(Photo Courtesy of Duke Athletics)
The college lacrosse season is just a few months away, and while it will be a bit longer than usual before everyone gets underway and the season as a whole may look different, at least in the beginning, due to the impact the Coronavirus has had on sports, teams will still be fighting to be the last one standing on Memorial Day Weekend. And after the way last season ended, it will be extra bittersweet for whoever is crowned champions on that special day in May.
Here is a dive into some of the top presumed title contenders as we head into the 2021 season:
For many, the Duke Blue Devils are shoe-ins to, at least, make a Championship Weekend run. John Danowski and his squad are not only the most improved team in the country coming into this spring but also perhaps the most talented. Adding Princeton grad transfer and Tewarraton favorite Michael Sowers is a game-changer for this offense, which will also feature stars in sophomore attackman Dyson Williams and senior midfielder Nakeie Montgomery, among multiple others, and adds a future star in freshman Brennan O’Neill, who was the top-ranked player in the 2020 class. And while this Duke offense is sure to be lethal in 2021, their defense isn’t anything to scoff at either. With fifth-year defenseman JT Giles Harris leading things out in front of the cage and two stellar goaltenders in Turner Uppgren and St. Joseph’s grad transfer Mike Alder fighting for that starting spot, this could be one of the better, more complete defenses that we’ve seen out of a Duke team in multiple years.
If the 2020 season would’ve played out in full, the Orange very well could’ve made their return to Championship Weekend for the first time since their title game appearance in 2013. And while that dream was not able to be realized last season, it is very possible that it could in 2021. In the second year of the Pat March era on offense, the Orange return all five of their top point-getters from a year ago, including Chase Scanlan and Jamie Trimboli. And they should have one of the best midfield units in the nation, once again. While the Orange do lose their top pole in Nick Mellen, the Orange should still house one of the better units in the nation on the back end with Drake Porter anchoring things in net and Brett Kennedy being their leader at close. Utah transfer Nick Hapney and Gettysburg transfer Mitch Wykoff are also expected to make impacts on defense.
2019 marked the end of Maryland’s five-year Championship Weekend run, so you can bet this team is going to do everything in their power to get back to that level and uphold the standard of Maryland lacrosse. And whether Jared Bernhardt returns or not, this team has the talent to get it done. Even without Bernhardt, Maryland returns five offensive starters from last season, including their top two scoring leaders from last season in Seniors Logan Wisnauskas and Anthony DeMaio. They also added Griffin Brown from Colgate and Eric Holden from Hobart as grad transfers to further bolster this already impressive offense. Their defense should be just as stacked with junior Chris Brandau and sophomore Logan McNaney competing for that starting goalie job and all three starting poles – Nick Grill, Brett Makar, and John Geppert – all back. Additionally, they may have the best LSM room in the nation with Yale transfer BJ Burlace and returners, Justin Sherrer, Michael Ubriaco, Connor Whalen all having the ability to make significant impacts.
Many consider Virginia to be the third-best team in the ACC behind Duke and Syracuse, and rightfully so. But the Cavaliers are still a top-five caliber team and have the talent necessary to not only get back to Championship Weekend but defend their title. While they do lose Michael Kraus and Dox Aitken, they return three of their top five scorers in Matt Moore, Ian Laviano, and Payton Cormier, and they also add Merrimack grad transfer Charlie Bertrand who should be able to step into that quarterback role. In addition, multiple young guys such as redshirt freshman Connor Shellenberger and redshirt sophomore Xander Dickson could have breakout seasons. Defensively, Cade Saustad will be back and healthy but LSM Jared Conners will still be the biggest name on the Cavaliers’ back end, which is fairly young. Alex Rode returns in cage and looks to have another solid season anchoring this defense. Petey LaSalla also returns at the faceoff dot and gives them another weapon to work with.
Replacing a player of Grant Ament’s caliber is never easy, but even with that challenge Jeff Tambroni and the Nittany Lions have enough talent to still compete amongst the nation’s best. Mac O’Keefe, who will be the leader of this offense, and Dylan Foulds are back for a fifth season while TJ Malone and Jack Kelly return for their senior and junior seasons and look to potentially be a bigger part of this offense in 2021. Also, Gerard Arcei provides that X-factor at the faceoff that this team will need to rely on again this season. On the back end, Colby Kneese returns for a fifth-season in cage and should be one of the best goalies in, at least, the Big Ten once again. Out in front of the cage, defenseman Nick Cardile and defenseman/LSM TJ Connellan each return for an extra season and will be the leaders of a defense that looks to take another step forward after making some pretty improvements from 2019 to 2020.
If Duke is the most improved team in the nation, then Notre Dame is certainly second. The Irish, who already return their top two scorers in Griffin Westlin and Pat Kavanagh, as well pretty much their entire defense, picked up a pair of Penn grad transfers in defenseman Kyle Thorton and faceoff man Kyle Gallagher early in the summer and also added former Bucknell attackman Will Yorke, former Providence attackman Sean Lahey, and former Syracuse midfielder David Lipka. Notre Dame simply improved at every position and that could very well lead to them getting back to Championship Weekend for the first time since 2015.
The Bulldogs lose a lot on offense with Matt Gaudent going pro, as well as Jackson Morrill and Lucas Cotler not able to come back and electing to use their final year of eligibility together at Denver. However, Yale still has the best faceoff man in the nation in TD Ierlan as well as a very stout defense, led by senior defenseman Chris Fake and goalie Jack Starr. They are still the top dog in the Ivy League and could very well make their third consecutive Championship Weekend appearance this spring.
While the Big Red will be lead by Connor Buczek on an interim basis this spring, they still have one of the more talented teams in the Ivy League and could very well be title contenders after being a top-five team for most of last season. With Jeff Teat back for a fifth season and practically all their top offensive threats back, as well as Angelo Petrakis back at the faceoff dot after a stellar freshman season and Chayse Ierlan anchoring a defense that should be pretty decent. 2021 could turn out to be a huge success for Cornell.