staff, February 11, 2015

History has been made with the formation of the Big Ten Lacrosse Conference. Six teams will battle to make the four-team Big Ten Conference Tournament in late April. The winner will not only be crowned inaugural Big Ten champions but will also earn the league?s first-ever automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Below is my team-by-team look at the Big Ten Lacrosse Conference for 2015.

Johns Hopkins Blue Jays | Coach: Dave Pietramala | 2014: 11-5 (NCAA Quarterfinals)

It?s been an emotional time for the JHU lacrosse program. Freshman defenseman Jeremy Huber was found dead in his dorm room Jan. 26, creating a very sad time for a team that has very high hopes in 2015. The start to the season has been uneven for Hopkins, who at 1-1 played very well against UMBC in a 16-4 win but got outplayed by Towson in a 7-5 setback. Which Hopkins team should we expect in the new season?


This team is brimming with skilled players. It starts with attackman Ryan Brown (40 goals,14 assists). Brown, for my money, is the best shooter in lacrosse. He has nine goals in his first two games and was named Big Ten Offensive Player of the Week for his seven goal performance against UMBC. Joining him on attack is Wells Stanwick (23, 44), a deft feeder who is the leader of the offense. Both Stanwick and Brown were Honorable Mentions All-Americans last year. The attack is rounded out by Wilkins Dismuke and No. 1-ranked freshman by Inside Lacrosse Shack Stanwick, who will also see time as a midfielder and was named Big Ten Rookie of the week for his four point (3, 1) effort against UMBC.

The midfield has a lot of parts that make up a deep unit. Connor Reed (9, 15) and Holden Cattoni (29, 6) are joined by another highly touted freshman Joel Tinney on the top line. Cattoni earned HM All-American honors in ?14. Players such as John Crawley (12, 6), Cody Radziewicz, and another newcomer Brinton Valis make the Blue Jay midfield a solid core. During the season JHU will look to develop a 3rd unit with the likes of Kieran Eissler, Sam Lynch, and Thomas Guida. Faceoffs with be handled primarily by Drew Kennedy (59 percent).

Defensively Hopkins welcomes back 2nd team AA LSM Mike Pelligrino. Pelligrino plays the game like a junkyard dog and is the heartbeat of the team. Down close returners Rob Enright and John Kelly bring a wealth of experience back alongside new starter Nick Fields. Returning goalie Eric Schneider (55 percent) was good down the stretch last season for the Jays and needs to have a big senior season at Homewood.

History is being made this season with Hopkins playing in a conference for the first time ever in their 132 year history. With the move to the Big Ten Hopkins lost teams such as Loyola and Albany from their schedule. Despite these deletions the Blue Jays keep traditional rivals such as North Carolina, Syracuse, and Virginia on the slate. In a year of adjustment the Blue Jays still have one of the toughest schedules in college lacrosse.


Maryland TerrapinsCoach: John Tillman | 2014: 13-4 (NCAA Semi-finals)

Things will look a lot different in College Park this lacrosse season. The Terps said goodbye to three First Team All-Americans: Niko Amato (G), Michael Ehrhardt (D/LSM), and Mike Chanenchuk (M). A fourth, defenseman Goran Murray, has been ruled ineligible and will miss the 2015 season. But never count the Terrapins out; this program has been to Championship Weekend three out of the last four years, and the goal remains the same even with the personnel being different.

The offense at Maryland will have a different look from top to bottom. JL Reppert joins Tillman?s staff after leading the offense at the Naval Academy, and the cupboard has some strong ingredients. Senior Jay Carlson is an excellent finisher, capable of burning a defense off a cut and keeping opposing long poles busy. Early reports say Carlson (26, 5) and Syracuse transfer Dylan Maltz are working very well together. Maltz looks as though he will assume the role of QB on this offense. Junior David Goodwin is the third man right now, as returning starter Matt Rambo (30, 6) is still serving a suspension from the fall. Rambo play in 2015, it is just not certain when.

The Terps return perhaps the best faceoff man in the nation in Charlie Raffa. Raffa won a staggering 69 percent of his faceoffs in 2014 despite playing through some tough injuries. His ability to gain possession for the offense is vital to Maryland establishing tempo. Leading the way in the midfield are Henry West (16, 8) and Joe LoCascio (20, 5). West is a solid dodger with great vision, while LoCascio has a wicked outside shot that can stretch a defense. Tim Rotanz and Colin Heacock, both natural attackmen, should play a lot at midfield this season, as will senior Bryan Cole, a diverse player with slick stick skills.

Defense is always a hallmark of Maryland lacrosse. Returners Matt Dunn and Casey Ikeda will be the anchors and had a chance to run things when Murray missed the fall due to injury. The third spot is still a bit undecided, with Eric Parnon maybe having a slight edge over Mac Pons and Tim Muller. Senior Kyle Bernlohr has waited his turn to take over in the cage and now gets his chance. The lefty will direct a defense that was in the top three a year ago in terms of goals allowed.

Maryland opens their 2015 campaign this weekend against an improved Navy squad. Despite leaving the ACC the Terps will still play North Carolina. Maryland has also added Loyola University back to their docket, giving them one of the toughest schedules in all of college lacrosse.


Michigan Wolverines |  Coach: John Paul | 2014 record: 5-11

The Wolverines enter their fourth season at the Division I level with some positive momentum. Michigan enjoyed their finest season to date in 2014, going to five wins from just one in each of the previous two years. The program seems to be progressing in the right direction and has a bevy of young players who are getting better and gaining confidence. Michigan is off to a great start this year with a 16-9 win over Bellarmine. The victory marked the first ever opening game win in program history.

Michigan averaged just fewer than 10 goals per game in ?14. New offensive coordinator Conor Ford comes over from Drexel and has talent on the offensive end to increase this total. Nine different players dented the twine against Bellarmine. Attackman Ian King enjoyed a stellar freshman campaign (32 goals) serving primarily as a finisher. His three assists against Bellarmine signal that the sophomore can do more than just score goals. He will be flanked by David McCormack (4 goals v. Bellarmine) and playmaker Will Meter. Mike Francia will also see quality minutes at the attack spot for the Wolverines.

In the midfield sophomore Mikie Schlosser is the primary cog. After dropping 11 goals in his freshman campaign he popped in four and added an assist against Bellarmine. Aiding Schlosser are players such as Kyle Jackson (24, 5), David Joseph, Mike Hernanadez, Dan Kinek, and Brandon Gaughan. FO man Brad Lott returns looking to build on his 53 percent success rate from a year ago.

Defensively improvement is needed but early indications out of Ann Arbor are that this unit will be stronger. The Wolverines surrendered almost 13 goals per contest a season ago, good for 64th in the country. This number has to get better. Goalie Gerald Logan returns after missing 2014 with an injured shoulder. His 15 saves per game were tops in lacrosse in 2013. He has a solid 12 save effort in the win versus Bellarmine. Having him back is a big plus for Michigan.

Protecting Logan will be defensemen Mack Gembis, Andrew Hatton, and Chris Walker. All three have good game experience.

The schedule this season for Michigan is beefed up, adding two NCAA tourney teams from 2014- national runner-up Notre Dame and quarterfinalist Drexel. Both will be stiff tests for this Michigan team that is hungry to take the next step toward success.


Ohio State BuckeyesCoach: Nick Myers | 2014: 6-8

The Buckeyes were a little snake bit in 2014, losing four games by two goals or less. The team never seemed to recover from a 1-5 start, and was plagued by faceoff (46 percent) and Extra Man Offense (25 percent) woes. The team started the 2015 campaign with a disappointing 9-8 loss to Detroit but rebounded with a 10-6 verdict over Robert Morris a couple days later. Many pundits have the Buckeyes as their dark horse team in 2015.

Jesse King is a special player and headlines the Buckeye offense. A 3rd team All-American in 2014, King (29, 22) can play both midfield (mostly) and attack and is perhaps the best off ball player in the nation. Rarely will King beat you with the ball in his stick as he uses screens and ball watching defense to get open and do damage. King has six points (2, 4) in the Buckeyes first two games. Other performers on attack are Ryan Hunter (15, 3) and Carter Brown (22, 12). Both came on strong towards the end of 2014 and are off to good starts in 2015. Freshman Colin Chell scored twice against Robert Morris, while JT Blublaugh has been a pleasant surprise with a couple goals in the early season.

Avery positive sign for the Buckeyes so far in the new season has been faceoff man Christopher May. May, a grad student who previously played at Georgetown, has gone 32-41 (78 percent) to start the season. His work has enabled the offense to get more touches and be more productive in addition to keeping pressure off of the defense. Middie David Planning (12, 6) has a wicked shot and has seven points in the first two games. Rick Lewis is a big strong presence, while Turner Evans brings a heady game to the unit.

Three year starter Robby Haus is the anchor of the defense following the graduation of All-American Joe Meurer. Haus is big, strong, moves well, and plays the game with a lot of intelligence. He is joined by freshman Brendan Barger and seniors Evan Mulchrone and Benn Karr. Ohio State has a new netminder manning the goal in Tom Carey. Carey redshirted last season after transferring from Bryant and has made 21 saves in first two career starts as a Buckeye.

Ohio State plays a tough non-conference schedule that includes No. 1 Denver and No. 2 Notre Dame (see the latest NCAA rankings here). Other key out of conference games are Marquette and Towson, two teams that have thus far scored the biggest upsets of the young season.


Penn State Nittany LionsCoach: Jeff Tambroni | 2014: 7-6

The Nittany Lions had a disappointing 2014. A year after making their first NCAA Tournament appearance under Jeff Tambroni (second in school history) Penn State struggled to a 7-6 mark. Before the season began the Nittany Lion?s former conference, the CAA, declared them ineligible for the league tournament. But Coach Tambroni and his staff have used the sting of last season to motivate this year?s team. With a strong core returning and a top 15 recruiting class the Nittany Lions are off to good start (15-8 win over Vermont) and poised to make a run in 2015.

Once an area of develop for Penn State, the midfield should be the catalyst of the Nittany Lion offense. Senior Michael Richards is one of the most versatile athletes in the Big Ten. He is a true throwback middie who excels in the open field. Pat Manley (8, 2) scored twice against Vermont and has improved each year in Happy Valley. Nick Aponte and Virginia transfer Matt Florence but had multi-point games against the Catamounts and are threats both off the dodge and feeding. Newcomer Tripp Traynor and senior Kyle Baier also help in making this midfield core deep and dangerous. FO man Drake Kreinz is back after winning 61 percent of his faceoffs a year ago.

On the attack side Penn State will need to find someone to replace the production of graduated Shane Sturgis. Junior TJ Sanders (23 goals) is a proven scorer who looks to find the magic that saw him score 44 goals as a freshman. Matt Sexton and Mike Sutton are two experienced point producers who should be able to open some things up for Sanders. The trio combined for six goals in the win over the Catamounts.

Defensively Penn State needs to replace four-year starter and All-American Austin Kaut between the pipes. Connor Darcey is the new netminder in State College and had a fabulous debut against Vermont, making 15 stops on his way to earning the first ever Bog Ten Defensive Player of the Week award. Fronting him is a very physical, very experienced defense that includes JP Burnside, Jack Donnelly, James Burke, and Ryan Guittare.

Penn State has perhaps the most challenging schedule of all the Big Ten schools. Road games at Loyola and Harvard stand out, as well as dates with Penn at home and preseason No. 1 Denver on Long Island in late March. This team will be plenty battled tested come conference play.


Rutgers Scarlet KnightsCoach: Brian Brecht | 2014: 8-8

The Scarlet Knights turned in their best record a year ago under coach Brian Brecht. Wins over Army, St. Johns, and Georgetown were firsts for Brecht-coached teams in Piscataway and were necessary steps the team needed to take in terms of development and confidence amongst the players. History repeated itself last weekend when Rutgers again bested St. Johns by a final of 10-8. They had trailed 7-4 in the 3rd period before making a nice comeback. It has been a positive start for the Scarlet Knights, who hope to keep the mojo flowing in their first Big Ten season.

This team can score goals and finished ranked 10th overall in the country in 2014, averaging over 12 goals per game. The duo that lead the way are midfield/attackman Christian Trasolini (27, 13) and attackman Scott Bieda (18, 24). Trasolini found the back of the net five times against the Red Storm and added a helper. He is versatile enough to play both spots on the field when matchups dictate. Bieda contributed a goal and an assist as well, helping the Scarlet Knights hold off St. John's. Other returners who will make an impact are Ryan Hollinsworth, Brian Goss, and (16, 3), and Christian Mazzone, while newcomer Jules Heninberg is a good looking freshman who has made an immediate impact (2 goals, 1 assist vs. St. Johns).

Another positive note for this program is the arrival of midfielder Jeff George. George, a transfer from UMass, is a solid dodger and good shooter. He registered 15 points last season as a Minuteman and has already made him self at home at Rutgers following a two-goal performance against St. Johns. The man who will enable George to get more touches is faceoff man Joe Nardella. Nardella won 63 percent of his draws a season ago and can be a difference maker for the Scarlet Knights.

The defensive backline at Rutgers is stout but needs to continue to improve under new defensive coordinator James Mitchell. He inherits a defense that surrendered over 11 goals per game last season. Nick Caparelli, Branford Rogers, Michael Rexrode, and Chris Groel will all see time. The goalie job belongs to Kris Alleyne, who made 11 saves in the win over Georgetown. Jake Anderson, who won the starting job late last season is capable and keeps the goalie situation at Rutgers tight.

Rutgers schedule didn?t see a lot of flux outside of them not playing Big East schools with the move to the Big Ten. NCAA tourney participants Richmond and Virginia remain on the docket, as does Army and Princeton.


Mark Dixon, a former Johns Hopkins lacrosse player, contributes to Inside Lacrosse and calls Big Ten men's lacrosse games on BTN. Follow him on Twitter (@dixonlacrosse).