Some weeks after the end of an absolutely brutal season, with a blood-rage subsiding enough to form coherent thoughts, it is time. The postmortem of the 2023 Ohio State men’s lacrosse season needs to be posted for the easing of my mind. And so much has happened since April that a recap is in order.
The real junkies mentioned that women’s lacrosse was in a rough spot, and that Amy Bokker might be feeling the heat. I paid marginal attention to the women’s season, but those predictions proved correct.
After four years, Amy Bokker was relieved of her duties and departs without a tournament appearance, and the program collapsing for its worst record in her tenure. It was a shame to see the women’s team struggle so much. I thought Bokker was a good hire, and that good things were in order. Instead, we see a change, with one year left on her deal.
Obviously, a firing was what many wanted at the end of this year with Nick Myers. I am still in that camp, but I think the writing is on the wall in two ways.
First, Nick Myers will be coaching at Ohio State next year. That’s pretty obvious considering the lack of movement on his status, the big buyout he is owed, and the posting of a new assistant position on Ohio State’s job website. Last season’s tournament berth secured Myers two seasons, at least, and almost $700k in compensation. On the other side, I believe that next season is a make or break year for Myers at Ohio State. Several things point to that, for me.
First, that there’s a new assistant job posted. At the risking of assuming too much, someone is not making an assistant change without feeling at least a little heat. Second, there’s such a complete lack of movement in the 2024 class that a lot of prospects seem to be hesitant to pull the trigger. There are only 7 commits for that class, and this roster is losing a lot of personnel after next year as well.
Third, the sheer number of transfers coming into the team next year is massive. As of this writing, 4 transfers have been added to the committed list. There’s some real talent, in some cases, but 2 transfers are from a program that went 3-11 last year against CAA competition. If we do not see a big player come in, things are going to be a little grim heading into the fall. Options exist, but that’s a post for another time.
In any case, there’s plenty of stress on this upcoming season, as Myers will look to replicate what Jeff Tambroni has done at Penn State without having nearly the same recruiting success, or demonstrated coaching acumen.
Onto the season itself.
Ohio State managed a single win in Big Ten play, over lowly Rutgers, while only defeating North Carolina, Detroit Mercy, Cleveland State, and Air Force out of conference. That’s a really, really bad list. Only Air Force came close to making the national tournament, but fell short to Utah in the ASUN title ame. Otherwise, the Buckeyes managed to lose by 6.3 goals per game on the season. In conference play, that fell to 5.4, but only as a result of the Maryland game. Ohio State lost 5 of its 6 games against Big Ten opponents, including the final 5 games in a row. Playing the toughest schedule in the country did the Buckeyes no favors out of conference, either, as they were utterly demolished by every team with a pulse.
Of note, Ohio State played 3 of the 4 teams that will suit up for the Final Four this weekend. All 3 games ended in defeat, however, with the closest pame being a 17-8 shellacking at the hands of Penn State, No good wins, many bad losses. The 2023 season was dismal for the team. A look at the units is not much better.
Ohio State was bad offensively. It’s easy to see why, just by looking at personnel. Only 2 players, Jack Myers and Ed Shean, started in all 14 games together. Just 5, adding in Kyle Borda, Mitchell Pehlke, and Dillon Magee, played in all 14 games during the season.
Obviously, that kind of constant personnel churn is not going to be conducive to good play. Neither is the departure of your biggest transfer, Richie LaCalandra, after just 4 games. For whatever reason, LaCalandra did not like his usage in Columbus and withdrew from school.
Stunningly, despite missing 10 games, LaCalandra still managed to finish tied for 4th in assists this year (5). Which tells you all you need to know about how the Buckeyes performed.
Injuries just decimated the Buckeyes. Colby Smith, Ohio State’s most prolific shooter, missed 4 complete games, and had a few games where he only made a cameo. That translated to barely shooting 24% on the year, despite accounting for 62 of Ohio State’s 510 shots (12%). Much of Ohio State’s offense depended on getting the ball up that righty hash to get a shot off, and missing that much hurt the Buckeyes immensely.
Ari Allen, the most dynamic player on the roster with the ball in his stick, missed half of the season, and only scored a single goal. Scott White, a super senior, missed 3 games. The most talented offensive freshman player, Johnny Maccarone, was injured all season. These are the injuries I know of, or can hazard a guess at.
Further complicating this season’s performance was the complete absence of production from some previous pieces that were counted on to be key contributors. Jason Knox, a prolific scorer at Hobart, had just 5 goals in 12 games. Trent DiCicco, a key piece on Man Up in 2022, only managed a single tally.
Kyle Lewis, the other offensive piece brought in to score, was kept to just 5 goals in 10 games. The biggest letdown by far, however, was Jack Myers. Myers finished 3 on the team in goals (20), first in assists (22), and first in points (42). He also struggled mightily to dodge against non-cupcake teams, had a shooting percentage of .235, and was shut down completely in many offensive sets.
When your best player is struggling to make a difference with the ball in his stick, or as a scorer, things are going to be tough. It doesn’t help when the offensive scheme is so underwhelming.
Greg Bice summed it up best during one of the games against the Wolverines. Ohio State, against any competent team, spent the vast majority of its energy trying to make big-little picks (two offensive players playing in a two-man game, one guarded by a long pole and the other guarded by an SSDM) work from behind the cage. Unfortunately, once this scheme became readily apparent, it was rare to see it executed against a well prepared defense.
Later in the season, the Buckeyes had a little success dodging the young offensive players (Dillon Magee and Matt Caputo) to the middle with their left hands, but it was too little, too late. Movement was seemingly forbidden unless you were adjacent to the ball. Cuts were rare, especially opposite the ball. It was painful to watch, and frustrating in the extreme. If indeed an assistant change is being made, hopefully it comes in the form of the offense. Though the defense could use a freshening up as well.
This unit is easily the most confusing and concerning thing about the program. It has been nothing but consistent at close defense. Bobby Van Buren is a certified stud. Jacob Snyder and Marcus Hudgins were certainly adequate, at least on ball.
The three poles were prone to mental breakdowns on occasion. but nothing earth shattering.
Ohio State’s been absolutely piss poor at defensive midfield, and as a 6-man unit. There is no good reason for it, except that the recruiting of LSMs and short sticks has been garbage for years, and they’re not practicing as a unit correctly. It is not particularly difficult to all be on the same page in a 6-man defensive rotation, and yet it seems impossible for the Buckeyes to perform properly at any given point in a game.
Is there some blame to be laid on the offense and faceoff unit for putting them In a poor position time after time? Absolutely. That said, adjustments can be made to account for poor faceoff play from a FOGO. Watch any Notre Dame game.
In the rotations and slides, however, the most glaring issue is the turnstile defense played by Ohio State’s SSDMs. This season, you saw a true freshman thrown into the mix in Blake Eiland, who actually played pretty well despite being asked to guard 4th or 5th year offensive midfielders from blueblood programs. Last year’s mainstays essentially disappeared as Eiland was cast into the fire, and no adjustments were made to account for his lack of experience.
Eiland acquitted himself well, but not well enough to prevent the team from getting worked game after game.
When you watch the team on defense, almost every player is staring down the ball, refusing to play with proper position, and slides either far too late or unnecessarily. That’s a failure in both teaching recognition and proper repetition.
This has been a theme for years now, and we have seen a corresponding rise in goals allowed per game. That number has gone from 8.6 in 2018 to 13 in 2023. In allowing 13 goals per game, Ohio State finished 54th in total defense. While having two different players who have been All Americans on the field. Clearly, the unit is not talented enough in the midfield, but to be this bad with that kind of close defense talent is squarely on coaching.
There were 6 teams that held opponents under 10 goals per game this season, one of them being Notre Dame. You can’t tell me that Manhattan, Army, UMass, Delaware, and UMBC are all far more talented on defense than Ohio State. It’s a culture and coaching issue. Flat out. And it is killing Ohio State.
This was the most mismanaged position on the 2023 team, even accounting for the fact that the primary FOGO went down fairly early with a season-ending injury. There were 5 FOGOs on the roster this season. That means over 10% of the roster was dedicated to the faceoff position.
And once Drew Blanchard got injured, not a single one of them was able to get above 40% at the faceoff dot. It is impossible to outline how poor of a job that is at roster management. FOGO is essentially a luxury position, and there’s no reason whatsoever to have one starter with four others being just dead weight. One FOGO on the roster has not taken a single draw since 2021. Why even bother having 48 players on the roster each year if one isn’t going to be doing anything at the single position he was brought in to occupy?
That scholarship money could have just been redistributed to the rest of the roster. To have 4 players win under 40% of their faceoffs in the aggregate after Blanchard got hurt is criminally bad. Horrible FOGOs and terrible wings isn’t going to be a winning combination in that phase of the game, and we saw how much it hurt the Buckeyes all year long. To neglect both positions that much is infuriating in a way that I can’t fully describe.
Steps have been taken in the portal to address FOGO, with an All American being brought in from Vermont. The LSM and SSDM positions are going to really need to take a step forward for the Buckeyes to right the ship next year.
With all the negatives of this season mostly mentioned, next steps are in order. Ohio State has to address personnel needs, as well as coaching issues. The transfer window is open, and there are plenty of options in the portal. Ohio State currently has 4 commits, probably a 5th in the next few days. Of those currently committed, 1 is an All American at faceoff, with another being named All-CAA at SSDM. Obviously, those are areas of huge need for this program.
Additionally, the ASUN Midfielder of the Year is coming down from Cleveland to suit up for the Scarlet and Gray. Three of the 4 players committed currently are coming off of some incredibly bad years at their old schools, meaning they should be extra motivated to perform well.
The remaining transfer on commit watch is also an All American, having tallied 35 assists in 2023. Now, full disclosure, each All American is of the Honorable Mention variety, and none of them were for performances this season, as named by the USILA. Still, with this potential firepower coming Into the ranks, there’s at least a little reason for optimism that the roster issues will be addressed.
For me, it would be ideal if there’s a big-time scorer who gets brought in to help alleviate the departure of Ohio State’s most prolific righties.
From a coaching standpoint, there’s been no leaks on any potential movement in the staff. We have seen a posting for a new assistant, but we do not have any idea if that is for a firing (we can only hope) or if that is a rumored 3rd paid assistant that was proposed last year. This staff needs to improve in pretty much every phase of the game. Even with injuries, nothing improved over the course of the season.
The team’s mentality was weak, there was no ability to close out a game, and halftime saw Ohio State get absolutely brutalized by teams. This has to stop. Has. To.
If the staff is just going to run the same stale schemes and practices back for 2024, we might as well just see what potential coaching candidates the university can attract right now.
We will see what the staff is looking to do as we move forward, but there are some serious changes coming. Transfers are going to be a major theme once again.
And, for better or worse, there’s major work to be done in the 2024 class (which stands at just 7 commits), before the contact window for 2025s opens in September. Cincinatti’s native son, Khalif Hocker, is a top 5 player per at least one ranking service. And Ohio State is going to have a TON of trouble on its hands to try and keep him home.
Hopefully it happens. But I’m leery at best. Losing that battle would be disastrous for the Buckeyes.
At any rate, that wraps up 2023’s awful season. No more on this dreadful team, all focus is now on 2024.