The NLF team rankings are back!
Rankings are never a perfect science. Teams play at different events, players miss some tournaments due to a long list of reasons, etc. The NLF rankings are compiled with the use of scores loaded to Tourney Machine. There is a heavy emphasis on playing high-quality opponents, something that separates our rankings from everyone else’s.
The event that carries the most weight in the rankings is the NLF National Championships. Considered to be the top event in the country by a healthy margin, the National Championships are THE toughest event to win. When you win this event, you know you’ve made it through an absolute gauntlet littered with the very best teams in the country.
That, combined with a handful of other elite events, helped formulate these rankings. Without further ado, here’s a breakdown of the top 10 teams, with rankings 1-20 included in this story. Younger graduation years will be featured in the coming weeks.
BY GEOFF SHANNON
No. 1 Eclipse
Playing winning lacrosse is easier said than done, especially when you’re fielding an older team filled with committed players who are still exhausted from high school. Buying in takes commitment to the process and respect for your friends and coaches.
When Eclipse 2022 first hit the field at Crab Feast back in June, the team found themselves down by multiple goals at the end of the first quarter of the first game of their final major club circuit run. Though understanding that their team was coming together for the first time in months, it was still a tough early pill to swallow for a roster featuring 23 NCAA recruits.
“[Defensive] Coach [Ryan] McClay and I looked at each other, took a deep breath, didn’t yell or scream,” said Eclipse head coach Chip Buzzeo, who took over leading the squad from program coordinator Jamie Hanford. “By the end of the tournament we’d gone 3-0 and lost in overtime in the quarterfinals.”
Eclipse didn’t fall asleep the rest of the summer losing just two games, one to Prime Time and another to Annapolis Hawks in tough fashion. Then at the NLF National Championships, they put all the pieces together to beat Team 91 Smash in a tight 5-4 victory. It was the squad’s first-ever summer tournament championship.
“It’s a great group to be around and they enjoy playing with each other,” Buzzeo said. “They committed to playing all summer long, showing up to practice 100 percent of the time.”
Eclipse built their successful ‘21 summer run from the defense out, starting with goalie Thomas Ricciardelli (Taft, Conn. / Notre Dame). A star all summer long, Ricciardelli held the fort in the NLF National Championship title game holding the explosive Team 91 Smash offense to just four goals. He also made 20 saves in the semifinals against the No. 3 nationally ranked Big 4 HHH. Already a five-star and the No. 14 prospect in the country, he will be the top-ranked goalie in the next ’22 NLF rankings.
“Thomas has always been in the conversation as one of the top goalies out there, and he cemented himself as the number one goalie in his class,” Buzzeo said. “I think he’s the best player in his class period. Our team fed off him.”
Ricciardelli commanded a defense that included top Division I recruits David Evanchick (Darien, Conn. / Villanova), who matched up against No. 1 recruit Joey Spallina (Mount Sinai, N.Y. / Syracuse) in the NFL Championship game, and Mason Whitney (Fairfield Prep, Conn. / Michigan).
Attackman Ryan Colsey (Ridgefield, Conn. / Virginia), a dominant lefty shooter and No. 38 recruit, left a hole when he was injured in the NLF tournament semifinals. Lefty attackman and NLF No. 44 Matthew Minicus (Darien, Conn. / Loyola) filled the hole in the title game, topping off an incredible summer by scoring three of his team’s five goals in the championship victory.
Horses Out of the Midfield
A deep midfield also contributed to Eclipse’s strong summer. Buzzeo considers the first line of Christian Alliegro (Darien, Conn. / Navy), Joe Cesare (Darien, Conn. / Georgetown) and Finn Pokorny (Darien, Conn. / Harvard) one of the best lines in the country. More importantly, midfielders Matthew Sheinberg (Taft, Conn. / Amherst) and Michael Norton (New Canaan / Bowdoin) stepped up on short-stick defensive midfield and provided an edge late in games.
“We didn’t have ball hogs,” Buzzeo said. “This wasn’t a glorified summer team. We weren’t a 1-on-1 team; the majority of our goals were assisted. We played loose and didn’t make it complicated. It was a lot of fun.”
No. 2 Team 91 Smash
You couldn’t turn around this summer without finding Team 91 Long Island Smash in another championship game. Despite playing with a constant target on their back, Joe Spallina’s 2022 squad fought their way into the title game at multiple events.
Long ranked the No. 1 recruit in the 2022 class, attackman Joey Spallina has dealt with drawing opponents’ top defenders since he was a middle schooler. This summer was no different, with a plethora of top Division I close defensemen eager to lock horns.
That happened back in June at this year’s Crab Feast Tournament, where Team 91 Smash finished 6-0 in the 2022 bracket topped by a 7-6 title victory over Mesa Fresh. With Spallina receiving Mesa Fresh’s full defensive attention, Team 91 midfielder Marcus Wertheim (Smithtown East, N.Y. / Brown), Jameson Smith (Bayport Blue Point, N.Y. / Johns Hopkins), Jack Flaherty (Chaminade, N.Y. / Navy) and Brady West (South Side, N.Y. / Loyola) stepped up and made plays. That pressure made the Smash a more complete team.
“Joey’s just drawing everyone so I found my way cutting off-ball and he found me open,” Wertheim said after Team 91 LI Smash’s Crab Feast title victory. “Everyone just collectively played great on offense.”
Though Team 91’s offense has drawn headlines for years, don’t sleep on the squad’s defense and special teams. Faceoff midfielder Austin Oppenheim (Mount Sinai, N.Y. / Albany) is gritty on his attempts and can support the offense. Down low, Max Neeson (Pottsgrove, Pa. / Albany) showcases size and physicality while goalies Bryce Pang (Deerfield, Mass. / Lehigh) and Kevin Barrett (St. Anthony’s, N.Y. / Boston University) complemented each other in the cage.
No. 3 Big 4 HHH
What coach Billy McKinney has loved most about his Big 4 HHH 2022 squad has been watching them progress over the last few years.
“This team went from a group that won about 50 percent of their games as freshmen to one that was able to beat nearly every top team in the country in the summer leading up to their junior year,” McKinney said. “We didn’t add any players to the roster. The guys simply put in the work to become great, and it paid off in the recruiting process.”
Composed of top players from the Philadelphia area, Big 4 HHH 2022 put together an exceptional summer. They went deep in tournament brackets including making the semifinals at the NLF National Championships while matching up against tough opponents like Team 91, LI Express, Eclipse and Leading Edge.
“They really brought out the best of us,” McKinney said.
Attack/midfielder and NLF No. 13 ’22 Max Busenkell (Garnet Valley, Pa. / Notre Dame) and defenseman and NLF No. 39 ’22 Chuck Kuczynski (Allentown Central Catholic, Pa. / Syracuse) were team leaders. Busenkell is the stoic kid that outworks his peers and leads by example. He always drew the attention of the opposition’s best defensive player, but he consistently produced and scored big goals in crunch time. Kuczynski is the high intensity, fearless player that hunts the ball at all times.
Defenseman/LSM and NLF No. 35 ’22 Sean Gallagher (Garnet Valley, Pa. / Navy) and Jack Pilling (La Salle, Pa. / Richmond) were the glue guys that did all the little things that make a team successful. Gallagher has a motor that doesn’t quit, is the vocal leader of the defense and is always willing to lay his body in the line to make a play. Pilling is a throwback do-it-all midfielder that needs to be on the field in crunch-time regardless of the situation.
Rounding Out The Top 10
BY MATT CHANDIK
No. 4 Leading Edge
Leading Edge is particularly stacked on the defensive end. LSMs Konrad Miklaszewski (Montclair, N.J. / Yale) and Ryan McLaughlin (Mountain Lakes, N.J. / Penn), the Nos. 29 and 42 players in the class, are disruptive forces in the middle of the field. NLF No. 31 Luke Engelke (Pingry, N.J. / Duke) is as good after the faceoff win as he is at the stripe, and a stout goaltending duo of Jaz Zanelli (Seton Hall Prep, N.J. / Bucknell) and Harry Laferriere (Kent, Conn. / Brown) holds down the fort.
Leading Edge reached the Big 4 Champions League final, CrabFeast semifinals and posted a 2-1 mark in round robin play at the NLF National Championships, among others.
No. 5 Annapolis Hawks
On paper, this is the best team in the country. NLF No. 47 Michael Weisshaar (Archbishop Spalding, Md. / Towson) will be in the top 10 in the next set of rankings after being named the C. Markland Kelly award winner as a junior this spring. NLF No. 3 Dom Pietramala (Boys’ Latin, Md. / North Carolina) is the headliner on offense, while NLF No. 21 Alex Ross (Archbishop Spalding, Md. / Penn State) is as good a cover guy as there is in the class. NLF No. 28 Race Ripley (Archbishop Spalding, Md. / Navy) quarterbacks the offense, while defenseman Richard Checo (St. John’s, D.C. / Lehigh) had an incredibly-productive summer and was exceptional at NAL.
The Hawks won their home tournament at the Naptown Challenge, as well as the North American Lacrosse Invitational.
No. 6 Laxachusetts
Laxachusetts got its summer started by reaching the Big 4 Champions League semifinals, cleaned up at their home Legacy tournament and reached the semifinals at both the NLF National Championships and the NAL event.
NLF No. 15 Matt Lazzaro (Deerfield, Mass.) and NLF No. 41 Aidan O’Neil (Tabor, Mass. / Richmond) paced the offense. NLF No. 59 Patrick Crogan (Lexington, Mass. / Georgetown) is a spark plug that did a lot of things well in the middle of the field. Oran Gelinas (Middlesex, Mass. / Ohio State) and Tim McNamara (Tabor, Mass. / Denver) formed an exceptional goaltending duo.
No. 7 DC Express
There weren’t many more dominant players in the country at any position than NLF No. 8 Mac Eldridge (Georgetown Prep, Md.). The Virginia-bound faceoff middie was ridiculously good, particularly in helping DC Express reach the NAL championship game. NLF No. 16 and Eldridge’s fellow ‘Hoos commit John Schroter (Riverside, Va.) is a blanket in coverage, while Marcus Pedone (Richard Montgomery, Md. / UMBC) finished the summer strong. NLF No. 32 George Stamos (West Potomac, Md. / Maryland) was lights-out at NAL.
No. 8 Mesa
Mesa put together an impressive summer, consistently making it into the playoffs just about everywhere it went. They got the party started with a title at the Big 4 Champions League, with Teddy Malone (Haverford School, Pa. / Harvard) and Ryan Goldstein (Radnor, Pa. / Cornell) leading the charge. Charlie Box (Marple Newtown, Pa. / Cornell) spearheaded a trip to the CrabFeast final, while Chuck Cacciutti (Haverford School, Pa. / Penn) and Joseph Sheridan (Malvern Prep, Pa. / Richmond) led the way as Mesa reached the NLF National Championships semifinals.
NLF No. 16 Andrew McMeekin (Episcopal Academy, Pa. / Princeton) continued to solidify his status as one of the country’s elite faceoff men.
No. 9 West Coast Starz
An extremely talented group from the West Coast only really came together for a pair of tournament. Despite that, they acquitted themselves well in both. The Starz reached the final of the Platinum Cup, their home tournament, and burrowed their way to a pool win and quarterfinal berth at UMass. Duke commit Max Sloat (Sacred Heart Prep, Calif.) raised his game to another level after a move to the midfield. Samari Staten (Mater Dei, Calif.) was one of the summer’s revelations, emerging as an elite short-stick defensive midfielder who verballed to Brown a month into his club lacrosse career. NLF No. 37 ’22 Hugh Conrad (De La Salle, Calif. / Yale) solidified his status as one of the country’s top goalies.
There will be a new ‘22 national champion as @MADLAX1 knocks off LI Express in OT to win their pool!
Witt Crawford (St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes, Va.) does the honors with the GWG by sweeping topside and ripping one 5-hole.
— NLF (@natlaxfed) July 17, 2021
No. 10 MadLax
MadLax’s ’22s didn’t get as much fanfare as their NLF champion ’23 team, but it’s a quietly effective group. Witt Crawford (St. Stephen’s & St. Agnes, Va.) ended Long Island Express’ reign as NLF ’22 champs in overtime. Crawford later committed to Drexel. MadLax bowed out to eventual champion Eclipse in the quarterfinals. Fellow SSSA attackman Will McCulloch (Loyola) found new ways to score with every passing game, while Aidan Fairchild (Patriot, Va. / Richmond) headlined the defense.