The last time the Ohio State Buckeyes men’s lacrosse team saw the field was March 10, 2020. The Buckeyes came away with a 13-11 win over then-No. 14 Notre Dame. Then-senior attack Tre Leclaire anchored the team with five goals, while fellow senior attack Jackson Reid added three of his own along with four assists. After the game, while there was no short of rumors flying around by that point, Ohio State remained poised to take on Denver before kicking off its conference season. Of course, the rest is history. The Buckeyes wouldn’t play against Denver or any other team for the remainder of 2020. Ohio State would end the truncated season with a 5-2 record while the nation went into lockdown.
But it’s 2021 now. And while COVID-19 certainly remains a relevant factor today, lacrosse, like many other NCAA sports, is geared to face off with all due caution. For some teams, things have already kicked off in recent weeks, with teams like top-ranked Duke having already jumped out to a 3-0 record.
The Buckeyes, however, are poised to open their season today against Big Ten foe Johns Hopkins. Ohio State only has five conference-only games currently scheduled for the 2021 regular season (one against each Big Ten opponent), with another set of conference games expected to be announced at a later date.
Ohio State enters the 2021 season ranked 12th in the nation and, per the usual, must contend, per the usual, in a challenging Big Ten lacrosse conference. Currently, two of the Nike/USL Preseason top-four teams are from the Big Ten (No. 3 Maryland, No. 4 Penn State). In addition to Ohio State, Rutgers (19) and Johns Hopkins (20) are also ranked in the preseason poll.
As a friendly reminder, Big Ten men’s lacrosse features six teams: Ohio State, Michigan, Maryland, Penn State, Rutgers and Johns Hopkins. While the conference has only hosted lacrosse since 2015, it’s worth noting that Michigan is the only team to never make the Big Ten championship game, and the Wolverines are the only unranked Big Ten squad in the preseason poll.
The Big Ten coach’s preseason poll reflected the above rankings, with Maryland being picked unanimously as the conference favorite, followed by Penn State, Ohio State, Rutgers, Johns Hopkins and Michigan. The Terps had been well on track to a conference title in 2020 before the season was cut short. Maryland is returning seniors Jared Bernhardt and Logan Wisnauskas, both all-Big Ten honorees in 2019.
This year’s conference tournament is scheduled to open May 1. The top two teams from the six-team field get first round byes. Penn State, winners of the conference’s most recent tournament (2019) over Johns Hopkins, is scheduled to host the sem-finals and finals May 6 and 8.
On the national stage, the NCAA Tournament is scheduled to face off May 29-31 in Hartford, Connecticut. The 17-team field includes nine automatic bids from conference champions and eight at-large bids. In 2019, three Big Ten teams made the national tournament.
Let’s talk about that veteran talent.
With more flexibility in NCAA eligibility rules given the pandemic, the Ohio State roster has a lot of similarities to the 2020 team that was so hot before the season was cut off. Several of the key senior players from that squad opted to return to Columbus for another season as graduates. Along with the aforementioned Leclaire, midfielder Ryan Terefenko and defenseman Jeff Henrick are back with the Buckeyes in 2021. All three were part of the 2017 national runner-up team. All three have also already been drafted by the National Lacrosse League (NLL).
It feels like we’ve been talking about Tre Leclaire forever. After all, he was just a freshman in 2017 when Ohio State played in the NCAA Championship game against Maryland. In a low-scoring, defensive battle, the Terps came away with a 9-6 win, but Ohio State had made its mark on the national lacrosse landscape as a team not to be trifled with.
Leclaire is sitting at 135 career goals, which was good for sixth in the NCAA among active players at the close of the 2020 season, and second in Ohio State program history.
Leclaire was also named Big Ten Freshman of the Year back in 2017, having led the team with 49 goals. While Leclaire fell off in scoring somewhat during his sophomore (26) and junior (34) seasons - he was still Ohio State’s leading scorer both years - Leclaire had 26 goals in just seven games in the abbreviated 2020 season, and was poised for a record-breaking year before the pandemic cut things short. Leclaire needs just 12 goals in 2021 to match the career scoring record set by Logan Schuss.
Terefenko, meanwhile, has already been cleaning up preseason honors, having been named US Lacrosse Magazine’s preseason midfielder of the year. He’s also a three-time all-American and two-time first team All-Big Ten honoree. Even with a short 2020, Terefenko is already the Ohio State program leader in career ground balls with 139.
Finally, Henrick, a two-time team captain alongside Terefenko, is an anchor on defense, and is the career leader in forced turnovers in program history with 30.
Then there are the “younger” folks, who still feel like they’ve been around forever, like senior midfielder Justin Inacio, a faceoff specialist who’s accrued a better than 63% faceoff percentage during his career in Columbus. Inacio brought home Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors in 2018, and has consistently been ranked nationally for his faceoff percentage.
Then there’s the transfers. Alec Van de Bovenkamp came to Columbus after the Furman lacrosse program was cut due to the financial impact of COVID-19. The transfer goalie was a four-year starter at Furman, boasting a 50%-plus save percentage as a senior.
Putting those pieces together is head coach Nick Myers. Myers joined the Ohio State program as head coach in 2009, and has posted a 106-76 overall record during his 12 year tenure.
Despite their crowning success in 2017, Ohio State lacrosse is riding a two-year NCAA Tournament drought (three, if you count the cancelled 2020 tournament). Chalk some of it up to the bad luck of being in a good conference, but the Buckeyes have to do better than their 1-4 conference record from 2019 if they want a shot at the tournament. That record was the worst conference finish Ohio State’s had under Myers.
The Buckeyes have no shortage of talent - Jackson Reid, Colby Smith and Jack Myers have all been significant contributors on attack especially - and the team certainly is equipped to take things to the next level in 2021. They’ll have to get through a conference-only season against some of the toughest competition in Division I lacrosse. But it’s been a season a year in the making. And it all starts today.