(Photo Courtesy of Jacksonville Athletics)
After one year back in the men’s lacrosse landscape, the Atlantic Sun (ASUN) has undergone some changes in its makeup. Jacksonville and Mercer have come after the SoCon’s lacrosse era ended while Lindenwood and Queens have entered the league as newly-minted DI programs, making the jump from DII. The expansion brings the league to 10 teams.
Robert Morris enters the league as the reigning champion. However, last year’s runner-up Utah Utes and conference newcomer Jacksonville Dolphins very much have a shot to take home the title in 2023 and will very likely make up the top tier of the ASUN.
Remember, following the ASUN’s expansion to 10 teams has expanded its conference tournament to add a quarterfinals round. Needless to say, things could get very interesting throughout the league this spring.
Jacksonville’s League to Lose?
John Galloway’s Jacksonville Dolphins were the darlings of the 2022 college lacrosse season, earning upset wins over Duke and Denver early in the year while also knocking off Richmond and High Point en route to an undefeated stint in SoCon play. However, a loss to Richmond in the league title game saw the Dolphins end things on a bit of a sour note and miss the NCAA Tournament.
Now in the ASUN, many have the Dolphins pegged as the clear-cut top team in the league. And that is especially so due to Jacksonville bringing back a heap of talent on both ends of the field. Among those returners are attackmen Max Waldbaum (48G/24A), Jacob Greiner (51G/18A), and Jackson Intrieri (31G/30A). The three will join forces this spring with a pair of high-profile transfers as attackman Dylan Watson (Georgetown) and midfielder Brandon Galloway (UMBC) have both entered the program.
The return of faceoff man Nathan Kapp (219-for-419, 52.3%) and goalie Luke Millican (152 saves, 58.2%) provides even more confidence for many as to what this Dolphins team can be across the board in 2023.
Does Robert Morris Do It Again?
Robert Morris entered a new era on multiple fronts last season. Firstly, it had a new head coach: Craig McDonald. Secondly, it entered a new league in the ASUN. Lastly, the Colonials had to replace three of its most important offensive pieces. But despite all that, the Colonials ended up doing what they do best: win.
In each of the last three seasons in which it was able to (2018, 2019, 2022), Robert Morris has won its conference and made the NCAA Tournament. That includes last season where they knocked off Utah, whom they lost to 18-8 in the regular season, in the ASUN title game. The Colonials have gone a combined 43-26 since 2018. The Colonials have, somewhat quietly, replaced talent better than most programs at the mid-major level of college lacrosse.
Robert Morris has some questions on both ends of the field coming into 2023, but arguably not nearly as big of questions as it had coming into last season. Returners include leading scorer Taggart Clark (48G/17A) and Bo Columbus, who transferred in from Mercyhurst ahead of 2022 and went 179-for-324 (55%) at the dot to inject much-needed success at the position. With that, it is certainly worth pondering whether the Colonials could continue their run of success this season.
What to Expect From Lindenwood and Queens in Year One as DIs?
The ASUN welcomes four new teams into the league in 2023. Two of those programs, Lindenwood and Queens, are not only entering into a new conference but also moving up a division; going from DII to DI.
Lindenwood is coming off a 2022 season in which they went 12-4 overall and 5-1 in GLVC play. The Lions won the GLVC title for the first time and made the program’s second NCAA Tournament appearance. Two of the Lions’ four losses last season came against top-10 teams in Limestone and Tampa, who ended up as the undefeated (21-0) national champions. The Lions beat a No. 3-ranked Indianapolis team and ended the season ranked No. 10. As for Queens, they went 12-5 last season and 7-3 in the SAC. They the year with a loss to DII powerhouse Limestone in the conference semifinals. The Royals ranked 16th nationally at the season’s end. Last spring marked the second time during the Chris Panos era in which Queens won double-digit games.
After stints as DII programs that can be defined as both eras of growth and success, it will be very interesting to track how well these two do as DIs, especially in the ASUN. Watching their first seasons of DI lacrosse will be an intriguing storyline in the ASUN in 2023.
The Dolphins ended last season as one of the most efficient offensive teams in college lacrosse, ranking second in scoring offense (16.06 goals per game), team shooting percentage (38.1%), and offensive efficiency (35.9%).
Jacksonville could very well have an offense that operates at just as high of a level in 2023 with all that unit returners. The Dolphins bring back 301 points among their top-10 returners, which includes attackmen Max Waldbaum (48G/24A), Jacob Greiner (51G/18A), and Jackson Intrieri (31G/30A). Ethan LaMond (16G/2A), Marshall McGuire (4G/11A), and other contributors will also be back.
In addition to what the Dolphins have returning, Dylan Watson (Georgetown) and midfielder Brandon Galloway (UMBC) come in as transfers at the attack and midfield spot to further bolster this heralded offense.
Defense: Air Force
A debatable selection for sure as Jacksonville and Utah are likely to be in this conversation as well. However, from a defense that allowed 10.25 goals per game overall and 8 against ASUN teams last season, there is a lot to like about what Air Force returns on that end.
Goalie Jason Rose is the headlining returner on that back end for the Falcons, coming off a junior season in which he made 180 saves with a 54% save percentage en route to a First-Team All-ASUN selection. Rose is the true X-factor for this Falcons’ defense, but far from the only uber-talented returner for this unit as defensemen Chris Bardark (18CT, 33GB) and James Chastain (15CT,14GB) both return after stellar sophomore campaigns. Tommy Hellman (31GB,10CT, 3G,2A) is also back after being the Falcons’ top SSDM in 2022.
Following a 2021 season in which the Falcons dipped below its usual output on defense, they bounced back last spring and ended the year ranked ninth in defensive efficiency, per Lacrosse Reference, and had the 15th-best scoring defense in DI. While the loss of Quentin Carlile will be tough, this program has shown to be able to replace talent and stay consistent over the years. And that is especially true on defense.
Offensive Player of The Year: Max Waldbaum, A, Jacksonville
Defensive Player of The Year: Samuel Cambere, D, Utah
Specialist of The Year: Cole Brams, FO, Utah
Projected Final Standings
3. Robert Morris
4. Air Force
7. Cleveland State
8. Detroit Mercy