playing his final year of college lacrosse at Maryland, and Cooper Telesco. However, this Cornell offense still has a load of talent on the roster from that shortened 2020 season in which they averaged 18.4 goals per game in just five contests.

Attackman John Piatelli is Cornell’s top returner on the offensive end of the field. The senior was the Big Red’s second-leading scorer with 20 goals and three assists for 23 points during the shortened 2020 season. A full-time starter for the past two seasons, Piatelli is one of the most experienced players returning for this Cornell squad and is expected to continue his high level of play and be one of the leaders of this squad.

Piatelli will lead an offense that also returns attackman Michael Long and JJ Lombardi. Long started all five games at attack during his freshman season in 2020 and put up 19 points off 11 goals and eight assists as the Big Red’s fourth-leading scorer. Lombardi was the star of Cornell’s second midfield line during the shortened season as a sophomore, putting up eight goals and one assist for nine points.

In addition to those three, Connor Buczek’s squad features a litany of young players, such as CJ Kirst, on the offensive end who had what would have been their freshman season ripped from them in 2021. They also bring in several freshmen who could make an impact on offense. If even a handful of these younger players step up and heavily contribute in 2022, Cornell could very well have one of the deeper offenses in the Ivy League this spring.

Part of Cornell’s success in 2020, especially on the offensive end, came from the way that Angelo Petrakis was able to succeed at the faceoff dot as just a freshman. The now-junior went 46-for-75 (61%) during his only season thus far in Ithaca. If he can find his groove again after a year without a season, we could see the faceoff man replicate or improve on what he did as a freshman.

As they do everywhere else, things look very similar for the Big Red on the back end with a significant piece of that 2020 defense, which had been one of the more improved units week-to-week nationally at the time the season was called, returning. LSM/D Brandon Salvatore and SSDM Sam Duggan are the only two major losses for the Cornell defense since their last time out.

The Big Red will return a pair of starting poles in Gavin Adler and Dom Doria, while also returning goalie Chayse Ierlan. While Salvatore will certainly be difficult to replace, if Ierlan can return to his freshman form where he posted a 53% save percentage and the duo of Adler and Doria can continue to steps forward as this whole unit did in 2020, Cornell could very well have rock-solid defense to complete a roster full of talented players itching to play against another color jersey after a year away.

In just his first season at the helm of his alma mater, Connor Buczek not only has a roster that can compete within the Ivy League, but one that could take this Cornell squad to great lengths on the nationally stage. While Cornell joined many Ivies in getting the shaft in 2021, it looks like the Big Red could be one of multiple Ivies who are more than capable of taking back their place among the college lacrosse elite this coming spring.

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