The regular season starts on Saturday which means we are just about out of time for preseason predictions and bluster. But we get one more round of predictions under our belt before games start getting played for real. And because they seem to do the most in terms of generating (sometimes) friendly discussion, let’s keep these predictions focused on individual success. Here are my picks for a winner and four other “finalists”, in January, for college lacrosse awards that will be given in May.
Ensign C. Markland Kelly Jr. Award
Winner: Liam Entenmann, Notre Dame
Four runners up: Jack Fracyon, Matt Knote, Will Mark, Mike Gianforcaro
This goes to the nation’s top goaltender every year. As of today, it’s hard to imagine someone other than Entenmann winning it, given that the last time we saw him he was as dialed in as a goalie can be. But the goalie race isn’t a runaway by any stretch. Jack Fracyon was outstanding for Penn State a year ago. He posted a .562 save percentage, and was at his best in the NCAA tournament. He posted 17 saves in four straight games against Hopkins, Michigan, Rutgers, and Michigan again.. Matt Knote had the second best save percentage in the country. Michael Gianforcaro was a wall in the Ivy Tournament. Will Mark had big performances in big games. A separator here might be the defensive unit in front of these netminders. Entenmann and Gianforcaro in particular have very good units in front of them, they’ll see the types of shots they want to see this year, which will help those save numbers stay high.
William C. Schmeisser Award
Winner: Cole Kastner, UVA
Four runners up: Ajax Zappitello, Mason Woodward, AJ Pilate, Kenny Brower
The Schmeisser goes to the top defender in the country. Always a difficult call. With offensive players, it’s easy (and lazy but that’s beside the point) to just take your candidates, sort by points, and pick the guy who’s first. Defenders don’t have that. Caused turnovers rarely tell the entire story, same with ground balls, and those tend to be the two most popular metrics when it comes to defenders. PLL has tried to start measuring closest defender when shots/goals happen, but I am a very long way from being a believer in that as a good defensive metric. More than any other position, you need to watch these guys play, and you need to look at what the opposing team is able to do specifically on plays where these defenders are directly involved. It doesn’t take long for Kastner to stand out at UVA. For one thing, he just physically stands out. He’s 6’7. But he uses every inch of that frame. He covers ground and plays angles as well as anyone. He can bump up in the ride to defend the midfield line. His basketball skills (he can pursue hoops at UVA) are on display in his footwork. Zappitello is a close second here, basically the only defender who can lock up Connor Shellenberger, but I give a narrow edge to Kastner.
Lt. Donald MacLaughlin Jr. Award
Winner: Graham Bundy Jr
Four runners up: Eric Dobson, Jake Piseno, Jake Stevens, Shane Knobloch
The Don MacLaughlin award is for the nation’s top midfielder. No, those runners up aren’t a typo. Graham Bundy Jr has already been a first team All American twice. As Georgetown shakes up the roster with the portal, he is the constant. He’s the guy at the center of it all who can steer the ship and be leaned on in big moments. He has started every game of his Georgetown career. Dobson is more physically gifted than Bundy; he’s bigger and better going downhill. Knobloch is a better dodger. Stevens plays better defense and is better as a two way guy. But put them all together, and you get Bundy. Piseno I add here because I this could be a special season for him, given the way his last 10 months have gone. Joel White won this award at Syracuse as an LSM, so it’s not unheard of for poles to be in the running.
Lt. Col. J. I. Turnbull Award
Winner: TJ Malone, Penn State
Four Runners Up: CJ Kirst, Pat Kavanagh, Brennan O’Neill, Connor Shellenberger
Known as the Jack Turnbull Award, this goes to the nation’s top attackman. Historically, this award typically gets aligned in some way with the Enners Award and the Tewaaraton. More on that in a second. For the Turnbull, I’m taking TJ Malone. Penn State has something to prove this year, more than most teams who are coming off a Final Four. TJ Malone was one of if not the best player at Championship Weekend. The Penn State offense will be aggressive and built on speed and toughness, nobody personifies that quite like Malone does. There is nobody I’m more excited to watch this year, particularly in crunch time when Penn State needs a big play, than TJ Malone.
Lt. Raymond Enners Award
Winner: Brennan O’Neill, Duke
Four runners up: Pat Kavanagh, TJ Malone, CJ Kirst, Connor Shellenberger
This award is given every year to the NCAA’s most outstanding player. This was the Tewaaraton before the Tewaaraton. And really it still is. The last time the Enners Award and the Tewaaraton went to different players was in 2011, when Rob Pannell won the Enners award and Steele Stanwick won the Tewaaraton. But predictions are more fun when you mix things up a bit, so let’s pull for chaos. There are enough deserving talents to spread the wealth a bit. I’ve got different winners for Attackman of the Year, Outstanding Player, and Tewaaraton. O’Neill won the award, and the Tewaaraton, last year. To start thinking about who else can win it, you have to start at the question, “who do I think is better than Brennan O’Neill”. That in and of itself is a case for him to win it. The other finalists, all attackmen of course, are the guys I’d imagine have special seasons both from a winning standpoint and production standpoint. O'Neill is a game breaker. The criticism of his production got a little bit loud last year during the title game. That feels like textbook bear poking to me. O'Neill is a competitor who no doubt is unhappy that he doesn't have a ring yet. This year he leaves it all out there to try and check that box.
Winner: CJ Kirst, Cornell
Four Runners Up: Brennan O’Neill, Connor Shellenberger, Pat Kavanagh, TJ Malone
The Heisman of lacrosse since 2001. For better or worse it has essentially become an attackman award. The last non-attackman to win it on the men’s side was Max Seibald in 2009. So we land on a group of five unbelievable attackman. Last year, O’Neill took the honor home, and he’ll enter the season as a favorite for it again. He’s the presumed top pick in the PLL Draft, and now a gold medalist for Team USA, and Most Outstanding Player in the World Championships. But picking him to win it again is the easy way out. I’m going with CJ Kirst. Kirst was the leading goal scorer in the country a year ago, and is the best pure dodge and score player in the country. There is nobody better at creating his own opportunities. To build on a 1st Team All American season a year ago, Kirst spent the summer playing in the OJLL with Mimico, where he had 62 points in 18 games. And he had more assists than goals. Kirst further developing his indoor game, bringing that outdoors, for a Cornell team that needs him to trigger the offense, is going the recipe for a season for the history books. O’Neill will play like a man possessed, seeking the only thing that eludes him, an NCAA championship. That will produce some special moments for sure. But I’m giving Kirst the edge for individual achievement.