Tanner’s Top 25: Preseason

(Photo Courtesy of Duke Athletics)

The college lacrosse regular season is just 17 days away with thing set to get underway on January 30th. And while we have an idea of what the season will look like with plans from multiple conferences being widely known, there are still a lot of unknowns that won’t officially be answered until rubber meets the road and we get this season fully underway.

Despite the unknowns, there is one known: there will be a college lacrosse season. And with every season we see teams that rise and fall. That fluctuation of teams over the season is measured, most notably, in rankings.

This season I will be releasing a weekly top 25. At the moment, Hampton is the only team to officially opt out for the season and we don’t know of any conference not playing. If any teams or conferences choose to not play, these rankings will be adjusted accordingly.

Rankings process: Preseason rankings are NOT based on last season, but based on where I expect each team to finish based on the talent they have on the roster coming into the season. During the season, these rankings will be based solely on their performance the previous week.

  1. Duke Blue Devils

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.

2. Maryland Terrapins

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. Jared Bernhard comes back for a fifth season to lead this offense, alongside 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.

3. Syracuse Orange

A few weeks ago, Syracuse and Maryland would have been flipped. But with the uncertainty around multiple players, including Stephen Rehfuss, not being with the team for the whole or a part of the season, they Terrapins have to be ahead of them at the moment but the Orange are still a top-three squad. 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.

4. Virginia Cavaliers

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 is still be the biggest name on the Cavaliers’ back end, which is fairly young overall. 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.

5. Penn State Nittany Lions

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 much a bigger part of this offense. 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.

6. North Carolina Tar Heels

The Tar Heels ended the shortened 2020 season touting a 7-0 record, which included a win over a top-20 Denver squad on the road, but still didn’t garner as much respect as some thought they should have, especially after multiple piss-poor seasons prior to last season. 2021 is the year that they can prove that they are back to competing at an elite level on a consistent basis, and they certainly have the talent to do so – especially on offense. Chris Gray is back to lead this offense at attack just as he did last season, alongside Nicky Soloman and Princeton transfer midfield grad transfer Connor McCarthy, as well as Tanner Cook and Justin Anderson who are back for a fifth season. Defensively, the Tar Heels looked much improved last season and should continue that progression with Will Bowen leading the way at close and Canton Johnson back in between the pipes.

7. Notre Dame Fighting Irish

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 is certainly something that can’t be overlooked. These improvements up and down the field could very well lead to them getting back to Championship Weekend for the first time since 2015.

8. Yale Bulldogs

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.

9. Cornell Big Red

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.

10. Denver Pioneers

Bill Tierney and the Denver Pioneers are another program that upgraded through the transfer portal this offseason. Most of those upgrades came on the offensive end. The Pioneers landed Yale grad transfer attackman Jackson Morrill and midfielder Lucas Cotler, who On top of those two game changing transfers, the Pioneers are getting back Ethan Walker, who is one of the best shooters in college lacrosse, back for a fifth season and return a strong midfield core of Jack Hannah, Alex Simmons, and JJ Sillstropp. On top of what is likely to be the deepest offense in the Big East, practically their entire defense, including defensemen Adam Hangland, Jack DiBenedetto, LSM Malik Sparrow, and goalie Jack Thompson. All were starters at their respective positions last season and should continue to grow a ton after very strong freshmen campaigns.

11. Georgetown Hoyas

Returning four out of their top five scorers from a year ago, including their entire starting attack of Jake Carraway, who returns for a fifth, Dylan Watson, and Robert Clark, is huge for this Hoyas offense that was very strong last season and could be even better in 2021. But defense is perhaps the strongest point of this Hoyas team coming into the season. The two-headed monster of Gibson Smith and James Donaldson look to lead the way on the back end for the Hoyas again this season on the back end. Owen McElroy, who led the nation in save percentage in 2020, also returns in cage to anchor this defense.

12. Ohio State Buckeyes

2021 could see Ohio State have its best defense in quite sometime with the additions of Furman goalie transfer Alec Van de Bovenkamp and defenseman Eric Wenz from Hofstra via the transfer portal. The Buckeyes also return two of their top poles from last season in defenseman/LSM Jeff Henrick and Jacob Snyder. They will also return two-way defenseman Ryan Terefenko for a fifth season and will see attackman Tre LeClaire also come back for an extra season to lead this offense. Justin Inaco also looks to continue his high-level of play at the faceoff to give the Buckeyes a huge boost at that spot again.

13. Loyola Greyhounds

The Greyhounds look to be the class of the Patriot League once again this season, and they look to be led by a very strong offense that returns their top five scorers from last season, including all three starting attackmen: Aidan Olmstead, Kevin Lindley, and Joey Kamish. On the back end, this defense will be anchored by Sam Shafer, who put together a stellar season as a first-year starter last season.

14. UMass Minutemen

Coming into this season, the Minutemen are highlighted by a sizable number of fifth-year returnees that will be leading the way this spring. Amongst those returnees are midfielders Billy Philpott, Jeff Trainor, Charlie O’Brien, attackman Devin Spencer, defenseman Jackson Suboch, and goalie Cameron Carpenter. This squad also features a number of talented younger players who proved themselves last season, such as goalie Matt Knote and faceoff man Zack Hochman who are two of the best young specialist in college lacrosse.

15. Lehigh Mountain Hawks

Tommy Schelling and sophomore Christian Mule’ will be the leaders on the offensive end, alongside Andrew Eichelberger, after a pretty decent year on that end last season. Cole Kirst looks to possibly be the next man up after the graduation of Andrew Pettit. Defensively, they do have a hole in cage but defensemen Teddy Leggett and Anthony Tangredi do return and should be their top two producers on the back end. Connor Gaffney and  Mike Sisselberger has shown to be a very solid one-two punch at the dot for the Mountain Hawks.

16. Villanova Wildcats

While losing Connor Kirst was a big hit to what has been a solid Wildcats’ offense, they do return Keegan Khan and Patrick Daly at the attack spot. The duo should take on even more responsibility and be more productive this season. They also return a defense that should be much improved, led by fifth-year defenseman returnee Patrick Kennedy, goalie Will Vitton, and a strong SSDM unit that includes Chet Comizio and Amherst (DIII) grad transfer Jimmy McAfee.

17. Army West Point Black Knights

Defense is the identity of Army lacrosse. And despite a recent offensive resurgence, which has seen attackman Brendan Nichtern continue to light up the scoreboard through his first two seasons on the Hudson, defense is still very much their strength. Defenseman Marcus Hudgins and goalie Wyatt Schupler both return after breakout seasons in 2020 and will be leaders of this defense. LSM Kyle Beyver should also be a big asset for the Black Knights, again, this season.

18. Penn Quakers

Losing Kyle Gallagher at the faceoff dot will be rough, but this team has quality talent on both ends that can certainly get the job done. Adam Goldner comes back for a fifth season and will be leading an offense that also features Sean Lulley and Dylan Gergar at that attack spot, as well as midfielder Sam Handley, who sat out most of last season with an injury. The Quakers’ defense has many questions, but LSM BJ Farrare, who many would argue is their best defender, and goalie Patrick Burkinshaw can be very productive and lead the way on that end.

19. Richmond Spiders

The Richmond Spiders are, without a doubt, the best team and favorite in the SoCon. Returning their top eight scorers, including Ryan Lanchbury, who is back for a fifth season, Richie Connell, and Mitch Savoca on offense, and returning  goalie Jack Rusbuldt, and LSM Sean Menges, in addition to multiple other major contributors on defense, this Richmond squad could be its most talented ever.

20. Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Led by, arguably, the best midfield in the Big Ten, which added Villanova grad transfer Connor Kirst via the transfer portal and returns David Sprock and Brennan Kamish, there are some who have some pretty high expectations for this squad in 2021. In addition to a strong midfield unit, they return attackman Kieran Mullins and defenseman Garrett Bullet for a fifth season, and attackman Adam Charalambides will be back for a sixth season. They also added former St. John’s faceoff man Jon Dugenio to help fix their piss-poor faceoff play from last season.

21. Providence Friars

Matt Grillo and Denision (DIII) transfer Peter Pitroff will be a fun duo on offense while Toby Burgdorf will anchor what should be one of the best defenses in the nation for, again.

22. Johns Hopkins Blue Jays

The Blue Jays are a bit of an unknown. They have a new staff, didn’t have a fall ball, and Owen Murphy, who was their second-leading point-getter last season, hitting the transfer portal. But with a healthy Joey Epstein, Cole Williams, and star freshman Brendan Grimes highlight this offense, in addition to the other talent all over the field, this squad does have a lot upside.

23. UAlbany Great Danes

Tehoka Nanticoke was in the midst of his best season when things came to a halt last season. With him hopefully staying at that level, in addition to Jakob Patterson returning for an extra season and goalie Liam Donnelly transferring in from Utah, this year could be just the perfect storm the Dane Train needed to get back on track.

24. Stony Brook Seawolves

Entering the second season under Anthony Gilardi, the Seawolves are highlighted by eight fifth-year returnees,  include attackmen Tom Haun and Cory VanGihoven, midfielders Chris Pickle, Jr., Connor Gripe, Harrison Matsuoka, Tom Dugan, goalie Michael Bollinger, and defensemen CJ Trenkle. They also have a ton of younger guys with experience and its that mix that can give them an edge in 2021.

25. Hofstra Pride

While there are some questions on defense in Hempstead, Fifth-year returnee Ryan Tierney and Johns Hopkings transfer Alex Concannon will highlight what should be a strong Pride offense this spring. Whit Stopak and Justin Sykes will also play big roles on that end.

Others Considered (Alphabetical): Brown, Delaware, Hobart, Navy, Robert Morris

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