All-star takes over for Cornell lacrosse

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When the college lacrosse season ended abruptly due to COVID-19, the Cornell men’s team was undefeated and the second-ranked team in the nation. Despite that success, the school was forced to find a new head coach after Peter Milliman was hired by Johns Hopkins University. To fill that role, the team promoted assistant coach Connor Buczek, who was one of the best players for the Big Red in the past decade.

Buczek, who now lives in Ithaca after being raised in Cincinnati, Ohio, has a long list of accolades on the playing side of his career. At Cornell, he was a three-time All-American and was the Ivy League Player of the Year in his junior season in 2014.

His collegiate success led to him being selected second overall in the 2015 Major League Lacrosse Draft, where he was an all-star for three seasons. Most recently, he jumped to the Premier Lacrosse League and was an all-star there as well last season. He’s done all of this while serving as Cornell’s assistant coach for the past three seasons.

This is as strange a time as ever to get a new coaching gig, considering he can’t see his team face to face. The timeline worked out that Buczek had already planned a Zoom meeting with the team right before he was hired.

“We had hoped to get on there and basically just assure them that we were here for them and if they need anything,” Buczek said. “By that time, we had already gotten the announcement and literally had just gotten off the call with the administration and found out that they were going to keep [myself and associate head coach Jordan Stevens]. It certainly went from being a less-than-certain call to obviously good news.”

The phone call with athletic director Andy Noel prior to the Zoom call with his team went well, of course. Buczek discussed Noel’s decision to hire within the program.

“It’s just the fact that we’re Cornell guys,” Buczek said. “We’ve invested a ton in this program, and the seat I’m sitting in is indicative of the experience that I had over my four years here. Understanding the culture, understanding the tradition, understanding the values and how we do things here was a huge part of Andy’s confidence in myself and Jordan.”

After four years of playing and three seasons of coaching at Cornell, Buczek has massive respect for the program and its history. He’ll be bringing a humble approach to the head coach position.

“It’s a special opportunity to coach at this program and to be the one that is stewarding this thing.” Buczek said. “Big Red lacrosse is so much bigger than any one person or one regime. Big Red lacrosse is what it has been far before I got here, and I hope it will be far after I leave. The only expectation now that I’m sitting in the seat is to make sure to leave it better than I found it.”

Before Buczek became engulfed with the program, he had a challenging first year at Cornell in terms of adjusting academically. Going from that experience to leading a prestigious program is quite the journey.

“I don’t think I would have ever imagined [being head coach] if you talked to me during my freshman fall here and certainly into the beginning of the spring, but by the end of that freshman year, I was sold,” Buczek said. “This place was for me. I was excited about the direction it was taking me and the experience it was giving me, and certainly, the ability to be a part of something so much bigger than yourself is an incredible experience.”

Buczek’s professional playing career is still going strong, but now, he’ll have to make adjustments given the much bigger coaching role. Figuring out how to balance the two careers is something Buczek has not quite approached yet.

“I haven’t really gotten a chance to dive into that one yet, obviously,” Buczek said. “New role and responsibility and I got to make sure I’m doing everything to take care of Cornell lacrosse first, but it’s certainly not something that I expected quite this soon. I’m certainly honored and excited for the opportunity and I’m still working through all those details, but I’m excited to figure that all out in the near future.”

The departure of Peter Milliman was a surprising one, leading to the fourth coaching hire for Cornell since 2010. Hiring a 26-year-old who lives and breathes Cornell lacrosse will hopefully slow down the turnover rate.

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