One weekend in the books and we’re already in midseason form. We’ve got goals on SportsCenter, OT thrillers, and upset minded underdogs pushing traditional powerhouses to the brink. Of course some parts of the weekend stood out as the things we love about lacrosse. Other things stood out because they were less than good. Here’s what’s trending in the right direction, and what could use some work.
Justin Guterding, Duke, Attack - Guterding has played in only three games and is up to 27 points already; some teams haven’t played a game yet. With ten points in the opener, then eight against High Point (he sat out most of the fourth quarter), and nine against Jacksonville, Guterding is already distinguishing himself as a top line candidate for the Tewaaraton. Not bad for a guy who wasn’t on the preseason USILA player of the year watch list. Duke was a dubious number one team for a lot of pollsters, pointing to question marks in net and at the faceoff X. So far, neither has prevented this team from scoring nearly 20 each game, and Guterding is leading the way. High Point tried man, soft zone, backer zone, and all kinds of looks to handle him in the big/little two man game from X and from the low wing, and nothing worked for them.
Brendan Bomberry, Syracuse, Midfield - The Orange got themselves off to a nice start with a 21-4 rout of Binghamton. Let’s not book the Final Four flights just yet though, Cuse fans, it’s still just Binghamton. Nevertheless, Bomberry’s shooting was, as the millennials say, lit. He took seven shots, five were on goal. The five on goal? They all went in. Bomberry shot 71% which is not easy to do as a midfielder. He also had two assists, two ground balls, and caused a turnover. Bomberry’s seven points led Syracuse, but the team saw 13 players register a point, and 12 with a goal. Some are guys who may not get much burn in games against prime time opponents, but it’s encouraging to see so many scorers if you’re looking for a big year from the Orange.
Warren Jeffrey, UVM, Defense - The junior from Ontario all but wrecked the Fairfield University offense on Saturday. Jeffrey drew the matchup with top Stags attackman Colin Burke, who was CAA Co-Player of the Year in 2016, second team All-CAA last year, and is regarded as one of the leading attackmen in the conference. Jeffrey held him to just two shots on goal and a turnover. Jeffrey also came up with seven ground balls and caused a turnover. Burke was getting muscled and stick checked as soon as he got the ball, and the physical play from Jeffrey and the rest of Vermont’s defensive unit was a key in the halftime score of 8-1 UVM. Burke didn’t play the second half, though he did continue to appear on EMO, so it’s unclear if there was some kind of injury involved or coaches just looking a change of pace to get the Fairfield offense rolling. Regardless, Jeffrey’s play is indicative of the rest of the defense: they’re physical, they’re aggressive, and they’re trying to leave bruises on you. They’ve given up a total of 14 goals through three games, and are not to be overlooked.
JT Giles-Harris, Duke, Defense - What a difference a year makes. Giles-Harris is leading the team in caused turnovers, and you can see why. Check him out wrecking this fast break. His approach to the ball is upfield so the attackman can’t get topside. The push followed by a strong lift shuts the break down completely. The odd man situation is completely neutralized. That is one of the better lifts you will see at any level. Just ask High Point’s Chris Young.
Cause being able to blow up a 4v3 fast break like this is big time pic.twitter.com/pinChh8nic— Lacrosse Film Room (@LaxFilmRoom) February 9, 2018
The Duke defense is led by Cade Van Raaphoorst. To be clear, that is rightfully so. But Giles-Harris is showing out early in the year, and his athleticism on the defensive end is off the charts. He and Van Raaphorst have combined for 11 caused turnovers through three games.
Brock Turnbaugh, Johns Hopkins, Goalie - It’s almost been on loop for Hopkins. The offense is talented and can score, they just need some solid play on defense and in goal, and to be more consistent, and they’ll be right there for Final Four weekend. Well, Turnbaugh seems to have heard enough of the broken record. The senior had 13 saves and allowed just six goals. He looked like a different guy from last year, where sometimes he’d start, sometimes Gerald Logan would start, but neither ever really settled in and grabbed the role. Turnbaugh let everyone know he’s the guy in this one, and ready to anchor a new look Hopkins defensive end.
Justin Inacio/Christian Feliziani, Ohio State, FOGO - This duo was a major part of the Buckeyes pulling away from BU early. They went 7 for 8 in the first quarter and won every faceoff in the second quarter. The dominance led to a 10-1 halftime lead for the Buckeyes at halftime. Even though BU fought back in the second half, the ability to play make it take it and just keep giving the ball back to Tre Leclaire and company is something that not many teams will be able to handle this year.
UVA having some serious onions - Loyola and UVA was definitely the best game of the first big weekend slate. (extreme Stefon voice) This game had EVERYTHING. Freshman coming up big in a debut, big saves, star power, comebacks, and two overtimes. UVA went down 8-3, and Loyola’s Pat Spencer figured in each of the first four goals for Loyola. It seemed like everyone’s suspicion that a young UVA team might struggle a bit this year was taking a step toward being confirmed and then......sup Ian Laviano? The freshman had six points, the most by a freshman in their debut since Drew McKnight in 1997, and was a key part of the comeback effort. The youth on this UVA team did not show at all, as they calmly clawed their way back into this game to tie it at 12 late. And then, in the second overtime, Dox Aitken did this.
Because it was so pretty, why don't we watch Dox Aitken's game-winning goal in the second overtime again?— Virginia Men's Lacrosse (@UVAMensLax) February 10, 2018
Hoos 1-0 to start 2018!!! pic.twitter.com/r8lb6mDfvd
The triumphant return of ridiculous lacrosse goals to the SportsCenter Top 10 - There were a few candidates out there. A lot of people will tell you that Tanner Cook’s one handed catch and finish for UNC was the best goal of the weekend. Those people are wrong. I immediately disqualify this goal from consideration because Cook uses his free hand to hold the defender’s stick. See for yourself:
Tanner Cook (UNC) plays a little Texas Hold 'Em with the defender's stick and cleans up with a nice little 1-handed finish pic.twitter.com/LgP3ybQ4lE— The Crease Dive (@thecreasedive) February 11, 2018
Points for the catch and finish, but play by the rules Tanner. The goal that did make SportsCenter comes from Nate Solomon and Syracuse. If you haven’t seen it by now, you aren’t watching enough lacrosse. But here ya go.
— Syracuse Lacrosse (@CuseMLAX) February 10, 2018
Did that just happen? pic.twitter.com/ykKOXfszxW
Solomon collects what I’ll call Bomberry’s mistake, and while falling down, throws a bouncer over his shoulder without looking at the net.
Freshman getting it done - What an opening weekend for the rooks! Bubba Fairman with a hat trick for Maryland. Freshman Mike Hawkins with seven points for Colgate in their win. The aforementioned Laviano being at the center of the UVA comeback, joined by his teammate Matt Moore who had three points. Highly touted recruit Arden Cohen playing a very solid game and fitting right in on defense for the Irish against Detroit Mercy. BU’s Chris Gray already with seven points in two games. Alex Buckanavage with six points for Michigan in a win over Cleveland State. Carson Kealy with a hat trick for Robert Morris, who you definitely shouldn’t sleep on, in a win over Bellarmine. And I know playing with Guterding helps, but Joe Robertson has 14 points for Duke already. Lots of contributions being made already from newcomers is great to see, especially in a year where so many teams can be competitive.
Ryder Garnsey, Notre Dame, Attack - This is really a shot at the entire Notre Dame offense, but I’m going to focus on the attackman. Really, sophomore Brian Costabile and his career high five goals was the guy who saved the Irish from a home loss to Detroit Mercy. Wynne was OK, but it was ugly stuff just about everywhere else on offense. Look, if Garnsey has a bad day, its not like that will sink the whole Irish gameplan. The midfield at Notre Dame is still very strong (and looking for a nickname. Killer B’s? BBBs? Big Baller Brand???” But Garnsey is billed as a top offensive threat, and against Detroit Mercy he looked awful. Held the ball too long, turnovers, getting stuffed on the doorstep, just never looked that confident, often looked frustrated. At halftime he had more penalties than points, to go with two shots and three turnovers. Garnsey finally got a goal as part of a fourth quarter flurry, but this is a guy this team needs to be able to lean on, not cover for.
The weather in Denver - Spring sport, right guys? Trevor Tierney knows what’s up.
This sport looks fun. What is it? pic.twitter.com/JvizXo11rW— Trevor Tierney (@trevor_tierney) February 10, 2018
Listen, I’ll watch this sport get played in a blizzard. I don’t care. I just love lacrosse that much. But the creator cannot be pleased with this. The good news for everyone outside of Denver is, we found out how to neutralize Trevor Baptiste. The Beast only went 9-18 at the X in this game against Air Force. So when you play Denver, just make sure its whiteout conditions. That’ll be a big help.
Towson’s Offense - This shouldn’t be a surprise at all. The Tigers graduated about 80% of their points from last year. As much as Towson needs them, Seider and Drenner aren’t walking through that door folks. Jon Mazza is really the only returning contributor, and he wasn’t bad on Friday night registering a goal and an assist. But the rest of the offense is clearly still working it out. Timmy Monahan took 11 shots, but had no points. Sophomore Phil Wies had as many shots as turnovers at attack (2), and Freshman attackman Brody McLean had straight zeros across the score sheet. No goals, no assists, no shots, no ground balls, no nothing. I can’t even be sure they said his name on the broadcast. It’s early, and as the season goes on you can be sure the personnel will get worked out and things will improve, but for now, its a good thing this team has Alex Woodall at the X to win plenty of extra possessions.
Air Force - I don’t want to pile on. This is a team with issues that are well documented. If you’re in the dark, you can read all about it here. The short version is that there was an investigation into serious misconduct involving members of the team, the entire junior and senior classes were suspended, as was the entire coaching staff. As of now, most of the team members and coaches have been reinstated, but head coach Eric Seremet still isn’t back with the team, and no one seems to know if he will be at all. The Falcons have now been trounced by Duke and lost to Denver, which is nothing to be ashamed of, but they look more and more like a rudderless ship. Maybe they’ll get some clarity soon on the future of their coach and program, but until they do, its hard to deny the off field issues are having a very serious impact on this team, and it could be a long year. Air Force has Michigan, BU, Furman, High Point, Jacksonville, Cornell, and Richmond. All those teams have shown me, with the exception of Cornell who hasn’t played yet, at this point in the season, that they can handle Air Force. Detroit Mercy is on the schedule too, and that team hung with Notre Dame for three quarters and change. Tough to see anything but a downward arrow for Air Force lacrosse right now.
Everyone who played a team from the ACC or Big 10 - The ACC went 5-0 this weekend. The Big 10 (I will never write “B1G”) went 6-0 this weekend. Half the Top 20 and six of the top ten are from those two conferences. Most people regard the Big 10 as the best conference in lacrosse this year top to bottom, and I’m hard pressed to disagree. The ACC is still, at worst, the second best conference in college lacrosse. There were some struggles over the weekend, as UVA, Notre Dame, and UNC had to really battle for their wins, but they still won. Yes, there are very good teams outside of the ACC and Big 10. Albany, Denver, Yale who opens up next Saturday, but if you play in the two power conferences of lacrosse, by year’s end you will be battle tested and ready for all comers because of how brutal your schedule is. Albany has a road schedule that is probably as rough as anyone’s, and I’m not saying they wouldn’t handle themselves just fine if they were in the Big 10, but I am saying their schedule won’t prepare them for a top tier opponent as well as a team like Duke’s will. Still, it doesn’t mean Albany/Denver/Yale can’t beat anyone they play, because with their talent, they most certainly can.
North Carolina’s postseason dreams - Now that I’ve touted the power of the teams in the ACC, let me tell you about how UNC is overrated. During the Hopkins/Towson broadcast, Quint Kessenich was recapping the day’s action and called the UNC/Furman game a red flag for UNC. I could not agree more. UNC really wasn’t that good last year, going 8-8 and only winning one game in the ACC. Sure, they won the title the year before, but let’s not forget they barely even made the tournament, needing to go on a ridiculous cinderella run to even secure a bid. UNC had 17 turnovers against Furman and 16 against Lafayette. That’ll get you buried against a top caliber opponent. Furman went on an 8-1 run tin second half against the Heels and had the lead with just over a minute to play. Cloutier is a solid player, but where else is this team going for offense? It’s a team with a lot of nice players, but nobody who really worries me if I’m a defensive coordinator. Does Timmy Kelly really scare you that much? Do we really believe Tanner Cook having five goals against Furman is a sign of any sort of breakout? Chris Cloutier took about a third of UNC’s shots against Furman, can an offense that works that way really thrive? Do you trust the UNC defense, even a little tiny bit? I’ll channel my inner Randy Jackson on this one.