(Photo Courtesy of Jacksonville Athletics)
In the shot clock era, offenses rules. But it is still defense that wins championships.
The best teams are typically the ones that can limit the opponents ability to score the best. This season, three teams that made the NCAA Tournament had top 10 defenses. That includes one team who played on Memorial Day Weekend.
Let’s take a look back and dive into the best defenses in college lacrosse from this past season.
*Note: All efficiency numbers via Lacrosse Reference*
T-10. Wagner Seahawks
Goals allowed per game: 10.08 (10th)
Man-Down Success Rate: 75.9% (3rd)
Overall defensive efficiency: 25.1% (4th)
While Wagner only went only 3-9 (1-6 NEC) on the season, the improvement its defense saw was one of the best of any unit in college lacrosse. Headlined by a group of poles that featured two players who started their careers at Stony Brook (Danny Cassidy, Matt Morris) and anchored by second team All-NEC selection Danny Brady, who ranked 4th in save percentage (59%), in cage, the Seahawks’ defense proved to be a tough unit to face this season. They held six of their opponents to single-digits.
T-10. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Goals allowed per game: 10.08 (10th)
Man-Down Success Rate: 58.3% (T-55th)
Overall defensive efficiency: 24.5% (9th)
When you face the boys from South Bend it is expected that you’ll face a formidable defense. That tradition continued to hold this season with Liam Entenmann anchoring the unit in cage while Arden Cohen led a transfer-heavy group out in front of the cage that saw some shake-up due to injury. Entenmann ended the season ranked 9th in save percentage (57.2%). Jason Reynolds and Matt Douglas, both of whom were grad transfers, started at close with Douglas stepping in for the final seven games following the injury of Carson Cochran.
9. UMBC Retrievers
Goals allowed per game: 10.08 (9th)
Man-Down Success Rate: 75% (T-5th)
Overall defensive efficiency: 27% (17th)
Another program with an established tradition of defensive excellence, the UMBC Retrievers’ once again featured a top-flight unit on the back end that was effective in nearly every way. UMBC held six of their opponents to single-digits. That included a 7-6 win over Binghamton in the America East semifinals. Veteran Tommy Lingner anchored the unit in cage while fellow veteran Colin Kasner, who started the final four games at close, highlight things out front as he caused 12 turnovers to move to 3rd all-time (69) in career CTs in program history. Kasner was a first-team All-America East selection.
8. Richmond Spiders
Goals allowed per game: 10.06 (8th)
Man-Down Success Rate: 53.1% (67th)
Overall defensive efficiency: 27% (17th)
Zach Vigue provided a new face in cage for the Spiders, but it was business as usual for the Richmond defense as they continued to be among be the best in SoCon and college lacrosse in general. Led by a pair of veterans in Ray Baran and Jake Saunders at close, the Spiders’ held seven of their opponents to single-digits. However, the real highlight of the season proved to be holding Virginia to four goals in the second half of their upset win over the Cavaliers.
Goals allowed per game: 9.93 (7th)
Man-Down Success Rate: 68.8% (T-17th)
Overall defensive efficiency: 25.0% (14th)
Manhattan went 8-7 (4-2 MAAC), won their conference, and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. The Jaspers’ successful 2022 campaign wouldn’t have been if it weren’t for their staunch defense, and the play of Brendan Krebs in particular. Krebs stopped 158 shots with a 51.5% save percentage as one of the best goalies in the MAAC. Tadhg O’Riordan also shined as Manhattan’s top SSDM. He caused a team-high 18 turnovers and grabbed 20 ground balls.
6. Lehigh Mountain Hawks
Goals allowed per game: 9.80 (6th)
Man-Down Success Rate: 63.3% (45th)
Overall defensive efficiency: 24.9% (12th)
Lehigh went 8-7 (5-3 Patriot League) and saw their season come to an end with a one-goal loss in the conference semifinals. That 13-14 loss against Boston U. was one of just five instances where the Mountain Hawks’ allowed 10-plus points in a game last spring. Anchored by fifth-year goalie James Spence (53.8% save percentage) in cage and led out in front by a pair of veteran poles in Teddy Leggett and Anthony Tangredi, the Mountain Hawks proved to have one of the best back ends in college lacrosse.
5. Vermont Catamounts
Goals allowed per game: 9.21 (5th)
Man-Down Success Rate: 76.3% (2nd)
Overall defensive efficiency: 24.4% (8th)
The Catamounts continued to be one of the best defenses in college lacrosse this season. Vermont held nine of their opponents to single-digits this season and proved especially good in man-down situations where they came up successful 76% of the time. Ryan Cornell (55.6% save percentage) ended the season ranked 11th in save percentage to anchor the Catamounts defense while LSM Nick Alviti (88GB/32CT) helped headline things in front of the cage. He ranked 18th in caused turnovers per game.
4. Maryland Terrapins
Goals allowed per game: 9.0 (4th)
Man-Down Success Rate: 61.9% (50th)
Overall defensive efficiency: 23.4% (4th)
On Memorial Day, Maryland walked off the field as the first undefeated champion since 2006 Virginia, joining a club with only 13 other members. The Terrapins were the best team in college lacrosse and their defense was no exception. Maryland’s 18-0 season featured 10 games in which they held the opposition to single-digits. That included all four NCAA Tournament games, plus the Big Ten championship game against Rutgers. Logan McNaney anchored things in cage and ended the year ranked third in save percentage (59.7%) and was the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player. Ajax Zappitello emerged as a leader at close while the Terrapins’ SSDM core (Bubba Fairman, Roman Puglise, Jake Higgins) proved to be one of the best. All three of their SSDMs were taken in the PLL draft.
3. St. Bonaventure Bonnies
Goals allowed per game: 8.93 (3rd)
Man-Down Success Rate: 67.9% (24th)
Overall defensive efficiency: 23.0% (3rd)
2022 was a historic season for the Bonnies as they went 11-4 (5-1 MAAC) and fell by one to Manhattan in the MAAC title game. As has been the case in the program’s short history, it was their defense that wrote the headlines. And within the Bonnies’ defense, the real story was goalie Brett Dobson. One of the best goalies in college lacrosse, Dobson anchored the St. Bonaventure defense with 252 saves and a 66.5% save percentage. He ended the season ranked first in DI lacrosse in save percentage. He made the most saves of any goalie in college lacrosse as well.
2. Jacksonville Dolphins
Goals allowed per game: 8.59 (2nd)
Man-Down Success Rate: 72.2% (9th)
Overall defensive efficiency: 20.8% (1st)
Second in goals allowed, first in overall efficiency, and ninth in man-down success. The Jacksonville Dolphins showed signs of a strong defense early on and certainly lived up to expectation during what was a historic season for John Galloway’s squad. North Carolina transfer Luke Millican anchored the Dolphins’ defense in cage with 152 saves and a 58.2% save percentage. Jack Heed headlined the Jacksonville close defense unit while Tucker Garrity was one of their most impactful players on the back end as an SSDM.
1. Georgetown Hoyas
Goals allowed per game: 8.18 (1st)
Man-Down Success Rate: 68.2% (23rd)
Overall defensive efficiency: 21.4% (2nd)
Heading into the spring, the Georgetown Hoyas were expected to have the best defense in college lacrosse. Owen McElroy (61.7% save percentage) anchored things in cage once again and Will Bowen (42GB/34CT) transferred in from North Carolina to add even more talent to the Hoyas’ close defense unit. The Hoyas’ defense lived up to the hype with those two at the helm as McElroy and Bowen proved to be two of the best players in their respective positions. On top of that, SSDM Zach Geddes and LSM Alex Mazzone helped highlight what proved to be a strong rope unit for the Hoyas. All in all, Georgetown held 10 opponents to single-digits and their 15-2 season could’t have been completed without such a complete defense to help lead the way.