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August 6, 2010

A Midsummer Night’s Ranking: Men’s D-II

by Jac Coyne | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Coyne Archive | Twitter

With the likes of Eddie Plompen (above) returning, C.W. Post is on the inside track to win its third-straight national title.
Kevin P. Tucker

It’s been a toasty little summer out here in the Heartland. Unlike my other western residencies, the Midwest brings a suffocating humidity along with pan-fried heat during the Dog Days. With other activities calling during the hot hours, it is during the mild evenings when the heavy analytical lifting occurs.

This segment: the NCAA men’s Division II.

I’m returning to MD2 after a two-year hiatus and it is good to be back in the division. It’s in a heady time now because while there are certainly favorites, there is no one team so far ahead of the pack to make the division boring.

It’s time to lay out my Power Rankings for MD2, working off a wide swath of criteria, including last year’s finish, players lost, players returning and schedule, among others. Below is how I think the teams stack up heading into fall ball.

(NOTE: Please don’t confuse this with any kind of Lacrosse Magazine preseason ranking. This has nothing to do with it – these are just my personal power rankings. LM’s preseason polls will be rolled out in December.)

Before we get to the Top 10, here are a couple of teams that also drew some interest as the Power Rankings were being compiled:

Bentley (9-5) – The Falcons should be decent again this year, but there are way too many graduation holes to crack the Top 10 at this point.

St. Leo (12-3) – The Lions won the Deep South last year, but they have been decimated by graduation, returning just a fraction of the points amassed from last year.

Seton Hill (10-4) – The Griffins had a nice run last year and there is some good young talent on this team, but not enough to sneak into the power rankings.

On to the MD2 Midsummer Power Rankings...

10. Queens (9-4) – The Royals grab the last spot, but it’s a tenuous grasp. Queens manages to stay in the Top 10 based almost solely on its defense, which returns a strong group of poles along with Brandon Macknew (7.91 GAA, 64.3 sv%). In the early part of the season, it will be the defense that keeps Queens in the South hunt because the midfield and attack may take a little while to find its legs. The Royals weren’t a real high-powered offense to begin with and the graduation of top attackman Brian Masterson (22g, 11a) and dangerous middie Louis Boyle (16g, 4a) won’t help. They do have a playmaker in junior Corey Geroy (15g, 24a), but finding enough finishers to bury his feeds will be a question dogging Queens for the first month of the season.

9. Mars Hill (10-4)
It was an interesting season for the Lions. They played to within a goal of both Limestone and Le Moyne early in the season, but then lost focus against St. Leo, and then again versus Catawba in the season finale to finish up a bit shaky. A lot of key cogs from last year’s run return, allowing Mars Hill to crack the Top 10. Bulky senior middie Tyler Farmer (6-foot-2, 235lbs), who scored a team-leading 34 goals in ’10, and senior attackman Eric Benesch (32g, 15a) make the Lions potent up front while the massive Dylan Price (6-foot-3, 250lbs) will fill up the goal again (6.71 GAA, 65.4 sv%). Mars Hill does have a relatively large Achilles heel – they were absolutely miserable on face-offs last year (45.5% as a team) – that needs to be addressed or the Lions will fall quickly.

8. NYIT (9-4)
The 2010 season was unsettled from the start for the Bears. The spring trip to Florida, in which Tech was supposed to play Limestone and Florida Southern, was cancelled and it just seemed like NYIT just never found a rhythm. It didn’t help that familiar face of Jake Kaley was no longer around, retiring after the ’09 season. The one-goal victory over St. Anselm in the season opener raised some questions that were answered when Bentley beat the Bears on their own field. Now Bill Dunn is faced with the graduation of an 18-player senior class, which included playmaker Matt Sullivan (24g, 46a), finisher Austin Carino (43g, 3a), and middie Kevin Hennessey (19g, 12a). In all, seven of the top eight scorers are gone. The defense was not really a strength in 2010, but it may be the top unit for the Bears this coming spring with a couple of seasoned players returning. Hopefully they can get off to a better logistical start than ’10, but 2011 could be a struggle for NYIT.

7. Adelphi (10-5)
The Panthers first season in the Northeast-10 was respectable, although they weren’t real competitive with the league’s big dogs. Expect that to change in 2011. Junior playmaker Danny Blau (12g, 26a) classmate Joe Vitale (22g, 11a) provide punch up front while the defense is stocked with young, but experienced, players. There are two X-factors for Adelphi heading into the season. First, will sophomore Aiden Bennardo be able to step in and be effective in the cage and, second, can Joe Loria continue to improve at face-off. If those two can step up, the Panthers should be able to avoid the miserable first month of the season (losing four of the first seven games) and show the kind of talent that allowed them to win seven of the last eight.

6. Dowling (12-1) – NCAA Semifinalist
The Golden Lions rode a 10-man senior class all the way to the program’s second appearance in the NCAA tournament, but those players will leave a substantial gap for Tim Boyle to fill in 2011. John McClure (58g, 8a) and Kyle O’Brien (28g, 39a) will be missed, along with Thomas Stellwagen (112-for-167; 67 percent on face-offs) and poles Andrew Casimr and Kyle Rubisch. The Lions won’t fall off the map because they do return sophomore Kevin Sabo, who racked up 58 points in his rookie campaign, and Ryan Dougherty, who posted a 12-1 record in cage with a 57.9 save percentage. There will be some drop-off, however. Dowling should be able to find several candidates to replace the points that are graduating, but the defense may take a little longer. As we saw this year, you don’t have the luxury of more than one hiccup when you play in the ECC.

5. Merrimack (13-3)
The D-II selection process can be a cruel one, especially when you win the conference championship only to see the team you just vanquished earn one of the four bids. That was Merrimack’s fate, but if they can avoid the early season stumble – the one-goal loss on March 13 to St. Leo was a killer – the Warriors could be playing deep into May with the young talent they have returning. The top two scorers for Merrimack last year – midfielder Corey Lunney (46g, 12a) and attackman Greg Melaugh (19g, 13a) – were freshmen, and several other rookies were key contributors. The graduation of Corey Spinale (6.44 GAA, 64.2 sv%) will be the biggest challenge for Mike Morgan. If the Warriors can find an adequate replacement, don’t be surprised if Merrimack is in a position to punch their own ticket in 2011.

4. Limestone (12-2) – NCAA Semifinalist
With Mike Cerino’s move to the corner office in the Limestone athletic department and the arrival of J.B. Clarke, there will obviously be some changes, but the Saints have had coaching changes before and it hasn’t impacted their 11 consecutive visits to the tourney. Limestone loses three of its top five scorers and a dominant face-off man, but the defense – Clarke’s specialty – returns an experienced backline bolstered by junior poles Brian Hogan and Steve Sauser along with classmate Steve Gartelman, who posted a 5.92 GAA last spring. Even with the scoring loss, attackman Riley Loewen (28g, 9a) had an impressive rookie campaign and senior Brian Partridge (16g, 12a) will provide proints in the midfield. While there will be a couple of contenders taking a shot at the Saints’ South crown, they should be able push the streak to 12.

3. Mercyhurst (13-1)
If not for a bad first quarter in the Lakers’ May 1 tilt with C.W. Post, it could very well have been Mercyhurst raising the Walnut & Bronze this spring. ‘Hurst was stacked, rolling through the year with the one, 15-minute exception when Post raced out to a 4-1 lead and held on for the 11-9 win, essentially eliminating the Lakers from postseason contention. Now, Chris Ryan has a bunch of holes to fill, including two starting poles, two of the top three leading scorers, the top two face-off men, and the leadership that comes from a 14-man senior class. Mercyhurst will still be in the mix with sophomore Brian Scheetz, who led the Lakers in goals (31) and assists (30) in his first season. Zach Nash, who posted a 5.94 GAA and 59.7 save percentage will have to break in a couple of new poles, but is primed for a big senior year. There might be some early season struggles in 2011, but you’ve got to figure that Ryan has some talent ready to blossom on his 49-player roster.

2. Le Moyne (15-2) – NCAA Finalist
The obvious storyline about the Dolphins setback in the title game was the three-straight championship losses. The backstory, and perhaps a more important issue, was the Dolphins were killed by injuries this year. And now that they’ll get some guys back, in addition to a powerful senior class led by the likes of Jack Harmatuck (33g, 11a), Matt Chadderdon (36g, 7a) and Jack Venditti (17g, 18a), and Le Moyne is going to be tough to beat in 2011. The Dolphins will also have a pair of experienced goalies after sophomore Jeff White and junior Matt Krupka both saw time during the season and will return a grizzled face-off man in senior Corey Bulken (62.6%). The defense will have to be rebuilt, but Dan Sheehan shouldn’t have too much a problem filling those holes. The Northeast-10 should have several programs pushing the Dolphins, but it should be Le Moyne emerging at the end, as usual.

1. C.W. Post – NCAA Champion
This past spring probably should have been the Pioneers’ “down” year as it readied for 2011 with the loss of some pretty big names off the ’09 title squad. Instead, Post grinded out a second title and is now a prohibitive favorite to make it a trifecta. With junior Eddie Plompen playing the role of finisher and senior Nick Coric as set-up man, Post has a nice foundation on offense and the defense is in great shape with seniors Erik Boyd and Dan DaCosta wielding poles in front of either Mike Giordano or Dan Orlando. Perhaps the only position standing between the Pioneers and another title is at face-off. Mike Cama covered a lot of warts this past year with a 70.3 (248-for-353) percent clip, but since no one else gained any experience – there were a grand total of 33 draws taken by players other than Cama – this is an issue. After what they were able to accomplished in 2010, it shouldn't be something they can’t overcome.

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