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After trip to NCAA quarterfinals, Ohio State men’s lacrosse looks to take next step forward

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OSU then-freshman Erik Evans (43) defends a Maryland player in a game on April 18 at Ohio Stadium. Credit: Lantern File Photo

OSU then-freshman defenseman Erik Evans (43) defends a Maryland player in a game on April 18 at Ohio Stadium. Credit: Lantern File Photo

The Ohio State men’s lacrosse team is less than two weeks away from the start of its season.

OSU, ranked No. 13 in preseason polls, is set to square off against Furman University on Feb. 6 after a scrimmage Saturday with The Hill Academy.

The Scarlet and Gray come into the season with high aspirations after losing last year to Johns Hopkins in the Big Ten championship game and eventual national champion Denver in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.

“As a team, (our goal) is definitely to win the Big Ten championship and national championship,” said senior midfielder Kacy Kapinos. “A goal for us each and every day is to just get better as a team.”

After sitting out last year with an injury, redshirt junior midfielder Tyler Pfister also has personal goals for a bounce-back season.

“Coming off an injury, a goal for me would be to come back and contribute to the team in the best way I can,” Pfister said.

The Buckeyes will need players like Pfister to figure out quickly just what the best way to contribute is, as OSU will be without two of its top three goal scorers from last season, including third-team All-American Jesse King.

The team will look to returning players, as well as a few fresh faces, to fill the offensive void left by King, who led the team with 42 goals and 35 assists in 2015.

“Losing a guy like Jesse King, an impact player, definitely affects us,” Pfister said. “I think we have younger guys who are going to step into roles and guys who were maybe under the radar last year but will definitely come on to the scene this year.”

Two players who many are looking at to step up in an offensive role are junior midfielder and returning starter John Kelly and junior midfielder Austin Shanks, a transfer from Bellarmine University.

Shanks was the top attacker on a Bellarmine team that had a record of 4-8 last year. He finished with 31 goals and 13 assists. In fact, one of his goals a season ago came against OSU in an 8-7 Buckeye victory on Feb. 27 during the Midwest Classic. Now after trading his old colors for the scarlet and gray, he has already taken to impressing his new teammates in their first looks at him in practice.

“Austin Shanks is looking great and doing well in practice,” Kapinos said.

The defensive side of the ball is where the Buckeyes look to be most ready to continue their excellent play from last year and, likely, anchor the team. The defense returns four starters, including third-team All-American senior defenseman Robby Haus and honorable mention All-American redshirt junior goalie Tom Carey.

The Buckeyes have a tough nonconference schedule before Big Ten play starts, highlighted by back-to-back mid-season matchups against No. 2 Denver and No. 1 Notre Dame. However, coach Nick Myers does not want the team to look too far ahead.

“Each team presents a unique challenge, starting with Furman,” Myers said. “They’re a team that has gotten better each year . . . so we’re not looking much past that right now.”

Overall, many are looking at this year’s OSU squad to once again reach the NCAA tournament and, if the season plays out the way the team feels it will, compete for the national championship. It is, though, still early in the season, and the team has not had a substantial amount of time together.

“I really like where we are based on the few days we’ve had together,” Myers said.  “The goal is to continue to improve.”

OSU’s regular-season schedule is set to begin at noon in Greenville, South Carolina, against Furman on Feb. 6 following an exhibition game against The Hill Academy on Saturday.

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