Grow the Game®

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on reddit
Share on whatsapp

Quint Kessenich’s Top 20: March 4th, 2024

My Top 20 presented by SPIRE Lacrosse, always a treacherous exercise.

Quint Kessenich’s Top 20 presented by Spire

1) Denver

Pios holding pocket aces, wins over Johns Hopkins and Cornell. A 5-5 tie ballooned into a 15-6 win holding Lemoyne to one goal in the second half. Do I think Denver is the best team? No. But right now they are unbeaten and have two quality wins.

I have never had more difficulty putting a poll together. Everybody is 4-1. Small sample sizes. Confusing cross pollination. A jumbled mess.

Yale is up next in the Mile High City on Sunday.

2) Army

Black Knights topped Syracuse in the Dome on Wednesday night 14-13 in OT. Army is ranked in the Top 5 for the first time since 2005.

Evan Plunkett (3,2) and Jackson Eicher (3,1) were the offensive heroes. 3,668 fans in central New York witnessed a fast and frantic game, a contest that even the officials struggled to keep pace with. Army has excellent personnel at all positions. I don’t see a weak link. They’ll need more bench scoring from the second midfield going forward. Their schemes are simple and solid. The defense doesn’t want to support much. They rely on goalie Matt Chess. FOGO Will Colletti is top ten nationally. Poles Ryan Nixon and Christian Fournier stood out late in that game with nifty ground ball and handle plays in traffic. SSDM Christian Mazur is a stud. Offensively, Evan Plunkett May be the most versatile and dangerous midfielder in the land. He can dodge, shoot, pass and competes with an edge. Jacob Morin has a shot with ridiculous velocity. Reese Burek and Jackson Eicher keep the unit balanced and flowing. Eicher buried the game winner with a textbook rocker step move to the middle.

I’m a believer.

16-11 win at Easton, PA on Sunday has Army at 5-0 for the first time since 1993. The attack combined for 15 points and Evan Plunkett had four points. Holy Cross up next.

3) Johns Hopkins

Trip to Monticello yields a Doyle Smith Cup and signature win over Virginia. Hopkins is no longer just a good team. They are a legitimate title contender. Minus their late game meltdown to the Pios, they’d have an argument for the top spot based on wins over Virginia, Towson, North Carolina, Loyola and Georgetown.

Pace of play and physicality have taken a quantum leap forward in the past two seasons. Transfer portal and fifth year seniors equate to a bigger, stronger and faster lineup. Jhu won the specialty situations and clamped down in the second half defensively, turning a 10-8 halftime deficit into a 14-12 lead on their way to a 16-14 victory. The JHU pep band was a no show but the midfield depth and production proved to be the difference maker. OC John Crawley chose to work the motion offense mainly through the midfield and it was the winning move.

Hopkins victory over UVA capped off a run of five straight ACC losses during the week. The pack of contenders is deeper and more closely grouped than I anticipated when the season began.

We want more. Jays and Syracuse playing in Charlotte, NC. Anish and Carc have the television call on ESPN + at 6:30pm.

4) Notre Dame

If you’re going to defeat the Bagpipers you must limit chaotic opportunities for the Kavanagh brothers and stay out of the penalty box. Defenses will try to make Eric Dobson make decisions and shots with his feet on the move. And being vigilant in interior coverage of Jake Taylor is essential to minimize the Irish offense. Goalie Liam Entenmann shrinks the field, making severe angle wing shots a bad idea. I have a feeling the power play unit, using their base 3-3 set, will be one of the best in the nation by year’s end.

A front running 14-9 win over Maryland on Sunday with a packed house at sunny Arlotta was the medicine for their debut debacle a week ago against Georgetown. Noticeably more intense and emotional, the Kavanagh brothers and Jake Taylor were making magic around the net. Devon McLane had a strong outing.

Bagpipers and midwestern rival Ohio State tussle on Saturday.

5) Virginia

A 16-14 loss at Klockner in front of 3,434 fans, sends the Doyle Smith Cup back to Charm City for the year. This game was action packed with hard hitting action. The 97th meeting in the series stamps Hopkins as a legit title contender and reveals some flaws in the Wahoos.

The Cavs didn’t dress primary FOGO Anthony Ghobriel. UVA off-ball and transition defense were sub-par. When you give up shots from between the football hashes, in this era of 100mph shots, your goalie has no chance. Protect the middle. Defend the dirt.

The second midfield is providing no pop right now. The first midfield lacks dodgers not named Griffin Schutz. I like their attack, Connor Shellenberger fought like crazy late in this game, trying to launch a final surge. Interesting defensive decision to pole Hopkins midfielder Dylan Bauer, thereby putting the ball in the stick of Matt Collison. Not what I would do. The close defense is strong, although Jurassic Park was closed on Saturday.

The obstacle is the way. Wahoos entertain RoMo on Tuesday and bus to Towson on Saturday.

6) Duke

Penn outworked Duke on Friday night, winning the middle of the field. Sloppy clearing, a lack of urgency and poor shooting acumen (12 of 47) all were to blame. Brennan O’Neill was held to one goal as Duke chose to play team offense, rather than lean on their star. It felt like a wake up call, the intensity level and attention to detail wasn’t what it needs to be. Sometimes I honestly think John Danowski likes losing an early game to make it a learning moment.

Devils hammered Princeton on Sunday 17-8. Three excellent games plus Army at Lafayette all shared the same time-slot. Not fan friendly.

The age difference between these two rosters is staggering. Excellent effort following a loss, especially from the attack of Josh Zawada, ONeill and Dyson Williams. Losing games is not the worst thing in the world. Failing to improve off a loss is. Devils visit Loyola on Saturday.

7) Maryland

Sunday loss to Notre Dame featured some uncharacteristic turnovers by Maryland in the defensive zone and while clearing. The EMD was shredded by the Irish. I found it perplexing that Maryland didn’t invert more and attack the ND defense from X after watching Georgetown have success with that strategy.

“Be the Best” is solid, not spectacular. Dangerous because of their goalie and face-off combo. Eric Malever, after missing 2023 with an ACL, is beginning to look like his old self. Midfield scoring and penetration is what needs to be ramped up. Brown comes to College Park this weekend.

8) Syracuse

Otto came up a goal short on Wednesday in a home thriller against Army, falling 14-13 in OT. This game was terrific. Both teams deserve recognition. Fiercely contested, with first class playmaking, controversy, tempo and tension – I loved it.

SU took 51 shots. Joey Spallina is a very nice player. The hype has been overwhelming. Has it created false expectations and pressure? Probably. Let’s face facts – He isn’t in the discussion for the Tewaaraton Trophy just yet. He may be down the road. He is highly skilled, an elite passer and distributor with perhaps one of the most advanced game IQ’s I’ve seen for a player of his age. He can read and diagnose the game faster than everybody. His mind is a weapon. But we have seen in losses to Maryland and Army that when covered by a top tier defenders (Ajax Zappitello & AJ Pilate) Spallina struggles to create his own high percentage scoring chances. Speed and separation quickness become an issue. This isn’t a revelation. Creating his own shot can be a challenge. Against Army, AJ Pilate locked him up and it appeared to lead to frustration and poor shot selection, especially in OT. That’s human nature. It’s understandable. A lesson to be applied going forward against ACC powers. And by the way, there are some of Spallina’s teammates who need to look deep into a mirror and figure out how to better contribute. This one was not on #22. Not the game I watched.

Everybody listen up. Spend less time worrying about the box score and individual accolades, instead pursue wins, and the awards will find you.

Joey is a great young man, he is heavily invested and cares deeply about lacrosse. He, OC Pat March and coach Gary Gait will figure it out, they’ll find solutions. You can count on that. This is a small speed bump on what will be a long and fruitful career. This setback will trigger growth.

And I don’t want to hear anybody talking about “pressure”. Don’t willingly put the #22 jersey on your back, run around social media promoting it and then complain about pressure. You invited this attention and scrutiny. Now deal with it.

Army was slow to slide to SU all night and it became a day when Orange midfielders had to be able to run by their man. One issue I have with SU’s offense is that many of the offensive players have the similar attributes and body types. They’re clones. So opposing teams can switch picks and not stress out. Like a basketball starting five, it’s helpful to have a differing cross section of size, length, speed and physical traits on your offense. I would expect Duke and Virginia to play the same styled defense as Army. Force SU ball carriers to beat their man and score unassisted goals. Orange midfielders had some success with the re-dodge on Wednesday.

And lastly, BTB goals that go viral on social media are only worth 1 point. At times I get the feeling that certain players are chasing style points, rather than making bread-and-butter plays. Respect the difference between functional creativity and show-boating.

On Saturday, they set a North American record for earliest Senior Day, celebrating on March 2. Joey Spallina has seven goals and was more active off-ball. Love to see his bounce back. That’s why he’s special, make the adjustments, analyze how to improve and incorporate.

#HHH postseason resume is very much a work in progress. I’d surmise that they’ll have to win two of three against Hopkins, North Carolina and Cornell if they don’t upset ND, UVA or Duke.

Orange and Hopkins take their iconic rivalry on the road to Charlotte, NC on Saturday.

9) Cornell

“Hard Hat 21” tattooed Hobart on Tuesday for their biggest win margin since 2018. 23 goals. This team can score. Cornell shot 23 of 49. Hugh Kelleher hit on four of his five shots. Freshman Willem Firth dished out three assists and CJ Kirst had five points. 43 players got into live action.

Big Red, behind seven goals from CJ Kirst on a stingy Ohio State defense, defeated the Buckeyes 15-11. Michael Long produced seven points

Big Red invade Panzer Stadium on Saturday.

10) Penn State

Down 8-1, “We Are” rallied to defeat Yale in overtime behind a monster outing from TJ Malone.

Lions relied heavily on the invert, double invert and feeds to the crease during the comeback, getting inside the Yale defense for dunks.

Nittany Lions and Cornell should be a great one on Saturday. I’m old enough to remember when Jeff Tambroni took the Big Red to the NCAA final.

11) Michigan

Wolverines scored seven straight, overcoming a slow start, in Jacksonville on Tuesday night. Florida distractions are real. Been there, done that. Grab some aloe, knock the sand out of your shoes and consider it an energy docking station.

FOGO Justin Wietfeldt went 21-of-26, crease scorer Justin Tiernan had 4 goals and Ryan Cohen finished with four points.

In the battle of the winged helmet design, Michigan finished up their three game spring break road trip with an impressive 13-8 victory against Delaware as Mikey Boehm eclipsed 200 career points.

Harvard is in Ann Arbor on Sunday. Michigan is gaining momentum.

12) Georgetown

Brown played zone defense in an 11-5 loss to the Hoyas in DC on Saturday. TJ Haley was excellent for coach Kevin Warne.

Swamp dogs shorties Dylan Hess, Will Godine and Jack Leary are game changers. The win a week ago in South Bend, very much hinged on the work of Hess on ND midfielder Eric Dobson.

The trio took away the middle of the field, forced alley dodges while close defender Ty Banks was pressing out at X against Pat Kavanagh. Because these shorties are stout, GT can switch picks, not sweating matchups as much. Advantage defense. Hess also set a great pick behind the net in early offense, setting up an easy Hoya score.

GT’s offense has developed snappy ball reversal – that is the ability to swing the ball top to behind or left to right of the formation. The ball doesn’t die in sticks. TJ Haley has become more dangerous as a scorer in big / little scenarios. Invert offense was popping at Arlotta, four goals came from initial ISO’s from behind the goal. This is a must for all teams who play Notre Dame.

GT better be careful with High Point on Tuesday at 5pm. HP lives for these games.

13) Richmond

Spiders sucked the life out of Binghamton in the second half, winning 19-10. Richmond may cruise through their league schedule.

Spiders pay a trip to UMBC on Friday at 6pm. Catonsville, on the west side of the beltway, has old-school charm and some decent spots for food.

14) Princeton

Tigers prefer to hunt at night. They mauled North Carolina 15-9 on Friday in the rain. Coulter Mackesy, Nate Kibiri and Colin “Barbeque” Burns are a young attack with massive upside and connectivity.

Sunday wasn’t as kind. The young Tigers met their match with an angry and focused Duke team.

Tigers and Rutgers is a spirited NJ rivalry game.

15) Penn

Quakers stunned Duke on Friday night, playing with their hair on fire for 60 minutes. Respect the team that plays hard. 14-12 margin made possible by the work of defender Brendan Lavelle on Tewaaraton finalist Brennan O’Neil, limiting his touches and production to one goal on eight shots. Ben Smith and Luke DiNola scored three apiece. Midfielder James Shipley was energetic. Goalie Emmett Carroll had 17 saves in the mud and rain. Penn didn’t sit on their lead and took all of the Duke punches late in the fourth quarter.

Quakers were flat as a pancake on short rest at UNC on Sunday, struggling to win face-offs.

Mike Murphy’s squad takes the short trip to Nova.

16) Yale

4-0 and 8-1 leads disintegrated into a 15-14 overtime loss at Penn State. David Anderson had five goals on 14 shots. Defense remains the Achilles heel. Bulldogs are at Denver on Sunday.

17) Harvard

Midweek mailing of Merrimack saw the Crimson jump out to a 7-1 lead after 15 minutes. Sam King had six points. Harvard generated 55 shots, forced 11 failed clears and was +29 in ground ball margin. 23-8 victory a change of pace after razor thin wins over BU and Bucknell.

Harvard is (5-0) for the first time since 2000 after defeating Vermont on the road 15-12.

Crimson at Michigan on Sunday in a sneaky important game for both organizations.

18) Rutgers

Bada Bing, Bada Bang, Bada boom held serve 13-8 over Hofstra in the rain. RU is 19-3 in non-conference play over the past three seasons, a direct result of their low SOS.

Jersey boys and Detroit meet on Tuesday and then Princeton and RU battle in a trophy game on Sunday, which is a real gauge.

19) North Carolina

13-9 Sunday win may be a turnaround moment for the Heels after playing so poorly on Friday. They dominated Faceoffs 18-8 and James Matan and Dom Pietramala were effective. Carolina is (2-2) with losses to JHU and the Tigers. They play Hofstra, Wagner, Stony Brook and High Point next. I don’t understand this schedule.

20) Ohio State

Losses to Virginia and Cornell are top tier. Question marks exist in terms of offensive output. In the shot clock era you can’t win with defense only. How many games can OSU actually win in the B10?

On the radar:

  • Colgate
  • Towson
  • Quinnipiac
  • High Point
  • Umass
  • Drexel
  • NJIT

NJIT is (6-0). I spoke with their coach Eric Wolf on the Quintessential Podcast. Impressive stuff. Listen as Eric talks about the turnaround and Highlander culture, a program in Newark, NJ going places.

Twitter: @QKessenich
Instagram: @quintekessenich

Read last week’s rankings to see how things have changed!

About Spire

SPIRE’S world class High School and Post Grad lacrosse program are ideal for serious lacrosse players looking for an intense training environment to prepare for the next level of competition. The academies sere college-bound high school student athletes, as well as high school graduates looking to train & compete for an additional year while seeking the best possible college scholarship opportunities.  The High School Academy features a blended learning environment of college preparatory academies, along with unique personal development and career preparation features.  PG students can earn college credit by taking two core classes per semester at Kent State – Ashtabula or online