ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins All-American goalkeeper Quint Kessenich is juggling his responsibilities covering both college basketball and lacrosse, but he was kind enough to share his thoughts on the upcoming lacrosse season.
Question: It seems that unlike previous years, there is no clear-cut favorite to capture the NCAA championship. Is that a fair assessment?
Quint Kessenich: “That’s a great point. In my eyes, this is a very strong year. There are almost about 10 really good teams. Teams that played on championship weekend, teams that made the quarterfinals last year who appear to be strong on paper this year. But of those top nine or 10 teams, there’s not a team that, from A to Z, has great balance. They all have their strengths and they all have a weakness. And so I think this year is going to be outstanding. I look at teams like Cornell, which returns its whole team; Notre Dame, which returns the majority of its team; Stony Brook, which returns tons of talent; Hofstra, which returns tons of talent; Maryland, which returns tons of talent. There are some team from last year that can take the next step this year, and there’s going to be some great lacrosse.”
Q: Which team got your No. 1 vote in preseason polls?
QK: “I have Syracuse up top. Even though they lost to Hofstra in a scrimmage the other day, I still think Syracuse, because of their defense and their experience, I give them a 1. I gave Virginia a 2, but I’ve got Maryland at 3, and Maryland’s right on the heels of Virginia. I think this Maryland team is a team that can give Virginia fits this year. And then at 4, I have Notre Dame, which is much higher than most, but I got to see them in person down in Florida and they return their whole team minus the goalie. And then I’ve got Stony Brook at 5.”
Q: Since you watched Notre Dame lose to the U.S. National team, 11-7, in Florida a couple weeks ago, what was your impression of last spring’s tournament finalist?
QK: “Exceptional defense. As they were last year, they continue to ramp that up. They’re going to play defense regardless of what happens. That’s a known quantity, and that’s the framework that Coach [Kevin] Corrigan is going to build on, and that’s going to keep them in every ballgame. Improved attack play. [Sophomore] Ryan Foley and [junior] Sean Rogers look like they’re a little better, and they really won last year without having an attack. And then you have the two midfielders in [seniors] Zach Brenneman and David Earl, who are elite. But the other guys – there are three sophomores – are really going to have to play well if Notre Dame is going to make some noise. Pat Cotter, Tyler Kimball and Steven Murphy, they’re good athletes. They’re just not goal scorers yet. So their question marks will be on offense again, but I really like them. I thought even losing to Team USA, they played good defense, they have a formula, and I think that’s a good team this year.”
Q: How would describe Duke’s chances of repeating as national champions?
QK: “I don’t think they’re a national championship contender right now. They’re playing in an extremely difficult conference where on paper, I have them at either No. 3 or No. 4 in their own conference. They have some good players, but that senior class and that plus-1 class, they lost tons, and I’m ranking them somewhere around the 10, 11 or 12 spot right now. I could see them not making the NCAA Tournament. They’re going to have a pretty athletic lineup, but an inexperienced lineup. They’re going to be OK. I just don’t think they’re a championship weekend-caliber team anymore.”
Q: Is there a team flying under the radar?
QK: “There are very good teams who aren’t getting as much respect. Stony Brook was a quarterfinalist last year, and they’re back and strong. Princeton has got basically its whole team back minus [sophomore midfielder] Mike Chanenchuk [who has withdrawn from school]. I’m not as strong a believer in North Carolina. Army returns its entire team basically. So a dark horse? You’ve got to go in the conferences. Is Drexel ready to take the next step? Hofstra has a very good team, and they beat Syracuse in a scrimmage. But from the smaller conferences, a team like Hofstra, a team like Denver, the Ivy League is wide open, but Cornell and Princeton could be the class of that league. There’s just a lot of good teams this year.”
Q: Of the coaching changes that occurred, which will have the biggest impact?
QK: “John Tillman will have more of an immediate impact. Maryland will be in the news more this year because they’re such a veteran team, and they’re going to be very strong. So John Tillman will be very newsworthy this spring. But Jeff Tambroni, long term, at Penn State, that’s the most significant of the coaching moves. To take over a program after leading Cornell to three of the last four championship weekend, and he’s kind of starting from scratch there. He’s cut their roster down to about 24 student-athletes, tried to weed out some of the dead wood, and he’s going to start over. From what I’ve heard, he’s done a fabulous job recruiting over the next two years. Penn State’s athletic department appears to be supporting all of his hunger, and that’s going to be a big-time story in three or four years. He will turn around Penn State quickly.”
Q: Which transfer will have the most impact?
QK: “Steve Serling at Hofstra, a midfielder from Lafayette. Put up a lot of points last year, he’s a good passer, he fits in right away. He’s running the first midfield for Hofstra. Tom Palasek at Syracuse. It remains to be seen how they’re going to use him. I heard he looked good in the scrimmage last week. He’s a natural attackman. Hw took some shifts at midfield, so I’m not sure how that’s going to work itself out. I think that’s the two highest-profile transfers.”
Q: Which players should we keep an eye out for with regards to the Tewaaraton Award?
QK: “[Senior midfielder] Kevin Crowley at Stony Brook. He was the National Player of the Year. [Senior midfielder] Shamel Bratton at Virginia. I think [senior goalkeeper] John Galloway at Syracuse will have an opportunity. If Syracuse plays great defense, he will shine from a goalie’s standpoint. [Junior attackman] Rob Pannell at Cornell has put up ridiculous numbers. He really wasn’t surrounded by very much last year, and still, he had an incredible season. I have so much respect for Rob Pannell. [Junior attackman] Steele Stanwick at Virginia will have an opportunity. And [senior attackman] Billy Bitter has to be put on that list.”