By: Jimmy Longo
The Ohio State men’s lacrosse team is in the midst of its best season in recent years. The Buckeyes are entering the Big Ten tournament with a 12-3, 3-2 record and are set to play the conference tournament on their home field – sort of.
OSU is set to host the Big Ten tournament in Columbus at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium starting May 4. However, the Buckeyes did not play a regular season game at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium this season, playing five games at Ohio Stadium and another three at the Woody Hayes Athletic Center to along with their road matchups.
Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium has held many Buckeye lacrosse games over the past several years. For OSU head lacrosse coach Nick Myers, that fact is something he’s looking forward to headed into Thursday’s matchup.
“I think it’s a real awesome opportunity to be in a venue that we have played in before. It’s a little more intimate.” Myers said.
Myers added that there will be an adjustment because the playing surface at Jesse Owens Stadium is natural grass. The Buckeyes, which enter the tournament as the No. 2 seed, have played on turf all year.
“It’s a venue that we’ve played on before. It’s a grass field so it’s a change for us,” Myers said. “It’s great to be home, it’s great to sleep in your own bed, avoid the travel.”
While Myers was more reserved about the opportunity about playing the Big Ten tournament at home, the players seemed eager about the idea of playing potentially two crucial games in Columbus.
“At least for me personally I like sleeping in my own bed, being under my own roof the night before the game,” said senior midfielder Jake Withers. “I’d be lying if I didn’t tell you it’s nice to play in front of our fans and doesn’t bring a little more excitement.”
Withers, who was named Big Ten Specialist of the Year for the second year in the row, was adamant that at the end of the day it was just another game, but was grateful to be finishing his Big Ten career in Columbus.
“It’s always an honor to play for the Big Ten championship,” Withers said. “I think it’s the best conference in the country and to be able to do it in front of our friends, I’ll cherish it for the rest of my life.”
Ohio State’s road to the Big Ten tournament has been one that has featured an impressive run considering what happened a season ago. In 2015-16, the Buckeyes finished with a 7-8, 2-3 record and missed the conference tournament altogether. The tide has turned for OSU this season.
Starting the year in the preseason polls ranked No. 17, Ohio State won its first nine games, highlighted by a 16-7 thumping of then top-ranked Denver University at Ohio Stadium on March 19. After dropping back-to-back games to then second-ranked Notre Dame and Penn State, OSU rattled off three straight conference wins to qualify them as one of the top four teams that make the tournament. That run included an 11-10 overtime upset win over Maryland on April 22 in Columbus. The Buckeyes however ended their regular season with a 12-11 overtime loss to Rutgers.
Ohio State enters the week ranked No. 5 in the country according to the USILA coaches poll and is the No. 2 seed in conference tournament. The Buckeyes are set to take on No. 3 seed Johns Hopkins, which carries the No. 10 ranking in the country. OSU defeated Johns Hopkins 13-9 in its lone matchup this season April 9 in Columbus.
Should the Buckeyes defeat the Blue Jays on May 4, they would play the winner of Maryland vs. Penn State. Ohio State lost at Penn State to open Big Ten play April 2.
Heading into the matchup against the Blue Jays, Myers said he is confident his team will be able to put together a team effort to advance to the title game.
“It’s a little more balanced on the offensive end. We’re getting consistent goalie and faceoff play which is what we’ve gotten in those championship years which was so key,” he said. “Defensively we’re playing at our best with seven guys down there. Right now, you’re just chasing your best stuff in May and hopefully we can put that together Thursday night.”
Adding on to what his head coach said, senior captain and midfielder Tyler Pfister said the Buckeye locker room is especially close, and their relationship with each other is translating onto the field.
“I think that’s one of the special things about this group is that it’s not one or two guys carrying the load, it’s everyone contributing.” Pfister said. “It’s a brotherhood and that drives pretty much everything we do, just that love for each other.”
Ohio State’s matchup against Johns Hopkins is set to start at 7:30 p.m., following the Penn State and Maryland matchup which is scheduled for 5 p.m.