March 20, 2013

Taking Stock: Bellarmine's Ward Best Player You Haven't Seen

by Gary Lambrecht |

Bellarmine's Dillon Ward has allowed only 5.6 goals per game and stopped 72.5 percent of the shots he's faced.
© John Strohsacker/

With conference play heating up and the first month of the regular season in the rearview mirror, time to take stock of some Division I developments.

GOOD LUCK MATCHING UP WITH THE TURTLES: No. 1 Maryland, the last undefeated Division I men's team, and No. 2 Cornell clearly have the muscle required to make it to Memorial Day weekend. Here's why Maryland looks scarier than Cornell, who is led by the best quarterback in America in Rob Pannell, but upset by Bucknell on Tuesday. The Terps bring a wave of complimentary scoring parts. Maryland ranks second in Division I in scoring (15.0 goals per game), third in assists (8.3) and leads the nation with 41.3 percent shooting. Yet the Terps have not a single goal-scorer ranked among the game's top 50. Their six-on-six offense – unselfish, athletic and savvy – is a defensive coordinator's nightmare.

THE CUSE IS BACK: No. 4 Syracuse made that clear with its 13-8 whipping of 11th-ranked Johns Hopkins on Saturday in the Carrier Dome. One factor really stuck out for the Orange (4-1): an extremely disciplined offense. The unit has avoided costly turnovers throughout a four-game winning streak and has shared the ball smartly, makes an emerging defense look especially good at this early stage. The way Syracuse valued the rock was the key against the Blue Jays.

THE HOP AND THE SLOP: A sizeable segment of the Hopkins (5-2) alumni is no doubt in predictable panic mode after Saturday's upstate debacle. But the Blue Jays' lack of poise and discipline — particularly a team boasting so much experience — is a cause for concern. Hopkins has lost to Princeton and Syracuse, the two legitimate powers thus far on the schedule, by a combined eight goals. Turnovers, especially a spate of the unforced variety, have been the Jays' undoing. They have a combined 32 miscues in those two losses.

BIGGEST SURPRISE: No one expected the Ivy League to be some kind of pushover in 2013. But this group is looking as if it could send three teams to the NCAA tournament. Cornell remains the king until proven otherwise. No. 18 Yale, the defending Ivy champ, can score with most opponents. No. 10 Princeton has the game's most dynamic midfielder in Tom Schreiber. No. 7 Penn already has beaten Duke, Lehigh and Princeton. And don't go to sleep on unranked Brown (4-1). Freshman goalie Jack Kelly (6.2 GAA, .575) is off to a tremendous start.

LEAGUE PLAY IS EVERYTHING (OR ALMOST): The Minutemen of UMass did write this early-season script. They didn't plan to be without such forces as Will Manny and Connor Mooney, due to injuries. They didn't figure on a 3-4 start and a four-game losing streak, during which they have barely managed seven goals per outing. But Manny and Mooney are back, just in time for the meat of Colonial Athletic Conference play. The Minutemen will be in good shape to get after an NCAA tournament AQ, come CAA tournament time.

BEST PLAYER YOU PROBABLY HAVEN'T SEEN: College lacrosse, with its parity and deep bench of strong talent, has a list of worthy candidates to compete for this spot. But for now, Bellarmine senior goalie Dillon Ward gets the call. This wiry, 6-foot-5, Canadian stopper is the reason that the Knights are 6-1. If he had gotten a little bit of help from his suspect offense, Ward might have done enough to beat No. 9 Loyola. In seven contests, Ward has allowed 5.6 goals per game, averaged 14.8 saves and has stopped 72.5 percent of the shots he's faced.

THE WAR AMONG PATRIOTS: The Patriot League might not send more than one team to the NCAAs for a second straight year, but the conference is positioning itself for quite a dogfight over the next six weeks. No. 16 Bucknell (6-1) has been the most consistent team. Unranked Colgate (6-2) has an explosive offense led by Peter Baum and is righting itself after back-to-back losses to Cornell and Hobart. And senior attackman David DiMaria leads a very dangerous, 15th-ranked Lehigh (5-3) squad.

BET YOU WON'T SEE THIS AGAIN ANYTIME SOON: No. 3 Notre Dame's dangerous tendency to play one-goal games has been well-documented. Saturday's 13-12, overtime win against No. 5 Denver, besides being arguably the most entertaining showdown of the young season, delivered two notable occurrences. The normally airtight Irish (4-1) defense gave up a dozen goals — albeit to the best offense in Division I this side of Maryland. And Notre Dame goalie John "The Terminator" Kemp made just four saves. Somehow, the Irish survived.

THE TOP-HEAVY ACC: Maryland is better than advertised, and the Terps were projected by everybody to be at least pretty darned good. The rest of the four-team conference is a scrum. Duke, Virginia and North Carolina (ranked in order from 12-14, respectively) already have a combined 10 losses. Down the line, that trend could open up a precious at-large bid from another formidable league, such as the Ivy or the ECAC, where Denver, Loyola and No. 8 Ohio State (5-1) mean business.

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