Claire Li/Sun Assistant Photo Editor

Men's lacrosse huddles during its game against Brown on April 23.

May 27, 2022

Men’s Lacrosse’s Path to the Final Four

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While most students were finishing classes and finals, the men’s lacrosse season was in its most important stretch. After earning the No. 7 seed in the NCAA playoffs, the Red was determined to make a deep run. 

“Anytime you get in the tournament it’s a good feeling,” said head coach Connor Buczek ’15. “The hope was not to be one and done, not to be happy to be here, but to really strive for another week together.”

May 15 vs Ohio State

The Red opened its tournament campaign by falling down 4-0 to the Buckeyes in the first quarter of its first round match at Schoellkopf Field on May 15.

Cornell stormed out of the gate to start the second quarter, with sophomore attackman and Ivy League Rookie of the Year CJ Kirst scoring a quick pair of goals to bring the Red within two.

Shortly after Kirst’s second tally, thunderstorms in the area forced a 90 minute rain delay.

“I think we started to get some momentum and we had to manage the delay,” Buczek said. 

Cornell came out of the break firing, and cut the Buckeyes’ lead to 5-4 at halftime.

“It was definitely a weird situation,” said fifth-year captain John Piatelli. “We were just trying to stay level headed, not trying to get too high or low… I think we did a good job managing it.”

A quick run of goals by Kirst and Piatelli to start the second half put Cornell in front. 55 seconds into the half, Kirst found the equalizer off a feed from Piatelli. Moments later, the captain put Cornell in front.

“[Piatelli] sets the standard for so much of what we do, specifically on the offensive end,” Buczek said. “He’s the guy we all look to… It’s really special when he gets going because he’s bringing everybody up with him.”

Kirst and Piatelli went back-to-back again to give Cornell a commanding 8-5 lead just over five minutes into the half.

The Red never looked back, and rode a strong second half to a 15-8 comeback victory.

Kirst scored seven of Cornell’s goals and Piatelli added four.

“I’m super lucky to be in the situation I am, playing alongside [Piatelli] and [junior attacker Michael Long],” Kirst said. “Our offense works so well together when we use the perimeter and pass it around. I was just lucky to be the benefactor today.”

May 21 vs Delaware

The Red (13-4, 4-2 Ivy) had struggled in a number of its regular season games to score early. This was not the case against Delaware. 55 seconds into the match, junior attacker Michael Long found Piatelli in front of the net, who buried it from just outside the crease. Piatelli scored again midway through the quarter to give the Red an early 2-0 lead.

Following Piatelli’s goals, it was the Blue Hens’ turn to make a run. Delaware scored four goals in just under five minutes to take a 4-2 lead. The Red was able to respond before the end of the quarter, as junior attacker Spencer Wirtheim cut the deficit to one. Nevertheless, Cornell ended the first quarter trailing, 4-3.

As in the first quarter, the Red came hot out of the gate again in the second. Junior faceoff specialist Angelo Petrakis won the opening contest at the x and took it the distance, using the open space to score just seven seconds into the quarter. Petrakis won 15 of 19 faceoffs overall, one of his best performances of the year.

“Ang able to put us in the black there was huge, and it certainly gave our offense a few more possessions, rested our defense a little more,” Buczek said. “Although possession itself is big, the trickle down on every unit in terms of just staying fresh and healthy is huge.”

The Red took the lead on the back of sophomore attacker CJ Kirst’s 50th goal of the season. Cornell limited Delaware to three shots on goal and zero faceoff wins in the second quarter, pitching a shutout throughout. The Red went into halftime with the lead, 5-4.

Cornell picked up where it left off in the second half, scoring first once again in the third quarter. Fifth year midfielder Matt Licciardi took advantage of a double team against junior attacker Michael Long, shedding his defender and coming from behind the net to put the Red up by two. 

Piatelli followed up with one of his own, securing a hat trick and his 60th goal of the season. However, the Blue Hens did not go down silently. Delaware stormed back, closing out the third quarter with three goals, including one with just 13 seconds left. With 15 minutes remaining, the game was tied, 7-7.

The Red continued the trend of scoring first in the fourth quarter as well, with Long giving the team the lead back with 10 minutes to play. Possessions became crucial as time ran out in the final quarter, and Cornell dominated, going 5-0 at the faceoff x. Senior goalie Chayse Ierlan made three key saves, and additional goals from Wirtheim and senior attacker Billy Coyle were enough to put the game away. The Red survived a competitive quarterfinal contest, winning, 10-8.

“I think [the win] says a lot about our leadership – just the poise and confidence of this group,” Buczek said. “They’ve been a resilient group all year, they’ve fought back from being down, winning some close games. They really have a knack for finding a way to get us over the hump, so at the end there, there’s some quiet confidence in the huddle at 7-7 and I was really proud of the way the guys finished in the fourth quarter.”

Cornell’s win sends it to the NCAA semifinals for the first time since 2013. The Red will travel to East Hartford, Connecticut, to take on the No. 6 seed Rutgers (15-3, 4-1 Big Ten) on Saturday at noon. The Scarlet Knights have already bested two Ivy League teams in the tournament, beating Harvard in the first round and Penn in the second. 

With a win, the Red can have its first finals appearance since 2009. The team would play the winner of the other semifinal match, which pits No. 1 Maryland against No. 5 Princeton.

“We’re excited to have this opportunity to have this last week of practice, and for us, we’re excited for the challenge,” Buczek said. “It’s nice to be at the table as you go into these weekends, and now you want to go on and execute and play your best ball. So our hope is to be peaking this weekend and playing our very best lacrosse as we head into Rutgers on Saturday.”