2022 NCAA Lacrosse Preview: No. 4 Georgetown (Men)

PHOTO BY JOHN STROHSACKER

A returning first-team All-America goalie, Owen McElroy led the country in goals-against average (8.38) and ranked fifth in save percentage (.583).


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. 4 GEORGETOWN

2021 Record: 13-3 (9-1 Big East)
Final Ranking (2021): No. 7
Coach: Kevin Warne (10th year)

Georgetown’s restoration as a postseason regular after a decade of relative wilderness hasn’t lacked charismatic attackmen, Daniel Bucaro and Jake Carraway chief among them.

The backbone of the Hoyas’ rise under Kevin Warne, though, stayed true to the coach’s defensive roots.

The formula is effective in part because of its simplicity. Get good athletes to fit a team scheme, thereby decreasing the risk facing a strong goalie. It was crucial in helping Georgetown win the last three Big East tournaments. It did its part in a first-round rout of Syracuse in last year’s NCAA tournament.

With most of the pieces on the back end still in the fold, Georgetown also picked up former North Carolina defenseman Will Bowen as a graduate transfer. The Hoyas have more personnel options on defense, and in turn, it means they have more schematic options.

So what is Warne to do: Put on his mad scientist hat, or stick with what works?

“That’s the coach’s dilemma, right?” Warne asked.

There is temptation to do both as the Hoyas close in on their Feb. 13 opener against Johns Hopkins, part of a beefed-up non-conference schedule relative to 2020, when the Hoyas were still trying to make sure they had their footing as a program after breakthroughs the previous two seasons.

This Georgetown defense will contend with Hopkins, Penn and Notre Dame before February is complete. Princeton, Richmond and Lehigh await in March. The full Big East schedule (including Denver) and local rival Loyola fill out the April slate.

The Hoyas will see some good offenses, so it has to be reassuring they have answers on defense. Graduate student Gibson Smith IV was a second-team All-America selection. Junior James Donaldson has started all 22 games since he arrived on the Hilltop. Will Tominovich started 10 games last year as a freshman.

And then there’s Bowen, who graduated from North Carolina in three years and was a first-team All-America pick a year ago, was a foundational piece of a defense that helped the Tar Heels get to the national semifinals.

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

“We’re pretty good at what we’ve done, and there’s some new shiny, older toys that have been around a while and they’ve been exposed to a bunch of things,” Warne said. “Gibson’s been around five years. If I don’t show up to practice, he knows what to do. He can fulfill my role very easily. You have to find your balance. You don’t want to stray away from what has got us to where we have been defensively, but I also think we would be bad coaches if we didn’t use our players’ strengths as well.”

How that manifests itself in the spring remains to be seen. Warne wouldn’t be the first coach to think going in a new direction had merit a few months before a season, only to fall back on a tried-and-true approach.

Of course, there are benefits to mixing things up on a week-to-week basis and basing things on matchups.

“The interesting thing this year is I don’t think our defense practiced for more than a week together [in the fall] with guys having grad classes and this and that,” Warne said. “The chemistry thing will be really interesting. I do think the kids feel like we have some confidence and that we know what each other is thinking at this point rather than trying to guess. We can be a little more savvy with some things.”

Also helpful: The return of a first-team All-America goalie. Owen McElroy will be in his fourth year as a starter, and he had a hand in the Hoyas leading the country in man-down defense (.829) and goals allowed per game (8.31) in 2021.

He was also in the cage when the Hoyas’ first quarterfinal trip in 14 years produced a 14-3 loss to Virginia. A week after a breakthrough rout of Syracuse, the Hoyas were effectively done by the end of the first quarter against the Cavaliers.

That leaves another step for Georgetown — especially McElroy and the tested defense in front of him — to make this year.

“To have him come back just kind of falls in line with our team,” Warne said. “We just didn’t like the way the season ended last year. I think the biggest thing for those fifth-year seniors, our guys were more frustrated with how that game ended than [pleased] with just getting to the game. It wasn’t, ‘Hey, we got to the quarterfinals, isn’t this great? It doesn’t matter about the score.’ They were actually extremely ticked off that we didn’t play the way we could have.”






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TOP RETURNERS

Graham Bundy Jr., M, Jr.

Bundy moves a spot up the scouting report with the departure of Jake Carraway, but he’s already established himself as an ace out of the midfield. Bundy had 36 goals and 12 assists as a sophomore, and the prospect of him and sophomore Dylan Hess on the same line will create headaches for defensive coordinators.

Owen McElroy, G, Gr.

A returning first-team All-America goalie, McElroy led the country in goals-against average (8.38) and ranked fifth in save percentage (.583). He’s on track to be a four-year starter for the Hoyas and should again be in the mix for goalie of the year honors.

Gibson Smith IV, D, Gr.

Heading into his fifth season as a starter, Smith is a cornerstone of a program with consistently strong defensive identity despite the emergence of offensive stars in recent seasons. Smith, a coach-on-the-field type, is adept at both the system defense the Hoyas have utilized for much of his career and a matchup-oriented approach they could tap into more in 2022.

KEY ADDITION

Will Bowen, D, Gr.

Warne famously praised the “velociraptors” on Virginia’s defense after the Cavaliers drilled Georgetown in last season’s NCAA quarterfinals. He went out and got one of his own in the meticulous 6-foot-3, 220-pound Bowen, who plans to spend the next two seasons with the Hoyas as a grad transfer.

BREAKOUT CANDIDATE

Dylan Hess, M

The breakout has already occurred to some extent; three goals against Denver in the Big East title game followed by four more against Syracuse in the first round will get some attention. But the thing is, the sophomore is only going to get better. He concentrated on offense in the fall but will be back to two-way territory in the spring. “He’s the asterisk on the practice plan,” Warne said. “He’s like a table tennis ball. He goes from one side of the field to the other, from this drill to that drill.”

ENEMY LINES

What rival coaches say about the Hoyas:

“Georgetown has just continued over the last couple years to kind of just climb that ladder. They’re excellent in the goal. They picked up Bowen, they have Haley, they have Watson, they have Hess, they have Bundy. They’re solid defensively. I think the first thing that comes to mind is they play awful hard, and it’s a team that believes right now. They’re playing with tremendous confidence.”

BEYOND THE BASICS
POWERED BY LACROSSE REFERENCE

14.9

The 58.3 percent save percentage that Owen McElroy put up last year was impressive. Heck, the entire Georgetown defense was impressive. But when you dig into the numbers, another stat may be even more impressive. Based on the expected shooting percentage of the shots he faced, McElroy prevented 14.9 more goals than you would expect an average goalie to stop. Sometimes the quality of the defensive effort means goalies with high save percentages make the saves they should make and no more. That was not the case here. — Zack Capozzi

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