Fall Ball Focus: Replacing John Piatelli Among Big Red's Big Questions


CJ Kirst (No. 15) is expected to take on an even larger role in the offense with the graduation of John Piatelli.

Cornell would like nothing more than to follow the example of Maryland, which came back from losing the 2021 NCAA championship game to win the national title over the Big Red last year. Cornell this fall, though, isn’t looking big picture.

“The biggest thing for us is just not losing sight of the day to day,” Cornell coach Connor Buczek said. “There’s a lot that can be taken from last year and a lot we can build on. But every year is its own journey, so we’re not getting caught up in that we’re trying to get back or trying to take that next step from last year.”

Buczek is pushing individual development as the best route forward and is concerned about fostering improvements as players and leaders to help make up for the graduation of a deep class that included John Piatelli, Joseph Bartolotto, Harrison Bardwell and Dom Doria.

“The leadership in that group was pretty special,” Buczek said. “For right now, it’s about taking that next step for a lot of young guys.”

Cornell still has several clear leaders like fifth-year players Gavin Adler on defense and Chayse Ierlan between the pipes and fellow captain Michael Long on attack. But to really make strides, they are challenging the class below that features CJ Kirst, Jack Follows and Hugh Kelleher to also help set the standard.

“Although juniors, experience-wise, they’ve only played one season,” Buczek said. “How do they take that next step, and take that sophomore jump where now they know what it feels like to know a season and how do they keep moving forward and right up through the top?”

The returning players saw the example of last year’s leaders who helped Cornell shake off two years of pandemic rust. If they take the next step, Cornell could ultimately take the next step.

“I think there’s a lot of guys that got very useful experience last year and were in the biggest moments and didn’t balk,” Buczek said. “For us, it’s exciting.”


No one knew heading into the season quite what to expect of Ivy League teams. After 713 days off between games, Cornell returned to put together a 15-4 season that ended with an Ivy regular-season crown and fifth national runner-up finish. The Big Red lost three out of four games heading into the NCAA tournament before Buczek became the youngest coach ever to reach the title game, and Cornell gave Maryland its closest contest of the season.

John Piatelli snapped a 46-year-old program record with 66 goals in a season. He meshed with Long and Kirst into one of the top attack lines in the country that accounted for 54 percent of Cornell’s goal scoring.


How much will Cornell miss John Piatelli?

Piatelli’s loss may seem blunted considering Cornell’s next six leading scorers are back, but that would be diminishing how important the record-setter was. Piatelli was as reliable a scorer as there was in the country. Long is back to quarterback the offense, and Kirst is a star, but the Big Red need more. Billy Coyle, Kelleher and Aiden Blake all had at least 15 goals last year. Spencer Wirtheim, Danny Caddigan and Ryan Sheehan all had multiple goals last year. Ben Abladian transferred from Bryant after scoring 42 goals. Antonio Topouzis had a goal in the Big Red’s fall ball game against Maryland.

“It’s just figuring out who’s the best fit,” Buczek said. “Maybe not the best six individuals, but who makes the best unit. So, we’re working our way through that, and we saw some guys step up and some guys competing for it, and now we have to make some decisions and let these guys gel a little bit.”


The freshman defender fills a need with the graduations of Doria and Ian Jacobs. Staub and another Cornell freshman who could make an impact, Jack Cascadden, kept their talents in-state after winning a New York state title at Garden City High School. Staub cut his teeth against Maryland in a challenging fall ball game and should develop into a solid contributor.

“He started for us,” Buczek said. “He’s a pretty special talent.”


It’s not easy to follow your brother. Brian Piatelli won’t be expected to produce as much as John did, but after a junior year in which he only played eight games, Brian Piatelli has positioned himself for a significant increase on the field as a senior attackman.

“He’s doing a really good job of stepping into roles,” Buczek said. “And obviously a lot of those freshmen and sophomores from last year we’ve seen take a big jump. He’s a guy that wasn’t on the field maybe as much over the course of last season that we see potentially playing some big minutes for us.”


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