National semifinalist Maryland, Loyola and Johns Hopkins were three of the dominant forces in men's lacrosse a year ago. The three premier programs should be in the thick of the NCAA championship race again.
But there are always several emerging programs that can disrupt the comfort level of the traditional powers. Who expected the Denver men's team to be a regular Final Four participant a few years ago?
Division I Men:
During the 2014 campaign, Maryland made its third Final Four appearance in four years. But the Terrapins, who finished at 13-4 and 4-1 in their last Atlantic Coast Conference season, are still seeking their first NCAA title since 1975.
As Maryland embarks on its first season in the Big Ten, head coach John Tillman will have to rebuild at both ends of the field. The Terrapins lost two of their top three scorers in Mike Chanenchuk and Connor Cannizzaro, and were gutted at the defensive end by the losses of four-year starting goalkeeper Niko Amato and defensemen Michael Ehrhardt and Goran Murray.
The Terrapins should be able to control the ball. Senior midfielder Charlie Raffa won 69 percent of his faceoff attempts, and he'll get the ball to an attack unit that will be led by sophomore Matt Rambo (30 goals, six assists) and senior Jay Carlson (26 goals, five feeds). Senior Joe LoCascio (20 goals, five assists) and junior Henry West (16 goals, eight feeds) are also back in the midfield. Senior Casey Ikeda and junior Matt Dunn are the only returning starters for a defensive unit that will be hard-pressed to duplicate its 2014 form, when the Terrapins allowed 7.2 goals per game.
Loyola put together a near-perfect regular season and won its first Patriot League championship. But the Greyhounds fell to upstart Albany in an NCAA first-round game, ending their quest for a second NCAA title in three years.
Greyhounds head coach Charley Toomey will have to replace several players who keyed Loyola's recent success, including three-time All-America defenseman Joe Fletcher, goalkeeper Jack Runkel, and reliable scorers Justin Ward, Brian Schultz and Kevin Ryan. The Greyhounds, who earned the Patriot League title in their conference debut, will return several standouts from last year's 15-2 squad. A pair of seniors, attackman Nikko Pontrello and defenseman Pat Frazier, will be crucial to Loyola's success. Pontrello was the Greyhounds' second-leading scorer, with 51 goals and 63 total points. Frazier was an unsung hero for a defensive unit that held opponents to 7.5 goals per game in 2014. Sophomore midfielder Brian Sherlock, who recorded 19 goals and 10 assists in his first season after transferring from the University of North Carolina, will anchor the midfield.
After missing the NCAA tournament in 2013, Johns Hopkins returned to its familiar place last spring. The Blue Jays, who have made 42 NCAA appearances in the 44-year history of the tournament, finished with an 11-5 mark and reached the national quarterfinals.
Head coach Dave Pietramala's team has the balance to make another deep tournament run. While 40-goal scorer Brandon Benn will be tough to replace, the productive attack duo of senior Wells Stanwick (23 goals, 44 assists) and junior Ryan Brown (40 goals, 14 assists), plus senior midfielder Holden Cattoni (29 goals, six feeds), should light up the scoreboard. Senior long-stick midfielder Michael Pellegrino is one of the nation's best all-around players. The defensive unit, typically a strength for Hopkins, lost Jack Reilly to graduation, but returns seniors Robert Enright, John Kelly and goalkeeper Eric Schneider.
During their first season in the Big Ten, the Blue Jays will have another tough path to the NCAA tournament this spring.
"We've had so many traditional rivalries, with teams like Maryland, Syracuse and North Carolina," Pietramala said. "But now, they're not the only big games on our schedule. We're in a conference with an automatic qualifier, and our mindset is a bit different."
UMBC has reached the America East title game during each of the last two years, but couldn't get past an explosive Albany team. The Retrievers, who finished at 8-7, have a deep and experienced squad that will again compete for a conference title and an automatic NCAA berth.
Head coach Don Zimmerman, now entering his 22nd season at UMBC, will have to replace leading scorer Matt Gregoire. But nine starters will return, including a strong group of midfielders that features juniors Pat Young (33 goals, 10 assists) and Jack Gannon (18 goals, 23 feeds) and sophomore Max Maxwell (15 goals, 26 assists). Junior attackman Nate Lewnes (31 goals, seven assists) and sophomore goalkeeper Connor Gordon will also help UMBC's push for its first NCAA berth since the 2009 season.
After earning a spot in the 2013 NCAA tournament, Towson fell to an 8-7 record last season. While the Tigers lost leading scorer Thomas DeNapoli, they are equipped to make another run at the Colonial Athletic Association title and an automatic NCAA berth.
Head coach Shawn Nadelen welcomes back sophomore attackman Joe Seider (23 goals, five assists) and senior midfielders Greg Cuccinello (20 goals, nine feeds) and Justin Mabus (10 goals, 17 assists). Senior midfielder Andrew Hodgson, a medical redshirt in 2014, will seek a return to his 27-goal, 14-assist campaign form of two years ago. Senior defender JoJo Ostrander and junior goalkeer Tyler White are also back for the Tigers.
Seeking Better Times:
Navy reached the Patriot League tournament for the first time since 2010, but still finished with a 4-10 overall mark. The Midshipmen lost top scorers Sam Jones and Tucker Hull to graduation, but will be helped by the return of junior attackman T.J. Hanzsche (22 goals, two assists) and senior midfielder Gabe Voumard (15 goals, nine feeds). Sophomore defenseman Matt Rees and junior goalkeeper John Connors will anchor the back line for head coach Rick Sowell.
Under the direction of 21st-year head coach Tom Gravante, Mount St. Mary's last reached the NCAA tournament in 2010. But the Mountaineers slid to 1-15 overall and 1-5 in the Northeast Conference last season. Mount St. Mary's top two scorers, attackmen Bubba Johnson (13 goals, seven assists) and Mark Hojnoski (12 goals, six feeds), are back, along with junior goalkeeper Frankie McCarthy.