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After what was one of the best seasons in program history, in which the Buckeyes shared the Great Western Lacrosse League title and earned the squad’s first bid into the NCAA tournament, the Ohio State men’s lacrosse team is ready for a repeat performance. For the 2004 season, seventh-year head coach Joe Breschi and the Buckeyes are again aiming for a league title and NCAA appearance, while at the same time are looking to go deeper into the national tourney.

Between the Pipes
Senior goalie Tony Russo, the GWLL Player of the Year, a First Team All-GWLL selection and an honorable mention All-American in 2003, returns for his fourth year as the Buckeyes’ starter. The team’s defensive MVP last year, Russo started all 14 games for the squad, posting a goals-against average of 7.76 to rank 13th in the nation.

“Tony Russo is one of the top goalies in the country again this year and will be the backbone of our defense,” Breschi said. “His ability to change the outcome of a game with dominant play between the pipes puts him among the nation’s best and keeps the team in every game we play.”

Backing up Russo will be senior Jon Miller. Miller has seen action in 14 games in his career, including five a year ago. Redshirt-freshman Drew May also could see time in net.

Defense
Ohio State, which ranked in the Top 15 in the nation last season in team defense, will again be strong at the position. The Buckeyes return three starters on close defense – seniors Greg Bice and Mike McKenna and junior Peter Frantz. Bice, a two-time All-GWLL First Team honoree and a 2003 STX/USILA All-America Honorable Mention, started all 14 games a season ago and was second on the team with 48 groundballs. McKenna started in all 14 of the Buckeyes’ games as well, while Frantz stepped in as a starter for the final 13 contests.

Other Buckeyes who will see action on defense include sophomore Jarred Olson, who played in 11 games last season, and sophomore Brian Yontz.

At defensive midfield, senior Josh Lesko, redshirt-junior John Dauro and junior Chris Brown all will see time. Lesko was limited to six games last season because of an injury, while Dauro competed in seven contests. Brown played in all 14 games, scoring three goals and recording five points. Freshman Chris Li should see playing time as well.

“The defensive unit should be solid again this year, adding depth and experience to the starting group from last year’s NCAA squad,” Breschi said. “Greg Bice has the ability to take over games, while a steady Peter Frantz and crease man Mike McKenna play their roles well. Our defensive midfield has added more depth, with Chris Li, John Dauro and Josh Lesko assisting Chris Brown.”

Redshirt-senior Matt Cafarelli and freshman Jeff Schneider will play at the longstick middie position. Cafarelli is returning to action after suffering a season-ending injury in the season opener vs. Navy last season. Schneider hails from Dublin, Ohio and played for Dublin Scoito High School. Schneider has impressed the coaching staff with his ability to run the field and handle the ball in transition during the preseason.

On faceoffs, Lesko and Dauro are expected to share duties after Anthony Kelly, OSU’s leader in the faceoff X the past four seasons, completed his eligibility. Lesko won 18-of-32 draws (.562) last year in six games, while Dauro won 5-of-10 (.500). Sophomore Nick Williams, who was 2-for-5 last year, also will take faceoffs for the Buckeyes.

Midfield
Junior Tom Randisi, who started all 14 games last season and is the second-leading returning scorer with 11-5-16 totals last year, will be the Buckeyes’ top returnee at midfield this season and will be joined by a strong group of athletes. Sophomore Andrew Bender, who started four games and saw action in all 14 as a freshman, returns, as does senior Shaun Lyons, who posted three goals and an assist last year in 14 games (and four starts). Senior Ryan Laffey played in all 14 games a year ago, with six goals and two assists.

Other Buckeyes that will play at midfield include sophomores Jason Bloom (a medical redshirt in 2003) and Williams and freshman Jason Lutz.

“Tom Randisi has really elevated his game and will be one of the premiere middies in the country this year,” Breschi said. “Shaun Lyons had a break-out fall and is expected to continue making dominant progress this spring.

“Bender, Laffey, Wittenberg, Bloom and Lutz are all solid middies who are going to contribute to this year’s success at the midfield.”

Attack
Ohio State returns a strong group of attackmen, but will have to fill the void left by Curtis Smith and Mike Norton, who ended their careers last season among the leading scorers in program history. Senior Anthony Gilardi, the top-returning scorer with 16-10-26 totals last year, will look to lead the offensive attack.

“Anthony will be the quarterback of the offense this year,” Breschi said. “He brings a wealth of experience and talent to the attack position.”

Sophomore Ben Wolff (10 gp, 1-1-2) and junior transfer Kyle Olson from Syracuse will compete for starting roles. Junior Lance Vitt (5 gp, 3-0-3), sophomores Craig Nolan (12 gp, 7-0-7), Gary Bining (2 gp) and Justin Doran (3 gp), as well as freshman Bryan Keane, are expected to battle for playing time.

“Nolan and Wolff really stepped up their game in the fall and will both play a huge role in the offense this year,” Breschi said. “Kyle has brought experience and swagger from his days at Syracuse and should add a significant scoring punch at the offensive end. Vitt, Doran, Bining and Keane have all worked hard for playing time and will certainly make an impact on the offensive end this spring.”

The Schedule
Ohio State, which was ranked 17th in the nation by Face-off Magazine entering the season, has seven ranked teams on the schedule this year. The squad opens with a stretch of three consecutive games vs. Top 20 opponents, starting off with No. 15 Penn State at home, followed by No. 18 Navy and No. 19 UMBC on the road. The team then returns home to face Drexel before a four-game road swing to Quinnipiac, Marist, Hartford and GWLL-foe and No. 16 Notre Dame. The squad will then play four of the next five games at home, as it plays host to No. 9 Duke and GWLL opponent Butler in consecutive weeks and GWLL opponents No. 23 Denver and Air Force on the same weekend, sandwiched around a road game at Hobart. OSU ends the GWLL slate with a road game at Fairfield and then closes out the regular season at No. 8 North Carolina.

“This may be our most competitive schedule yet with several teams ranked in the preseason Top 25,” Breschi said. “Playing the best in the country out of conference will help prepare us for league play.”