(Photo Courtesy of Canisius Athletics)
The MAAC has garnered a reputation as one of the most tightly-contested and ever-changing year-to-year in college lacrosse, and in recent years that reputation has become more and more true. The conference hasn’t seen a repeat champion since Providence in 2007 and 2008, seeing a different champion crowned every year since then. Moreover, outside of Quinnipiac and Marist in 2015 and 2016, no two programs have faced each other in back-to-back title games. Marist is also one of two programs, along with Siena to make at least three consecutive title games in conference history.
Additionally, the conference has seen the fourth-seeded team take home the title twice in the past decade with Detroit Mercy winning it all in 2013 and Canisius taking the crown in 2018.
That 2018 run for the Griffins, which ended in a home loss to Robert Morris in the NCAA Tournament play-in game, kicked off the Mark Miyashita at Canisius. The Griffins followed up that season with an 8-8 (4-3) 2019 campaign that ended with a loss to Marist in the MAAC semifinals. They then hit a bump during 2020, going 0-5 and losing by an average margin of nine goals before the season was cancelled in mid-March.
Despite a lackluster 2020 campaign, Miyashita led the Griffins to somewhat of a bounce-back season in 2021. Playing a conference-only schedule that showed truly showed just how tight the MAAC can be, Canisius went 5-5, beat Marist 14-13 in the conference quarterfinals, and saw their season end with a 10-5 loss against Manhattan, who they had fallen to 10-7 in the regular season, in the MAAC semifinals.
After a season in which the Griffins made strides despite playing through the gauntlet that was the MAAC 2021 schedule, falling by an average of only 4.2 goals per game and taking down the perceived best roster in the conference in the quarterfinals before falling victim to a top-10 defense in the semifinals, Canisius looks like they could very well take another step forward in 2022. That is especially true when you look at just how young these past few Canisius teams have been, and what they bring back this coming spring.
Like many teams in the MAAC, defense was the strong point for this Canisius team in 2021. The Griffins ended the season with the 27th-best scoring defense in DI, allowing 10.62 goals per game, while also ranking 4th in man-down defense, coming up successful on 76% of their opportunities.
Coming into 2022, the Griffins will return a majority of playmakers on the back end with senior defenseman Ryan Sharkey (23GB/15CT) returning after leading the Griffins in caused turnovers last season, as well as sophomore Robbie Marten (7GB/4CT), and junior Paul Medrick (5GB/5CT). Sharkey and Marten played and started in all 10 games last season while Medrick played in nine games with six starts.
Additionally, defenseman/LSM Jacob Pahnke (29GB/7CT) returns following a freshman campaign in which he was Griffins’ top pole in ground balls. He joins senior SSDM Isaiah Ricketts (13GB/4CT) in highlighting Canisius’ rope unit.
The Griffins return a solid group out in front of the cage, but their biggest returnee lies in between the pipes with Matt Vavonese coming back a fifth and final season of college lacrosse. He took over as the starter in cage for the Griffins’ April 6th contest against St. Bonaventure and never looked back, starting the final six games of the season and ending the year with 73 saves with a .510% save percentage.
Canisius also returns a boatload of talent on the other end of the field, bringing back four of their top five scorers from an offense that was somewhat of a middle-of-the-road unit in the MAAC last season, ranking sixth in goals per game (9.30) and shooting percentage (.252%), fourth in points per game (14.70), and second in assists per game (5.40) in the conference. The Griffins offense also saw a good deal of growth on the offensive end last season, averaging 10 goals per game in their final five games of the season after averaging just 8.2 goals per game through their first five contests.
Senior attackman Jacob Buck returns to lead this offense after a junior campaign which saw him tally 14 goals and 15 assists for a team-high 29 points. His performance earned him first team All-MAAC honors. Buck highlighted a fairly young offense last season with attackman Keegan Kozack (19G/5A) and midfielder Hunter Parucki (7G/9A) starting all 10 games, and be top-three point-getters as freshmen for this Canisius squad.
Attackman Mike Peena is the only other senior offensive returnee who started last season. Peena started in all nine games he appeared in and tallied 15 points off 10 goals and five assists as the Griffins’ fifth-leading point-getter during the 2021 campaign. Junior midfielders Nathan Conry, who started all five games as a freshman in 2020, and Jackson Naylor also return after seeing eight starts at the midfield spot last season. The two combined for 22 points last season and could very well be in the mix at the midfield position again this coming spring.
With how young various aspects of this offense were last season and the fact that they only lose one key contributor in Dan Kritkausky, there should be plenty of hope that this unit can continue the growth they saw last season, particularly late in the season.
Getting possession shouldn’t be too much of a problem for this Canisius squad in 2022. After all, the Griffins cleared the ball at a 79% rate last season (86% in the final five games of the season). And they also return their top option at the faceoff dot in Connor Beals. A JuCo transfer, he went 122-for-228 (.535%) during his first year in Buffalo last season. Senior Trevor Folsom has been the Griffins’ backup at the dot for the past two seasons, seeing very limited action.