“I didn’t order a cap and gown,” reflected John Piatelli after practicing on Berman Field in preparation for men’s lacrosse’s semifinal matchup with Rutgers on Saturday.
Piatelli, and the rest of the team’s 19 fifth-years and seniors, will miss their graduation ceremonies to compete in the Final Four this weekend — a first for the Red since 2013.
“I didn’t want to be a part of graduation because I wanted to be in the Final Four more than to be at the graduation,” Piatelli said. “This is everything for me and my teammates. We’ve been through a lot, so to be able to play in the Final Four is gonna be pretty cool. I’d rather be doing this than anything else.”
With graduation preparations underway at Schoellkopf Field, the team set up shop at Berman for the week.
For Piatelli and his classmates, this trip to Championship Weekend represents the culmination of a tumultuous era.
“You work really hard and you just hope you can reap the benefits at some point,” Piatelli said. “I think now we’re starting to reap some of the benefits. To be able to see it all come together has been pretty special.”
Piatelli, who The Sun profiled as this year’s Senior Athlete of the Year earlier this month, was one of seven players who returned for a fifth year after their senior season was canceled due to the pandemic.
“The juniors on down had only played a max of five games. We relied heavily on our 19 true seniors and fifth-years to guide us through this season,” said head coach Connor Buczek ’15. “They’ve done a tremendous job. For the hard work and the sacrifice to pay off just brings a smile to my face.”
In his fourth campaign, Piatelli has put the finishing touches on one of the best careers in Cornell lacrosse history. He enters the weekend five goals shy of Mike French’s single season goal record of 65, set in 1976. Piatelli sits in fourth in all-time goals with 142, but would reach third with two goals and second with six.
Piatelli has seen the team through a regime change, with Buczek taking over for Peter Millman after the 2020 season. Buczek is the fourth coach in Division I history to lead his team to the Final Four in his first season.
“It’s certainly a vote of confidence that for being a young and inexperienced staff, we’re doing things the right way,” Buczek said. “Hopefully this is something that we can continue to build on year in and year out, but it’s certainly positive feedback for us and for all the work that has gone in over the past two years to get us where we are, to know that we’re going in the right direction.”
The 2022 Ivy League Coach of the Year, Buczek has led Cornell back to the Final Four for the first time since 2013, when he was a player for the Red.
“It’s awesome. This is, in a lot of ways, the pinnacle of our sport,” Buczek said. “For us — myself and [associate head coach Jordan Stevens] were players the last time it happened — it’s pretty special to bring it full circle.”