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Ohio State men’s lacrosse looks to make a statement nationally in 2017

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The Buckeyes face Duke in Durham Saturday for their final pre-season matchup in 2017.

NCAA Lacrosse: Quarterfinals - Denver University Pioneers vs. Ohio State Buckeyes Chris Humphreys-USA TODAY Sports

The Ohio State men’s lacrosse season opens next week as the Buckeyes face 7th-ranked Duke in Durham for their final preseason game. Ohio State enters the season ranked 17th in the USILA Preseason Coaches poll after finishing 2016 unranked following a disappointing 7-8 season in which they did not make the NCAA Tournament.

This season, Ohio State enters the year with four home games versus unranked, non-conference opponents before getting into the meat of their schedule, which includes road games against No. 17 Marquette, No. 12 Towson and No. 4 Notre Dame and a home matchup with No. 3 Denver in Columbus. The Buckeyes are scheduled to open conference play against No. 15 Penn State April 2 in Happy Valley.

The Big Ten as a conference is well-represented in the USILA’s preseason poll, with five teams ranked in the top 20 (there are six teams competing in league play--Michigan is the only outsider), including No. 2 Maryland, No. 8 Johns Hopkins, No. 16 Rutgers, Ohio State and Penn State. The Buckeyes are at an advantage, with their conference matchups against Maryland and Johns Hopkins, at least, being played at home. Ohio State will host the Big Ten men’s lacrosse tournament this post-season in Columbus.

The Buckeyes return nearly all of last season’s starters on attack and midfield, but will miss last season’s leading scorer on attack in Carter Brown, who was taken with the 56th pick in last year’s Major League Lacrosse Draft by the Chesapeake Bayhawks. Senior attackmen Austin Shanks, who led Ohio State in points last year with 15 goals and 16 assists, and Eric Fannell, who had 15 goals and nine assists of his own, started for most of last season and will provide much-needed scoring options from down low.

The Buckeyes also return attackmen J.T. Blubaugh and Colin Chell, who had 15 and 14 goals, respectively, on the season last year. Last year’s breakout freshman Jack Jasinski, who wound up starting a total of five games last year, will also provide some offensive firepower for the Buckeyes.

Fortunately, midfielder Johnny Pearson, who tied Brown in scoring with 20 goals on the season in 2016, is also coming back for his senior season. Along with Pearson, Tyler Pfister, who is a 2017 team captain, returns to the midfeld. Senior faceoff specialist Jake Withers is also coming back in 2017. Last year, the midfielder won nearly 61 percent of his faceoffs on his way to earning Big Ten Specialist of the Year honors. Along with Pfister, Withers was also selected as a captain for the 2017 campaign.

Ohio State will also have significant rebuilding to do on defense with the loss of Robby Haus, who was taken in the fourth round of the MLL Draft, and Chris Mahoney to graduation. Key for the unit will be senior defenseman Erik Evans--the lone returning starter on defense. Junior defenseman Freddy Friebot and sophomore Matt Borges, who played in all 15 games last year, are the likely candidates to replace the departed Haus and Mahoney.

Goalie Tom Carey returns for his senior season, having played in all but four minutes of game time last season. Carey saved 141 goals last season--nearly 51 percent of attempts.

The Buckeyes are also welcoming to campus an outstanding freshman class. Four incoming freshmen were picked as top 100 freshman to watch according to Inside Lacrosse, including Christian Feliziani (#27, faceoff specialist), Tre LeClaire (#29, midfielder), Dan Rooney (No. 46, attackman) and Josh Kirson (#60, goalie).

Feliziani, along with Borges and head coach Nick Myers, were part of the team that defeated Canada 13-12 in the U19 World Championships in July (they defeated LeClaire and defenseman Jeff Henrick, who played for the Canadian squad).

While the Buckeyes face a tough schedule, their core returning power and strong group of incoming freshman could make them a surprise both in the Big Ten and on the national stage this season.