(Photo Courtesy of Air Force Athletics)
Heading into the final week of the regular season, Air Force was in a battle with Bellarmine and Mercer for that fourth and final spot in the SoCon tournament. Traveling 1,644.7 miles to Virginia’s capital city to face the Richmond Spiders, who had already clinched the top seed in the conference tournament, the Falcons pulled off their biggest win of the season, taking down the Spiders 11-6 to hand them their first conference loss of the season.
The win secured the Falcons’ spot as the fourth and final seed in the SoCon tournament. A fate that pitted them against the Spiders just a week later in a matchup that would end their season as they fell 11-6.
The Falcons finished the season with a 4-9 record (3-3 SoCon). But that record could just as easily have been 8-5 with as many games as Air Force lost late in the contests or in the second half. They led Mercer 12-9 at the end of the third before allowing a six-goal Bears run to effectively end things. Similarly, Jacksonville and High Point put up big runs on the Falcons in the second half to pull away and put the contest to bed. Additionally, the Falcons failed in a huge comeback effort against Robert Morris in which they ended the game on a seven-goal run in the final 25 minutes of the contest, only to lose 14-13.
Air Force did however put together a successful comeback effort against Bellarmine as they came back from down 6-2 to win 8-6 on the road in a win which helped them be in such a favorable position once the dust settled on the final weekend of the regular season.
Coming into the fourth season of the Bill Wilson era in Colorado Springs, the Falcons move on from the SoCon and join Bellarmine, Cleveland State, Detroit Mercy, Robert Morris, and Utah in the new Atlantic Sun (ASUN). And heading into year one of ASUN lacrosse, many are expecting Air Force to emerge as a power within the conference. After all, the Falcons have a combined all-time record of 23-6 against their new conference foes. That includes a 6-3 combined record against ASUN members since Wilson had his interim tag removed ahead of the 2019 season.
Returning a good chunk of talent on both ends of the field, the Falcons do look to have the pieces in place to take a step forward and get back to the level we saw out of this program in the late 2010s, and be the top dog during the first season of ASUN lacrosse.
Offensively, Air Force took a step backward in many respects this past season as they averaged just 8.6 goals per game. That’s good for 57th nationally in scoring offense and is a drop from where they were during the last full season prior in 2019 (11.06 goals per game) and during the shortened 2020 season (10.2). Additionally, the Falcons featured a bottom 10 man-up unit as they capitalized on just .225% of such opportunities (9-for-40).
With a young-ish core on the offensive end last season, the Falcons did take some steps back from where they had been. But now with a full season under their belt this unit, which returns a sizable amount of its production, could very well get back on track in 2022.
Junior attackman Ethan Grandolfo (23G/10A) led the Falcons’ in scoring last season and is expected to be a leader on this offense once again this spring, as is senior midfielder Brenden Crouse (14G/9A), who was the team’s second-leading point-getter last season. Sophomore attackman Aidan Tolen was the fifth-leading scorer for this Falcons squad last season with 17 points off six goals and 11 assists as a freshman and appeared in 12 games with nine starts.
In addition to their top three returnees on offense, Air Force will also see a number of contributors who could take a serious step up this spring return with players such as August Johnson (11G/2A), Chase Douglas (3G/4A), and Brandon Dodd (3G/3A), who only appeared in five games with four starts this past season after a huge breakout 2020 campaign. Johnson, Douglas, and Dodd, amongst plenty of others, have the ability to slide into bigger roles next season with some of the losses this squad faces on offense and could very well help this offense get back to where it has been in the very recent past.
The Falcons will also be looking to regain prowess on the defensive end of the field as they ranked 41st in scoring defense (12.15 goals allowed per game) after being one of the nation’s most respected defenses just two seasons ago, allowing 8.2 goals per game in 2019.
Senior Quentin Carlile (29GB/23CT) is Air Force’s top returning pole after leading the team in caused turnovers and being the second-leading ground ball-getting pole last season. James Chastin (19GB/11CT), who started all 13 games at close, and Chris Bardak (37GB/13CT), who played in all 13 games with one start and spent most of his time at LSM, each had strong seasons as freshmen and should only progress further this spring.
Junior Tommy Hellman looks to be a leader at the SSDM position once again following a 2021 campaign in which he recorded 26 ground balls and caused four turnovers.
In cage, Jason Rose looks very likely to get the starting nod full-time this season after playing in nine games and starting the final four last spring. He made 61 saves with a .526% save percentage as a sophomore.
At the faceoff dot, Dylan Frankhouse (64-for-138) and Brian Michael (65-for-133) split time last season and went a combined 47%. One or the other could very well assert themselves as the top option this season, or the Falcons could opt for a faceoff by committee approach as they did this past spring. The one thing that is certain is they will want to get that winning percentage to at or above 50% in 2022.