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Quint Kessenich’s Top 20: March 20, 2023

We are beyond the era of early recruiting, that is the recruitment of eighth and ninth graders. The result being the big name programs have risen to the top. Look at the Top 10. It’s heavily Big Ten and ACC with the Ivy League sprinkled in next. The early recruiting trend buried more than one big time coach and was proven to be a futile chase for the holy grail. One consequence of early recruiting was the rise of mid-major programs like Loyola, Brown, Towson, and Albany who all made Championship Weekend appearances with rosters fortified by late recruits, those who were missed in the early recruiting cycle. Now, normalcy has returned to the cycle with a later calendar and the blue blood programs waiting for player development. Those that miss, they poach. The result is that the established powers are hitting on a higher percentage of four and five star recruits.

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Quint Kessenich’s Top 20

20) Delaware

Slow start at Hopkins on Sunday, down 5-1, before Tye Kurtz lit the lamp with a right handed gem from distance. Seemed like having eight days off left some rust. A four goal run ignited by physical defense and a Owen Grant long distance laser against the empty net ten-man ride culminated with a 6-5 halftime lead. They ran the lead to 9-5. Going zone against Hopkins is never a good idea. Goalie Matt Kilkeary did his share making 16 stops before the end of the third quarter. Faceoffs feel like an issue for the Hens and on Sunday sloppy clearing hurt badly. Trailing 11-9 because of self inflicted wounds, the Hens were their own worst enemy in the fourth quarter losing 12-10. Hens look like a Top 20 team but need to learn how to get out of their own way before playing at Hofstra next. They’re the team to beat in the CAA no doubt.

Lehigh, with losses to ranked Cornell and Army wait in the wings with Saint Joseph’s.

19) Ohio State

The Buckeyes have lost four of their last five but pocketed a win over UNC in February which keeps them in this poll.

Scarlet and gray hosting Rutgers on Sunday night from their new lacrosse only facility (BTN).

18) Denver

The Pioneers are (4-3) after defeating Ohio State 17-12 on Sunday behind seven goals from Steven Avery and five assists off of the stick of Richie Connell. Barton Stadium was rocking. Their victories are over Utah, Merrimack, North Carolina, and Ohio State. Denver has been kings of the possession game which paired with a stingy defense makes them a tough out each week. The offensive explosion against their western rival OSU is impressive. Coach Bill Tierney in the midst of his farewell spring, will not retire quietly. You can count on this team playing inspired ball the rest of the way.

17) Army

Army (6-1) dropped their opener to UMass and have won six straight, the latest being a squeaker over Lehigh. This team has shown resolve and the ability to rally in the second half of games. 

Their offensive patterns are as complex as daytime television. The challenge at West Point has always been winning in late April. For whatever academy based reasons, generally speaking, the late season results haven’t matched the February and March success. Sleep is a commodity, and too often at Army and Navy, sleep is sold separately. Loyola is next.

16) Boston University

The Terriers (5-1) hammered Holy Cross on Saturday 23-9 for the Turnpike Trophy, an EZ Pass. Vince D’Alto, Louis Perfetto and Timmy Ley, the LI Express attack, have combined for 90 points after 6 games. BU lost its opener at Vermont and has rattled off wins over Bryant, UMass, Colgate, Bucknell and Holy Cross.

Harvard is at BU on Tuesday night. This was a entertaining game in 2022. Terriers are at Lafayette on Saturday. Be careful with the Leopards.

15) Georgetown

The Hoyas haven’t found a matching pair of socks yet, which is scary given their talent level. They took a step forward this weekend with a blowout win over High Point. I get the feeling that they’ll be a slow riser up this poll for the next month. TJ Haley played a more significant role this week. The defense was tighter. After an ugly 0-3 start, the Swamp Dogs are on a three game tear. Lehigh is in D.C. this weekend.

14) Penn

The Quakers (3-3) used a Sam Handley walk-off goal to take down Princeton in a vital league game. Scorer Dylan Gergar is out for the remainder of the season with an injured achilles. Complimentary midfielders need to emerge if Penn is going to push for the Ivy League AQ. The Quakers have played in five games decided by two or less goals and their SOS is without question.

Penn is at Cornell on Sunday at noon (ESPNU).

13) Yale

The Bulldogs defense, who’d been in sync lately, reverted to their early season form and surrendered 20 goals to Cornell in an eye-popping Ivy League opener. Yale (3-2) has given up 71 goals in five games. You’re living on the edge with a 14.2 GAA. Shooter Chris Lyons is (21G/0A). Matt Brandau has 25 points. Fixing the defense determines Yale’s path.

Yale is at Princeton on Saturday. Both teams need this game badly. The Tigers are swimming in desperate waters. Yale’s non-league schedule isn’t strong. How many Ivy’s can make the NCAA playoffs? One? Two? Three? Ivy League teams are 1-10 against the Big Ten and ACC this season.

12) Jacksonville

The Dolphins (6-1) took down Robert Morris 12-6, backed by a nine point performance from Dylan Watson. The team is nailing corners on a weekly basis. Jacksonville, winners of six straight appears to be the strong favorite in the new Atlantic Sun. This league is geographically diverse, the travel is legit. Planes, trains, and automobiles are what stands in the way of a Dolphin AQ.

Welcome to paradise. Jax hosts Mercer this weekend.

11) Johns Hopkins

The simplest explanation for Hopkins (7-3) improvement is the addition of transfers Russell Melendez and Alex Mazzone combined with the arrival of freshmen Matt Collison and Carson Brown along with new OC John Crawley. The next tier would be the improved save percentage from Tim Marcille which is a result of a more sound defensive scheme, which reverberates back to the defense as confidence to make plays. The defense/goalie dynamic feeds off each other. All of these enhancements are wrapped with a unified team chemistry and culture, and now all the boats are pointing in the same direction and all the oars are in the water pulling.

“We Want More” won at Navy on Friday in a business-like manner, while playing a deeper bench early, in anticipation of the Delaware game two days later. Part of playing mid-week games or multiple games on short rest, is affording more players the opportunity to get meaningful shifts. This can lead to growth and breakthroughs. Shrinking the bench is a short term solution and long term problem.

A rare Sunday night tilt saw the Jays jump out to 3-0 and 5-1 leads against the Blue Hens. Energetic from the opening whistle, the Hopkins passing was crisp and grit on ground balls led to multiple shot possessions. The Hens clawed their way back to 5-5 with their physical style, pushing the less physical Blue Jays around Homewood and took the lead into halftime up 6-5. It ballooned to 9-5 before Ryan Evans danced his way to pay dirt ending a 21:11 scoreless skid. Freshman Brooks English showing some flash. Garrett Degnon tied it up at 9-9 with 10:24 to go with an EMO goal and Matt Collison gave them the 10-9 lead, capitalizing on the Hens raggy clears. Casey McDermott made it 11-9 as the Jays dominated the draw stats. The Hens gave them the game and they took it with seven unanswered.

Jays fly to Michigan to open the Big Ten slate. There will be no cakewalks in the Big Ten this spring. JHU has a super strong strength-of-schedule and now only has to play one game per week.

10) North Carolina

Logan McGovern led the way with seven points and 13 different Heels scored in a Sunday 25-7 mauling of previously undefeated Dartmouth. Carolina’s defense ranks high in possession based analytics. UNC is now (5-3) with wins over Dartmouth, Mercer, JHU, SU and Brown. This is bubble city, so there’s work to be done.

High Point rolls into Chapel Hill on Wednesday night at 7:00pm on the ACCNetwork with Jules Heningburg and I on the mic. UNC plays Providence next weekend, that’s four games in nine days.

9) Loyola

Road trips are the best. Getting off campus, seeing a new town, staying in a hotel and having your program feed you. Life will never be this easy again. Matthew Minicus scored seven goals and assisted on another Saturday to lead the Greyhounds to a 14-13 win on the road at Bucknell. There are no style points in conference play but the facts remain that Loyola didn’t impress with this win.

Loyola plays in scenic Michie Stadium at noon on March 25. I wish Michie Stadium would host Quarterfinal NCAA double-header. It’s an amazing place, dripping with history.

8) Penn State

The Lions (5-2) gave one away, losing to Marquette on Saturday 12-11. Milwaukee’s best has beaten two Big Ten teams this year. PSU has three wins over Ivy’s Yale, Penn and Cornell, which will be significant in May. TJ Malone, Jack and Matt Traynor, Chris Jordan and Kevin Winkoff have done the damage on offense.

In a single season, Penn State remade itself. The Lions went from a half-forgotten basement dweller in the Big Ten to being confident, interesting, and forward-looking. The Big Ten slate begins at Maryland at 5:00pm on Saturday.

7) Cornell

Big Red bounced back after a dud against Penn State with a emphatic 20-10 victory at Yale. This is what you love to see. CJ Kirst has 34 points and Billy Coyle has been consistently excellent. Goalie Chayse Ierlan has elevated his game. Cornell has shot the ball at an elite level. Sunday March 26, at noon, join Anish Shroff and myself on ESPNU for Penn at Cornell. This should be a dog fight.

6) Villanova

The Wildcats (6-1) own wins over Penn State, Delaware, Hofstra, Drexel, Penn and Monmouth. The defense has held four straight opponents to nine or less goals. That’s a major upgrade from 2022. Nova is also controlling tempo more this year.

Navy is at Villanova on Tuesday afternoon.

5) Rutgers

Bada bing, bada bang, bada boom. Don’t look now. The (7-1) Knights flexed their defensive muscles in an 11-5 win at UMass this weekend. The top six on offense stack up with anybody in the country. It’s the subs off the bench and depth of scoring I’ve got my eyes on going forward.

The Scarlett Knights visit Ohio State on Sunday night (7:00pm BTN) with Joe Beninati and Mark Dixon calling the action. I love these stand alone Sunday night clashes. Joe is so big in the D.C. market he’s got his own bobble head doll.

4) Duke

The Brennan O’Neill and Dyson Williams connection carried Duke past North Carolina on Friday. The Devils (7-1) started fast and finished strong. They are looking like a Memorial Day weekend caliber team, scoring 15.6 goals per game. O’Neill is averaging 5.25 points per game. Williams has 28 goals. The Blue Devils faceoff unit has seized a strangle hold on many of their wins.

Air Force is at Duke on tonight at 7:00pm on the ACCNetwork. Drew Carter and Matt Ward are working the game. Duke is in Philly on Saturday at Saint Joseph’s.

3) Virginia

We witnessed a big time environment at Klockner with nearly six thousand fans on a sunny Saturday with Maryland in town. This type of game is what it’s all about. In the end, UVA made too many mistakes to win the game.

I believe that you have to attack and beat Maryland through the midfield in 2023. The Terp close defense has hammers. Thomas McConvey was Virginia’s most impactful offensive weapon. Petey LaSalla scrapped well for 50% on the draws. The UVA defense got caught ball watching too often and had no answers for midfielder Jack Koras. I would double pole the Terps. Maryland stole their moment. No time to feel sorry for yourself. Wahoos have to get better. Plain and simple. They play Notre Dame on Saturday at noon (ESPNU) with Chris Cotter and Paul Carcaterra knee deep in the hoopla.

2) Maryland

Holiday. Celebrate. Thrilling overtime win at Klockner in front of a hostile crowd of 5,745 shows growth and maturity from a young Maryland team. The Terps stole the stage. Virginia was supposed to make a statement. Maryland said not so fast. Freshman goalie Brian Ruppel made three consecutive sprawling saves in overtime to gain possession for the Terps, setting the stage for Daniel Kelly’s dagger from mid-range. Evan Zinn’s shot from point blank range grazed Ruppel’s stick head, near the neck, and the shot deflected to the dirt. The margin in this game was less than an inch.

The Terps had nine different goal-scorers, a beautiful sign, with Jack Koras posting a career-high four goals. He has a hat trick in four of his last five games. Ajax Zappitello and Brett Makar set the tone. MD has won the last three games of the series. This win surprised me most.

“Be the Best” hosts Penn State on Saturday at 5:00pm on BTN. The Terps have similar defensive stats when comparing 2022 to 2023. The offense is missing the top five scorers and coordinator from 2002, still evolving and growing while the shooting percentage has slumped from the insane 39% last year. The second midfield isn’t packing the same punch, although the UVA game showcased scoring depth, and Maryland is getting fewer transition points from the rope unit and close defense. The victory at Virginia will be monumental on NCAA Tournament Selection Sunday (May 7th) and stamps Maryland, once again as a primary title contender.

1) Notre Dame

The Irish haven’t lost since March 26, 2022 and are undefeated after a resounding victory at Michigan. That’s 12 straight wins. Notre Dame ranks high in overall efficiency and shooting percentage. Eric Dobson is a rocket man. Mars is cold as hell. The Kavanagh’s are hunting a gold trophy. Goalie Liam Entenmann is in the zone. The combo bag pipers of Tevlin and Burgmaster lead the sports most impactful walkout.

Irish host Virginia on Saturday at noon (ESPNU). This is must see TV. UVA leads the all-time series with a record of 9-8, however ND is 3-1 when playing in South Bend. Eight of the 17 matchups have been decided by two goals or less.

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