Is 2022 The Year Saint Joseph’s Wins The NEC?

(Photo Courtesy of Saint Joseph’s Athletics)

Since Taylor Wray’s arrival on Hawks Hill ahead of the 2012 season and the program’s subsequent move to the NEC in 2014, Saint Joseph’s lacrosse has seemingly done nothing but rise.

From an 0-12 campaign the year prior to Wray’s arrival to five NEC tournament appearances in eight seasons in the NEC, which includes four conference title game appearances, the Hawks have risen to the top of their conference and asserted themselves as a perennial title contender.

The only logical step in the progression of this Hawks program is to win the NEC, a feat they have come close to achieving but ultimately failed to do, faltering in the conference title game each time they have been there (2015, 2016, 2018, 2021).

Last spring, the Hawks went 9-4 overall (8-0 NEC) and came into the NEC title game on a nine-game winning streak that included a 19-11 conference semifinal victory over LIU. However, the Hawks’ season would come to an end, yet again, in the NEC title game as Bryant handed them a 16-10 loss, using second-half 10-2 run to secure the victory and earn that coveted automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Following a season the likes of which the Hawks experienced a year ago, and with as much talent as this squad returns, the expectation is that this program will not only be amongst the best in the NEC once again this spring, but back in the conference title game for a second consecutive season and fifth time in program history. The question is, will 2022 be the season that Saint Joseph’s breaks the trend and finally reigns supreme in the NEC?

There is talent up and down the field that makes this program one of the top in the conference, and one of the more exciting mid-majors. But the biggest asset for Wray’s squad lies at the faceoff dot with Zach Cole. Named the NEC Player of The Year in 2021, Cole went 222-for-325 (.683%) and ended the year ranked fifth in DI in faceoff percentage. That included two regular-season performances in which he went at least 90% at the dot (Merrimack, Bryant).

Cole has been the x-factor for this team over the past few seasons and that fact will certainly remain true in 2022 as well with the faceoff man getting ready to enter his senior season on Hawk Hill.

The senior faceoff man is not the only major impact returnee on this Saint Joseph’s squad as the Hawks will see all but two of their top five scores from an offense that ranked 23rd nationally last season (12.38 goals per game) and third in the NEC, which saw four teams amongst the top-25 in scoring offense last spring. The Hawks also ended the season ranked 14th in assists per game (7.92), 21st points per game (20.31).

Returning to lead this Saint Joseph’s offense is attackmen Ryan Doran (23G/15A) and Matt Bohmer (31G/6A), and senior midfielder Levi Anderson (20G/7A). The trio served as the second, third, and fourth-leading scorers for the Hawks last season and with the loss of both Matt Tufano, who led the team in scoring, and Evan Campbell could likely see an increase in production this spring.

In addition to that core, midfielder Tucker Brown is amongst the many role players and reserves who could very well take a sizable step forward, and be much more productive on this offense in 2022. Brown put up 16 points off 14 goals and two assists last season as the Hawks’ top reserve midfielder.

Things look very similar as the Hawks are coming off a campaign in which they featured the nation’s 21st-best scoring defense and best in the NEC as they allowed 10.38 goals per game. Additionally, they only suffer two major losses on that end of the field with the graduation of defenseman Tyler Makar and LSM Sean Voelkel.

Junior Patrick Clemens and senior Logan Blondell are the Hawks’ top two returning poles from a year ago, and look to be the leaders on the back end this season. Clemens is coming off a breakout campaign in 2021 where he tallied 36 ground balls and 17 caused turnovers, playing in all 13 contests with 12 starts. Blondell started in all eight of the game he saw action in last season, scooping up 10 ground balls and causing nine turnovers.

Clemens and Blondell look to be the leaders on a close defense that could be a bit on the younger side again this season. Cole Peters returns as the Hawks’ top SSDM and should be one of the leaders of that rope unit this spring. He recorded 18 ground balls and nine caused turnovers last year while also tallying three goals and two assists for five points.

In cage, the Hawks played musical goalies early on with Jack Zullo starting the first three games. However, after seeing significant action as a backup early on Tucker Almany assumed the role of starter for the remainder of the season, making 94 saves with a .487% save percentage. Almany returns for a fifth season of college lacrosse to anchor this defense for a second season in a row.

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