(Photo Courtesy of Denver Athletics)
Since the NCAA implemented the Transfer Portal in the fall of 2018, transferring has become much easier across the board. And multiple lacrosse programs have reaped the benefits from the portal and have grabbed impact players over the past few summers. But perhaps the summer of 2020 had the biggest impact due to the NCAA’s ruling which granted spring sport athletes an extra year of eligibility.
Due to limitations by the school or academic situations that prohibited some seniors from staying and playing a fifth year at the same school, many players elected to enter the NCAA Transfer Portal and take their talents elsewhere for one last ride. Denver was able to cash in on this trend, adding a pair of Yale grad transfers in attackman Jackson Morrill and midfielder Lucas Cotler.
Morrill finished his career at Yale as the second-leading scorer in program history with 220 points (113G/107A). He is also the Elis’ fifth-leading goal scorer. The All-American was a four-year starter in New Haven. Through four games in 2020, Morrill tallied 15 points (7G/8A). He had 94 points (46G/48A) in 2019.
Cotler amassed 79 points (55G/24A) during his career at Yale. The midfielder started all four games in 2020 for the Bulldogs, tallying eight points (5G/3A).
The two former Yale standouts will join an offense at Denver that showed much promise during the shortened 2020 season, averaging 13.1 goals per game and seeing a lot of production from younger players.
Junior midfielder Jack Hannah led the way for the Pioneers last season, tallying 27 points (17G/10A). Sophomore midfielder Alex Simmons also contributed plenty in 2020, amassing 13 points (8G/5A). JJ Sillstropp emerged as a reliable shooter at the attack spot, scoring 10 goals during his freshman campaign.
In addition to all that younger talent, the Pioneers will return attackman Ethan Walker for a fifth season. One of the best shooters in college lacrosse, Walker has amassed 219 points (142G/77A) during his career at Denver. The Peterborough, Ont. native recorded 25 points (15G/10A) through the Pioneers’ six games last season.
With Morrill quarterbacking things, Cotler fitting in where needed at the midfield, Walker’s shooting ability, and all the other weapons the Pioneers currently have on the roster, this Denver offense has a chance to be something very, very special next season. Big East defenses better be on high alert.
As far as the Pioneers’ own defense is concerned, they were the 13th ranked scoring defense at the time the 2020 season was ended. And that was achieved with an inconsistent situation in goal and two freshman starting all six games at close defense. So unless this entire defense has a sophomore slump, they should be pretty solid in a multitude of areas.
In cage, things weren’t all that consistent for the Pioneers last season. But it turned out to be less detrimental than many thought. As a freshman, Jack Thompson saw action in the final five games of the season and started in the final two against North Carolina and Notre Dame, posting a .450 save percentage overall. He is likely the Pioneers’ best bet in cage, based off of prior performances. However, junior Cole French saw the second most time in cage and did hold his own quite well.
Adam Hangland (9GB/4CT) and Jack DiBenedetto (6GB/5CT) each started all six games as freshman last season at close defense. Those two were having outstanding seasons as freshman last season and should take another step forward in 2021. The Pioneers will also return their top LSM in sophomore Malik Sparrow. He put together a strong freshman campaign, recording six ground balls, seven caused turnovers, and scored a goal.
There is also the possibility that the Pioneers’ top SSDM, Danny Logan, could return for a fifth season after a strong senior season. The Ohio native picked up 15 ground balls, caused seven ground balls, had three assists, and one goal in the shortened 2020 season.
While Denver may feature a fairly young and strong core on the back end coming into the 2021 season, the Pioneers also have a pretty strong line of defense at the faceoff dot as well. Alec Stathakis came onto the scene strong as a freshman last season, going 89-for-143 (.622) at the faceoff dot. As one of the best young faceoff men in the nation, it is expected for Stathakis to take another step forward as a sophomore and uphold the legacy of greatness at the dot that the Pioneers have enjoyed with guys like Trevor Baptiste and Chase Carraro leading them to Championship Weekend appearances.