Can Richmond Become The SoCon’s First Three-Peat Champion?

(Photo Courtesy of Richmond Athletics)

Since the first season of SoCon lacrosse in 2015, the conference has seen three teams (Air Force, High Point, Richmond) take home the conference title and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. And while Air Force and Richmond have each won two straight over the past four tournaments, never has a team successfully pulled a three-peat. In 2021, Richmond looks to do just that.

Since the program’s inception, the Richmond Spiders have seemed to do nothing but win. Never missing the postseason, the Spiders’ worst full season of lacrosse was their first, where they went 6-11 and beat High Point in the Atlantic Sun title game to make it to the NCAA Tournament.

This past season, Richmond sat at 4-3 when the season was cancelled due to the Coronavirus outbreak. Two of their three losses came in overtime against No. 4 Maryland and No. 13 Duke. Additionally, the Spiders ranked 30th in scoring offense, averaging 12.71 goals per game, and 22nd in defense, allowing an average of 10.57 goals per game.

Coming into the 2021 season, the Spiders are expected to be the SoCon favorites and come into the season as a top-20 ranked squad. Richmond could do some real damage and potentially put together their best season ever, especially considering how close they have played some top-tier programs in the past few seasons.

One of the biggest reasons for the hype and high expectations surrounding Richmond coming into the 2021 season is due to the sheer amount of talent they bring back, which includes five seniors from last season who have elected to take a fifth-year.

Attackman Kevin Todd, midfielders Tate Gallagher and Tyler Shoults, goalie Jack Rusbuldt, and LSM Sean Menges will all be returning for an extra season at Richmond and are expected to provide significant impacts just as they have throughout their college careers.

Shouts (4G/9A) and Gallagher (4G/3A) were both full-time starters last season and ranked fourth and seventh on the team in points. Todd (3G/2A) saw action in all seven games, making one start. The three have been pretty reliable weapons on the offensive end for the Spiders over the past two seasons, at least, and having them back for an extra season not only makes this Richmond offense deeper from a talent perspective but also provides more experience and veteran leadership.

Rusbuldt, who was a redshirt junior this past season, has been the Spiders’ starting goalie for the past two years and a crucial part of their particularly strong defensive success. In 2019, he made 153 saves with a .558 save percentage and was named the 2019 SoCon Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. He made 90 saves with a .556 save percentage in the Spiders’ seven games during 2020. Menges has been one of the Spiders’ best poles for the past few seasons, playing both close and LSM. He recorded 26 ground balls and nine caused turnovers in 2020.

In addition to those fifth-year returnees, the Spiders will see multiple impact underclassmen return on both ends of the field.

On the offensive end, get back four of their other top-five scorers, including senior attackman Ryan Lanchbury (14G/16A) and sophomore attackman Richie Connell (19G/3A). Lanchbury led the Spiders in scoring and is one of the most dangerous all-around playmakers in the conference, while Connell enjoyed a breakout freshman campaign and proved to be a lethal shooter at the college level. Senior midfielder Mitch Savoca (13G/6A) and junior attackman Ryan Dunn (8G/2A) will also be returning and looking to make sizable impacts on the offensive end once again.

Richmond will also see several role players return and likely take another step forward this coming season. That, along with the number of starters and impact players returning, gives this offense a huge boost and will likely help them prove to be one of, if not the best, offense from top to bottom in the SoCon. And if that turns out to be true, a conference title game appearance for this squad would seem inevitable.

And while this Spiders offense will certainly be exciting to watch in 2021, Richmond has been built on defense and has housed some of the best defenses not only in the SoCon but the nation, over the past few seasons. 2021 doesn’t look like it will be any different in the capital of the Old Dominion.

Getting back Rusbuldt and Menges is certainly huge and is a major factor into the hype that this squad is getting, especially on the back end, heading into the 2021 season. However, the Spiders have a plethora of talented players on the back end that are battle-tested and have the talent to keep the tradition of top-tier defenses going.

After coming onto the scene strong as a redshirt freshman in 2019, Ray Baran continued his impressive play last season as one of the Spiders’ top poles. Baran 25 ground balls and led the team in caused turnovers with 12. In addition, senior Jason Reynolds (6GB/4CT) and junior Jake Saunders (5GB/3CT) will both be back. Reynolds saw action in and started in six games, while Saunders saw one start in six games. With the graduation of Jack Cook, Saunders could very well see much more playing time and could possibly step into that third starting spot that Cook left.

Richmond has not always had the most consistent play at the faceoff dot from year to year as some other teams around the country, but they have always seemed to have multiple viable options. Last season, Jacob Griffin stepped into the top spot as a sophomore and thrived. He went 40-for-73 (.548%) and should be their primary option again in 2021. Junior Andrew Hamilton (24-for-44) looks to be their backup after a solid showing in the two games he appeared in last season.

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