Can Providence Get Back on Track in 2022?

(Photo Courtesy of Providence Athletics)

In 2017, the Providence Friars churned out their best season under Chris Gabrielli as they went 10-7 and fell in the Big East title game to Marquette. They followed up that season by going 5-9 and missing the postseason altogether in 2018. However, the Friars were able to put things back together again.

Providence went 7-9 overall (3-2 in the Big East) and fell to eventual conference champion Georgetown by one goal in the Big East semifinals in 2019. They ended the shortened 2020 season with a 5-1 record. The Friars were highlighted by a top-10 defense in both years.

In 2021, Gabrielli’s squad couldn’t keep up the pace, going 4-9 (3-7 Big East) with a conference-heavy schedule and seeing their season end with three straight losses, including a 14-5 defeat against top-seeded Denver in the conference quarterfinals. It marked the first time the Friars ended the year with under five wins since 2014 when they went 4-11.

After a season in which the Friars fell so hard after appearing to be on the upswing just a season prior, it’s hard to gauge exactly what to expect from this squad in 2022. That is even more true considering the fact that Providence loses 10 players who saw at least two starts last season, which includes their top three point-getters in Ryan Nawrocki, Ryan Zimmerman, and Dan Axelson. Emmett Jennings, who has been one of the Friars’ top poles for the past three seasons, and two-year starting netminder Toby Burgdorf are also gone, as well as primary faceoff man RJ Romero.

Providence suffers the loss of more talent than anyone in the Big East and many teams across the college lacrosse landscape in general.

It may not be a full-blown rebuild in Rhode Island’s capital, but the Friars will certainly have a very new look in many respects on both ends in 2022. And with as many new faces and inexperience there is a multitude of different ways things could go for the Providence this spring. Do they rise or do they fall even more?

Matt Grillo is the face of this team and offense coming into this spring. The senior attackman has been an impact player ever since he stepped foot on campus and is coming off a 2021 campaign in which he put up 25 points off 22 goals and three assists in 12 contests (10 starts). Grillo is the Friars’ top-returning offensive weapon and will be taking over the reins of this unit this spring.

In addition to the aforementioned Grillo, Providence also returns junior attackman John Hoffman (10G/3A) and midfielder Evan McGreen (8G/5A), who comes back for a fifth season. Sophomore Chris Cusolito (2G/4A) is another name that could be in the mix this season following a freshman campaign in which he proved to be a reliable reserve. The same can be said for Brendan Driscoll after a freshman season in which he saw two starts at attack.

While the Friars don’t return too much proven, experienced talent on the offensive end, they do bring some in via the transfer portal. Former Sacred Heart attackman Drew Edwards will be using his fifth and final season of college lacrosse at Providence. An Ocean State native, Edwards is coming off a season this past spring in which he put up 32 points (28G/4A) as the Pioneers’ second-leading scorer.

Edwards not only brings experience where it is much needed but also can help be a talent stop-gap for a season, filling one of the Friars’ many holes on the offensive end of the field while some of the younger guys are able to learn and grow behind him. Nonetheless, Edwards should be at least in serious contention for a starting spot this spring with the Friars.

Perhaps the Friars have even bigger problems on the defensive end as they look to readjust after taking a massive step back last season, ending the year ranked 47th nationally in scoring defense (12.77 goals per game).

The Friars do return a pair of starting poles from a year ago in junior Grant Latimer (20GB/11CT) and senior Matt Gould (15GB/10CT). Both were first-time starters last season and will certainly be looking to progress this spring. Senior LSM Mike O’Grady (11GB/4CT) and junior LSM Michael Hughes (13GB/2CT) are two of the other top returning poles for this squad, among multiple others, that could see their role increased this coming season.

In between the pipes is where the biggest question lies as far as this defense and team as a whole. Toby Burgdorf filled the shoes of Friar great Tate Boyce and found a good deal of success. Now, it’s time for the torch to be passed once again, but who will be the one to replace Burgdorf?

Michael Harris is the only returning goalie who saw any action last season, getting on the field in four contests as the Friars’ backup. Matt Murakami, who transferred in from UMass Lowell prior to last season, could also be in the mix as he served as the River Hawks’ starter in 2020. Freshman Noah D’Andrea and sophomore Will Collins haven’t seen any game action yet.

Providence will also have to replace a major impact player at the faceoff dot with the graduation of RJ Romero, who was their primary option for three years. The Friars’ faceoff room this year is very young with sophomore Tom Fegley as the only returner at the position. He went 9-for-21 as a backup last season. A pair of freshmen in Richie Hughson and Quinn McConnaughey fill out the position group.

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