Army beat Rutgers. Cornell had to fight for the full 60 minutes at Albany. Penn and Loyola held serve. Manhattan shocked Navy. Brown fell to Quinnipiac. Harvard got torched for 20 goals in the first half. Queens picked up their first D1 win on Sunday defeating Hampton. So far, 2023 is unpredictable, high scoring and action packed.
Quint Kessenich’s Top 20
The Retrievers are 1-0 after a 12-7 win over Drexel. I get the notion that the America East is going to be absolute chaos this spring because the league has quality and numerous programs strong enough to take the AQ. Merrimack, Binghamton, Vermont, UMBC and Albany have all shown well thus far. I honestly feel as if I could plug 12 different teams into this 20th ranking right now, who’d all have merit. Pollsters have their eyes on teams like Army, Rutgers, Merrimack, Binghamton, Lehigh, Manhattan, Quinnipiac, Penn State and Dartmouth.
The Minutemen now reside in the Atlantic 10 where everybody is chasing Saint Joseph’s. You have to be impressed with what UMass has accomplished in February. A 10-8 win over Army (who then beat Rutgers) and an 11-3 win over UMass-Lowell on Saturday. Their inclusion in this poll is dependent upon beating BU on February 25, no easy task, and an interesting duel between two teams with varying styles of play. BU flies around on defense, they double quickly and ride with a ten-man. The Minutemen follow a more traditional playbook relying on airtight defense and strong goalie play from Matt Knote.
The Catamounts play Brown this Saturday and are 2-1 with wins over BU and Utah with a 7-5 loss to Syracuse. The Catamount EMO is 0-10. They are winning faceoffs at a near 65% clip. Brock Haley, Jonas Hunter and David Closterman are the primary scorers.
Head, heart and hustle lost at Maryland on Saturday in a game that was streamed on BTN Plus. The camera angle at Maryland’s football stadium makes these shows hard to watch. When faceoff wins are in short suppl, you foul seven times, and don’t handle the ball cleanly in the middle of the field, it’s an uphill battle beating a quality opponent. Otto played too much defense. The inexperience was palpable. Goalie Will Mark made 18 saves and was once again spectacular, keeping this game within shouting range. Freshman midfielder Michael Leo showcased legit speed and canned two goals. North Carolina is next for the Orange in an important ACC opener.
Hoya defender Will Bowen held Penn’s Sam Handley to 1 of 6 shooting and six turnovers but it wasn’t enough as G-Town fell to 0-2 after losing to the Quakers 9-7. The Hoyas shot 19% and have two losses by a combined three goals. The offense is borderline dysfunctional. Transfers Tucker Dordevic, Nicky Solomon and Jacob Kelly don’t seem to be on the same page. Can Dordevic pass? Graham Bundy, king of the step downs, isn’t getting his preferred looks. TJ Haley looks lost. The Hoyas aren’t scoring in nontraditional ways off faceoff wins, transition runouts or the ride.
A few years ago I ripped Georgetown because their schedule was weak. Now it’s all killers. Starting the season with a gauntlet of Hopkins, Penn, Notre Dame, and Princeton is not easy sledding. This squad, who if they fix the offense is a national title contender, may start 0-4. It’s been an awful start for the Big East conference.
Brennan O’Neill delivered the theatrics in a 14-13 overtime win at home against Denver on Friday night. Duke should have lost this game. Denver had the ball and the lead with 80 seconds remaining and a full shot clock. The series of tactical errors by the Pioneers opened the door, and O’Neill made them pay. He executed a textbook question mark dodge to tie the game with :19 on the clock and then scored on a left-handed step down during an extra man to start the sudden victory period. He finished with seven points.
You have to respect the Duke attack, they have three future pros. The midfield is still just average for the level and the SSDM depth is a work in progress. Freshman Charles Balsamo fits in right away with the top unit on offense.
It was a see-saw game decided by the specialty units and late game scenario management. The up a goal and down a goal situations that teams practice have real world applications. Denver had every chance to close the game out and got sloppy. The rivals combined for eight penalties; we witnessed numerous cross checks to the neck. You’re not going to get away with that hit. It’s important for fans and players to understand the new rules regarding high hits to the neck and head area carry a sentencing of 1, 2, or 3 minutes without parole. Refs have zero tolerance for high hits and it’s a point of emphasis.
Penn defeated Duke in overtime in 2022 on Long Island and they renew their acquaintances on Saturday in Philly.
A week after defeating Duke, the Dolphins handled Marist 13-5 as they jumped out to a 7-2 halftime lead. ‘Duval Mission’ forced 22 Marist turnovers. That’s a good thing considering that Jacksonville only won 5 of 21 faceoffs. Georgetown grad transfer Dylan Watson scored four times. UMBC grad transfer midfielder Brandon Galloway continues to audition for the PLL. In a scheduling oddity, Jacksonville has the week off, before a trip to Charlotte, NC, on March 4 to square off against southern rival High Point.
13) Johns Hopkins
Schedule dynamics alter athletic events. Playing on a Tuesday night after a physically and emotionally taxing win over Georgetown on Saturday, combined with a fresh North Carolina team who was able to bus to Baltimore on Sunday, equaled a late game fade by JHU. Shots were nearly equal during the first half that saw the Jays up 6-3 and then 7-5 in the third quarter. But the tired Jays only managed 12 shots in the final thirty minutes in a 11-7 loss at home. As Iowa wrestler Spencer Lee said to me after winning the NCAA title with two torn ACL’s, “excuses are for wussies”. Being tired is never a valid excuse. Train harder. Get more rest. Play more members of the roster. Play some zone defense. Hold the ball. Do something strategically to compensate for your fatigue.
Hopkins faithful are tired of excuses. They want more. The team looks improved in 2023. I can tell you this, they are playing harder. Let’s wait and see how the improvement manifests itself during their spring gauntlet. The aggressive scheduling is admirable, especially maintaining rivalries with UNC, UVA, and Navy, but feels like more than this roster can handle right now. JHU isn’t deep. There’s a steep drop-off after their top 16 players. We will see this scheduling dynamic again later in March when they play Saint Joseph’s, UVA, and Syracuse in an eight day period.
Playing the big boys will lead to growth and development and offers the chance to get some wins and garner an at-large bid. But ask any D1 coach and they’ll tell you that mid-week games are more sensible when the two adversaries have relatively equal competitive calendars. Because they know that Tuesday is for the hunter.
So on a sunny Saturday when Hopkins trotted out an offensive lineup devoid of dodgers Jacob Angelus and Russell Melendez, and keep in mind they’re still missing Patrick Deans, Beau Szuluk, and others. It was crystal clear that they had no chance. Zero. None. Both players apparently were injured in the Tuesday loss to UNC. Loyola led 12-3 early in the fourth quarter. It was a rough week for the Jays who’ll benefit from a normal week of recovery and preparation.
‘We Want More’ welcomes Utah to Homewood Field on Saturday at noon as part of a men’s and women’s double-header. (ESPN+)
12) North Carolina
The Tar Heels took down Hopkins 11-7 on a seasonably warm Tuesday night in Baltimore. Carolina opened the contest shooting just 1 of 14 and trailed 6-3 and then 7-5 in the third quarter before scoring the last six goals of the game. Maybe it was just my imagination, but it appeared as if they took advantage of a Blue Jay team that hit the wall. The Carolina defense enjoyed their dinner at Sammy’s in Hunt Valley and was stout. Paul Barton, Alex Breschi, Andrew Geppert, JT Roselle, Matt Wright, and Conner Maher will be a group that gives opponents issues. I respect this defensive room, they are athletic, deep and more organized than in 2022 when they let up 13 goals per game. Goalie Colin Klieg is as seasoned as any net minder in the nation, and he got better as the game progressed.
Offensively, PJ Zinser, Antonio DeMarco, Logan McGovern, Sean Goldsmith, and Dewey Egan dominated the fourth quarter. The offense is still very much a work in progress with a blend of talented sophomores and impact transfers. UNC seemed to thrive when the ball was initiated from behind with Lance Tillman or McGovern. That led to some tricky two-man games, step downs and good action in front. When the middies triggered the offense, the results were poor alley shots, limited ball movement and sloppy turnovers.
Sunday in Columbus the Heels played a strong first 30 minutes, jogged into the locker room at halftime up 4-2. They proceeded to shoot 1 for 19 the rest of the way in a sobering 8-5 loss. It was a low scoring game in a week defined by gaudy goal totals. Carolina defense played well enough to win most games, but the midfield offense has been ugly. Shooting 5 of 42 is never going to get it done. They missed the net 25 times.
Tar Heels open their ACC slate on Saturday against Syracuse. How is Carolina going to keep up with the offensive output we’ve seen from every other ACC team? How are they going to score on SU goalie Will Mark?
11) Saint Joseph’s
Levi Anderson had the hat trick in a 16-13 victory at Towson on Saturday. FOGO Zach Cole scored twice and went 20-32 at the dot with 15 grounders. The Hawks welcome Providence to Sweeney Field this weekend.
The Blue Hens handled The Mount on Wednesday 15-6 as their headliners took center stage with JP Ward contributing 8 points, Cam Acchione had five and Tye Kurtz finished with four. A 16-9 win over St. John’s by another stellar game from Ward, Tye Kurtz, and Clay Miller. The Hens schedule makes going undefeated during the regular season a strong possibility. Their upcoming games against Villanova, Michigan, UMBC, Monmouth, and Johns Hopkins are likely to be a better gauge.
The Big Red did enough in a 12-10 victory at Casey Stadium in Albany. The Great Danes had a game under their belt and it showed. Albany made improvements from their week one lose to Syracuse. Lefty CJ Kirst scored half the Cornell goals (6 goals on 13 shots). Albany made just 5 saves while Cornell goalie Chayse Ierlan stopped 10 and locked the door when the game was on the line. Kirst let the game come to him and was the best player on the field. Cornell had 19 turnovers, only three assists. JJ Lombardi scored twice. This was an even game for 50 minutes and tied at 9-9 with 9:22 to play in the fourth before Billy Coyle, Andrew Dalton, and Marc Psylios found the net giving Cornell a 12-9 lead with 4:19 to go. Monday’s film session will be beneficial and I expect Cornell to move forward off this season opening victory.
Cornell tangles with Lehigh next.
The Terps bounced back at home in a front-running 15-12 win over Syracuse. Daniel Kelly had six points and Jack Koras added four. Maryland has won 20 straight at home and ‘Be the Best’ has won 37 of their last 39 games. Terp football defensive back Dante Trader scored twice as a defensive midfielder and seems like a viable option for more significant playing time on the offensive end. Luke Weirman won 24 of 31 draws. Brett Makar held IL No.1 recruit Joey Spallina to two points. Grad student Teddy Dolan started for injured goalie Logan McNaney. Maryland took 50 shots and flowed with better movement in settled sets. Maryland has beaten Syracuse five straight times.
The Terps and Princeton meet in a 2022 semifinal rematch on Saturday at 1:00pm (ESPN+).
Chris Lyons scored nine goals in a 20-14 win over Villanova on Sunday. Matt Brandau and Leo Johnson combined for 12 points. That’s one scary attack unit. The game featured 104 total shots. Jared Maquette made 18 saves. Nova had six failed clears against the ten man ride. Yale’s bench scoring was light. The Wild Cats led 4-1 and 7-4 having the benefit of a game under their belts. Yale, down 10-9 late in the second quarter, scored the games next six goals to create a separation they would not relinquish. Yale nailed 7 of 17 third quarter shots. Long term I’m still worried about the Yale defense, a unit that struggled in 2022.
Yale and Penn State play on Saturday.
6) Ohio State
The Buckeyes flexed their defensive muscles in the second half, limiting North Carolina to a single goal in an 8-5 home win. The Big Ten as a league is showing mixed signals this February. One thing we know for sure is that Ohio State has a top ten defense. That defense gets a true litmus test this week with a trip to Naples, FL, to face the top ranked Cavaliers.
5) Notre Dame
Loftus, the indoor facility in South Bend, is a goalie graveyard. There is a head stone etched with my name on it from a scrimmage that nearly went awry. The lighting is dim and shadowy. The acoustics suck. It smells like a cellar. It can get hot and the air is heavy. The fans sit on the field and their echoes reverberate off the roof. When the bag pipes start whining, you know you’re in for a forgettable 60 minutes.
So it’s not a surprise that the Irish offense was crisp in a Wednesday 21-10 win over Marquette, a score that would make Knute Rockne proud. With offensive players like Chris and Pat Kavanagh, Eric Dobson, Brian Tevlin, Jeffery Ricciardelli, Griffin Westlin, Jack Simmons, and Quinn McCahon there is the hope this group can capture the school’s first NCAA lacrosse title.
Why would this year be any different? Why is this team more likely to make a May run? Simple answer. The Kavanaghs. The brothers bring it every week. They have one speed. Full tilt. And that’s why ND is a legitimate title contender. The warrior mentality can be more important than talent. That’s not to say that ND isn’t talented. Because they are.
Concerning was a defense that seemed rusty, they lacked cohesion, communication and wasn’t on the same page like they’ll need to be in upcoming non-league games against heavyweights Georgetown and Maryland. So facing Cleveland State on Sunday offered an opportunity to clean things up, and the Irish responded with an 18-8 victory, one in which they led 18-4 being unloading the bench. The Kavanagh brothers combined for 16 points.
Rudy squares off with the Swamp Dogs next.
Quaker sniper Cam Rubin found the net four times on five shots in a 9-7 defensive victory in the Swamp over Georgetown. Rubin is a fantastic wing shooter. For Penn to win a high magnitude game when Sam Handley was well defended, speaks volumes about their overall quality. Penn isn’t a one man team. James Shipley is a future PLL SSDM. BJ Farrere is a playmaking LSM who’s wicked in transition. Freshman Griffin Scane is talented. Dylan Gergar was efficient and patient. Shorty Piper Bond is a hammer. Defender Brendan Lavelle covered Tucker Dordevic. Goalie Emmet Carroll made 18 sprawling saves with just 7 GA. Coach Mike Murphy played 24 members of the roster which is a up from 2022 and that’s the critical arc of Penn’s storyline. Are they deep enough to win big games in the heat of May? So far, so good.
Quakers face Duke next.
The Hounds controlled Hopkins in front of a zealous crowd of 5,500 fans at Ridley on Saturday. Loyola is building an at-large resume before the end of February. They have a 12-7 win over Maryland and on Saturday defeated Hopkins 13-8. Hopkins only managed 2 goals during the first 44 minutes. Loyola led 11-2. Defense is the strength of this team. Goalie Luke Stout, defenders Cam Wyers, Matt Hughes, and Alex Bean have been menacing and are playing connected team defense. Shorties Payton Rezanka, Max McGillicuddy, and Mustang Sally are a strong unit. Adding some depth here will help.
Loyola is looking to be crowned the Big Ten champs as Rutgers is next.
The Tigers opened with a 22-9 tune up win against Monmouth behind gaudy stats from Alex Vardaro, Braedon Saris, and Coulter Mackesy. Notable here is that Mackesy is playing at X more this season. Saris is a sophomore who emerged during the fall as the third attackman after Chris Brown graduated. He’s a large Canadian right-hander who played in two games in 2022 at garbage time and had one assist. He wasn’t on the dress roster for the NCAA semifinals in Connecticut. Yet he’s fought his way up the depth chart into a starting role after playing well in scrimmages against Drexel and UMBC. Saris tallied 3 goals and 3 assists on Saturday in three quarters of play.
Tigers play Manhattan on Tuesday at 6:00pm and grapple with Maryland on Saturday.
Wahoos blasted Harvard in a game who’s final score doesn’t due the domination justice. Virginia scored 20 goals in the first 30 minutes. Cavs led 20-8 at halftime and subbed aggressively in a final 30 minutes that felt more like a scrimmage than a real game. Virginia could have scored 35 goals. Harvard bent the knee. Goal differential is not an NCAA selection criteria. Neither is the calendar. A win on February 18th carries as much weight as a win on May 5. Since making the NCAA playoffs last May, Harvard has gotten tattooed by Rutgers and Virginia. The Cavs were led by Thomas McConvey, Connor Shellenberger, and Xander Dickson. Fans flocked to the grassy knoll, spreading their blankets and enjoying the warmth of the sun. Those that sat behind the benches have sore feet after pounding the aluminum bleachers 25 times.
Virginia and Ohio State face-off at 7:00pm on Saturday in Naples, FL.