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21 Predictions for the 2021 Men’s DI College Lacrosse Campaign

The 2021 season is almost upon us, assuming we actually get a 2021 season. It’s still a stressful time to be a sports fan (and also, you know, generally exist). But we’ll leave that up to the future to decide. Ignoring those concerns, we’re here to discuss 21 predictions for the ‘21 season. 

Some will be bold. Some will be obvious. Some might even be wrong. But hey, they’re predictions. We’ll find out, right? Let’s dig in.

This article was originally published Dec. 29, 2020. We’re reviving it now two months into 2021 to check on how Ryder’s predictions are going, what’s right, what’s already wrong, and what is still to be determined.

21 Predictions for 2021 College Lacrosse

1- The all-time goals record falls. Penn State’s Mac O’Keefe sits just 20 goals away from Justin Guterding’s all-time mark of 212. Since he’s currently averaging 3.5 a game for his career, that means he’s on pace to break the record in the fourth quarter of game six this year for the Nittany Lions. While that average might fluctuate now that he’ll be playing without Grant Ament, it’s still extremely likely that O’Keefe, who has never scored fewer than 25 goals in a season (and that was in the COVID-shortened 2020 season), will shatter the record this season.

2- So does the all-time assists record. This one I haven’t seen mentioned much, and it’s one of the far less obvious predictions compared to O’Keefe’s chances, but hear me out here. Pat Spencer’s all-time assists record sits at 231, a whopping 50 assists better than what Michael Sowers will walk into 2021 with. That said, I legitimately believe Sowers could still break the record this season. He’s posted 50+ assists in his last two complete seasons and was on pace for 87 (!!) assists last campaign, with an insane 6.2 per game. With no intended offense to the Tigers, I’d argue that this year’s Duke team will be the greatest collection of talent that Sowers has ever played with. Assuming he remains the primary ball-handler at X (which seems very likely), I think him reaching the assists record is well within reason. 

3- A new GOAT candidate stakes his claim one last time. Look, to build on the Sowers thing, I don’t think we’ve given enough consideration for him being one of the best players in NCAA history. It’s a tragedy that we didn’t get to see how his 2020 season would’ve played out, but it also gives us another full season to see what he can do before he goes pro. He’s never played in a playoff game, and yet he’s top 10 in career points. He has a chance to not only break the assists record, but the all-time PPG record too. Right now, his 6.43 PPG ranks just below Tony Asterino’s all-time record of 6.47 for the NCAA crown. The only other player from this century (2000-2020) in the top 10 for career PPG is Lyle Thompson at ninth, and Lyle averaged 5.7. We could see him break records. We could see him claim the Tewaaraton he was on pace to win last season. Mostly, though, we could finally see him playing during Memorial Day Weekend, and that’s the dream for Sowers fans everywhere. 

4- The ACC makes up ¾ of MDW. Okay, the ACC is always a bloodbath, but dear lord is this year’s ACC set up to be a bloodbath. Syracuse was the No. 1 team in the nation when the 2020 season wrapped and basically only added to its stockpile of players since then. It’s going to be the preseason No. 1 team … unless Duke takes it from them. The Blue Devils are also widely regarded as one of the title favorites. You know who else was an undefeated, top-five squad when 2020 ended? North Carolina, who brings back a ton of talent, including potential Tewaaraton finalist Chris Gray. That’s not even to mention Virginia or Notre Dame. It’s entirely possible that in-fighting destroys the ACC. Still, this is one of my bolder predictions here: the ACC manages to sneak three teams into the final four.

5- Mac O’Keefe breaks the goals record … but doesn’t lead the Big 10 in goals. We already talked about O’Keefe, but just because he’s going to break the career record doesn’t mean he’s going to be the top scorer in the conference. The competition is stiff, and he’s on his own now. The popular choice is probably still on O’Keefe, and Logan Wisnauskas seems like a good bet, but my money is actually on Ohio State’s Tre LeClair. The big, bruising Canadian was fourth in the NCAA last season in goals before the shutdown, and I think he’s going to have an even bigger breakout for the Buckeyes in 2021. This is a team full of talented passers (hi there, Jack Myers and Jackson Reid), and I just think that LeClair, back for a fifth season and now a top-five NLL draft pick, is going to be a force of nature in his final year in Ohio. Wild guess, I’m going to say he finishes in the ballpark of 60 goals. I expect a Peter Baum-like finish for the Canadian this year.

6- Dyson Williams leads the NCAA in goals. Last year, in his first season in Durham, Williams, the dynamic lefty out of Ontario, dropped a team-leading 25 goals in Duke’s eight games, good for eighth in the NCAA. He did so while shooting 55.6%, good for seventh nationally in shooting percentage. That was as a freshman. Now, he’s about to be a year older, a year better, and, oh right, Michael Sowers is going to be passing him the ball. I see Williams in 2021 as similar to Connor Fields as a freshman with Lyle, or maybe playing a sort of O’Keefe role to Sowers’ Ament. I mean, the kid had 25 goals and five assists last year. He’s a shoot first player, and he just got gifted one of the most prolific passers in lacrosse history. Expect a huge blow up in production from the Hill Academy alum. If Sowers breaks the assists record, I expect Williams has a lot to do with it. A starting attack line of Williams, Sowers, and either grad transfer Phillip Robertson or No. 1 recruit Brennan O’Neill is going to be so much fun. 

7- This is going to be a rough year for Virginia. One of the ACC’s best will have to have a down year. It’s just math, considering that the conference is all going to be playing each other, and they’re all really good. In my predictions, Duke, Syracuse, and UNC could all be going to the semifinals. That means that teams four and five could be good but still have a rough year on the record sheet. I trust Notre Dame a little bit more than the Cavs, who lose Dox Aitken to football. They were 4-2 last year but finished on a weird loss to Brown. I’m worried about them considering the intense amount of talent in the ACC. Fifth in the ACC is plenty good but could mean a rough slate and a missed postseason for the Cavs. I’m gonna say the Cavs finish 6-8 on the year, roughly.

8- Utah posts a winning record for the first time. The Utes might’ve done it last year. We’ll never know. A 3-3 start was promising, and their schedule had the potential to do it, but this year I think they finally get there. Brian Holman gets another year to bring in his own guys, and I believe in that coaching staff and what they’re doing out in Salt Lake City. Losing Colin Burke hurts (for the Utes, the Lizards are quite happy with him), but this team has been bringing in solid recruiting classes, and Mac Costin looked super promising as a freshman last season in his limited action. It’s just hard to look at how this program is being built and not believe it’s going to get there sooner rather than later. 

9- The Patriot League gets won by true patriots. Loyola is probably the betting favorite, but I’m going out on a limb here (these are predictions, after all) and say Army wins the Patriot and the auto bid that comes along with it. He might not get the same love and attention as other, bigger-name attackmen right now, but Brendan Nichtern is an absolute stud. He was third in the nation in points last season, balancing nicely with 19 goals and 27 assists. An extremely bizarre blowout loss to Marist aside, the Black Knights were off to a great start in 2020, and I think they’ll find a way to keep that rolling into 2021. I also think that Wyatt Schupler is one of the better young goalies in the NCAA, and he could help anchor a fantastic defense that should be a big strength for Army.

10- Jeff Teat may be a Tewaaraton finalist … but he doesn’t lead the Ivy in points. This is probably a dumb call, but hey, what else are preseason predictions for? Teat is a great player, and damn near all of his supporting cast should be back for the Big Red in 2021. He’s the easy pick, especially with Michael Sowers off to the ACC. But hold your horses, because I don’t think he gets there. No, I think the points leader for the Ivy will be Penn’s Sean Lulley. The Quaker senior was second in points last season behind Sowers, and I love his supporting cast for this season to make an even bigger impact. Sam Handley, former Ivy ROTY, should be back to 100 percent following some injury trouble last season. Dylan Gergar, a fantastic finisher, is also back. I expect a huge season for Penn and a big season for Lulley as part of that. A super dark horse candidate? Well, somebody is gonna have to replace Sowers’ production at Princeton. Keep an eye out on USA U-20 stud Alex Slusher, the only freshmen for the Tigers to put up more than two points. He scored some huge goals last season, and I expect him to make an impact sooner rather than later. 

11- The Tewaaraton comes down to the state of North Carolina. With all due respect, admiration, and love to the other superstars out there, I think there’s a very clear Tewaaraton favorite, and I think there’s a pretty clear runner-up favorite right now. The favorite, for damn near anybody you’d ask, is Duke’s Michael Sowers, who was on pace to absolutely win in 2020. Don’t sleep on UNC’s Chris Gray, though. The Boston transfer racked up an NCAA-leading 48 points through an undefeated 7-0 start in Chapel Hill, balancing out 27 goals with 21 assists. He gets the rest of his starting attack line back. I think Gray is one of the most dynamic guys in the nation. Hell, I wrote that he should’ve been a Tewaaraton finalist back in 2019 when he played for BU. Funny that the two favorites come not only from the same state but from two bitter rivals. The Duke-UNC rivalry game is going to be a freakin’ blast this year. Expect fireworks.

12- Brennan O’Neill is finally in college. He’ll be great, but he won’t be the rookie of the year. That’s not a knock on O’Neill, who has a sort of LeBron vibe coming into his first season with Duke. I just think that Duke team is too stacked for him to get enough run to be the most productive freshman. He might look the best, but I expect he’ll cede points to the rest of the Blue Devils. So, who’s gonna garner the most hype amongst the freshmen class? My money is on Brendan Grimes. Hopkins’ new No. 9 is super athletic at 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, and I’m betting he’ll make an instant impact for the Blue Jays in my predictions, particularly considering they’re in need of some offensive help. Grimes has a reputation as a leader, and I honestly think he could be running the JHU offense by season’s end. 

13- Somebody debuts a brand new helmet. A company, obviously. Every team will debut new helmets. No, I mean that I think we see a brand new model for the first time in a few years. I don’t expect it to be Warrior, since the Burn is the newest of the three, but could we see the Cascade T (or, you know, whatever it ends up being) or some sort of next-gen Rival? If I had to guess, I’d say it’s Cascade that breaks out a new model for some of its highest-profile squads as we get closer to the natty. 

14- Dartmouth is kinda, sorta legit now? The Big Green (I still find it hilarious that the Ivy has both a Big Green and a Big Red) were a surprisingly solid 3-1 at the end of 2020, boasting the nation’s lowest goals-allowed average. Their starting goalie is back. Two of their starting three close defenders are back. Their top-three scorers from last year are back. All I’m saying is that a lot of Ivy League teams lost talent, and Dartmouth lost less than most. Also, they signed a whopping four guys listed as four-star recruits by Inside Lacrosse. I’m not saying they win the Ivy or anything, but maybe they’re not the basement dweller they’ve been of late. 

15- Albany is good again. It’s been pretty quiet up north recently. I think there’s a chance that changes. Albany has a particularly fun freshman class, and its top-three recruits are all from the same high school. Tehoka is back for one last round, and he seems extremely motivated to leave his mark (and boost his draft stock along the way). This was a fairly young team last year that showed promising signs against Maryland and Drexel. What it really needs is to find production in cage and at the faceoff X, both of which struggled with lower-than-ideal percentages. Perhaps the team will benefit from the changes at the stripe (SNG is here), perhaps not, but in my predictions, I have Albany better this year than it’s been since Connor Fields was a senior.

16- Standing neutral grip isn’t going to make the best FOGOs any worse. I’m on record as not a big fan of changing the faceoff rules, but that’s beside the point now. It’s happened. What I don’t think it’ll do is change all that much. Sure, the very beginning of the season, we might see some weirdness. It’s within the realm of possibility that TD Ierlan isn’t the best FOS in the nation under the new rules. I bet he is, but it’s possible. By the time we get to the playoffs, though, I suspect teams will have found their best SNGers, and teams will be dominating faceoffs just like they’ve been doing for years. These guys are all really, really good at preparation. They’ll figure out these changes just like they figured out the withholding changes. 

17- The next great pro defenseman might be getting overlooked. Reece Eddy was a breakout star for the PLL’s Chrome this summer. He wasn’t exactly a huge name playing for Boston U in 2020, but look closer and you’ll see that he was second in the nation in caused turnovers per game through his first (and ultimately final) six games. The No. 1 player? Holy Cross sophomore Chris Conlin, who racked up a whopping 20 CTs in 7 games through the shortened 2020 season. As a freshman, Conlin was top 20 in CTs. As a sophomore, he was No. 1, while also adding in nearly four GBs a game and leading a Crusaders defense that finished fourth nationally in CTs. It’s worth keeping an eye on the young Holy Cross star. These can be some of the most difficult predictions to make, and he won’t be a draft guy for 2021, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he starts to grow his profile and becomes a breakout pro down the road.

18- Keep an eye on the Big East for a dark horse contender. There were five undefeated teams in the top 10 of the final media poll for 2020. We’ve talked about four of them so far. Let’s talk about the fifth. Georgetown was a rather surprising 6-0, not necessarily taking down a ton of name-brand teams, but it did manage to stifle both Towson and Fairfield. Still, I like Georgetown as a sneaky good contender for 2020. Star senior Jake Carraway, who was lighting things up with 34 points, is back, along with Dylan Watson, who was enjoying a great sophomore season. Bigger still, the Hoyas return the backbone of what was the third-best scoring defense in the NCAA. Stud goalie Owen McElroy, who led the nation with a 63% save rate, returns for his senior year, along with damn near all of his starting defense. To add fuel to the fire, Georgetown also added not one, not two, but THREE five-star recruits in the class of 2020, a great haul for this growing program. I expect Georgetown to make some noise in 2021, and possibly beyond, if its recruiting continues at this pace.

19- The Ivy League has no clear favorite, but one team might be in trouble. Yes, with Princeton’s departures, there’s no clear favorite in the Ivy League. Cornell seems like the most likely pick since it managed to keep Jeff Teat while other schools hemorrhaged talent to the Ivy’s asinine graduate player rules. However, if we’re looking for a powerhouse that could take a step back this year in these predictions, I’m looking at Yale. This is mostly projection, but hear me out here. Yale’s leading scorer, Matt Gaudet, is off terrorizing PLL hot mics. Yale’s third-leading scorer, Jackson Morrill, will be suiting up for Denver. Its greatest strength, FOS TD Ierlan, will have to adjust to the new faceoff rules (I suspect he’ll still be great, but does he lose a little bit of an edge?). Through four games last year, Yale was 3-1, but that loss came to UMass, and the Bulldogs ended up averaging 19.75 turnovers, the eighth-highest mark in DI. The Bulldogs return only two players with five-plus goals last year. If anybody is going to fall off in the Ivy, it’s Yale or Princeton, and I suspect it’ll be the Bulldogs taking a bit of a step back. 

20- The 2021 Tewaaraton finalists will be…

Michael Sowers, A, Duke

Chris Gray, A, North Carolina

TD Ierlan, FOS, Yale

Jeff Teat, A, Cornell

Tre Leclair, M, Ohio State 

21- The 2021 NCAA DI national championship will be…

The Duke Blue Devils, who will avenge a regular-season loss and defeat Syracuse, 16-12, to secure their fourth national championship.

Some of these predictions will be correct. Some of these predictions will not be. Let us know on Twitter and Instagram which predictions are worth remembering, which ones I’ll be embarrassed to revisit in May, and make some predictions of your own!

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