As the college lacrosse season approaches the meat of its schedule, three teams have proven themselves to be legitimate contenders for the national title: Virginia, Cornell and Johns Hopkins. Teams that have been shaky at points or have holes to fill make up the second tier as possible title contenders.
Virginia can outright run. Watching the Wahoos’ game against Syracuse on Sunday was epic. The rivalry has developed over time and is consistently the most exciting regular season game every year. Rob Fortunato proved he could step into the void in goal left by Adam Ghitelman, who graduated last year. He made all the necessary saves, although he struggled at points. Faceoff man Ryan Benincasa dominated winning 20 of 28 at the x. Virginia can score with anyone and defend well enough to get to championship weekend.
Led by a strong senior group on attack, Cornell is another team that will outscore just about anyone. Cornell leads the country in scoring. Senior Rob Pannell finished second in the Tewaaraton voting. The Tewaaraton Trophy is the Heisman Trophy of college lacrosse. Even with Pannell’s recent injury, Cornell still has Steve Mock, one of the country’s best finishers, and Connor English, who is a very shifty player. Cornell’s strength on offense makes up for some minor deficiencies they have on the defensive end.
Johns Hopkins has played close games in most of its early schedule. Towson was close at half and squeaked out victories against Delaware, Siena and Princeton. Manhattan was the only team not to put up a fight, losing 11-0 on Tuesday. Pierce Bassett for the Blue Jays was a second team all-American last season in goal, and has been the key to Hopkins’ success. Bassett has only allowed more than six goals in only one game and the Blue Jay defense is second only behind Notre Dame in scoring defense. But it’s not like they can’t score; Johns Hopkins still averages ten goals per game and wins by five.
The second tier of teams includes teams with talent but with bad losses like Notre Dame, North Carolina, and Denver. Other teams have no bad losses or losses at all, but lack that key victory that would put them into the conversation with UVA, Cornell, and Hopkins. Maryland, UMass, Fairfield and Yale fit into that category. The final group is of the teams like Duke, Ohio State and Villanova who have tough schedules and can’t seem to find a win against the highly ranked teams. All of these teams have holes on either offense or defense, or could lack the consistency to stay at the top.
The Face-Off Classic takes place this weekend in Baltimore in which UVA will play Cornell as the marquee game. The second half of the season will be a dog fight to see who can make the tournament. The races will be the toughest in the CAA and the ECAC; both conferences have a large group of high quality. The real question for the rest of the season is if the top tier will continue to reign over college lacrosse, and if anyone, who will challenge them?