Julia Nagel/Sun Photography Editor

Lacrosse player John Piatelli (fifth year) poses for a portrait in Barton Hall on April 26, 2022.

May 9, 2022

The Sun’s Male Senior Athlete of the Year: Lacrosse’s John Piatelli

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Nearly five years in the making, senior attacker John Piatelli wraps up his time here as one of the greatest lacrosse players to play for the Red. A two-time captain, Piatelli has gotten nearly every award, shattering every record. 

“He’s a rock star for us. He’s been a great leader for us…[and] a steady presence for us on the field,” said Head Coach Connor Buczek ’15. “Through his hard work and perseverance, he’s turned himself into one of the best college lacrosse players in the country.” 

Coming from a family of lacrosse players, the Massachusetts-native was not always sure that college lacrosse would be for him. His father was an accomplished lacrosse player at Springfield College and earned All-American honors, his sister played Division 1 lacrosse and his younger brother, Brian, is a junior on the Cornell lacrosse team. 

A multi-sport athlete in high school, Piatelli was never aiming for Division 1. He just enjoyed playing lacrosse and wanted to keep playing until he could no longer. But after some record-setting seasons in high school, he drew the attention of top schools – Cornell included. 

When Piatelli arrived on East Hill, he immediately saw action as he played in all 18 games of his freshman season, with starts in six. He was named Ivy League Rookie of the Week on February 27 and ranked fifth on the team in assists and seventh in goals and points. For someone who was not even sure he would make it to Division 1, he was making a big impact on an already stacked Cornell lacrosse team and on one of the best attack units in the country. 

Boris Tsang/Sun File Photo

In his sophomore year, Piatelli was named Honorable Mention All-Ivy and ended the season ranked in the top 25 in the nation in individual man-up goals, goals per game, shooting percentage and points per game. He also registered a team-leading 10 hat tricks and led the team in goals with a career-high of 45. 

In 2020, for his junior season, he helped lead the Red start the season on a five-game winning streak before the season was cut short due to the pandemic. In those five games, Piatelli had accumulated a team-leading 20 goals and was ranked second in the Ivy League and fourth in all of Division 1 lacrosse in goals per game. After two great seasons, he finally got some recognition for his skill and athletic prowess. He was named an Inside Lacrosse/Maverik Media Honorable Mention All-American and earned a spot on the Final Tewaaraton Watch List. The Tewaaraton is an annual award for the most outstanding college lacrosse player, it is considered the equivalent of the Heisman Trophy for college football. The watchlist highlights early contenders of the Tewaaraton Award. 

In the aftermath of the unfortunate end to the 2020 season, Piatelli was named captain of the team ahead of the 2020-2021 season. It was a test of his leadership as the looming question was, how do you be a captain if there are no games to be played? 

“How you lead and how you manage a group without a lot of the things that they’re accustomed to is a challenge. There’s no playbook, there’s no one you’ve ever seen done it before,”  Buczek said. 

These were all uncharted waters as in the nearly 50 years of Cornell lacrosse, no captain had to endure what Piatelli experienced. 

“As a captain…I was focusing on just trying to keep the unity of the group, trying to stay connected through that time period, through zoom, FaceTimes, whatever it may be. But try to stay connected so we didn’t lose that bond and the culture we have, even through a period of not playing.”

How the Red emerged from its 713-day hiatus can be attributed to Piatelli’s fearless leadership. In fact, it started the season on an undefeated streak of six games, even beating Yale, a team that the Red has only won one of the last six matchups against. He, along with the other captains, somehow managed to keep a team together amidst all the chaos and found a way to come out better and stronger. The team had a stellar season and Piatelli helped lead the team win its 30th Ivy League title with a six-point game. The team also returned to the NCAA Championship for the first time since 2018 as the No. 7 seed. 

“For those guys to handle it the way they did, to you know, invest in the team, invest in the relationships the way that they did, certainly served us well. It gave us an opportunity to come out of the pandemic better than the way that we went in,” Buczek said. “I don’t think every team can say that but a lot of that is in large part due to John and [Joe Bartolotto]’s leadership throughout that time in bringing this team along and keeping them together and then keeping them motivated and task orientated.”

After losing his senior year to the canceled season, returning for a fifth year was a big desire for Piatelli because he wanted a full extra season for the chance to compete again. 

Ryan Griffiths/Cornell Athletics

When the Red returned to the field in 2022, individually, Piatelli picked up right where he left off as he once again earned a spot on the Tewaaraton Watch List a week before Cornell’s first game. He was also named one of ten finalists for the Senior CLASS Award. The award is an acronym for “Celebrating Loyalty and Achievement for Staying in School”. The award is given to the player that has the biggest impact on the four areas of community, classroom, character and competition. 

Piatelli not only led the team on the field, but he also served as captain of the team’s fundraising efforts for the Headstrong Foundation. In April, he was named as one of the finalists for the Tewaaraton and in May, was named to the All-Ivy League first team and the Academic All-Ivy team. Piatelli will end his time on the Hill in the Top 10 for Cornell’s all-time goal scored list and all-time points list. 

Piatelli’s list of accomplishments on–and off–the field are innumerable. But, as he said, he won’t remember any of them. What he will remember the most is the relationships forged between him and his teammates. 

“The one fortunate part of being able to be here for five years, whether playing or not, was I’ve been able to meet a lot of people through the team…I’ve met a lot of people through the years and built great relationships,” Piatelli said. During the pandemic, it really put the value of team bonding in perspective. 

“There’s a lot of little things that you kind of forget about sometimes when you’re not playing like bus, bus trips, hotel time spent together, locker room time…but being able to play again, I think I really am enjoying those and trying to savor those because I didn’t have it for two years.”

Piatelli hopes to be remembered not for his skill or accomplishments, but his role as a teammate. 

“I want to be remembered for being the guy that [players] can go up to and speak with and being an open person who’s willing to help out if they need it, and just being a positive influence on my teammates.”

And it’s fair to say that he has made a great impact on the team. Not only as a captain, but through his hard work and dedication to the sport and Cornell lacrosse as a whole. 

“[He] completely set the standard for our team, in terms of his poise, in terms of his mentality, his work ethic, it gives us a standard to reach for and certainly he’s helping some of the young guys on the offensive along this year,” Buczek said. “His presence will always be remembered… he’s not a very loud guy, but certainly when he speaks, he’s got everybody’s respect and attention.”

Amanda Burkart/Sun Staff Photographer

His impact on the team, both on and off the field won’t be forgotten and he has set a high standard for Cornell lacrosse that will live on for many years to come. 

“[He’s] truly one of the better players we’ve had play at Cornell and then on top of that, just a fantastic leader and a guy that everybody in the room appreciates and respects because of what he does for us and his humility, and the way he goes about his business,” Buczek said.  

Piatelli concluded that his time at Cornell was monumental in his life. It was challenging, but it made him a stronger person and he is forever grateful for the experiences he had. 

“I am humbled to have gone to this program just because of the people who make it so special. Just being motivated and, you know, being forced to be a better person, be a better player, be a better teammate, from the people that I’m surrounded with every day, who were setting the standard so high and forcing me to be great in all aspects of my life. So I think I’m indebted to the program for those reasons and definitely it was very fortunate and very blessed to have come through here.”