Early WD3 Top 10 for 2015: Will Sea Gulls Still Soar?
|Cortland has dropped in four straight NCAA semifinals. Can they finally break through? (Brian Schneider)|
With 256 programs, and counting, Division III boasts a higher population than Division I and II combined. Despite this, there's been some remarkable consistency at the top. Just five teams have reached the Final Four during the past three seasons and, for the most part, the same elite cluster has filled out the Top 10.
But the rankings are known to change from time to time. And so, seven months before we ring in 2015, here's an early look at what next year's Top 10 might look like.
The two-time defending champions lose their backbone, goalie Ashton Wheatley, but return a bunch, including All-American midfielder Bethany Baer and leading scorer Shelby Nemecek. Besides, the next Wheatley might be in the last place they look. At this time four years ago, the former midfielder wasn't even on the Gulls' radar - she ended up walking on during the fall.
Sophomore Erica Geremia could be Division III's best player right now. She'll be back, as will three underclassman captains -- Kristen Ohberg, Emma Hayes-Hurley and Tara Monaghan. After four straight NCAA semifinal exits, the Final Four looms as their only remaining hurdle.
If the Bantams are to reach a fourth consecutive NCAA title game, they'll do it with a new coach on the sideline. Kate Livesay is returning to her Alma mater, Middlebury, as an assistant coach. But Trinity's roster is young and talented (top three leading point scorers Martha Griffin, Caroline Hayes and Molly Cox are all underclassmen), and if they all return, the Bantams can be back in the title game.
Middlebury has reached two of the last three Final Fours and the Panthers should have some added motivation to provide a proper send off for legendary coach Missy Foote, who will retire at the end of the season. The Panthers lose just four seniors, will return leading-scorer Laurel Pascal and scored a big addition in Livesay (who will presumably take over for Foote down the road). The (probably multiple) Trinity vs. Middlebury games will no doubt be must-watch affairs next spring, but then again, they always are.
The Jeffs graduate just five seniors from a team that reached the Final Four, but it was an influential group. Still, after a season spent residing mostly among the Top 5, the team now knows it belongs among Division III's best. Rachel Passarelli and Meghan Mills will look to guide Amherst back through the treacherous NESCAC, which will be even more competitive next season.
Gettysburg's seniors did not get to bookend their careers with NCAA championships, but the Bullets return three of their top four point scorers -- Mandy Buell, Bridget Kenny and Maggie Connolly -- along with stellar freshman goalie Shannon Keeler, and are once again a threat to be playing on the final day.
They just keep churning out stars in Central Jersey. Lauren Pigott and Jen Garavente will be gone, but Kendal Borup, Erin Healy and the rest of Sharon Pfluger's squad will keep the Lions in sight of the Top 5 all year long.
8. Franklin & Marshall
The Diplomats graduate a ton of offense in Caroline Krohn and a ton of defense in goalie Kelsey Hoffman, but a steady batch of returners led by Emily Everdell and Brittney Jorgenson can certainly help fill the void.
The Jumbos sat out the NCAA tournament last month, but, with just four seniors graduating, and leading point-scorers Caroline Ross and Brigid Bowser expected back, Tufts could be the team that takes an Amherst-like leap into the Final Four next season.
Williams broke out a year ahead of schedule. Four of the Ephs' Top 5 point-scorers, including point leader Bridget Malicki, were members of their nine-person junior class. The best may be yet to come.
Odds and Ends
Geneseo and Colby both graduate plenty of star power and both play in brutal conferences, but they'll be in the mix from Day 1. Washington and Lee rode the attitude of its seniors to a turnaround season in 2014, if the underclassman can successfully take up the cause in 2015, the Generals could crack the Top10. With plenty of talent, and plenty of chances to knock out several teams on this list, the NESCAC's Bates and Bowdoin will be in the conversation. Same goes for Fredonia in the SUNYAC and York in the CAC.
As for programs outside the traditional areas, look to the Mississippi River and the Pacific Ocean. Three-time defending SCIAC champion Redlands graduates just five seniors and Midwest champion Augustana returns its entire starting lineup, and all but one player. Both squads will get wins in their always-improving conferences. If they can score a few non-league upsets, they could crash the party.
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