Roessler’s Way-Too-Early Championship Weekend Picks

(Photo Courtesy of NCAA)

In 2019, NCAA Lacrosse brought us into a new era of the sport. In this new era we some superpowers emerge, some new and some old. A team like Yale who had won the championship in 2018 stayed atop of the game with their working-class mentality, players with a high lacrosse IQ, team chemistry, and offensive talent. Penn State seemed to be on a war-path and the Nittany Lions were not taking any prisoners, doing so with a proven coach in Jeff Tambroni and a roster that was quietly full of talent. The Virginia Cavaliers came back into the national spotlight while accomplishing all their team goals: beating Duke, winning the ACC, and then winning the national championship. 

In the first year of the shot clock era, two known quantities in Maryland and Syracuse failed to achieve expectations. We saw both of these squads show exceptional promise and potential but ultimately fall short of  their ultimate goals. Now let us take a deeper dive into the returning squads mentioned and what can make them successful in 2020 and talk about some teams who could make some noise.

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Virginia attackman Michael Kraus (Photo: Virginia Athletics)

Virginia Cavaliers

2019: 17-3 (6-1 ACC), ACC Tournament Champions, NCAA National Champions

Key Loses: M Ryan Conrad

Key Returners: A Matt Moore, A Ian Laviano, A  Michael Kraus, FO Petey Lasalla, LSM/D Jared Conners, M Dox Aitken, G Alex Rode, D Cade Saustad, D Will Rock

The consensus about the Cavaliers in 2020 is simple; repeat. The Cavaliers bring back pretty much everyone in 2020, including an attack line that put up a combined 227 points, a superstar in Dox Aitken, three starting poles, and a very capable goalkeeper. The main focus for the Wahoos as Spring comes around is to replace the production of Ryan Conrad. Conrad was a force on both sides of the ball, his offensive totals can be made up for but it will be hard to replace his transition and wing play while also making up for 95 ground balls. A strong recruiting class, headlined by Connor Shellenberger- who was the number one player in his class, according to Inside Lacrosse-, will replenish some depth. Look for Shellenberger to replace Conrad on the offensive side of the ball. In the meantime, the Cavaliers are the team to beat in 2020 and are a definite lock for championship weekend.

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Penn State attackmen Mac O’Keefe and Dylan Foulds (Photo: Penn State Athletics)

Penn State Nittany Lions

2019: 16-2 (7-0 B1G), B1G Tournament Champions, NCAA Semifinalists

Key Loses: D Chris Sabia, M/A Nick Spillane

Key Returners: A Grant Ament, A Mac O’Keefe, A Dylan Foulds, M Jack Kelly, M Tj Malone, FO Gerard Arceri, G Kolby Kneese

Penn State was on an absolute warpath in 2019, they finally “broke the sell” with a series of first. They won their first NCAA tournament game, their first Big Ten championship, and beat Maryland for the first time in program history. Living up to expectations in 2020 may come with the same amount of “ease” as it came with during 2019. Led by the Batman-Robin duo in Grant Ament and Mac O’Keefe, the Nittany Lions’ offense should be lights out again this year. The offense also returns a solid supporting cast of outstanding and entertaining finishers, including Dylan Foulds who just might be the best off-ball finishers in the game. With Ament being the front runner for the Tewaaraton, the Nittany Lions should, overall, be fine.

The biggest question will be on the defensive end, and there is a slight concern in the faceoff department, as well. With a very capable goalie in Kneese I would expect him to be well above the 55% mark in 2020 just because of the volume of shots he will face. The poles in front of him are decent but are suspect to letting teams hang around or keep pace with this high powered offense. The other issue may be their faceoff department. Gerard Arceri is more than capable at the faceoff dot, but he struggled mightily against tougher competition last season. For now, Penn State is a lock for Championship Weekend but not a favorite.

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Yale faceoff man TD Ierlan (Photo: Yale Athletics)

Yale Bulldogs

2019 Record and Achievements: 15-4 (7-2 Ivy), NCAA Championship Runner-up, Ivy League Tournament Runner-up

Key Loses: M John Daniggelis, M Joseph Sessa, M Jack Tigh

Key Returners: A Jackson Morrill, A Matt Brandau, A Matt Gaudet, FO TD Ierlan, D Chris Fake, G Jack Starr

Yale had a great season following the capture of the program’s first NCAA championship in 2018. I bet if you told them that they would disagree. Yale lost twice to Penn, avenged those loses in the NCAA quarterfinals, took down the juggernaut Penn State both in the regular season and in the NCAA tournament, and then they eventually lost to Virginia in the NCAA championship game. Yale has all the pieces to return to championship weekend and get another shot at the throne in 2020. An issue with Yale last season was their lack of experience of on defense and Jack Starr’s inconsistencies in cage. Expect poles Will Wietzel and Aidan Hynes to help Chris Fake and Jack Starr anchor that backline once again in 2020.

They also graduated a lot of talent at midfield, a hefty task for any team to replace. Senior Lucas Cotler and junior Brian Tevlin will likely step up and produce more than they did a season ago. I would certainly count on the attack unit to carry the team offensively and for each player to improve on their point totals from a year ago. Also, Brandau and Morrill should both eclipse 85-90 points and that attention will open up Gaudet to step into every skip lane known to man. The centerpiece of this team is TD Ierlan through and through. TD should allow this team to click by limiting defensive possessions and let the offensive go on multi-goal runs. Expect to see Yale on the sports biggest stage come May, lock them in for Memorial Day Weekend.

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Maryland midfielder Jared Bernhardt (Photo: Maryland Athletics)

Maryland Terrapins 

2019 Record and Achievements: 12-5 (3-3 B1G), NCAA Quarterfinalist

Key Loses: D Curtis Corley, G Danny Dolan, A Louis Dubick

Key Returners: A Jared Bernhardt, A Logan Wisnauskas, A/M Anthony Demaio, M Bubba Fairman, D Matt Rahill, D Brett Makar, D Jack Welding, FO Justin Shockey, A/M Kyle Long

Maryland had an interesting season, to say the least. They suffered their first loss to Penn State, but that wasn’t an upset in the slightest, lost twice to Hopkins within seven days by 5 goals in each contest, and then blew a lead to eventual champion UVA in the NCAA quarterfinals. And depending on who you talk to, the Terrapins were cheated out of that game my a blow goal call. While an offense led by a dynamic duo in Wisnauskas and Bernhardt sounds great, when they were cold, it seemed the entire team was also cold. Losing Louis Dubick on offense won’t hurt them too much because it is easy to replace an off-ball attackman at the D1 level, especially in Maryland’s situation. Outside of those three, Bubba Fairman and Anthony Demaio were the only ones capable of creating their own shots; these two definitely need to increase their point totals in 2020 to give Maryland a shot at any Championship. An asset that came alive for Maryland  down the stretch was freshman Kyle Long. Expect a big year from the sophomore who has the ability to get a defense moving with a simple split dodge.

On defense, they lose top cover man in Curtis Corley and a decent goalie in Danny Dolan. Corley will be replaced by any of the three returning studs like Rahill, Welding, or Makar on the backline. In goal, the Terps seem to have a talent problem. As always, Maryland has several goalies in the pipeline who were highly ranked in their respective recruiting classes, including the reigning Under Armour senior game MVP in Logan McNaney. Although, I would put money on sophomore Georgetown transfer, Chris Brandau, to get the starting nod after the freshman season he had for the Hoyas last season. Maryland also brings back a solid FOGO in Justin Shockey.

The only problem with this year’s Terrapins squad, in my opinion, is experience. They have young returning starters on defense and will be starting a fresh goalie, I wouldn’t be so much worried about the talent on defense as much as the chemistry and “big game” experience. I see the same issue on offense. They only have one player on the team this year who logged serious minutes during the Terps 2017 title run, which is also the last time the Terps won the B1G. This team as the perfect blend of young-blood and vetern leaders but this group hasn’t won anything together. Consider this year’s team a dark horse to compete for a spot on Memorial Day Weekend.

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Syracuse defenseman Nick Mellen against Cornell’s Jeff Teat (Photo: Syracuse Athletics)

 

Syracuse Orange

2019 Record and Achievements: 9-5 (2-3 ACC), Lost in NCAA First Round 

Key Loses: A Bradley Voigt, A Nate Soloman, D Tyson Bomberry

Key Returners: D Nick Mellen, LSM Brett Kennedy, G Drake Porter, A Stephen Rehfuss, M Jamie Trimboli, M Brendan Curry, M Tucker Dordevic, M David Lipka, M Peter Dearth, FO Jakob Phaup, M Jacob Buttermore

Syracuse had a rather disappointing 2019. They started the season with a home loss to Colgate, made some strides midseason, and ended with a loss against Loyola in the first round of the NCAA tournament. At times, they showed flashes of greatness on both sides of the ball but they were just never consistent. The Orange bring back everyone in 2020, including two studs at long pole in Nick Mellen and Brett Kennedy, as well as a sensational goalie in Drake Porter. The Orange will have the ability to lock down any teams’ top midfielder and attackman with those two, if their are any holes left open you can count on Porter to make a save.

Tucker Dordevic comes back from a foot injury that kept him out all of 2019, he’ll be looking to bring the same fire he had his freshman season. Although they graduated their top two point producers in Nicky Soloman and Bradley Voigt, it is more than safe to assume that Dordevic and sophomore Loyola transfer Chase Scanlan will pick up that slack. After an injury and illness plagued 2019, I would also fully expect Stephen Rehfuss to help anchor their attack. The starting attack unit looks to fill out with Scanlan, Rehfuss, and sophomore jitter-bug, Griffin Cook. This will be one of the more formidable offenses in the country and we haven’t even mentioned their midfield yet.

A starting midfield of Jamie Trimboli, Brendan Curry, and Dordevic will be a nightmare matchup for SSDMs and LSMs, most likely resulting in a double poling of this first line. Their second unit is also fantastic and any one of the three of Jacob Buttermore, David Lipka, and Peter Dearth, who can be a threat on both ends, would probably all crack the starting line ups on most teams. The second line gives you almost just as much scoring ability as the first line but they make up for offensive mishaps with the potential to play great defense. This midfield and attack unit will be a scary site come February; all starters and their second line midfield have the ability to score and dish the rock with efficiency. Be careful not to overlook Syracuse in 2020, a serious candidate to crash the NCAA tournament and make a deep title run after some very somber years.

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