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THE 2021 DIVISION I MEN'S LACROSSE SEASON FROM A-TO-Z

PHOTO BY PEYTON WILLIAMS

Mac O'Keefe, one of the most lethal scorers in lacrosse, led the country in goals in 2019.


Few people in lacrosse possess a better sense of perspective than Denver coach Bill Tierney. So back in the latter stages of autumn, when it was anyone’s guess just what the season would look like, it was apt to ask him just what 2021 would bring for the sport.

“It could be the greatest year ever of lacrosse because of the talent that is now five years deep instead of four,” Tierney said. “It could be the biggest disappointment ever if we don’t have a season for those fifth-year guys who got shut out of one last year.”

The calendar just turned to February, but at least there is something of a season. Counterintuitively, last weekend’s two games marked the earliest start ever to a Division I lacrosse season. But there’s still uncertainty surrounding who will play (the Ivy League’s situation is, to put it mildly, in flux), whether there will be interruptions (based on other sports, almost certainly) and just what things will look like on Memorial Day weekend.

But that’s the finish line, and this is effectively the start of what everyone involved should hope is a safe and complete — emphasis on safe — season. There’s a lot to cram into the 2021 college lacrosse season between now and then … everything from A-to-Z.

A IS FOR ABSENCES.

While the fate of the Ivy League season precariously hangs in the balance, there are already two programs missing from last year’s complement of 75. Hampton suspended its spring semester competition outside of basketball in October and will take the season off. And Furman cut its men’s lacrosse program after seven seasons in a cost-saving move last spring; goalie Alec Van De Bovenkamp (now at Ohio State) is one of the prominent ex-Paladins still in Division I.

B IS FOR JARED BERNHARDT.

The fifth-year senior, a Tewaaraton finalist in 2019, is back at Maryland after planning to spend the fall playing football at Division II Ferris State. Those plans scuttled when there was no football to play. Bernhardt will be the Terrapins’ offensive centerpiece. He is 66 points shy of Matt Rambo’s Maryland record for career points (257); in his last full season, he authored a 78-point season in 2019.

C IS FOR JAKE CARRAWAY.

Here’s another inside-the-Beltway fifth-year star more than capable of finishing at the top of his school’s career scoring list by the end of the season. The Georgetown attackman has 214 points (22 shy of Greg McCavera’s Hoyas record) and 144 goals (just nine behind former teammate Daniel Bucaro). He could also cement his legacy if he can help Georgetown make its third NCAA tournament since 2018 and perhaps even advance out of the first round for the first time in more than a decade.

D IS FOR PETER DEARTH.

The fifth-year senior has played a considerable role in transforming Syracuse’s defensive midfield from a liability into an obvious strength over the last couple years. Dearth, who has scored eight goals and caused 16 turnovers in 18 games over the last two seasons, is one of the most tested short sticks in the sport. Dearth and long pole Brett Kennedy will anchor the Orange’s defensive midfield group.

E IS FOR EAST HARTFORD.

The NCAA tournament’s championship weekend has rotated between Baltimore, Philadelphia and Foxborough, Mass., since 2003, but this marks a temporary move away from NFL stadiums. Rentschler Field, the home of Connecticut’s football program, is scheduled to host the next two Memorial Day weekends before Philadelphia (2023-24) and Foxborough (2025-26) return to the rotation.

F IS FOR FACTORY, OF THE GOALIE VARIETY.

Providence has quietly carved out a niche on this front, with Peter Badgley (2015) and Tate Boyce (2016-19) putting first-team all-Big East goalie honors on lockdown in Friartown. Toby Burgdorf (.628 save percentage) lived up to Providence’s goalie legacy in six starts early last season, and the senior will have a big say in the Friars contending for a postseason berth.


G IS FOR CHRIS GRAY.

North Carolina hoped the former Boston University star would galvanize its offense last season. With 27 goals and 21 assists in just seven games, Gray exceeded even the highest of standards as the Tar Heels went undefeated before the pandemic shut things down. Capable of taking over games as both a scorer and a facilitator, Gray should be even more comfortable around Carolina’s veteran-laden offense. The proof? His six-goal, one-assist performance in a 24-13 drubbing of Denver in the season opener.

H IS FOR HOME.

It’s what NJIT’s lacrosse program has sought ever since fielding its first team in 2015. With the school’s move to the America East over the summer, it finally has a permanent one. Seniors Collin Fogerty (five goals, six assists) and Colton Johnson (six goals, four assists) are the top returning offensive threats for the Highlanders, who were set to compete in the Northeast Conference last season as an associate member but never got to play a league game when the year was cut short.

I IS FOR TD IERLAN.

One of the sport’s most impactful players over the last half-decade, the faceoff ace has played in final fours for both Albany (2018) and Yale (2019) and appears set to transfer. Ierlan, a 2019 Tewaaraton finalist who has scattered his name across the NCAA record book’s faceoffs and ground balls categories, could end up at Denver along with former teammates Lucas Cotler and Jackson Morrill, who transferred as graduate students in the offseason. If that comes to pass, one thing is beyond doubt: Between Ierlan and Trevor Baptiste, the faceoff spot will be in good hands in future Denver alumni games.

J IS FOR JOHNS HOPKINS, NOW UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT.

The Blue Jays opted for a coaching change in April, ending program legend Dave Pietramala’s 20-year run as the head man at Homewood. Enter Peter Milliman, the former Cornell coach who hired one of the sport’s most recognizable figures (John Grant Jr.) and a Hopkins alum (Jamison Koesterer) to fill out his staff. Other head coaches hired since the spring include Connor Buczek (Cornell), Chazz Woodson (Hampton), J.L. Reppert (Holy Cross), Chad Surman (Mercer) and James Purpura (VMI).

K IS FOR THE KIRST BROTHERS.

Connor, a midfielder, starred for four years at Villanova. Colin, a goalie, got into 11 games (and started one) at Lehigh. They’re teaming up this season at Rutgers, where their late father Kyle was a goalie from 1988-90. Connor Kirst, who had 84 goals and 42 assists and was the Big East’s midfielder of the year in 2019, in particular should boost the Scarlet Knights’ fortunes this season.

L IS FOR RYAN LANCHBURY.

The skilled Canadian has already played on a pair of NCAA tournament teams at Richmond, but last season saw him segue from the Spiders’ top finisher (52 goals, 20 assists in 2019) to their primary table-setter (14 goals, 16 assists). He should be in the mix for the Southern Conference’s player of the year, and don’t be stunned if he winds up working his way into the discussion for a place on an All-America team.



M IS FOR MATT MOORE.

Virginia had to be thrilled to learn last month that midfielder Dox Aitken would be back to prowl the midfield in Charlottesville this season, but Moore is the Cavalier most likely to make a run at a Tewaaraton Award. He piled up a school-record 89 points during the Hoos’ national title run in 2019 and collected 19 goals and 16 assists in six games a year ago. He’ll draw more attention with Michael Kraus’ graduation, but Moore is more than capable of handling it. Virginia’s embrace of pace will again create opportunities as well.

N IS FOR BRENDAN NICHTERN.

The youngest player in Army history to reach 100 career points, Nichtern is the fulcrum of the Black Knights’ offense and a potential Patriot League player of the year. The attackman had 19 goals and 27 assists as a sophomore, and while Army won’t benefit from fifth-year players like so many other contenders, Nichtern’s presence as a headliner for another two seasons will ensure Army remains one of the sport’s most dangerous teams.

O IS FOR MAC O’KEEFE.

As sublime a finisher as there is in the sport, O’Keefe led the country in goals (78) in 2019 as the Nittany Lions broke through in their season of firsts (first No. 1 seed, first Big Ten title, first NCAA tournament victory, first trip to the final four). He was off to a fine start a year ago (28 goals in seven games), and there’s little question he’ll be a significant factor for Penn State as the post-Grant Ament era commences in Happy Valley.

P IS FOR DRAKE PORTER.

The Syracuse senior stopped 57.7 percent of the shots on goal he faced last season and is one of a contingent of veteran ACC goalies tasked with slowing down some of the country’s most potent offenses. Along with Porter, Duke’s Mike Adler (.594 at Saint Joseph’s) and Virginia’s Alex Rode (.552) ranked in the top 20 nationally in save percentage a year ago.

Q IS FOR SEAN QUINN.

The Drexel defenseman ranked ninth nationally in caused turnovers per game last season (2.17). The two-year starter helped the Dragons win three of their final four games, including a 15-12 defeat of Villanova, and should be one of the key figures as Drexel looks to push for its first CAA title since 2014.

R IS FOR ROBERT MORRIS.

With the Colonials’ athletic department moving from its longtime home in the Northeast Conference (which sponsors men’s lacrosse) to the Horizon League (which does not), the lacrosse team that in normal times is serenaded by chants of “Let’s Go Bobby Mo” is homeless for this year. That hasn’t prevented the Colonials from constructing a 12-game schedule long on brand names (Duke, Notre Dame and Virginia) but short on home games (just two). Next year, Robert Morris will compete in the new-look ASUN Conference.


 

S IS FOR MICHAEL SOWERS.

Who else would it be? Sowers was on a ridiculous pace when the season shut down, amassing 16 goals and 31 assists in just five games and seemingly had Princeton on its way to its first NCAA tournament trip since 2012. Thanks to Ivy League eligibility rules, he needed to find a new home for a fifth season. Enter Duke, which already had Owen Caputo, Nakeie Montgomery and Dyson Williams on offense and gets attackman Joe Robertson (42 goals in 2019) back from injury. The Blue Devils would have been good without Sowers, but his presence could make them great.

T IS FOR RYAN TEREFENKO.

There is a case to be made Terefenko, the Ohio State midfielder who plays defense, is a fixture on faceoff wings and dabbles on the offensive side of the ball, is as complete a player as there is in Division I. A virtual coach on the field for Nick Myers’ Buckeyes, the fifth-year senior had two goals, four assists and 30 ground balls in seven games last season. The two-time first team all-Big Ten selection should again be one of the country’s elite short sticks.

U IS FOR UP-TRANSFERS.

It’s a term popular in college basketball for players moving from starring roles on mid- and low-major league teams to a chance to contribute to a power conference program. For lacrosse purposes, let’s just call it star players at the Division II and Division III levels taking a swing at a D-I dream. High Point midfielder Kevin Rogers, who had 16 goals and nine assists at Division III Lynchburg last season a year after a 78-point blitz for the Hornets, definitely counts. To a lesser degree, so does Virginia attackman Charlie Bertrand, the two-time Division II player of the year at Merrimack who had a brief taste of D-I when the Warriors moved up a level last season.

V IS FOR VARIABLES.

... and there have never been more of them for all sports to account for in the middle of a pandemic. That includes the possibility of game cancellations within hours of scheduled start times, and also the possibility of playing contests while a handful of key players are shelved due to contact tracing. It also opens up the potential of regional matchups thrown together two or three days in advance —  at least it does for those schools fortunate enough to reside in leagues inclined to permit and even encourage non-conference play.

W IS FOR ETHAN WALKER.

Denver has one of the nation’s best midfielders, the ferociously competitive Jack Hannah. Denver was one of the offseason’s  champions, bringing in Jackson Morrill and Lucas Cotler (and possibly TD Ierlan) from Yale. But Walker is the Pioneers’ entrenched star, starting all 58 games of his career in the Mile High City. The steady Walker should only benefit from all the extra help, and he sits just 27 points off Wesley Berg’s program record for points. Berg’s goals record (39 away) might be a heavier lift, but offense shouldn’t be a problem this spring for the Pios.

X IS, AS ALWAYS, FOR THE X.

Or the dot. Or whatever. In any case, it’s also where rules changes will be felt the most. The NCAA’s rules oversight panel voted last summer to allow players to have only their feet, gloves and sticks touching the ground at the start of faceoffs, effectively eliminating the motorcycle grip (which included having one knee on the ground). This should prevent as many long faceoff sequences, but it will also impact plenty of established players who are forced to remove a long-time maneuver from their repertoires.

Y IS FOR WILL YORKE.

The former Bucknell attackman was on his way to a fabulous senior season in Lewisburg (25 goals in six games, including a nine-goal outburst against Marist) last year. Now, he’s part of one of the most enviable transfer hauls in the country at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish also added faceoff specialist Kyle Gallagher (Penn), midfielders Sean Leahey (Providence) and David Lipka (Syracuse) and defenseman Kyle Thornton (Penn) as grad transfers.

Z IS FOR JOSH ZAWADA.

At this time last year, the lack of end-of-the-alphabet options made the well-regarded Zawada a convenient placeholder in this exercise before he even stepped on a college field. But the Michigan attackman was superb in his debut season, immediately seizing a starting spot and subsequently collecting more points (32) than any freshman in Division I. His two-goal, three-assist showing against Yale could be just the beginning of his production against elite teams.

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