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Week 0 storylines to watch in college lacrosse

Try to thaw out from the freezing cold and enjoy some early February lacrosse this weekend!

Chris Jastrzembski

The season can officially start now.

February 1 is the official start date for all Ivy League programs. So at this point, all 73 teams are preparing for the upcoming 2019 regular season.

Some of them are preparing to play this weekend. And it all kicks off tonight in a unique part of the country. With mountains like the Grandview Peak as the backdrop, the Utah Utes will host their first ever NCAA men’s lacrosse game Friday night as they take on the Vermont Catamounts at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Faceoff is at 6 PM Eastern (4 PM Mountain). It’ll be sunny and 48°F at faceoff. #SpringSport.

I’m calling it Week 0 because it’s at a weird time. The majority of the teams are still practicing and scrimmaging, and next week will feel like normal when there’s a boatload of games for three-four hours in the afternoon.

But there’s so much more to the weekend than just that game. And we’ll give you everything you need to know right here.

But first, make sure you get yourselves ready for the weekend/season with a bevy of College Crosse content.

Let’s get started

Storylines

The debuts of Utah and St. Bonaventure

The big story in college lacrosse is Utah. And it’s for obvious reasons. How many times have we’ve seen a school in the Power Five conferences put men’s lacrosse at the varsity level? The most recent was Michigan, who also came up from the club ranks.

This is also significant because the Utes are the westernmost program in Division I, beating Denver and Air Force. If the program takes off, I wouldn’t be surprised if more teams out west start up programs, and there’s certainly been some recent inquiries about that.

I’ve been out in Salt Lake for most of the week, and there’ll be more content today and later on. Make sure you follow me on Twitter.

While Utah gets started on Friday, the St. Bonaventure Bonnies also get their program underway Saturday morning at 11 AM against the High Point Panthers. The Bonnies, led by former Canisius head coach Randy Mearns, quickly found a home in the MAAC, but will definitely have some struggles as a first year program. The Bonnies have a ton of freshmen on their roster and a few transfers. Their first test will be trying to stop Asher Nolting.

The debuts of the shot clock and dive

With Utah’s debut tonight, we’ll also see the debuts of two new facets to the men’s lacrosse game.

The shot clock, first 60 seconds before being altered to 80 seconds early in the fall, should bring a better game long-term. But in the short-term, with everyone adjusting, it could mean some sloppy lacrosse and a ton of transition. I’ll be interested in seeing if games might go longer (more shots, more goals, perhaps more stoppages), and how teams adapt to shots clocks in different venues. One week, a team might be playing in a big football stadium, and then the next week in a normal lacrosse stadium.

The second new rule is the return of the dive. Kind of. It’s not exactly the same as the dive that used to be in college lacrosse and is currently in the pro game, but it’s sure to create some more thrilling plays. Watching Monmouth and Sacred Heart last weekend, the dive and shot clock could complement one another. If there’s 10 seconds left on the shot clock with the ball in the stick of the “X” attackman, I wouldn’t be shocked if he decided to dive and try for an acrobatic goal.

The returns of Grant Ament and Adam Charalambides

Two Big Ten attackmen will return to the field on Saturday. Grant Ament is expected to suit up for the Penn State Nittany Lions as they host the Villanova Wildcats in the newly dedicated Panzer Stadium inside Holuba Hall. Ament missed all of last season with an injured foot, and could have been the difference for Penn State making the NCAA Tournament. They’re a dark-horse pick to make it to Championship Weekend in Philadelphia.

Heading east to the Garden State, Adam Charalambides should play in his first college lacrosse game since 2016 when the Rutgers Scarlet Knights host the Lafayette Leopards. In his freshman year, the Hill Academy product scored 43 goals (most for a first-year player in program history) with 14 assists and was the Big Ten’s Freshman of the Year. Rutgers has missed out on the NCAA Tournament in the last three seasons, but look to finally make it in 2019.

New coaches

Including Brian Holman at Utah and Mearns at St. Bonaventure, we’ll see three new head coaches make their debuts on Saturday.

Two of them will face each other, as Bill McCutcheon and the Wagner Seahawks travel to Kentucky to take on Jim Mitchell and the Bellarmine Knights. These are both two teams that hope to start new eras for their respective programs.

Meanwhile at Rutgers, Patrick Myers makes his debut as head coach of Lafayette as they play Rutgers. Myers has a ton experience, most recently with Penn and North Carolina, and has already built a new culture in the program with #DMGB (Doesn’t Matter Get Better).

Along with the head coaches, we’ll also see some new assistants in different places. Tom Compitello return to the Lehigh Mountain Hawks sidelines after helping the Yale Bulldogs win a national championship last season. Ryan Danehy also departs Penn and stays in-state to lead the Bucknell Bison offense. And Kevin Unterstein heads south to lead the North Carolina Tar Heels defense after spending the last eight seasons with the Hofstra Pride.

Games of interest

There’s a total of 12 games this weekend. Some of them won’t be streamed, while others will be (but at a cost).

Outside of the program debut games, here are matchups that you should keep an eye on.

  • Jacksonville vs. Detroit Mercy (11:30 AM): What’s appealing about this game? If you like competition, this should provide a good amount of it. Jacksonville and Detroit Mercy are two of the top teams in their respective conferences (SoCon and MAAC). They also have good chances to take their conference AQs as well in early May after falling short in their conference title games in overtime a year ago. This won’t be streamed, but live stats will be your friend here.
  • Villanova vs. Penn State (Noon): I’d say this would be the game of the weekend, considering what happened a year ago. Villanova had a fantastic start to their season before slowing down late and falling in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. There’s a lot of hype surrounding Penn State, especially on offense. But Chris Sabia might be the most underrated defenseman in the country. Wouldn’t be surprised if he’s an All-American at the end of the season, and not as an Honorable Mention.
  • NJIT vs. Lehigh (1 PM): The names on paper don’t look appealing. It might look like Lehigh would blast NJIT out of the water. But take into consideration the result last season. The Mountain Hawks did win 13-8 at home, but the Highlanders only trailed by one at the half. NJIT loses barely any notable scoring from a year ago, but do need to replace Nick Marzullo in goal. Also finding a suitable faceoff man or two would help against Conor Gaffney and even Mike Sisselberger.
  • Bucknell vs. Maryland (1 PM): The Bison lose a ton of scoring from a year ago, notably Will Sands. But they hope guys like Tommy Sopko and Reed Malas can up their production from a year ago, along with others. The Terps begin life without Connor Kelly, which shouldn’t be that hard to do. Maryland reloads as they always do with guys like Jared Bernhardt, Bubba Fairman, and Logan Wisnauskas back on offense.
  • Duke vs. Furman (7 PM): Originally, this was not going to be a game to watch on here. But with Brad Smith’s indefinite foot injury, which I’m told is a very serious one that could put his season on the line, how will the Blue Devil offense look? Look for sophomores Joe Robertson at attack and Nakeie Montgomery at midfield to be the top guys leading the offense. Also, #SaturdayNightLacrosse.
  • Boston University vs. Providence (Sunday, 1 PM): Their meeting a year ago proved to be an early season thriller. The Terriers got a late goal from Ryan Hilburn with seven seconds to go in regulation to force overtime, where John MacLean iced things with the game-winner. Providence loses less scoring and starts from a year ago than BU does, but the Terriers do bring back Chris Gray at attack.

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