Leilani Burke/Sun Staff Photographer

Players celebrate after a goal at the men's lacrosse NCAA Tournament game against Michigan at Schoellkopf Field on May 14, 2023. Cornell is looking to redeem itself after a premature end to its 2023 campaign.

February 17, 2024

Season Preview: Men’s Lacrosse Seeks Redemption, Opens 2024 Slate Against Lehigh

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On May 14, 2023, men’s lacrosse walked off Schoellkopf Field with heads hung low, while Michigan celebrated triumphantly following its game-clinching goal. Cornell, a year removed from its courageous 2022 run to the National Championship game, was done for the 2023 season after a 15-14 heartbreaker in the first round of NCAAs. 

Now, an offseason later, the Red is set to take on Lehigh (1-1, 0-0 Patriot) at Schoellkopf Field on Saturday, the first of 13 difficult matchups on its 2024 schedule.

“Coming out of last year, it was a good season in a lot of ways. But I think the guys were hoping to play a little deeper into May,” said head coach Connor Buczek ’15. “There’s a little bit of a chip on our shoulders right now.”

Cornell enters the 2024 season at No. 5 and No. 8 United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association and Inside Lacrosse polls, respectively. 

The Red’s schedule poses many challenges –– ten of its 13 matchups are receiving votes in either the USILA or Inside Lacrosse polls. Three opponents are ranked within the top-ten, including reigning national champion Notre Dame, which will take on Cornell at a neutral site on April 14. 

“We [are] able to play some great games [against] some great teams, and there’s not really a letdown throughout that entire schedule. I think that’s helped hone our preparation in the offseason,” Buczek said. “We’ve been really diligent about making sure we’re making the most out of every day.”

While the Red lost eight impactful seniors to graduation, Cornell returned many of its key offensive weapons and introduced a tenacious group of freshmen. Here’s a breakdown of each position, what to know about the incoming first-years and how the nationally ranked Red will look as the 2024 season commences. 


Cornell notably returns senior attacker CJ Kirst –– one of the nation’s top scorers and most lethal offensive threats. Kirst notched 84 points in 2023. His 65 goals mark the most in a single season by any Cornell lacrosse player. Kirst’s superb 2023 campaign earned him a spot as a Tewaaraton Finalist last spring.

“[Kirst] is special because he’s just got a different type of work ethic that most couldn’t even fathom,” Buczek said.

Kirst –– a 2023 first-team All-American –– is one of four captains on this year’s Cornell squad, along with fifth-year attacker Michael Long, senior defender Jack Follows and junior midfielder Chistopher Davis. 

“[Kirst] is the consummate teammate and leader because of his passion and energy and enthusiasm that just echoes around the room,” Buczek said. “I’ve been really impressed with the way he continues to show up every day, the way he makes everybody around him better.”

Buczek applauds Kirst’s commitment to being not only a more skilled player, but being an impactful player to those around him.

“Obviously, he’s an elite individual, but how can he be the best in the biggest moments? That’s by bringing those other five guys up to that level and figuring out a way to help them play elite offense,” Buczek said.

Kirst has landed on the 2024 Tewaaraton Watch List ahead of the regular season, along with fellow senior midfielder Hugh Kelleher. Kelleher notched 22 goals in 2023 and will lead the midfield alongside fifth-year midfielder Aiden Blake, who finished third on the team in scoring in 2023. 


Perhaps the most conspicuous difference between this year’s group and last is on the backend. The graduation of Gavin Adler –– who garnered nearly every award in the book, between two first-team All-American bids as well as 2023 USILA William C. Schmeisser Defensive Player of the Year –– has posed big shoes to fill.

“I anticipate less that one person takes over that role and fills those shoes and more of a collective effort from our seven on defense,” Buczek said.

While the team doesn’t dwell on it, Adler’s absence will be poignant.

“There is no plugging [in] and playing for a guy like Adler and some of the other graduations that we had,” Buczek said. 

Albeit a team effort, largely leading the defense this season after the departure of Adler –– the first overall selection in the 2023 Premier Lacrosse League draft –– is Follows, who organized Cornell’s defensive unit beside Adler and other key graduate Billy Coyle. Follows, a 2024 preseason All-American, will join the likes of junior defenseman Jayson Singer in commanding the backend. 


The uncertainty at the goalkeeper position is glaring. 2023 graduation saw the departure of Chayse Ierlan, who occupied the starters’ crease for the Red for five years.

“[Losing] Chayse is a challenging one,” Buczek said. “Just being a starter for us for so long and somebody that we leaned on.”

Ierlan’s absence has set the stage for a heated goalkeepers’ duel –– returning for the Red in the net are sophomore Ethan Rueller, junior Wyatt Knust and fifth-year Gene Martin. 

“A lot of [the goalkeepers] are playing some of the best ball of their careers here,” Buczek said. “Even our freshman [Matthew Tully is] making a push for it. So, I think the competition has brought the best out of all [of] those guys.”

As for Saturday’s matchup against the Mountain Hawks, Buczek and his staff are keeping the cards close to their chests regarding the starting netminder. 

“We think we have a good handle on it,” Buczek said. “But I’ll say it’s been a great competition … top to bottom. That room has been really impressive. It’s the most competitive it’s been in a long time.”


The Red welcomed 13 first-years to its 2024 roster –– freshmen attackers Ryan Goldstein, Ryan Waldman, Willem Firth and AJ Nikolic will look to make an immediate impact on offense.

Manning the defense will be freshmen defensemen George LaCombe and Ike Lohnes, while the Red welcome a new face in the faceoff circle in freshman faceoff Sam Ricci. 

Making a run for the goalkeeper position is freshman goalkeeper Tully –– who ranks at No. 7 overall on the Inside Lacrosse Power 100 Freshman list –– while Cornell earned a new long stick midfielder in Walker Schwartz. 

Freshmen midfielders Jaden Ciappara, TJ Lamb, Jaxon Smart and Luke Gilmartin round out the first-year class.

Six first-years altogether hold spots in the Inside Lacrosse Power 100 Freshman Rankings. 

“Up to this point, they’ve been incredibly mature and as advertised. We’ve been really impressed with the contributions of that group from top to bottom,” Buczek said. “We’re expecting a handful of contributors on gameday [on Saturday].”

Cornell will take on Lehigh for its home opener and season opener at 3:30 p.m. at Schoellkopf Field.