Led By a Brendan Krebs-Anchored Defense, Manhattan Could Take Another Leap in 2022

(Photo Courtesy of Manhattan Athletics)

When Drew Kelleher took over the reigns at Manhattan ahead of the 2016 season, the Jaspers were coming off a 2015 campaign in which they went 1-14. The worst season in program history. And while the Jaspers combined for just 10 wins in Kelleher’s first three season in Riverdale, things started to turn the corner in 2019 where they went 6-8, eclipsing five wins for the first time since 2010.

Manhattan followed up that campaign with a shortened 2020 campaign in which they went 3-3 and looked to have the potential to break their decade-long postseason drought. Well, the Jaspers did just that during this past spring in 2021, going 5-5, winning the MCAA regular-season title for the first time in program history, and making it to the MAAC title game where they fell to Monmouth, 14-9. Subsequently, Kelleher was named the MAAC Coach of The Year following the historic season they enjoyed in Riverdale.

Named the 2021 MAAC Coach of The Year, Kelleher has guided Manhattan’s rise from basement of the MAAC to conference title contenders in just a matter of six seasons. Coming into 2022, the Jaspers will be looking to get back to the MAAC title game and take that next step as a program. And with as much talent as the Jaspers bring back this spring, Manhattan could very well take that next step, so long as they can weather the storm that is MAAC lacrosse each season.

The crux of this Manhattan program has been defense, and that doesn’t look like it will change at all heading into the 2022 season. The Jaspers ended last season ranked ninth nationally in scoring defense (9.70 goals allowed per game) while also being ranked 16th in man-down defense, shutting down 71% of their opponents’ extra-man opportunities. Manhattan was also a top 25 team in caused turnovers, averaging 8.20 per game. And the Jaspers put up similar numbers on the back end during the shortened 2020 season, as well.

Simply put, defense has been the face and identity of this program.

Defense is also where the Jaspers see the greatest amount of impact returnees from last season. And none bigger than goalie Brendan Krebs, who will be returning for his fifth and final season of college lacrosse. Krebs is a three-year starter for the Jaspers and put together the best season of his career in 2021, being named the MAAC Co-Defensive Player of The Year after a year in which he made 126 saves with a .565% save percentage. Krebs Ranked third in the MAAC and ninth nationally with a 9.36 GAA while also being fourth in the conference and 12th nationally with a .565 save percentage and 12.60 saves per game.

While even if Krebs was the only returnee on defense many would have some level of faith in this Manhattan offense to, at least, stay amongst the top in the conference, the Jaspers also return a heap of talent around the decorated goalkeeper. Defenseman Luke Pacher also returns for a fifth season and final season in Riverdale following a 2021 campaign in which he recorded 19 ground balls and caused 10 turnovers on his way to earning All-MAAC first team honors. Christian Clifford, who led the team in caused turnovers (21) while also raking in 10 ground balls last season, for his senior year where he should again be a leader on the back end for the Jaspers.

While Krebs, Pacher, and Clifford do provide a solid and proven foundation for this Manhattan defense to build on in 2022, they aren’t without their losses from a year ago. LSM Brendan Bank has graduated and Daniel Newton, who started all 10 games at close defense as a sophomore in 2021, entered the transfer portal following the season and decided to take his talents to Stony Brook.

Spencer Moore, who only saw action in the final three games of the regular season and was named a MAAC All-Rookie selection, and Lukas Adams, who played in eight games, highlight a group of reserve poles that will be fighting for that third spot at close coming into this spring.

Tadhg O’Riordan returns to lead the way at the SSDM position as a senior. He tallied 15 ground balls and seven caused turnovers while seeing action in all 10 games last season.

Manhattan also returns a good of talent on the offensive end, which could help this unit take a step, even a small one, up after being a middle of the road offense both nationally and within the MAAC last season, Manhattan averaged 9.40 goals per game and 14.40 points per game, ranking 47th and 49th in DI in those two categories. They also ranked 52nd nationally in assists per game (5) and the 44th best man-up offense, converting on 30% of their opportunities.

The Jaspers return each of their top three scorers from a year ago in attackmen Kyle Gucwa (20G/7A), Sean MacKinney (17G/8A), and Liam Walshe (19G/6A). Gucwa earned All-MAAC second team honors while MacKinney, who returns for a fifth season, was an All-MAAC first team selection. In addition to the aforementioned trio of attackmen, Manhattan will see top-10 scorers Jake Nicolosi (14G/2A) and Justin Malpica (2G/2A) each return for a fifth season of play.

Former York (DIII) attackman Brendan O’Sullivan has chosen to take his talents to Manhattan for his final season of college lacrosse. The Valley Cottage, N.Y. native led the Spartans in scoring each of the past two seasons and is coming off a 68-point (60G/8A) 2021 campaign. If he can transition as seamlessly to the DI game as others making the jump to DIII have recently, O’Sullivan could be a major impact player for the Jaspers alongside the proven talent they return.

While this offense with the core of Gucwa, MacKinney, Walshe leading the way, and resume and potential O’Sullivan arrives in Riverdale with, could be a pretty solid unit and take a step forward after a pretty average 2021 season, getting possession so this offense can grow and go to work could be an issue. Last season, Manhattan ended the year ranked 62nd in team faceoff percentage (.326%). Sam Baudille, who went 41-for-119 (34%) as the Jaspers’ top option, returns for his senior season and Keith Fraser returns as a sophomore after seeing action in just one game as a freshman.

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