Editor’s Note: It’s time to talk Big Ten men’s lacrosse for 2016! Welcome to our annual D1 Conference Previews! We kicked things off with the ACC, then hit up the Big East, and made our way to the Colonial and then the Ivy League after that! Most recently we hit up the America East and then the MAAC. Each conference gets an in-depth preview from different writers, and the LaxAlLStars.com staff will also rank the conference teams in a pre-season poll. It’s time for the Big Ten 2016 Preview!
When the Big Ten started their inaugural season in 2015, expectations were pretty high for at least some of the league. Everyone knew Hopkins and Maryland were going to be fighting for the league championship, but the rest of the field? There was no way this league would be confused with the ACC. Early on, this wisdom held true as the ACC dominated college lacrosse out of conference while the Big 10…not so much.
By the end of May, the thoughts on the Big 10 changed drastically. Ohio State beat Maryland while Rutgers only lost to them by a point. Penn State went into double overtime with Hopkins. Michigan, in their fourth season in division one lacrosse matched their 2014 win total despite a major jump in strength of schedule. Once the NCAA tournament hit, the Big 10 was responsible for sending ACC teams Duke, Syracuse, North Carolina, and Virginia to clean out their lockers early.
2016 Big Ten Preview
So what does the 2016 edition look like? What should scare some teams out there is most of the coaches I talked to uttered the phrase “we were a young team last year”. There is a ton of talent returning for this season across the entire conference. Outside of the big names are even more players who pushed into roles they may not have been ready for a year ago, but are going to lead their teams this year.
Johns Hopkins Blue Jays
2014 Record & Result: 11-5 (Lost to Duke in NCAA Quarterfinals)
2015 Record & Result: 11-7 (Lost to Maryland in NCAA Semifinals)
Key Losses: Towson, Maryland in NCAA semifinals, Syracuse, North Carolina, Virginia (OT)
Key Wins: Penn State (2OT), Maryland, Ohio State, Syracuse in NCAA quarterfinals
Players Departed: Wells Stanwick (28G,43A), Michael Pellegrino (58GB,25CT), Eric Schneider (49.9%SV)
Players Arriving: Patrick Foley (D), Hunter Sells (G), Ben Kellar (Bucknell), Austin Spencer (UMass)
The 2015 John Hopkins season in early April seemed over. On April 5th, the Blue Jays were sitting in Ohio following a loss to Ohio State and were staring at a 4-6 record. What would follow from that point on is a win streak that came just a pair of goals short from being written into the storied past of Johns Hopkins lacrosse as one of the best run in school history. They would top Maryland on the road, they would win the first Big Ten Championship, they blew away Virginia by 12 in the NCAA tournament and then held off a trademark Syracuse rally to see Championship Weekend for the first time in years. Unfortunately, the magic wore out and they lost to Maryland by a single goal, being denied a trip to the championship game in the process.
The 2015 Jays return a good amount of their offense, but are decimated on defense. Ryan Brown’s 61 goals to go with Shack Stanwick’s 51 points are back again. They looked to return every major midfielder until it was announced that Joel Tinney would be missing the season. They still will bring back John Crawley, Holden Cattoni, Connor Reed, Patrick Fraser, and Cody Radziewicz. Those five midfielders combined for 110 points a year ago. With two outstanding starting attack coming back and two solid lines of midfielders, scoring should not be a problem at Homewood.
On the other end of the field, Head Coach Dave Pietramala is being setup to work his magic a the great defensive mind that he is. They lose their main goalie Eric Schneider, LSM Michael Pellegrino, and close defenders John Kelly, Nikhon Schuler, and Eddie Schurr. The only starting defender returning is Nick Fields, who will have some support from LSM Derrick Kihembo. Kihembo saw time in nearly every game, but did not record much in the way of stats. They do get some support from incoming transfers Ben Kellar from Bucknell and LSM Austin Spencer from UMass. The only incoming freshman listed as a pure defender is Patrick Foley, who is on the USA U19 team and ranked as the #44 best player in his class. In goal, Will Ryan saw the most time in net last season as a backup while freshman Hunter Sells (#2 goalie in HS class) may have a shot as seeing some time.
Given the way their season ended a year ago and the amount of firepower they return, I would expect another strong year out of Hopkins. With the freshman and underclassman waiting in the wings, they never have to search too hard for talent to fill roles. Their defense may take some time to come together, but by the time May rolls around, this team should be more than ready.
2014 Record & Result: 13-4 (Lost to Notre Dame in NCAA Semifinals)
2015 Record & Result: 15-4 (Lost to Denver in NCAA Finals)
Key Losses: Ohio State, Denver
Key Wins: Ohio State OT Win, Hopkins in NCAA semifinals, Yale in NCAA, North Carolina (twice)
Players Departed: Charlie Raffa (57.9%FO), Joe LoCascio (29G,15A), Jay Carlson (33G,8A), Casey Ikeda (29GB,18CT)
Players Arriving: Pat Young (UMBC), Timothy Monahan (A), Thomas O’Connell (M), Louis Dubick (A), Will Snider (M)
Oh, Maryland, what are we going to do with you? Going back to 2010, Maryland has only had more than four losses twice, and both of those times, they found themselves in the NCAA title game. You can make jokes about it (OK, I kind of did), but this team knows how to win games. What’s more impressive is that with their defense and the talent they have on offense, they know how to win close games better than almost anyone. In 2015, they were 4-0 in one point games. Coming off of yet another Championship Runner-Up trophy, what can we expect from the Terps? To put it simply: lots of wins.
The recent MLL draft saw an amazing six picks from this Maryland squad alone, a school record. Essentially the entire starting midfield was drafted in the second round, which is a good vote of confidence, because the offensive side of the ball is where they lost the most to graduation. LoCascio and Carlson were the second and third highest scorers a year ago. When asked about who will fill in for them, Coach John Tillman said: “On the offensive side, Bryan Cole, Henry West, Matt Rambo and Colin Heacock made immense strides on the field last season and will continue to be some of our leaders.” Rambo returns as the team’s leading scorer, but Carlson was the best pure finisher in the offense. Dylan Maltz started every game but one at attack, so he should stay there while based on Tillman’s input, it would seem that Heacock is going to slide right into that third starting position after his two starts in 2015. He is also excited about the prospects of Midfielder Pat Young, a UMBC transfer, who was one of the aforementioned MLL draft picks.
The biggest gap on this team is at the face-off X, where Charlie Raffa will not be returning. Not a single person behind Raffa finished with over 50% in this category. With the ball control style that Maryland plays, Raffa’s role was amplified. They have the tools to play fast, back and forth lacrosse, but all too often are view as a team who is at times overly patient on offense while playing a smothering defense that can grind out wins. That style is rather effective what you can turn to someone like Raffa to get you nearly 60% of the draws.
Speaking of the smothering defense, Casey Ikeda is the biggest loss here, but overall, they are in great shape. Goalie Kyle Bernlohr is the foundation of the team who led the NCAA in scoring defense. Viriginia Transfer Greg Danseglio is poised to fill Ikeda’s role after sitting out a year under a redshirt. LSM Matt Neufeldt is back with his team leading 57 ground balls and 21 caused turnovers. Filling out the other key spots, Tillman pointed to 3 specific players: “Returning all-american defender Matt Dunn was a junior captain for us last season and we expect him to continue to be an excellent leader for our program. Mac Pons and Isaiah Davis-Allen had great sophomore years and are looking for them to continue to get better and better.” It’s hard to imagine them dropping their goals against average much lower than seven, but the record sits at 3.67 (set by Delaware in 1971), so it is possible!
Maryland is different in 2016 than they were a year ago. But even with these changes, it is crazy to think their march towards championship weekend would be cut short any time before the quarterfinals. A slip-up is possible here or there, but this is going to be a top team all season long.
2014 Record & Result: 5-11 (Lost to Fairfield in ECAC Tournament)
2015 Record & Result: 5-8 (Missed Big 10 Tournament)
Key Losses: Drexel (2 points), Penn State (1 point)
Key Wins: St. Joseph’s (4OT), Detroit (9 points)
Players Departed: Mike Francia (12G,5A), Will Meter (12G,3A,21GB), Mack Gembis (27GB)
Players Arriving: Decker Curran (A/M), Michael Borda (D)
Entering their fifth season on Division I lacrosse, the Wolverines are still looking to build. They started with a pair of one win seasons, but those look to be far behind them. Michigan lost a decent number of players to graduation and there are a handful of underclassman who are not on the 2016 roster. Do not mistake that for a team looking to rebuild. They return their top three scorers, every starting middie, all major FOGOs, their top LSM, all goalies, and all but one starting close defender. Their major losses are attackman Meter and Francia on offense along with SSDM Thomas Orr and long pole Mack Gembis on defense.
Offensively, Ian King returns, who led the team in scoring despite missing four games at attack. Behind him are midfielders Kyle Jackson and Mikie Schlosser. King does lose most of his supporting cast at attack, but Peter Kraus saw consistent time last year will come back with his 14 points. The real Michigan strength on offense will lie with their middies. Aside from Jackson and Schlosser are David Joseph, Mike Hernandez, Brendan Gaughan, and Riley Kennedy. The only middie on their roster not returning only saw time in three games and had a single goal on man up.
On the defensive side of the ball, the big player returning is LSM Chase Brown. Brown led the team in Ground Balls (34) and Caused Turnovers (15) while also taking some face-offs (24/59). He also had over 20% of the team’s penalty minutes, so I guess you can say he likes to play a little high risk-high reward lacrosse. In net is Gerald Logan, who started every game last year, finishing with 53.5% save percentage. Every backup also returns, along with freshman keeper Gunner Garn. Nearly everyone else on defense returns, except for Gembis and Orr.
Given the amount of their defense returning to go along with the same goalies, I would fully expect some major improvements in their goals allowed average. If the middies and King can bring others up to speed, Michigan should find themselves in a much better spot in the league standings. I can’t say I see them topping someone like Maryland just yet, but I think they have the pieces to make a push for a spot in the league tournament.
Ohio State Buckeyes
2014 Record & Result: 6-8 (Missed ECAC Tournament)
2015 Record & Result: 12-7 (Lost to Denver in NCAA quarterfinals)
Key Losses: Notre Dame (zero goals), Detroit, Maryland (OT)
Key Wins: Duke in NCAA, Maryland in Big 10 tournament, Hopkins, Denver
Players Departed: Jesse King (42G,35A), David Planning (25G,16A), Turner Evans (9G,12A), Christopher May (60.3%FO)
Players Arriving: Jack Jasinski (A), Brandon Barker (M), Willie Klan (G), Matt Borges (D), Eric Fannell (Adrian), Austin Shanks (Bellarmine)
Ohio State is a team that was a nightmare for anyone involved in ranking teams a year ago. They took Maryland into overtime, were shut out by Notre Dame, beat Denver, lost to Detroit, beat Maryland and then beat Hopkins. Once they made the NCAA tournament, they also routed Duke on the road in the first round. What can we expect in 2016? In my conversation with assistant coach Jamison Koesterer, he gave the impression to get ready for reloaded team, not a rebuilding one.
Despite losing Jesse King and Turner Evans, Koesterer feels that their approach to offense will be much the same. They return Carter Brown and Colin Chell, while adding in a pair of transfers with a Canadian lacrosse background in Eric Fannell and Austin Shanks. Regarding their freshman on offense, he feels good about Jack Jasinski, a U19 Team USA training team midfielder out of Alabama and Brandon Barker. While he was not a huge factor in the scoring column a year ago, Tyler Pfister is a local player from Columbus who was elected Captain, so you should see his role increase this season.
Defensively, captain Robbie Haus and Chris Mahoney are the big returners. Another USA U19 player, Matt Borges looks like he might have a good shot at taking that remaining long pole spot. Koesterer also gave a nod towards captain Kacy Kapinos, a SSDM who should play a prominent role in their defense. Behind all them is their goalie from a year ago, Tom Carey. He started every game last year and finished with a 51.3% save percentage. A potential surprise here might by another team USA U19 candidate in Willie Klan. When discussing the freshman on the team, Koesterer emphasized their culture of making sure everyone could compete for every spot. Carey had a solid season in net against some great shooters, so it would take a lot to replace him, but Klan definitely has some superb talent to offer.
Another big loss for the Buckeyes is FOGO Casey May, who finished the season at 60%, which is nothing to shrug off. Jake Withers has the most draws to his name behind May, with a respectable 51% in 2015. That likely makes him the guy to assume this role to start the year.
The wrinkle with this team that makes them a little different is how among their freshman, is the trio of USA U19 players, which is a team led by Ohio State head coach Nick Myers. I’m not suggesting favoritism by any means, but you have to think that if he believes these players are among the best to represent the country, they stand a pretty good chance at representing Ohio State on the field right away. It also means he has been able to spend a little bit more time coaching them than a normal freshman. He will understand their abilities a little bit better and they will understand his tendencies and philosophy a little better. I really think it makes a great combination for them to succeed immediately once the season rolls around.
Penn State Nittany Lions
2014 Record & Result: 7-6 (Missed CAA Tournament)
2015 Record & Result: 5-9 (Lost to Hopkins in Big 10 Tournament)
Key Losses: Hopkins (2OT), Denver (2 points)
Key Wins: Marist
Players Departed: Connor Darcey (55.3%SV), Michael Richards (2G,3A,11GB), JP Burnside (26GB)
Players Arriving: Kevin Fox (D), Tommy Wright (M), Robby Black (M), Kevin Hill (M), Matt Donnelly (M), Grant Ament (A)
Penn State had the offseason no program, team, player, coach, or fan ever wants to experience. In June, they lost their goalie Connor Darcey to a tragic accident while he was home in Massachusetts for the summer. Head Coach Jeff Tambroni has gone through a similar situation in 2004, when his Cornell team lost George Boiardi during a game. Tambroni emphasized how the difference of timing in those two events was dramatically different. With Connor’s passing during the summer, it gave his players time to reflect on their relationship with him and process their emotions prior to returning to a campus. Tambroni said it was something that he and his coaching staff were not going to use as motivation, but rather the players have each found their own way to carry forward Connor’s legacy and competitiveness. One such example is fellow Massachusetts native and team captain James Burke has switched his jersey to Connor’s number 16. Aside from that, Tambroni simply said “There are reminders every day”.
An excellent example of how Connor’s spirit has driven this team already is how they arrived in the fall. According to Tambroni “Our three captains without question, were voted into this position early in the year, as early as any year I’ve been around Penn State and certainly as long as I can remember.” Burke is joined by fellow senior Tommy O’Neill and redshirt junior Drake Kreinz “grew up over the summer” and are going to be strong leaders for the team both on and off the field throughout the season.
Despite how young their team is to begin with, Tambroni has a handful of freshman who he sees as “absolutely” seeing time in 2016. On attack is Grant Ament. The description given of his abilities are something I’m sure any coach would like to say about a freshman attackman: “He has changed the way we play a little bit. His skill set is not something we had last year on this team.” Aside from Ament, the trio of midfielders in Robby Black, Kevin Hill, and Matt Donnelly will all be getting some playing time right away. On the defensive side of the field, he sees long pole Kevin Fox and midfielder Tommy Wright as immediate contributors.
It will be interesting to see how exactly these freshman crack the lineups. Offensively, they return every major starter from last year and 10 of their top 11 scorers. TJ Sanders led the way with 42 points and should benefit from the addition of Ament in the attack. Among their long poles, Jack Donnelly and JP Burnside are their two biggest losses.
The biggest spot to fill is going to be between the pipes, where Darcey started every game and played all but 50 seconds. Will Schreiner, who did not play those other 50 seconds last year and was in Tambroni’s terms “well back in the shadows of Connor Darcey”, is pegged to be the starting goalie in 2016. Tambroni emphasized that while Schreiner has moved up earlier than planned, he has earned that opportunity and is playing well so far this year.
Penn State returns more starters and major contributors than any other team in the conference. They brought in a large freshman class who they expect to contribute right away. They will be playing with heavy hearts, but will be combining that with some excellent lacrosse on the field. When looking at all of these factors together, I am excited to see what the Nittany Lions can do in the Big Ten. I really think they are poised to make a big jump this year.
Rutgers Scarlet Knights
2014 Record & Result: 8-8 (Lost to Denver in Big East Tournament)
2015 Record & Result: 5-10 (Missed Big 10 Tournament)
Key Losses: Maryland (1 point), Hopkins (2 points), Army (2 points), Princeton (1 point)
Key Wins: Ohio State
Players Departed: Joe Nardella (6G,9A,67%FO), Brian Goss (21G,2A), Nick Capparelli (15GB)
Players Arriving: Max Edelmann (CCBC Essex)
The common theme when talking to Rutgers head coach Brian Brecht about this year’s team was returning players. Yes, losing Joe Nardella is a gigantic loss. A player like that is not someone you just look to the underclassman to replace. Brian Goss was fourth on the team in overall scoring, but the only other player with significant starts was Nick Capparelli. But outside of those three, Rutgers returns 10 of the their top 12 scorers, most of their defense, and their primary goalie in Kris Alleyne.
What may or may not be surprising is that Brecht indicated that most of the new freshman are not expected to fill major roles. Max Edlemann, a JUCO transfer should push for time in net and he does expect good competition all over the field, but he points to the number of underclassman seeing time last year as the main thing holding back the newcomers. Their starting attack was a freshman, sophomore and junior, who were also the top three scorers. On top of those three, a freshman and a sophomore saw time at attack in every game as well. As if the returning contributor log jam wasn’t enough, there was a trio of freshman redshirting last year due to various reasons, but Casey Rose, Adam Charalambides, and Connor Vercuysse can all make an impact on the field.
Defensivley, Brecht points to Michael Rexrode, a freshman who started all 11 games he played in to me a big factor once again this year. Branford Rogers and Chris Groel also look to come back and continue to build on their 2015 season. While Alleyne was their primary goalie and Edlemann is competing, they had four goalies all see time in net last year, three of which had a start. If there is any position that is truly up for grabs, it will be in goal. Whoever does win out has the advantage of playing behind a unit that has a high degree of familiarity with each other, which should make their job at least a little easier. Nardella will obviously leave a big hole to fill, but Brecht has confidence in his backups from last year, Joe Francisco and Alex Schoen, to compete at a high level to help keep the possession going their way.
Rutgers did end the season well last year after building up through the schedule. They had some bad losses early on, but ended the season with a win over Ohio State and played both Maryland and Hopkins very close. If they are able to keep that momentum going into 2016, this could be a very dangerous team. Brecht said what he has been surprised by is the incredibly high amount of energy from this team early on. In cold January practices, the team is celebrating goals, big plays, and fostering a high degree of enthusiasm as a team before they have even scrimmaged or played their first game. Brecht is very excited about this group and what they can bring back from their ending last year. I would fully expect this team to dramatically improve upon their record from last year.
2016 Big Ten Preseason Poll by LaxAllStars.com
- Maryland: Until they stop playing in late May regularly, I’ll have them hear every preseason.
- Hopkins: Their defense does worry me, but Ryan Brown will be making goalies do their least favorite thing all year: “Turn and rake”.
- Penn State: This team is driven, returning a ton of talent, and with Tambroni at the helm, should be ready to go.
- Rutgers: I think they are ready to make a big jump this year after end last year so well.
- Ohio State: I really want to put them above Rutgers, but there’s too much movement in the lineup for my comfort right now.
- Michigan: They are improving as a program and getting good players, but they’ll need to do some better resume building before I can move them up.