The No. 9 Ohio State men’s lacrosse team (9-2, 0-1 Big Ten) ended its nonconference schedule with three ranked teams — Towson, Denver and Notre Dame. The latter two were No. 1 and No. 2, respectively.
Coming off a loss in its first Big Ten game of the year against now-No. 1 Penn State, the road doesn’t get any easier with four games remaining.
Through their first seven games, the Buckeyes played rather average competition, but since then they have endured a stretch of four-straight ranked opponents, three of them being against the No. 1 team and twice against the No. 2 team. OSU survived that stretch with a 2-2 record, and added a 16-7 emphatic win over No. 1 Denver.
Sometimes the risks of a difficult schedule pay off, but OSU coach Nick Myers said he feels responsible for providing these opportunities for the program.
“One of the tasks that I’m charged with is to create a schedule that prepares you and gives you opportunities, hopefully, at postseason play,” he said. “(Nonconference teams) are quality opponents that give you an opportunity for quality wins. Getting a couple of those puts us in a decent position as we go into Big Ten play.”
All six teams in the Big Ten are currently ranked in the NCAA top 20 coaches poll. Left on the Buckeyes’ schedule is No. 11 Johns Hopkins, Michigan, No. 6 Maryland and No. 12 Rutgers. Michigan sits just outside the national rankings at No. 21.
While the credit goes to the conference itself, the Buckeyes realize there are more chances to make statements before the conference and NCAA tournaments.
“With what the Big Ten has done this year, we have an incredible challenge and good opportunity with all the teams being ranked,” Myers said.
Not only do these games provide a lot of chances to make statements, but also the ability to help the team grow over the stretch of the season. The younger guys get the chance to become accustomed to high-intensity lacrosse, and the upperclassmen are provided opportunities to grow as leaders. From a senior’s point of view, as a group, they look for the maturity of the team to grow through the tough battles.
“Our team has come a long way and we have matured a lot, and we’re focusing on ourselves every day like we have since Day One,” senior midfielder Jake Withers said. “We could be playing the No. 1- or No. 70-ranked team in the country, at the end of the day we just have to come Monday through Friday and worry about ourselves.”
Redshirt senior goalie Tom Carey stressed the importance of taking it all in stride with each individual game.
“It all goes back to focusing on each game, taking it each game at a time, and that starts with having great weeks of practice,” he said. “It’s something as an older player you start to understand, but our younger guys are starting to buy into that.”
With a tough stretch remaining in the season, there is no time for the Buckeyes to relax. After already surpassing last season’s win total, the team is hungry to win more and make a name for itself. Carey suggested the team is motivated to avoid relying on an automatic-qualifier bid to reach the NCAA tournament.
Ohio State hosts Johns Hopkins on Sunday at 7 p.m.