Fall Snapshot: Cornell Big Red

(Photo Courtesy of Cornell Athletics)

Welcome to the Fall Snapshot series. Throughout the fall I will be taking an early look at all 75 DI men’s college lacrosse teams and giving a snapshot of where each is heading into the 2023 season.

Head Coach: Connor Buczek (2nd year, 2022-present)

Cornell 2022 Record: 14-5 (4-2 Ivy League)

Key Departures: John Piatelli (A), Joseph Bartolo (D), Dom Doria (D), Harrison Bardwell (SSDM)

Key Returners: CJ Kirst (A), Michael Long (A), Billy Coyle (A/M), Hugh Kelleher (M), Aiden Blake (M), Gavin Adler (D), Chayse Ierlan (G), Angelo Petrakis (FO)

Transfer Additions: Bennett Abladian (A, Bryant)

During the first season of the Connor Buczek era, the Cornell Big red weren’t the last team standing. However, they gave the team that was as good of a battle as anyone did all season long.

Coming into last season not many had Cornell penciled in as Championship Weekend contenders. But in a historic year for the Ivy League, the Big Red proved that they were indeed one of the best teams in college lacrosse as they advanced to the national title game and left the field having come within two goals, 9-7, of the undefeated Maryland Terrapins.

Now, heading into the second season of Connor Buczek’s tenure as the Big Red’s head coach and with as much talent as this team returns, many will be wondering what the encore will look like? Cornell returns a majority of major its contributors, especially on offense, from last season. Is a return to Championship Weekend in their future?

Burning Questions

Who Replaces John Piatelli?

The highlight of the Cornell offense last spring was their attack, which many called the best attack line in college lacrosse. John Piatelli (66G/17A), CJ Kirst (55G/24A), and Michael Long (34G/32A) combined for 228 points (134 goals) and accounted for 54% of the Big Red’s scoring last season. Long, who played the quarterback role, and, Kirst, who proved to be the budding star we thought he was, both return for their senior and juniors seasons in 2023. Piatelli does not. His loss is the greatest for this Cornell squad.

Piatelli not only proved to be the best goal-scorer for this Cornell squad with his 66 goals last season, but he was one of the best and most reliable in college lacrosse as a whole. He ended the year as the nation’s leader in both goals on the year and goals per game (3.47). He was truly a lethal weapon and will be hard to replace.

Kirst and Long are known commodities and will contribute heavily to this offense in 2023. That fact alone grants a lot of confidence to this Cornell attack line. But who will fill that slot left open by Piatelli’s graduation? Bennett Abladian is a rare transfer in from Bryant and is coming off a 2022 campaign where he tallied 47 points (42G/5A). Spencer Wirthem started the first two games at attack and put up 18 points (7G/11A). Sophomore Danny Caddigan (3G) could be another option to fill that spot. He was a top-100 recruit, per Inside Lacrosse, and played all 15 games as a reserve last season.

How Does The Defense Shape Up?

One of the best storylines last spring was the rise of Gavin Adler. Nowhere to be seen in preseason discussions of All-Americans, Adler emerged as the Big Red’s top defender and helped lead Cornell to the national title game while notching 34 caused turnovers 75 ground balls. He is back for a fifth season, as is goalie Chayse Ierlan. The goalie 212 saves with a 52.6% save percentage last spring.

Adler and Ierlan are the headliners of this defense and will be the foundation of that unit once again in 2023. Junior Jack Follows and sophomore Jayson Singer are the only other defensive returners that has any bit of starting experience at close from a year ago. Follows started each of the final six games and the duo of him and Adler should only continue to get better. Singer started the final two regular season games and the Ivy League semifinal game against Yale at close.

Needless to say, this Cornell defense will likely be strong with the core of Ierlan and Adler, as well as Follows, back. But the question surrounding this defense is who else will step up to the task as major contributors in 2023? Dom Doria and Ian Jacobs are gone at close while LSM Joseph Bartolotto III and SSDM Harrison Bardwell are also gone. Therefore, the net will likely be cast pretty wide when it comes to fighting for those open spots.

What Will The Faceoff Situation Look Like?

During the shortened 2020 season, Angelo Petrakis proved to be one of the best freshmen in college lacrosse as he went 61% at the dot as the Big Red’s top option. After a year without a season, Cornell returned with Petrakis as their top option and he ended the year under 50%, going 220-for-445 (49.4%). Backups Marc Psyllos and Mitch Rothstein were both under 40% in limited action.

Petrakis had hovered around the high 40s to low 50s all season. He had two of his best games against Delaware (15-for-19, 78%) and Rutgers (13-for-21, 61%) in the NCAA Quarterfinals and Semifinals. He also went 89% against Ohio State in the regular season.

Following the up and down season Petrakis had and with the influx of highly-touted freshman Jack Cascadden, is there a chance that the Cornell staff decides to shake things up at the dot in 2023? Whether its is the two sharing duties, a slow progression towards a different situation during the season, or anything in between, it’ll be something worth watching this spring.

Potential Breakout Player

Christopher Davis, SSDM

As mentioned, the rope unit is the area of greatest concern for this Cornell squad heading into 2023 with the losses of Bartolotto and Bardwell. Davis could be one of the players who steps up at the position next season. He served as the backup SSDM in 2022 and grabbed 28 ground balls, caused four caused turnovers, and dished out one assists.

Freshman Class

The Big Red bring in a strong freshman class that is headlined by a pair of Garden City (N.Y.) products and All-American Game attendees in faceoff man Jack Cascadden and defenseman Brendan Staub. I would expect at least a portion of the 2022 class to get some potentially serious clock this spring.

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