Saint Joseph’s is The Dark Horse to Watch in The NEC

(Photo Courtesy of Saint Joseph’s Athletics)

When Taylor Wray arrived at St. Joseph’s ahead of the 2012 season, the Hawks were coming off of a horrific 0-12 season. They were literally in the basement of the CAA, which they were then a part of. In his first and second seasons, they went 6-9 and 5-11, but won only one conference game each year and stayed at the bottom of the CAA.

Wray’s third season on Hawk Hill marked the program’s entrance to the NEC and saw it really turn the corner. The Hawks churned out double-digit wins, going 11-4, and finished first in their conference for the first time since 2000, when they went 12-4 and won the MAAC under Paul Perdue. The Hawks fell in the NEC semifinals during that 2014 season and would churn out very similar seasons in 2015 and 2016, recording double-digit wins and falling in the NEC title game both years.

And while they have had down years in 2017 and 2019, Saint Joseph’s did have a successful 2018 season. However, despite finishing atop the conference in the regular season they would once again fall in the NEC title game. 2020 could have been the year the Hawks finally got over the hump and won the NEC, but the Coronavirus outbreak halted those dreams. They went 5-2 before the season was cancelled and their only two losses came against a top-ten Penn State and Penn squad. One of their five wins included a victory over a top-20 ranked Delaware team.

Coming into 2021, the NEC could be one of the most competitive mid-major conferences in DI, especially when considering who may end up in the second, third, and fourth place slots heading into the NEC tournament. Many have Hobart already penciled in as the sure-fire conference title contender and favorite to win the whole thing, and rightfully so, especially with Robert Morris’ exit from the NEC over the summer. But the Hawks will be a team that demands respect and could very well finish the regular season second or third in the NEC and hit on all cylinders during the NEC Tournament, which hasn’t been won by the No. 1 seed since 2013 when Bryant won their second of an eventual three consecutive conference titles.

Saint Joseph’s has talent up and down the field, but their X-factor lies at the faceoff dot. Junior Zach Cole has been a force since he first stepped foot on campus, but he really came into the national spotlight last season. Cole went 99-for-131 (75%) at the dot and ended the season ranked second in DI, behind only Yale’s TD Ierlan, in faceoff percentage. While we didn’t get to see Cole against Penn’s Kyle Gallagher due to Gallagher being out with an injury, he had a very strong showing against his two toughest opponents (Penn State’s Gerard Arceri and Drexel’s Jimmeh Koita), going 57% and 69% in the two contests.

While the Hawks will be relying on Cole a lot this season, there is another player whom they have also relied a ton on during his career that will no longer be with the squad. That player would happen to be none other than goalie Mike Adler, who will be using his final year of eligibility at Duke and is inarguably their biggest loss from last season. With Adler gone, there is a battle for that starting goalie spot. Tucker Almany served as the backup last season and could be the most likely to get the starting nod, but they also bring back two others from last season and bring in Notre Dame transfer Jack Zullo, who was a highly-ranked player coming out of high school.

Elsewhere on the back end, the Hawks, who ranked 15th in scoring defense (9.71 goals allowed per game) last season, return their three primary poles from last season. Tyler Makar (11GB/7CT) and Josh Bosher (5GB/6CT) will both be returning for an extra season. Joe Burnham (11GB/8CT) will also be returning after putting together a stellar freshman campaign. Liam Hare (8GB/3CT), who served as the Hawks’ top LSM last season, will also be back for an fifth year.

Similarly, Saint Joseph’s will also return a ton of experience on the offensive end and should move forward after ranking in the second half of DI in scoring offense last season, averaging 10.29 goals per game (55th in DI). That is especially true considering how many extra possessions they should be able to get with such a dominant force at the faceoff dot.

Anderson Levi (15G/9A) will be expected to lead the way for this offense again in 2021 after the performance he put together as a freshman. The purebred shooter led the Hawks in points and goals last season, asserting himself as one of the most dangerous shooters in the conference. Sophomore Attackman Matt Bohmer (14G/6A), who started two games at midfield, will also be expected to put together another strong performance this spring.

Senior attackman Matt Tufano (7G/10A), senior midfielders Evan Campbell (7G/6A) and Austin Strazzulla (6G/3A), and junior midfielder Nate Patterson (2G/5A) will all be back and looking contribute as they have in recent years and help this offense move forward, as many expect it to. In addition to their main starters and heavy contributors, the Hawks have a heap of role players who have the ability to step up and play a bigger role this spring.

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