2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 9 Penn (Men)

PHOTO BY RISLEY SPORTS PHOTOGRAPHY

Sam Handley had 35 goals and 26 assists as a freshman in 2019.


The 2022 college lacrosse season is nearly upon us. 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. 9 PENN

2021 Record: 1-0 (0-0 Ivy League)
Final Ranking (2021): Unranked
Coach: Mike Murphy (13th year)

Few freshman midfielders burst upon the college lacrosse scene like Sam Handley did in 2019.

The Portland, Ore., product instantly helped transform Penn into an Ivy League champion and an NCAA quarterfinalist. It wasn’t just the hefty statistical production. It was the 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame, the classic linebacker playing lacrosse who just looked different than most of the other guys on the field.

And then, he all but disappeared. He played one game as a sophomore before an injury cost him four games and the pandemic wiped out the rest of the season. The Ivy League didn’t sponsor spring sports in 2021, and Handley didn’t even play in the one game Penn coach Mike Murphy managed to schedule.

If that’s where things ended, Handley could almost be confused for a myth, a 35-goal, 26-assist comet who landed first-team All-American honors as a freshman and virtually vanished from the college game.

Those tempted to do so are very much myth-taken.

Handley’s encore — and, for that matter, Penn’s — finally begins Feb. 19 when Georgetown visits Franklin Field. Both the midfielder, who is listed as a senior but has at least one more year of eligibility at Penn, and the Quakers have been out of sight for a while. But not anymore.

“I think he’s gotten stronger and bigger. I think he’s gotten a little more poised in terms of the decision-making and when he asserts himself and when he doesn’t,” Murphy said. “You think about what he can do physically and what he can do with his skillset and what he can do in terms of his lacrosse acumen and IQ, I think all of those things have improved over the last two years.”

Handley’s arrival three years ago was one of several catalysts that helped Penn turn itself from a team annually tethered within a game of .500 to one that claimed its first NCAA tournament victory since 1988. A good chunk of the success was tied to young talent maturing, and a strong faceoff man acquired via transfer (Kyle Gallagher) helped, too.

NIKE/USAL PRESEASON TOP 20
TEAM PREVIEWS

1. Virginia

2. Maryland

3. Duke

4. Georgetown

5. Notre Dame

6. North Carolina

7. Loyola

8. Yale

9. Penn

10. Rutgers

11. Lehigh

12. Denver

13. Army

14. Syracuse

15. Johns Hopkins

16. Delaware

17. Drexel

18. Cornell

19. Vermont

20. Bryant

Still, Handley had a big part in making it all work. For starters, his size and athleticism made him a difficult cover. Yet he also complemented Penn’s preferred style of fielding two-way midfielders capable of sustaining the program’s frenetic style.

That’s bound to continue this year with what Murphy believes is a deep midfield group. Graduate student Ben Bedard and junior James Shipley are the favorites to stay on the field at each end, though juniors Luke DiGiacobbe and senior Payton Hollway will also be factors.

Handley, though, will be primarily an attacking option — and on the field almost any time Penn has a settled offensive possession. That should especially be true early in the season, as the Quakers help break in several key pieces who have limited college experience thanks to how the last two years have unfolded.

Penn will need him at his best, especially with its typically rigorous non-conference schedule. The Quakers’ first seven games are against Georgetown, Duke, Penn State, Villanova, Princeton, Cornell and Yale.

Still, banking on Handley seems like a wise move. There were murmurs throughout the sport at the tail end of the fall when the Quakers scrimmaged Navy, and many of them centered around how dominant Handley could be as he re-emerges this season.

“I would say Sam Handley is as talented a player as I’ve ever coached, at Penn and elsewhere,” Murphy said. “He played pretty well against Navy. I think Joe Amplo can speak to what he thinks of him. I think Sam will be able to show what he can do when the springtime comes. I’m excited to see myself.”






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TOP RETURNERS

BJ Farrare, Sr., LSM

The Quakers’ primary pole, Farrare caused 18 turnovers in his only full season in 2019 and should be one of the top defensive players in the Ivy League and possibly the country. “He really has improved,” Murphy said. “BJ is extremely athletic. I know he’s gotten faster. His stick has gotten better. He’s really evolved into a strong leader down at the defensive end.”

Dylan Gergar, Sr., A

He was off to a stellar start (19 goals in five games) when the 2020 season was shut down, and he delivered seven goals and two assists against Division III Cabrini in Penn’s lone game last spring. With the departure of some key offensive pieces (notably Mitch Bartolo, Adam Goldner and Sean Lulley), Gergar will be leaned upon more than ever.

Sam Handley, Sr., M

It’s finally time for Handley’s encore to a first-team All-American season as a freshman in 2019. He’s played in one game since then, but there’s little doubt he’ll be the central figure in Penn’s offense this spring.

KEY ADDITION

Brendan Lavelle, So., D

Technically not a newcomer because he started against Cabrini, Lavelle nonetheless should count as one given the Quakers’ limited activity last spring. The 6-foot, 205-pounder is a long-term anchor at the defensive end and will play a big role in limiting the quality of shots that goalie Patrick Burkinshaw will see.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Jack Schultz, A

The graduate student started all five games two seasons ago, finishing with four goals and four assists. With so many departures on the Quakers’ offense, the two-handed Schultz is poised to easily eclipse his career totals of five goals and nine assists in a hurry.

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Quakers:

“Penn will go as far as Sam Handley will take them. He’s a Tewaaraton candidate, without a doubt. He’s one of the most explosive offensive players in the country.”

“They won’t duck anybody. They will beat some people this year, no doubt about it.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

0.875

When you think of Sam Handley, the image is a big goal-scoring machine. But don’t sleep on his ability to generate offense for others. His career assist-to-turnover ratio is .875, which is good for the 88th percentile all-time. And going a level deeper, his assists-per-touch rate is actually in the 96th percentile. Time to adjust that mental image. — Zack Capozzi

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