Adversity hits hard, but graduated senior Mitch Bartolo doesn’t let that bother him.
The 6-foot-6 midfielder from Norwalk, C.T. played in 27 games over the course of his Penn career, scoring 20 goals and dishing out nine assists in the process. With one year of eligibility remaining, Bartolo recently announced that he'd be heading to Rutgers this upcoming season.
When he got started in lacrosse, though, Bartolo picked up a stick because his older brother played, but he fell in love with the game himself and never looked back.
“I started playing lacrosse [in] like fourth or fifth grade," Bartolo said. "My brother was into it, not many of my friends were, but I know my cousin got my brother into it. I just loved it.”
As Bartolo looked at schools for college, he admired numerous aspects of the Penn experience, which caused his eventual commitment to Penn.
“Once I visited, it just really felt like home," he said. "I really liked how the whole campus was all kind of together, and I had a really good relationship with Coach Murphy from [the] beginning. He really made me feel welcome and that this was going to be my home.
"I just loved every aspect of the academic[s] to [the] athletics, along with the people. I would walk into the locker room, everyone gets up shakes my hand, shakes my parents’ hands. It was a very inviting environment, and I was looking forward to being a part of that."
After competing in seven games during his freshman year, Bartolo was faced with a bout of adversity that would alter the shape of his college career.
He ended up tearing his Achilles tendon, which would be a sizable roadblock to his burgeoning success.
“Freshman year was kind of roller coaster. I had already played in games so [the injury] was devastating," Bartolo said. "It was a lot to transition into when I felt that lacrosse was the reason I was at Penn. It was my purpose, it felt like, at the time. It was very devastating."
Bartolo spent the summer doing some summer courses and rehabbing, and was able to come back healthy for his sophomore year.
That season would be the standout of his Penn career, as he notched 24 points and finished off the year with an incredibly strong showing in the NCAA quarterfinals. In the game against No. 5 Yale, Bartolo scored three goals and topped off his performance with an assist. Despite his efforts, the Quakers lost to Yale by one goal, smashing their hopes of making it to the Final Four.
"It just felt right. It felt like we were making the run, like we were going to take it all the way, and I can’t give enough credit to our seniors at that time," Bartolo said. "Everybody was on the same page, while also having fun [and] enjoying it. We won the Ivy League tournament, made it to the [NCAA] quarterfinals, and lost to Yale and that was obviously very devastating."
"It was very difficult to deal with right when it happened, but the thing that was really cool about it was [when] I [gave] Coach [Mike] Murphy a hug. I remember him pointing up to the crowd and then hearing all the old alumni and all of our parents and alumni parents and everybody just cheering 'ILPL,' which stands for 'I Love Penn Lacrosse.' It was really an emotional moment that I will never forget. So while that was one of the most devastating moments of my life, it was also sentimental to me as well.”
Going into his junior year, Bartolo was ready to take on more of a leadership role within the team. Unfortunately, the season was cut short due to COVID-19, and his senior year suffered an even worse fate as the Ivy League decided to not have league play.
The news was difficult for Bartolo to hear since he had expected to be able to play a decent amount during his senior season.
“It turned into a year of trying to keep the team on pace, trying to still lead and keep everyone involved and not have anyone lose their love of lacrosse or the program, especially for the freshmen and sophomores who had not played a lot of games," Bartolo said. "It was up to the senior class and the captains - me, Adam [Goldner], Ben [Bedard], and Sean [Lulley] - to make sure everyone was still involved and to really make it fun for [the] guys, while also working with Coach Murphy so we didn’t lose what we had developed the year before and the year before that."
"It was very difficult, there were a lot of ups and downs, but I wouldn’t rather do it with any other group of guys and without anyone but Coach Murphy being my leader.”
As he alluded to, Bartolo was made a captain during his senior year, which was likely due to Coach Murphy's impression of him as having a valuable impact on the team.
"Mitch has played a leading role for us in the midfield for the past three years, and now he is embracing his role as a team captain with class and positive energy, as we expected," Murphy said via Penn Athletics.
Now, the former Quaker will be using his remaining year of eligibility next season when he suits up for Rutgers, which was announced very recently.
"I actually have a job lined up for me in New York City that I was supposed to take at the end of this summer, but I was able to defer that for a year [until] next July," Bartolo said. "So I have one more year to go back and play."
"I have been in the portal and talking to schools, but I just made my decision yesterday that I am going to be going to Rutgers University, and I am going to be getting my masters in financial analysis and playing for Rutgers. So that is a new decision I am making public right now. I am very excited about it."
As he heads to play for the Scarlet Knights, Bartolo will take with him four years of trials and tribulations that ultimately led to him becoming an integral part of the Penn men's lacrosse team.