I’m pleased to announce the inaugural StringKing / RR Top 25 High School Power Rankings, topped by preseason No. 1 Hill Academy of Ontario. Brodie Merrill’s boys appear destined for another huge run through the Mid-Atlantic and Northeast, led by several touted playmakers on offense.
Throughout this spring, there will be multiple sets of rankings on top of a weekly overall Top 25. For the first time in any lacrosse publication, there will be separate lists for public schools and private schools as well as a Top 10 of boarding schools that take postgrads. Voted on in a Twitter poll last month, this reflects the sport’s trend of sports academies, PG’s and repeats.
Carrying a record of 44-8 over the last three seasons (playing exclusively road games), Hill Academy begins the year on top with nearly two dozen Division I commits in just the junior and senior classes. Brodie Merrill’s program said goodbye to three Top 100 players on offense, however there’s a strong pipeline of talent coming back on both sides of the ball. It all starts with No. 30 senior Jeff Teat, a remarkably skilled left-handed attackman headed to Cornell and famous for notching 11 points in the Hill’s win over the U.S. U-19 team in November. Harvard-bound Dalton Follows – a natural attackman ranked #91 in the senior class – and lefty Tanner Cook (North Carolina) will run the show at midfield. Three players committed to Ohio State will also be crucial to the Pride’s success in senior defenseman Jeff Henrick, junior face-off man Justin Inacio and postgrad goalie Josh Kirson, a Massachusetts native who fills up plenty of net. In addition, look for junior Riley Curtis (Denver) to break out on the attack. As always, Hill Academy will be tested in a major way: they’ll face seven preseason Top 25 teams including four in five days during their yearly spring break trip to Maryland.
Having won six straight WCAC titles, Casey O’Neill’s program doesn’t rebuild, they reload. With that said, the Eagles should like their chances at another crown, though they’ll have to face a highly difficult non-conference schedule. Graduating the program leader in career points (Maryland’s Timmy Monahan) hurts but two-thirds of the starting lineup returns. Top 100 seniors Luke McCaleb (Brown), Avery Myers (Michigan) and Nick McEvoy (Penn State) will lead the attack, midfield and face-off X, respectively, while there are a number of players on offense poised to break out. Three-year starting goalie George Christopher (Dartmouth) will be the backstop to two of the region’s best cover men in classmates Ryan Finlay (Brown) and Henry Chastain (Maryland), as well as rangy No. 14 junior and UVA verbal Will Rock at LSM. With a whopping eight preseason Top 25 squads on the schedule, the Eagles will once again be challenged on a weekly basis and will fortunately have their home field back after construction forced ‘Zaga to become road warriors last spring. They’ll start the season Monday against Bullis, one of many stacked teams in the miles surrounding the nation’s capital.
3. Haverford (Pa.)
2015 Finish: 26-0, RR No. 1
Follow: @Fords_Lacrosse; schedule
Last year, John Nostrant’s Fords had one of high school lacrosse’s more magical seasons in recent memory, winning the Inter-Ac Challenge and finishing undefeated. With so many graduation losses (22, to be exact), a season of that caliber may be unlikely, however this senior class is off-the-charts talented and led by No. 1 ranked Dox Aitken (UVA) at midfield. Hopkins attack recruit Forry Smith will be given increased responsibilities and seems poised to carry the load after putting up 69G & 27A last year. Having three Big 10 and ACC-bound senior midfielders back from injury will boost the Fords’ midfield, while it’ll be pivotal to find some playmakers on the defensive side of the ball in the early season. Despite the lack of experience on the close D, veteran leader Alex DeMarco (Penn) is coming off an excellent season in cage and hopes to save his best for last. Haverford often has the nation’s most daunting non-conference schedule – this year is no different.
4. Culver (Ind.)
2015 Finish: 17-6, RR No. 20
Follow: @CMALacrosse; schedule
The Eagles dropped more games last year than they had in their previous three seasons combined, so it’s safe to say that Culver will be out for blood in 2016. On paper, they’re unbelievably impressive, carrying approximately two dozen Division I commitments across four classes. Ranked No. 2 in the senior class, Canadian lefty scorer Ethan Walker (Denver) will once again be a marked man, which will benefit fellow attackmen like junior Brown commit Wheaton Jackoboice. At the midfield, junior Ontario native Jackson Reid (Ohio State) will pave the way for a group that could go three lines deep without much drop-off. The defensive unit is experienced and established, especially seniors Jacob Kanak (Notre Dame) and Alex Johnson (Loyola) in front of goalies Alec van de Bovenkamp (Furman) and Matthew Schmidt (Notre Dame), who split time last season. Mixing several Canadian scorers with the best talent the Midwest has to offer, the Eagles will be incredibly fun to watch, especially during their annual spring break trip through the Mid-Atlantic.
5. Victor (N.Y.)
2015 Finish: 22-0, RR No. 5
Follow: @VictorSchools; schedule
The Blue Devils exploded onto the scene last season, capturing the program’s first New York state title via an impressive nine-goal blowout in the championship. Luckily for Jim Andre and his staff, they’ll bring back just about everything, namely a core group of seniors as they move up to Class A from Class B. Victor will be pushed by two playmakers in the middle of the field in face-off man TD Ierlan (Albany) and athletic scoring threat Jamie Trimboli (Syracuse), both ranked in the top half of RR’s Top 100 senior list. In addition, the attack unit of seniors Ryan Maloney (Cornell), Max Lambert (UMass) and Drew Collins (Lycoming) accounted for nearly 200 combined points last spring. Defensively, sophomore goalie Chayse Ierlan (Cornell) returns as a starter and has a nice combo of seniors and youth helping him on defense. The consensus seems to be that the Blue Devils are poised for an impressive run over the next few years, so Victor will be fun to watch as their seniors aim to bring another state title back to the Rochester-area school.
6. McDonogh (Md.)
2015 Finish: 14-5, RR No. 15
Follow: @McDLaxScores; schedule
The Eagles came close to getting the Owings Mills program its first MIAA crown since 2006, falling to St. Mary’s in last year’s title game. This spring, McDonogh will be favored to hoist the plaque come May thanks to what might be the most impressive defensive unit around. Andy Hilgartner will need to find a new goalie, but No. 23 senior Arman Medghalchi (Princeton) and No. 16 sophomore BJ Farrare (Loyola) are nice building blocks for a D group that also features commits to Duke, Hopkins and Michigan. Penn State-bound senior gunslinger Barrett Sutley will boost the midfield unit, while a number of players will be counted on to step up. If McDonogh receives above average play at the face-off X and in goal, the Eagles will go as far as they want to.
7. Darien (Conn.)
2015 Finish: 20-3, RR No. 7
Follow: @Jeff_Brameier; schedule
Under longtime head coach Jeff Brameier, the Blue Wave saw their 34-game winning streak snapped but still snagged the program’s 14th FCIAC title and 9th state title to end the year. In 2016, the postseason goals won’t change and the lineup won’t differ all that much either. Five-star senior Mark Evanchick (Penn) will hold down the defense that will look to bring along more inexperienced players, as will returning starter Ryan Cornell (Vermont) in cage. On offense, the top six is as loaded as it gets, spearheaded by senior mainstays Jack Kniffin (Brown) and Colin Minicus (Amherst) on attack and classmate Jack Book (Penn) at the midfield.
Emerging as a New England prep power during the last five years, the Bruins will look to maintain consistency to win their league in May. A big move will be keeping No. 3 senior Reilly Walsh on the field as much as possible, rumored to be bumping the talented Duke signee from midfield down to his natural position on the attack. Walsh will be setting up crafty junior finisher Alex Buckanavage (Michigan) and a plethora of highly touted offensive weapons including midfielders John Fox (Virginia) and Sean Morris (North Carolina). The defense took a lot of hits in the offseason but bring back junior close man Max Metalios (Penn) and young, capable talent. In between the pipes, Georgetown-bound southpaw Jack Stephenson is one of the nation’s best.
To many, IMG’s national success has almost happened overnight as they reeled off several big wins last season and carrying that success into the offseason. No. 21 senior Tehoka Nanticoke (uncommitted) and Ben French (Vermont) are two of the most excitable playmakers around and will be accompanied by versatile threat Massi Bucci (Georgetown), among others. Canadian transfer Cam Badour (Duke), a towering and creative midfielder ranked 9th in the junior class, will likely be leaned on. Another member of the U-19 Canadian national team, look for Syracuse signee Drake Porter to turn heads at the goalie position. IMG’s national schedule will give them the opportunity to move up the Top 25 after not being included last season.
Upset by the eventual champions, the Braves finished as New York state semifinalists in 2015 and will be gunning to move further this upcoming season. While they’ll begin life after Alex Concannon (a Hopkins freshman), Syosset has the luxury of two five-star seniors on offense in nifty finisher Mac O’Keefe (Penn State) and two-way midfielder Lucas Cotler (Yale). On top of that, possession time shouldn’t be too much of an issue thanks to Maryland signee Alex Giovinco, while classmate EJ Aronson (Army) will lock down the opponent’s top option. The first portion of the Braves’ schedule has some excellent measuring stick games to test their mettle.