We're here. Lacrosse is coming. And it's a whole new era in Columbus. That sweet smell you can almost taste is hope. Genuine hope that this year, FINALLY, the Buckeyes can break through and win a playoff game. Some big wins have occurred in the past few years. But it's time to show that this program isn't a fluke. And candyass staff aside, there's a lot to like about this year's group.
First, the digs. The new stadium will host its first lacrosse contests in 2023, and the field looks NICE. There's a whole lot to love about this new arena, including the fact that it will vastly improve broadcasts on Big Ten Plus.
With a heated field, the Buckeyes will learn to brave the elements at the beginning of the year. And, hopefully, develop a little missing mental toughness that has been sorely lacking the last few years.
Second, the new faces are plentiful and should have immediate impacts. Richie LaCalandra (#14) and Marcus Hudgins (#9) headline a terrific transfer recruiting class. Kyle Lewis (#21), brother of OC Rick Lewis, is a genuine DIII stud who will bring scoring punch to the midfield.
Kyle Borda (#19) is a behemoth who will do yeoman's work between the lines. Justin Sherrer (#37) will hopefully shore up an LSM slot that has been very weak for a couple of years now. Then we have the freshmen.
Johnny Maccarone is a game breaking talent at attack, but injury kept him out of fallball. If he gets going in the #22 jersey this year, you will see a big impact out of him. Maccarone will probably not get a run at attack unless Colby Smith (#4) gets hurt, but you could see him as a big midfield scorer off-ball as a target for Jack Myers, Ari Allen, and Kyle Lewis down low.
Sam Burns (#47) is a big Ohio talent who does many things well, but isn't overwhelming at anything. He needs a niche to occupy to see the field in 2023, but if he finds one, things will happen.
Cullen Brown (#42) looks like a potential freshman starter if Marcus Hudgins can't go. Not quite at Van Buren levels of dominance, but Brown could be an impact player from the jump.
Matt Caputo (#31) was name-checked as a player to watch by Inside Lacrosse, potentially as a lefty shooter off of Ohio State's righty dominant dodgers. Have to see it to believe it.
On offense, Ohio State is absolutely loaded. Pretty much all of last year's production returns, including All-American Jack Myers (#2). Myers comes back for his 5th year, and a shot at blinding glory. Jack Myers is 59 goals away from the all-time Ohio State record, and 57 points away from being Ohio State's all-time points leader.
Barring injury, Myers is easily going to break the points record. Obliterate it, most likely. The goals record will be a challenge, as Myers had 38 goals in 2022, and adding 21 more to that will be very difficult given the balance OSU will have this year. Even a 40 goal season would give Myers the #3 slot, ahead of Jackson Reid. If Ohio State gets a few more tournament games this season, both records are in very real danger.
The others surrounding Myers this season are the best Ohio State has seen since 2017. It's also not particularly close. Colby Smith is a better-shooting Tre Leclaire, without the pressure of ball-handling. Smith had 41 goals last year, behind only Jackson Reid, who tallied 47 markers. Colby's total should hit 60, if he is healthy and the defense doesn't fall apart again in the midfield against top 10 teams.
That could be higher if the Buckeyes make a deep run. Smith is a known quantity, he is basically all shot, no dodge, but that doesn't matter if he can be the off-ball wrecking crew on the righty side.
At the left-handed attack spot, the smart money is on Jason Knox (#16) to man it again, but that could change. Knox is killer on man up, and is really an opposite-handed version of Colby Smith, but he has not shown the same level of consistency in his performance. The material is there, but for whatever reason, Knox hasn't strung the goals together.
Since Ohio State has moved to an invert-centric offense (ball initiating from X), Knox and Smith are tailor-made to be incredible shooting options from above the cage. If Knox can manage to find his footing, this will be a great year.
Midfielders, and dodgers, are still unsettled, but that owes more to the options available than their complete absence. Jack Myers is dodging option A at the start, but smart money says Ari Allen (#3) will take over that role by midseason. There has never been an athlete like Allen at Ohio State. He can easily be the best dodger the Buckeyes have had in Myers' tenure, if Allen can pick up the little tricks that put defenders on skates. If not, Ed Shean (#10) is poised to take over the #1 dodging spot as a darkhorse candidate.
Shean is the type of player that Ohio State has made a name on in lacrosse. Little-known, anonymous, but full of potential, Shean was a big-time athlete at Los Alamitos in California. He really emerged this fall, going off for 7 points against Princeton in a scrimmage. If Shean keeps that up, Ohio State has the potential for a top-5 midfield group.
As I mentioned above, Kyle Lewis is coming in as a one-year rental, and that will mean great things for an Ohio State midfield that threatened precisely no one just two years ago. Lewis was a force at Lynchburg, racking up 94 points, with 63 of them being assists. That's just what Ohio State needs. With a three-headed midfield dodging triumvirate of Allen, Shean, and Lewis, the Buckeyes could very easily pick apart any team in the country. Jack Myers down low just adds to that menace. This could be a VERY big year for this offense.
Scott White (#6) had his best year as a Buckeye in 2022, and is coming back as a 5th-year to build on that success. He will see the field often for Ohio State early on, and we will see if that sticks.
Defensively, Ohio State is going to live and die in midfield. The Buckeyes have been flat out bad at LSM, and mediocre with the SSDMs. Connor Cmiel (#8) is a certified athlete, but isn't quite there in his lateral movement to be a good stopper. Trent DiCicco (#18) is more of a transition player than defender, but his shot makes up for his defensive mediocrity in spades. Carter Hilleary (#40) is one of the biggest hitters on the team, but needs more development as one-on-one defender. He is willing, but not quick enough to be sticky.
Kyle Borda is likely to join this group, and Blake Eiland (#34) is a true freshman who will definitely see time in the mix. I think Eiland could become a top 4 SSDM by the time May rolls around. There are a lot of options at shorty, but not many difference-makers.
LSM, by contrast, is abysmal. Wing-play off the face off has been adequate, but the LSMs have struggled to make the correct defensive decisions. Watching them, the longstick middies arrive late quite often, missing critical first or second slides. Mistakes happen, but when half or more of opponents goals occur because the LSM was late or out of position, you can't gloss over these things. Sherrer's addition helps, but the freshmen will need to step up here.
Mentally, this unit just hasn't gotten the system, or their responsibilities, down. I will never forget watching a Buckeye SSDM casually jog onto the field while a Terrapin SSDM was sprinting into the zone, only to score a blistering shot with time and room became the shorty for Ohio State was too lazy or nonchalant to know what to do. It signaled what would happen in that game all too well.
At close defense, Ohio State has not been this deep in years. Bobby Van Buren (#44) was a stud as a true freshman, and will only be better. Jake Snyder (#52) is a solid defender who is positionally good, if not as physically gifted as his counterparts. Add in Marcus Hudgins, this may be the best defensive unit in the Big Ten, if not the country. There's not a lot else to say. These three slots look very good.
In goal, Skylar Wahlund (#1) proved me, and probably everyone else, very wrong with an outstanding finish to his year. I was skeptical at best, hypercritical at worst, but Wahlund turned a corner mid-year and became incredible. He may be the best shot-stopper since Tom Carey in 2017. And he is comfortably #1 a year before the best goalie in the country matriculates to Columbus.
Faceoff is going to be quite the positional battle in 2023. And I don't know that we witness Ignacio-level dominance, but the Buckeyes should be good. Matt Fritz (#28) was the #1 against Princeton, and went a respectable 13-20 or 13-21 after dominating early. Drew Blanchard (#17) will probably be the backup, while Coleman Kraske (#33) will be the freshman waiting in the wings. Kraske is a big player, and would be a definite changeup from the smaller Fritz/Blanchard combo. I think Fritz goes roughly 55-58% on the year, good enough to keep the top spot going into 2024. If he gets above that, Ohio State struck gold once again.
On special teams, Ohio State was one of the top groups in both Man Up and Man Down all year last year. They finished #3 in Man Up offense (55.6% conversion rate), and #5 in Man Down defense (75% stop rate). That's incredible. Full stop. This year, they are going to be even better personnel-wise. If they keep even 80% of that clip, this is championship-level special teams play.
Here's hoping in 2023.
Looking at the schedule, Ohio State faces a steady rise in opponent quality. Scrimmages against Lafayette and Robert Morris give way to Air Force and Cleveland State. After very winnable games, Ohio State goes on a 4-game gauntlet that will really show everyone what they're made of. Home against UNC (much more winnable than it appeared last year), neutral against UVA, home against Cornell, and away to Notre Dame will make or break the Buckeyes' 2023.
A 2-2 split is good enough for a seeded tournament spot. Go 3-1 and the Buckeyes look headed for top 4. Go 1-3 and the tournament is dicy without beating 2 of Rutgers, Hopkins, and Maryland. A winless streak would be disaster, and the Buckeyes are DOA. Barring a Big Ten tournament run to a 'ship with Maryland trying to reload, Ohio State is just too far behind the 8-ball with 4 losses here. I think 2-2 is most likely to happen (beat UNC and Notre Dame, lost to UVA and Cornell), but 3-1 is possible in a certain light. Sweeping the field is highly unlikely, but if that happens book your plans to Memorial Day. They're going to Championship weekend.
Ohio State also has a matchup against Denver, in Bill Tierney's last season. This game is in Colorado. That's not a great scenario for Ohio State, who struggles against the Pios. We will have a much better grasp on the teams by that point, however, just before Big Ten play kicks off.
This year, Ohio State gets shafted in Big Ten scheduling, as Rutgers and Maryland are at home, but the last home game is April 9th, unless OSU hosts a Big Ten Quarterfinal. Johns Hopkins, Penn State, and TTUN are all on the road. And it's two straight road trips to end the season at Homewood and Ann Arbor. Not exactly any favors being done for the Buckeyes.
As per usual, 3-2 is good enough to get to a national tournament, as long as nothing crazy happens in the conference postseason. Buckeyes have to beat at least one of Rutgers-Hopkins-Maryland, which has not exactly been easy.
Rutgers will be down, but Hopkins always has talent and Maryland is the defending national champion. Penn State, as well as the Wolverines, aren't exactly slouches either. Penn State has good young players, and TTUN brought back basically everyone. Plus they add Bryce Clay. I remain skeptical that the Wolverines can field a good defense, but their offense has always been good.
With the roster additions, and tough schedule, expectations have never been higher for the lacrosse Buckeyes. Ohio State added a DIII all-region attackman, a DI conference player of the year attackman, and a 2nd-team All-American defender this offseason. The Buckeyes play the last two champions, plus last year's finalist, and an ACC power. With a brand new lacrosse stadium to be christened. This is the golden age of Buckeye lacrosse. Let's hope the results match the preseason potential.
Because this is anonymous and I can not be embarrassed by ridiculous preening, I pretty much nailed 2022's predictions. I thought the Buckeyes would get one more national tournament win, nailed Jack Myers' goal total, and was perfect on the conference prediction. We won't talk about my insane misses, as that is less fun.
Starting off will be the opening day lineup.
Against Air Force, Ohio State will look as follows:
Attack: Colby Smith, Jack Myers, Jason Knox
Midfield: Steven Zupicich (#11), Matt Fritz, Trent DiCicco
Defense: Bobby Van Buren, Jacob Snyder, Marcus Hudgins
Goalie: Skylar Wahlund
Most goals: Colby Smith, 63
Most assists: Jack Myers, 70
Most points: Jack Myers, 122
Offensive MVP: Jack Myers
Defensive MVP: Bobby Van Buren
Team MVP: Jack Myers
Best O Mid: Ari Allen
Now for the team.
Ohio State wins 10 games, loses 3 in the regular season.
In the postseason, Ohio State loses in the title game of the Big Ten Tournament.
This galvanizes the team, and the end up playing on Memorial Day weekend.
Final record: 14-5, 2-1 in both the Big Ten Tournament and National tournament.
Put it in pen, and book your tickets.
Go Bucks! Game 1 is Saturday at noon EST.