After a disappointing finish to 2018, an extremely long offseason, and several scrimmages, the Ohio State Buckeyes are ready to kick off the 2019 lacrosse season. And I am not sure that there has been a more mercurial time to be a Buckeye lacrosse fan.
Last year, in retrospect, was an understandable down year after a multitude of pro players left from the offense. Austin Shanks, Eric Fannell, and Johnny Pearson are all playing professionally, and their shoes went unfilled for most of 2018.
I have written a lot about why, and everyone who watched could see the issues with last year's team, so I'll keep it brief and just say it was bad all around.
Despite many, many shortcomings offensively, however, the Buckeyes still managed to beat 4 ranked teams, including the #1 team in the country on the road.
The offense did stumble at the end, turning in a truly abysmal performance against the Jays from Hopkins in the B1G tournament. 1 goal in the 2nd half from 20 shots. 20! That's a shot percentage of 5% in the biggest game of the season.
All that said, this week is a new year, a new season, and plenty of rays of hope. So let's get started.
On offense, the Buckeyes return much of their key pieces from a unit that was very discombobulated much of the year. Tre Leclaire, Jackson Reid, and Jack Jasinski will almost certainly be the starting midfield most of the time.
That's a lot of firepower on the same midfield line. Jasinski, like he was last year, will be the straw that stirs the drink. He's the fastest guy on the team, and was the only player capable of making opponents slide by year's end.
Where Jasinski runs into problems is dodging into the middle of the defense. His small stature doesn't lend itself well to going amongst the giants in many B1G defenses. Ohio State likes to initiate from up top in traditional alley dodges, or from a low wing position.
Jasinksi will most likely handle the alley dodge duties, though with Leclaire AND Reid in the midfield, we may see some more 2-man game actions than we are used to.
The second midfield line is a complete mystery. Colby Smith is almost certainly a starter, as he started the final few games of 2018, and was marginally successful at dodging past opponents.
Omari DeBerry had quite a few minutes, and with another offseason looks like a quality candidate to be in the 2nd midfield. The third member of the 2nd midfield is anyone's guess. My pick is Johnny Wiseman here, a true freshman from Olentangy Liberty in Columbus.
He's a very athletic gunner who scored in bunches in high school. He's also had a couple goals in preseason. As such, I feel comfortable predicting he will see some minutes, and may be that 3rd starter on the 2nd offensive midfield line.
If OSU gives its 3rd line much run, it could very well be 2 freshman and a mystery guest. TJ Hendricks is 6'5", and a goalscorer. He did a post-graduate year at Avon Old Farms, and when he played, poured in goals. Brandon Fisher is a 6'3" freshman from Tennessee, and has speed to burn. They're my picks to be on a 3rd line, but it's a crapshoot for that 3rd slot.
Jackson Smith and Colby Barker are two players who played sparingly last year, but could sneak their way in. Any concrete prediction is impossible, though.
Attack will be a completely new unit this season. Senior Colin Chell graduated, and Gale Thorpe left the team for personal reasons. That's 20 starts out the door.
Leclaire will have a run or two per game down low, but should primarily come out of the box by all accounts. A lock to start will be Jack Myers. The highest-rated recruit in the 2018 class, Myers started in the fall against the Ohio Machine, and looked like a junior finding his groove.
A big athlete at 6'4", Myers will cause problems off the dodge, as a shooter, basically anywhere he goes, in any way he decides to play. Week 1, I think that JT Bugliosi and Lukas Buckley willost likely join Myers at attack.
Bugliosi is a sophomore from Calvert Hall, and played in every game last year, starting six. Buckley played every game as well, and started eight games. Hopefully these three can coalesce as a unit and be much more consistent than last year's bunch. If not, there are some freshmen waiting in the wings to snag a slot.
Scott White starred at Malvern Prep, a nationally ranked power in Pennsylvania, while Zach Ludd ran the show at The Governor's Academy in Massachusetts, helping them to a national ranking much of last season as well.
They'll be chomping at the bit to get on the field, and if the attack line doesn't perform well, could see action sooner rather than later.
Games are won and lost in the defensive midfield, and Ohio State is blessed with the most dynamic LSM/SSDM group in the country.
Ryan Terefenko is maybe the best player in the country on defense, and is ruthless in transition. Athletic, smart, and tough as nails, look for even more Terefenko goals this year in transition as the shot clock comes online.
Logan Maccani is his partner is short-stick crime, and a budding TV host. Maccani is no slouch either, and together they're the best SSDM combo in the country. Full-stop.
At LSM, the Buckeyes lose an outstanding player in Freddy Freibott to graduation, but have a couple newcomers who could make an impact. Dayton Fisher is a late Juco addition to the roster who was top 5 in the NJCAA in caused turnovers, and led the NJCAA in shorthanded goals.
Freshman Alec Cerasoli comes in from MIAA power Loyola Blakefield, where he made a big impact as an LSM and wing player on faceoffs. Whomever gets the start will have some big shoes to fill, but should be more than capable of handling the defensive load in midfield.
Close defense will be pretty well established at 2 positions, but that 3rd slot is really interesting.
Matt Borges is a senior, a captain, and will head up the poles after the graduation of Ben Randall and Erik Evans from last year's squad. Borges will be counted on to maintain the exceptional defensive tradition at Ohio State as he breaks in two new starters.
The second slot SHOULD go to Jeff Henrick, a junior from Canada who just got drafted number one overall in the Major Series Lacrosse draft. A serious box defender, Henrick should be a more than adequate replacement in the defensive ranks.
The third pole slot is a mystery, making it the most intriguing. Evan Riss, a sophomore, played in 11 games last year, and could be the favorite to round out the unit. But anecdotal evidence may give George Walsh, a freshman out of the Calvert Hall pipeline, a chance at being that 3rd close defender.
Calvert Hall also plays in the MIAA, America's toughest high school conference, and Walsh was a four-year starter for them. I am tempted to give Riss the edge due to his greater experience right now, but I wouldn't bet against Walsh taking the spot from the gun.
Goalie is a complete and total mystery at this point, as last year's starter Josh Kirson wasn't exactly a brick wall between the pipes. Even though he cemented himself as the starter in the 2nd half of last year, Kirson was shaky throughout his time as starting goalie.
True freshman Skylar Wahlund came in as a highly touted goalie from Olentangy Liberty, and appears to have at leaat made things very interesting. Wahlund reportedly earned the start against Duke this Saturday in the Buckeyes' final tuneup before the season.
It appears to be a two-horse race between Kirson and Wahlund currently, though the edge has to go to Wahlund. Coming in without a single collegiate minute played, the freshman netminder has pushed Kirson to the brink.
IF Kirson manages to hold onto his job to start the season, at the first sign of trouble he'll be replaced. Either way, we'll likely see Wahlund in net at the end of the season.
The most known quantity on the team, FOGOs Justin Inacio and Christian Feliziani will be one of the best 1-2 punches in the country at the faceoff X.
Inacio took over the starting role a few games into last season, and will certainly look to continue the dominance he showed in Buckeyes' final 4 games of 2018. Feliziani will provide quality backup at the X, spelling Inacio as needed.
St. Ignatius' Anthony Ameo most likely will take a redshirt year, but could be called into action if either Inacio or Feliziani go down with a serious injury.
Realistically, this year won't be a repeat of 2017's special run to the title game. By the same token, it won't be a repeat of last year's struggles, either.
Preseason is always the worst time to make predictions, but I feel comfortable predicting at least a 10-win season for the Buckeyes when everything is said and done.
The offense should be vastly improved, and last year's freshmen got an offseason to improve. If the team improves as the year goes on, watch out. They'll play with anybody.
Final rundown of what I think happens:
Final record: 12-6, 1st round exit in NCAAs.
Leading scorer: Tre Leclaire, 32 goals, 17 assists.
B1G record: 3-2
B1G tournament: Loss in the title game
Starters for CSU:
Goalie - Skylar Wahlund
Close D - Matt Borges, Jeff Henrick, George Walsh
Opening Faceoff middies - Justin Inacio, Ryan Terefenko, Dayton Fisher
Offensive middies - Jack Jasinski, Jackson Reid, Tre Leclaire
Attack - Jack Myers, JT Bugliosi, Lukas Buckley.
As always, none of this means anything once the first whistle blows. But it sure is fun to talk about real lacrosse again!