June 14, 2012

LM Early Offseason Top 15 (MD1 Nos. 5-1)

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Dante Fantoni and Lehigh hoisted the Patriot League championship trophy this spring. How will the Mountain Hawks handle being the hunted next season?
© Greg Wall

With the 2012 season still rattling around our minds, Lacrosse Magazine decided to take a fresh, early offseason look at next year's potential top 15 teams. What are their strenghts, weaknesses and question marks lingering over the summer? Here are Nos. 10-6. Fifteen through 11 debuted Tuesday, and 10-6 on Wednesday. Now it's time for the top 5.

Note: These lists do not reflect or indicate LM's official preseason rankings for 2013.

5. Lehigh (14-3)

2012 Final Regular-Season Rank: 4
2012 Preseason Rank: Unranked
Key Returnees: David DiMaria (24g, 23a), Dante Fantoni (23g, 20a), Patrick Corbett (18g, 5a), Dan Taylor (11g, 6a), Ty Souders (31gb, 15ct), Matt Poillon (6.75 GAA, 66.7%)
Key Losses: Roman Lao-Gosney (20g, 6a), Adam Johnston (22g, 3a), Cameron Lao-Gosney (13g, 9a)

  • How does Lehigh handle the hype? From being unranked in the preseason to crashing the NCAA tournament, no team did more to raise its profile in 2012 than Lehigh, which coach Kevin Cassese has built for the future. The Mountain Hawks might have been the most-feared postseason pairing, and national runner-up Maryland escaped Bethlehem, Pa., with last-second heroics by Joe Cummings. The Cinderella slipper might still fit, but everyone now knows the Mountain Hawks. The track record of Patriot League upstarts in recent memory hasn't been the best — see 2011 Bucknell — so history isn't exactly on Lehigh's side. Plus, the Patriot League is going to be a buzzsaw, with Colgate, Navy, Army and Bucknell pushing for the conference crown.
  • Who replaces the Lao-Gosneys? Brothers Roman and Cameron Lao-Gosney were two of the lesser-known yet dangerous midfielders in the country, combining for 48 points, and both graduate. But leading scorers David DiMaria and Dante Fantoni return at attack, as do Canadian freshmen Patrick Corbett and Dan Taylor. Fantoni could make a move to the midfield to make room for the crafty Canucks, while now-seniors Kyle Stiefel and Brian Hess will get more runs. The offense looked plenty potent late in the year, scoring 54 combined goals in the last four games. If they can average anywhere near 10 per contest (10.41 last year), they'll be fine, because the defense will be stout.
  • Can the defense take a step forward? It's a funny question, yet one worth asking. The Mountain Hawks allowed a Notre Dame-like 6.82 goals per game last year, and every starter at close defense is back, as is freshman phenom goalie Matthew Poillon, who had a .667 save percentage. Opponents shot an other-worldly 23.4 percent against Lehigh. The pieces to the puzzle for an even better defense season are there, but it won't be easy, especially against Patriot League offenses like Colgate and Army.

4. Notre Dame (13-3)

2012 Final Regular-Season Rank: 5
2012 Preseason Rank: 9
Key Returnees: Jim Marlatt (19g, 12a), Westy Hopkins (18g, 7a), Conor Doyle (13g, 7a), Ryan Foley (13g, 8a), Matt Miller (30gb, 18ct), John Kemp (6.27 GAA, 63.7%)
Key Losses: Sean Rogers (22g, 8a), Max Pfeifer (11g, 9a), Eric Keppeler (7g, 1a), Kevin Randall (20gb, 12ct)

  • Which Notre Dame offense will show up more often? The efficient, balanced one? Or the one that shot 25 percent? The Fighting Irish offense peaked in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament, scoring an average of 12.5 goals and shooting 43.1 percent against Yale and Virginia. But they shot 5-for-28 against Loyola in the semifinals, reverting to old form in the biggest game of the season. The Irish were shooting 25.3 percent entering the postseason, which ranked among the last-10 in Division I men's lacrosse. And in the last four postseason elimination games, the Irish have scored 18 combined goals. Notre Dame's depth and willingness to run three midfield lines helped later in the year, and it returns four of their six 20-point scorers. They need to avoid settling for early looks, and cycle for the best look.
  • Who will be the go-to scorer without Sean Rogers? "Mr. Big Shot" didn't post gaudy numbers, scoring a team-leading 22 goals, but the lefty scored three straight game-winners early in the year, and put away the decisive goal in three others. Rogers seemingly always made the right decision with the ball in his stick, and he was the offensive captain on the field. When Rogers got good looks at the cage, it meant the collective group was clicking. Rising sophomore Conor Doyle and rising junior Westy Hopkins should be the focal point of the attack, while Jim Marlatt gets more runs with the midfield.
  • Can the Notre Dame defense keep it up? There's almost certainly no end in sight, and defensive coordinator Gerry Byrne directs the most dominant and consistent unit in the country. First-team All-American defenseman Kevin Randall and underrated long-stick midfielder Bobby Smith graduate, but the other component parts return to the nation's top-ranked unit, including first-team All-American goalie John Kemp. At some point, will an offense figure out how to dissect Notre Dame's defense? There's not really a blueprint: The Irish have surrendered double-digit goals only eight times in the last five seasons — four of which came in 2010 against a banged-up group. But Big East teams and fixtures on Notre Dame's schedule are diligently working to devise a scheme to break down the vaunted unit.

Dan Wigrizer will be an important piece to Duke's 2013 team, as he was to this year's edition.
© Jim O'Connor

3. Duke (15-5)

2012 Final Regular-Season Rank: 3
2012 Preseason Rank: 2
Key Returnees: Jordan Wolf (32g, 33a), Christian Walsh (34g, 15a), Josh Dionne (36g, 7a), Jake Tripucka (15g, 12a), Dave Lawson (14g, 6a), Henry Lobb (13gb, 15ct)
Key Losses: Rob Rotanz (40g, 8a), Justin Turri (19g, 13a), CJ Costabile (7g, 4a, 144gb, 21ct, 52.6% FO), Mike Manley (52gb, 27ct)

  • What will Duke do without CJ Costabile? Coach John Danowski started pondering aloud after Duke's quarterfinal win over Colgate, in which Tewaaraton finalist and long-stick midfielder Costabile picked up a career-high 15 ground balls and almost single-handedly played keep-away from the Raiders after the first quarter. Costabile, who scored the game-winning goal in overtime of the 2010 national title game against Notre Dame, did just about everything for the Blue Devils during his time in Durham. He took faceoffs. He wreaked havoc between the stripes. He sparked transition. He covered the opponent's top midfielder. There's no way to fully encapsulate Costabile's impact. Brendan Fowler (60.4%) should be the primary faceoff specialist, with Greg DeLuca (51.9%) spelling him. And rangy, 6-foot-5 sophomore Luke Duprey likely will play pole. Close defensemen Henry Lobb and Chris Hipps took big steps forward last year, and some speculation has surfaced about Casey Carroll returning for a fifth year.
  • How consistent will Dan Wigrizer be? Oft-maligned goalie Dan Wigrizer described his 2012 season as a "rollercoaster ride," but by the second half of the season Wigrizer was playing the best lacrosse of his career. That is, until the final four game against Maryland, when the Terps scored 16 goals on 29 shots — though many of those close-range shots Wigrizer could do nothing about. Under the guidance of former Syracuse All-American John Galloway, Wigrizer freed his mind and relaxed, which helped him become more consistent down the stretch. And it has to help his confidence that Danowski fully committed to him, when previously it was unclear if Wigrizer had a firm grasp on the starting spot. He'll be an important piece in Duke's 2013 season.
  • Can the young attack carry the offensive load? With Rob Rotanz and Justin Turri graduating, and Duke playing new first-line midfielders with Jake Tripucka, the soon-to-be all-junior attack will be asked to do more. Jordan Wolf is one of the best dodging attackmen in the country, Josh Dionne is a crafty lefty crease finisher, and Christian Walsh has a strong outside shot and does a little bit of everything well. But Danowski often wondered about the group's collective lacrosse IQ, and how they played off one another. Instead of one guy taking over — like they're all capable — they would defer to the others. Wolf has posted back-to-back 50-point seasons, and is fully capable of scoring 80, while Dionne has the personality to be the group's vocal leader.

2. Maryland (12-6)

2012 Final Regular-Season Rank: 10
2012 Preseason Rank: 7
Key Returnees: Owen Blye (20g, 20a), John Haus (16g, 17a), Billy Gribbin (22g, 4a), Kevin Cooper (10g, 16a), Jesse Bernhardt (60gb, 33ct), Landon Carr (29gb), Curtis Holmes (51.4% FO), Michael Erhardt (44gb, 22ct), Niko Amato (7.5 GAA, 54%)
Key Losses: Joe Cummings (31g, 19a), Drew Snider (24g, 7a), Mike Shakespeare (18g, 2a)

  • Will Maryland play with emotion week-in, week-out? The Maryland Moshpit reached an encore during the NCAA tournament, with the Terps' sideline celebrations fueling their run to Memorial Day. The most energetic outbursts coincided with Maryland's best lacrosse, and they symbolized what the program stands for. But how sustainable is it to play that way each week? The Terps' longest win streak of 2012 was three games, and they had "letdown" losses against UMBC and Colgate. On the field, quirky goalie Niko Amato leads the emotional charge. On the sidelines, the scout team follows the efforts of defensive coordinator Kevin Warne. Still, there's no doubting Maryland has all the pieces to play the last game of the season for a third straight year.
  • Will Kevin Forster step into starting spot on attack? The Terrapins graduate senior captain and multi-dimensional Joe Cummings, who was their leading scorer last year. But before the season started, it wasn't clear whether Cummings would play midfield or attack. Freshman Kevin Forster looked great in fall ball and seemed to have solidified a spot on attack before he endured several injuries, and Cummings was bumped down once Forster got hurt. Now, Forster likely will play a significant role on Maryland's attack, alongside Owen Blye and Billy Gribbin. Forster showed flashes, scoring two goals and an assist in the Terps' 16-10 semifinal defeat of Duke.
  • Is Jake Bernhardt fully healthy? The assumption should be yes — during NCAA tournament practices, Bernhardt ran with the scout team — and that makes a big difference for Maryland, which graduates first-liner Drew Snider and second-liner Mike Shakespeare. Some expected Bernhardt, who suffered a shoulder injury during a preseason scrimmage, to return last season. But in early May he applied for a medical hardship year to retain his final year of eligibility. Bernhardt (15g, 3a in 2011) injects athleticism into the Terps' offense, which also loses Cummings. Bernhardt is also capable of playing the faceoff wing, or working on the defense end. And let's be honest: Two Bernhardt's are better than one; second-team All-American long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt is back, anchoring the Terps' strong defense.
Mike Sawyer (52 goals, 10 assists in 2012) returns on attack with linemate Justin Ward for LM's early offseason top-ranked Division I men's team.
© Kevin P. Tucker

1. Loyola (18-1)

2012 Final Regular-Season Rank: 2
2012 Preseason Rank: 19
Key Returnees: Mike Sawyer (52g, 10a), Justin Ward (12g, 31a), Davis Butts (21g, 14a), Sean O'Sullivan (16g, 11a), Chris Layne (11g, 14a), Scott Ratliff (12g, 7a, 88gb, 37ct), Josh Hawkins (6g, 2a, 63gb), Joe Fletcher (41gb, 26ct), Jack Runkel (7.18 GAA, 55.6%)
Key Losses: Eight seniors. Eric Lusby (54g, 17a), J.P. Dalton (52.3% FO, 9g, 4a), Dylan Grimm (42gb, 21ct), Pat Byrnes (10g, 7a)

  • How will Loyola handle preseason expectations? Losing only four major contributors from their national championship team, the Greyhounds are primed to repeat. Evergreen is the top of the lacrosse landscape, and Loyola will no longer play the role of Charles Street second-fiddle to Johns Hopkins. But that means there's a Ridley Athletic Complex-sized target on the Hounds. Everything has to break right to win a national title — health, matchups, mix of players, etc. — and as Virginia's coaches and players said after the Cavaliers' quarterfinal exit, the challenges of repeating can't be understated. The successes of last season have very little to do with this season, other than knowing nobody is going to hand you anything.
  • Who will be the third attackman? Loyola's most significant loss is leading scorer Eric Lusby, who scored an NCAA tournament-record 17 goals during the Greyhounds' run to the national title. The lethal lefty attackman had one of the nation's best time-and-room shots, and offensive coordinator Dan Chemotti designed his offense to help get Lusby the ball in situations with his hands free. Tewaaraton Award finalist Mike Sawyer and linemate Justin Ward, who has great field vision, return. Loyola needs to find who rounds out the bunch. Freshman Nikko Pontrello — older brother of U.S. U-19 midfielder Steve Pontrello — might be the best internal option, though rumors are circulating about a potential lefty transfer to fill the void as well. It's a route Loyola has gone in the past; transfers Chris Layne (North Carolina) and Sean O'Sullivan (Army) starred on the Hounds' first-line midfield.
  • Who's going to take faceoffs? Senior captain J.P. Dalton's delivery at the faceoff X was one of the more unheralded yet substantial developments of Loyola's national championship. Dalton, who was replacing All-American John Schiavone, had "the biggest faceoff heart in the country," according to coach Charley Toomey. If he didn't win the draw outright, Dalton made most faceoffs a 50-50 scrap. Dalton took all but 28 faceoffs last year. The most intriguing replacement? Long-stick midfielder Scott Ratliff, who went 3-for-15 draw attempts. Ratliff mentioned that he would like to become the most complete player possible, citing Duke's CJ Costabile.

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