(Photo Courtesy of Drexel Athletics)
Conference play has either begun or is quickly approaching for the majority of teams across the college lacrosse landscape. And with what many label as the “second season” on the horizon, the identities of many teams have been laid out. Some have seen their identity develop and morph into what it has become from February through now and some have just simply been who we thought they were from the get-go. Others have surprised.
Some teams have branded themselves as fun to watch or intriguing in one way or another. Here is a look at five teams that I would very much put into that camp.
In the words of Ricky Bobby, “I wanna go fast.” I imagine Andrew McMinn uttered some version of that phrase upon arriving at the sport’s most western DI program this offseason as he brought one of the most exciting styles of lacrosse with him to Utah. And that pace of play is exactly what makes this Utes squad so fun to watch. Much of that fun and speed comes from the unique way in which Utah its midfielders.
Jared Andreala is one of the Utes’ starting midfielders, but he can also be seen on the faceoff wings and on the defensive end. Josh Rose, Tyler Schifko, and Justus Peterson are also seen making an impact in similar ways. Rueben Santana serves as the team’s top true SSDM, helping to bolster that rope unit alongside poles such as Sammy Camberea, who has been bumped down to close the last two games, and Colby Plotts. All three of those guys can and will get out and run, and score if given the opportunity. The Utes’ use of two-way players and ability to get opportunities in transition is a big reason why they lead the nation in clearing percentage (94%). In essence, they have the horses to play the way they do, and, so far, it has turned out well with them looking like the best team in the ASUN at the moment.
The Terriers have been on an absolute tear so far this season, boasting a 5-0 record as one of just four undefeated teams still remaining. So what makes the Terriers so fun? Well, to be honest, it’s a little bit of everything. For starters, the offense, highlighted by an attack line of Vince D’Alto (15G/11A), Timmy Ley (14G/9A), and Louis Perfetto (7G/11A) that is as dangerous as any in the Patriot League. Oh, and don’t forget about the elite shooting at the midfield from Jake Cates (13G/4A). And on the back end, Matt Garber anchors what may be one of the bigger and most athletic defenses in the conference with Patrick Morrison headlining things at close while Roy Meyer roams the field as one of the best LSMs in the game.
While this team is solid in the six-on-six on both ends, it’s two areas specifically that have been linchpins for the Terriers thus far. First, Maryland transfer Conor Calderone has been a revelation at the faceoff dot for the Terriers, going 68-for-121 (56%) to effectively turn around the Terriers’ faceoff success from a season ago. Secondly, Boston U.’s ride has been killer. Often pulling Garber out of the cage for the 10-man ride, the Terriers have held their opponents to an 84-for-112 (75%) mark in the clearing game thus far. In short, this is a very good Boston U. team with weapons all around, which makes them one of the best and scariest teams in the Patriot League.
Outside of a strong start in 2020, Princeton hadn’t done much in recent years. So it was natural for many, including myself, to be a little hesitant when regarding the Tigers coming into the season, even though they did return some solid top-end talent and have a number of highly-recruited younger players. For me, I wondered if Princeton had the depth needed to compete at the highest level. Through a 4-1 start with their only loss coming to Maryland and earning a top-three ranking, I would say that Matt Madalon’s squad certainly has proven that they do.
Alex Slusher (18G/5A), Chris Brown (12G/10A), and Sam English (10G/7A) have been as advertised as the leaders of the Princeton offense. But look below that group and you’ll still find a slew of talented playmakers who can and have made contributions this season. The best example is freshman Coulter Mackesy. Starting each of the last two games, he had his breakout performance against Rutgers (4G/2A) where he made some of the best highlight-reel plays of the season. Depth can be seen on the defensive end as well, where the Tigers’ have been missing their top pole in George Baughn for the past two games and another full-time starter, Pace Billings, last week. Freshman Colin Mulshine (7GB/2CT) has stepped up as a starter the past two contests and junior Jacob Stoebner made his second-ever start (first of the year) against Rutgers last week. The pair have helped bolster a unit anchored by Erik Peters in cage and led out front by Ben Finlay (9GB/8CT) and LSM Andrew Song (11GB/8CT).
Sometimes it’s the outlying storylines that draw people towards a team. That is certainly one aspect that has drawn me towards the Dragons over the past few weeks or so, but also they are really good and in a likely weaker CAA than last season, a repeat is possible. Drexel started the year 0-2 with losses to UMBC and Lafayette. Since, they have won four straight (UAlbany, LIU, Saint Joseph’s, Marquette). Those latter two wins are significant for two reasons, in my mind. 1.) They both featured redshirt freshman Drew McGill starting in goal over three-year starter Ross Blumenthal. 2.) Both wins came in dramatic fashion as they had to come back from down 7-2 against the Hawks and then beat Marquette in double overtime. Those games were also within a span of four days.
Jack Mulcahy (7G/13A) and Sean Donnelly (13G/6A) have led this Dragons offense as expected, and redshirt freshman Max Semple has shown to possibly be the next great British Columbia native to suit up for the Dragons, tallying 17 points (15G/2A) as the team’s third-leading scorer. Aidan Coll and Ryan Genord also serve as top-five scorers once again. But where this team may be the most interesting is on defense. McGill and Blumenthal have shown to be capable goalies while Brennan Greenwald (5-foot-10, 183-pounds) and Sean Quinn (6-foot, 200-pounds) play bigger than their size to form a two-headed monster at close, and George Grippo still looks like the best SSDM in the CAA. The biggest stat for this unit: an 80% success rate on man-down defense. They are tied for first in the nation in that category with their next opponent, Villanova.
The Buckeyes came into the season with little hype at all. They had no players on any preseason All-American list and weren’t a top 20 team. Heck, I even picked them to finish last in the Big Ten. (I am sorry) Through this point in the season, Ohio State has done what any team should do that came in with little to no hype: Prove everybody wrong. And at the forefront of the Buckeyes’ effort and strong 5-1 start, which has earned them a place in the top-10 each of the past three weeks, has been the play of Jack Myers and the Ohio State offense.
Myers, who leads the Buckeyes with 38 points (18G/20A), is the heartbeat of this offense. Running things through Myers ‘X’ you’ll see this unit often use inverts and big-littles behind the cage to create mismatches, as well opportunities for cutters and step-down shooters above GLE. This formula is not only fun to watch but has also been wildly successful. The way the Buckeyes have initiated from behind the cage has helped them be a top-three offense and have the nation’s best man-up unit, converting on 77% of their opportunities. That includes a 5-of-5 mark last week against Notre Dame. It also helps that the Buckeyes have two good options at the faceoff dot in Justin Inacio and Drew Blanchard that can often ensure a possession advantage to let that offense go to work. And let’s not forget the wing play of guys like Trent DiCicco.