(Photo Courtesy of LIU 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: Jordan Levine (first season)
LIU 2022 Record: 7-8 (4-3 NEC)
Key Departures: Richie LaCalandra (A), Blake Behlen (A), Jake Murphy (SSDM), Ryan Blume (D), Chris Campbell (D), Will Mark (G), Justin Joseph (FO)
Key Returners: Sean Boll (A), Nicholas Davide (D)
Transfer Additions: Zander Torres (M)
Since making the jump to DI ahead of the 2020 season, the Sharks have seen a pretty stable climb up the ranks. After going 1-6 in the shortened 2020 campaign, LIU went 6-5 and 7-8 during each of the 2021 and 2022 season and ended each year with an NEC semifinals loss to Saint Joseph’s.
While not restarting entirely from scratch, the Sharks underwent one of the biggest overhauls in DI lacrosse this summer. Head coach Eric Wolf left for NJIT and their top two players, attackman Richie LaCalandra and goalie Will Mark, both transferred out. LaCalandra, the two-time NEC Offensive Player of The Year is now at Ohio State while Mark, the two-time NEC Defensive Player of The Year is heading to Syracuse. Other key players such as attackman Blake Behlen (Stony Brook), defenseman Chris Campbell (UMass), and SSDM Jake Murphy (Syracuse) have also transferred out.
In addition to having a new head coach and a very different looking roster than in previous years, the Sharks will also be entering a new conference in 2023: the MAAC. A lot has changed at LIU this offseason, which has naturally led to a lot of questions about what to expect from this squad come spring.
What Will The Sharks’ Offense Look Like?
Last season, LIU averaged 11.1 goals per game, had a 31.5% team shooting percentage, and saw 62% of their goals come off assists. The Sharks didn’t have the outright best offense in college lacrosse or even the NEC, but when it was working at peak efficiency it was pretty good. And the unit was highlighted by its attack like, which saw Richie LaCalandra (32G/38A) quarterback things while Blake Behlen (36G/20A) proved to be a steady all-around playmaker and Sean Boll (25G/5A) showcased as a serious off-ball threat and shooter. Both LaCalandra and Behlen, as well as Jake Gillis (14G/7A) and Will Snelders (16G/3A), are gone which leaves Boll as the only top-five point-getter returning from last season.
Boll is the top returner on offense and one of very few experienced veterans, along with midfielder Marcin Maleski (11G/2A) who returns as a graduate student. Tom Von Bargen (7G/7A) and Nick Colantonio (8G/4A), James Butler (8G/2A), and Owen Stefanko (3G/2A) were in the midfield rotation last season and saw multiple starts as either a freshman or sophomore last spring. They make up a core of younger players who will need to step up to fill the many holes this offense has.
University of DC (DII) transfer Zander Torres could also provide significant help on the offensive end. A two-time captain at UDC, he had 20 goals and seven assists as one of their top offensive weapons this past spring.
Who Starts in Cage?
This LIU squad also has multiple question marks on the defensive end of the field and non are bigger than the question of who will emerge as the Sharks’ starting goalie. Will Mark held that spot for three seasons and showcased himself as one of the best shot-stoppers in NEC and college lacrosse in general. He made 200 saves with a 54.5% save percentage in 2022. With Mark’s exit, the Sharks will be looking to fill that ever-important position and they will have to get that answer from a very young and inexperienced goalie room.
LIU returns two goalies from a year ago in sophomore Mike Murro and junior Sean Gillman. Neither Murro nor Gillman saw any action last season. In addition, the Sharks bring in freshman Jasper Simon who was a high school standout at St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes (Va.).
What to Expect From LIU in The MAAC?
During the two full seasons in which the Sharks competed in the NEC, they were among the best team’s in the league as they made back-to-back postseason berths and regularly competed amongst the league’s best. Now, with their move to the MAAC, the question is had as to just how good this program will fare against the rest of that league, which now includes fellow former NEC members Mount St. Mary’s, Sacred Heart, and Wagner. In their games against MAAC schools the past few seasons LIU went 3-2.
Considering how wacky the MAAC can be and the fact that it is one which changes hands in terms of league champions almost every singe year, LIU should be pretty competitive in the long run. Now with as many questions as they have coming into the 2023 season, it is the short-term success of this program in the MAAC that really comes into question.
Potential Breakout Player
Owen Stefanko, Sophomore, Midfield
With so many key pieces gone off that offense from last season, multiple players will have to step up. Stefankp could very well be one of those guys. He missed a good portion of the spring due to injury, only playing in six games in three starts. In that limited action, had had three goals and two assists for five points. Expect that production to only climb in 2023.
The Sharks bring in a 12-man freshman class that is very Long Island heavy with half of the class hailing from LIU’s backyard.