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Column: Ohio State is the lacrosse team to beat

Things are falling into place. 

Ohio State v Maryland Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

The No. 8 Ohio State Buckeyes men’s lacrosse team moved to 3-0 over the weekend after a win over then-No.19 North Carolina. The win came at the Buckeyes’ new, dedicated lacrosse stadium in Columbus. Despite being the lowest-scoring game of the year, it was also decisive, with a shut-down defense holding the Tar Heels to just one goal in the second half in an 8-5 comeback victory.

Things don’t get easier for Ohio State from here. The matchups in coming weeks remain some of the most challenging we’ll see all season long as the Buckeyes face No. 1 Virginia in Florida, No. 4 Cornell in Columbus and No. 2 Notre Dame in South Bend. But if Ohio State can survive that stretch, this could prove to be a breakthrough season for a squad that has been waiting for its shot.

The Buckeyes have outscored opponents 34-19 through three games in 2023. Led by specialist Drew Blanchard, Ohio State has gone 39-21 on faceoffs and hauled in 76 ground balls to 49 for their combined opponents. Senior attackman Jack Myers, an anchor on offense, leads the team with 14 points, including six goals.

Having made the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2017 last season, Ohio State had hype and high expectations heading into the season, especially its highly touted defense. Along with Myers, defensemen Marcus Hudgins and Bobby Van Buren were named to the Tewaaraton Award watch list, which recognizes the national player of the year. Senior goalie Skylar Wahlund, versus the Tar Heels, had a dozen saves, including a hot second half that kept the Buckeyes in the game after being down at the break.

Alongside these veterans, incoming freshmen are already making an impact. Freshman Dillon Magee, playing in the midfield, has already established himself as a starter. Most recently, in an exemplary defensive performance, freshman defenseman Cullen Brown helped hold North Carolina to just five goals on the day — less than a third of what the Tar Heels had been averaging before.

It doesn’t hurt that Ohio State also has a veteran coach in Nick Myers, who’s been at the helm in Columbus since 2009.

Yes, all the pieces seem to be in place for Ohio State to make a run, and Ohio State seems to be in the driver’s seat. After seasons of heartbreak with the Buckeyes right on the cusp of success (including in 2017 when Ohio State finished the season as NCAA runner-up), this could be the season that they actually breakthrough.

Lacrosse has been an afterthought in the Big Ten for most of its existence — because the Big Ten didn’t even sponsor lacrosse on the men’s side until 2015. And it didn’t help Ohio State’s cause that lacrosse only became an official sport with the addition of traditional lacrosse powers like Maryland and Johns Hopkins.

Ohio State hasn’t won a Big Ten regular season or tournament title, coming close as runners-up in 2015 and 2017. Now, however, Ohio State is the top-ranked team in the conference, sliding into the rankings just ahead of No. 9 Maryland. And we all know the easiest way to get into the NCAA Tournament is by winning the conference, which Ohio State would seem to have the edge for before the start of conference play.

The momentum continues to build. Ohio State has the No. 10 ranked class in the 2023 recruiting class according to Inside Lacrosse, anchored by Caleb Fyock — one of the top high school goalies in the nation. As we’ve seen with the football team in the last decade, there’s a cumulative impact on recruiting begetting on-field success and leading to more success in recruiting.

It’s still early (far too early to get excited, if we learned anything from Ohio State’s men’s basketball team this season), but all the puzzle pieces — from veteran leadership to freshman talent to a quality win early in the season — might just be in place for a magical season.