(Photo Courtesy of Ohio State Athletics)
After two consecutive seasons in 2018 and 2019 in which the Buckeyes shot themselves in the foot somewhere along the way, Ohio State had a solid showing during the shortened 2020 season, going 5-2. And after that strong start, and all the talent up and down the roster, 2021 looked like it could be the first year that Ohio State put all the pieces together since their NCAA Championship game run in 2017.
However, in a season in which Big Ten teams were constrained to playing each other, Ohio State was one of the most inconsistent teams in the conference. After a very strong showing in their season opener at Johns Hopkins, which yielded a 14-8 Buckeye victory, Ohio State would only enjoy three more wins – going 4-7 on the year. That included going 2-1 against arch-rival Michigan, winning twice in the regular season before falling, 15-11, to the Wolverines in the Big Ten quarterfinals.
Following a season the likes of which Ohio State just experienced, the Buckeyes will be looking to not only improve but get back on track to being a consistent presence in not only the conference title discussion but also in the NCAA Tournament discussion. The Buckeyes have only made it to the big dance three times under Nick Myers, including during two of the first three seasons of Big Ten lacrosse.
A big part of the offseason for Ohio State again this year was their dealings in the NCAA Transfer Portal. The Buckeyes’ summer was, perhaps, the best example we’ve seen of a team using the portal to address immediate needs right away. While the Buckeyes did see the portal taketh with Grant Mitchell taking his talents to Duke, Ohio State added a pair of Hobart transfer’s in attackman Jason Knox and faceoff man Drew Blanchard, while also landing former North Carolina goalie Caton Johnson, former Lafayette defenseman Noah Mendoza, and Lynchburg (DIII) defenseman Tyler Gallagher.
Johnson is the Buckeyes’ biggest get in the portal this year. Starting 13 games during the 2019 and 2020 seasons, Johnson has proven himself at a high level and could be the Buckeyes’ starter in cage the second he steps foot in Columbus. Knox has proven to be an elite goal-scorer and can be an instant impact player on an offense that loses some big pieces from last year. Similarly, Blanchard comes in and adds to a strong faceoff unit. Mendoza comes to Ohio State after a stellar freshman season at Lafayette where he started all 11 games and was a major factor on a very young team. He should, at least, compete for a starting job at close defense this season with the Buckeyes. Gallagher brings a load of experience on the back end after five seasons as a full-time starter for one of the best programs in DIII.
Knox joins an offense that averaged 11.36 goals per game last season as the nation’s 30th-best scoring offense (third in Big Ten), and returns three of their top five point-getters from a year ago, including leading scorer Jack Myers. The senior attackman has been an impact player since his freshman season and is coming off a junior campaign in 2021 in which he tallied 45 points off 34 goals and 11 assists to lead the Buckeyes. He was the Buckeyes’ only first team All-Big Ten selection and one of two Buckeye offensive players to earn All-Big Ten honors, along with fellow attackman Tre LeClaire, who has now graduated,
In addition to Myers, the Buckeyes will return their third and fourth-leading scorers from a year ago in attackman Jackson Reid (15G/11A) and midfielder Griffin Hughes (16G/3A). The pair, along with senior midfielder Johnny Wiseman and junior attackman Mitchell Pehlke, who combined for 20 points last season, should be expected to see their production increase this spring. That is especially true with non-conference play returning for the Big Ten in 2022.
With as much as the Buckeyes return at the top, as well as the addition of Knox and the number of role players and younger guys that could step up this spring, it should be expected of this Ohio State offense to, at least, have a top-30 offense again in 2022. But they would certainly like to see a good amount of improvement all around on that end of the field.
The Buckeyes have been very strong under coordinator Travis Crane, ranking ninth in scoring defense 8.60 goals allowed per game) in 2018 with a pair of All-Americans in Ben Randall and Erik Evans leading the way, 26th in 2019 as they allowed 10.75 goals per game. Ohio State ended the shorted 2020 season ranked 18th nationally in scoring defense along with Hofstra, allowing 10.14 goals per game.
2021 is the only season under Crane that the Buckeyes’ defense has taken a big step back in scoring defense, allowing 12.91 goals per game and ranking 48th nationally in the category. That includes their first contests against Rutgers that yielded a 22-12 loss for the Buckeyes, as well as their two contests against Maryland that they lost by a combined score of 34-16. Additionally, Ohio State was last in the Big Ten in man-down defense with a .313 penalty kill percentage, third in ground balls per game (29.73), and fourth in caused turnovers per game (6.00).
In 2022, Ohio State will have a bit of a new look with the loss of Eric Wenz at close defense and Alec Van de Bovenkamp in cage, as well as All-American SSDM Ryan Terefenko.
Jacob Snyder (7GB/9CT) and George Walsh (8GB/1CT), who started and played in eight contests this past season, are the only two full-time starters returning at close defense. Senior Jack DeSantis (8GB/2CT) also returns following a 2021 campaign that saw him play in five contests, starting the final two of the year. The aforementioned trio of returnees, along with the additions of Gallagher and Mendoza, give this Ohio State squad a good amount of options to choose from on the back end.
Freshman Bobby Van Buren could also be in the mix as a starter this season. The North Carolina native was rated as a five-star recruit by Inside Lacrosse and shined at the Under Armour All-American game this past summer.
In cage, the North Carolina transfer Johnson looks to be the most talented and the likely starter. Senior Skylar Wahlund, who started the first three contests of 2021, and freshman Henry Blake will be the likely No. 2 and 3 at the position, but could see some time this season.
At the faceoff dot, the Buckeyes return program great Justin Inacio at the position following a 2021 campaign in which he went 147-for-267 (.551%). The duo of Inacio and Blanchard could be one of the best in the Big Ten.