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Ohio State men's lacrosse is building on a disappointing season

The young squad managed to improve throughout the season, and should be better next year.

Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

As the NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Tournament begins today with round one matchups, notably absent from the lineup is the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s lacrosse team.

It was all that could be expected of a rebuilding year for Ohio State. Having graduated two of its top scorers and its faceoff specialist, it was no surprise that the midfield would be down from last year and that the attack would struggle to find a rhythm. Predictably, with a formidable schedule in a formidable conference, 2016 was going to be a rough season for the young squad, but the team was better than the record might indicate.

The Buckeyes finished the season with a 7-8 overall record, going 2-3 in conference. Ohio State had one of the toughest schedules in college lacrosse, playing all of 2015’s final four tournament teams, including top-rated Denver on the road and at one point losing six-straight games, all of them against ranked opponents. Of these losses, four were by just one goal.

In conference, while the team finished second from the bottom of the Big Ten, the squad still came out ahead of Michigan, who did not win a single conference game. The Buckeyes hung with Maryland, the top team in the conference, losing by only two goals. Ohio State also ended the season on a high note, beating Rutgers in Columbus on senior night. The Scarlet Knights would go on to lose to Maryland in the finals of the Big Ten Tournament, and both Maryland and Johns Hopkins would make the field of 16 in the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament, with Maryland earning the No. 1-overall seed.

Perhaps the highlight of the Buckeyes’ team was strong play by the defense and goalie, Tom Carey, who recorded 141 saves on the season, including a 16-save performance against Marquette. Robby Haus, who was selected in the fourth round of January’s Major League Lacrosse Draft, played alongside fellow senior Chris Mahoney on an experienced squad that allowed just 9.04 goals per game, which placed the team in the top-20 nationally in scoring defense. Carey also had a strong contribution from the goal, leading the Buckeyes to a 0.917 clear percentage, placing them No. 2 nationally in the category.

The Buckeyes also ranked in the top 10 nationally for faceoff wins, led by faceoff specialist Jake Withers, who also led the team in ground balls with 110 on the year--more than three times that of Robby Haus, who was second on the list. Withers was an anchor in the young midfield, winning 60.7 percent of faceoffs played.

While the Buckeyes had a strong overall defense, allowing just over nine goals per game, the offense was relatively stagnant, especially at the start of the season, coming in at No. 39 of 68 Division I men’s lacrosse teams in goals per game, scoring an average of just 9.4 goals per game. Ohio State also had issues maintaining possession, and came in at No. 5 nationally in turnovers per game.

Still, there were highlights on the offensive side of the ball. Attackman Carter Brown and midfielder Johnny Pearson led the Buckeyes in scoring on the season with 20 goals apiece on the season. With Brown graduating, and being selected in the seventh round of the Major League Lacrosse Draft, Pearson will need to continue his late season surge into next year. Attackmen J.T. Blubaugh, Austin Shanks and Eric Fannell each had 15 goals on the season, and will anchor the attack next season. Blubaugh recorded a season-high six points (goals and assists) against Detroit in February, but it was Pearson who proved to be the team’s consistent high-scorer, recording four goals in three separate games.

With an experienced midfield and attack, expectations are certainly higher for the Buckeyes come next season. And with excellent young players on both sides of the ball, there is hope for a strong, all-around squad across the field. Freshman defenseman Matt Borges, for instance, who saw action in all 15 games this season, came into the season as one of the top defensive recruits nationally, and now has a season’s worth of experience on the field and sideline to add to his repertoire.

While this season may have been a disappointment on its own, the team managed to overcome significant losses and a tough schedule to barely miss out on a 0.500 season. The outlook for the now-experienced team should be much brighter.