New England Black Wolves vs Georgia Swarm NLL 2017 Photo Jeff Melnik
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2018 Lacrosse Preview: Pro, College, International

When I look forward to all the 2018 lacrosse action we’re about to witness, I can’t help but be excited. Between what should be two super competitive pro leagues and a full season of NCAA action, we will also get to see more pro women’s lacrosse (its exciting!), and a ton of high school ball from coast to coast. It’s a lot to take in each and every year, but this year it feels bigger than ever, and I can’t wait to see it all play out!

Here some of the biggest reasons I’m looking forward to each of the big time lacrosse leagues in 2018. We’ll work our way forward, starting with the NLL, hitting up college, then MLL, then the FIL world championships. And there is plenty of other stuff here and there, of course.

2018 Lacrosse – NLL Season

The NLL is focused on expansion and growth over the long-term, but for 2018 we still don’t have a ton of teams out there, so each roster is absolutely loaded up with talent. Many of the franchises have a lot of consistency on top of that talent, and this should make for a super competitive season of pro box lacrosse. As the league expands, teams will be forced to give up players to new franchises. Teams will likely change more than they have over the last couple of years by virtue of this expansion, especially when you add in voluntary trades and draft picks. This really changes everything, and while it’s not a change for the worse by any means, it is still a big change and will impact the league and most, if not all, franchises in a pretty serious way.

Georgia Swarm New England Black Wolves NLL Media Poll 2017 Photo: New England Black Wolves
Photo: New England Black Wolves

While the growth and player movement will be exciting, we won’t see it really kick in for another year or two. In the meantime, we will get to watch some of the best, most competitive pro box lacrosse ever played. Think about it… there are still very few teams in the NLL, and rosters still pretty small, but there is more talent than ever in box lacrosse. That means each NLL team is absolutely loaded, and it has the potential to make every game enjoyable. This should be an amazing season of NLL lacrosse, and perhaps the last with a single digit number of franchises.

When you ask me to predict a winner, I honestly can’t even hazard a guess. Sure, rosters aren’t set, and lots could change, but just looking at the teams now, I could see six of the teams as favorites to win, and I don’t think the other 3 can be ruled out either! I like Georgia, as they return a lot in the right places, but I also like Saskatchewan, and what they bring back. Toronto could be ready for a return to glory, and New England has been building a promising group for a season or two. They could break out as well. Rochester and Buffalo seem to need a little more help, but we all know how quickly that can change. Out West, Colorado, Calgary, and Vancouver are all hard to break apart, but there is no reason one of them can’t be the best of the group. Like I said, it’s really competitive out there, and it’s going to be a blast to watch it all go down. Add in expansion news, and the NLL is flying high right now.

2018 Lacrosse – College, ALL OF IT

As a former D3 player, I’m a big fan of NCAA lacrosse, and I love it at every level. I watch more D1 men’s games than anything else, but I catch a lot of Wesleyan’s D3 games for men and women, and I’ll watch a great D2 stream, or an NJCAA or MCLA game that pops up. I’m including the NJCAA and MCLA here because I think both are real, valid, and awesome divisions of college lacrosse.maryland vs ohio state Let the Games Begin - Week 14 Rundown

This is what’s so great about college lacrosse. ALL OF IT is good, and the vast majority of it is really competitive! Sure, there are plenty of blow out games, but each and every division is guaranteed to provide at least 5-10 absolute gems of games, at a minimum. And that’s usually just during the regular season. The sheer breadth of talent and number of programs at the college level is astounding these days. There is GREAT college lacrosse being played somewhere near you… go check it out in person! Or watch on TV or online. It’s well worth it!

For Men’s D1, we have 10 teams that could be considered contenders right now, maybe more. I like Denver right now, but who knows if that pans out. It’s a crap shoot at best. AND I LOVE IT! I wouldn’t be surprised to see Denver, OSU, Maryland, Duke, Hopkins, Albany, Syracuse, Penn State, Yale, Towson, or even a couple others hoist the hardware. Are there favorites? SURE! But nothing is guaranteed here, and the top tier that used to be only a couple programs has now expanded to almost double digit teams.

Women’s D1 seems a little more top heavy, with a fewer true contenders, but when those best of the best teams play each other, look out, because you are in for a treat. The skill, athleticism, and creativity on display for the women’s D1 game is superb right now. Maybe the best it’s ever been. Watch, and be prepared to be impressed! Men’s and Women’s D2 and D3 all have amazing talent near the top. It’s D1 caliber lacrosse. Maybe on the lower end of D1, but it’s amazingly good lacrosse for not actually being D1. Teams like RIT, Salisbury, Wesleyan, Cortland, LeMoyne, Adelphi, Denison, Limestone and so many others are worth watching. Make a point to check them out and if you’re at the Final Four, you DEFINITELY want to go to these games on Sunday. Don’t skip them, they are often some of the best games of the weekend!

Much of the same can be said for the MCLA, and the women’s club league. There is really, really good lacrosse being played, and when Utah streams a game through the LaxAllStars Facebook Page, it’s super convenient to watch, and a high quality broadcast! Utah is going D1, so watch them now! You’ll also get to see teams like BYU, or Colorado State, and I will make another guarantee here – you’ll enjoy watching these guys (and gals) play as well!

For the NJCAA, we are really starting to see new programs emerge, and it’s only making the Junior College league that much better. Onondaga is the team to beat, and have been for over a decade, but Genesee won a title 2 years ago, and Howard (MD) dropped the title game to OCC 15-14 last year. SO MANY of these players will be D1 guys, but ALL of the top level can straight up ball. It’s amazing lacrosse. WATCH IT IF YOU CAN! If you can’t, just follow along with the JuCo Report. It’s the only consistent and independent NJCAA lacrosse coverage around.

2018 Lacrosse – MLL Season and More

Major League Lacrosse is going to benefit from some of the same things that the NLL is going to benefit from – with only 9 teams, every franchise is LOADED with guys who can tear it up – and this is a good thing. MLL talent is as high as its ever been, guys are in better shape, and teams are somewhat coherent in terms of approach and strategy.mll field report 13

What this creates is a 2018 season with the potential for SHOCKING changes, and massive movement in the standings. Ok, so how is this any different from the past number of seasons? It’s different because for the first time in a long time, new league leadership is (allegedly) coming through the door, and this could provide the spark for big changes.

As I see it, the transition to a new commissioner, new people in league/team office/management roles, and a lot of other turnover will create one of two scenarios:

  1. MLL reorganizes, and sets itself on a smoother path under new leadership.
  2. MLL falls apart and the season doesn’t end up being completed.

Seriously, as far as I can tell, those are the two options here. Given all that happened last year with the league (players’ personal info being released, questionable trade rules, incoherent suspension policies and procedures, etc), I really think we are entering a make or break period of time for Major League Lacrosse.

We KNOW the players will continue to play their hearts out and provide a great product on the field, and that will be fun to watch for sure. From day 1 the players have provided a superb product on and off the field. That has not changed one iota. But more and more, people are watching the league itself, and searching for signs of new life. With all the moves the NLL has made, I think many almost expect it. Either way, a new commissioner really should be announced soon. It’s been almost 11 months. Again, this is something to watch and it adds a layer of interest to the already great games.

I wish the MLL the best, and I truly hope they figure this all out soon. I don’t want the league to go anywhere but up.

2018 Lacrosse – Women’s Pro Leagues

I’ve only seen a little of the women’s pro game, but that little bit has made me want to see more this year. I don’t love the fact that there are already two competing pro leagues, but until it plays out, it’s not fair to doubt that approach. Maybe it will work out great. I’ll reserve judgement as I keep an eye on it.

Why reserve judgement? Because, like Major League Lacrosse, the talent is ridiculous! These leagues are new, they are still figuring it out, but just like MLL, they are buoyed by what people want to see, and that is straight up amazing lacrosse. I need lessons from some of these women… they are just too good!

Watch women’s pro lacrosse this year. Prepare to be amazed.

2018 Lacrosse – FIL Men’s Championships

A long-time knock on the international game has been a lack of truly competitive games. In the past, you typically got a US-Canada round robin game which was great, and maybe another good Blue Division game between Australia and someone else, and then some lower games which were pretty decent. Thankfully, all of that is changing.

Canada and the US are obviously still the top two teams, and while the Iroquois are trending upwards, I still think Gold and Silver are 90% safe as going to the old guard of FIL lacrosse. Beyond that, I feel a lot less secure in making predictions, and quite frankly it is glorious to finally be able to say that.Rob Pannell Team USA Lacrosse

For third place, the Iroquois, Australia, Israel, Scotland, England, and Japan all have to be considered as contenders. In 2014, the Iroquois beat Scotland 10-8. Scotland beat Finland 9-6. Maybe bring them into this group? Australia beat Israel 9-8. Scotland beat Japan 10-9. England beat Israel 10-9. England beat Israel 7-6 in the 2016 Euro Championships. Scotland finished in 7th in 2016. Finland beat Scotland 9-8. Finland finished 3rd.

Of course Finland also lost to England 14-1 in the Euro semis. And the Iroquois beat Australia 16-5 in the third place game in 2014. There are other scores like this, so it’s not ALL tight games, but it shows that the gap between medal placing or semifinal teams, and the rest of the top 8-10, is not nearly as big as it used to be. It also means more upsets can occur, and new teams can find themselves in the Blue Division. And that adds ANOTHER interesting layer to all of this.

In 2014, Israel and Scotland both had a really good shot at getting in to the semifinals. Scotland lost by 2, and Israel lost by 1. BOTH of those teams came from outside of the Blue Division. In 2018, Scotland is in the Blue (by finishing 5th in 2014), but Japan and Israel are not in the six team Blue Division. How will this impact these teams? Does the grind of playing more Blue Division games help or hurt a team like Scotland or England? Does playing easier competition early on help or hurt a team like Japan or Israel? Can another team knock either Japan or Israel out earlier? I don’t think so, but it’s not impossible, and that makes the entire event that much more exciting. Add in that Israel is looking improved AND playing in front of home crowds and some unpredictable stuff could happen.Wales v Israel - 2016 European Champioship Semifinals 2018 lacrosse

What I’m saying is this – don’t just tune in for the Gold Medal game for 2018. There will be so many good games in this World Lacrosse Championships that you’re going to want to watch as many as you can. Norway-Sweden will be a great game if they meet up. Netherlands-Germany would be a blast. New Zealand-Ireland was amazing in 2014, and I’d expect more of that now. And the list goes on and on. 2018 Worlds are going to be awesome. Put it on your calendar now. July. Mark it down.

2018 Lacrosse – Other Amazing Stuff

High School – All over the country, there is awesome high school lacrosse to watch. It’s unreal how much the game has grown to include almost every state.

Youth – This should be FUN. Let’s keep it that way. Enjoy the games and leave with a smile on your face. If kids played lacrosse today, that’s a good thing. I could do with a little less “national champs” youth stuff and more focus on kids being kids, but perhaps that’s just me. Paul Rabil didn’t win a “youth national title”… heck, he wasn’t even playing lacrosse at that age. Maybe we can all chill with the professionalization of youth sports just a little bit. The best way to do that is to go watch and cheer positively for your kids team, or a team your friends’ kids play on, or you can go out and coach and give a kid your time. It’s valuable and it’s pretty simple. Let them have fun, compete, and learn. That’s the reason we do this 99% of the time, so let’s keep 99% of our focus on that. Just an idea. I do love youth lacrosse when it’s about fun, competition, and learning as an athlete and young person!

Senior A Lacrosse, Etc. – Canadian Summer Lacrosse is the real deal. From Junior B teams like the Green Gaels to Senior A teams like the Six Nations Chiefs, there is a ton of great box lacrosse to watch all summer long in Canada. In the US, we are starting to see some more of this, and that’s a good thing. If you can get up to see some games in person, do so. Scott Hensley says it’s the real deal as a lacrosse experience, and I trust Scott. He’s a Baltimore guy, so if he like Sr A box, you’ll like it too. I could write 6,000 words on the Senior A season, but it’s so far away, I’ll spare you that, for now.

There are plenty of other levels and events I didn’t mention. In April the Ales Hrebesy runs outside of Prague. They live stream all the games. Over the Summer, tourneys like Placid, Vail, and Ocean City draw huge crowds of players and fans. New Orleans has a tourney in January this year. The Berlin Open will be sick, as always. It just goes on and on.

I spoke on some of the biggest upcoming events and leagues, but it doesn’t really matter what aspect of the game you’re interested in because these days there is just so much lacrosse out there, and so much of it is so good. Find your team, watch them in-person or online and support the game. It’s going to be an amazing year of lacrosse!