August 26, 2013

Midsummer Night's Power Ranking: NCAA D-II

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

Are Matty Beccaris (above) and LIU Post ready for another run at a national championship after a three-year hiatus? According to Jac Coyne's Midsummer Night's Power Rankings, things are looking favorable.
© Lee Weissman

The lawns are brown. The cicadas are buzzing. Fall ball is still a month away.

That can mean only one thing: it's time for the Midsummer Night's Power Rankings.

With the burnout from the past season sufficiently salved, this is my time to dip my toe back into the game by assessing which teams have the look of a contender this coming spring based on various metrics, including last year's finish, starters and points returning, along with other scales.

Admittedly, trying to nail down the candidates for a tournament and/or poll position nine months in the future based on current facts and numbers is somewhat of a fool's errand. With that said, last year's MNPR featured Mercyhurst and Le Moyne in the top two spots. So there's that.

Just so there is no confusion, this is not Lacrosse Magazine's preseason poll. That will come out in December. This is just my first glimpse at what might be in the cards as we enjoy the last few weeks of sanity.

To the Midsummer Night's Power Rankings..

12. Tampa (11-6)

Starters returning: 8 | Points returning: 233 of 280 (83.2%)

Why they could be higher: After just two seasons of existence, Tampa has managed to establish itself as a mid-level program. With another solid recruiting class and a competitive schedule, the Spartans have the opportunity to morph into a consistent Top 12 team in 2014. They'll have to get out from underneath the ECAC and Limestone in the South region to make the tournament, but a couple of key wins could move UT up the charts.

Why they could be lower: For all of promise that the Spartans hold, they really haven't beaten anyone since they came online. In fact, they have some dubious losses. Tampa will get tested in the early season once again and will get chance to prove its worth. But if the Spartans stumble, they'll have an uphill climb getting back on the pollster's radar.

The Man: Joey McMahan. McMahan led the team in assists (13) and finished third in points (32) in his rookie campaign, highlighted by a four-goal, three-assist performance in the season opener against Florida Southern. With a year under his belt and a better feel for the college game, he could emerge as one of the better playmakers in the South.

The Word: Normally I don't like to qualify my picks, but I'll admit it this time: putting Tampa in this spot is a leap of faith. Had there not been a rash of coaching changes – coaching continuity is one of my metrics – at several traditionally solid programs, UT probably wouldn't be here. And if one wanted to argue that Dominican (Calif.), Colorado Mesa, Chestnut Hill or St. Michael's should be in this spot, I wouldn't put up too much of a fight. Tampa's goalie numbers (five netminders combined for a 48.6 save percentage in '14) are troubling, but the Spartans should be able to bump those up and lean on a balanced offense, led by McMahan and Kyle Hemrick (28g, 7a), to stay in the mix.

11. Molloy (10-4)

Starters returning: 8 | Points returning: 250 of 323 (77.4%)

Why they could be higher: After three consecutive losing seasons, the Lions earned a taste of what it's like to win. More importantly, they didn't just do it with the cyclical maturation of a large senior class. Only four players graduate off last year's 10-4 squad, so most of the key cogs will understand what it takes to deliver day in and day out in the ECC, especially on the defensive end. Scoring goals should also not be a problem.

Why they could be lower: Having a bunch of returning players does not ensure improvement in the ECC – just ask Chestnut Hill. As pretty as the record was last year, Molloy went 3-4 in the ECAC, and didn't threaten LIU Post or NYIT at the end of the campaign. To be a player on the national scene, an ECC program can't take much more than one conference loss. Is Molloy ready to pull off that feat?

The Man: Joe Leonard. After transferring in from St. John's, Leonard had a monster sophomore year, scoring 32 goals and dishing out 44 dimes. Helped by the presence of classmate Tom Engelhardt (30g, 32a), Leonard could flirt with a 100-point season in '14.

The Word: There's a lot to like about this Molloy team, and most of the Lions issues last spring are correctable. For a borderline top-tier squad, they took way too many penalties (over eight a game) and they were a sub-.500 faceoff team (finishing at 48.7%). If Molloy tightens up both of those aspects, they are two wins better than last year at minimum. The Lions had just four attackmen listed on their roster last year, but EMO savant Sal Geneva could be a candidate to fill the void left by deadly finisher Kenny Lutz. Molloy should be able to handle much of their non-conference slate like last year, so we won't get a good feel for this team until late March when the conference season kicks off.

10. Merrimack (11-3)

Starters returning: 5 | Points returning: 135 of 286 (47.2%)

Why they could be higher: The roster has taken a hit, but junior Jamie Shand (22g, 25a) returns to his playmaking role on attack while senior Paul Jones and junior Kyle Guilbert could have breakout seasons on the frontline. In addition, Morgan Green is an experienced goalie who could make the transition from Connor Reagan seamless. The Warriors could also prosper in the underdog role.

Why they could be lower: The potential for serious growing pains with the departure of Corey Lunney (45g, 14a), Greg Melaugh (40g, 10a) and Mike Perdie (11g, 13a) is very real. It could conceivably take the Warriors a half a season to figure out everyone's role, and by that time it might be too late.

The Man: Brandon Waiter. Just a junior, Waiter has been a rock for Merrimack at long pole since he arrived on campus, and he should be in contention for defensive player of the year honors when the '14 campaign wraps up.

The Word: Rebuilding year. Transition year. Bridge year. Whatever you want to call it, the '14 season has the potential to be a trying one for Mike Morgan's troops. The 10-man senior class that just graduated is one of the best in program history and, while there are certainly some talented kids returning who have been waiting their turn, it'll be the lack of experience in big-game situations that will probably hurt the most. The Warriors have enough program momentum to handle the obstacles – they've gone through it in the past – but both the Northeast-10 and North region will once again be an unforgiving landscape. While the internal goals will once again be high, the reality is next spring may be a springboard for a promising 2015 campaign.

9. Lake Erie (12-5) | Quarterfinalist

Starters returning: 7 | Points returning: 203 of 375 (54.1%)

Why they could be higher: The Storm had four freshmen – including goalie Tom Lipomi (51.9 sv%, 7.96 GAA) – a sophomore and a junior playing important minutes on defense last year and still managed to hold opponents under eight goals per game as a team. The numbers were admittedly skewed slightly by some of the bantamweights on the schedule, but this unit is only going to get better in '14. Just looking at the two Seton Hill contests – a 16-8 loss on March 30; a 12-10 win on May 3 – we can see how they improved last spring.

Why they could be lower: Lake Erie has plenty of guys who can put the ball in the net, but graduation losses – specifically Keegan Bal (team-high 36 assists) – has left the Storm with just one player with double-digit helpers. That could be problematic with Lake Erie's style of play, especially against some of the premium defenses the Storm will see.

The Man: Trevor Tarte. Tarte led the country in goals last spring with 63 and did it efficiently (48.1 shooting percentage). His quick hands in the middle should produce another cache of markers in '14 and keep opposing defenses honest.

The Word: The Storm put themselves on the map last spring, but now they are a known entity and will be targets for every team on the schedule. Greg Stocks and his players should be extremely proud of what they accomplished in such a short span of time (Lake Erie is just entering its fifth year of existence in '14), but this is when things get really hard. The Storm has long since stopped sneaking up on anyone in the ECAC, and other teams – even ones that aren't in the postseason hunt – would love to make their spring by taking a chunk out of an NCAA qualifier. That'll be the biggest challenge for Lake Erie. It still has the talent to play with anyone, but it'll have to alter its collective mindset to that of the hunted.

8. Dowling (7-6)

Starters returning: 7 | Points returning: 161 of 227 (70.9%)

Why they could be higher: I know you know, but just remember this is a team just a year removed from a national championship. There are plenty of guys who saw the field in Foxboro in '12 or were waiting in the wings to get their chance. Last year's dropoff was predictable, but with one notable exception (see below), this spring's team has a similar look to the magical run of two years ago. A favorable schedule could be a huge boon, as well.

Why they could be lower: We can have the debate, but I would argue that Dowling does not win the national championship in '12 and has losing record last year without Louis Riley. Now that the grizzled FOGO has graduated, taking his 65.8 winning percentage from last spring with him, the Lions return just 21 faceoff attempts (out of 297) from last year. If Michael Fitzpatrick isn't ready to carry the load or they don't get someone in to get Dowling to at least 50 percent, it could be trouble.

The Man: Matt Crough. Crough stepped in and embraced the top gun role with the Lions, leading the team in goals (34) and finishing fourth in assists (13). The Peterborough, Ontario native was predictably deadly inside (43.6 shooting percentage) and on the man-up (8g), and with a more experienced team around him those numbers should improve.

The Word: Myles Harvey (57.5 sv%, 8.85 GAA) gives the Lions an experienced netminder and he'll have veteran long poles Brian Michalec, Derek Muzio, Sheldon Burns and Frank Iaconetti in front of him. Defense should not be an issue. Crough and Michael Brennan (15g, 19a) are a capable attacking duo while Tom Cleary (25g) is a big threat out of the midfield. The Lions have never been a run-and-gun outfit, but there are enough weapons to allow them to effectively play their style. Not to belabor the point, but all of the tools are in place for Dowling with the exception of the faceoff unit. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

7. Seton Hill (12-4) | Quarterfinalist

Starters returning: 5 | Points returning: 262 of 396 (66.2%)

Why they could be higher: The Griffins are once again going to have no trouble stinging the net after averaging 15.6 goals per outing last spring. They lost James Delaney out of the midfield, but Matt Delmonico (43g, 29a) and Dylan Lefebvre (40g, 17a) anchor an attack unit that will be one of the best in the country. If they can find a capable guy to fill out the frontline – Dylan Gelven (17g, 9a) would be a prime candidate – they'll be a dangerous team in the postseason.

Why they could be lower: While scoring goals shouldn't be a problem, keeping the ball out of the net will be the challenge. The graduation of Chris Ilse, who was superb in net (60.8 sv%, 7.96 GAA) last spring, and pole Anthony Rusch leaves big shoes to fill. Nick Elliot and Josh Albo return to provide a presence at close defense, but there are questions marks.

The Man: Delmonico. Limestone couldn't find an answer for Delmonico in the quarterfinals, as he struck for three goals and five assists, and that could very well be a harbinger of what we'll see in '14. He'll get more attention now that Delaney isn't drawing slides out of the midfield, but his assist numbers could double if his teammates can finish.

The Word: Although there are some candidates who will be pushing for recognition, the ECAC appears, at this point, to be in decent shape to be once again a three-bid league to the NCAA tournament. This includes Seton Hill, but the Griffins' ceiling will be

There's enough graduating off defending national champion Le Moyne to raise questions, but the return of midfielder Joe Corapi (above), among others, will have optimism running high for a Dolphins repeat.
© Kevin P. Tucker

determined by their faceoff unit. With a powerful offense and an untested defense, proficiency at the X – especially early in the season – will go a long way in shaping the season. The Griffins were competent last year, winning 53 percent as a team, but in the final three losses of the season against tournament qualifiers, Seton Hill ran at 39 percent. That won't cut it this spring.

6. Limestone (16-2) | Semifinalist

Starters returning: 5 | Points returning: 157 of 424 (37.0%)

Why they could be higher: The close defense had to be completely reconstructed last year, and with a freshman (Jake Wojtowicz), a sophomore (Zach Missel), and a junior (Glenn Trovato), the Saints still got within an overtime goal of returning to the national championship game. While they'll have to break in a new goalie, that entire unit, along with LSM Mike Ponzio, returns in '14.

Why they could be lower: There's no getting around what faceoff-man Jake Ternosky provided the Saints. He consistently (65.7 FO%) set the table for the high-powered Limestone attack. His graduation, along with other departures, means that exactly one faceoff attempt (out of 462) returns next spring. Without a sturdy replacement, this could be an Achille's heel.

The Man: Todd Nakasuji. He's been waiting in the wings for a couple of years now, but he has still quietly produced (31g, 17a last year). The Hill Academy product will be the tip of the Saints' offensive spear in '14 and could be a 50-assist guy if sophomores Vinny Ricci and Reid Reinholdt live up to billing.

The Word: Limestone has lost productive classes in the past, but rarely with the amount of aggregate points that this last bunch provided. There were only a couple of alpha male attackmen in the division that neared Riley Loewen's production (54g, 36a) and the departure of Corey Rich (36g, 24a), Zach Cummings (33g, 10a) and Tor Reinholdt (22g, 29a) leaves a gaping wound on the offensive end. Losing an experienced netminder like Christian Dzwilewski doesn't help the cause. If they can find a capable replacement in net, the Saints might lean on their defense, as odd as that may sound. There will be growing pains next spring, but there's certainly enough to think they'll once again be amongst the top four in the South.

5. NYIT (12-3) | Quarterfinalist

Starters returning: 7 | Points returning: 221 of 284 (77.8%)

Why they could be higher: The Bears have premium players at every level of the field – Luke Miller on attack, Ryan Brunet in the midfield and Danny McDermott at the back – so if Bill Dunn can get in a decent complementary recruiting/transfer class to sign on for next spring, Tech could easily win the ECC.

Why they could be lower: With the graduation of Joe Fallon and the transfer of Patrick Fleming, the Bears not only don't have a frontrunner for goalie, they have no netminders, period. Obviously, they'll have a couple of stoppers on the roll when fall ball starts, but this is a huge question mark for a team that has had the luxury of Billy McGee and Fallon tending cage over the past two seasons.

The Man: McDermott. Luke Miller could be in this spot as well, but heading into his senior season, McDermott will be the key ingredient in the Bears making it back to the Promised Land. Protecting a new goalie will be priority number one, but McDermott can do it all.

The Word: It's easy to jump on NYIT about its lack of roster size. It certainly is startling that the Bears only have 17 players returning off last year's roster (for comparison, Tampa has 42 players returning off their '13 roll), but Tech was three goals away from a trip to the semifinals. This is a testament to the conditioning and coaching. What really held NYIT back last year was the faceoff unit, which essentially ran at 50 percent (183-for-367). If they were a proficient outfit at the dot, it's a good bet they would have flipped both losses against Adelphi. In the quarters, Tech won less than a third of the draws and still only lost by three goals to the Panthers. NYIT can survive with a short bench, but faceoffs will eventually catch up with them until they rectify that area.

4. Adelphi (14-3) | Semifinalist

Starters returning: 6 | Points returning: 267 of 323 (82.7%)

Why they could be higher: Adelphi is still the premier name in Division II lacrosse. Despite the Panthers' 12-year hiatus from a national championship, the six they do have is still tops in the history of the second tier. Gordon Purdie has done a nice job harnessing that reputation, bringing in quality rookie classes along with contributing transfers. You can bet that he'll have several difference-makers – guys like Sal Tuttle and Rashad Cureton this past year – ready to enhance the Adelphi name.

Why they could be lower: Eric Janssen and Aidan Bennardo split time in goal for much of the season, likely costing one of them All-Americans honors, but it did payoff with the top seed in the North and a trip to the semifinals. Both are gone, leaving the Panthers with a pair of goalies that saw less than a game's worth of action combined. The position could control the arc of the '14 season. [UPDATE: Bennardo has one year of eligibility left as well as Nick Watson, per AU coach Gordon Purdie]

The Man: Ikerson Hopper. At a lanky 6-foot-7, Hopper is a nightmare matchup out of the midfield, and he lit up many of the top teams in the country, including a five-goal, one-assist performance against NYIT early in the season. He started to get more attention late in the year, but if he can work on his assist game (he finished with only six dimes for the season), he could be the most dynamic middie in the country.

The Word: The loss of key guys like LSM Kevin Kennedy and Janssen will have to be accounted for, but there is plenty left in the cupboard to help the Panthers get back to the tournament, and possibly again as the North's top seed. Hopper and Tuttle, along with senior defenders Vincent Alestra and Wayne Marx, give Adelphi a great start. Throw in Greg Puskuldjian, the best returning FOGO in the country, and there is a lot to be optimistic about in Garden City. Still, all eyes will be on who emerges as the Adelphi goalie during fall ball because that player could very well determine whether No. 8 in is in the works.

3. Mercyhurst (18-1) | Runner-up

Starters returning: 6 | Points returning: 239 of 406 (58.9%)

Why they could be higher: The Lakers have lost four games in the last three years and have made two appearances in the national championship game. This is a program with momentum that, with a 17-man senior class returning in 2014, has enough talent to not only once again be the top team in the ECAC and the South region, but also in the country. With Michael Grace returning between the pipes, it's easy to envision 'Hurst playing on Memorial Day weekend once again.

Why they could be lower: It's a trap that a lot of powerhouse programs fall into, but with as much success as the Lakers have had over the past three seasons, a sense of entitlement can sometimes manifest in the players. LIU Post head coach John Jez admitted as much after the Pioneers had their dominant three-year run from 2009-11, which resulted in a 6-6 campaign in '12. Chris Ryan has been around the block, so he'll surely have ways to combat this potential malaise, but human nature is a funny thing.

The Man: Brady Heseltine. After a junior season that saw him lead the Lakers in goals (42) with a spectacular shooting percentage (42%), Heseltine returns for what could be a monstrous senior spring. Even if the quick-stick Canadian specialist receives more attention this year (as he should), he'll be opening doors for guys like Jake McAndrew (40g, 9a) and Deven Alves (13g, 16a).

The Word: Who is going to be the next Brian Scheetz? The Lakers lose over half of their assists, most of them produced by Scheetz (46), which is an important factor considering the style of offense Mercyhurst employs. If they can find a competent quarterback – Alves might be a candidate – the train should keep on running. If it takes a little while to figure things out it won't be the end of the world, but a stagnant offense early could make life harder seed-wise when the postseason begins.

2. Le Moyne (18-2) | National Champion

Starters returning: 5 | Points returning: 260 of 415 (62.7%)

Why they could be higher: Well, short answer, the Dolphins are the defending champs and reached the pinnacle via the underdog route last spring. They'll be underdogs again in '13 considering Le Moyne's graduation losses, but we're talking about a program that is the face of D-II right now. Doubt it at your own peril.

Why they could be lower: The top two scorers, the top two close defenders and a game-changing goalie are gone. There's no massaging those facts. Yes, Le Moyne is a program that has shown a remarkable resiliency over the years in replacing high-end talent, but is the team that deep?

The Man: Andrew Chadderdon. Jeff White was named the Most Outstanding Player for Le Moyne in the championship game, and he was certainly a compelling character in the Dolphins' run to the title, but Chadderdon was my pick. He scored the game-winning goal in all three postseason contests – including a clutch overtime strike against LIU Post – and finished the tourney with eight goals and a dime (he had 31 goals and 18 assists for the season). There aren't too many midfielders returning in '13 with Chadderdon's cred.

The Word: I'll be honest: it's awkward not having Le Moyne at the top of the heap. Even though there are some key pieces missing from last year's team (White, Alex Cameron-Carter to name two), Dan Sheehan has this program streamlined like no other. The fact that the Dolphins were able to capture the national championship with Kam Bumpus, one of the premier faceoff middies in the country and Le Moyne's eighth-leading scorer, on the sidelines speaks to a depth of talent amassed in Syracuse. I hate to lean on the term "system" when writing about the Dolphins because it is somewhat insulting to the kind of talent on the squad, but you always know what you're going to get with Le Moyne and it seems like they are always playing for all the marbles (seven times in the last 10 years). That's tough to bet against.

1. LIU Post (11-3) | Quarterfinalist

Starters returning: 7 | Points returning: 192 of 255 (75.3%)

Why they could be lower: Simply put, the ECC. While the conference has shed some quality programs (Mercyhurst, Lake Erie) in recent years, it's still a cutthroat league that punishes teams that don't show up on a consistent basis. That will be Post's challenge.

The Man: Matty Beccaris. In his inaugural campaign, Beccaris led the team in both goals (35) and assists (15) on his way to a 50-point season – an impressive feat for a rookie in the ECC. Beccaris was not just a gunner, though. He finished third on the team in ground balls, helping the Pioneers with their devastating ride that held opponents to just a 69 percent clearing average, while also pacing Post in EMO markers. Even a marginal improvement this spring will keep him in the Player of the Year discussion.

The Word: John Jez's squad was extremely young last spring and had it been the Pioneers that struck in overtime in the quarterfinals instead of Le Moyne, we might be talking about the prospects of a repeat championship in this space. The loss of unheralded LSM T.J. McAndrew and starting netminder Tim Bradley are spots that must be addressed, as well improved play at the dot, but Post appears loaded at every other level of the field. [UPDATE: McAndrew will be returning in '14 after a medical redshirt waiver from '12, according to head coach John Jez]. If they can find a dangerous running mate for Beccaris and Ryan Slane on attack, that unit could be devastating. The Pioneers are just three years removed from their back-to-back titles, and everything is pointing toward LIU Post starting another run.


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