When the Ohio State men’s lacrosse team (1-5, 0-0) takes on the Bellarmine Knights (4-2, 0-2) this Friday, it will kick off its final season in the Eastern College Athletic Conference before moving to the Big Ten in 2015. The Buckeyes, who took home the ECAC tournament championship last season, are looking to snap a three-game losing streak and get off to a good start in conference play.
After beginning the season ranked No. 14 in the country, the three-game losing streak has pushed the Buckeyes out of the top 20, leaving the ECAC without a ranked team, for the time being.
So, as OSU prepares to play its first conference opponent, here’s how the teams stack up:
1. Air Force Falcons (4-3, 1-0)
Despite starting the season 2-3, including a loss to the Virginia Military Institute, Air Force has responded nicely. Winning its last two, averaging 14 goals per game in the process, Air Force has put itself in a position to be a tough opponent as the season moves forward. Senior attackman Mike Crampton has been on fire lately, recording nine points in his last two games (five goals, four assists). Air Force will need Crampton and the rest of the offensive unit to continue to put up big numbers as the Falcons average 15 goals per game in their wins, but only 6 goals per game in their losses.
2. Michigan Wolverines (4-5, 1-0)
In its first two years as a Division I program, Michigan went 2-26. However, coach John Paul and the Wolverines are showing signs of growth this season. Sitting with a 4-5 record, Michigan defeated Bellarmine to start off its conference season, and has played four teams currently ranked in the top 15. The Wolverines also pushed then-No. 15 Cornell to overtime, but couldn’t register the program’s first ever win against a ranked team, falling to the Big Red 15-14.
3. Fairfield Stags (5-2, 0-0)
Led by an attack unit consisting of junior attackman Tristan Sperry (14 goals, 10 assists) and senior attackman/midfielder Eric Warden (19 goals, 2 assists), Fairfield boasts one of the best offenses in the country, averaging 13.1 goals per game. If that wasn’t enough, the Stags also have senior goaltender Jack Murphy between the pipes, the ECAC’s reigning defensive player of the week.
4. Ohio State Buckeyes (1-5, 0-0)
It has been a tough start to the season for the Buckeyes. Two overtime losses to then-No. 11 Johns Hopkins and Massachusetts were missed opportunities for an OSU team still looking to find a rhythm. The Buckeyes, led by junior midfielder Jesse King and senior defenseman Joe Meurer, have had problems consistently putting the ball in the net this season as they are averaging 8.2 goals per game, around three goals per game less than last season. With only one currently-ranked team remaining on its schedule, a March 25 matchup against No. 9 Notre Dame, OSU will need to have a strong conference record to have a shot at a second-straight NCAA tournament berth.
5. Bellarmine Knights (4-2, 0-2)
The Knights started the season 4-0 and looked like a team that could possibly make some noise in the conference. But after two straight losses to Air Force and Michigan, Bellarmine is at the bottom looking up. Still, with a strong defense led by senior goaltender Will Haas (.558 save percentage), Bellarmine has held four of its six opponents to eight goals or less. Add to the mix a strong midfield unit (four midfielders with 10 or more points on the season), the Knights are a team capable of bouncing back in the second half of the season.