(Photo: Josue Acevedo)
I wasn’t planning on putting out a “way too early” rankings post as part of the fall content on the site. However, after many inquiries by readers over the past moth or so, I have decided to do just that. And with scrimmages slatted to get underway beginning this weekend, I felt like today was the best to push this out.
So, without further ado, here is what I will call my Fall Top 10:
1. Maryland Terrapins (18-0, 5-0 Big Ten)
The unbeaten national champions from a year ago, you can’t start any ranking without John Tillman’s Terps. Sure, Maryland losses 273 points and 160 goals with the exit of Tewaaraton winner Logan Wisnauskas, Keegan Khan, Anthony DeMaio, and Jonathan Donville from College Park. But Eric Malever (26G/27A), Kyle Long (17G/25A), and Owen Murphy (34G/5A) isn’t a bad place to start building this offense, which is now led by Jake Bernhardt, around.
Moving up the field, Luke Wierman (298-for-451, 66%) is back after a breakout season at the faceoff dot. The same is true for Ajax Zappitello (28GB/27CT), who is one of the Terps’ starting close defensemen returning along with Matt Rahill (28GB/16CT) and fifth-year Brett Makar (32GB/15CT). On top of that, Logan McNaney is back in goal after a season in which he made 200 saves with a 59% save percentage and was named the Most Outstanding Player of the NCAA Tournament.
Maryland might have more holes and question marks heading into this season than any in recent memory: The offensive depth is a question as is the defensive midfield group with Bubba Fairman, Roman Puglise, Alex Smith and Jake Higgins all gone. But this is John Tillman’s Maryland we are talking about. This program has now been to nine Championship Weekends, seven championship games, and won two titles since Tillman’s first year in 2011. They don’t rebuild, they reload. And while 2023 may not be as good for the Terps as either 2021 or 2022, you still have to count of them being in the championship hunt.
2. Virginia Cavaliers (12-4, 5-1 ACC)
Virginia lost four times last season; once in an upset at Richmond, once in a poor showing against Duke on Holy Thursday, and twice against Maryland in blowout fashion. Simply put, Virginia had two disadvantages last season and one was the fact that they weren’t Maryland. The other was injuries (Petey LaSalla and Matt Moore both suffered injuries in the first half against Richmond. Moore missed three games in total).
Heading into 2023, Virginia, once again, has one of the best rosters in college lacrosse. Tewaaraton finalist Connor Shellenberger (32G/44A) headlines the offensive returnees, along with Payton Cormier (50G/10A), Xander Dickson (31G/8A), and Griffin Schutz (23G/7A). Vermont midfield transfer Thomas McConvey into the mix and the Cavaliers have an even better potential top five on that end. Plus, LaSalla (59%) is back at the faceoff dot, Matthew Nunes returns in cage after a solid freshman season, and Cole Kastner (29GB/32CT) is back as the team’s top pole. Richmond Griffin Kology brings even more proven talent to that back end.
Will the Cavaliers miss Matt Moore? Yes. The losses of Jack Peele and Jack Simmons should also be noted as they helped provide a consistent amount of depth on offense and stepped up when needed. But, at least on paper, Virginia is one of the few teams that I feel the most confident in at this point as a sure-fire Championship Weekend contender.
3. Cornell Big Red (14-5, 4-2 Ivy League)
This is where things started to get difficult for me, and that’s not a bad thing. It is indictive of just how wide open this season looks to be. Cornell shocked the lacrosse world last season making it to the national title game and coming within two of Maryland in that game. A lot of props has to be given to Connor Buczek and his staff in Ithaca. They proved so many people wrong, including myself, and did so while also fighting through plenty of injuries as the season went on. And after the year in which they just had, who’s not to say Cornell won’t be back and better in 2023?
Cornell’s biggest loss is attackman John Piatelli. With his exit, the Big Red kiss goodbye to 66 goals from the leading goal-scorer in DI lacrosse. However, from that heralded attack unit, CJ Kirst (55G/24A) and Michael Long (34G/32A) still return. Bryant transfer Bennett Abladian also comes in to provide more support. Additionally, the Big Red will have a deep midfield unit once again headlined by Billy Coyle (26G/14A), Hugh Kelleher (23G/8A), and Aiden Blake (15G/7A). The Cornell offense could very well not miss a step. As for the defense, some new faces will be seen around the core close defender Gavin Adler (75GB/34CT) and goalie Chayse Ierlan (212 saves, 52.6%).
Where I draw the most pause with Cornell is at the faceoff dot. Angelo Petrakis (49.4%) was very inconsistent last season. He was great in the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament (15-for-19, 78% vs Delaware and (13-for-21, 61% vs Rutgers). However, he hovered around the high 40s to low 50s. It’ll be an interesting spot to watch for what I believe will be an otherwise uber strong team elsewhere.
4. Princeton Tigers (11-5, 3-3 Ivy League)
Try telling somebody this time last year that Princeton would miss the Ivy League Tournament and make Championship Weekend. That would sound insane. However, it happened. Now from that team, Princeton loses its QB attackman in Chris Brown (31G/46A), its top pole in George Baughn (31GB/20CT), and its starting goalie in Erik Peters (217 saves, 55%). LSM Andrew Song (31GB/18CT) also graduates. Losing those key players made me hesitant to put the Tigers this high, but I found it equally as hard to justify them place anywhere else.
Alex Slusher (46G/10A) and Coulter Mackesy (28G/15A) are the leaders at attack. Sam English (30G/18A), Alexander Vardaro (26G/15A), and Christina Ronda (23G/2A) form one of the best midfield lines in college lacrosse. Tyler Sandavol (203-for-377, 53%) has proven at the faceoff dot. On the back end, Ben Finlay (26GB/16CT), Pace Billings (15GB/16CT), and Colin Mulshine (14GB/7CT) return from what was arguably the deepest group of poles last season. Additionally, Jake Stevens (22G/2A/ 65GB/7CT) IS the best two-way midfielder in the county. Beau Pederson (2G/4A/ 27GB/8CT) returns as the team’s top true SSDM.
Princeton has some question marks for sure and will have to proven its ability to fill those holes. But with the top-end talent that they do return, as well as the many role players who saw signifiant time last season – especially at midfield – I can’t help but think this team can be playing on Memorial Day Weekend in 2023.
5. Georgetown Hoyas (15-2, 5-0 Big East)
I have been a big Georgetown believer over the past few years and even after the disappointing end to last season, I am still high on the Hoyas. Kevin Warne’s squad loses goalie Owen McElroy (170 saves, 61%), as well as two of its top poles in Gibson Smith (53GB/23CT) and Alex Mazzone (33GB/20CT) from what was the best scoring defense in DI (8.18 goals allowed per game). SSDM Zach Geddes is also gone. With the offense, Big East attackman of the Year Dylan Watson (58G/6A), Alex Trippi (27G/25A), and Connor Morin (30G/8A) are all gone
Georgetown certainly has some big holes to fill. However, there is still a lot to like about this team for what it brings back and in. Midfielder Graham Bundy, Jr., (45G/25A) and attackman TJ Haley (11G/30A) are the top returners for an offensive unit that brings in four grad transfers with Attackmen Nicky Solomon (20G/17A) and Jacob Kelly (20G/15A) coming from North Carolina, and Brian Minicus (36G/23A) from Colgate. Former Syracuse star Tucker Dordevic is the headliner of that haul. He had 59 points off 47 goals and 12 assists playing attack last spring, but is a natural midfielder.
Daniel Hincks (168 saves, 52%) transfers in from Dartmouth and will battle with sophomore Michael Scharfenberger for that goalie job. Returning on that end is the team’s top pole in Will Bowen (42GB/34CT), as well as Wallace Halpert (28GB/15CT) and Will Tominovich (15GB/10CT) who provide real answers for those losses at pole. Oh yeah, faceoff man James Reilly (234-for-387, 60%) is also back.
6. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (8-4, 5-1 ACC)
Were they or were they not snubbed by the NCAA Selection Committee? I’m not here to have that conversation, but the facts remain that Notre Dame was a very good team last season. Their only losses were to Maryland, Georgetown, Ohio State, and Virginia. And they ended the year on a six-game winning streak. The fact also remains that the Irish will have a good bit of hype around them heading into 2023, which is warranted.
Holy Cross transfer Chris Conlin and Yale transfer Chris Fake come in to help replenish a defense that lose five-year starter Arden Cohen, as well as Jason Reynolds and Matt Douglas. Conlin, Fake, and goalie Liam Entenmann (160 saves, 57%) should make one heck of a core for this Irish defense. Ross Burgmaster and Jose Boyer return to add more depth and talent at pole. Things should also remain good at the faceoff dot with Will Lynch (122-for-250, 49%) coming off a freshman season in which he showed a ton of growth.
Offensively, I do have some questions. I believe in the Kavangah brothers, Pat (25G/39A) and Chris (22G/11A), as well as midfielders Eric Dobson (22G/10A) and Quinn McCahon (12G/8A). However, can grad transfers Brian Tevlin (Yale) and Jack Simmons (Virginia) replace what the Irish lose in Wheaton Jackoboice (17G/2A) and Morrison Mirer (11G). Maybe even more important is who will replaces the lefty Jake Taylor (27G/2A) until he returns from his offseason ACL injury? Taylor got his first career start against Syracuse and was a big pieces of the Irish’s last-season run.
7. Yale Bulldogs (12-5, 4-2 Ivy League)
I really like this Yale offense. Led by a 99-point season from Matt Brandau, the Bulldogs put up an average of 14.8 goals per game as the sixth-best scoring offense in DI last spring. Brandau is back for his senior season while attckman Leo Johnson (35G/29A) and midfielder Brad Sharp (19G/17A) return as sophomore. Their fellow classmate Chris Lyons (36G/12A), who emerged as a key cog midway through the season, is also back. And you can’t forget about midfielders Thomas Bragg (25G/5A) and and Patrick Hackler (10G/3A). This Yale offense will be dangerous once again as it brings back 95% of its overall offensive production and 83% of its goal scoring. The defense, however, is a different situation.
Yale ended the 2022 season with the 54th ranked scoring defense as they allowed 13.24 goals per game. In their final eight games, however, the Bulldogs allowed 14.8 goals per game. The backsliding of the Yale defense was apparent. This unit loses Chris Fake and two-way middie Brian Tevlin. They return Senior Bryce De Muth (35GB/10CT) and junior Michael Alexander (14GB/7CT), who is coming off a strong performance with the USA U-21 Team in Ireland this summer. Jack Stuzin (45GB/15CT) returns as the top LSM and I expect sophomore Jake Cohen (10GB/8CT) to also be in the mix. Goalie Jared Paquette (226 saves, 52.3%) returns after a strong sophomore season.
Andy Shay has built the most consistent Ivy League program in New Haven over the past decade-plus. They have Championship Weekend potential in 2023 for sure. If they wouldn’t have had the defensive slide last season I would have them higher on this list.
8. Duke Blue Devils (11-6, 3-3 ACC)
Did Duke have a good 2022 season? Yes. Did they miss the NCAA Tournament? Yes. Losses to Syracuse and Loyola, as well as Jacksonville, may have cost them a tournament bid. After the year they had in Durham, the Blue Devils can bounce back. After all, they are Duke. Brennan O’Neill (53G/21A) returns, as does Dyson Willams (43G/9A), and Andrew McAdorey (23G/16A). Those three will form the core of an offense that also adds Lehigh grad transfer attackman Tommy Schelling and should fill out top to bottom. Additionally, Jake Naso (241-for-429, 56%) returns at the faceoff dot and Wilson Stephenson (40GB/19CT), Tyler Carpenter (67GB/17CT), and Kenny Brower (42GB/16CT) all return at pole and should be improved.
For Duke, they have the talent. The biggest question is execution. The Blue Devils didn’t do it at a high enough level or consistent enough to get as far as they wanted to last season. Can they do it in 2023?
9. Penn Quakers (11-5, 3-3 Ivy League)
After a season in which they beat Richmond (in overtime, of course) in the first round of the NCAAs and narrowly fell, 11-9, to Rutgers in the quarterfinals, Penn returns quite a bit of talent. The most notable returnee is 2022 Tewaaraton finalist midfielder Sam Handley (36G/37A). He joins attackman fellow fifth-year returnee Dylan Gergar (52G/17A) as a top-five returner on offense, along with Gabe Furey (16G/16A), Cam Rubin (21G/8A), and Ben Smith (19G/8A). There is also James Shipley (15G/8A) back. Fifth-year BJ Farrare (55GB/19CT) and junior Blake Peter (18GB/16CT) are the top two returning poles while Piper Bond (2G/2A/29GB/11CT) returns, as a fifth-year, as one of many middies the Quakers have in their SSDM stable.
Goalie Patrick Burkinshaw and faceoff man Jamie Zusi are big losses, but overall the Quakers bring back a lot of talent from a very good team last season. And as far as those holes go, I trust Mike Murphy’s squad to replace as usual.
10. Rutgers Scarlet Knights (15-5, 4-1 Big Ten)
I went back and forth between Rutgers and Ohio State for this spot. Ultimately, I gave the the Scarlet Knights the benefit of the doubt. Brian Brecht’s squad is coming off a Championship Weekend trip and returns its top attackman in Ross Scott (50G/25A). Junior Shane Knobloch (32G/16A) and fifth-year Brian Cameron (34G/10A) also return. In addition, midfielder David Sprock will be back after missing all of 2022 with an injury. I also like some of the younger guys, such as Dante Kulas (9G/5A), bring on offense. The situation on the other end is a different story with LSM Ethan Rall (51GB/31CT) and defenseman Bobby Russo (42GB/12CT) being the only two major contributors back. Goalie Colin Kirst, defenseman Jaryd Jean-Felix, defenseman Bryant Boswell, and SSDMs Brennan Kamish, Zackary Franckowiak, and Cole Daninger are all gone.
Rutgers has added transfer additions on that end with SSDMs Jon Miller, Ryan Decker, and Noah Daniels coming in from Bryant, Colgate, and Mount St. Mary’s. Poles Zak Conley and LaJhon Jones have come in from Binghamton and Bryant while Anthony Palma and Kyle Mullin are goalie transfers from Stony Brook and Harvard. I like a lot of those pieces. We will have to see though how well they can replace the losses on that back end at close, on the rope unit, and in cage.
Next Five: Ohio State, Delaware, Harvard, North Carolina, Jacksonville