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2020 Men’s College Lacrosse Season Outlook: Philly or Bust
Happy Golden Anniversary to the national college lax tournament. That’s right – this May, when the country’s top collegiate teams duke it out in Philadelphia for bragging rights (and the Wingate Memorial Trophy) it’ll mark the 50th edition of the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship.
Ivy League stalwarts Cornell, Princeton, and UPenn are looking to edge out conference rival Yale after the Bulldogs reached the title game two years running in 2018 and 2019. Meanwhile, Ohio State and UNC – a pair of power conference schools with nearly 40 tournament appearances between them – aim to get back to the dance for the first time in three years.
We caught up with the coaches of all five teams to get their thoughts on the 2020 season:
After scoring seven straight wins to start the 2019 schedule, Ohio State stumbled in Big Ten action, dropping four of five and missing the tournament for the second consecutive year.
This past August, the Buckeyes hit the reset button with a team experience and training trip to Portugal. Besides playing two games against the England National Team, they cross-trained with the help of surfing, hiking, and kayaking expeditions. Seven months later, coach Nick Myers is confident that the pieces are in place for a successful May run.
“As freshmen, our seniors went to the national title game,” says Myers, now in his 17th season in Columbus and his 12th as head coach. “It’s a humble group this year. If we operate at maximum capacity, we’re going to be tough to beat.”
“We had a record number of guys on campus training this summer,” Myers adds. “They’ve got the will and commitment to take it to the next level.”
A year ago, UNC had no problem winning in Chapel Hill. Away, not so much. The Tar Heels suffered tough losses in three road games, all during the second half of the season, and all against ACC rivals.
This season, they’re ready to build on last year’s victories — and they’ve got a strong team that’s committed to growing in skill and leadership.
“We are deep at the offensive end with a lot of outstanding weapons and our fresh faces on defense continue to build confidence every day,” says head coach Joe Breschi, a Carolina alum who led the Tar Heels to a national title in 2016. “So, our biggest competition is ourselves. Do we have the mental fortitude to stay the course throughout the season, and to play to our fullest potential?”
Only time will tell, but early returns are positive: Through February, Breschi’s squad was a perfect 4-0 and had outscored opponents by a combined 74-30 margin. In the last of those four wins, the Heels bested blue chip program Johns Hopkins. And perhaps more importantly, they did it on the Blue Jays’ home turf.
The good news? Cornell has won it all three times. The bad news? It’s been over 40 years since the school’s last championship (1977). For the Big Red to have any chance of ending the drought, they’ll need to be steadier than they were a season ago.
“Our biggest hurdle last year was consistency,” says head coach Peter Milliman. “We need to be better as leaders, better at executing. We were good sometimes, but not all the time.”
One thing Milliman should be able to count on is his offense. Led by senior Jeff Teat and junior John Piatelli, Cornell’s attack — which ranked among the top five in scoring each of the past two seasons — entered March averaging 19 goals per game, second most in the nation. But Milliman is more focused on how his team is improving than how it stacks up against others.
“Ourselves,” he says, when asked who Cornell’s main competition is this year. “We’re trying to find our best on a regular basis.”
University of Pennsylvania
Not Penn State. That’s the running joke in West Philly, where Ivy League students have a complex about being mistaken for the Big Ten institution in central PA. It doesn’t help that last year, both schools lost to eventual finalist Yale in the tournament.
Despite an OT loss that knocked them out of the tournament prematurely, the Quakers went undefeated in conference play and won a postseason game, two feats they hadn’t accomplished since the 1980’s. Suffice it to say, they’ve got lots of momentum heading into the 2020 campaign.
“Our goal is to maximize our potential,” says coach Mike Murphy, whose squad is anchored by senior captains Adam Goldner and Kyle Thornton. Murphy hopes to accomplish that goal by being battle-tested: His Quakers, who have annually boasted one of the toughest schedules in the nation, faced top 10 programs in all three of their February contests. The last of those three?
Penn State, naturally.
Only two schools have more men’s lax titles than Princeton (Syracuse and Johns Hopkins). Despite that pedigree, the sextuple-champion Tigers have fallen short of making it to the tournament in each of the last seven years. Head coach Matt Madalon intends to work with his team to reverse the trend this year.
“Our goals remain the same,” says Madalon, now in his fourth season heading up the Princeton program. “Ivy championship, NCAA tournament, continue to grow and get better every day.”
To fulfill those objectives, the Tigers are counting on a quintet of senior captains, including high-scoring attackmen Phillip Robertson and Michael Sowers. Of course, peaking at the right time wouldn’t hurt either. “We want to be playing our best lacrosse in May,” says Madalon.
The competition is always fierce to lift the championship trophy. Who do you think is going to come out on top this year? Tweet us at @STXmlax with #2020Champion and let us know who you think is going to win it all this year and why. Stay up to date on the latest team news and rankings here.
Take a look back on Cornell’s 2019 season here: The Boys are Back: Redefining Cornell Lacrosse. Do they have what it takes to win it all for the first time in over 40 years?