(Photo Courtesy of Bellarmine Athletics)
Welcome to the Fall Snapshot series. Throughout the fall I will be taking an early look at all 75 DI men’s college lacrosse teams and giving a snapshot of where each is heading into the 2023 season.
Head Coach: Andy Whitley (4th year, 2020-present)
Bellarmine 2022 Record: 4-13 (2-3 ASUN)
Key Departures: Brayden Brown (A), Jon Robbins (D)
Key Returners: Kyle Playsted (A), Benny O’Rouke (A/M), Denton MacDonald (M), Brady Long (D), JC Higginbotham (G)
Transfer Additions: Pat Anderson (M, Towson)
Winning just four game a season ago (four by one goal), the 2022 campaign is one in which the Bellarmine Knights left both a lot on the table but also showcased what could very well be a brighter future.
The Knights – whom featured seven top 10 scorers that were freshmen or sophomores, had multiple freshmen see significant time at close, and placed three players on the ASUN All-Freshmen team – ended the season in overtime in the ASUN semifinals against the Utah Utes, who the Knights had fallen to by the same score (12-11) just two weeks earlier.
Heading into the fourth season of the Andy Whitley era, despite losing a major pieces on defense once agains, Bellarmine will be looking to take another step forward with the young-ish core that they return.
Without Jon Robbins, Can the Defense Stay on Path?
Defense has been the bread and butter of this Bellarmine program for multiple years now. In 2021, they had a top-30 defense last season as they allowed 10.93 goals per game. Last spring, the Knights allowed 11.94 goals per game as the nation’s 43rd-best scoring defense. The Knights were also a top-10 caused turnover team each of those years. During those seasons, the Knights also featured one of the best poles in program history. Eric Rubak left his name atop the record books in 2021 before his former teammate Jon Robbins came behind and broke even more records in 2022.
This spring will be the first season in which neither Rubak nor Robbins will be on the field for the Knights. The cupboard is much more youthful, but far from bare. Jacob Berggren (36GB/17CT), sho transferred in from Whittier (DIII) prior to last season, is the lone veteran pole back as a graduate student. Brady Long (34GB/28CT) proved to be one of best freshmen defenders in college lacrosse this past spring as a day one starter while Max Coopman (16GB/9CT) and Tommy Fialkowski (23GB/5CT) each significant time as a redshirt freshman and sophomore. Furthermore, Denton MacDonald (12G/5A/28GB/12CT) is a reliable two-way middie while Harrison Pate (21GB/8CT) provides even more talent to that SSDM group.
Anchoring the Knights defense once again will be JC Higginbothm as he returns following a 2022 campaign in which he 155 saves with a 48.4% save percentage. Dante Batista has proven to be a more than solid back up, starting two games last spring. With all that the Knights bring back, there is a lot to like. But the unknown is just how big of an impact the loss of Robbins will be.
How Much Can The Offensive Improve?
Of the Knights’ top five point-getters from last spring, their only loss is leading goal-scorer Brayden Brown (26G/10A). Everyone else returns. And most importantly among that group is Kyle Playstead. A walking highlight-reel, Playsted broke the program record for points in a season (53) with 28 goals and 25 assists as the quarterback of the Knights’ offense. Now a junior, even more should be expected of him to lead this unit to greener pastures.
The same is true for the returning cast of Christian Della Rocco (18G/11A), Benny O’Rourk (17G/12A), Jesse Roth (15G/11A), and Justin Westcoat (14G/3A), among others. Roth and O’Rourk are the veterans of the group now being seniors. Della Rocco is a junior while Westcoat is a sophomore.
Despite the talent they have shown, Bellarmine still managed to have seven games last season in which they put up single-digits. If they improve to their fullest extent under newly promoted offensive coordinator Mike Ondrusek, the Knights’ offense could soar in 2023 with as much talent and depth they return.
What Will The Faceoff Situation Be?
For the last six seasons now, Bellarmine has failed to go 50% or higher as a team at the faceoff dot. Despite the Knights going 40% as a team and finishing near the bottom amongst fellow DI programs, it was still an improvement from their 29% team mark in 2021.
ASUN All-Freshmen selection Aidan Fearn (76-for-174, 43.7%) and Cole Messick (75-for-163, 46%) split the majority of time as freshmen while fifth-year JT Simonton also saw action, going 29-for-107 (27%). With Fearn and Messick returning, the question is how the staff will play them and if they can turn what has been a weakness into a strength?
Potential Breakout Player
Sinon Lukas, Midfield, Redshirt Sophomore
Lukas was a key reserve for the Knights last season with nine goals and three assists. He could very well take another step forward in 2023.
The Knights bring in a 14-man freshman class. Eight of those players reside on the offensive end of the field, including John Alie (Grandview, Colo.) who shined in the Adrenaline All-American Game in late July.