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Under-the-Radar: NCAA Week 3

Goooooooooood morning, LaxAllStars! It’s great to be back, and it’s great to have NCAA lacrosse back on our TVs (and phones, and computers, and sketchy Reddit streams of other people’s TVs…) too. Let’s recap the first two weeks, shall we? Upset, upset, Pat Spencer highlight, upset and, while writing this sentence, Penn State probably scored three goals. The craziness has come early this season. However, plenty of stuff is going on that is less obvious to those of us without 872 TV channels (c’mon, ACC Network Extra? Really?). That’s where I come in. We’re calling this Under-the-Radar, and we’re going to use this slot weekly to take a look at the teams, players and storylines you might’ve missed during the chaos at the top. So, without further ado, let’s take a look!

The Under-the-Radar Team of the Week:

With a quick shoutout to Army, who I really wanted to talk about here, beating a top team like Rutgers isn’t quiet enough. So, instead, let’s talk about the ACC team that hasn’t been embarrassed yet (that’s actually played somebody. Easy there, Golden Domers). North Carolina has, in this writer’s humble opinion, not gotten enough love yet. They started off at No. 15 in the initial preseason poll. Since then, all they’ve done is gone 3-0 while averaging 16.7 goals-per-game and they’ve climbed just one spot since, now sitting at No. 14. That’s two spots below fellow ACC member Virginia, who has already had their souls snatched by Loyola (and, after I wrote this initially, dropped one to the new ACC Nightmare Machine, High Point).

2016 NCAA Division I Men's NCAA Final Four

So, what’s UNC’s deal? Well, they haven’t exactly played the strongest schedule yet. That Harvard win is a good one, but their real tests are coming up, with their next two games against Hopkins and Denver. The biggest reason for optimism in the Tarheels today has to be their midfield. Canadian Tanner Cook has been, well, cooking so far, with seven goals in three games. Pair him with William Perry (six goals) and Justin Anderson (six goals) and this gives you a midfield that is finding the back of the net early and often so far. They’ve also got a good mix of youth and experience. Senior Timmy Kelly has bumped down to attack, where he’s got a solid seven points so far and is helping steady a young unit that has already produced two freshmen with seven points as well, in Nicky Solomon and Jacob Kelly. Couple that with senior Andy Matthews, leading the team in assists, and they’ve got great balance on offense so far.

What’s the biggest reason for overlooking UNC? Well, besides the obvious strength-of-schedule issues, it’s got to be the defense. The Tarheels need to plug some holes in the backend if they’re going to come out of the next few weeks unscathed. Starting goalie Jack Pezzulla has been underwhelming through three games, posting a 49% save rate that has dipped against more solid opponents. He hasn’t received a ton of help yet, but finding a way to get Pezzulla going might be the key to surviving against Hopkins and Denver.

The Under-the-Radar Player of the Week:

It’s Gerard Arceri, FOS for the suddenly-terrifying Penn State Nittany Lions. Sure, we’ve all been talking plenty about how domineering the boys of Happy Valley have been through three games, but most of that credit has been going to the offense. Where does that offense start? The faceoff X. Arceri might have been overshadowed last year by all-time greats like Trevor Baptiste and TD Ierlan, but Arceri is not a player to overlook in 2019. The All-American Honorable Mention has come roaring out of the gate, and has won a smidge under 80% of his draws so far in 2019. He’s given Penn State thirty-nine extra possessions this season, and we’ve all seen what that offense can do with the ball. Arceri has also chipped in two goals on his own on four shots, all of which have been on cage so far. Arceri is an efficient, effective FOS, and he’s the first cog in the Nittany Lions’ offensive juggernaut. With huge performances all around this offense so far (Grant Ament leads the nation in assists-per-game, Mac O’Keefe has a cool fourteen goals thus far, SIX different attackmen have three or more points), it’s easy to overlook the man starting a lot of those possessions, but don’t be shocked if Arceri is a household name come May and is mentioned in Under-the-Radar articles to come.

Honorable Mentions:

, Utah Lacrosse vs. Vermont February 1, 2019 in Salt Lake City, UT. (Photo / Steve C. Wilson / University of Utah)
  • Josh Stout, Utah, Attack: leads the nation in goals through three games, despite this being Utah’s first DI season.
  • Colby Kneese, Penn State, Goalie: has posted an 81%(!!) save rate through three games, easily leading the nation in save rate. Before you think he’s just not seen many shots, here’s a fun fact: he’s made 38 saves and allowed 9 goals.
  • Chris Gray, Boston U, Attack: 11 assists in three games would lead the nation if Grant Ament hadn’t decided to be the ultimate QB so far. Gray has done a great job quarterbacking the Terriers thus far.

Storylines of the Week:

  • Is Cleveland State good now? After close losses to Michigan and Ohio State, the Vikings put the screws to Bellarmine. Through three games, CSU has ten different players with multiple goals, despite only having scored thirty-four total goals. Talk about a balanced offense. A 1-2 start isn’t usually something to write home about, but, for a team as new as Cleveland State, this is a pretty exciting development. They get Denver this coming weekend, giving them another chance to pull off an upset.
  • What’s wrong with Hopkins? Lost in the hullabaloo over early losses by ‘Cuse and Duke might be the fact that the Blue Jays have already fallen out of the top twenty. Sure, their losses are to No. 1 Loyola and No. 7 Towson, but neither have been particularly close. With their next three games coming against, in order, UNC/Princeton/Syracuse, it’s looking weirdly possible that JHU could start the year 0-5. The defense has been a huge problem so far, with no real answer in cage and their poles struggling to provide relief. As one of the best defensemen of all time, Dave Pietramala must be losing his mind right about now. Can the ‘Jays turn this thing around, or are their hopes of May already down Big Ten or bust?
  • Don’t look now, but the nation’s leader in goals so far is none other than Utah’s Josh Stout, who also got an honorable mention Under-the-Radar Player of the Week nod. Stout, an MCLA All-American a year ago, was one of the Utes to make the transition from MCLA to NCAA, and has responded with 15 goals in three games. Their second leading scorer, Aaron Fjeldsted, is also a carry-over from the MCLA days. Yes, Utah is 1-2 so far, but what a start for these former club kids. Utah has been, like Michigan before them, writing a textbook on how to make the DI jump. The results in the win column might take longer, but props to these two for making the transition look flawless so far. Give Stout some time, and he might not be flying under-the-radar any longer.

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