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Loyola's Adam Poitras.

Already Two Newcomers to USA Lacrosse Division I Men's Top 20

February 4, 2024
Patrick Stevens
John Strohsacker

Trying to balance not overreacting and acknowledging actual outcomes is not an easy task.

There is never a better time for an overreaction than the first week of any regular season. And the opening day of college lacrosse in 2024 offered a couple opportunities to do just that. 

Penn State, which played on the final Saturday of the season last spring and has the bulk of its roster back, had problems all day with Colgate. The Nittany Lions never led by more than a goal and couldn’t put together a sustained run in the fourth quarter. But they managed to tie it late, only for the Raiders’ Liam Connor to score with 4 seconds left to seal a 13-12 upset. 

Meanwhile, Johns Hopkins was up three with four minutes to play, only for Denver attackman JJ Sillstrop to rip off four consecutive goals. The third beat the buzzer at the end of regulation. The last one was an overtime winner. 

Matt DaSilva was there to cover Matt Brown’s debut win as Denver head coach.

Would Penn State have plummeted in any rankings exercise if it escaped in overtime? No. Would Denver be in for a big jump had Sillstrop’s tying goal left his stick just a second later? No, though the Pioneers’ standing wouldn’t have been diminished by a tight road loss to an experienced quarterfinalist from last year after it crossed two time zones.

That’s all a preamble to point out the Division I season is only 16 games old. That’s not a lot of data points, and trying to balance not overreacting to acknowledging actual outcomes is not an easy task.

Let’s give it a go anyway.

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USA LACROSSE DIVISION I
MEN'S TOP 20

1. Notre Dame, 0-0 (Prev: 1)
2. Duke, 1-0 (Prev: 2)
3. Virginia, 0-0 (Prev: 3)
4. Maryland, 1-0 (Prev: 5)
5. Cornell, 0-0 (Prev: 7)
6. Army, 0-0 (Prev: 8)
7. Denver, 1-0 (Prev: 11)
8. Syracuse, 1-0 (Prev: 9)
9. Johns Hopkins, 0-1 (Prev: 6)
10. Yale, 0-0 (Prev: 10)
11. Michigan, 0-0 (Prev: 13)
12. Loyola, 1-0 (Prev: NR)
13. Penn State, 0-1 (Prev: 4)
14. Princeton, 0-0 (Prev: 14)
15. Rutgers, 1-0 (Prev: 15)
16. Delaware, 0-0 (Prev: 16)
17. Penn, 0-0 (Prev: 17)
18. Boston U, 0-0 (Prev: 18)
19. Colgate, 1-0 (Prev: NR)
20. North Carolina, 0-0 (Prev: 19)

Also considered (alphabetical order): Bryant (0-0), Georgetown (0-1), High Point (1-0), Marquette (1-0), Ohio State (1-0), Richmond (0-1)

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HOT

Denver (+4)

The Pioneers’ season opener went down as memorable for reasons well beyond Matt Brown’s college head coaching debut. Down four at the start of the fourth quarter at Johns Hopkins, Denver surged to a 13-12 victory behind JJ Sillstrop’s six goals.

It was the Pios’ first comeback win from down four in the fourth quarter since 2010 at Stony Brook — coincidentally, Bill Tierney’s first win with the program in the Eastern time zone. Denver remains a team that hasn’t reached the last two NCAA tournaments, so there’s plenty for the Pioneers to prove this spring. But Saturday provided a solid statement about their feistiness and potential.

NOT

Penn State (-9)

It’s not every day a guy manages seven assists in a loss. (It happened once last season in all of Division I, when Bucknell’s Dutch Furlong had eight in a 14-12 loss to Boston University on a day the Terriers’ Louis Perfetto had seven of his own.)

So, the silver lining of the Nittany Lions’ setback against Colgate is that TJ Malone is every bit the offensive orchestrator he was last year. Penn State hasn’t made it out of February without a loss since 2017, and even last year it mixed what seemed like a puzzling loss to Marquette into an otherwise strong non-conference resume.

It’s far too early to forget about an experienced team that looked so cohesive for much of last year, but it should have to earn its way back into the top 10.

Johns Hopkins (-3)

To follow up a point from above: Hopkins doesn’t slip back at all (and probably nudges up a spot with Penn State’s stumble) if it holds on against a solid Denver team. So, what could the Blue Jays stand to improve from their opening loss?

Fewer turnovers (15), better extra-man play (0-for-3) and some extra shots on cage (20) stand out. But Hopkins was still in solid shape with four minutes to go. The Blue Jays didn’t play badly, just not good enough to beat a good team on the first Saturday in February.

IN

Colgate (No. 19)

The Raiders should be rewarded for going into Happy Valley and picking off Penn State 13-12 on the season’s opening weekend. They forced 15 of Penn State’s 25 turnovers (Max Yates caused four of the takeaways), goalie Matt LaCombe made 13 saves and Hunter Drouin had four goals and an assist.

It was Colgate’s most eye-catching victory since toppling Syracuse to open the 2019 season. Now the Raiders, who were 2-9 last season, head to the Dome on Monday to tangle with the Orange and look to pull a second surprise in a little more than 48 hours.

Loyola (No. 12)

A fine start for the Greyhounds, who blitzed Georgetown 18-10. They forced 12 turnovers in the first half, received a combined 13 goals and five assists from a starting attack of Evan James, Matthew Minicus and Adam Poitras and were dangerous in transition thanks in part to ace short-stick defensive midfielder Mustang Sally (one goal, one assist).

That’s a winning formula for Loyola, which outscored the Hoyas in every quarter and led by at least three goals for the final 47 minutes, and figures to create some problems for Maryland when it visits College Park next week.

OUT

Georgetown (was No. 12)

Unlike last year, when it was startling to see the Hoyas lose three in a row out of the chute, their 18-10 setback at Loyola wasn’t stunning. Only one player started both Georgetown’s quarterfinal loss to Virginia last May and its 2024 opener. That would be midfielder Graham Bundy Jr. (Worth mentioning: Defenseman/long pole Wallace Halpert is still around in a prominent role, just not in the starting 10.)

There just isn’t a lot of lineup continuity, and it could take time (again) for the Hoyas to hit their stride.

Richmond (was No. 20)

The Spiders don’t really deserve to slip out of the rankings, but the combination of taking a 12-11 loss (albeit in double overtime) to Maryland and the need to make room for Colgate after its unexpected victory at Penn State means Richmond gets squeezed out. But perhaps not for too long.

The Spiders effectively played the Terrapins even, not just on the scoreboard but in shots (36 each), shots on goal (Richmond 24-22), ground balls (Maryland 27-26) and turnovers (Maryland 17-16). It was a true toss up, and with a loaded home schedule, no one should be astonished if Dan Chemotti’s experienced team wins one or two high-profile games — either early in the season or come May.