The college lacrosse season is nearly upon us, which means it’s time to preview some of the top players in all the land. If you’re reading this, you probably already know about Loyola’s Pat Spencer, Cornell’s Jeff Teat, and Princeton’s Michael Sowers—the consensus top three attackmen in the country. We’re not going to bore you with another list that includes them.
In all likelihood, one of those three guys will win the award. They’re in their own tier. It’s those three, and then everyone else. But the D1 men’s lacrosse landscape is absolutely stacked with elite players, and by the time May rolls around we’ll be talking about at least a few of the guys from the list below alongside guys like Spencer, Teat, and Sowers.
THE “SPENCER LIGHT” TIER
These are the guys just below the Spencer tier. Any one of these players could easily break into that group listed above. They check all the boxes—immense talent, good coaching and offenses, lots of production, and playoff-caliber teams. (That’s important. The award never goes to a player on a bad team. That’s just the reality.)
Michael Kraus (Attack, Virginia)
The lefty attackman from Connecticut is arguably the best pure dodger in the sport. He’s impossible to defend turning the corner and is lethal with his left hand in traffic. And though he’s not the biggest kid ever, he’s strong and fearless dodging through the teeth of the defense. He dropped an 80 bomb last year—very well-balanced with 43 goals and 37 assists. With Mike D’Amario and his 31 goals out the door, Kraus could be called on to do even more scoring, especially as that third attack spot still seems pretty unclear.
Ethan Walker (Attack, Denver)
Walker is a deadly accurate lefty shooter who can sling it from any angle and any spot on the field. Playing in Bill Tierney’s system, Walker is as good a bet as there is for a huge season. The question is can he continue to grow—he’s only a junior, and anyone who’s watched Denver for more than a few minutes has probably realized that Walker’s potential is through the roof.
Tehoka Nanticoke (Attack, Albany)
A lot more will be asked of the Albany phenom in his sophomore year. Connor Fields is gone, so this is Nanticoke’s offense now. He managed 50 goals in Scott Marr’s relentless uptempo offfense last year, which is probably around what we can expect from him again in 2019. The challenge for Nanticoke will be dealing with added pressure of being the team’s #1 guy, likely to face the opposing team’s top defender each game. If Nanticoke drops 50 goals again, improves his 32 assists to, say, 40 or 45, and Albany is a playoff team (which is another story entirely), then Nanticoke will be right there in the conversation with Spencer et al.
THE “OTHER GUYS” ELITE TIER
These guys still have some work to do to break into that top tier, but, like the guys above, they check a lot of boxes. The production might not be quite as prolific, but the potential for it to be huge is certainly there.
Jackson Morrill (Attack, Yale)
As a Hopkins fan, I mourn each day Morrill doesn’t wear the Columbia Blue and Black, which is every day, because he plays for Yale. Morrill decided not to follow dad to Homewood and instead carve his own path, and it’s worked out pretty well for him, scoring 72 points in his sophomore campaign en route to a national championship for the Bulldogs. But Ben Reeves is off to cure cancer and this is now Morrill’s offense. His situation is a little similar to Nanticoke’s—he’s got the bullseye on his back now and he’ll get the best of opposing teams’ defenders. With Reeves gone, there’s a ton of production to be had for Morrill to add to his 72, but he might find that replicating last year’s success is a little difficult without Reeves to suck up all the defense’s attention.
Jared Bernhardt (Attack, Maryland)
The owner of the nation’s quickest first step, Bernhardt will be given the keys to the Terps offense now that Connor Kelly, who—and this is important, folks—was an attackman, has graduated. Bernhardt scored 40 goals last year, and while that number may increase in 2019, what’s certain to increase are his assist totals (only 16 last year) now that the Maryland O will run through him at X, and not from Kelly up top. Bernhardt has to hope he sees Hopkins only once in 2019: defender Pat Foley held him to a combined 0-13 shooting and just 1 assist in two meetings last year. Against pretty much everyone else, Bernhardt dominated.
Kyle Marr (Attack, Johns Hopkins)
The best shooter in the sport (fight me), Marr returns to Homewood as a senior captain who’s likely to initiate more offense in 2019 with Shack Stanwick and the Family Band no longer a factor for the Blue Jays. Marr will never be a dodge-first attackman, but in addition to his prowess as a lefty wing shooter, Marr has underrated vision, leading the Blue Jays’ EMO unit with his nifty skip passes through traffic. If Marr becomes more of a distributor in 2019 (he had 17 assists last year), then he could flirt with that 80 point total necessary to be in Tewaaraton consideration. It’s not a huge leap: Marr’s point totals so far in his college career are 16 < 45 < 58. Logic tells us that 70+ will be next. It doesn’t hurt that he has the best celly in the game.
Grant Ament (Attack, Penn State)
The only reason Ament isn’t in the tier with Walker and Kraus is because he’s coming off a lost season in 2018 in which he hurt his foot early on and ended up sitting out the entire season, as the Nittany Lions failed to make the postseason. But PSU is going to be a handful in 2019, and if Ament is fully healthy, there’s no reason why he can’t top the 62 points (30 goals, 32 assists) he contributed as a sophomore in 2017. Ament has a gnarly split dodge and is great getting his hands free dodging from X to either score or dish to teammates like shooter Mac O’Keefe for open looks.
THE DARK HORSE TIER
These guys have a number of things stacked against them, but they’ve got the talent to overcome them and force themselves into the player of the year race.
Andrew Pettit (Attack, Lehigh)
The creative lefty dodger for the Mountain Hawks quietly put together a 66-point campaign last year. And he didn’t just stack all his production against weak opponents—he scored 5 points against UNC, 5 against Army, 2 against Cornell, and 8 in two meetings against Loyola. IF Lehigh is as good as a lot of people expect them to be this year (I mean, just look at that senior class for goodness sake), then Pettit, as their leading scorer, should be in the mix. If the Mountain Hawks make a postseason run, then Pettit’s highlight reel goals could turn him into a household name.
Cole Williams (Attack, Johns Hopkins)
When we think of Cole Williams, what comes to mind? Size? Speed? Beautiful golden locks? How about all of the above. The big lefty made the sophomore leap of sophomore leaps last year, going from 6 goals as a rotational attackman to 35 as one of the most feared starters in the Big Ten. When he’s locked in, Williams can’t be defended. The kid still has a lot of work to do fine-tuning his shooting stroke and looking to pass when teams slide early to him. But the thing that should terrify opposing teams in 2019 is that Williams has barely scratched the surface. With his size and athleticism, he could be one of the truly elite attackmen if he puts it all together. If Williams continues to improve on his game, he’ll be a player of the year candidate by the time he says goodbye to Homewood.
TD Ierlan (FOGO, Yale)
I’ll probably get a lot of hate tweets for putting Ierlan in this tier, and not a higher one, but I don’t love the odds of a FOGO ever winning the award, unless they score a lot of goals and play defense too. Ierlan is incredible, but I just think there will always be at least one or two impressive attackmen who overshadow the accomplishments of the best FOGO. I don’t at all doubt that he’ll be one of the few finalists picked for the award, I’m just not sure he’d ultimately win it. To that end, put guys like Gerard Arceri and Justin Inacio in this category too.
Dox Aitken (Midfield, Virginia)
Much is the same for middies—it’s hard to win the award as a midfielder. Only four have done it in the award’s 18-year history, the last being Max Seibald of Cornell in 2009 (and some people were not thrilled with that selection). Unless your name is Kyle Harrison and you take faceoffs, play defense, and lead one of the best teams ever in addition to scoring goals, then it’s tough for a middie to accumulate the production and reputation required to be considered one of the top 4 or 5 players in the world. But if there’s anyone who can get there, it’s probably Aitken, who had 51 points last year on top of 35 groundballs. With the new shot clock rules, Virginia may make even more use out of Aitken running up and down and contributing all over the field. (Ryan Conrad is a candidate too, if he’s fully recovered from last year’s ACL injury.)
THE “GUYS WHO ARE REALLY GOOD BUT EITHER THEY PLAY DEFENSE OR THEIR TEAMS JUST AREN’T GOOD ENOUGH, SORRY” TIER
- Asher Nolting (Attack, High Point)
- Zach Goodrich (SSDM, Towson)
- Chris Gray (Attack, Boston University)
- Max Tuttle (Midfield, Sacred Heart)
- Craig Chick (Defense, Lehigh)
THE JOEY EPSTEIN TIER
You might have heard of my cousin* Joey Epstein, the freshman attackman for Johns Hopkins whose worth ethic coach Dave Pietramala recently compared to that of Kyle Harrison, Paul Rabil, and Tucker Durkin. Okay, maybe Cousin Joey won’t win the Tewaaraton in 2019, but I’m betting that he’s the one to not only bring it back to Homewood for the first time since Harrison 13 years ago, but help the Jays back to championship weekend. #Joey4Tewy starts today, folks. I’m so sorry about that. I hate to add more pressure for the kid, but he’s an Epstein, and us Epsteins thrive under pressure.