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Intriguing College Lacrosse Teams, Top 20 Edition

Princeton


The Princeton seniors from a year ago dispersed across the DI landscape, impacting several top tier programs who benefited from the Ivy League basically not allowing grad years. Jake Stevens, Sam English, Christian Ronda, Beau Pederson, the list goes on, all major impact players for the Tigers in their Princeton careers and now playing for someone else. The question immediately becomes, who steps in for them? The recruiting class was the best in America, and they’ll have to live up to the billing early. At the Bob Kemp classic, freshman Nate Kabiri started at attack for the Tigers and scored a hat trick against Notre Dame. Marquez White is a box standout who also reportedly was very impactful in that scrimmage, on both ends, and could be a big contributor. But fall ball is fall ball. Things don’t count for real until we hit February. Between now and then, Princeton will be all about building depth in their lineup. They still have an exceptional leader on both ends of the field. Coulter Mackesy is back at attack, Colin Mulshine on defense in front of Michael Gianforcaro in net. That core alone is really damn good, and will keep this team competitive with anyone. But in a conference as tough as the Ivy, who among the inexperienced will step up and stand out in big moments come April?


Denver


First year post Bill Tierney, that’s enough of a reason as any to want to watch the Pios closely. Last year, this team played a style of lacrosse focused on stout defense, quality possessions on offense, using the clock, and exceptionally good play at the faceoff spot. They have all the tools to do that again. They executed it well enough to be right on the edge of an NCAA tournament spot a year ago. Their only losses in conference were to Georgetown (twice), a team that lost a TON of scoring to graduation. Their other losses were a two goal loss to Yale, one goal loss to Duke, and two goal loss at Air Force. The defense on this team is again, outstanding. AJ Mercurio is likely going to be on some PLL coaches radars. Casey Wilson is just a junior at SSDM and already playing for Team Canada. Jack DiBenedetto returns. On offense, JJ Sillstrop, another potential pro and a bit of an overlooked player, is back. Richie Connell, a 6’5 220lb Canadian Hulk of an attackman is back. And of course, Alec Stathakis is back to control the faceoff spot. The tools are there for Denver to play that methodical brand of lacrosse again. How new head coach Matt Brown deploys the weapons from a year ago is going to be fun to watch. 


Maryland


We all knew the Terps would return to Earth a bit in 2023. Their spring of 2022 was not even a storybook, it was legend. The stuff of mythology. A team so good and so dominant that replicating it would be impossible. So nobody was all that surprised at their return to the world of the rest of us mere mortals. They caught some bad breaks, one of them being the loss of Eric Malever for the season before the year even started. They also lost Logan McNaney for the year to an injury early in the season. McNaney is back in net this year. All those openings on the offense last year were opportunities, and nobody grabbed theirs like Braden Erksa. The freshman led the team in scoring and drew top matchups, a testament to just how quickly he took to the college game. Erksa, now a sophomore, will lead an offense again that returns a lot of weapons. Daniel Maltz, Owen Murphy, Daniel Kelly, Jack Koras, all back this year. McNaney is back in net, with Ajax Zapitello in front of him. Maryland brought in serious defensive reinforcements in the portal with Jackson Canfield and Nick Alviti. Terps lost to Notre Dame by a goal last year. They ended the season on a rough run, but lessons learned by a team with some young weapons a year ago. How they start the year is what interests me with this group. The full schedule isn’t officially out yet, but we know they play Richmond, Loyola, Syracuse, and Princeton all in February. Tests early and tests often for the Terps. 


Penn


Sam Handley walked on campus and took the lacrosse world by storm as a freshman, winning First-team All-American honors. Every time he took the field for Penn he was a force, either by piling up stats himself or drawing so much attention from the defense that the field opened for teammates. Handley is now in the PLL and for the first time since 2018, Penn lacrosse needs to find a new alpha on offense. Gabe Furey has been a running mate of Handley’s and should take a lot of the load at midfield. Chris Canet has played some, James Shipley is a two way midfielder who could see his offensive usage grow, and Robert Schain should see a larger role. Cam Rubin and Ben Smith are both goal scorers and excellent shooters who are back. Leo Hoffman could be immediately relied upon for production in the midfield as a freshman. That’s a lot of candidates for the lead dog job. For Penn, who picks up the slack for the departed Handley is the most interesting question they face.


Utah


Not sure there was a more fun team on a weekly basis than Utah a year ago. The scoring was just off the charts. They had a stretch of 11 straight wins, they averaged over 20 goals per game for the month of April. The Utes handed Jacksonville their second loss of the year, they won the ASUN. Three players scored over 30 goals, and two more that came up one or two goals shy of the 30 mark. And all those players are back this year. Jordan Hyde returns as the top offensive weapon. Freshman Ryan Stines and his 38 goals return. They started freshman Colin Lenskold in net a year ago, he returns to backstop the defense. Utah front loaded their schedule in a big way a year ago, starting with games against Denver, Marquette, Vermont, Hopkins, and Rutgers. They went 1-4, not necessarily shocking. This year, they’ll play Ohio State, Denver, Syracuse, and Vermont in February; four chances at an early statement. Utah continues to pull talent from across the country to build the program. Their starting attack a year ago hailed from Michigan, California, and North Carolina. Their top midfielders were from North Carolina, California, and Ontario. Their fourth attackman and versatile player MJ McMahon is from Florida. Players from Georgia, Oregon, and Texas play impact minutes. Both for the fact that they score like crazy, and they do it with players from all over the nation, this is a very exciting team this year. 


Syracuse


The story of the Orange last year was the arrival of their freshman class, led by Joey Spallina. The group was as stacked as it gets and delivered on hype. Four of the teams top nine scorers were freshman, with Spallina leading the team at 68 points. Finn Thomson, Michael Leo, and Luke Rhoa all were impact players. Owen Hiltz returns, as does Jackson Birtwhistle. The intrigue is all the new faces. Jake Stevens and Sam English come from Princeton and will be first line midfield weapons. Christian Mule joins from Lehigh as an elite scorer. Jake Titus and Mason Kohn join from DIII Union and Tufts respectively, with Titus at SSDM and Kohn taking faceoffs. Matt Wright comes from UNC to join Saam Olexo at LSM. Zach Puckhaber from Gettysburg. On top of that, two more Spallinas, Jake and Brett, are at Cuse as freshman, as is Trey Deere who should push for attack time right away. Riley Figueiras missed his freshman year at defense due to injury, but has the billing of one of the top defenders in his class nationwide. There are a LOT of mouths to feed at Cuse, and it’ll be very interesting to see how they do i


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