2023 NCAA Lacrosse Rankings: No. 13 Denver (Men)

PHOTO BY PEYTON WILLIAMS

Alec Stathakis owns a lifetime mark of 59.9 percent over three seasons.


The 2023 college lacrosse season is almost here. As is our annual tradition, we’re featuring every team ranked in the Nike/USA Lacrosse Preseason Top 20.

Check back to USALaxMagazine.com each weekday this month for new previews, scouting reports and rival analysis.

NO. 13 DENVER

2022 Record: 9-6 (4-1 Big East)
Final Ranking (2022): Unranked
Coach: Bill Tierney

TOP RETURNERS

Jack DiBenedetto, D, Sr.

A first-team all-Big East selection a year ago, DiBenedetto has started all 38 games for Denver since arriving on campus before the 2020 season. He’s the most proven of the Pioneers’ veteran poles and will be a key figure on a defense that has more established answers than the offense.

JJ Sillstrop, A, Sr.

The Pioneers’ only returning starter on offense also led the team in points (48) and assists (18) last season. The big question? Can he remain healthy after getting dinged up the last two seasons. “He’s strong, and he’s our top dog,” Tierney said. “There’s no doubt about it.”

Alec Stathakis, FO, Sr.

When was the last time Denver didn’t have an ace on faceoffs? It’s been a decade since its top specialist wasn’t above 55 percent, and Stathakis owns a lifetime mark of 59.9 percent over three seasons. Tierney describes him as “the main cog in the whole big wheel,” and his continued proficiency can tilt the field in favor of the Pioneers.

KEY ADDITIONS

Dan Anderson, SSDM, Fr.

The Syracuse-area product impressed the Pioneers in the fall, and he’s set to immediately factor in as the team’s third or fourth short stick defensive midfielder.

Russell Overly, LSM, Fr.

Tierney has little question the Atlanta product will be a variable on defense, even one with as many entrenched options as Denver has. “This guy is an animal,” Tierney said. “We have seven or eight other guys with poles who might seem to be in front of him, but this guy breathes down every one of their necks every day. Overly will play. We will find a way for this guy to be on the field, even if we have to throw a short stick in his hand once in a while.”

Tye Scott, A, Fr.

One of two Canadian lefties (along with Cody Malawsky) set to debut for the Pioneers this season, Scott could work his way into the mix on attack early in his career.

KEY DEPARTURES

Graduations: Riley Curtis, M; Jack Hannah, M; Johnny Marrocco, A; Ted Sullivan, M
Transfers: Alex Simmons, A (Syracuse)







STORYLINES TO WATCH

Can the Pioneers re-establish themselves?

Tierney acknowledged there were internal team issues last season — nothing major, but significant enough to require offseason attention.

Such intangibles aren’t the only reason Denver wasn’t in the conversation for an at-large berth last May, but it’s striking how the Pioneers have leveled off from national title contender to a program that hasn’t won a league tournament since 2015 or won an NCAA tournament game since 2018.

“We have not lived up to what we established in 2015,” Tierney said. “We’ve been losing Big East tournaments five years in a row. Other than last year, we’ve won the regular season every year. We haven’t lived up to our hype.”

Last year’s up-and-down ride, which featured a victory over Ohio State but also a Big East semifinal ouster, provides a gift to Tierney, who announced on January 5 that this will be his last season. The wily old coach can credibly claim to be a (somewhat) overlooked underdog, a role he has always relished.

Who will man a reconstructed offense?

The early favorites to join JJ Sillstrop on attack are senior Richie Connell (14 G) and sophomore Noah Manning (8 G, 3 A), and Tierney professes comfort with what that group could produce.

“I think we’ll be — depending on whether you’re playing with us or against us — pleasantly surprised by what our attack can do,” Tierney said.

There are fewer proven options in the midfield, where junior Michael Lampert (7 G, 9 A) and sophomore Mic Kelly (3 G) appear set to make a jump from the second line.

For further answers, Denver is likely to look to a junior class and options who arrived on campus late during the pandemic season and then was stuck behind older players last season.

Among the names to keep an eye one: Jack Tortolani (one goal in five games), Jack Tuttle (one goal in four games) and Ty Hussey (did not play in 2022).

How does the goalie situation look?

Jack Thompson (.523 save percentage in 2022) is the favorite to maintain the starting job for a fourth season, though there is at least a little intrigue in the competition.

Tierney said junior Malcolm Kleban, who did not appear in any games last season, has continued to improve. There’s also the addition of freshman Tim McNamara, a well-regarded Wrentham, Mass., native whose arrival also ratchets up the competition.

“If Jack wins the starting job, that’ll make him a lot better,” Tierney said.

Whoever is in cage will work with a tested group in front of him. Among the long sticks with extensive experience are Jack DiBenedetto, Adam Hangland, AJ Mercurio and Malik Sparrow. Tierney is also bullish about the collective ability of short sticks Jake Edinger, Luke Tollefson and Casey Wilson.

ENEMY LINES
WHAT RIVALS ARE SAYING ABOUT THE PIONEERS

“Veteran defensively. They’re an elite defensive group who know who they are and play well together. Offensively, it may take time to figure themselves out, but with Matt Brown coordinating that unit, I’m sure they’re going to be a different team at the end of the season than the beginning.”

“Very, very strong defensively. Who is going to be the guy on the offensive end now that Hannah, Sullivan and those guys are all gone? When they’re quiet and you don’t hear about them, that’s when they’re dangerous. There is no way that Coach Tierney and Matt Brown are just sitting there. They’re figuring things out. Those guys are really smart guys, and they’re going to be really good.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

50%

There is no doubt that the Pios have a tough challenge ahead in replacing Jack Hannah, Alex Simmons and Ted Sullivan. If you look at the percentage of the points scored by Denver last year, just 39% of that point production is back for 2023. But if you look at overall production (in the form of expected goals), the story is not quite as bleak; as measured by returning EGA (expected-goals-added), 50% of their production is back this year.

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