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 women's lacrosse season in Maryland.
Salisbury came up a goal short during the 2012 NCAA championship game. One year later, the Sea Gulls capped a 23-0 season with a 12-5 defeat of 2012 titlist Trinity during the NCAA final.
Despite the loss of three of its top four scorers -- Katie Bollhorst (41 goals, 62 assists in 2013), Lauren Feusahrens (70, 10) and Maggie Roundy (36, 13) -- coach Jim Nestor's team is ranked first in the IWLCA preseason poll. The Sea Gulls return two potent scorers in juniors Bethany Baer (40, 19) and Kate Haker (27, 15). Senior goalkeeper Ashton Wheatley, the Most Outstanding Player at the 2013 Final Four, is back in the cage (5.6 goals per game allowed). The strong offensive units of Stevenson, Trinity, Christopher Newport and SUNY-Cortland will test Wheatley.
Stevenson won a school-record 16 games in 2013, but a loss to Elizabethtown during the Commonwealth Conference title game ended the Mustangs' hopes for their first NCAA bid. Stevenson lost two seniors and returns most of its offensive firepower. Senior attackers Leah Warner (54 goals, 34 assists in 2013) and Marissa Meiklejohn (51, 24) are two of the top scorers in program history. Head coach Kathy Railey will also look to junior Kathryn Merrick (42, 17) and senior Mandy Marston (34, six). Junior defender Meg Gill and junior goalkeeper Leanne Bittner (7.7 goals allowed) also return for the Mustangs, who placed 19th in the IWLCA preseason poll. Stevenson will face an upgraded nonconference schedule, which includes top 20 foes Gettysburg and SUNY-Fredonia, plus defending NCAA champion Salisbury.
Washington College posted one of the best offensive seasons in school history in 2013. But the Shorewomen will have to adequately replace the graduated Mollie Shipley (28 goals, 56 assists in 2013) and Corinne Ziccardi (38, 27) in order to replicate last year's 13-5 mark. Junior Emily Hubley (64, 23) and senior Carly Eisenbrandt (39, seven) are expected to lead a strong midfield unit, which should be the team's backbone. A successful search for a new goalkeeper will be critical to the Shorewomen's ability to take another step against a schedule that includes top 20 teams Salisbury, Susquehanna and Christopher Newport.
McDaniel has reason to think it will improve on its 11-9 2013 campaign. Junior attacker Danielle Entrot scored 65 goals and assisted 18 times last year. Entrot, junior Julia Jacobs (25 goals, six assists in 2013) and senior Monica Parcell (16, 13) could provide plenty of scoring for McDaniel, who finished 5-4 in the Centennial Conference last season. The Green Terror will miss graduated midfielder Paige Messersmith (45, 23) against a nonconference schedule that includes Commonwealth Conference champion Elizabethtown and NCAA runner-up Trinity.
Seeking Better Times
Notre Dame University of Maryland compiled an 8-7 record in 2013, including a 4-4 mark in the Colonial States Athletic Conference. The Gators said farewell to top scorers Alli Terry and Molly Murray, but welcome back sophomore attacker Brittany Peddicord (28 goals, six assists), who should be one of the conference's best players.
St. Mary's College lost three of its top five scorers from last year's 8-10 team. But the Seahawks should be able to rely on sophomore midfielder Shelby Newman (39 goals, 14 assists in 2013) and junior attacker Christy Bishop (21, three) to remain competitive in the Capital Athletic Conference, in which they went 3-3 last season.
Goucher finished 7-9 in 2013, losing all four of its Landmark Conference games. Senior midfielder Erin Reifsnyder (49 goals, four assists in 2013) is a bright spot, but the Gophers will have to replace leading scorer Hannah Khin (65 goals).
After losing three of its top four scorers, Frostburg State will be hard-pressed to improve on last year's 5-11 record (2-6 CAC). But senior attacker Megan White (32 goals, six assists) gives the Bobcats a potent offensive weapon.
Hood finished 3-12 in 2013, including a winless eight-game run in the Commonwealth Conference. The Blazers lost top scorer Caitlin Lawrence, and junior attacker Brigid Ayer (20 goals, six assists in 2013) could become the offensive leader.