In 2012, Loyola University did not rate a mention in most preseason polls of Division I men's lacrosse teams. Three months later, the Greyhounds won the national championship.
In 2013, the crowded athletic trophy case at the University of North Carolina lacked a championship plaque for its women's lacrosse team. On Memorial Day weekend, the upstart Tar Heels filled that empty spot with a triple-overtime championship win against previously undefeated Maryland.
It's a long way from mid-February to late May. The explosive growth of lacrosse during the past 20 years has brought unpredictability, and it's increasingly difficult to know who will play for the championship. Here's an initial outlook for the 2014 Division I men's lacrosse season in Maryland.
Maryland graduated four of its top five scorers from last year's 10-4 team, which lost to Cornell during an NCAA first-round game. But the Terrapins welcome back four-year starting goalkeeper Niko Amato and a defensive unit that includes senior Michael Ehrhardt and juniors Goran Murray and Casey Ikeda. Also back are senior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk, the squad's second-leading scorer in 2013 with 23 goals and 14 assists, and junior faceoff specialist Charlie Raffa, who won 54 percent of his midfield scrums.
Coach John Tillman's team, ranked sixth in the USILA preseason poll, should have its hands full during its final Atlantic Coast Conference season. Maryland, which will head to the Big Ten in July, will open league play at Atlantic Coast Conference newcomer and preseason top pick Syracuse, and visit defending national champion Duke one week later. Maryland will end the regular season with games at perennial contenders Johns Hopkins and Notre Dame.
After losing four-year standout defensemen Tucker Durkin and Chris Lightner, plus goalkeeper Pierce Bassett, Johns Hopkins will have a new look on defense. The Blue Jays, who posted a 9-5 record in 2013 and missed the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1971, should be a potent force at the offensive end.
The balanced attack unit of junior Wells Stanwick (24 goals, 23 assists in 2013), senior Brandon Benn (34, one) and sophomore Ryan Brown (17, four) should help Johns Hopkins return to the postseason. The talented trio will often get the ball from junior Mike Poppleton, who won 69 percent of his faceoffs last season.
Coach Dave Pietramala's team, ranked 11th in the USILA preseason poll, began its final season as an independent with Homewood Field games against 2013 NCAA tournament participants Ohio State and Towson. The success of the Blue Jays' final campaign before joining the Big Ten in July will likely be decided by a five-game stretch when they will face fellow contenders Syracuse, Virginia, North Carolina, Albany and Maryland.
After Loyola won its first NCAA title in 2012, its dreams for a repeat ended with a first-round, double-overtime loss at eventual national champion Duke. The Greyhounds, who finished 11-5, have moved from the Eastern College Athletic Conference to the Patriot League. The preseason league favorite and 12th-ranked team in the USILA preseason poll, Loyola has plenty of returning talent. On the defensive end, senior Joe Fletcher is possibly the nation's best defenseman, and junior goalkeeper Jack Runkel saved more than 53 percent of opponents' shots in 2013.
Despite the graduation of 2013 leading goal scorer Mike Sawyer, the Greyhounds should have a potent attack unit, led by senior Justin Ward (27 goals, 35 assists in 2013) and junior Nikko Pontrello (16, 19). Loyola's schedule includes nonleague games against Virginia, Penn State, Towson, Duke and Johns Hopkins. In between, the Greyhounds will try to fend off top contenders Bucknell and Lehigh and win the Patriot League.
Towson caught fire at the right time in 2013. The Tigers entered the Colonial Athletic Association tournament with a .500 record, then won three straight games to take the league title and advance to the NCAA tournament. The Tigers, whose season ended at 10-8 after a first-round tournament loss to Ohio State, have reason for optimism this spring.
Coach Shawn Nadelen welcomes back his five top scorers. Senior attackman Thomas DeNapoli, who led the Tigers with 41 goals and 19 assists in 2013, leads a group that includes senior midfielder Andrew Hodgson (27, 14), junior attackman Cory Dobyns (19, three), and junior midfielders Greg Cucinello (23, six) and Justin Mabus (eight, 16). Towson will have to replace graduated goalkeeper Andrew Wascavage, but the return of senior defensemen John Fennessy should help, especially against an early-season slate that includes games at Johns Hopkins and Loyola.
UMBC is an annual contender for the America East championship. The Retrievers finished 7-8 a year ago and came up one win short of an NCAA tournament bid.
Head coach Don Zimmerman, now entering his 22nd season in Catonsville, will have to replace leading scorer Scott Jones (35 goals, six assists in 2013) and Joe Lustgarten (12, 20). But the Retrievers should still be a factor with the return of sophomore midfielder Pat Young (32, seven) and senior attackman Matt Gregoire (28, four). Senior midfielder Phil Poe (.588 win percentage) should also control his share of faceoffs. The Retrievers, whose toughest nonconference opponents will likely be Maryland and Johns Hopkins, should battle Albany for the league title again.
Seeking Better Times
Navy will try to turn the ship around. The Midshipmen, 3-10 in 2013, have missed the Patriot League tournament for the last three years. But coach Rick Sowell's team will rebuild with a veteran attack unit. Seniors Sam Jones (21 goals, 12 assists in 2013) and Tucker Hull (13, eight) will join with junior midfielder Gabe Voumard (15, five) to give Navy a shot at beating nonconference foes Towson and Johns Hopkins, plus a Patriot League lineup that includes newcomer Loyola and holdovers Bucknell and Lehigh.
Mount St. Mary's is starting over. The Mountaineers, who finished 6-9 in 2013, lost their three top scorers in Brett Schmidt, Andrew Scalley and Cody Lehrer, as well as a dependable goalkeeper in Adam Borgogelli. Coach Tom Gravante's team must face Maryland, Virginia, Towson and Johns Hopkins during the first month of a rebuilding campaign.