The University of Maryland won the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse championship last season and with 10 starters returning from a team that finished with a 23-1 record, the Terrapins could repeat the feat.
But there are always several emerging programs that can disrupt the comfort level of the traditional powers. Where did the Florida women's program come from, on the way to an appearance in the 2012 Final Four in just its third year of existence?
Division I Women:
Can anyone beat Maryland? The Terps won their first NCAA championship in four years last spring, defeating Syracuse in the title game. With 10 starters returning from a 23-1 team, including reigning Tewaaraton Award winner Taylor Cummings, Maryland enters the season as a solid favorite to repeat.
Head coach Cathy Reese's squad lost only midfielder Beth Glaros (53 goals) from last year's team, which captured the program's 11th national title. Cummings, a first-team All-American during each of her two collegiate seasons, contributed a team-leading 63 goals, 24 assists and 128 draw controls. Senior midfielder Kelly McPartland, the team's top scorer with 61 goals and 33 assists, and senior attacker Brooke Griffin (62 goals, 24 assists) are expected to again be major players in the Terps' success. Sophomore midfielder Zoe Stukenberg (35 goals, 12 assists) is the latest in a long line of prolific scorers at Maryland. The veteran defensive unit, led by senior All-American Megan Douty and junior Alice Mercer, returns intact.
The schedule contains many traditional opponents. But the Terps' move from the ACC to the Big Ten puts Maryland on a collision course with seven-time national champion Northwestern March 26.
"We're excited to open the Big Ten with the Maryland-Northwestern matchup," Reese said. "We've met in the Final Four several times, and we're ready to start a conference rivalry with them."
Loyola has played in four consecutive NCAA tournaments without reaching the Final Four. This may be the year head coach Jen Adams' team takes the next step.
The defending Patriot League champions, who went 16-6 overall and swept eight Patriot League games, lost second-leading scorer Marlee Paton, but welcome back a solid cast of veterans that include the conference's reigning Offensive and Defensive Players of the Year. Senior Annie Thomas guided the Greyhound offense, leading the team in assists (39) and points (79). Thomas will team with senior Hannah Schmidt (39 goals, 10 assists) to give Loyola one of the nation's most potent attack units. Senior Taryn VanThof is a talented midfielder who holds the school's game, single-season and career draw-control records. She also contributed 31 goals and nine assists last season. Junior Maddy Lesher, the Patriot League's top defender, will anchor Loyola's back line.
Johns Hopkins made its last season in the American Lacrosse Conference a memorable one, finishing with a school-record 15 victories and reaching the NCAA tournament for the first time in seven years. The Blue Jays, who set a school single-season mark with 247 goals, will have to replace their top two point producers. But Hopkins, which begins its first year as an independent, has plenty of returning talent.
With Taylor D'Amore and Sammy Cermack gone, head coach Janine Tucker will depend on junior midfielder Dene' DiMartino (49 goals, seven assists) and senior attacker Jen Cook (33 goals, seven feeds) to ignite the offense. Junior Josie George will provide the defensive help in front of a pair of experienced goalkeepers. Senior K.C. Emerson and sophomore Caroline Federico held opponents to an average of 7.4 goals per game last season.
Towson won its third consecutive CAA championship in 2014, but was eliminated in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The Tigers, who finished with an 11-8 mark, have a senior-laden team that could make a deeper postseason run this spring.
Head coach Sonia Lamonica will have to replace prolific scorer Ashleigh Rohrback. But the Tigers can turn to senior attackers Andi Raymond (50 goals, 26 assists) and Taylor Moore (30 goals, three feeds). Sophomore Gabby Cha (22 goals, 14 assists) will complete a formidable attack unit. On defense, the Tigers are in good shape with the return of a trio of seniors. Nadia Podo and Michelle Dufault will battle the opposition's top goal scorers, in front of goalkeeper Kelsea Donnelly.
For the first time in five years, Navy failed to reach the NCAA tournament. The Midshipmen, who finished with a 14-3 mark, lost to Boston University in the Patriot League semifinals.
But the combination of two productive scorers and a veteran defensive unit that allowed 6.5 goals per game should put head coach Cindy Timchal's team in contention for the league title and an automatic NCAA bid. Navy lost potent scorer Aimee Gennaro, but its nine returning starters include offensive stalwart Loren Generi. The senior attacker led Navy in virtually every offensive category, including goals (46), assists (34), points (80), ground balls (28) and draw controls (111). Generi will team with junior attacker Katie Gallagher (22 goals, 19 assists) to give Navy plenty of scoring opportunities. The defense returns three starters, led by senior goalkeeper Annie Foky (4.97 goals-allowed average).
Seeking Better Times:
UMBC will try to improve on a 7-9 mark, which had it tied for fifth-place finish in the America East. The Retrievers lost a top scorer in Kristen Bilney, but co-coaches Amy Slade and Tony Giro will turn to senior attackers Abby Wilson (21 goals, 12 assists) and Alyssa Semones (27 goals, five feeds) for the bulk of the squad's offensive output.
Mount St. Mary's is starting over with new head coach Lauren Schwarzmann. The Mountaineers lost leading scorers Lindsay Diaz and Hannah Gutcher from last year's 3-13 squad, which averaged a little more than six goals per game. Senior attacker Erin Seipp (17 goals, six assists) will be the Mount's primary offensive threat.