It’s Week 1 of the College Lacrosse season. Or maybe it’s Week 0? Whatever you call it, there’s college lacrosse games this weekend and there weren’t last weekend, so college lax is back. Each week, we’ll run down my three favorite games of the weekend. For a rundown and picks of the entire slate, you can check out Friday episodes of the Sticks In Podcast throughout the season.
Opening weekend has multiple top 10 teams in action. Statements can be made this week. Stars can start their award campaigns. Teams can exorcize the demons of a year ago. Everyone is still in the hunt for the postseason, in the conference, it’s all bright and fun. For this week at least. Here are my three favorite games of the weekend. Spreads are from DraftKings at the time of writing, rankings are from the Inside Lacrosse Media Poll.
5. Johns Hopkins (-3) vs 13. Denver
Now this is how you start a season. Storylines abound in this one.
Bill Tierney has retired, and Matt Brown takes over on the sideline for Denver. He’ll open his Pioneer Head Coaching career against a Hopkins team with title aspirations. Denver returns a ton of talent from a year ago, including all the tools they used to win games. The defense, the faceoff spot, it all was lock down and grind you to dust a year ago, and they are well positioned to do the same. Jack DiBenedetto, AJ Mercurio, Jake Edinger, Casey Wilson, Alec Stathakis, all back. The offense also has plenty of weapons back, led by JJ Sillstrop, Richie Connell, and Noah Lanning, plus the addition of Richie LaCalandra. What really may mix things up is that Dave Metzbower is now on the sideline for Denver too. Metzbower served as OC for UNC, Loyola, and Princeton in his time, and has the tools to up the offensive production for the Pios this year.
Hopkins brings back their top 11 scorers from a year ago. Yes, 11 scorers. Russell Melendez can be the show runner, but Jacob Angelus looked outstanding as a dodger as well in scrimmages. Freshmen Jimmy Ayers and Hunter Chauvette are immediately pushing for playing time. The Hopkins offense and Denver defense serve as excellent opening weekend tests for each other. Hopkins will have to be efficient if Stathakis controls the faceoffs, and Denver has shown they can slow things down if they need to; they did it all last year and nearly made the tournament. The risk to that is, the Hopkins defensive end is no joke. Scott Smith returns and is excellent. Beauden Szuluk is back, The new additions are Chayse Ierlan in goal, who comes from Cornell via the portal, and Jacob Stoebner who joins from Princeton. Ierlan will be the starting net minder right away, Stoebner will round out a defense that’s physical and athletic down low. Hopkins also has, for my money, the best coaching staff in the country.
Denver might show a new personality this year even with the same weapons? Hopkins will want to make an early statement? Two great coaching staffs, scheming against each other? For February 3rd this has everything you could want in a college game.
18. Boston University (-1.5) vs (RV) St. Joseph’s
I might just like this one most because it’s being played close to where I live. These two are playing a neutral site game at Staples High School in Westport, CT so I get to catch some of this one in person.
Boston U reloads from last year, where they had lofty goals but lost their opener against UVM. They went on a nice run after that and performed well in the regular season Patriot League play before Loyola cut their postseason short. The Terriers attack group of Vince D’Alto, Louis Perfetto, and Thomas Niedringhaus is back, as is Tommy Bourque. It’s almost all their production, though they do lose Timmy Ley. The defense has 1st team All American Roy Meyer at LSM and Pat Morrison, and HM All American down low. Both will have to handle difficult matchups.
St Joseph’s has a stacked offense again. Levi Anderson is already a top NLL Draft Pick and will be selected in the PLL Draft this spring. Toron Eccleson joins via the portal from DII Champion Lenoir-Rhyne and is another super skilled, box style player who can physically overpower defenders. Matt Bohmer is back off a 47 point season. Carter Page returns, he had 47 goals a year ago.
The intrigue here is the faceoff spot. Zach Cole is gone to the pro ranks, and St Joseph’s needs to adjust to life with 60+% faceoffs every game. Gavin Tygh, who came over from Maryland, is the likely fill in, can he replicate the success of Cole and keep feeding the ball to this stacked offense? Connor Calderone for BU won’t make it easy. If Tygh can’t win consistently, the St Joe’s defense will be seriously tested in this one.
(RV) Ohio State (-2) vs (RV) Utah
This is a really fun one. If you were to ask Ohio State fans, or even their players and coaches, about last year, I imagine they’d just about by consensus tell you they underachieved. Their defense, on paper, is one of the most athletic in the country. Bobby Van Buren is an eraser. Marcus Hudgins has been 1st Team All American level good. Connor Cmiel is a very solid SSDM. They added Fairfield’s Zack Antoniou from the transfer portal. It’s a great unit, again, on paper. Last they they couldn’t get all those great individuals to play consistent, cohesive team defense. They gave up 17+ goals five different times in 2023. UVA, Denver, Penn State, Hopkins, and Michigan all ran it up. And those are all really good offenses, but if Ohio State fancies itself a contender, that’s who they need defend and win against. Utah brings back basically the entirety of an offense that was the 2nd ranked scoring offense in the nation last year. The Utes started the year 1-4 and then won nine straight games, tearing through the ASUN. But Ohio State ain’t the ASUN. The Non Con games are where Utah needs to take a step forward this year. They lost their faceoff man Cole Brams in the portal, and that’ll be heavy loss if they can’t stay near at least 50/50 on draws.
Ohio State needs to show the defense can be as elite on the field as it is on paper. This is an opportunity for them to do it. The Buckeyes offense loaded up in the portal too with Tufts star Kurt Bruun and Fairfield giant Jack McKenna among others. Utah needs to notch some non-con wins to take their next step as a program after making the NCAA tournament a year ago this is a big opportunity. Winner of this one cracks the Top 20, loser is in an early hole.