Penn Transfer Mitch Bartolo a 'Rutgers Guy'


If there’s one thing Rutgers coach Brian Brecht insists he’ll remember about Mitch Bartolo’s one year in his program, it’s an exchange less than a week after the graduate transfer moved into his apartment near campus.

It was just before the start of the fall semester last year, and Rutgers was hosting a barbecue to welcome its athletes back to campus. And already, the former Penn attackman felt at home.

“He tells me, ‘I’ve been here five days. I feel like I’ve been here five years,’” Brecht recalled this week. “He was a Rutgers guy. He fit in with our guys from day one, on and off the field. The guys that don’t want to come to Rutgers, they’re not going to look at Rutgers, whether they’re coming out of high school or coming out of the transfer portal. But the guys that are looking at Rutgers and decide on Rutgers and we decide on, it’s a great fit for them.”

Make no mistake: Bartolo is a tremendous fit in Piscataway. He has 41 goals and 16 assists for the sixth-seeded Scarlet Knights (14-3), who have already set a school record for victories and sit just a game away from their first trip to the NCAA semifinals.

The one team standing in their way? Third-seeded Penn (11-4), a program with just one trip to championship weekend — and that was in 1988.

Bartolo was a big part of nearly ending that drought in 2019, when the Quakers took Yale to overtime in the quarterfinals before falling. Then came the pandemic, which short-circuited the 2020 season. Ivy League restrictions limited Penn to a single game against Division III Cabrini last season.

And with that, Bartolo had exhausted his eligibility in the Ivy League, leading him to pursue a one-year master’s degree in financial analysis. Now comes a reunion with his old program Saturday in Hempstead, N.Y., one he pushed out of mind the first weekend of the tournament since Rutgers had the matter of dealing with Harvard.

One 19-9 Rutgers rout later, coupled with Penn’s overtime defeat of Richmond, and Bartolo will be facing some very familiar faces.

“It was a little bit weird at first, playing against some of my best friends and coaches that mean a lot to me and a program that’s really helped build me as a player and as a man,” Bartolo said. “It really just comes down to another game. It’s a quarterfinal game that they want to win, and they want to go to the final four. We want to win, and we want to go to the final four. I’m just focused on the actual game.”

And certainly no less grateful toward Penn for the opportunity offered him after he was lightly noticed in the early stages of his recruiting process.

There was a good reason. Today, the 6-foot-6, 238-pound Bartolo stands out for his sheer physicality. But through his freshman year of high school, he was 5-foot-8. Then came an eight-inch growth spurt by the time his sophomore spring began.

“It took me a while to get my body under me,” Bartolo said. “I wasn’t moving very fast. For my first few years of high school lacrosse, I played crease attack because I honestly couldn’t move too well. I wasn’t much of a runner. I would just play in there and use my knowledge of the game and experience to get open.”

There were also injuries to hinder the adjustment. He reclassified and switched schools, repeating his junior year at the Hotchkiss School. It was then he finally grew into his body. He felt fast and quick again, and with the input of one of his coaches, Penn’s Mike Murphy offered him a chance to play for the Quakers.

An injury cut short his freshman year, but he delivered 17 goals — including three in the NCAA quarterfinals — as a sophomore. Even after playing just four games over the last two seasons, he was one of the most intriguing players in the transfer portal last spring.

Considering Rutgers graduated its entire starting attack, Brecht was especially interested.

“The big thing is being able to become an impact player in a position of a need for our program, but also someone who would fit into our locker room with the rest of the players we have,” Brecht said.

Bartolo checked both boxes. As part of the plethora of graduate transfers at Rutgers this season, Bartolo wound up splitting an apartment with defenseman Bryant Boswell (Bucknell), goalie Toby Burgdorf (Providence) and midfielder Ronan Jacoby (Wesleyan), all of whom are also in the same academic program. He’s also been welcomed by the many Rutgers veterans that dot the roster.

His on-field impact is even more evident. He ranks second on the Scarlet Knights in goals and third in assists, but his sheer size also helps Rutgers stretch out defenses.

“Teams are always wary of where he is on the field. He might not always be shooting the ball, but maybe he’ll cut down and he’s going to bring one guy at the minimum and maybe two guys with him to open up other people,” Jacoby said. “It’s been a huge factor as part of our offense.”

He’ll play a substantial role if Rutgers is to make it back to his home state of Connecticut next weekend. Brecht said he made it a point to talk to Bartolo early in the week about facing his old team and emphasized the opportunity. After all, it wasn’t as if Bartolo left on bad terms.

And teammates have been picking his brain about the Quakers. What are the individual tendencies of players? Do some engage in on-field chirping more than others? And how might they handle a little trash-talk from Rutgers?

“I think when he first saw it, he was a little unsure of how it would unfold because it is a little strange,” Jacoby said. “Now he’s definitely ready to go and definitely excited for the opportunity. For him, I’m sure it’s going to be a blast to play and compete and hopefully beat a bunch of his old teammates.”

As much as anything, it’s a chance to extend the season with his new team, one that has helped provide a far more satisfying ending to his college career than the two pandemic-abridged seasons permitted.

“It would have been a sad way to go out, playing only one full season, because I tore my Achilles my freshman year as well,” Bartolo said. “That’s not how I envisioned my college lacrosse career going. I’m very thankful for Rutgers, Coach Brecht, the coaching staff and the locker room just for inviting me into here and making me feel at home because this has been a terrific experience, and we’re just trying to prolong it for as much as we can.”


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