Commentary

Ohio State must weather tough start

Updated: January 22, 2010, 11:51 AM ET
By Sean Burns | Inside Lacrosse

The 2009 season was both a first and a last for Ohio State, who entered the Nick Myers era and played their last game (at least, for the time being) in the groundbreaking Great Western Lacrosse League, which ceased to be with the defection formation of the Big East and the absorption into the ECAC.

[+] EnlargeJames Green
The Ohio State Department of Athletics Senior Jimmy Green will headline the offensive midfield for OSU.

A year later, the Buckeyes face a new slate of conference foes while trying to replace a ton of points that left with Joel Dalgarno and Jeff Ryan at attack, but there's plenty to look forward to for the team this spring.

Hitting the ground running

Right out of the gate, Myers and Co. will find out a lot about their team makeup, as they open with non-conference games against Villanova ('09 NCAA bid), Bucknell (Patriot regular-season champ), UMass (NCAA), Penn State, Robert Morris, Albany and Notre Dame (NCAA) before their first ECAC contest in late March.

"We play that non-conference schedule early, so we'll really know who we are going into league play," Myers says. "Our guys are really excited to get out there and play, we just have to make sure we're taking it one step at a time."

The Buckeyes, who are already a week into practice, also travel south to Durham on Feb. 6 to take on Duke, which is as good a litmus test as any coach can hope for.

Filling the Void

As previously mentioned, lots of points at attack went away for Ohio State, but there are some fresh faces looking to step into big roles this spring. At attack, Mario Ventiquattro is back after spotting 24 goals a year ago, and is looking like he'll be joined by British Columbian Mike Pires (19, 7) and freshman Jeff Tundo out of Western New York.

"It's a new group, but they've really solidified already," says Myers, who didn't have the luxury of his returning leading scorer playing during the fall.

Pires has that box influence to his game that players like Dalgarno brought to the table in the past at OSU, but Myers likens Tundo's game to the big Canadian.

"[Tundo] is that big lefty, 200-pounder. He likes to dodge and that takes the pressure off the other guys like Mike who are more off-ball guys."

Zack Rogers, a UMass transfer, has also looked solid and will most likely be the first off the bench for the Buckeyes. Goalie Challenge While returning starter Brandon Freeman (8.99GAA, 57 percent saves) is the incumbent, he has been pushed for time by IL No. 49 incoming freshman Ryan Brant.

"Brandon has had a great start, but he's getting some nice competition from [Brant] as a freshman," Myers says. "They're very different style-wise, which is very good for us in terms of getting to see different looks in practice."

Freeman has been the more consistent of the two, and is markedly better on clears, which is something that the freshman will have to work on if he wants to challenge for the job … But when Brant is on, he is very very good.

Between the Lines

While senior Jimmy Green (15, 10) will headline the offensive midfield (with support from HS AA Dominique Alexander, Logan Schuss, Paul Beery, Zack Boyd, Danny Wertz and Jarrid Bowman), the defensive midfield and LSM crew looks to be a very solid one, which could huge for the Buckeyes.

Andrew Stimel is the anchor of the group of shorties, while towering Brock Sorenson -- all 6-foot-6 of him -- will run pole and should be a big help off the wings. TJ Powell and Bryce Woodson have also looked very solid in the preseason, according to Myers.

The League is the Key

Part of the reasoning for not playing an ECAC game until late March is that the reformed league still doesn't have a tournament -- meaning that a stumble or two could cost you an NCAA tournament bid. Once Ohio State gets rolling on their league schedule, it's quick, as they take Fairfield, Quinnipiac, Loyola, Hobart, Denver Air Force and Bellarmine right in a row before a final non-conference game against North Carolina.

"It's a deep league, from top to bottom -- which helps make this the most competitive schedule we've ever had," says Myers, whose team had the 16th-best SOS rating according to the preseason rankings of Face-Off Yearbook.

"For us, this slate is a big step. We know there isn't a conference tournament, so we have to make sure that if we don't win the league, we still have an opportunity to get in, but we want to lock it up in the ECAC." The Backline

Senior Scott Foreman is the anchor of a good four-man group that includes Matt Kawamoto, Joe Bonanni and converted LSM Keenan Ochwat at close defense.

The group has the luxury of a good goalie behind them (be it Freeman or Brant) and a very good stock of midfielders, so improving on the 8.81 goals against the OSU allowed a year ago (26th in DI) is a very real and attainable goal. Size is a bit of a concern (all are around six feet and well under 200 pounds), but size isn't everything and Myers is confident that this group will get the job done.

The Big House

Yes, I know that's what Michigan's stadium is called -- don't feel the need to email.

But its notable that the Buckeyes will be playing once again as the opener to the spring football game -- this time against Air Force -- which will be broadcast on the Big Ten network and is certain to have a crowd upwards of 70-80,000 by the time the game ends at Ohio Stadium.

"It's something that we're really excited about playing in again, and its only because of the goodwill of Jim Trestle and Gene Smith," Myers says. "With it being Air Force, we also have a chance to do some things to honor the military so it should be a great event."

For more on college lacrosse, check out Inside Lacrosse.