2022 Big Ten Preview

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics)

The Big Ten is one of the best conferences in college lacrosse, as is evidence by them having at least one representative playing on Championship Weekend each of the past two seasons. That includes Maryland being the NCAA Runner-up last spring, which was a much different season for the Big Ten as they played a conference-only schedule.

Here is a look at how the Big Ten shook out last season where the conference had every team play each other twice:

*Big Ten Regular Season and Tournament Champs

  1. Maryland – 15-1 (10-0)*
  2. Rutgers – 9-4 (8-2)
  3. Ohio State – 4-7 (4-6)
  4. Penn State – 4-7 (4-6)
  5. Johns Hopkins – 4-9 (2-8)
  6. Michigan – 3-9 (2-8)

Maryland ran through the conference last season and didn’t suffer a loss until the national title game against Virginia. Rutgers’ only two Big Ten losses came against the Terrapins as they were the clear-cut second team in the conference and saw their season end in a NCAA Quarterfinals loss to North Carolina. Ohio State, Penn State, Johns Hopkins, and Michigan made up that second tier of the Big Ten that seemed to change weekly with how close and competitive many of those contests were.

Remember, the Big Ten Tournament expanded their conference tournament to let everyone in last season and will keep that formant this season as well.

Now let’s turn the focus towards the 2022 season.

Johns Hopkins Blue Jays

Last season: 4-9 (2-8), Big Ten Runner-up

Key Departures: Cole Williams (A/M), Jared Reinson (D), Conner Delaney (LSM)

Key Returners: Connor DeSimone (A), Joey Epstein (A), Owen McManus (D), Jack Lyne (D), Josh Kirson (G)

Transfer Additions: Russell Maher (A/M, Virginia), Emmett Jennings (D, Providence), Gib Versfeld (G, Amherst)

No fall ball, no fans in the stands, and a Big Ten-only schedule was the hand Johns Hopkins was dealt in 2021. But despite those challenges, which led to a slow start, the Blue Jays first season under Peter Milliman ended with optimism as they beat Penn State 15-7 in the conference quarterfinals before upsetting eventual NCAA Quarterfinalist Rutgers 12-10 in the semifinals. They fell to arch-rival Maryland 12-10 in the Big Ten title game, marking their second close loss to the conference’s top team in a span of two weeks.

John Grant Jr.’s offense will see two of its top point-getters return from a season ago. Connor DeSimone led the Blue Jays’ in scoring last season with 45 points off 25 goals and 20 assists and returns for a fifth and final season of college lacrosse. Joey Epstein (22G/13A) also returns for his senior season at the attack spot to help headline this offense, which was a top-three unit in the conference in points per game (17.31) last season. Senior Garret Degnon (23G/2A), Jacob Angelus (12G/12A), and Jack Keogh(3G/8A), who returns for an extra season, all return after leading the way at the midfield last season. I am pretty confident in the top-tier talent that this Hopkins offense possess, and especially now having a season and a fall under their belt with this new coaching staff, things could really go up on that end. That may even be more of a reality with the possession advantage the Blue Jays could have with Matt Narewski back at the dot. He went 160-for-284 (.563%) last season.

The same is true on the defensive end with Jamison Koesterer’s unit returning some solid talent, and adding key transfers to help bolster things on that end. Owen McManus (10GB/9CT) and Jack Lyne (10GB/6CT) are the top returning poles on that end. Johns Hopkins has also added former Providence defenseman Emmett Jennings via the transfer portal. Jennings comes to Homewood after a solid career at Providence and is coming off a season in which he had 33 ground balls and 12 caused turnovers. Their goalie room also added talent via the portal with former Amherst (DIII) goalie Gib Versfeld coming in. Josh Kirson returns after starting last season, making 71 saves with a .397% save percentage.

Maryland Terrapins

Last season: 15-1 (10-0), Big Ten Champs, NCAA Runner-up

Key Departures: Jared Bernhardt (A), Nick Grill (D), Justin Shockey (FO)

Key Returners: Logan Wisnauskas (A), Daniel Maltz (A), Kyle Long (M), Bubba Fairman (M), Anthony DeMaio (M), Matt Rahill (D), Brett Makar (D), Logan McNaney (G)

Transfer Additions: Owen Murphy (A, Johns Hopkins), Keegan Khan (A, Villanova), Jonathan Donville (M), Gavin Tygh (FO, Virginia)

Losing a Tewarraton winner in Jared Bernhardt is a tough loss for any program, and it is a massive for Maryland. But as I say every year, Maryland doesn’t rebuild they reload. The Terrapins came within a goal of going undefeated and claiming their second national title in four full seasons in 2021. And I wouldn’t put it passed them to make Championship Weekend and compete for a national title once again in 2022. John Tillman has had Maryland rolling like a well-oiled machine for a little over a decade now and there aren’t many programs that can say they have had as much success on a consistent basis as the Terrapins.

Maryland ended the last season with the nation’s second-best scoring offense as they averaged 15.94 goals per game and they could very well have a top-three or top-five unit again this spring. Logan Wisnauskas is the leader of this offense, being handed that heralded No. 1 jersey, and coming off a campaign last spring in which he tallied 72 points off 41 goals and 31 assists as the Terrapins’ second-leading scorer. A slew of experienced talent returns along with Wiskauskas in attackman Daniel Maltz (40G/10A), senior midfielder Kyle Long (16G/28A), and Bubba Fairman (19G/7A), who also returns for a fifth season. Also expect Eric Malever (20G/16A) to get some clock after a solid freshman campaign. Additionally, this Terrapins offense is made even scarier with the additions of attackman Keegan Khan and midfielder Jonathan Donville via the transfer portal.

The Maryland defense is another unit that should strike fear into their opponents eyes with Matt Rahill and Brett Makar returning as the top two poles, and Owen Prybylski grad transferring in from Villanova. Maryland will also return their top LSM in John Geppert and SSDM Joshua Coffman, who headline what could be a very strong rope unit for the Terrapins this spring. And anchoring it all on the back end will be Logan McNaney. The junior goalie who first made his name known during a strong freshman campaign in 2020, started all 16 games for the Terrapins last season and made 168 saves with a .522% save percentage. I have the utmost confidence in this Maryland team from top to bottom with the exception of the faceoff dot where Luke Wierman is the top returner after going 87-for-192 (.453%) last season as the primary backup. He is joined in the faceoff room by junior Virginia transfer Gavin Tygh and freshman Shea Keetler. If they can get that question answered quickly, I don’t see this season going any other way for Maryland other than competing for a Big Ten and national title once again.

Michigan Wolverines

Last season: 3-9 (2-8), Big Ten Semifinalist

Key Departures: Kevin Mack (A)

Key Returners: Josh Zawada (A), Michael Boehm (A), Jake Bonomi (M), Nick Rowlett (FO), Ryan Schreiber (D), Josh Kiracofe (G)

Transfer Additions: None

Michigan won just three games a season ago, but those three wins came in big ways. The Wolverines beat No. 17 Penn State in mid-March before taking down Johns Hopkins in early April to record their first-ever win over the Blue Jays and beating arch-rival Ohio State in the Big Ten Quarterfinals to record their first postseason win in program history. They also saw multiple close losses, falling to Ohio State 13-10 in an early-season contest that saw things tied up with less than a minute left and losing to both Penn State and Rutgers by one goal during their final two regular season games. After hitting those program milestones and seeing a lot of growth last season, the Wolverines want to and could very well build on that in 2022.

Offense has been the highlight of this Michigan program for multiple years now and that doesn’t look to change with Josh Zawada (24G/15A) back as their leading-scorer while Michael Boehm (21G/15A), Jake Bonomi (13G/1A), and others also return. Also expect to see multiple young guys step up once again on that end of the ball with freshman attackman Ryan Cohen stepping into the starting lineup for the injured Bryce Clay. Graham Hertzberg and Aidan Mulholland are also expected to get a lot of clock as freshmen and provide a certain amount of depth for this offense. Beyond just the talent this offense possess and the confidence I have in this group to produce, I also expect them to profit heavily off of possession advantages with Nick Rowlett returning at the faceff dot after a stellar season in 2021 in which he went 172-for-320 (.538%) and earned first-team All-Big Ten honors.

Defense is the main area of concern for the Wolverines coming into the 2022 season, and the one area where I have the most hesitation with this team. Michigan returns their entire starting defense with defensemen Andrew Darby, Ryan Schreiber, and Jack Whitney, as well goalie Josh Kiracofe all back. The Wolverines allowed 15.8 goals per game through the first six games of the season and 13.6 during the final six, so improvement was had for the Michigan defense last season. Whether or not they can continue that trend, and specifically if they can put together a strong rope unit with freshmen Lucas Delgado and Justin Ennis likely to bolster that unit as SSDMs and truly get going in transition is the real questions concerning this defense coming into 2022. If they can, we could possibly see a big jump for the Wolverines this spring.

Ohio State Buckeyes

Last season: 4-7 (4-6), Big Ten Quarterfinalist

Key Departures: Tre LeClaire (A), Ryan Terefenko (M), Eric Wenz (D), Alec Van De Bovenkamp (G)

Key Returners: Jack Myers (A), Jackson Reid (A), Griffin Hughes (M), Jusitin Inacio (FO)

Transfer Additions: Jason Knox (A, Hobart), Drew Blanchard (FO, Hobart), Tyler Gallagher (D, Lynchburg), Noah Mendoza (D, Lafayette), Caton Johnson (G, North Carolina)

In a season in which Big Ten teams were constrained to playing each other, Ohio State was one of the most inconsistent teams in the conference despite some top-tier fifth-years headlining their roster. After a very strong showing in their season opener at Johns Hopkins, which yielded a 14-8 Buckeye victory, Ohio State would only enjoy three more wins – going 4-7 on the year. That included going 2-1 against arch-rival Michigan, winning twice in the regular season before falling, 15-11, to the Wolverines in the Big Ten quarterfinals.

A big part of this Buckeyes team in 2022 will likely be the impact of transfers as Nick Myers and this coaching staff made some crucial moves in the portal over the summer, adding a pair of Hobart transfer’s in attackman Jason Knox and faceoff man Drew Blanchard, while also landing former North Carolina goalie Caton Johnson, former Lafayette defenseman Noah Mendoza, and Lynchburg (DIII) defenseman Tyler Gallagher. Knox bolsters an offense that that averaged 11.36 goals per game last season and sees their their first, third, and fourth-leading scorers from a year ago in attackmen Jack Myers (34G/11A) and Jackson Reid (15G/11A), and midfielder Griffin Hughes (16G/3A). Blanchard creates a solid one-two punch at the dot with Inacio.

The Buckeyes bring in Johnson and return senior Skylar Wahlund, who started the first three contests of 2021. Johnson is the likely starter after a strong showing with the Tar Heels, where he started 13 games during the 2019 and 2020 seasons. Jacob Snyder (7GB/9CT) and George Walsh (8GB/1CT), who started and played in eight contests this past season, are the only two full-time starters returning at close defense. Additionally, freshman Bobby Van Buren is a name to know and be excited about on this Ohio State defense. A five-star recruit by Inside Lacrosse and shined at the Under Armour All-American game this past summer, and could be a major impact for years to come in Columbus.

Penn State Nittany Lions

Last season: 4-7 (4-6), Big Ten Quarterfinalist

Key Departures: Mac O’Keefe (A), Dylan Foulds (A), Gerard Arceri (FO), Nick Cardile (D), Colby Kneese (G)

Key Returners: TJ Malone (A), Dan Reaume (M), Brayden Peck (D), Aleric Fyock (G)

Transfer Additions: Tate Gallagher (M, Richmond)

2021 was the worst season for Penn State under Jeff Tambromi and worst since 2010 as they won just four games against a challenging Big Ten-only schedule. Heading into this spring, it will be a bit of a new-look in many respects for the Nittany Lions as new faces will take over on both ends of the field and this team looks to bounce back after an injury-riddled down year last spring.

Over the past two seasons, Penn State has lost two of the program’s best players of all-time in Grant Ament (2020), who is the NCAA’s all-time assists leader, and Mac O’Keefe, who is the NCAA leader in career goals (213), this past year. Despite those losses, I still like this Penn State offense and the potential they have even with some of the question marks and youth. Senior attackman TJ Malone (25G/18A) returns as the top point-getter for the Nittany Lions and will be the leader on that end once again. Midfielders Dan Reaume (8G/4A)and Jack Kelly (6G/4A) are other top returners. Younger guys, such as redshirt sophomore attackman Canyon Birch are expected to see increased roles and make sizable jumps.

The two areas where are the biggest questions for this Penn State team lie is on defense and at the faceoff dot. The Nittany Lions were second-to-last in the Big Ten in scoring defense last season (13.37 goals allowed per game) and will be led by first-year defensive coordinator Mike Murphy. Fifth-year Brayden Peck, senior Brett Funk and junior Sutton Boland are three returning poles that could very well help this defense progress and Richmond SSDM grad transfer Tate Gallagher, who switched to the position last season after playing three years on offense, provides strong play in the middle of the field. In cage, Aleric Fyock is the top returner after seeing action in five contests last season, which included two starts against Ohio State and Johns Hopkins late in the season, and posting a .526% save percentage off 41 saves. Freshman Jack Fracyon is another guy to watch at the position. Jake Glatz is the top returner at the dot after going 30-for-63 (.476%) as a backup in 2021. There are some big shoes to replace at the position as well with Gerard Arceri gone.

Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Last season: 9-4 (8-2), NCAA Quarterfinalist

Key Departures: Adam Charalambides (A), Connor Kirst (A), Kieran Mullins (A), Garrett Bullett (D)

Key Returners: David Sprock (M), Shane Knobloch (M), Ethan Rall (LSM), Bobby Russo (D), Colin Kirst (G)

Transfer Additions: Mitch Bartolo (A/M), Ronan Jacoby (A, Wesleyan), Brian Cameron (A, North Carolina), Sam Stephan (FO, Mount St. Mary’s), Brad Apgar (D, Salisbury), Bryant Boswell (D, Bucknell), Toby Burgdorf (G, Providence)

Rutgers had a historic season in 2021, putting an end to the program’s 16-year NCAA Tournament drought and coming within a goal of making it to Championship Weekend as they fell to North Carolina in the NCAA Quarterfinals. Coming into 2022, this Rutgers team must replace 165 points lost off last seasons squad and is highlighted heavily by additions Brian Brecht and his staff were able to grab via the transfer portal this summer. Will that help the Scarlet Knights remain one of the best in the Big Ten and help lead them back to the NCAA Tournament or not?

Midfielder Mitch Bartolo and attackmen Ronan Jacoby and Brian Cameron – who will have two years of eligibility – come to Rutgers with a combined 256 career points following strong careers at Penn, Wesleyan, and North Carolina, and will join forces with returning midfielders in senior David Sprock (17G/10A) and sophomore Shane Knobloch (16G/5A). That bunch, along with returners in Ross Scott (9G/5A) and Ryan Gallagher (7G/4A) provide some hope that the Scarlet Knights won’t drop off on that end of the field a year after having one of the best offenses in the nation and conference. In fact, they could still be a top-25 unit again this spring, which sounds crazy given all this team had last season that they don’t now. And if Sam Stephan can up the play at the faceoff dot and give this offense that possession advantage at the dot, this unit could really soar.

On the opposite end of the field, the Scarlet Knights have improved over the last few seasons and it does look like defense, at least in the interim, could be a real strength of this team with as many veterans they bring back and bring in on that end. Former Salisbury (DIII) and Bucknell defensemen Brad Apgar and Bryant Boswell can plug holes where needed with the loss Garrett Bullett and Zach Masessa. LSM Ethan Rall (26GB/14CT) and defensemen Bobby Russo (28GB/11CT) and Jaryd Jean-Felix (20GB/12CT) all return, as well as SSDM Brennan Kamish. That aline should be a pretty strong unit that can also ignite transition offense, as well as being stingy on the back end. Colin Kirst returns in cage as the starter and Toby Burgdorf comes in from Providence to create one of the best goalie rooms in the country. Simply put, this defense has talent at every position and there is no reason they shouldn’t improve again in 2022.

2022 Big Ten Predictions

Here is a look at how I can see the Big Ten 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. Maryland
  2. Rutgers
  3. Johns Hopkins
  4. Penn State
  5. Michigan
  6. Ohio State

It is pretty clear that Maryland is the top team in the conference once again, and probably so by a country mile. After that, I have to put Rutgers at second just with how talented that team is despite some of the questions that surround how that roster gels. Johns Hopkins and Penn State I both see having strong seasons after not so great showings last season, and see them clearly being the top of the next tier after the Scarlet Knights. Michigan and Ohio State are two teams which I think have a lot of potential, but with some of the questions they have in various areas I will have to see it before I believe it. Michigan, especially, I think could outperform what I perform where I have them.

Offensive Player of The Year: Logan Wisnauskas, A, Maryland

Defensive Player of The Year: Colin Kirst, G, Rutgers

Transfer of The Year: Keegan Khan, A, Maryland (from Villanova)

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