After taking down the two-time defending national champions, the Ohio State men’s lacrosse team is looking to enter uncharted waters.
OSU (12-6) earned a trip to the quarterfinals with a 16-11 thumping of Duke in Durham, N.C. After falling behind 3-1 early, OSU scored seven unanswered goals to open up an 8-3 lead, eventually stretching it to as much as seven goals.
“I think that’s a credit to our whole team,” redshirt sophomore goalie Tom Carey, who made 15 saves against the Blue Devils, said. “We made some key stops early and then the offense really picked it up at the end of the game. When you look back at it, it was a team win, and that’s what we have to do this weekend.”
That weekend matchup is set to come on Saturday, when the Buckeyes travel to Denver to take on the No. 4-seeded Pioneers with a trip to the Final Four in Philadelphia on the line.
OSU has twice before made the quarterfinals, but senior midfielder David Planning said the goal has always been to do better.
“It’s the elephant in the room,” Planning said about advancing past the quarterfinals for the first time in program history. “My sophomore year, we played a really good Cornell team that wiped us up, so our guys are taking this week very seriously, and we’re going to be very well prepared.
“This is what you work all year for. One game away from Philly, that’s the goal.”
Planning exploded for six goals and an assist against Duke. He said with the way the team is balanced, no one knows who might be the player to stick out next time around.
“It can be anyone’s day at any time. You move the ball and you play hard, and that’s all you can really ask for,” Planning said.
Denver (14-2) is found at or near the top in several key statistical categories, including leading the nation in face-off percentage (69.0 percent) and man-up offense success rate (58.6 percent).
The Big East champions are also fifth in the country in total offense at 14.06 goals per game and eighth in turnovers per contest at 11.88. Freshman midfielder Trevor Baptiste leads the country in face-off winning percentage at 70.5 percent, holding a commanding 2.9 percentage point edge over the next-best player.
The Pioneers may have been the preseason No. 1 team, but the Buckeyes have already proven they can beat them, courtesy of a 13-11 victory in Columbus on March 14. OSU coach Nick Myers, however, said it sometimes presents a larger challenge when a team already has a head-to-head win under its belt heading into the rematch.
“It’s tough to beat a team twice,” Myers said. “We’re obviously hoping that we can. But they’ve won 10 straight, and I think it’s in the back of their mind that we’re the last team that beat them.”
Myers said one advantage the Buckeyes have is the underdog mentality that they have embraced in postseason play.
“If you seeded the eight teams that remain, I’m sure the lacrosse world would tell you that we’re the eighth seed,” Myers said. “So I think we’re going in with that mentality. That’s how we entered the tournament last weekend. I don’t think anyone gave us a shot against Duke, except for the 40 guys in the locker room, and I’m not sure anyone’s giving us one in Denver.”
The two teams are familiar with each other, having been former foes in the now-defunct Eastern College Athletic Conference Lacrosse League from 2010-2013.
Saturday will mark the sixth matchup between the schools in the last four seasons, with OSU holding a 3-2 head-to-head edge.
“Our kids are familiar with Denver, they know what it takes, they know what a mountain it is to beat that team and what a challenge it is,” Myers said.
One thing is certain heading into the game: A member of the Planning family will be making the trip to Philadelphia for the Final Four.
Sophomore Max Planning, the younger brother of David Planning, will be lined up opposite him in the midfield.
“Playing Max is an honor,” David Planning said. “You grow up shooting with him in the backyard, playing hoops with him, you never think you’re going to be in the Elite Eight playing Division I college lacrosse at Denver Broncos stadium. So, it’s an honor, it’s fun, and we’re excited, but I’ve also got 40-some other brothers I’m taking the field with on Saturday that I want more than anything to win with.”
OSU’s quarterfinal matchup with Denver is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday at Mile High Stadium.