Jake Withers and most of his Ohio State lacrosse teammates could get double-takes and questions when they show their university identification cards on campus this week.
With the Buckeyes going into the Big Ten tournament, what to do to make a statement? Why, go blond and have a variation of a Mohawk, of course.
“It’s a championship hairdo,” said Withers, a faceoff specilist. “The season grinds you down, and we decided as a team to do something to refresh ourselves.”
Ohio State (12-3) plays Johns Hopkins (8-5) in a semifinal at approximately 7:30 tonight at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium. Top-seeded Maryland (10-3) plays Penn State (12-2) in the other semifinal at 5 p.m.
The championship game is 7:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Buckeyes have the seventh-best RPI in the nation, and getting into the NCAA tournament for the sixth time overall and third time since 2013 is all but guaranteed. A victory over Johns Hopkins, though, could allow them to host a first-round tournament game.
Ninth-year coach Nick Myers said this is the time when good teams can become great.
“I told them, ‘Listen, everyone is tired at this time of year and you reset the clock,’ ” Myers said. “You play for May. You play for your teammates. The NCAA championship is your ultimate goal and you don’t want it to end.”
The Buckeyes made the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament in 2013 and ’15, and this team has duplicated what the ’15 did by defeating Johns Hopkins and Maryland.
By winning the conference tournament, Ohio State could make up for failing to get a share of the Big Ten regular-season championship with a 12-11 loss to Rutgers the final game.
“We’re trying to sustain success,” Myers said. “We had a special year in ’13 being a three seed and beating Duke in the first round. We’ve been to the quarterfinals twice in recent years. This year, with the disappointment of last year being 7-8 and the close losses, we wanted to get back to championship lacrosse.”
The tournament is at Jesse Owens Memorial Stadium rather than Ohio Stadium for the sake of fan intimacy. It will be the first time this season that the Buckeyes will play on grass.
Withers is glad he won’t be getting on a bus or plane. The senior midfielder and captain was voted Big Ten specialist of the year a second straight season.
“I’ll be honest, we’re looking pretty good going into the NCAA tournament,” he said. “We said we’re playing for the Big Ten tournament. I like to sleep in my own bed — being underneath my own roof — and I like playing in front of our own fans.”
Midfielder Tyler Pfister, a senior co-captain from Upper Arlington, had to wait to go blond because of a job interview.
“This is a huge motivator playing at home,” he said. “Playing in the Jesse is not taken for granted and neither is playing in front of Buckeye Nation. I think our best stuff is still out there. We know we have a special group of guys and a hungry group.”