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D1 College Lacrosse Season Preview: Part 1

The 2022 college lacrosse season is officially underway! 2022 brings new challenges and familiar foes. The dream of advancing to Memorial Day weekend begins with conference play.

Mercer hosted Bellarmine in what is becoming tradition on the division one calendar; these two schools were also the only programs to compete in January of last year. Bellarmine won last year’s competition, but this year Mercer had the upper hand defeating the Knights 9-4 on Saturday January, 26th.

Today we will take a deep dive looking at the current college lacrosse landscape, previewing five of the eleven conferences entering the 2022 season. The other remaining six conferences left off this list can be found here.

Without further ado, let’s get started with the best conference in the country.

I highly encourage you to go read part 2 once you have finished part one.

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ACC

Coaches Poll:

  1. Virginia (5)
  2. Duke (1)
  3. Notre Dame
  4. North Carolina
  5. Syracuse

The ACC remains the No.1 conference heading into the 2022 season. Aside from the quick Ivy league stint in March 2020 when the Ivy’s had three of the top five teams in the nation (No.2 Cornell, No.3 Princeton, and No.5 Yale), The ACC has unquestionably been D1’s greatest college lacrosse conference for as long as I can remember.

Seven of the last eleven national champions were from the ACC, and it won’t surprise anyone if an ACC powerhouse hoists the hardware once again on Memorial Day. According to IL’s preseason media poll, four of the top six teams reside in the ACC, and the lone school who isn’t – Syracuse – is still ranked No.12.

Ironically, each of the five ACC programs found a superstar freshman in 2021: Connor Schellenberger (Virginia), Brennan O’Neill (Duke), Eric Dobson (Notre Dame), Collin Krieg (North Carolina), and Owen Hiltz (Syracuse). All five freshmen should see an increased role in their sophomore seasons. The ACC was an absolute gauntlet in 2021, and I wouldn’t expect anything less in 2022.

Favorite: Virginia

The Virginia Cavaliers remain the team to beat until a challenger dethrones the two-time defending champions. Virginia graduated Dox Aitken, Ian Laviano, Jared Connors, and Alex Rode from last season’s national championship team. All four will be missed in Charlottesville, but there’s plenty of talent to fill those spots.

Let’s start with the No.1 recruit in the country, Griffin Schutz. The polarizing attackman can beat you in a number of ways. The 6’3″, 220 pound freshman is a physical specimen, and his soft hands compliment his game perfectly. The Cavaliers also welcome the No.1 goalie recruit in the country: Matthew Nunes. The Texas native could earn the starting nod between the pipes, but no official announcement has been made.

Virginia also brings back three of the best players in college lacrosse at their respective positions: Matt Moore, Connor Schellenberger, and Petey Lasalla. Matt Moore is a true quarterback from X but can beat you in a variety of ways. His 8 points in the national championship game helped propel Virginia to their 7th title in program history. Connor Schellenberger was recognized by the NCAA as the most outstanding player (MOP) from championship weekend. Petey Lasalla is one of the top face-off men in the country, and the senior finished with a 62.4% win percentage last season.

The Cavs will be a handful in 2022, and there’s no reason why they can’t be the first three-peat college lacrosse champions since Princeton did it from 1996-1998. Virginia is the No.1 ranked team heading into the 2022 season.

Sleeper: North Carolina

Is there really such a thing as a sleeper in the ACC? Probably not.

The Tar Heels earned the No.1 seed in last year’s NCAA tournament and led the country with 16.3 goals per game. Carolina returns one of the best players in the country in Chris Gray who is an early favorite to win the Tewaaraton award for the nations best lacrosse player.

North Carolina brings back four established attackmen in Chris Gray, Nicky Solomon, Jacob Kelly, and Lance Tillman. Unfortunately, the Heels graduated their entire first-line midfield group. Fortunately, UNC has the No.1 recruiting class which includes eight Under-Armor All-Americans and five 5-star recruits.

Two of the five 5-stars are dodging midfielders – a hole that needs to be filled. Antonio DeMarco and Ty English should see the field immediately in the Carolina offense. Dewey Egan, North Carolina’s top recruit, is a 6’4″ attackman but he could run out of the box if necessary. Paul Barton, the No.11 recruit in the class of 2021, is a freakishly athletic defenseman who can either play close or take runs at LSM when Matt Wright needs a blow.

Oh, and don’t forget about the No.3 recruit in the class of 2020: Cole Herbert. Herbert began to find his rhythm towards the end of the season, and his contributions could be the difference between a final four appearance or not. This Carolina squad is absolutely loaded. There is a lot to be excited about this college lacrosse season if you’re a Tar Heel fan. 


American East

Coaches Poll:

  1. Vermont (6)
  2. Stony Brook
  3. UAlbany
  4. UMBC (1)
  5. Binghamton
  6. NJIT
  7. UMass-Lowell

Was there a mid-major college lacrosse conference more exciting to follow in last year than the American East? I don’t think so. In 2021, the American East was in a constant power struggle for league supremacy as multiple programs surfaced as true contenders.

UMBC emerged victorious in the regular season and hosted the conference tournament, but No.4 Albany spoiled their party in the semifinals with a 14-12 defeat. In the other semifinal, Stony Brook and Vermont duked it out for four quarters, but the Catamounts were able to outlast the Seawolves and advance to the conference title game. Vermont’s season of destiny prevailed as they defeated Albany, and won their first American East men’s lacrosse title in school history.

Favorite: Vermont

After winning the conference championship and advancing to the NCAA tournament, Vermont enters this spring as the favorite. Preseason All-Americans Tommy Burke and Thomas McConvey are their top two returners. Vermont also returns David Closterman and JJ Lewandowski among others.

Unfortunately, the Catamounts lost starting defenseman Wilson Sneath this offseason after transferring to Michigan. Vermont is in great position make some noise in college lacrosse and repeat in the American East, but the road certainly won’t be easy.

Sleeper: UAlbany

2021 was an eventful season for the Great Danes – but not all for the right reasons. Star attackman Tehoka Nanticoke was dismissed from the team in late March due to “internal team issues.”

Grayden Hogg and Corey Yunker are the team’s highest returning point scorers, and former IL top 100 recruit Joey Pezzimenti is expected to have an increased role. It is yet to be seen who will start between the pipes after graduating their top two netminders from 2021. Don’t sleep on Albany as the Dane Train could make some noise this college lacrosse season. 


ASUN

Coaches Poll:

1. Air Force (3)
1. Utah (2)
3. Robert Morris (1)
4. Bellarmine
5. Detroit Mercy
6. Cleveland State

On February 5th of 2021, the ASUN conference announced the formation of the men’s college lacrosse league. The conference includes six teams: Air Force, Bellarmine, Cleveland State, Detroit Mercy, Robert Morris, and Utah.

The ASUN is by far the most geographically diverse conference in division one men’s lacrosse with teams ranging from Louisville, KY to Coraopolis, PA to Salt Lake City, UT. The ASUN first created a men’s lacrosse league in 2012 with Furman, High Point, Jacksonville, Mercer, Richmond, and VMI. All except Furman – who shut down their men’s lacrosse program due to the Covid-19 pandemic – now play in the SoConn. 2022 marks the first year of a fresh start for the ASUN conference and expectations are largely unknown.

Favorite: Air Force

It’s not easy picking a favorite in a brand new conference, but I give Air Force the slight advantage over Utah due to experience. Brandon Dodd – who was hurt in 2021 – could play a key role in Air Force’s success this season. Dodd led the team in points as a freshman in 2020, and scored 4 goals and 4 assists in his college debut in an upset thriller over Duke on national television. Dodd, alongside Ethan Grandolfo, should compliment each other nicely on attack, and ASUN preseason All-American Quentin Carlile will anchor the defense.

Sleeper: Detroit Mercy

There’s reason for optimism in Detroit with the return of fifth-year senior Brett Erskine. The Canadian led the Titans in points in 2021 and is easily their best offensive player. Erskine’s fellow attackman, Will Edell, finished 2nd on the team in points as a freshman, and earned all-rookie honors. Edell had a .700 shot on goal percentage in 2021, and could improve this spring. Detroit Mercy could be a sneaky team in the ASUN this spring.

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Big East

Coaches Poll:

  1. Georgetown (5)
  2. Denver (1)
  3. Villanova
  4. Marquette
  5. Providence
  6. St. Johns

Entering 2021, there was a two-way race for conference dominance between the Denver Pioneers and the Georgetown Hoyas. This year, it’s Georgetown’s for the taking.

The Hoyas bring back a plethora of talent in 2022, and they lead the country with three first-team All-Americans: Graham Bundy, Will Bowen, Owen McElroy. Hoyas Zach Geddes and Gibson Smith landed on the second team while TJ Haley and Dylan Hess were named honorable mentions.

Denver graduated all-time program goal leader Ethan Walker, alongside Jackson Morrill and Lucas Cotler who used their extra year of eligibility in the mile high city. Jack Hannah will lead the way in the midfield, and Alex Simmons should come out hot after being robbed on the doorstep in the final seconds of Denver’s playoff loss to Loyola.

Favorite: Georgetown

The biggest question for Georgetown will be how they replace Jake Carraway’s 51 goals. TJ Haley led all of college lacrosse in assists (49) as a freshman, but only scored 5 goals. If Haley can turn the corner around GLE in 2022 he’ll be costing defensive coordinators a lot of sleep. Dylan Hess really emerged as a key player in the offense towards the end of the season and he’s a breakout player to watch.

How far can this Hoyas team go in the NCAA tournament? Last year, Georgetown put on an offensive clinic against Syracuse during the primetime Saturday night slot. During that game, Georgetown looked borderline unbeatable and nobody was going to stop them. Their success turned out to be short lived, and the Hoya’s were simply outmatched against the eventual national champions – Virginia. There’s a lot to be excited for the Hoyas in 2022, and a trip to championship weekend doesn’t seem that far away as the Hoyas have all of the pieces lined up to be a real threat this college lacrosse season.

Sleeper: Marquette

The Golden Eagles haven’t qualified for the Big East conference tournament since 2018, and haven’t had a winning season since 2016. This year could be different due to a lack of returners among competing schools like Providence and St. Johns, along with the emergence of three impact freshmen.

Devon Cowan quietly scored 30 goals and 8 assists and led Marquette in goals and points as a freshman, and Russell Melendez also made some noise coming out of the box notching 11 points of his own. Between the pipes, the Golden Eagles found their starter for the next three years thanks to Sean Richard who finished with a 55% save percentage in 2021. If Marquette is going to make a run this college lacrosse season, these three sophomores will need to keep elevating their game. 


Big Ten

Coaches Poll:

  1. Maryland
  2. Rutgers
  3. Johns Hopkins
  4. Michigan
  5. Ohio State
  6. Penn State

The Big Ten – which is widely considered the second best conference in division one college lacrosse – returns to non-conference play in 2022. Among the six teams, only two of them finished with a winning record in the regular season: Maryland and Rutgers. The Terps went undefeated in the regular season while the Scarlet Knights improved drastically and advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time since the tournament expanded in 2003.

Expectations are always sky-high at Homewood Field, and year two for Hopkins head coach Peter Millamin will be fascinating. The standard has always been to compete for a conference title and get back to Memorial Day weekend. The Blue Jays had a horrendous regular season finishing with a 2-8 record which was tied for last in the Big Ten.

Fortunately, every Big Ten team qualifies for the conference tournament and Hopkins went on a postseason run upsetting Penn State and Rutgers to advance to the Big Ten championship game against rival Maryland. The Terps ultimately beat the Blue Jays, but there were plenty of positive takeaways including the rise of freshman Jonathon Peshko and goalkeeper Tim Marcille.

Other questions to ask is who will start on attack for Rutgers in 2022? The Scarlet Knights graduated three super seniors in Adam Charalambedes, Kieran Mullins, and Connor Kirst. Rutgers brings in the No.1 transfer class which will be much needed after losing so much talent from last year’s team. Rutgers enters the 2022 college lacrosse season ranked No.9 according to the IL preseason media poll. 

Favorite: Maryland

Maryland graduated one of the all-time greats in Jared Bernhardt after leading division one with 99 points en route to winning the Tewaaraton award. Bernhardt’s legendary career is now in the books and the Terps must move on in 2022.

Senior captain Logan Wisnauskis will wear the historic No.1 uniform, and he has quietly been one of the most productive players in Maryland history. The sixth-year senior currently ranks 3rd in points in program history. He’ll only need 21 points to beat Rambo, and 54 points to top Bernhardt and become the all-time points leader.

Aside from Wisnasukis, the Terps bring back many familiar faces such as Brett Makar, Kyle Long, Bubba Fairman, Anthony Demaio, and many others. Maryland welcomes Jonathon Donville, the No.1 draft selection in the 2021 NLL draft, and former cross town rival, Owen Murphy, who finished 2nd in points for Johns Hopkins during the shortened 2020 season. The Terps look to capture their 4th national championship in 2022.

Sleeper: Michigan

Michigan returns eleven of their top thirteen point scorers. Nine of those eleven returners were underclassmen.

Let that sink in.

The season was all about thirds for Michigan in 2021. Michigan was a very young and inexperienced team, and the conference only schedule was a nightmare for the first third of the season. Michigan started the season 0-4 and were outscored 38-69. In the second third of the season, they strung together wins over Penn State and Johns Hopkins which was their first win against Hopkins in program history.

The cubs turned into wolverines and Michigan suffered two one-goal losses to Penn State and Rutgers before beating Ohio State on the road to earn their first Big Ten playoff win ever. 2021 was a very successful college lacrosse season for the blue.

Former five-star Michael Boehm showed flashes of star potential, and the sophomore from Ohio will only get better with a year of experience under his belt. Josh Zawada is the team’s highest returning goal scorer, and he has only gotten better and better since he stepped on campus.

The Wolverines took major steps in the right direction since they transitioned to division one in 2012. This spring could be another breakthrough season in Ann Arbor.

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You can find the remaining conferences in part 2 which can be found right here.

college lacrosse