Teams across the state are gearing up for the 2021 season, a season unlike any other, and we wanted to get the ball rolling with our 2021 Pre-Season Power Rankings and Players to Watch List.
First, a disclaimer... since there were virtually no games last spring, the only players we've been able to asses are those who played in the MPLL this summer or fall, or those who played for TSL Select Teams. However, history has proven these players are the state's best, with over 80% of every All-State team having played Selects in the off-season. Second, there is a big development gap this year due to the "lost season" and we fully understand that there could be significant rising and falling of teams based on information that no one really knows now. In our opinion, the High School Boys State Championship is up for grabs for really only the 3rd time in history and we expect to see some competitive lacrosse this spring!
So without further ado, here are our ten Players to Watch and 2021 Pre-Season Rankings for the Montana High School Boys Div 1:
Hayden Wagner, JR, Bearcats - Wagner was the top goalie during the M.P.L.L. Summer and Fall seasons. He’s fundamentally sound, consistent, and stands tall in the 1v1s. He’ll have his work cut out for him against strong teams, but Wagner will keep the Bearcats in a position to win a lot of games this season.
Nico Bugni, SR, Helena Capital - Bugni is coming into a season where he’s highly motivated. Helena Capital will be in a position to compete for a State Championship, and Bugni will be drawing top assignment all season. He’s a lockdown defender with takeaway ability, and his athleticism and ability to sniff out mismatches will be a key component to the Guardians defensive schemes.
Karsten Squillance, SO, Bozeman - When Squillance kicks into gear, watch out. He’s an on-ball animal with no quit on the field, putting ball carriers under constant pressure and forcing all kinds of disruption. If Bozeman can find a way to keep him applying the heat but staying under control, Squillance will be a major factor in games.
Dexter Tedesco, SR, Helena High - Tedesco’s ability to create offensive opportunities will play a big role in the overall offensive production for the “new” Helena team. If they can play fast and crash the backside when slides go early, there is a good chance Tedesco will be able to make plays and get everyone around him involved. In close games they will need Tedesco to step up and be a leader this season. Although he’s recently committed to playing NCAA lacrosse next year at Adams State, expect Tedesco to have his sights set on securing a State Championship before he leaves.
Jacob Johnson, JR, Bozeman - Johnson is the state’s best pure shooter; great mechanics, power, and accuracy. The lefty is athletic, has good size, and will win most 1v1 matchups. He’s got the ability to “go off” in games and should put up big numbers.
Cael McCollum & Trent Long, JRs, West Billings - McCollum and Long pack a great punch for the Bandits. They have very complementary skill sets, play unselfishly, and make the hustle plays. The duo play smart and will be a problem for defenses all season because they are opportunistic.
Mekhi Davis, JR, Helena Capital - Davis would be tough to leave off this list because there’s a good chance he may be the state’s leading scorer this year. He’s a finisher and put up big numbers in the M.P.L.L. by converting on the majority of his scoring chances. If the Guardians can find him in transition, or utilize his skills in set offenses, Davis could have a big year.
Luke Bilau, JR, Glacier - Bilau is a very tough guard coming out of the midfield. He’s one of the top athletes in the state in any sport and will draw a lot of attention from opposing defenses. If he can develop a little more on his shooting and feeding, he could take over games at any time. The key for Glacier will be to get some offensive production elsewhere to take some attention off Bilau and open him up to go to work a bit more.
Kaden Kinney, JR, Bozeman - Kinney is the most well rounded offensive midfielder in the state. He can dodge both ways, shoot with both hands, and plays with his head up. He plays better with structure and has a good understanding of the game. Kinney will grab more attention with the departure of lots of upper class talent from Bozeman, but he was a key contributor at the M.P.L.L. the past two seasons and has been playing more lacrosse than most in the last year. This will pay off for Kinney during the spring season, where Bozeman will very much be in the hunt for another State Championship.
TSL PRE-SEASON POWER RANKINGS - Bozeman leads our Pre-Season Power Rankings for several reasons; they’ve got talent at all positions and until someone knocks them off, they lead the pack. We’ve got the “new” Helena team in second, thanks to a class of seniors looking to make their mark after a lost season and with the end in sight. They barely edge out Glacier and Helena Capital, who we believe will all have a shot at the title this year. Just outside that group we find the Billings Bandits and Bearcats teams, who are each talented but not quite complete teams. Chemistry will be key for these teams and they’ve got the ability to pull off upsets, or “play down” on any given day. The next group consists of Great Falls, Whitefish, and Sentinel. Each of these teams has a handful of quality players, but have holes in the starting lineups and not much depth. Rounding out the list are the remaining Missoula schools Hellgate and Big Sky; who both have low numbers and hardly any players who have played in the past year.