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 III men's lacrosse season in Maryland.
After knocking on the door for several years, Stevenson won its first NCAA Division III championship in 2013. The Mustangs set a school record with 22 wins, beat state rivals Washington College and Salisbury during the playoffs and finished with a come-from-behind, 16-14 victory against RIT during the national title game.
The consensus top-ranked team in preseason polls, Stevenson will feature several key returnees on its 2014 team. Head coach Paul Cantabene will depend on senior attackman Chris Dashiell, the squad's leading scorer in 2013 with 33 goals and 53 assists, and the expected anchor of an offensive unit that lost Tyler Reid (52, 18) to graduation. The Mustangs also lost top goal scorer Mark Pannenton (62 goals), who is sitting out the season for personal reasons. But the returns of junior midfielders Michael Crowe (25, 17) and Billy Burgoyne (34, six) should help ease the graduation losses of Peter Green and Tony Rossi at that spot. Faceoff specialists Brent Hiken and Sam Wyatt should help the Mustangs control the ball, while senior Kyle Holechek and junior Callum Robinson should anchor the defense in front of sophomore goalkeeper Dimitri Pecunes (7.6 goals allowed).
Stevenson will play the most difficult nonconference schedule in the nation. A Feb. 22 rematch with RIT in Syracuse's Carrier Dome will be followed with games against seven preseason top 20 teams, including Western New England; Tufts; and Nazareth and SUNY-Cortland, who will participate in the Mustang Classic March 21 and 22. Lynchburg, Salisbury and Commonwealth Conference runner-up Widener will also return to the Stevenson slate.
Salisbury was supposed to have a rebuilding year in 2013. But the Sea Gulls, who lost to Eastern Shore rival Washington College and ceded the Capital Athletic Conference championship to St. Mary's College, showed their mettle during the postseason. Coach Jim Berkman's club advanced to the national semifinals before closing its 17-5 season with a loss to Stevenson.
With three of their top five scorers and goalkeeper Alex Taylor returning, the Sea Gulls should be in the running again. The offense should be strong, with the return of Rhett DePol (19 goals, 34 assists in 2014) and Brady Dashiell (26, seven) on attack and Greg Korvin (17, 15) in the midfield. With a 5.5 goals-allowed average and .615 save percentage, Taylor could be the top goalie in Division III. He'll have to be sharp for fourth-ranked Salisbury against a schedule that includes Lynchburg, Widener, Gettysburg, Washington College, St. Mary's and the regular-season finale April 19 at Stevenson.
The Washington College comeback is in full swing. The 2013 season was the Shoremen's best in several years, as they finished 13-5 and reached the second round of the NCAA tournament before falling, 17-13, to Stevenson.
Coach Jeff Shirk's squad lost leading scorer Bennett Cord (33 goals, 31 assists in 2013) to graduation, but several returnees should help Washington's quest for a Centennial Conference title and second consecutive postseason berth. Three productive seniors -- midfielder Hunter Nowicki (20, 13) and attackmen Jim Cusick (28, four) and JD Campbell (17, 15) -- are expected to lead the Shoremen's offense. Washington, ranked ninth in the USILA preseason poll, also returns senior goalkeeper Ted DiSalvo (8.98 goals-allowed average). Testing DiSalvo will be a schedule that includes nonconference foes Ohio Wesleyan, St. Mary's and Salisbury, plus Centennial favorite Dickinson.
St. Mary's College also climbed a mountain in 2013. The Seahawks secured their first-ever NCAA bid by defeating the Sea Gulls during the final of the CAC tournament. Despite a first-round tourney loss to Lynchburg, coach Chris Hasbrouck's team finished with a 12-7 record.
St. Mary's lost several key seniors, including top scorer Patrick Mull (21 goals, 37 assists in 2013) and one of the nation's top faceoff specialists, Albert Mitchell. But the Seahawks, who will face tough nonconference opponents in Roanoke, Dickinson and Washington College, have the look of a contender. The return of three potent goal scorers in attackmen Ben Love (38, two) and Conor Jordan (24, nine) and junior midfielder Matt Tarrant (31, five) should help fill Mull's absence. Sophomore Joey Casey will replace the graduated Scott Marsh (.571 save percentage) in the Seahawk goal.
Goucher went 8-8 and swept six Landmark Conference opponents during the 2013 regular season. A first-round league tournament loss denied the Gophers an NCAA bid. With its top four scorers back, coach Brian Kelly's squad is the favorite to win the league.
Goucher's balanced offense features senior midfielder Pierce Ingram (26 goals, 10 assists in 2013) and returning attackmen Dylan Zook (12, 20), Sam Morgan (13, 15) and Max Roach (19, nine). The Gophers, who must replace standout goalkeeper Connor Mishaw, will open with a pair of challenging nonconference foes in Washington College and Gettysburg.
Frostburg State plays in the CAC, where it competes annually with top 20 teams Salisbury and St. Mary's. But the Bobcats made strides in 2013, finishing with a 13-7 record, which included a 3-3 mark in league play. Head coach Tommy Pearce welcomes back his entire starting attack unit, including sophomore Spenser Love (41 goals, 20 assists in 2013), junior Devin Colegrove (27, 33) and senior Ryan Serio (43, 16). The Bobcats, who will face an early nonconference challenge from Washington College, should be solid in goal with senior Tyler Haines (.727 save percentage).
Seeking Better Times
McDaniel couldn't get untracked in 2013. The Green Terror went 5-11 and 2-6 in the Centennial Conference. But McDaniel should be strong on attack, with the return of leading scorer Pat Bivons (21 goals, 16 assists in 2013) and sophomore Zach Monzo (20, three). The Green Terror should also get strong goalkeeping from senior Christian Dallmus (9.6 goals allowed per game).
Hood went 3-14 and didn't win a league game during its first season as a Commonwealth Conference member. The Blazers lost leading scorer Alex Engler (11 goals, 14 assists in 2013) to graduation, but return junior midfielder Randolph Clark, who scored 10 goals and won 68 percent of his faceoff attempts last year.