It didn't matter that the team hadn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2008, the year before current head coach Nick Myers took over. It didn't matter that the squad hadn't yet won a postseason game since joining the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference in 2010, let alone captured a postseason conference tournament title in program history.
In fact, these Buckeyes came into 2013 thinking big things were possible.
"It was a goal of ours since we got on campus in September to compete for and win a championship here in the ECAC," Myers said.
But the Buckeyes had plenty of reason for confidence. Not only would they return one of the best players in program history and in the nation in senior attacker Logan Schuss, the Buckeyes looked at last year's results – which included close losses to eventual national champion Loyola (Md.) and national powers Notre Dame and Virginia – and saw just how close they were to being among the best in the nation.
With that in mind, Ohio State went about proving that this year, to great success. The Buckeyes have reestablished themselves on the national scene, as evidenced by their capturing of the ECAC title last weekend and their selection as the No. 3-seeded team in the NCAA tournament, which they will begin tomorrow in Ohio Stadium with a game against Towson.
"It was our goal every year since we've been here as freshmen," senior Dominique Alexander said of the Buckeyes' return to postseason play for the first time since an NCAA quarterfinals appearance five years ago. "Every year we've gotten one step closer and one step closer, and this year we decided it wasn't going to be enough to get close. We actually wanted to get there, and that message was sent down from our seniors to our entire team and everyone answered it."
Ohio State has proven throughout the year that it deserves such high laurels. Not only is the team 12-3 on the season, losing only to NCAA tournament teams Loyola, Denver and Notre Dame, they earned the No. 2 spot in the end-of-season RPI rankings thanks to ECAC tourney wins over Loyola and Denver as well as regular-season triumphs over NCAA teams Penn State and Detroit and top-20 RPI resident Virginia.
The Buckeyes don't plan to rest on their laurels, though, heading into the 3 p.m. matchup in the Horseshoe tomorrow against the Tigers. Perhaps that stems from the fact that with only a 16-team tournament, Ohio State wasn't guaranteed an NCAA berth until it won at least once in last weekend's ECAC tourney.
"From our perspective, we're still hunting," Myers said. "The bottom line is these seniors, it's their first time in the tournament. We came into the preseason (ranked) 21, and that's the mind-set we're taking into the practice field right now. We're not taking anything for granted. I think we went into last weekend with a lot of urgency, and that's the type of urgency we're going to take into this weekend."
Ohio State showed just how good it could be while taking out Loyola and Denver in the ECAC tournament. The Buckeyes scored the last nine goals against the Greyhounds, including eight in the final period, to pull away to an 18-11 semifinal victory before getting a late goal from Turner Evans to post an 11-10 triumph over the Pioneers.
The offensive firepower has jelled during a current six-game winning streak in which the Buckeyes have reached double figures in goals in every contest. Schuss – a native of Delta, B.C., the school's all-time leading goal scorer and the ECAC Offensive Player of the Year – leads the way with 40 goals and 23 assists, while talented sophomore Jesse King has stepped up to post a 26-21-47 line. In addition, Evans and freshman Carter Brown have each chipped in 24 tallies.
But that's far from all the Buckeyes bring to the table. The 11 goals Loyola scored in the ECAC semifinal were the most given up by OSU all season, and only four of 15 opponents reached double digits, showing the work done by the defensive corps of Joe Meurer, Robby Haus, Dominic Imboridno and goaltender Greg Dutton.
Ohio State has also won 56.1 percent of its faceoffs – a nod to the ECAC's top specialist, senior Trey Wilkes – so the Buckeyes are able to control the ball when necessary as well. Throw in an edge in ground balls, excellent man-down defense and a 91-51 edge in second-half and overtime scoring, and the Buckeyes have what appears to be a complete team.
"I think we've been jelling," Alexander said. "Everyone is finding their role in the offense and defense, and things are going well. Our game plans have been awesome. We've been really prepared for every opponent that we've played, and we've been going out and executing those game plans."
The Buckeyes are proud to be home for the first time in an NCAA tournament game, as well. Youth participation in lacrosse has exploded over the past few years in central Ohio, and the local professional team, the Ohio Machine, is another testament to the growth of the sport.
Having top-level NCAA play in Columbus – as well as a chance for the team's seniors to play in Ohio Stadium for one last time – should do nothing but help that progress.
"For the seniors, it's a chance to play a home game when you feel like you may have played your last home game," Myers said. "I also think it's impactful for Midwest lacrosse and the growth in Ohio. Bringing the NCAA tournament to this community is special."