August 10, 2012

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Midsummer Night's Power Rankings – NCAA Division II

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

The return of senior Brian Scheetz, Mercyhurst's all-time scoring leader, should make the Lakers formidable this spring. But do they have enough juice to reach the top spot in Jac Coyne's Midsummer Night's Power Ranking?
©  John Strohsacker

The Midsummer Night's Power Rankings – my annual offseason evaluation of teams, taking into account how they finished the previous season in combination with what they have coming back – was a far more fun experience this year. With the advent of the eight-team NCAA tournament in 2013, I no longer have to put together a ranking where three-quarters of the teams on the list won't make the postseason.

Due to the expansion, every team in this year's power rankings has a puncher's chance of earning a ticket to the dance next spring. Obviously, some teams appear to have a better shot than others, but isn't that always the case?

Just a reminder: this is not the Lacrosse Magazine preseason rankings. Those will come out in December. These are just what I've come up during the dog days of summer.

12. Catawba (14-3)

Starters Returning: 7 | Points Returning: 177 of 307 (57.7%)

Key Loss: Michael Pecchia. Replacing playmaker Braden Artem (45g, 22a) will be tough, but finding a solid goalie like Pecchia (8.22 GAA; 62.1%) will be more difficult.

Key Returner: John Scheich. Scheich is the logical candidate to replace Artem's production after scoring 22 goals and setting up 19 others as a sophomore.

It's tough to carve out a national reputation in the Deep South, but Catawba has quietly won the conference the past two seasons and theoretically could have earned the South region bid in '12 had the Indians defeated Limestone in the season finale (a 17-7 loss). Catawba has a tendency to peak late in the season, which has its benefits, but in the world of Division II where there are no automatic qualifiers, the Indians will be challenged to avoid the soft, early-season losses that have plagued them the last two seasons. There is certainly enough returning for Catawba to lay early claim to the top spot in the Deep South and an outside chance at a tournament berth.

11. C.W. Post (6-6)

Starters Returning: 8 | Points Returning: 88 of 169 (52.1%)

Key Loss: Keith Rodriguez. Rodriguez gave opponents fits out of the midfield, scoring 23 goals (good for second on the team) along with seven assists.

Key Returner: Justin Patterson. The senior accounted for over a third of the team's total assists (25 of 64) in '12. Having a playmaker will be a benefit as Post reconstructs its offense.

With only six seniors on the roster, 2012 was the year to get after Post, and the ECC certainly took a chunk out of the Pioneers (4-6 in conference). On the bright side, the Pioneers return the entire defense that held opponents to 7.5 goals per outing. Unfortuntely, John Jez will have to find some answers on offense, which averaged less than nine goals per game. That quest won't be helped with the loss of three of the top four scorers from '12.

10. Pfeiffer (12-6)

Starter Returning: 7 | Points Returning: 285 of 328 (86.9%)

Key Loss: Anthony Lamarca. The backbone of the Falcons defense since he arrived in Misenheimer, Lamarca's ability to match-up with any type of offensive player will be missed.

Key Returner: Hayden Kirk. As the adage goes, you need a goalie who makes all the saves he should, and a couple he shouldn't. The pretty much describes what Kirk (6.51 GAA; 62.1 sv%) gives the Falcons.

Pfeiffer is always dangerous with a grinding style that can stifle even the top team – Limestone couldn't crack double-digits against the Falcons in two attempts and Mercyhurst managed just eight goals – and they should be able to do it again even without Lamarca and Matt Rabung. They might be able to tweak that philosophy a little bit with the return of a substantial portion of the offense, led by junior attackmen James Shepherd (47g, 16a) and Tucker Hammock (36g, 19a). Pfeiffer should be in the hunt for the fourth bid out of the South.

9. Chestnut Hill (8-6)

Starter Returning: 9 | Points Returning: 228 of 241 (94.6%)

Key Loss: Kevin Festa. Festa is not only a key loss, but he's the only loss off the '12 roster. The senior attackman scored six goals and set up seven others in his final season.

Key Returner: Dakota Maurer. Maurer put up decent numbers last spring (8.25 GAA; 58.6 sv%), but if the Griffins want to contend for a bid in the North, they'll need a monster senior year from their netminder.

In just its third season as a varsity program, Chestnut Hill continued its upward arc, posting a winning record for the first time while playing ranked opponents like Dowling, Seton Hill and NYIT close. With just about everyone returning from last year's team, the expectation in 2013 will not only include contending with the top teams, but also avoiding letdowns like they did in losses to St. Rose and Lake Erie. The defense appears to be in good shape, but Brian Dougherty will need the offense, paced by Mike Melnychenko (36g, 12a) and Craig Owen (27g, 18a), to produce against high-end foes. The Griffins also desperately need a consistent faceoff man (44.0% as a team in '12).

8. Adelphi (13-3)

Starters Returning: 7 | Points Returning: 133 of 323 (41.2%)

Key Loss: Joe Vitale. No surprise here. The Panthers didn't reach the same heights as '11, but through no fault of Vitale, who scored 39 goals and set up 27 others. He'll be impossible to replace.

Key Returner: Michael Rossi. Helping to mitigate Vitale's loss will be Rossi, who has the same kind of hybrid, middie-attack game. Rossi went for 13 goals and 24 dimes last spring.

There's just enough returning to keep Adelphi in the discussion, but just enough missing to raise serious questions about whether the Panthers will be able to hang in loaded North. Vitale, along with Danny Blau, leave gaping holes but a fully intact close defense is a great place to reset the program (NOTE: Initially, I had goalie Eric Janssen as a graduation loss, but he'll utilize a redshirt year as a grad student in '13). Gordon Purdie has a strong rookie class, bolstered by transfers that should aid a team blessed with the return of junior Greg Puskuldjian (70.7% faceoff; 6g, 5a) and senior middie Joe Celano (27g, 5a).

7. Seton Hill (12-4)

Starters Returning: 8 | Points Returning: 280 of 321 (87.2%)

Key Loss: Greg Chaples. The Griffins don't lose a whole lot off the roster from '12, but Chaples' 15 goals and seven dimes will have to be replaced up top.

Key Returner: James Delaney. One of the most dangerous playmakers out of the midfielder in the country (28g, 33a), Delaney is a match-up nightmare and opens huge holes for the Seton Hill attack.

The Griffins are going to be a big player in the South in '13. They possess the gritty defensive talent you'd expect from an ECC team, led by goalie Chris Isle (8.29 GAA; 59.8 sv%), and an offense that can put up big points anchored by Delaney and junior Matt Delmonico (47g, 21a). Even with a modest rookie class, Seton Hill will have plenty of juice to make the NCAA tourney. They will have to hurdle Mercyhurst in its new conference and region (the Lakers blasted Seton Hill in '12), but that could be the only team the Griffins are looking up at in the South region.

6. NYIT (13-3)

Starters Returning: 8 | Points Returning: 146 of 280 (52.1%)

Key Loss: Billy McGee. The knock on McGee was that he was streaky. Fortunately for the Bears, his streak lasted for almost the entirety of the '12 campaign (6.10 GAA; 65.6 sv%).

Key Returner: Luke Miller. His offseason knee surgery was a success and he's expected to be full strength after playing 12 games and still leading the team in points. With a healthy Miller, NYIT could very well have flipped that late-season, 7-6 loss to Mercyhurst.

And if the Bears do win that game, there's a very real possibility they would have supplanted Dowling as the Wild Card. That's how crazy the old D-II set up was. NYIT is in a good spot to earn a berth a little more comfortably in '13. With a potent attack led by Miller and sophomore Brandon Gamblin (33g, 11a) and a defense paced by Justin Annunziato, who was awarded a fifth year, the biggest question mark lies in the cage (although faceoffs could be cleaned up). With a typical Bill Dunn recruiting class coming to Old Westbury, the Bears should be in a good spot to grab one of the four North bids.

Chestnut Hill returns all but one player from the 2012 squad, including senior middie Mike Duddy (above). The Griffins will have to contend with the stiff ECC schedule, but '13 could be a breakout season for the young program.
© Kevin P. Tucker

5. Limestone (17-2) - Finalist

Starters Returning: 5 | Points Returning: 267 of 435 (61.4%)

Key Loss: Jackson Decker. Shayne Jackson will be equally tough to replace, but having a beast like Decker in the midfield cured a lot of ills last year. Is there anyone to fill that role?

Key Returner: Jake Ternosky. Possessions were a key for the Saints last year, but with the entire defense wiped out due to graduation, faceoffs will be even more critical in 2013.

Having to replace the entire backline, including goalie Steve Gartelman, might not seem like a big deal considering the offensive punch returning, led by senior attackman Riley Loewen (48g, 20a). And within Conference Carolinas, it probably won't be a big deal, as the Saints should win it again with what they have returning. Making it back to the national championship game is another thing, however. With teams like Mercyhurst and Seton Hill operating in the South now, a raw defense will be exposed at some point.

4. Merrimack (13-3)

Starters Returning: 9 | Points Returning: 312 of 329 (94.8%)

Key Loss: Peter Schielke. The All-American pole was a key cog in the Warriors backline and their ability to slow down some of the best offenses in the country.

Key Returner: Morgan Green. There's no way to sugarcoat this: it's tough competing at an elite level with a netminder posting a sub-.500 save percentage. Green was just a rookie when he posted his 48.9% mark, so he gets a pass, but he needs to up his game because he could be the last piece of the puzzle.

It's tough medicine, but Merrimack's problem the last two seasons hasn't been talent or racking up big wins. It's just a concentration issue. Every year the Warriors suffer a loss they have no business taking. In '11, it was a goofy, one-goal setback to Catawba and last year it was an inexplicable defeat at the hands of Southern New Hampshire by a goal. If The 'Mack can clean up that aspect, there's no reason it shouldn't at least be playing for a spot in the national title game. Yes, the NE-10 is loaded, but if it's not this year, when?

3. Dowling (13-2) – National Champion

Starters Returning: 6 | Points Returning: 130 of 276 (47.1%)

Key Loss: Matt Lauria. Vito DeMola went out with a bang, but it was Lauria who was critical on defense as the Golden Lions held Mercyhurst and Limestone to a combined 16 goals in the playoffs.

Key Returner: Louis Riley. Simply put, Dowling doesn't win the national championship without Sweet Lou, who was a faceoff force.

It was a heckuva run for the Lions, but repeating will be as difficult for the Lions as it was for all of the champs that came before them. There's plenty of talent on offense, led by the likes of Billy Richardson (16g, 19a), Tom Cleary (21g, 1a) and Michael Brennan (27g, 5a), but there are large question marks on the backline. Lauria and goalie Brian Dougherty leave holes that will be difficult to fill, meaning Tim Boyle may have to lean on his offense at the beginning of the 2013 season.

2. Le Moyne (17-1) - Semifinalist

Starters Returning: 7 | Points Returning: 244 of 321 (76.0%)

Key Loss: Tyler Sennett. Senett's numbers don't jump off the page (14g, 4a), but he was a dangerous presence in the midfield that had to be accounted for.

Key Returner: Jeff White. If the Dolphins are to return to the championship game, it will be on the back of the defense, meaning White will have to put this year's semifinals behind him quickly.

Be afraid. Next spring is lining up to be the Year of the Dolphin. The offense is loaded with the likes of senior attackmen Tyler Prevost (22g, 32a) and Nate Frechette (14g, 22a) along with junior middie Andrew Chadderdon (24g, 6a). Throw in a healthy Kam Bumpus (108-for-144 on faceoffs; 75%), who might have been the top faceoff guy in the country during his sophomore year, and the traditionally stacked Le Moyne defense – led by the incomparable senior Alex Cameron-Carter – and it appears the rugged North bracket will go through Syracuse.

1. Mercyhurst (13-1) - Semifinalist

Starters Returning: 9 | Points Returning: 214 of 265 (80.8%)

Key Loss: Kyle Kallay. Tied for the scoring lead with 25 goals in '12, Kallay was a confident scorer who had the ability to create his own shot in tough situations.

Key Returner: Brian Scheetz. The senior quarterback (13g, 33a) makes everyone around him better, and with the tools around him, he might be a 50-assist man in '13.

I have a feeling that the Lakers are going to like Southern living. With a lockdown defense paced by junior close defender Andrew Wagner and junior goalie Mike Grace (5.03 GAA; 61.1 sv%), the other South region teams aren't going to know what hit them. Throw in an offense that was forged in the crucible of the ECC, and it's tough not to envision a regional championship game occurring somewhere other than Erie, Pa. Scheetz and junior attackman Brady Heseltine (25g, 4a) should be one of the most dangerous one-two combos in the country. Throw in some improved play on faceoffs and the Lakers will look more formidable than they did in '11.


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