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Quint Kessenich’s Top 20: February 27, 2023

Losses by Princeton, Loyola, Yale, Syracuse, Penn and Georgetown triggered massive shifts in the Top 20. It appeared as if wintry weather tempered goal scoring. Virginia and Notre Dame solidified their status at the top. A robust slate of Sunday games put the deadline on a shot clock. 

As we turn the page from February to March, press on through what challenges you. Pound the door down, everyday. When you put in the work from Sunday until Friday, the games on Saturday take care of themselves. Investing 15 minutes before and after each practice, all week, is the edge it takes to be successful. Grab a teammate and invest in your skills, your strength, speed or extra film study. Embrace the pain of discipline. Or live with the pain of regret.

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Quint Kessenich’s Top 20

20) UMBC

A Friday night blowout win over Mount St. Mary’s keeps UMBC in my Top 20. Retrievers rank No.2 in the country in combined efficiency and have an excellent shooting percentage. I debated between Army, Manhattan, Michigan, Dartmouth, High Point, Robert Morris, Delaware, Harvard and Vermont for this final spot and won’t be surprised when ten plus teams “receive votes” in the media poll. 

19) Boston University

The Terriers picked up an essential 12-6 win against UMass, shutting the Minutemen out in the fourth quarter. The loss to Vermont stings, but I’ve got the feeling that the Patriot League Champions are heading in the right direction. They held UMass to just 13 shots on goal and the attack trio combined for 14 points. Their next three games are against Colgate, Bucknell and Holy Cross, so holding serve is critical.  

18) Syracuse

Otto’s extra-man unit is worth the price of admission. We are witnessing creative and eye-opening passing and movement patterns. Love the innovation from this six man unit. That being said, Syracuse has a long way to go before they are a Top 10 and playoff caliber team. The faceoff unit is below par for the ACC and the defense lacks ACC level cover-men. In fact, I’m not sure Syracuse has a single defender who could start anywhere in the ACC right now. That’s putting extreme pressure on goalie Will Mark, who showed signs of shell shock on Saturday in a loss against UNC at home. Syracuse plays Duke this Sunday. 

17) Villanova

The Wildcats have wins over Delaware and Penn State with a loss to Yale. They appear to be in the mix with Georgetown and Denver for Big East supremacy. Midfielder Matt Campbell scored five times against the Blue Hens on Sunday and looks like a first round PLL selection. Nova plays an open up-tempo style thats fan friendly. They visit Hofstra on Saturday.

16) Jacksonville

The Dolphins had a bye week. They own a win over Duke and lost at home to Hopkins. They feel like the favorite in the ASUN. You can catch up with Jacksonville Head Coach John Galloway on the Quintessential Podcast.

15) Johns Hopkins

They have the will, but do they have the tools? Nothing comes easy for Hopkins right now. Russell Melendez and Jacob Angelus were back in the lineup and Gib Versfeld (15 saves) started in the crease for injured goalie Tim Marcille. Volunteer Assistant Coach Brian Kelly deserves some credit for the improved play from the JHU goalies this spring. Beau Szuluk made his defensive debut as Hopkins methodically pulled away from Utah on a chilly Saturday at Homewood.

Utah, with a roster represented by 19 states and Canada, made this one interesting. The Jays got hat tricks from Ian Krampf, Matt Collison and Brendan Grimes for the 12-8 win. Collision is a 6′” 225 freshman from Ontario who’s impact has been immediate. He will be drawing a pole in March. His lean-in lefty power bull dodge came first, and in recent weeks has showcased a variety of moves that hints towards greatness. Grimes has shown uncommon versatility during the last few games, being asked to play attack and midfield. Krampf was a surprise starter and made the most of his opportunity. “We Want More” has been riddled with injuries and the personnel on offense has been shifting on a weekly basis. No continuity slows down growth. Ryan Evans and Brooks English made appearances at midfield. 

In years in which Hopkins has lost to Loyola, they’ve rarely experienced a successful season. It’s an unofficial historical trend, or season barometer or indicator. When JHU can’t beat their puppy dog neighbor, they typically haven’t been able to beat the big dogs who reside up and down the road. Hopkins did not look like a playoff team on Saturday, although it’s still just late February, and teams can change radically in the next 45 days. Their SOS is without peer. JHU hosts Saint Joseph’s on Saturday at 2:00pm (ESPN+).

14) Saint Joseph’s

The Hawks dominated Providence on Sweeney Field this weekend and will travel to Hopkins on Saturday. Zach Cole is winning draws at amazing rate and Saint Joseph’s leads the country in time of possession. 

13) Yale

One week the defense is porous, the next week the offense can’t find openings against a Penn State zone defense. Ivy League had a rough weekend with Yale, Penn and Princeton all losing. No time to panic. Yale lost to the Nittany Lions in 2022 as well. Although with a non-league schedule devoid of heavyweights from the ACC and only one team from the Big Ten, Yale hasn’t afforded themselves as much wiggle room as Penn or Princeton. UMass is up next. 

12) Penn State

A Strong weekend for the Big Ten as Penn State beat Yale, utilizing a quick start and a zone defense that kept the Bulldogs off balance. The Nittany Lions, look like the most improved team in the country after an abysmal 2022 campaign. Coach Jeff Tambroni’s Lions have showcased a deep roster of contributors. Matt Traynor was the offensive hero and goalie Jack Fracyon gobbled up 16 saves behind a mix of man and zone defense. Penn comes to Happy Valley this weekend.

11) Rutgers

Bada bing, bada bang, bada boom. The Scarlet Knights put the pedal to the metal in the third quarter breaking open a 4-4 half-time dead lock with Loyola. RU scored five unanswered forging a 9-4 lead. Shane Knobloch was the man of the match finishing with seven points and Dante Kulas found the net three times. Goalie Kyle Mullin was sharp with 16 saves. The Knights need to develop some bench scoring, complimentary scoring if they expect to challenge for the Big Ten title. St. John’s is up next on Tuesday followed by Utah on Saturday. The win over Loyola looms large because the non-conference schedule isn’t stellar.

10) North Carolina

Just when you thought the Heels couldn’t score, OC Dave Metzbower makes some subtle adjustments and UNC plastered Syracuse 19-13, sending Orange fans into a tizzy. Bryant transfer Logan McGovern finished with eight points. The group shot well. UNC ran by SU defenders with ease. The Orange lack cover-men who can move their feet. This contest would not have been close without the slick playmaking by the Syracuse EMO group.

UNC’s bread will be buttered by goalie Colin Krieg, who was terrific in the second half, and a tenacious defense that currently ranks No.2 in defensive efficiency. Paul Barton, Andrew Geppert, Evan Egan, Matt Wright, along with shorties Connor Maher, Alex Breschi and Ty English gives coach Joe Breschi options on defense. Opponents are shooting just 22%. Carolina will have to clean up high hits to the head and neck area as these calls are a point of emphasis in 2023.  

The Tar Heels entertain Denver in Chapel Hill on Saturday at 11:00am (ACCNX)

9) Penn

The Quakers lost at home to Duke 14-12 after experiencing a 24:57 power outage in the first half. Cam Rubin had five points and Dylan Gergar chipped in four points. Penn owned a 56-37 advantage in shots, but were -9 in saves and -7 in faceoffs. A late rally came up short. Penn is at Penn State this Saturday at 3:00pm in State College in an important Big Ten vs. Ivy League matchup. With Sam Handley drawing so much attention, Penn has to find ways to get midfielders Gabe Fury and James Shipley more involved. The second midfield needs to step up if Penn is going to be a factor on the road to Championship Weekend.

8) Duke

The Blue Devils used a 6-1 second quarter to prevail 14-12 over Penn in Philadelphia on Saturday. Perhaps this win is a signal that Duke is back as a national contender. But recent history indicates that they’ll regress and show past signs of inconsistency. How can you trust Duke?  Until they string together significant wins, you can’t. This win over Penn was significant because nine different players scored goals. Brennan O’Neill led all scorers with five points. Transfer goalie William Helm made 19 stops. Defender Wilson Stephenson, who’s career was nearly derailed by injury in May of 2019, covered Sam Handley and scooped up six grounders, scored a goal, and caused four turnovers. The severity of Stephenson’s injury cannot be overstated and the rehab he has endured to get back on the field has been a mountain of work. Others would have hung up the cleats. He has kept fighting. I find it hard not to root for young men like Wilson

If Duke’s midfielders come alive, this is a formidable lineup. Aidan Danenza, Garrett leaden, Charles Balsamo, Owen Caputo, and Jadon Kerry gives OC Matt Danowski some match-up options. Because opponents have to direct so much of their attention on stopping the attack with O’Neill, Dyson Williams and Andrew McAdorey. 

Duke travels up to the Dome on Sunday March 5 for a 4:00pm faceoff with Syracuse. Don’t be surprised if SU has to play zone defense, because they just don’t match up well against the Duke offense. 

7) Ohio State

The Buckeyes fought hard and eventually relented to Virginia 17-6 on Saturday night. OSU needs to upgrade their ride, clean up their clearing, and find more midfield offense. A 7-4 deficit at halftime bubbled out of control in the final 30 minutes. Jack Myers and Ed Shean scored a pair of goals. OSU had 23 turnovers. Bucks are in the midst of a three game stretch against UVA with Cornell up next and then Notre Dame. That’s as tough as it gets. 

6) Loyola

Fresh off a win over cross-town rival Hopkins, their seventh win in the last ten meetings against the Jays, the Hounds took their show on the road to Rutgers. You knew that Loyola would have a case of the bends from their rapid ascension into the Top 10. They were looking to be crowned Big Ten Champions. Rutgers was not a welcoming host. The Hounds’ offense was anemic, they shot 6 of 35. I like this defense a lot, but Loyola’s attack is going to have to ramp production up if they expect to win the Patriot League and beyond. Double dip week is next with Towson on Wednesday and Lafayette on Saturday. 

5) Princeton

The Tigers struggled with Manhattan early on Tuesday night, down 5-3 in the second quarter, before breaking the game open with an 8 goal third quarter. I was impressed with the Jaspers, a group that plays fast, show no fear, are well coached, and get A+ goaltending from Joe Persico. Princeton’s Alex Vardaro scored 4 goals on 5 shots. Coach Matt Madalon platooned goalies Griffen Rakower and Michael Gianforcaro. Let’s see how long it takes for separation. A two goalie system never works. I like their two-way midfield group led by Beau Pederson, Jake Stevens and Marquez White. Princeton has 9 seniors who have already entered the transfer portal and they are keeping their futures a secret, focusing on the now, which I respect. In this day and age of “look at me” social media, a team-first approach is soup for the soul. 

On Saturday against Maryland, the Tigers couldn’t win a faceoff and didn’t win enough individual match-ups on offense, looking punchless in a 11-5 setback. 19 shots on goal isn’t sufficient to win a high level game against Top 10 competition. Maryland held Alex Vardaro to 0-4 shooting. Princeton put just one shot on goal during the first quarter. This offense is still in the early stages of development. Maryland exposed their shortcomings. The Princeton two goalie platoon isn’t working. It never does, and never will. You can’t be an elite stopper when you’re looking over your shoulder or grading every save or non-save. Princeton hosts an 0-3 and angry Georgetown squad this Saturday.

4) Maryland

The Terps started freshman goalie Brian Ruppel (IL No.30 recruit from Catonsville, MD) against Princeton and picked up the 11-5 win as the rookie made 14 saves and anchored an air-tight defense. Brian’s dad Steve is a longtime high ranking D1 referee. Maryland’s identity is crystallizing into a team that wins a ton of faceoffs (Luke Weirman), plays stout defense (Ajax Zappitello and Brett Makar) and uses a team-based approach to wear you down and score. That’s fine and dandy. Defense used to win NCAA titles. Since the inception of the shot-clock, offense wins NCAA titles. Daniel Maltz and Jack Koras were the most impactful offensive weapons, but the Terps benefitted from going 3 for 6 with the EMO. A 7-2 third quarter spurt provided the separation. 

The Terps host Notre Dame on BTN+ this Saturday at 1:00pm. I expect Maryland to have success at the dot in a game where goals seem like they’ll be hard to come by.

3) Cornell

The Big Red eviscerated Lehigh, taking a step forward after a ho-hum debut win against Albany. Their defense is locked in, ranking No.3 in efficiency. The 12-5 win featured a shutout second half, a 48-27 shots advantage and hat tricks from Billy Coyle and CJ Kirst. They flipped a major faceoff disparity by creating 32 turnovers. Cornell plays at Hobart on Tuesday and at Ohio State on Saturday, a strenuous week.

2) Notre Dame

The Irish throttled Georgetown 15-8 looking like a title contender and after three games lead the nation in combined offensive and defensive efficiency. They won their individual matches on defense with Chris Fake, Marco Napolitano and Chris Conlin. Ross Burgmaster, the bag piper, is the fourth man in. The Irish also neutralized the Hoyas paper advantage at the faceoff. The passing was crisp on offense and often resulted in feet set, hands free shooting. Time. Room. Bullseye. That’s the iconic goal call from announcer and ND alum Eamon McAnaney

Rudy, shooting 36% and (3-0) is at Maryland on Saturday at 1:00pm. Losing 65% of the faceoffs is the reality they may have to overcome. 

1) Virginia

The Wahoos played their most complete game of the 2023 season, pulling away from Ohio State on Saturday night in Naples Florida in front of 3,500 fans. The trend of flickering lights after touchdowns or goals in stadiums is misguided. Fans want to see the athletes celebrate. Turning off the lights is never a good idea at a sporting event. The Cavs depth of scoring, ten-man ride, and groundball acumen is elite. Virginia had an abundance of opportunities early that they failed to cash in on, and in the second half they found pay dirt. Richmond plays at Klockner on Saturday at 6:00pm (ACCNX). 

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