Quint Kessenich: What it will take to win in the 2015 men's lacrosse season

Can Terps attackman Matt Rambo produce against tough opponents this season?
Can Terps attackman Matt Rambo produce against tough opponents this season? (Mark Konezny / USA Today Sports)

It will take more than a history of success to win the 2015 men's lacrosse national championship.

Five teams — Duke, Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Virginia and Loyola Maryland — have success on their resume, but there are significant reasons why the players on this year's roster won't be celebrating on Memorial Day weekend.


Syracuse, Cornell, Denver, Notre Dame and North Carolina could be poised to take advantage — assuming Albany, with the nation's best offense and best player, doesn't upset the balance of power.

The unlikely champions



Who they were: Duke won NCAA titles in 2010, 2013 and 2014. It has reached the semifinals eight straight years.

Who they are: Junior midfielder Myles Jones is a player of the year candidate, a big and bold dominator. Deemer Class is a sensational sidekick and Will Haus is a catalyst from the defensive midfield spot, but a retooled defense and porous goaltending means no three-peat in Durham.



Who they were: Maryland appeared in the 2011 and 2012 finals, losing both games. Last spring they lost in the NCAA semifinals. The Terps haven't won an NCAA title since 1975.

Who they are: The Terps lost all sorts of production from 2014 for a variety of reasons, including graduation, transfers and academics. Faceoff man Charlie Raffa is the great equalizer, keeping Maryland in every game. The close defense should be a strength with Matt Dunn and Casey Ikeda, but can Matt Rambo, Jay Carlson and Joe LoCascio manufacture goals against quality teams? A huge question mark also exists in the cage.


Who they were: Virginia's run as a nationally-elite program looks like its coming to an abrupt halt. The Cavaliers went undefeated in 2006 and won their most recent title in 2011 behind Steele Stanwick, who appeared in four straight championship weekends. They haven't been back since.

Who they are: With a season-ending injury to top coverman Tanner Scales, the Wahoos are young and untested on defense. In 2014 they ranked No. 47 in scoring defense and faceoffs and goaltending haven't been strengths in Charlottesville. This offense can be electric with Zed Williams, Greg Coholan, James Pannell, Ryan Lukacovic, Ryan Tucker and Owen Van Arsdale.

Johns Hopkins

Who they were: Johns Hopkins won championships in 2005 and 2007 and played for the title in 2008, but has been absent from Memorial Day weekend for the past six years. The Blue Jays have struggled against elite teams in the postseason, losing to Denver, Maryland and Duke.

Who they are: Hopkins is highly skilled but slow and lacking penetrators on offense. Coach Dave Pietramala will rely on production from fresh-faced youngsters such as Shack Stanwick and Joel Tinney to challenge for the Big Ten title. The Jays play smart, well-coached, robotic defense. Tuesday night's loss at Towson was an eye-opener.

Loyola Maryland

Who they were: Loyola put together a magical season in 2012, going 18-1 on their way to the school's first NCAA title. But the Greyhounds failed to live up to lofty expectations in 2013 and 2014. Gone are stars such as Mike Sawyer, Justin Ward, Joe Fletcher, Pat Laconi and Jack Runkel.

Who they are: Coach Charley Toomey and his staff are superb at developing team identity, and Loyola is expected to capture the Patriot League title. Playmaker Nikko Pontrello and goal scorer Zach Herreweyers are a legit one-two punch. Finding a goalie and developing midfielder Romar Dennis will be critical for a team that lost its opener to Virginia.

Potential title winners


Who they were: Syracuse won back-to-back titles in 2008 and 2009 and lost in the 2013 final to Duke. The Orange have suffered shocking home playoff defeats to Army and, most recently, Bryant.

Who they are: Syracuse has the nation's best attack trio with Kevin Rice, Randy Staats and Dylan Donahue. Midfield talent is deep — Hakeem Lecky had four assists against Siena last week. Henry Schoonmaker is a terrific athlete and Nicky Galasso is smart and opportunistic. Coach John Desko has a roster of talented recruits, many of whom are ready to emerge. The defense is solid, not spectacular. Faceoffs were the Achilles heel in 2014, but Syracuse now dresses Holy Cross transfer Ben Williams. Their midfield defense must be improved.


Who they were: Cornell suffered one of the most painful defeats in championship history in 2009, falling in overtime to Syracuse. With a disciplined defensive system, teamwork and grit, the Big Red have qualified for championship weekend twice since — in 2010 and 2013 — but haven't won a title since 1977.

Who they are: Three talented seniors — midfielder Connor Buczek, attackman Matt Donovan, defender Jordan Stevens and a sophomore goalie Christian Knight — will have a strong say in their success or failure. Cornell is the preseason favorite in a very competitive Ivy League.


Who they were: Denver has played in three of the past four NCAA semifinals, falling each time. The Pioneers have never won an NCAA lacrosse championship, but have been inching closer under coach Bill Tierney.

Who they are: The nation's most feared offense has a potpourri of weapons including Wesley Berg, Zach Miller, Jack Bobzien, Erik Adamson, Tyler Pace and Maryland transfer Connor Cannizzaro. They run a unique system and have no weak links. The Pioneers are favored to win the Big East and should be a top seed come tournament time in May. Keep in mind that Denver will host an NCAA quarterfinal double-header.

Notre Dame

Who they were: Notre Dame nearly won a championship in 2010, losing to Duke in sudden-victory overtime. Last spring the Irish dropped another close game to Duke in the NCAA final. They have never won an NCAA lacrosse championship.

Who they are: Coach Kevin Corrigan's roster has balance, experience and depth. Matt Kavanagh, Conor Doyle, Jim Marlatt, Sergio Perkovic and Jack Near do the damage on offense. Defensive choreography under coordinator Gerry Byrne is always on point. Playing in the rough and tumble Atlantic Coast Conference will have this team battle-tested by May.

North Carolina

Who they were: North Carolina last won an NCAA title in 1991 and hasn't been to championship weekend since 1993, when they lost a nail-biter to Syracuse. Since that game, the Tar Heels are 0-7 in the quarterfinals.


Who they are: A speedy and talented roster led by pesky scorers Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter averaged 13 goals per game in 2014. The North Carolina defense, with Austin Pifani and Jake Bailey, is long and agile. New offensive coordinator Dave Metzbower has a track record of success at Princeton and Loyola Maryland. The Tar Heels must ignore history and live in the moment.


The wild card


Who they were: The Great Danes have reached the quarterfinal round twice. The America East champions lost to Notre Dame in overtime of last years quarterfinals after leading 12-7 with 12 minutes to go.

Who they are: There are two reasons why Albany can upset the apple cart. Lyle Thompson — the country's most dynamic player — and a freewheeling offensive system of run-and-gun, transition lacrosse that opponents can't deal with. Albany was the nation's highest scoring team (15.9 goals per game) last season.

Quint Kessenich covers college sports for ESPN and writes for The Baltimore Sun.