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College Lacrosse Roundup: Michael Sowers and Brennan O’Neill debut for Duke, UNC drops 24 goals and more

Welcome to Lacrosse Playground’s College Lacrosse Roundup, where we recap all the notable news, scores and highlights of the past week, while previewing upcoming matchups and analyzing the latest Tewaaraton trophy race.

Notable News in College Lacrosse

Ivy League Ripple Effect

With the Ivy League’s spring season in doubt, many players from prominent programs entered the transfer portal looking to join different teams. Most notably last fall, Michael Sowers transferred to Duke and Yale seniors Jackson Morrill and Lucas Cotler transferred to Denver. Now with Yale announcing it will not play this season, their faceoff specialist TD Ierlan is also expected to head west soon to join the Denver Pioneers.

All three former Bulldogs had breakout seasons in 2019 with TD owning every record at the faceoff dot, Morrill having 94 points (46g, 48a), and Cotler having 26 points (16g, 10a). In Denver’s 12-10 loss against Duke both Morrill and Cotler showed out with a combined six points. Keep an eye on Denver to make a run at the end of the year with the experience that the guys from Yale bring. It’ll be interesting to see how dominant TD is at faceoff with the notable rule changes.

A new report from Inside Lacrosse also states that several members of Cornell’s lacrosse team have left the team for this season in the hopes of returning for next year. A letter from Cornell head coach Connor Buczek revealed that a “group of players will take a leave of absence” this spring due to the increasing unlikeliness that the Ivy league will have a spring season.

Big Ten Schedule Update

The first weekend of games for the Big Ten will begin on February 20 as Rutgers, Maryland, Michigan, Penn State and John Hopkins all revelaed the dates for their in-conference games. Fans are waiting to see how this conference balances out with numerous storylines heading into this season, such as Mac O’Keefe returning to the Nittany Lions, Jared Bernhardt returning for the Terps, and John Hopkins preparing for its first season with new head coach Pete Milliman.

Best Games You Missed

Duke comes back against Denver to win 12-10

Duke was down 8-4 to the Pioneers going into halftime, but rallied with a second half surge of eight goals (four unanswered) to end the game. Michael Sowers, the transfer from Princeton, had four points (1g, 3a), along with freshman protégé Brennan O’Neill, who had three goals and one helper. The win also secured John Danowski his 200th win as the Blue Devils head coach.

On the other end, the Pioneers played a solid game dominating the faceoff (18 of 27), groundballs (32-18) and shots (45-29), but just couldn’t finish. Ethan Walker, Lucas Cotler and JJ Sillstrop all had two goals each, and Jackson Morrill led the team with three goals. 

Duke holds off Robert Morris from Early Season Upset

Duke beat Robert Morris Sunday afternoon right before the start of the Super Bowl, 16-12. Duke had some scares early with Robert Morris taking an early lead, but Duke continually chipped away at the lead and eventually held onto it once they got it.

Will ‘come from behind wins’ be a theme for Duke this season? It’s hard to say with how heavily stacked the ACC is this year with teams like Syracuse, North Carolina and Virginia all in the same conference. Don’t forget to keep an eye out for Robert Morris making a run at the tournament through there conference as well.

Nakeie Montgomery lead the Blue Devils with four points (3g, 1a), followed by Cameron Badour with three goals. Michael Sowers also had three assists. Robert Morris on the other hand ran with Duke for a little as Corson Kealey led the team with five points (4g, 1a), followed by Rochester Knighthawks top draft pick Ryan Smith with four points (3g, 1a) and Austin Popovich with three points (2g, 1a). You can catch the Blue Devils next weekend for their February 13 home game against Mercer to see if they can keep there early season win streak going. Robert Morris on the other hand plays High Point in their season opener.

Virgina cruises past Towson winning 20-11

Virginia looked to be in mid-season form this Saturday with a dominant performance against Towson. Some new faces for Virginia were redshirt freshman Connor Shellenberger, who had an impressive seven points (6g, 1a) in his debut, sophomore Payton Cormier, who had seven points (6g, 1a) as well, and Merrimack transfer Charlie Bertrand, who had six points (4g, 2a). It is also noted that Dox Aitken was limited and Matt Moore did not play.

On the other side, Towson’s Brody McLean had five points (3g, 2a). It’s hard to tell what Towson’s identity is going to be this year and, unfortunately for them, they fell victim to an impressive looking Cavaliers team. Virginia will play Loyola on February 20 before they kick off ACC action against a very anticipated Syracuse team at the end of the month on February 27. Towson will be in action next weekend on February 13 as they look for their first win at home against Saint Joe’s. 

NC hangs 24 on Denver, most ever against Bill Tierney

North Carolina got off to a hot start in the 2021 season, squaring off against the Denver Pioneers who were coming off of a loss to the Duke Blue Devils on Friday. North Carolina started the game leading Denver 9-2 and never looked back. The second quarter of the game got ugly for Denver, as they only had one goal to the Tar Heels’ five, as UNC took a 14-3 lead into the half.

The second half was even worse as North Carolina cruised to a 24-13 win. This was the most goals ever scored against the great Bill Tierney. Denver will need to remember how to play defense before they prepare to face Air Force on February 13.

Chris Gray looked to be picking up right where he left off from the season before, recording seven points (6g, 1a). He was joined by teammates Nicky Solomon with four points (3g, 1a) and Jacob Kelly with four points as well (3g, 1a). Denver on the other hand saw Ethan Walker score three points (2g, 1a), Jack Hannah score five points (4g, 1a) and Jackson Morrill finish with two goals. North Carolina will host Jacksonville on February 13 at 6pm ET on the ACC Network. 

Top Moments of the Week

Duke’s Brennan O’Neill registers a hat trick and breaks out the Archer celly

Towson’s Andrew Milani shoots around defenders while falling backwards

Chris Gray scoops up a groundball and scores on a nifty behind-the-back

Tewaaraton Tracker

Men’s Lacrosse

Michael Sowers (Duke)

If not for the COVID-19 global pandemic, Michael Sowers likely would’ve won the Tewaaraton award last season, putting up an insane amount of points (25) over just two games (7g, 18a). The vision and stick skills that Sowers possess puts him at the top of the list for the Tewaaraton award this year. It’ll be interesting to see if Sowers continues to put up the points that he has previously put up at Princeton, while now down at Duke. Through the weekend Sowers had seven points in Duke’s two games.

TD Ierlan (pending transfer to Denver) 

TD Ierlan’s resume is one of the best in all of college lacrosse with owning virtually every face-off record known to man in the college lacrosse world. Ierlan owns the records for face-offs won in an NCAA tournament game (31), face-offs won in a season (393 in 2019, 359 in 2018), face-offs won in a career (1,159), face-off winning percentage in a game (26 for 26), and face-off percentage in a season (79.1% in 2018). The biggest question is how Ierlan handles the new rules at the X and to see if he will be as dominant as he has been from being on a knee. 

Chris Gray (North Carolina) 

Chris Gray who is another product of the transfer portal from Boston. In 2019 as a sophomore Gray posted an impressive 108 points (48g, 60a), which was only 6 points behind Pat Spencer and only 18 points behind the leader of that year Grant Ament. Grey should fit nicely down at North Carolina with his ability to feed the ball to shooting spots for the Tarheel shooters. On Sunday’s dominating win over Denver, Grey had 7 points (6g, 1a) 

Women’s Lacrosse

Casey Harkins (American) 

From American University, Casey Harkins has posted 107 points (46g, 61a) through three and quarter seasons and is returning for her fifth year. In 2020, before their season was cut shot, Harkins had 52 points (18g, 34a) through only seven games, which is nearly 7.5 points per game. Keep an eye out for Harkins to have a hot start to the season. 

Katie Hoeg (North Carolina) 

Katie Hoeg is from Mattituck on Long Island and is coming back for her fifth year at North Carolina to try and add to her already impressive resume. Hoeg is the Tar Heels leader in both points (261) as well as assists (162). In 2020, she had 44 points through six games (18g, 26a) and is looking to continue to build on her records and hopefully add the Tewaaraton to her resume. 

Emma Vinall (American) 

Emma Vinall from Fairfax, Virginia is looking to run stride for stride with her fellow teammate Harkins as they will be pushing each other to gather more and more points, like the homerun race of Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire of the late 90’s. Vinall at the end of the 2020 season had 47 points (42g, 5a), and a total of 147 career points (128g, 19a). It’ll be interesting to watch the one-two punch from both Harkins and Vinall as they are both favorites to win the Tewaaraton. 

What to Watch this Week

Men’s Lacrosse

Wednesday, February 10 – Jacksonville vs Bellarmine (12pm ET)

Saturday, February 13 – UMass vs Army (12pm ET)

Saturday, February 13 – Denver vs Air Force (3pm ET)

Sean Wiser grew up in Binghamton, a small town in Upstate New York, and attended Chenango Forks High School where he was a part of the varsity lacrosse team for four years and three sectional championships. He and his teammates made history his senior year, earning the program's first-ever trip to the Final Four in the New York state tournament. Wiser currently plays college lacrosse at DeSales University and was a part of the program's first-ever MAC Freedom championship in 2019. He has been playing lacrosse since he was 6-years-old and enjoys the flow and speed of lacrosse, as well as the momentum swings that happen throughout the game.

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