Winter training camp opens in about 50 days at D1 schools across the landscape. With fall ball in the rear view mirror, let’s take a look at 17 intriguing players.
Russell Melendez – Johns Hopkins success in 2023 can be directly traced to the influx of transfers Alex Mazzone (LSM) and Russell Melendez. Melendez is a horse at 6-1 200 pounds with agility, twitch, shake and a venturous style. He’s a future PLL player. His 53 points on 48% shooting gave Hopkins punch from behind the net and from the right-handed wing. He had shown flashes at Marquette, but the difference in 2023 for Melendez was his steady health and improved consistency. With Melendez, the Blue Jays have an attack-man who can win matchups against the big boys.
Eric Spanos – Spanos, lionized as a high school player, is a 6-5 220-pound redshirt sophomore offensive player for Maryland. Playing second midfield in 2023 as a freshman, he scored 18 goals and had four assists while shooting 38%. If he can stay healthy, I’m optimistic about his 2024. He and Army’s Evan Plunkett are a pair of sophomore playmakers to watch.
Mike Robinson – Delaware’s grad student from Peterborough, Ontario via Culver Academy will the centerpiece of the Blue Hens offensive scheme in 2024. Robinson’s tool kit is defined by multiplicity – he can hammer the ball, he’s slick and does a good job off-the-ball. What can he do in his final season for Delaware after contributing 48 points in 2023, 68 points in 2022, 51 points in 2021 and 17 goals in 2020? He’s a better dodger than you think and may be a dual pro in the NLL and PLL when the smoke clears.
Virginia – Tufts transfer Jack Boyden started on attack in a recent scrimmage and also ran shifts at midfield. We’ve seen high end D3 talent fit seamlessly into D1 action and Boyden’s resume, and fearless skill set will translate in Charlottesville. In the fall scrimmage against Colgate, he did a little bit of everything, carrying right handed, dodging, cutting. Going to be fascinating to see how he’s utilized.
Notre Dame – California SSDM who had eight points as a sophomore, I expect Ben Ramsey to play his way into the discussion as one of the top shorties in the country. At 6-0 200, with a sturdy cross check hold and wheels to keep up with dodging middies down the alley, I’m eager to watch his progress as a junior.
Marquette – Mason Woodward is the best defender that flies under the radar. The grad student will be a four-time captain in Milwaukee where last year he had seven points and 70 ground balls during a (6-8) season defined by one-goal losses. I’m curious to see how he’s deployed in 2024.
Syracuse – Defender Riley Figueiras did not play in 2023 after suffering an injury. I loved what I saw from him as a senior at St. John’s College High School. If he can return to speed, his presence will greatly solidify the SU defensive core.
Loyola – Adam Poitras a future pro in two leagues. He’s been the Greyhounds (9-8 in 2023) main offensive threat, a lefty dodger who’s most wicked from GLE and the low wing. Often operating against a long stick, he’s scored 34 goals in 2023 and 29 in 2022.
Lehigh – At times it seems as if Patriot League stars fall through the cracks. Scott Cole had a monster year in 2023, scoring (49,26) on 40% shooting. It’ll be fascinating to watch new coach Will Scudder lean on Cole.
Michigan – Wolverines lured a trio of Princeton graduate transfers – Cathal Roberts, Christian Ronda and Beau Pedersen. All were proven commodities in the Ivy League. I get the feeling that Michigan (final RPI #9) is once again in the hunt for a B10 title.
Cornell – Sophomore LSM Brendan Staub had splashy moments in his rookie campaign in Ithaca. Active and athletic, he ran the field, and was especially disruptive on face-off wings.
Duke – As a freshman SSDM and transitional midfielder, Aidan McGuire made 19 appearances on the path to a national title game loss. He finished with six points and 24 ground balls. The former high school wide receiver from Massachusetts may be the centerpiece of Duke’s transition offense in 2024.
Penn State – Big Ten offensive player of the Year, TJ Malone of Penn State will be back in Happy Valley after a 73-point season and Championship weekend appearance. Finally healthy in 2023, Malone became one of the toughest covers in the game. His turbocharged high wing dodges off picks were challenging for opponents. PLL coaches love Malone’s arsenal of tools. You can’t teach speed.
North Carolina – Righty attack-man James Matan had a 30-point freshman season for UNC. Freshman Owen Duffy will be the primary ball handler at X. What’s Matan’s role in 2024? UNC was (7-7) (RPI 15) in 2023 and must raise their level across all 110 yards to compete in a stacked ACC. We will see how versatile Matan can be.
Georgetown – Midfielder Aidan Carroll had just three goals in 2022. Last spring, he ran on the second midfield and went for (7,7) while shooting 27%. A logical progression and opportunity on the top midfield unit against shorties could bump his goal total to 20. Carroll gets to the rack with speed and can shoot both hands. The Swamp Dogs must replace a boatload of graduated production, and Carroll’s trajectory is key.
Quint Kessenich covers lacrosse for the ESPN Networks.