(Photo Courtesy of North Carolina Athletics)
Welcome to week nine of the college lacrosse season, Y’all!
In addition to high-profile matchups in the ACC, Big Ten, and Ivy League, this weekend will see conference play get underway for the ASUN, Big East, and CAA.
There wasn’t much action during the midweek at all. Binghamton and Lehigh went to battle on Tuesday, as did Colgate Cornell. Additionally, Lafayette traveled to play Sacred Heart in a game that was rescheduled from a few weeks ago.
Tobacco Road Showdown
Don’t be fooled. The biggest North Carolina-Duke game isn’t in New Orleans at 9:00 on Saturday night. No. It’s in Chapel Hill at 2pm.
The game will mark the first of two meetings between the pair of rivals this season as Joe Breschi’s Tar Heels welcome in the Blue Devils for what could be a very crucial matchup for either team.
North Carolina comes into Saturday with a 7-2 record (0-1 ACC) and coming off a surprising performance a week ago where they found themselves down to Bellarmine heading into the fourth and had to pull together an 8-0 run to get out with the 15-8 win. A big part of that run was Chris Gray as four of his eight points (5G/3A) came during that final frame.
Duke heads into Saturday’s contest on harder times, having fallen to Syracuse 14-10 a week ago in the Dome. It was the latest instance of the Blue Devils’s recent struggles. They started slow against Towson, but won 14-7, and against Loyola they fell 12-10 in a game where they were down 10-2 at the half. Brennan O’Neill has served as a bright spot and leader in these past few games for the Blue Devils, having four goals against Loyola, nine points (6G/3A) against Towson, and netting a hat trick at Syracuse.
In my initial bracketology projections that came out this week, I have the ACC only getting two bids: Virginia and North Carolina. Although, UNC likely isn’t that safe. Duke, Syracuse, and Notre Dame all control their own destinies, as do the Tar Heels. A win on Saturday would not only be huge in terms of it being a rivalry matchup for both of these teams, but could also help their NCAA Tournament hopes as, at this time, we begin to look ahead with the calendar flipping to April.
Can Syracuse Keep Climbing? Does Notre Dame Get Back on Track?
The second ACC game of the weekend will see the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Syracuse Orange go up against each other in South Bend, Ind – a place where Syracuse has only won once since 2010.
Syracuse is coming off their biggest win of the season as they beat Duke 14-10 in the Dome in a game where Tucker Dordevic put up a 5-2 spot for seven points. On the other end, Bobby Gavin made 10 saves and Nick Caccamo recorded three caused turnovers and four ground balls as the headliners for a defense that has seemed to turn a corner.
The question remains, though, can the Orange sustain that improvement? We’ll get a first look at that on Saturday, and especially so against a Notre Dame team that can cause problems on both ends when they get firing on all cylinders.
Notre Dame comes into this weekend after suffering a 12-8 loss at Virginia, although it wasn’t that close at all as the Irish scored four goals in the final 3:15 of the game, three of which came in the final 1:38. Will Lynch, however, did have himself a strong game as he want 13-for-20 (65%) at the faceoff dot for the Irish.
On Saturday, the biggest question will be whether this Irish team can bounce-back, but I think the more important aspect of that is what their defense can do. Carson Cochran was out last game and Matt Douglas stepped in at close alongside Jason Reynolds and Arden Cohen. Does Cohen get the Dordevic matchup? If so, I like Cohen and depending on how Syracuse reacts, the Irish defense could have a very successful day. That is especially true if they can limit the ball movement we’ve seen the Orange be successful with, which has in turn helped guys like Mikey Berkman and Matteo Corsi step up in recent weeks.
And just like with the other aforementioned ACC contest, this game could very well have postseason implications with the way each of these teams seem to be moving over the past few weeks.
Heavyweight Scrap in New Haven
In the Ivy League, all eyes will be fixated on Reese Stadium in New Haven, Conn., where the Yale Bulldogs will host the Penn Quakers on Saturday at 3:30pm.
Back in 2019, Yale and Penn faced each other three times in what was the best series of the year, and one of the best in recent history. The Quakers won the first meeting in triple overtime and the second in regulation to win the Ivy League title. Yale won the NCAA Quarterfinal matchup in overtime. While two years removed now, still expect that intensity when these two top-15 teams meet – especially with both coming off their biggest wins of the season.
Yale is coming off a home victory against the Princeton Tigers last weekend in which Matt Brandau, once again, put on a show with eight points (5G/3A). Jared Paquette also made 19 saves to anchor the Bullldogs’ defense and stifle the Princeton attack down the stretch.
Penn handed Cornell their first loss of the season last week, knocking off the Big Red 15-11 at Franklin Field on Saturday. The Quakers were led by Sam Handley with six points off three goals and three assists while Patrick Burkinshaw made 15 saves to anchor the defense, and Jamie Zusi went 21-for-29 (72%).
Expect a battle in New Haven on Saturday afternoon.
Big Conference Meetings Out West
The Big East and ASUN open conference play this weekend, and in both conferences the biggest contest will take place in the Rocky Mountains.
Bill Tierney and the Denver Pioneers welcome in the Georgetown Hoyas for what will be the Big East opener for both programs. The series between these two has defined the Big East since 2018, seeing Georgetown go 4-3 against the Pioneers during that times. The Hoyas come into this game as the likely favorites and highlighted by one of the best defenses in college lacrosse with Will Bowen and Gibson Smith leading the way, and Owen McElroy anchoring things in cage.
Denver hasn’t had the strongest season, but has seemed to pick up the pace a bit in recent weeks with comeback efforts against North Carolina and Yale, and an upset win over Ohio State before beating Towson. If Alec Stathakis can get hot and win the battle against James Reilly at the dot, giving the Pioneers plenty of extra possessions, we might be able to see them play the way they want and dictate the pace.
The Utah Utes have been one of the more interesting teams of the year with first-year head coach Andrew McMinn leading them to a strong start. Now moving into ASUN play, the Utes will welcome in the Air Force Falcons on Saturday. For Utah, it will likely be key for Cole Brams to get going at the dot, and be able to play that fast-paced style that has worked for them all season. For Air Force, they want to see the offensive duo of Brenden Crouse and Brandon Dodd get as much action as possible.
Other Games to Watch
Ohio State vs Penn State (Fri): The weekend gets underway on Friday night with a Big Ten matchup as the Ohio State Buckeyes welcome in the Penn State Nittany Lions. The Buckeyes will come into Friday looking to bounce back after getting drubbed by Rutgers in a contest where they were beat in nearly all facets.
Jacksonville vs High Point: Arguably the biggest mid-major game of the week will see the Jacksonville Dolphins and High Point Panthers go head to head. John Galloway’s Dolphins have been the darlings of the season, upsetting Duke and Denver early on and has bee led grad student attackman Max Waldbaum. The Panthers have played it close with Virginia, Duke, and North Carolina this season and, as usual, have been led by Asher Nolting. The fifth-year attackman continues to climb up the all-time career points sheet.
UMass vs Delaware: Opening weekend of CAA play will see the UMass Minutemen host the Delaware Blue Hens in a battle that not only pits two teams with Revolutionary War-inspired nicknames against each other, but arguably two of the best teams in the league. The Blue Hens are led by Mike Robinson on one end while freshman goalie Paul Reidy has shined as of late on the other. UMass has battled through some injuries this season, but with that duo of Kevin Tobin and Gabriel Procyk that offense can be as dangerous as any.
Brown vs Princeton: The Brown Bears will welcome in the Princeton Tigers to Providence on Saturday afternoon looking to get back in the win column and to earn their first Ivy League victory of the season. On Princeton’s side, the Tigers will be looking to get back in the win column after faltering against Yale last week. The goalie battle between Brown’s Connor Theriault Princeton’s Erik Peters could be interesting.
Saint Joseph’s vs Hobart: Saint Joseph’s enters what could be their toughest stretch of NEC play with games against Bryant and LIU following this Hobart matchup. The Hawks sit atop the conference along with the latter two squads. Hobart needs a win on Saturday or they will drop to 0-3 in NEC play. They fell to Sacred Heart and Bryant previously.
Rutgers vs Johns Hopkins (Sun.): Johns Hopkins and Rutgers both won their Big Ten openers last week. However, this contest is likely much bigger for the visiting Blue Jays as them be able to take down this Scarlet Knights squad, which hasn’t shown to have many holes, would be huge and have massive conference and postseason implications. After getting things rolling against the Wolverines, can the Blue Jays do it against Rutgers?