(Photo Courtesy of North Carolina Athletics)
The ACC had a hallmark year in 2021 as three of the four Championship Weekend teams hailed from the conference and the conference housed the national champion. With the Ivy League returning and the Big Ten reverting back to a normal schedule, it’s unlikely that the ACC will have such as season as they did a year ago. But you can still bet on the conference to be represented on Championship Weekend and possibly produce the national champion for the third consecutive time.
Here is a look at how the ACC shook out last season:
*Co-ACC Champs !National Champs
- Duke – 14-3 (4-2)*
- North Carolina – 13-3 (4-2)*
- Notre Dame – 8-4 (3-3)
- Virginia – 14-4 (2-4)!
- Syracuse – 7-6 (2-4)
Duke, North Carolina, and Virginia all advanced to the NCAA semifinals a year ago while Notre Dame barley missed out. Virginia ended the season on top as they beat Maryland in the national title game. Syracuse fell in the first round of the tournament.
Remember, the ACC did away with their conference tournament last season and has kept that in place this year so the regular season champion will be crowned the conference champ. The conference also altered scheduling last season so that some teams play each other twice. That wrinkle will also stay for the foreseeable future.
Enough about last season, let’s turn our focus towards the upcoming 2022 campaign.
Duke Blue Devils
Last season: 14-3 (4-2), Co-ACC champs, NCAA Semifinalist
Key Departures: Michael Sowers (A), Sean Lowrie (M), JT Giles-Harris (D)
Key Returners: Brennan O’Neil (A), Joe Robertson (A), Nakeie Montgomery (M), Tyler Carpenter (D/LSM), Kenny Brower (D), Mike Adler (G), Jake Naso (FO)
Transfer Additions: Sean Lulley (A, Penn), Grant Mitchell (M, Ohio State), Jack Frisoli (M, Harvard), Gavin Lindsay (SSDM, Georgetown), Jack Zukowski (SSDM, Marist)
If there was ever a case of being too talented or too deep, Duke lacrosse in 2021 might be the perfect example. A team that was so highly-regarded coming into the year practically flatlined by season’s end, especially on offense. Duke returns a good chunk of that offense from a year ago, and while I am confident in saying Brennan O’Neill and Joe Robertson will stay producing at the same level, as well as Nakeie Montgomery, it’s hard to say what this offense will be. If they play Sean Lulley right and figure out a consistent first midfield (Duke started nine different of variations of midfield lines last season), this could be an offense that soars. But if they don’t the inconsistencies on a week-to-week basis will come back to bite them in ACC play and in the postseason.
Tyler Carpenter doesn’t get nearly the respect he deserves. Playing both LSM and close last season he recorded 72 ground balls 23 caused turnovers. I fully expect him to be the most impactful pole for this Blue Devils team and be in the conversation as the best in the ACC. He is all over the field every game. With Kenny Brower also back and Wilson Stephenson likely to play a bigger role after starting the final nine games of the season following nearly two years of working back from that gruesome leg injury in 2019, this is a formidable group of poles. And with what Gavin Lindsay can bring at the SSDM position and with Max Adler in cage, I am confident this can be a defense as a whole that can continue being a top-20 unit despite the loss of JT Giles-Harris.
Faceoff is the one position where I have no hesitation with this Duke squad. It is Jake Naso’s job to lose. He came onto the scene strong as a freshman, going 227-for-361 (.629%) as the Blue Devils’ top option and ending the year ranked 10th in faceoff win percentage nationally.
North Carolina Tar Heels
Last season: 13-3 (4-2), Co-ACC champs, NCAA Semifinalist
Key Departures: William Perry (M), Tanner Cook (M), Justin Anderson (M), Brian Cameron (A), Will Bowen (D)
Key Returners: Chris Gray (A), Nicky Solomon (A), Jacob Kelly (A), Matt Wright (LSM), Zac Tucci (FO), Connor Maher (SSDM), Colin Krieg (G)
Transfer Additions: Dominic Pryor (SSDM)
The Tar Heels’ attack unit, headlined by Chris Gray, highlights this offense and the team as a whole coming into 2022. Gray, along with Nicky Solomon and Jacob Kelly were one of the best attack lines in college lacrosse last season as they helped lead the Tar Heels to Championship Weekend and should be again this spring. Where the hesitation comes in concerning the Carolina offense is at the midfield position. Losing an entire midfield line is never easy, especially with as veteran a unit as the Tar Heels had at the position last season. That fact will undoubtedly lead to this midfield unit being one of the greener in the conference in 2022, which could mean this offense might take a bit more time to get going even with as great of an attack unit as they have. No team can ever lean solely on one position group to get the job done.
Defensively, North Carolina’s strength coming into the season looks to be in the middle of the field as they were a great riding team a year ago, especially their attack unit, and good at defending against it as the 7th-best clearing team nationally. With LSM Matt Wright and SSDM Connor Maher returning, and the addition of SSDM Dominic Pryor, this Carolina rope unit should be strong once again. That will only booster their defense up top. Down low it’s a different story with the loss of Will Bowen. While Colin Krieg is a guy anyone should have confidence in as their starting goalie after the season he had a year ago, one might want to wait a few games in before passing any judgement on the Tar Heels close defense. Sean Morris returns for a fifth season as the team’s only full-time starter at close returning from a season ago.
Like their rivals on Tobacco Road, confidence in this Carolina faceoff unit should be pretty strong with Zach Tucci and Andrew Tyeryar both returning. Tucci went 146-for-257 (.568%) and ended the season ranked 22nd nationally in faceoff percentage. Tyeryar went 110-for-212 (.519%) and ranked 32nd in DI in faceoff percentage. This group also adds a highly-rated freshman in Chase Mullins.
Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Last season: 8-4 (4-2), NCAA Quarterfinalist
Key Departures: Will Yorke (M), Jack Kielty (D), Kyle Thorton (D), Kyle Gallagher (FO)
Key Returners: Pat Kavanagh (A), Griffin Westlin (A), Wheaton Jackobioce (M), Arden Cohen (D), Liam Entemann (G)
Transfer Additions: Matt Fedorjaka (M, Bucknell), Mike Hawkins (A/M, Colgate), Matt Douglas (LSM/D, Lehigh), Jason Reynolds (D, Richmond)
In 2021, the Irish came within a goal of making it back to Championship Weekend for a sixth time in program history, falling to eventual NCAA runner-up Maryland, 14-13, in overtime in the quarterfinals. It was a gut-wrenching end to a season in which many believed Notre Dame may have had their most talented team ever. While this team does lose a lot, they still have a team that looks capable of competing with the best of the best. Where that can be seen the most is on offense with Pat Kavanagh leading the way. But Kavanagh isn’t the entire offense as Griffin Westlin and Wheaton Jackobioce, as well as Eric Dobson and Quinn McCahon return to make up a very strong core at both the attack and midfield spots.
Defense and faceoff were the two positions where the Irish were bolstered the most by transfers last season, and that should hold true for at least the Notre Dame defense again here in 2022. Jason Reynolds and Matt Douglas arrive in South Bend after strong careers at their previous stops and fill holes nicely on the back end with Arden Cohen being the only returning starter at pole from last season. Cohen will highlight that close defense unit that could also see younger players like Ross Burgmaster step up. Liam Entemann anchors this entire defense in cage and, despite the questions of how this unit may gel together in 2022, provides some solace along with Cohen to Irish fans about defense remaining the pride of this Notre Dame team.
Kyle Gallagher and Charlie Leonard are both gone, which leaves a massive gaping hole at the faceoff dot for this Irish squad. Sophomore Colin Hagstrom and senior Junior Colin Almeida are the only two returners at the position. Almeida is the only one who saw any action last season, going 5-for-10 (50%) in three appearances. The Irish also bring in freshman Will Lynch out of Chaminade (N.Y.). In short, it’ll be a stark contrast at the position after what this team had a year ago.
Last season: 7-6 (2-4), NCAA First Rounder
Key Departures: Stephen Rehfuss (A), Jamie Trimboli (M), Mitch Wykoff (D), Peter Dearth (SSDM), Deake Porter (G)
Key Returners: Owen Hiltz (A), Tucker Dordevic (M), Brendan Curry (M), Brett Kennedy (D), Grant Murphy (D), Jakob Phaub (FO)
Transfer Additions: Bobby Gavin (G)
Following a hectic season that ended with John Desko’s retirement and Gary Gait’s subsequent move from the Orange’s women’s head coach to men’s head coach, it seems there is fresh blood in Syracuse – literally and figuratively. Owen Hiltz was one of the best freshmen in the country last season, tallying 48 points off 29 goals and 19 assists, and asserted himself as a leader on this offense. With Tucker Dordevic and Brendan Curry also returning, this Syracuse offense has one heck of a core to build around.
The same can be said on defense with recent Virginia transfer Bobby Gavin giving the Orange another option in cage to replace and fill the big shoes left by Drake Porter in cage. Out in front of the cage, Grant Murphy and Brett Kennedy are the top two returning poles and will be the leaders at that position again this season. Nick DiPietro should assume a similar role if he returns 100% after missing a chunk of the season due to injury last season. Brandon Aviles is the Orange’s top returning SSDM following a solid freshman campaign last spring in which he recorded 14 ground balls and six caused turnovers. This unit returns a lot but after ranking 54th nationally (last in ACC) in scoring defense a year ago, allowing 14.08 goals per game, there is a lot of work to be done.
At the faceoff dot, the Orange return senior Jakob Phaub. He has been Syracuse’s primary option at the dot for the past three seasons and went 345-for-579 (.596%) last spring. Nothing should change too much at that position this spring.
Last season: 14-4 (2-4), NCAA Champion
Key Departures: Charlie Bertrand (A), Ian Laviano (A), Dox Aitken (M), Jared Conners (LSM), Kyle Kology (D), Alex Rode (G)
Key Returners: Connor Shellenberger (A), Matt Moore (A), Payton Cormier (A/M), Cade Saustad (D), Grayson Sallade (SSDM), Petey LaSalla (FO)
Transfer Additions: None
Back to back national champions, no team has shown how to get hot in May better in recent years than the Virginia Cavaliers. Despite losing quite a bit off last year’s squad, this is still one of the more formidable teams in college lacrosse. Connor Shellenberger exploded last season and is now the face of this Cavaliers offense with Matt Moore and Payton Cormier joining in to create one heck of a core on that end. Virginia ended last season with the nation’s third-ranked scoring offense and could very well maintain a top-five or top-10 unit on that end in 2022.
Defense was one of the most glaring areas of improvement from start to finish last season for Virginia, and it’s also where they lose the most with Jared Conners and Alex Rode both gone, as well as Kyle Kology. Cole Kastner, Scott Bower, and Cade Saustad are the Cavaliers’ top returning poles at close and make up a solid group of poles with a ton of potential. Grayson Sallade looks to be the leader of that rope unit as the Cavaliers’ top returning SSDM. In cage is where the biggest question mark lies on defense, and it looks like highly-rated freshman Matthew Nunes, who saw a lot of action this fall, will be getting the starting nod. He has some very big shoes to fill following behind Alex Rode.
Nothing should be different at the faceoff dot with Petey LaSalla is returning. He went 277-for-167 (.624%) and finished the season ranked 12th nationally in faceoff win percentage a year ago.
2022 ACC Predictions
Here is a look at how I can see the ACC shaking out this season, as well as who I would pick right now as the conference’s Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year. I also added in a Transfer Player of The Year to predict who will be the most impactful transfer.
- Notre Dame
- North Carolina
Predicting the ACC is always tough because the margins between every team is razor thin year in and year out. Honestly, my prediction could be completely flipped upside down and I wouldn’t be surprised. That’s the ACC. However, I am confident in saying that Virginia and Duke are the most complete teams coming into the season and I feel like Notre Dame, UNC, and Syracuse are maybe a few steps behind with some of the major questions they have.
Offensive Player of The Year: Chris Gray, A, North Carolina
Defensive Player of The Year: Arden Cohen, D, Notre Dame
Transfer of The Year: Sean Lulley, A, Duke (from Penn)