2022 ASUN Preview

(Photo Courtesy of Bellarmine Athletics)

After a one-year stint in 2014, the Atlantic Sun Conference (ASUN) has re-entered the men’s college lacrosse ether. Air Force and Bellarmine jumped over from the SoCon while Detroit Mercy came over from the MAAC. Cleveland State, Robert Morris, and Utah all come to the conference after spending various amounts of time as independents.

The new look ASUN features no members of its previous alignment in 2014 when now defunct Furman, High Point, Mercer, Jacksonville, Richmond, and VMI were members.

With the ASUN jumping back into the men’s game, they become the 10th conference to sponsor the sport.

Let’s take a look towards the 2022 season for the ASUN.

Air Force Falcons

Last season: 4-9 (3-3 SoCon), SoCon Semifinalist

Key Departures: Matthew O’Rourk (M), Quincy Peene (M), Vince Lombardi (D), Braden Host (G)

Key Returners: Ethan Grandolfo (A), Brenden Crouse (M), Aidan Tolen (A), Quentin Carlisle (D), Chris Bardark (D/LSM)

Transfer Additions: None

Air Force ended their SoCon era on a somewhat solid note as they upset Richmond during the final week of the regular season to earn themselves a spot in the conference tournament, only to lose to the Spiders a week later in the semifinals. Now in the ASUN, the Falcons are expected to be one of the top teams in the conference right away.

Looking to regain their prowess after having the 57th-best offense and 41st-best defense in DI lacrosse, Air Force returns a good chunk of talent that could help them raise those numbers back up. Ethan Grandolfo (23G/10A) and Aidan Tolen (11G/6A) return to highlight that Air Force attack unit that has traditionally been pretty strong. Brenden Crouse (14G/9A) returns to headline that midfield unit where they lose two big playmakers from a year ago. Defensively, Quentin Carlisle (29GB/23CT) is the top returning poles for a unit that could see Jason Rose anchor things in cage after starting the final four games a season ago. 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, both return as well. Maybe the biggest area of improvement for this Falcons team can come at the faceoff dot. Dylan Frankhouse (64-for-138) and Brian Michael (65-for-133) split time last season and went a combined 47%.

Bellarmine Knights

Last season: 5-10 (2-4 SoCon)

Key Departures: Eric Rubak (D/LSM), Brendan Fennell (D)

Key Returners: Landon Trout (A), Kyle Playsted (A), Jon Robbins (D), JC Higginbotham (G)

Transfer Additions: Jacob Berggren (D, Whittier)

In 2021, Bellarmine barley missed out on making their second-ever postseason appearance in program history. A loss to Air Force in March helped lead them into a three-way tie between the Falcons and Mercer heading into the final week of the season. The Falcons’ upset of Richmond ultimately held the Knights out of the postseason. With most of their roster returning, including 10 fifth-year returnees, the Knights could be very well set up to find success during the first year of the ASUN and be one of the four teams playing in Birmingham, Ala. in May.

Eric Rubak, as well as Brendan Fennell and Chase Fairbanks, who started six games in 2021, might be gone but this Bellarmine defense will be the highlight of this team again and can be a top-30 unit once more this spring. Jon Robbins is the top returning pole after a season in which he ended the year as the nation’s leader in caused turnovers (35) while also scooping up 39 ground balls. Fifth-year D/LSM Matt Ury and junior Ben Taylor, who was one of their primary reserves last season, will also be back. The Knights return starting goaltender JC Higginbotham who made 145 saves with a .523% save percentage to anchor this defense again, and bring back sophomore Denton MacDonald and junior Harrison Pate to lead what should be a strong stable of SSDMs. The biggest questions for this Bellarmine team lie on offense, where they ranked 61st in scoring offense (7.87 goals per game), and at the faceoff dot after going a measly 29% as a team last season, which put them dead last in college lacrosse in that category. Bellarmine’s top seven scorers are back, including fifth-year attackman Landon Trout who led the Knights in scoring last season (20G/13A). Trout, along with Kyle Playsted and Benny O’Rouk combined for 82 points (43% of the offense) last year.

Cleveland State Vikings

Last season: 3-7 (Independent)

Key Departures: Chase Baker (A), Tristian Hanna (A)

Key Returners: Jason Sullivan (A), Brendan Sigurdson (A), Evan Moskwa (FO)

Transfer Additions: Andrew Boniface (M, Hartford), Cameron Logan (G, Hartford)

This spring marks the first time in which Cleveland State has joined a conference as it has spent its first five years of existence as a program playing as an independent. Against their new conference foes, the Vikings have put up a 5-6 record over the past three seasons and all-time record of 7-10, having played each ASUN member at least twice since the Vikings’ inaugural season in 2017.

Immediately, it’s hard to predict what exactly this Vikings squad will be in 2022 and where they will fall in the ASUN pecking order. But you can almost count on them being somewhere in the mix with Bellarmine and Detroit Mercy for those final three spots in the conference. Cleveland State loses three of their top five point-getters from a year ago and has to replace a big piece on defense with Kevin Sobey leaving the program after a strong season in cage. Additionally, nine of the Vikings’ 13 defenseman listed on the roster are freshmen or sophomores. It’s safe to say that there are serious questions up and down this roster. Hartford transfers Andrew Boniface (midfield) and Cameron Logan (goalie) provide veteran experience and talent on both ends that should help this team. The one area where you can be certain things will be good for the Vikings is at the faceoff dot with Evan Moskwa returning for his sophomore season. He went 87-for-167 (52%) a year ago as one of the better freshmen in college lacrosse at the position.

Detroit Mercy Titans

Last season: 3-4 (3-2 MAAC)

Key Departures: Logan Shamblin (G), Alex Jarzembowski (FO)

Key Returners: Brett Erskine (A), Will Edell (A), Ruan Birney (A), Paul Manuszak (LSM)

Transfer Additions: Connor Baratta (M, Rutgers)

As a member of the MAAC, the Titans were pretty consistent competitors in one of the more unpredictable conferences in college lacrosse. Most recently, being in the MAAC title game in 2018 and falling in the semifinals in 2019. They fell 11-8 to St. Bonaventure in the conference quarterfinals in 2021 in a season in which they were restricted to a conference-only schedule.

Losing faceoff man Alex Jarzembowski and goalie Logan Shamblin is huge for this program, and those losses alone make the immediate future of this program foggy, especially so as they enter a new conference and come off a year in which they could only play conference opponents. However, aside from those two major losses, this Titans program does return a lot of talent from last season with leading scorer Brett Erskine returning for a fifth season alongside sophomore Will Edell and junior Ryan Birney. The trio served as the Titans’ top three point-getters last season and combined for 50 points. Paul Manuszak returns for a fifth season as the Titans’ top pole following a season in which he put up 36 ground balls and 13 caused turnovers as the MAAC’s LSM of The Year. He headlines this defense. Junior defenseman Owen Bruinius (8GB/6CT) is the second top returning pole for Detroit Mercy.

Robert Morris Colonials

Last season: 7-6 (Independent)

Key Departures: Ryan Smith (A), Jimmy Perkins (A), and Austin Popovich (M)

Key Returners: Jake Boudreau (M), Corson Kealey (A), James Leary (D), Liam Rosenthal (G)

Transfer Additions: None

The entire ASUN is entering a new era with the reformation of the conference, but in Moon Township it is much more than that. In addition to joining a new conference after a year as an independent, 2022 will mark the beginning of the Craig McDonald era at Robert Morris. McDonald takes over a program that is situated to be the class of the ASUN from the get-go as the Colonials have gone 33-21 since 2018, gave both Maryland and Virginia a challenge in the NCAA Tournament in 2018 and 2019, and are coming off a season in which they went 7-6 and faced all but one of the now ASUN foes, going 4-0 in such games and won all four by a combined score of 62-40.

Robert Morris suffers multiple significant personnel losses off last year’s squad, especially on the offensive end with Ryan Smith, Jimmy Perkins, and Austin Popovich all moving on after helping the Colonials to a top-15 offense a season ago. While those losses are big, I am not as concerned with the RMU offense as I would be with some other teams. Fifth-year midfielder Jake Boudreau (14G/14A) and attackman Corson Kealey (21G/5A) will be running the show on that end, and there is a whole host of guys who have been role players that are ready to step up. Defensively, the Colonials haven’t been as strong in recent years, ranking 56th in scoring defense last season (4.31 goals allowed per game). However, they were amongst the best caused turnover teams in the nation, ranking sixth nationally in that category (9.77 per game). Starting goalie Liam Rosenthal, as well as their top two poles in James Leary and Owen Down, will return. Even more problematic than their defense in recent years has been the Colonials’ performance at the faceoff dot. Steven Dellemonche is their top returner after going .415% last season.

Utah Utes

Last season: 4-7 (Independent)

Key Departures: Dan Tracy (D)

Key Returners: Tyler Bradbury (A), Jordan Hyde (A), Samuel Cabere (LSM), Cole Brams (FO)

Transfer Additions: Casey Wasserman (M, Towson)

The storyline surrounding the Utah Utes coming into the 2022 is similar to their aforementioned ASUN foes from the Keystone State and the Buckeye State as the Utes not only enter a conference after spending their first three seasons as an independent, but also with a new head coach as Andrew McMinn takes over the reigns in Salt Lake City. Utah went a combined 20-12 during their first three seasons of play. They played each of their new conference foes last season, except Detroit Mercy, and went 2-2.

Returning a majority of their talent from a team a year ago that was fairly young, the Utes should be in a good position to push towards new heights in 2022 and be amongst the best in the ASUN. Redshirt sophomore attackmen Tyler Bradbury (14G/25A) and Jordan Hyde (20G/4A) return to lead this offense following a 2021 season in which the pair led that unit as the team’s top two point-getters. The Utes bring back all five of their top scorers from a year ago. LSM Samuel Cabere is Utah’s most productive returning pole following a season in which he led the team in caused turnovers with 14 while also grabbing 58 ground balls. Rylan Lemons Joey Boylston also return for a defense that has a major question mark in cage. Zack Johns and Zion Dechesere shared duties in cage last season, and either could get that starting nod here in 2022. I am most confident in Utah at the faceoff dot with Cole Bram after a sophomore season in which he went 129-for-257 (.502%) at the dot. That includes a season-opening 60% (12-for-20) performance against Denver’s Alec Stathakis.

2022 ASUN Predictions

Here is a look at how I can see the ASUN 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 threw in a Transfer of The Year.

Final Standings:

  1. Robert Morris
  2. Utah
  3. Air Force
  4. Bellarmine
  5. Detroit Mercy
  6. Cleveland State

I am pretty confident as to who will be the top three teams in the ASUN, and while I think it will be Robert Morris that comes out on top I wouldn’t be surprised if Utah or Air Force does so either. They are the consensus top three in the conference and the games between them will be very intriguing. Due to their defensive success and overall veteran experience, I believe Bellarmine is the best of that second tier. I have more question about Detroit Mercy and Cleveland State than others in this conference, but if they put it all together I could very well see either of them possibly slip into that fourth spot.

Offensive Player of The Year: Jake Boudreau, M, Robert Morris

Defensive Player of The Year: Jon Robbins, D, Bellarmine

Transfer of The Year: Andrew Boniface, M, Cleveland State (from Hartford)

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