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The Good, The Bad, & The Future: ACC

We continue our conference recaps with the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Jordan Phelps/The Daily Orange

With the offseason in full swing, it’s time to look back at the 2017 season! We’ll dissect all the individual teams from worst to first based off my final Power Rankings later during the summer.

But first, we’ll dissect each conference and return The Good, The Bad, & The Future series. We won’t talk a ton about each team until the individual dissections, but this should be a good quick glimpse at each team. Previously, we recapped the Patriot League teams. We’ll now take a look at the teams from the ACC!

So let’s get started!

Virginia Cavaliers (8-7)

The Good: The Cavaliers got back to over .500 in 2017 and started the season 3-0, which included a road win against Loyola. They also earned a big win over Richmond. Freshman attackman Michael Kraus was the ACC’s Freshman of the Year with a team-high 34 goals and 56 points, and fellow classmate and midfielder Dox Aitken had 29 goals and 11 assists. Their offense scored double-digit goals in all but one game (the Richmond win).

The Bad: Another year of zero ACC wins for the Wahoos and their defense let up less than 10 goals in only three games (Richmond, Cleveland State, and Robert Morris). They gave up 13 goals to Siena, 12 to High Point, 18 to Cornell, 20 to Duke, and 17 to Penn in their second meeting. They lost to Notre Dame in overtime and gave up a big lead to Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. Gone are notable players such as Zed Williams, Joe French, Tanner Scales, and Jason Murphy.

The Future: Many people believe that the Cavaliers will return to their dominant self in 2018, and they bring in incoming freshmen Matt Moore and goaltender Alex Rode. Rode should compete with goaltenders Griffin Thompson and Will Railey. Neither of the latter two were clear-cut number ones in 2017. Mike D’Amario, Ryan Conrad, Milan Murray, Scott Hooper, and Zach Ambrosino all return, and the team also brings in former Monmouth Hawks FOGO Justin Schwenk.

North Carolina Tar Heels (8-8)

The Good: The Heels turned it on when they needed to, and were probably the best .500 team this season and maybe in the history of college lacrosse. Name another .500 team that wins a conference tournament and stays in the top 20? Before beating Syracuse and Notre Dame, they earned a surprising road win against Denver in early March. Junior attackman Chris Cloutier led the offense with 36 goals and 50 goals, and sophomore Andy Matthews was the primary feeder with 27 assists. Senior defenseman Austin Pifani was an MLL draft pick, and Brian Balkam improved on his play as the season went on.

The Bad: Had UNC not beaten Virginia, their season may have been a huge disappointment. They got destroyed at home by Johns Hopkins, got upset by Hofstra and Richmond in a span of three days, and gave up leads to Duke and Syracuse in the regular season at home. And they got in a huge hole at Albany in their first round game, before mounting a huge comeback, which fell short. Luke Goldstock is a huge loss, as well as Pifani, Balkam, Stephen Kelly at the face-off X, and short stick midfielder Tate Jozokos.

The Future: Joe Breschi should have plenty of talent to reload for next season. Timmy Kelly is listed as an attackman, but spent some time at midfield and put up 18 goals. Ryan Macri joins Jack Rowlett as returning defensemen, and backup goaltender Jack Pezzulla should be the starter. He stood tall against Syracuse late in their ACC semifinal win. Either Riley Graham or Charles Kelly (not related to any of the other Kellys) should take over as the primary FOGO.

Notre Dame Fighting Irish (9-6)

The Good: Prior to the calendar flipping to April, the Irish were one of the best teams in the nation, going 5-1, with their only blemish coming against Denver on a buzzer-beating goal. They should breathe easy that Ryder Garnsey is staying in South Bend after he was granted his release from the school earlier in the summer. Garnsey led the team with 43 points, while junior Mikey Wynne led the way with 33 goals. Shane Doss had some rough patches, but he was able to record a 9.82 goals against average and a 51.2% save percentage.

The Bad: Once April came along, Notre Dame went 4-5, with a bad outing against Duke, along with three straight one-goal wins against Marquette, North Carolina, and Duke, before losing to UNC in the ACC Championship and Army West Point in their regular season finale. After a win over Marquette, they were embarrassed by Denver, 16-4. Imagine if the Fighting Irish lost two of those three one-goal wins. Sergio Perkovic, P.J. Finley, Garrett Epple, Pat Healy, and Doss all graduate.

The Future: Don’t be surprised if incoming freshman Connor Morin gets playing time right away with the Notre Dame offense. He could displace Brendan Gleason, who could move back up to midfield, his listed position. Bryan Costabile, Pierre Byrne, and Brendan Collins return to the midfield, and Drew Schantz is one of the best short stick midfielders in the nation. Jon Travisano, Jr. got a good chunk of face-off draws this season and went 47.3%. Owen Molloy appears to be the leading candidate to be the starting goaltender in 2018.

Duke Blue Devils (13-5)

The Good: Justin Guterding was the best player that wasn’t a Tewaaraton finalist. Although he wasn’t the flashiest player, he scored 49 goals and an incredible 44 assists, both team highs on the Blue Devils. Jack Bruckner and freshman Joey Manown rounded up the attack unit. But Duke had plenty of other younger players making big impacts, including Brad Smith, Sean Lowrie, Kevin Quigley, and Reilly Walsh on offense, and JT Giles-Harris and Cade Van Raaphorst made up an underrated defense, along with seniors Danny Fowler and Kyle Rowe.

The Bad: Not a ton of blemishes, except when many of us got shocked when Air Force upset the Blue Devils in the regular season opener. They also lost to Syracuse in the Carrier Dome in overtime and to Notre Dame in the ACC semifinals on their home turf. Their season came to an end against Ohio State in the NCAA Quarterfinals. Gone are Fowler, Rowe, Bruckner, Brian Dunne, Thomas Zenker, and Ian Yanulis.

The Future: Could Duke be a top five team to start next season? Sure looks like it. Only three starters from their last game (Bruckner, Dunne, Fowler) leave, and Walsh played midfield instead of his usually position at attack. The midfield is deep, Sean Cerrone was an offensive midfielder at Villanova before transitioning to defense this past season. Turner Uppgren might be the new starting goalie as a junior.

Syracuse Orange (13-3)

The Good: The one-goal games! They went 9-2 (10-2 if Evan Molloy decided not to score) in one-goal games and were behind in almost all of them. They also won their first ever ACC regular season championship, with each regular season conference game being different, but ending the same. It was a midfield-driven offense, thanks in part to Sergio Salcido and Nick Mariano, but attackmen of Nate Solomon, Jordan Evans, and Brendan Bomberry were also effective. Even without Nick Mellen, Scott Firman was a USILA Second Team All-American (should’ve been first), and Paolo Ciferri earned an Honorable Mention. Molloy wasn’t the best at times in goal, but when he was really needed, he delivered.

The Bad: The one-goal games! 11 (should’ve been 12) of 16 games raised the blood pressure of many Cuse fans and myself. But I guess if you win them, it’s okay? Unfortunately, their only non-one-goal loss came against Towson in the NCAA Quarterfinals, which included a first quarter the team wants to forget. Evans, Salcido, Mariano, Firman, Molloy, Ciferri and fellow SSDM Joe Gillis, and FOGO Ben Williams all graduate.

The Future: Cuse is deep, and players like Stephen Rehfuss, Jamie Trimboli, Marcus Cunningham, Tyson Bomberry, and others show that. Brad Voigt played mainly on man-up situations, but he can certainly deliver in six-on-six action. Ryan Simmons and Matt Lane were on the second midfield, and the third midfield of Peter Dearth, Riley O’Sullivan, and Sam Romano came in at times. Mellen returns from injury, while Dan Varello will be in a battle with Nazareth transfer Seth DeLisle for the primary FOGO job, and the goaltender battle will be interesting. Dom Madonna, Drake Porter, and redshirt-freshmen Willie Klan and Luke Strang will fight for that one spot.