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Quint Kessenich’s Top 20: February 6, 2023

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I can’t remember a year that features so many championship caliber teams. Usually, it’s a small elite handful of three to six teams who could go the distance. In 2023, I could argue that the lead peloton is ten or twelve deep. It’s February, so let’s not rush to judgement. 2022 is ancient history. It means nothing. Let’s sit back and enjoy.

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Quint Kessenich’s Top 20

20) Denver

The Pioneer defense is air tight. Denver shut down Utah to claim their opener. Air Force is next.

19) North Carolina

The Tar Heel sophomore class will have to improve dramatically if they hope to be a top-tier team in the ACC. Non-league games against Hopkins, Ohio State, Denver and Brown gives UNC every chance to earn an at-large bid.

18) Brown

In a 2022 season that saw six Ivy League teams qualify for the NCAA Tournament and four win into the quarterfinals. The Bears had moments in 2022 where they looked like the best team in the league. The up- tempo two-way mindset is an outlier, a strategic advantage under Coach Mike Daly. The entire Ivy League wears a large target this spring and don’t be surprised with a regression back to the mean, if they can’t duplicate the one-goal non-conference wins.

17) Boston University

The Terriers compete level and pedal to the metal attitude cashed in big last spring with a league title and NCAA appearance. LSM Roy Meyer is a demon with a six foot lacrosse stick. Louis Perfetto, Vince D’Alto, Timmy Ley, Tommy Bourque, and goalie Matt Garber have their eyes on taking the next step.

16) Navy

Inside Lacrosse Top 50 snub Patrick Skalniak (5 goals) opened the season with a bang. Paired with Dane Swanson and Max Hewitt, that trio may comprise the most lethal midfield in the Patriot League. Who’s going to win faceoffs for Navy when they play Lehigh (Sisselberger) and Boston University (Calderone)? Xavier Arline is a mainstay for the offense until spring football kicks in and he has to split his time between both sports. Navy looked good in a scrimmage against Virginia but started slow in their opener against Mount St Mary’s. The Midshipmen played a strong second half and pulled away on Saturday.

Sunday on no rest, they welcomed Queens to Division 1. This weekend marked just the third time Navy has played two games over a two-day span and the first time since 1975. Some history, Navy met Maryland in the 1975 National Championship game on May 31st (L, 20-13) in Baltimore before facing archrival Army the following day (W, 10-5) in Annapolis. Yeah. Imagine that.

In 1945, Navy played 2 games on the same day. Navy defeated Cornell 20-1 on May 5th and followed with a 14-0 rout against Dartmouth later that day.

15) Johns Hopkins

A slow start didn’t unhinge the Jays at Jacksonville in a Saturday night victory. The Dolphins know how to throw a tailgate party. Specialists proved to make the difference for JHU with Tim Marcille (15 saves) and FOGO Logan Callahan (10 of 13 FO) the heroes. Hopkins, who had nine different goal scorers, seems to have a healthier vibe this spring. 

Up next is a three-game stretch of Georgetown, North Carolina and Loyola. The Jays will be improved in 2023. How much? I don’t know yet. They need to scoop up more groundballs and clear the ball. New OC John Crawley (a JHU alum) has the component parts to work with. Hopkins schedule is brutally difficult so getting off to a strong start in February is a must. Momentum is key for Peter Milliman in year No.3. Hopkins hosts Georgetown on Saturday February 11th (ESPN App).

14) Harvard

The Crimson are still young with major contributors from the freshman and sophomore class. They open against Virginia on February 18th. Sam King is the chairman of their democratic styled offense.

13) St Joseph’s

The Hawks will open their season against Sacred Heart followed by a schedule that includes Hopkins, Penn, and Duke.

This is where any early season poll gets interesting. Because there are a multitude of teams in the next echelon who appear capable of being ranked No.14-30. This is where the assortment of teams has grown substantially in the last 20 years. There’s little difference between team #14 and team #35. Programs like Jacksonville, Syracuse, Army, High Point, Siena, Michigan, Villanova, UMass, Stony Brook, Penn State, Richmond, Lehigh, Bryant, and Albany all appear to fit in this category right now. We just don’t know.

12) Delaware

I can’t wait to see defender Owen Grant dismantle ball carriers this spring. Can Delaware go undefeated in the CAA? Non-league games with Villanova, Michigan and Hopkins. Will the Hens be favored in every game this spring?

11) Rutgers

Bada Bing, bada bang, bada boom. Transfer U will be led by David Sprock, Shane Knobloch, the facilitator in the kitchen Bobby Russo, and Ross Scott. Dante Kulas was the primary threat in a impressive thrashing of Marist.

10) Duke

An opening day victory against Bellarmine featured five assists from Brennan O’Neill. 44 players saw action. The starting defense was Wilson Stephenson, Cole Kraus and Kenny Brower. Tuesday is for the hunter. Duke is back in action Tuesday, February 7th, against High Point at 7 p.m. The game will be available on ACCNX.

9) Penn

The Quakers were banged up at the end of 2022 and would benefit from adding depth for 2023. Sam Handley, the lumberjack, can roll over defenders or pass off the dodge to the open man. His accolades will follow the team success or failure. With Gabe Fury and James Shipley they form one of the best first midfield lines in the nation. The progress of complimentary midfielders Chris Canet, Casey Mulligan and Luke DiGiacobbe may ultimately determine their course. Less shifts for Handley will lead to more success in May. Penn’s schedule (Georgetown, Duke, Penn State, St Joe’s, Villanova and Albany) is awesome, playing great teams is fun.

8) Yale

Yale is a player led team who’s foundation is culture, toughness, and the never ending search for improvement. However, the team will face a Charmin Soft non-league schedule this spring. The Bulldogs must improve their defensive midfield if they expect to be elite. The attack of Chris Lyons, Matt Brandau and Leo Johnson will be a team strength. Brad Sharp, the fastest player on the roster, commands a slide when he initiates.

7) Notre Dame

The Irish start late and hope to finish late in May 29. Playmaker Patrick Kavanagh and goalie Liam Entenmann will be fun to watch.

6) Ohio State

The new Ohio State Lacrosse Stadium saw the Buckeyes blitz Air Force on Saturday. Jack Myers doing Jack Myers things. He’s a flat out point scoring machine.

5) Cornell

The Big Red have their core group back after a national championship game loss. They’ll start fresh and should avoid talking about 2022. Turn the page. I spoke with defender Gavin Adler on the Quintessential Podcast and was impressed with his approach and perspective.

4) Princeton

With a senior class of 16 and a schedule that includes a gauntlet of Maryland, Georgetown, Rutgers and now Syracuse, the Tigers have the firepower to win the Ivy League Tournament at Columbia in NYC. Follow the seniors to Championship Weekend has always been a predictive mantra. Princeton did not qualify for the Ivy League Tournament last season. The defense features Ben Finley, Colin Mulshine and Pace Billings as Coach Matt Madalon breaks in a new goalie.

3) Virginia

The Cavaliers have scrimmaged Navy and Georgetown. Their close defense has imposing size and skill. The ten-man ride has bite. Feels like the coaching staff is experimenting with midfield line-ups and the third attack spot. Connor Shellenberger stirs the drink from behind the crease. FOGO Petey LaSalla’s preseason injury allows Coach Lars Tiffany to get reps for backups at the position. FOGO is an area where the UVA depth is unproven.

2) Maryland

Coming off a historic undefeated season, what’s the hunger level? How sharp is the focus? How hard are the Terps pushing? ‘Be the Best’ reloads without a charismatic offensive player in the likes of Matt Rambo, Jared Bernhardt or Logan Wisnauskas. UMD answered a lot of those questions on a chilly Saturday, crushing Richmond at home 15-4 with a constrictor-like defensive performance and a depth of scoring that bodes well for this campaign. Late in the second quarter the shot selection and execution told the story. Richmond was 1 of 21 while Maryland was 7 of 13. 

Ten Terps scored, and 13 had points. The defense, a group I love, held Richmond scoreless for a span of 43:31. The weird thing was that Richmond outshot UMD 42 to 34 with goalie Logan McNaney making a dozen saves. He’s really steady. 38 Terps saw playing time, which is always nice for morale.

1) Georgetown

The Hoyas are the class of the Big East and have raised the level of their non-conference schedule with the likes of Hopkins, Princeton, Penn, Notre Dame, Richmond, High Point, and Lehigh. The Swamp Dogs finally have a viable second midfield with Aidan Carroll, Nicky Solomon and freshmen Patrick Crogan. Rookie Jordan Wray is also pushing for minutes. Dylan Hess is now a full-time two-way shorty, a smart move considering his future in the PLL is in that roll.

Georgetown has scrimmaged Maryland and Virginia during the last two weeks and will be ready for Saturday’s opener at Hopkins (1pm ESPN+).

Extra Notes

Loyola

On the Glenn Clark radio show, Charley Toomey blamed practicing inside their bubble too often for their poor goalie performance in 2022. The Hounds have freshmen playing strong roles on offense and will be more focused on the Patriot League race in 2023. BU may be the favorite in the Patriot League but I sense they’ll have a dog fight on their hands in a conference that looks wide open.

UMBC

The Retrievers new game-day facility sparkles in Catonsville. I have an inkling that they can challenge Vermont for the eight team America East title. The race in this league will be golden with Vermont, Albany, UMBC, Bing, Bryant, Merrimack, NJIT, Albany and UMass-Lowell closely grouped.

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