With the start of the 2018 college lacrosse season just a few weeks away, here is the fourth installment of a series that offers a preview of the battles for conference championships in Division I. The leagues are scheduled to appear in alphabetical order. Wednesday’s visit was with the Big East. Thursday’s is a spin through the Big Ten.
Team on top: Rutgers’ best finish in three years of playing in the Big Ten has been second place in 2016. This spring could be moment when the Scarlet Knights stake their claim to the top of the conference. The team is loaded, especially at attack, where the graduation of Connor Murphy (26 goals, 14 assists) should be mitigated by the return of redshirt sophomore Adam Charalambides (43 G, 14 A in 2016) from an ACL injury. And a defense anchored by senior defenseman Michael Rexrode (28 ground balls, 23 caused turnovers) and senior goalkeeper Max Edelmann (8.91 goals-against average and .532 save percentage) is no slouch either.
Team on the rise: As prolific as Maryland, Rutgers and Johns Hopkins were on offense last season, Penn State led the Big Ten in scoring, ranking sixth in Division I at 13.3 goals per game. The offense did graduate some contributors, but the unit should be powered by junior attackman Grant Ament (30 G, 30 A). The defense gave up 10.7 goals per game, which was way too generous for coach Jeff Tambroni’s tastes. But the experience that defenseman T.J. Connellan (10 GB, 2 CT) and goalkeeper Colby Kneese (10.53 goals-against average, .512 save percentage) gained as freshmen should help them as sophomores.
Team on the decline: Similar to Syracuse in the Atlantic Coast Conference, it is difficult to fault a team for sliding out of the Top 10 when said team is the fifth member of the league to be ranked. But Johns Hopkins has some sizable holes to fill. The offense graduated three starters, including the versatile John Crawley (20 G, 4 A). The defense bade farewell to two starting defensemen, and questions in the net and the short-stick midfield position still persist. Senior goalkeeper Brock Turnbaugh (12.59 goals-against average, .408 save percentage) has a chance to cement himself as the undisputed starter.
Prime-time player: Coincidentally or not, Maryland’s Connor Kelly has switched jersey numbers from No. 40 to No. 1, which is symbolic of how he will be treated by opposing defenses. The senior had 46 goals and 11 assists en route to being named the Big Ten tournament’s Most Valuable Player and a first-team All American. He was one of only three college players on the 49-member U.S. men’s national team roster (Denver senior faceoff specialist Trevor Baptiste and Yale senior attackman Ben Reeves were the others). The Terps will lean on Kelly to power the offense this spring.
Underrated player: Ohio State’s Ben Randall turned many heads in the Baltimore area when he limited Loyola Maryland then-sophomore attackman Pat Spencer to one goal and no assists in the Buckeyes’ win in the first round of the NCAA tournament. But the senior attackman had played as well against other dangerous attackmen, becoming the program’s first first-team All-America selection. Randall (50 GB, 13 CT) will lead a defense that graduated All-Big Ten first-team goalie Tom Carey (8.32 goals-against average, .547 save percentage).