The 2019 D1 men’s lacrosse season is over. So, technically, the 2020 season has begun.
We will not apologize for immediately looking forward to a new season. Think of the rankings below as a thought experiment—a mere mind exercise, if you will—as we head into the offseason. These can and likely WILL change by the fall, and certainly by the time February 2020 rolls around.
But early rankings can be a helpful way to organize the D1 landscape based on losses to graduation, trends over the course of the year (and recent history), and the incoming classes of freshmen. Here’s how things look like for us just a few days after Virginia took home the title:
- Penn State: They bring back everyone on offense except Nick Spillane, and then bring in a top 15 attackman in Canyon Birch. Now that is a lacrosse name if we’ve ever heard one. The sleeping giant has awakened, and Grant Ament and crew will be playing with a chip on their shoulders to finish what they started in 2019.
- Virginia: The 2019 title winners bring back the core four of Moore, Kraus, Aitken, and Laviano on offense along with Jared Conners, Will Rock, and Cade Saustad to lead what was an improved defense in the second half of the season. Petey Lasalla looks like a solid faceoff guy moving forward, but they also bring in top-ranked FOGO Gavin Tygh and top-ranked attackman Connor Shellenberger to add to an already electric offense. Ryan Conrad is absolutely irreplaceable as he impacted the game in a variety of ways, but there’s still too much talent on this team not to expect another Final Four run.
- Yale: They’ve got TD Ierlan for one more year, which means for another year they’ll be in the conversation for another championship. Ierlan is a gamebreaker and keeps the Elis in every single game they play. Add Morrill, Brandau, Gaudet, Fake, Tevlin, and Cotler to the equation and you’ve got a great foundation on which to make another run despite losing some important middies in Tigh, Daniggelis, and Sessa. Shay has this team in perennial top 5 status.
- Maryland: 2019 was a “down” year for Maryland only because we expect them to make the Final Four every year—and the Terps were a shocking crossbar call away from doing it again. But two late season losses to Johns Hopkins exposed what was just a good but not great team—by John Tillman’s standards. Luckily for the Terps, they bring back virtually everyone on offense (except crease finisher Louis Dubick), have a great FOGO in Justin Shockey and now bring in one of the nation’s top recruiting class, according to IL. Maryland will be back in the hunt once again in Jared Bernhardt’s senior season.
- Duke: #5 for John Danowski’s squad feels pretty low for them—and honestly I considered ranking them lower given how much they lose—but this team is always there at the end of the year, and they’ve got one of the best freshmen classes in the country coming in, led by three guys in IL’s top 10 and six in the top 20. Duke and Danowski always reload. Losing Cade Van Raaphorst on defense is tough, and Brad Smith was as close to a go-to guy the Blue Devils had in 2020, but neither are the kinds of losses that will doom a season. Defenseman Wilson Stephenson’s health will be something to watch after he was injured in the NCAA tournament, but Duke has several guys coming in who can fill the role if he’s not ready by February.
- Notre Dame: The Golden Domers were up and down in 2019, but they finished on a relatively high note beating Johns Hopkins in the NCAAs and then nearly beating Duke a week later in the quarterfinals. Leading scorer Bryan Costabile returns to lead what looked like an improved and more versatile offense. The defense under Gerry Byrne will always be solid no matter what the personnel is. And they’ve got the #3 class coming in with guys like attackman Jake Taylor and longstick middie Maximus Schalit—another classic lacrosse name. If Kevin Corrigan can ever get this offense to play as consistently as his defense (and they might finally have some of the pieces to do so in 2020), ND will be a threat.
- Cornell: Perhaps our expectations were too high in Peter Milliman’s first full year as head coach, but Cornell was a bit of a disappointment in 2019, going 10-5, losing to Yale twice and failing to reach the NCAA tournament for a team that many expected to be a Final Four contender. But there’s a big reason to be optimistic about the Big Red next year: They bring in one of the top-ranked FOGOs in the country in Angelo Petrakis, who could finally give Cornell the presence at the faceoff X it’s needed for years. With some more possessions, Jeff Teat and the Teatsmen (sans Clarke Petterson) could be in for the big year in 2020 we thought they’d have in 2019.
- Ohio State: Some might think this is a little too high for the Buckeyes given their meh 2019 campaign, but they don’t lose very much outside of Jack Jasinski. They bring back everyone who registered more than 2 points on the team alongside ace FOGO Justin Inacio and a defense that’s typically solid under Nick Myers. And then they’re bringing in another top 10 recruiting class. This is a team that beat Notre Dame and Hopkins and probably should have beaten Maryland in April. 2019 finally broke the streak of OSU being good in odd years and bad in even years, which means anything’s possible for 2020. Expect a rebound with what will be a very experienced team.
- Syracuse: On paper, I’m expecting a similar year in 2020 to what we saw in 2019 for the Orange: very good at times, but ultimately just outside that top tier. In other words, another 9-10 win type campaign where maybe they make the quarterfinals. Cuse loses its top two scorers in Voigt and Solomon, but they do get electric middie Tucker Dordevic back to add to one of the deepest midfields in the country. Stout defenseman Nick Mellen also returns (though linemates Tyson Bomberry and Marcus Cunningham are now gone) as well as goalie Drake Porter. Cuse will have to find some answers at attack, but the midfield, defense, and goal are strong enough to warrant top 10 consideration with the potential for more. IL does not think very highly of their recruiting class, putting them at #18 overall with no one in the top 50.
- Johns Hopkins: My sweet, sweet Blue Jays. We looked good for a hot second there at the end, beating Maryland twice and then taking Penn State to overtime, but the Columbia Blue and Black couldn’t get it done in the NCAA tournament yet again. Call me Kevin Garnett, but with Joey Epstein for three more years, anything is possible. The Jays lose Kyle Marr on attack and Robert Kuhn in transition but otherwise bring back most contributors. Middie Alex Concannon is expected to return and there’s some optimism that All-American defenseman Patrick Foley will be granted a final year of eligibility, but that’s yet to be confirmed. Nonetheless, it’ll be hard for the Jays to be any worse in 2020, and in year two of The Great One’s career, the Jays could surprise, especially if rising sophomore middie Evan Zinn steps up like many expect him to. Incoming freshman goalie Tim Marcille, part of another top 5 recruiting class for the Blue Jays, may be Hop’s best chance in a long time to finally find some stability in net.
- Penn: They just lose a little too much (Simon Mathias, Tyler Dunn, Reed Junkin) and don’t bring in quite enough for me to expect another magical run. I still think Sam Handley will lead this team back to the NCAA tournament.
- Loyola: How many spots in the rankings is Pat Spencer worth? I’d say at least 5, but possibly closer to 10. (Losing goalie Jacob Stover also hurts). Loyola has plenty of talent, but we don’t really know what this team will look like without Pat Spencer leading it. I think they may struggle a little bit as they find themselves in year one without the GOAT.
- High Point: High Point fans will never, ever stop reminding you that they beat Virginia (and Duke!!!) in 2019. They bring back Asher Nolting, which means they’ll have a shot to do so again in 2020.
- North Carolina: UNC was a very young team that started playing pretty well toward the end of the 2019 season. By then, of course, it was too late to matter, but it could be a positive sign for the Heels headed into 2020 as the very young offense now has a year under their belts. Plus they could get defenseman Will Bowen back from injury.
- Denver: It’s never wise to doubt a Bill Tierney team, but we saw how average they were without Trevor Baptiste winning every faceoff. They also lose Austin French and Colton Jackson. Still, the Pios are probably the early favorites in the Big East...
- Georgetown: ...but not if Kevin Warne has anything to say about it! The Hoyas lose a huge senior class led by Dan Bucaro and Lucas Wittenberg. But it just seems like Warne has finally got this team over the hump to the point where they’ll be a solid team year in and year out. They bring in one of their best recruiting classes in recent memory which includes two guys in IL’s top 20.
- Rutgers: The Scarlet Knights were exceedingly young in 2019. They do lose goalie Max Edelmann and a couple important contributors on defense but bring back almost everyone on offense for a team that was much better than its 7-8 record.
- Princeton: Another season, another year of me probably ranking Princeton too high. But they’ve got Michael Sowers and IL’s #7 recruiting class coming. This is a team that went toe to toe with Cornell in the last game of the season.
- Towson: Nadelen’s squad just loses too much: Woodall, Sunday, Goodrich, Maloof, Patterson, etc. I still think they’re the favorites over UMass and Delaware in the CAA (by a very slim margin) but it’s fair to expect a bit of a down year for the Tigers, at least compared to 2019.
- Michigan: Will I ever learn? Probably not. But sooner or later the Wolverines are going to break through. If their faceoff guys are healthy, they’ll have a shot to make the Big Ten tournament for the first time ever. BU would have gone in this spot, but then the Chris Gray thing happened.
Others considered, roughly in order: Brown, Army, Richmond, Villanova, Delaware, UMass, Air Force, Mt. St. Mary’s, Hobart