With the start of the men’s college lacrosse season just a few weeks away, here is the third installment of a series that offers a preview of the battles for conference championships in Division I. The leagues are scheduled to appear via alphabetical order. Tuesday’s visit was with the Atlantic Coast Conference. Today takes a spin through the Big East.
Team on top: In its past three appearances in the NCAA tournament, Denver has captured the national championship in 2015 and lost to the eventual winner in 2017. Surprisingly, the program has not won the Big East tournament since 2015. Although the Pioneers graduated attackman Connor Cannizzaro (42 goals, 24 assists) and midfielder Tyler Pace (18 G, 6 A), the offense should be in capable hands with sophomore attackman Ethan Walker (40 G, 32 A) and junior attackman Austin French (28 G, 19 A) leading the charge. And the unit should get plenty of chances because of the presence of a Tewaaraton Award finalist Trevor Baptiste.
Team on the rise: As shocking as last year’s run to the league tournament final was, Providence might have the ingredients to defy that “one-year wonder” label. The team could return five of six starters on offense, including junior attackman Brendan Kearns (32 G, 13 A) and junior midfielder Nick Hatzipetrakos (22 G, 19 A). Although the defense graduated Defensive Player of the Year Jarrod Neumann (27 ground balls, 18 caused turnovers), the unit does welcome back Goalkeeper of the Year Tate Boyce (8.05 goals-against average, .569 save percentage).
Team on the decline: Villanova finished second in the conference standings, but an upset loss to Providence prevented a return to the tournament’s title game for the first time since 2014. The team could return as many as six starters from last season, but that group will not include Co-Offensive Player of the Year Jack Curran (46 G, 19 A), midfielder Jake Froccaro (34 G, 14 A), and defensemen Danny Sweeney (21 GB, 11 CT) and Patrick Kennedy (18 GB, 10 CT). The Wildcats’ hopes might be determined by a defense that was tied for 54th in the nation last spring at 11.5 goals per game.
Prime-time player: Baptiste probably had one of the most prolific seasons ever by a non-attackman or midfielder, but was denied the Tewaaraton Award. Denver’s senior faceoff specialist can throw his hat back into the ring with another solid season. His .744 faceoff percentage ranked as the fourth best in Division I history, his 297 faceoff wins were the seventh most, and his 10.5 ground balls per game were 10th most. Baptiste was the only college player selected by coach John Danowski to represent the United States at the Federation of International Lacrosse World Lacrosse Championship in July.
Underrated player: Overshadowed by peers such as Denver’s Alex Ready and Marquette’s Cole Blazer, Boyce emerged as the conference’s top goalie, lowering his goals-against average in 2016 from 10.71 and raising his save percentage from .526. His 8.05 GAA and .569 save percentage in 2017 both ranked sixth in the nation and earned him a spot on the All-America third team. Boyce figures to be the linchpin in Providence’s success this spring.