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Ross Scott produced 50 goals and 25 assists for Rutgers in 2022.

Enemy Lines: What Rivals Say About Every Nike/USAL Men's Top 20 Team

February 2, 2023
USA Lacrosse Magazine Staff
Rich Barnes

When assessing teams heading into a new season, who better to ask for insider info than the coaches themselves?

That’s exactly what our USA Lacrosse Magazine staff and contributors did when compiling the Nike/USA Lacrosse Division I Men’s Top 20. We take into account our own opinions and analysis before bringing it all to the people who patrol the sidelines — the best vantage point for evaluating talent.

We then take it a step farther, asking the coaches for their unfiltered — and anonymous — thoughts on as many other teams as they feel comfortable sharing.

Here are those thoughts.


“Super talented. Did well with a couple transfers and the incoming class as well. They’re as talented as anybody in the country and Lars does a great job with that group. It’s hard not to think that they’re in the top couple teams in the country, easily.”


“Maryland was one of the better college lacrosse teams I’d ever seen, and playing them in person I was so impressed with their ability to attack you in every part of the game. They were buttoned up everywhere. They were buttoned up in their riding game, buttoned up in their clearing. Just a very organized, consistent program. The loss of Wisnauskas will be a huge loss. He was an incredibly talented player, but they seem to reload very well.”

“Tactically sound. The two specialty areas, almost unseen improvement. Your goalie play jumped 20 percent in terms of save percentage. And faceoff win percentage did the same. The close defensemen had the ability to shut down elite attackmen without the need to slide. They’ll be as difficult as anybody to beat, and what I’m anticipating is they’ll no longer try to beat you with 20 goals. They’ll go back to the traditional John Tillman [approach], be a little more patient and poised on offense and try to beat you with defense and play the possession game.”


“Stacked. I heard another team refer to this team as having North Carolina’s starting attack playing as its second midfield. I thought that was a pretty good one. There’s no doubt with the recruits they brought in and the transfers they have, with the experience they’ve got at all ends of the field — including the middle — if they’re not favored to win it all, with Virginia and Maryland, certainly in that 1-2-3 spot.”

“I think they can win the whole thing. I think they’re the most talented team. I think they have something to prove. I think they know who they are. I think losing early last year is the best thing for them in the long run because it brought them back to earth a little bit and forced them to focus on the details even further than Kevin has. I do believe they have all the pieces to be the last team standing.”


“The year after going to the championship is never easy. I think those guys have a culture to protect against a letdown or anything like that. I think they have a really good chance to do a lot of damage. Kirst is about as good a player as you’ll probably see this year.”


“Super athletic, super experienced and very well coached. They have to replace a goalie, which I’m sure they’ll do because Madalon is a goalie guy and they have a nice stable of goalies. That team has so much coming back and is super athletic and super physical. Matt’s done a great job, and Jim Mitchell does a really good job with their offense, too.”


“On paper, they could be the best team in the country. They could win it all. It’s a team that lost some games early on last year, didn’t get in the tournament and they’ve added some pieces in the portal. They still have one of the best goalkeepers. They still have one of the best players. They got better as the season went on. They just, for whatever reason, were not allowed to play. Those guys and that program has a chip on their shoulder.  They’re loaded. Their recruiting is excellent. They’re really good.”


“Duke’s Duke. Why aren’t they the favorite? I have no idea with what those guys do, the way they coach, the way they develop players. You have a kid who’s probably has a big chip on his shoulder in Brennan O’Neill that — I don’t know why — has probably been overlooked or at least unheralded. This guy, if he’s not the best player in the country with Shellenberger, I don’t know who is. As always, a Danowski coached team is going to be a great one.”


“Yale, to me, is the model of how you want your team to be built. They’re disciplined, they’re deep, they’re strong, they’re athletic, they’re tough up the middle. If you’re trying to build a team for long-term success, they’re what we want to look like.”


“They’re going to be a legitimate final four contender, in my opinion. They had some young guys who came on during the Ivy League tournament and really elevated their game. Not only will they get Gergar and Handley and those known quantities back, but I think they’re going to see some jumps from the sophomores and freshmen that were getting time for them last year.”


“Should be good again. Brian did a good job in the portal and have a lot of guys back. They had a really good season last year. They had a really good goalie, and they replace him with a really good goalie. Knobloch is about as dynamic a guy as there is in our league. You have a guy behind the goal who’s as dynamic as anybody in the league. There’s a lot you can work with there, for sure.”


“If there was a national championship of social media, they’d come in second to Harvard.”

“I think they should be very good. I thought they did an awesome job in the transfer portal and have a lot of guys back. On paper, it would be hard not to give them strong consideration to be the preseason favorites in the Big Ten.”


“Those guys can really score the ball. A guy like McLane, you think you can match up with him athletically and then he finds a lane.”

“He’s one of the scariest goalies to face. If he steals a few early in the game, your shooters start looking to shoot around him.”


“Veteran defensively. They’re an elite defensive group who know who they are and play well together. Offensively, it may take time to figure themselves out, but with Matt Brown coordinating that unit, I’m sure they’re going to be a different team at the end of the season than the beginning.”

“Very, very strong defensively. Who is going to be the guy on the offensive end now that Hannah, Sullivan and those guys are all gone? When they’re quiet and you don’t hear about them, that’s when they’re dangerous. There is no way that Coach Tierney and Matt Brown are just sitting there. They’re figuring things out. Those guys are really smart guys, and they’re going to be really good.”


“The Delaware that we saw last year that beat Georgetown and the team they return, they may have the strongest returning lineup of any team in the country. Owen Grant is as good a defenseman as there is in the country, and that trio they have on attack ... I feel like they scored more goals and put up more points than any attackmen in the country. I think they’re going to be an elite program this year.”

“Their whole team comes back. They lose [Mark] Bieda, and I think that’s the only one. I wouldn’t be surprised to see that team get into the tournament again. They figured out who they are. Their recipe is to play really good, tough defense and control the tempo of the game. They have some elite guys. Owen Grant is a first-team talent. He should be on the Canadian world team. He’s that good. They are who they are, and I mean that in a really positive way.”


“Very young, but they get a lot of guys back. I really can’t put them ahead of Princeton, Cornell, Penn or even Yale right now. It’ll be interesting to see how that materializes. I think Gerry does a great job and Harvard’s a great school and kids want to go there. John Tillman is a good coach, and there’s a reason he left Harvard to go back to Maryland. If Harvard was the Maryland of the North, I’m sure he would have stayed.”


“They have everything back. Ryan and those guys have given those guys the confidence that’s impressive. You look at those guys on paper and on film, and they can’t run past you --- but they don’t need to. They just play with such a bravado that is contagious. You feel it from them, you feel it from their staff. As an opponent, it sucks because it makes you angry. But it’s impressive. I envy them for that, and they’ve made it work.”


“The question in my head: What was wrong in the soup last year. They would have seven or eight unforced turnovers a game last year. It’s college athletics, mistakes happen. If there’s two or three where you throw the ball away? OK. You try to get less than one a quarter. They’d give you one or two a quarter. You kind of wonder where that comes from. I know they’re going to attend to that and work on their stick skills. You wonder if it was too focused? Was it all about getting the ball to Chris Gray? I know most of our defensive plan was geared around stopping Chris Gray or preventing Chris Gray getting a short stick switched onto him, whether it was an on-ball or off-ball pick exchange. Your defensive game plan was focused around covering and preventing Chris Gray from getting his hands free or being covered by a short stick. I kind of wonder, does that liberate them? There’s a lot of talent there. You’re looking at it going, ‘You kind of wonder in terms of the pieces of the puzzle, why would they be better?’ You start asking about cultural things, the stick work and not making it all about one guy.”


“Jacksonville is always going to be a big question mark. It’s kind of Transfer U. The great thing about them is he takes these guys and he does a great job with them. They buy into his system. He’s a great guy. He’s a young coach. Jacksonville is always going to be the big question mark but one that everyone fears, that’s for sure.”

19. NAVY

“This is year four [under Amplo]. You should start to see a big jump with those guys. Obviously, his first year was the COVID year, so this is his third full year. It’s a team that has a lot of potential. Skalniak is really good. He’s one of the top midfielders in the country. Bonitz is a really good defender. I’ve heard Mac Haley supposedly had a great fall. They’re an under-the-radar team you’d better be prepared for, and they’re probably going to be better as the year goes on. I wouldn’t be surprised if they make a run at the Patriot League.”


“What Taylor Wray has done with that program, being in the shadow of Penn and Penn State and Princeton and Villanova and Drexel, and oh, nice little Saint Joe’s has become someone to fear. They have great players, a couple great Canadian players. They’re good in the goal. They have one of the best faceoff guys in the country. And Taylor Wray — talk about being overlooked. This guy is overlooked as a coach throughout college lacrosse. He’s one of the best in my book.”