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Men's Conference Championship Predictions

With less than a month left until the first DI men’s college lacrosse time, we are officially in the middle of prediction season. Get ready for a few weeks of endless who ya got questions, who’s your DARK HORSE, who’s SLEPT ON, who’s a LOCK TO WIN, and all that. I’ve got some of those coming, of the more outlandish variety. 


For this, we’ll be going through the conferences and picking ourselves a winner, a team that’s right on their heels, and, for the purposes of being on theme to the lacrosse world right now, a DARK HORSE. 


ACC


Winner: Notre Dame

Right on their heels: Duke

TOTALLY SLEPT ON DARK HORSE: North Carolina


Notre Dame keeps the top spot since they just won a title, but they’re vulnerable. Chris Fake and Brian Tevlin are playing summer lacrosse in the PLL now, and while they may not be stat sheet fillers, their value in the locker room is immeasurable. There is something to be said for just having winners around your team, and that’s what Tevlin and Fake are. Back are the Kavanaghs, Jake Taylor, Eric Dobson, Liam Entenmenn, and scores of other weapons that make the Irish the team to beat. Not far back is Duke, led by reigning Tewaaraton winner Brennan O’Neill. Now in his last year in Durham, O’Neill has done just about everything there is to do in college lacrosse. The exception is securing himself a ring. That will be his first, and only, goal for the year as he leads a loaded Blue Devil squad yet again. Dark Horse? Carolina. They brought up the rear in the ACC last year, a conference with no bad teams. They return stud attackman Logan McGovern, add the top freshman in the nation in Owen Duffy, and suddenly the offense might be frisky. Andrew Tyeryar facing off is a Joe Nardella-esque weapon, scoring more goals than some regular offensive players for the Heels last year. Carolina could steal some games. 


AMERICA EAST


Winner: Bryant

Right on their heels: Albany

TOTALLY SLEPT ON DARK HORSE: Vermont


Bryant won the America East tournament a year ago, beating Albany in two OTs to do it. They return the top three scorers from that team, each of whom had 50+ points. Bryant’s offense was deep, with five players over 40 points. They also shot about 33% as a team, a very good number. Their offense notched 14+ goals per game, they’ll be looking to run on teams again this year. Albany has a few things going for them. They return Silas Richmond, who did not get nearly enough pub for his play a year ago as a freshman. A star in the making. They return Graydon Hogg, already a Team Canada level player at attack, who missed a large chunk of last year. And then have Jake Piseno, who had a preposterous 50 caused turnovers a year ago. He also led Albany in GBs, ahead of the next player by 37 GBs. That includes faceoff guys. Albany will be, as always, well coached and will play everyone on the schedule tough. Always tough. UVM is dealing with some tough losses to grad years. Jackson Canfield, Colin Sharkey, and Nick Alviti, anchors of their defense, are now all at Maryland. Danny Manning, another quality close defenseman, is taking a grad year at Fairfield. David Closterman graduated. It’s a lot to handle. There are critical pieces back, like Brock Haley on the offensive end, who has the makings of a pro. Matt Shaffer was outstanding in goal last year. Charlie Pope, who missed last year due to injury, has had an excellent fall. Vermont will need to fill the gaps left from the offseason but if they can find a stride early, they can win the conference. 


ASUN


Winner: Utah

Right on their heels: Jacksonville

TOTALLY SLEPT ON DARK HORSE: Bellarmine


The ASUN doesn’t get the hype as some of the blue blood conferences, but it’s still hyper competitive. Utah and Jacksonville both will spend time in the Top 20 this year, both are loaded with talent. I am going with Utah because of how much of last year’s team returns. Just about the entire offense is back, the goalie is back, there are legit stars in the making in droves out in Utah. What makes that important is that Jacksonville is famously very active in the transfer portal each winter. They grab top level players from across college lax. DI, DII, DIII, doesn’t matter, they find players and bring them to Florida. They also manage to integrate a large group of new players each year without much in the way of early season growing pains. But I’m going with Utah just because the Utes don’t have to consider that as much. They’re running it back with last year’s guys. Jacksonville has brought in so many new weapons, I always fear the early season adjustment period. I’ll also be watching Bellarmine closesly this year. Robert Morris, Air Force, even Mercer, someone can always get frisky and come out of nowhere in the ASUN. Last year it came down to the wire in the ASUN tournament and Bellarmine nearly knocked off Utah. They bring back some serious talent, led by Kyle Playsted. They’ll hang tough this year.  


A-10


Winner: Saint Joseph’s

Right on their heels: Richmond

TOTALLY SLEPT ON DARK HORSE: High Point


I am perpetually guilty of being higher on Saint Joseph’s than most. But I am once again high on Saint Joseph’s. The Hawks went 5-0 in conference last season, but lost in the conference tournament as Richmond took the spot in the big dance. St Joe’s brings back Levi Anderson, Carter Page, and Matt Bohmer on offense. Richie LaCalandra joins via the portal, as does Toron Eccelston. This team will pile up goals this year. Richmond isn’t far behind. Dalton Young, Lance Madonna, and Luke Grayum, who combined for 164 points last year, are all back. Spiders play a bear of a schedule that includes Maryland, UVA, Duke, and Georgetown. Plenty of chances to make some noise. High Point plays a similarly difficult schedule. They have dates with Duke, Cuse, Georgetown, and UNC. They also have a pair of attackman who score insane amounts of goals. Would High Point actually be a surprise winner of the A-10? Are they really a totally slept on Dark Horse? Absolutely not. But we’ve got a formula to follow. 


BIG EAST


Winner: Denver

Right on their heels: Georgetown

TOTALLY SLEPT ON DARK HORSE: Marquette


Denver is, as I wrote recently, a very intriguing team. First year post Bill Tierney, the Pios are now led by Matt Brown. The team from last year returns almost in its entirety. JJ Sillstrop is underrated at the national level. They have one of the best faceoff men in America in Alec Stathakis. The defense is stout. Last year, they played a possession hoarding, slow down style of lacrosse that meant they were never out of games. They could do the same if Brown wants, or he could up the pace. Georgetown lost Tucker Dordevic to the pros, but Graham Bundy is still one of the best midfielders in America. He’s one of the best players, period, in America. Georgetown was a team loaded with portal players a year ago, this year they were quiet with the portal and are sticking to the in house weapons. Alex Vardaro is a special talent, but many of the weapons Georgetown will roll out this year were there last year. They have plenty of those, they’ll be in the mix in the end. Finally Marquette has a Schmeisser candidate in Mason Woodward. He’s good enough to make them dangerous. Luke Williams is an underrated faceoff specialist, they added Caleb Creasor, a Team Canada goalie via the portal. Most of production on offense returns. It’s a tall mountain to climb, but Marquette could be up for it. 


BIG TEN


Winner: Penn State

Right on their heels: Johns Hopkins

TOTALLY SLEPT ON DARK HORSE: Ohio State


The Nittany Lions were a replay review (which they can now get!) away from the title game last year. Last year, the expectations were lower, as they came into 2023 off a year where they struggled. This year, after a Final Four, the expectations are much higher, even in the stacked Big 10. TJ Malone is a totally slept on dark horse candidate for the Tewaaraton. Matt Traynor makes the move to attack, and Kyle Lehman was on the first attack at the Team USA Fall Classic. The defense is solid, and Jack Fracyon is one of the nation’s best goalies. But Penn State won’t have a 5-6 weeks to sneak up on people this year. They’re a team to beat from day one. Hopkins is right behind them because they return the entire offense. The top 11 scorers are all back. Scott Smith is an elite defenseman and will anchor a defense in front of portal prize Chayse Ierlan. Hopkins, like Penn State, exceeded expectations a year ago and as a result, faces much high expectations this year. They have the personnel to meet them. I can’t wait to watch Garrett Degnon and Hunter Chauvette on extra man together. The Buckeyes underachieved last year. But with some solid recruiting and the portal, no team is ever more than a year away from the top of the sport. Ohio State will be a bear at the faceoff with Tommy Burke joining from Vermont and Jack Oldman coming in as a freshman. The defense still has two of the most athletic and best cover defenders in the country in Bobby Van Buren and Marcus Hudgins. The offense added DIII stud Kurt Bruun and 6’6 monster from Fairfield Jack McKenna. Buckeyes will not finish at the bottom of the Big 10 this year. 


CAA


Winner: Delaware

Right on their heels: Hofstra

TOTALLY SLEPT ON DARK HORSE: Stony Brook


The Hens are once again the pick to win the CAA. Mike Robinson and JP Ward are going to score boatloads of points this year before, in the case of Robinson, going pro. Robinson notched a hat trick for Canada against Team USA in the Fall Classic this year, he’s one of the best pure shooters and finishers in the sport.  The Peterborough native is comparable to a Wes Berg type player on the field. Sometimes you don’t want to pole him, because it can feel like you’re not using a pole well on a shooter as opposed to a dodger. But no shorty can disrupt his hands and shot enough to really slow him down. It’s a challenging situation to scheme against. Hofstra I may be higher on than most. I liked what I saw from them in the fall against some quality opponents, including Hopkins. They have very talented young players, particularly on offense, and were bitten pretty hard by the injury bug a year ago. Trey Parkes really stood out as a player who can make a leap this year. JT Roselle came over from UNC at the LSM position, he’ll compliment Chase Patterson facing off well. A sneaky good group on the island. Speaking of, Stony Brook is the same animal. Loads of weapons on offense to be excited about. Dylan Pallonetti has been extraordinarily productive since his first year at Stony Brook. He’s coming off a 51 goal, 70 point season, and has started every game in his Stony Brook career. A name to watch for the PLL draft. Noah Armitage is the best midfielder you aren’t watching enough yet. The Seawolves are a legit threat. 


IVY


Winner: Cornell

Right on their heels: Yale

TOTALLY SLEPT ON DARK HORSE: Brown


Cornell has some tough losses to deal with this year. Gavin Adler, Schmeisser winner and multiple First Team All American winner, is now in the PLL. Netminder Chayse Ierlan is taking his grad year at Hopkins. That’s a massive pair of holes to fill. Filling them, in my mind, starts with Jack Follows becoming the alpha on defense. Walker Wallace is impressive at LSM and he’s back as well, but they’ll need a field general down low, and I think Follows is the guy. The other end of the field is stacked. CJ Kirst and Michael Long at attack are two of the best in America, particularly if Long is 100% healthy. The other attack spot could be a number of players, including freshman Willem Firth, who has notched 296 total points (not a typo) in his last two summers in the OJLL for the Toronto Beaches. A hyper talented lefty who will be hard to keep off the field. As good as that attack is, it might not even be the best in the conference. Yale’s attack is off the charts dangerous. Matt Brandau has a good shot to graduate as Yale’s all time leader in goals, assists and points. He’s been a Tewaaraton nominee, he’ll be the go to player for Yale. The thing that makes Yale so good is that he’s balanced so well by Leo Johnson and Chris Lyons. Both could be the lead dodger and creator if need be. Lyons, often thought of as an off ball threat and shooter, showed some serious ability as a dodger last year and through the fall this year. He’s a far cry from the attackman you can stick your third defender on and hope for the best. Yale can identify your weakest defenseman and attack him, with any of their three weapons, and constantly unsettle your defense. It’s all pressure, all the time. Yale’s defense will need to be improved, otherwise they’ll have to be winning games 16-14 or shootout scores like that, but if they get better defensive play, they’re dangerous. I think Brown can be frisky. No program seems to thrive on being disregarded quite like Bruno. As soon as you think they’re having a down year, they knock off some ranked teams and remind you they can play. They have serious losses to reckon with, namely Devon McLane, Trevor Yeboah-Kodie, and Griffin King, but I really liked Aidan McLane’s play last year, Matteo Corsi is an exceptional dodger and can create for them, and their midfield is physically overpowering. Plus, The People's Goalie is back.


MAAC


Winner: Marist

Right on their heels: Manhattan

TOTALLY SLEPT ON DARK HORSE: Mount St Mary’s


The MAAC is there for anyone to win. You can swap out just about any team you like with the team’s above. It’s super competitive. A lot of teams at the top of the standings a year ago lost serious players. Marist graduated Jojo Pirreca and Jamison Embury, that’s two 60+ point scorers to replace. Hunter Embury graduated from the midfield. Running out of Embury’s (William is still on the team and should see a larger role this year) could be an issue, but I think Marist has the horses to hold off the rest of the conference this year. Manhattan lost spectacular goalie Joe Persico to graduation. He was one of the best goalies in DI last year. The real loss though is head coach John Odierna, who went to Syracuse to be the DC. Defense and goalkeeping were the core identity of Manhattan in Odierna’s tenure. Losing him, and their netminder, is almost certainly going to result in a step back to the back. I’ll be watching the Mount this year too. They lose a ton on offense, as they had a senior/grad heavy team a year ago. But Mitchell Dunham is a special talent at LSM. Last year he was MAAC DPOY, had 75 ground balls and 32 CTs, and took the field for Team Canada in the Fall Classic. A serious star on the rise, and if he can disrupt opponents and control the field between the lines, he’ll have the Mount in games. 


PATRIOT LEAGUE


Winner: Army

Right on their heels: Boston U

TOTALLY SLEPT ON DARK HORSE: Loyola


Black Knights return so many weapons. Evan Plunkett was one of the best freshman in the country a year ago. Reese Burek is a legit pro prospect that can seamlessly move between midfield and attack and still be productive. AJ Pilate is one of the best pure cover defenders in college lacrosse. They also have a weapon at the faceoff spot they haven’t had in a long time, Will Coletti. He hung tough, just about splitting draws, across two matchups with Mike Sisselberger last season. If you can go 50/50 with Sisselberer, you’re as good as anybody. Right behind them is BU, who had lofty goals a year ago and got out to a bit of a slow start. They found their form late though, even beating Army at West Point. The BU formula should be similar this year: bury you with goals from Vince D’Alto, Louis Perfetto, and their stacked attack, while Connor Calderone and Roy Meyer dominate faceoffs and the middle of the field to keep the ball in the hands of the Terriers. Loyola doesn’t really seem like a Dark Horse, but I also really don’t think anyone expects them, as of January, to be the Patriot League winner. The offense should be dangerous. Matthew Minicus led them in scoring last year, tied at 49 points with Adam Poitras, already a top NLL draft pick. Joey Kamish has been productive and Loyola for years. Evan James had 31 goals last year. There’s a ton of experience on the Hounds offense. They’ll have to deal with losing Cam Wyers and Payton Rezanka on defense, but Luke Staudt returns in net, which should help smooth over some early rough spots. 


INDEPENDENT


Winner: Le Moyne

Right on their heels: Le Moyne

TOTALLY SLEPT ON DARK HORSE: Le Moyne


Tongue in cheek, but Le Moyne can get recognized here. The idea of them at larging their way to the tournament probably requires an undefeated season, a very tall task for a team in their first season in DI. There are plenty of quality opponents on the schedule so Le Moyne is jumping right into the deep end of DI lacrosse.  Denver and Yale will be the toughest tests all year. Joey Pezzimenti is their top threat, and physically punishing attackman who started his career at Albany and had 70+ points last year.


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