August 24, 2011

Midsummer Night's Power Ranking – MD2

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter


Mercyhurst got the better of Adelphi in the NCAA Division II championship game, but the Panthers managed to edge the Lakers in the Midsummer Night's Power Ranking.
© Lee Weissman

It was a fascinating year in Division II. There were three teams that looked like they had the chops to be national champions at the midpoint of the season – C.W. Post, Le Moyne and Limestone – and none of them even made the title game. In walked Mercyhurst and Adelphi to give us the most entertaining contest of Memorial Day Weekend.

The 2012 season is going to be tough to predict, as well. While it could easily revert to a rematch of the '11 championship or include one of the tradition divisional powers, there is also the potential for a couple of new faces to make a splash. The cutthroat nature of D-II, which doesn't expand to an eight-team format until 2013, will always keep fans on the edge of their seats from the season opener through the various conference tourneys to see who will emerge.

To commence our slow, six-month journey to the beginning of the season, I've crafted my Midsummer Night's Power Rankings for D-II to get an early feel for who should be in the hunt when things kick off next February. (NOTE: this is not Lacrosse Magazine's preseason poll, which comes out in December). It's just a snapshot, using the amount of starters and contributors that are returning in addition to the overall momentum I feel that program has in light of losses from last season.

Without further delay, the rankings.

12. St. Michael's (10-6)

Starters returning: 7 | Points returning: 221 of 221 (100.0%) | Momentum: Upward
Did the realization that St. Michael's is bringing back every single point from '11 factor into their spot in the Top 12? Absolutely. When we combo that with the hot streak the Purple were on at the end of last year (they lost to Adelphi by a goal in the NE-10 semifinals), they are a relatively easy addition to the power rankings. They have some questions to answer on the defensive end even with the return of sophomore goalie Chris Demairo (6.60 GAA) and the addition of new coach Brian Kingsbury will mandate a transition period, but the Knights are experienced and confident. They will be a team to keep an eye on if they can clean up in their non-conference portion of the schedule.

11. Catawba (12-4)

Starters returning: 5 | Points returning: 224 of 268 (83.6%) | Momentum: Upward
The Indians will have plenty of questions on defense, but the offense should be able to pick up where it left off helped by Braden Artem (43g, 13a) and John Scheich (19, 17). Catawba had one of the more thrilling conference tournament runs with two overtime victories and a narrow win over Florida Southern with the Deep South crown on the line, and the knowledge that they can perform in the clutch should be useful. The offense did falter at times – in the four losses the Indians managed just 17 goals, including a 19-3 wipeout at the hands of Limestone to wrap up the season – but that should be a strength in '12. However, in the South, beating Limestone is the first priority, and Catawba still has some work to do.

10. NYIT (10-4)

Starters returning: 6 | Points returning: 98 of 259 (37.8%) | Momentum: Downward
The paucity of proven points coming back is less of a concern with a program like Tech because of the typical ease it has in finding high-end offensive players, but, as usual, the Bears will only have the ability to drop one game – two at the max. While NYIT will have to rebuild up front, the defense should be okay with the return of a lot of experienced talent such as senior LSM Chris Kmieciak, senior pole Justin Annunziato, sophomore pole Danny McDermott and senior netminder William McGee (9.21 GAA). In some respects, this year is a gravy year for the Bears. They'll likely be looking up at Mercyhurst, Post, Dowling and maybe even Mercy in the ECC (aka, the Central region), so any success they have should be a springboard for the 2013 campaign, which could hold a lot of promise for Bill Dunn and his troops.

9. Pfeiffer (10-6)

Starters returning: 8 | Points returning: 236 of 262 (90.1%) | Momentum: Upward
From Florida to Ontario, and as far west as Wyoming, Peter Milliman is stockpiling young talent in Misenheimer, N.C., and it could result in a big payday in '12. The Falcons were solid last year, and were one of the few teams to make Limestone sweat (they kept the Saints to 10 and nine goals in a pair of five-goal losses) in the South region. In addition, Pfeiffer returns 12 of its top 13 scorers, led by sophomore attackman James Shepherd (34g, 3a). Most of a solid defense is back, anchored by sophomore Hayden Kirk (6.19 GAA), who was the D-II statistical champion in save percentage (65.7). The Falcons may be two years away from unseating Limestone as the top dog in the South, but they will certainly be on the Saints mind once the Conference Carolinas season kicks off.

8. Merrimack (11-6)

Starters returning: 9 | Points returning: 260 of 285 (91.2%) | Momentum: Upward
Considering what Merrimack has coming back, it could probably be a lot higher, but the Warriors were extremely inconsistent last year despite a solid returning corps. They are even more stacked entering the '12 campaign, but questions linger. They were good enough to travel to Le Moyne and slug out a 7-6 win in the NE-10 semifinals, but couldn't figure out Catawba or St. Michael's on the road during the regular season. The talent is undoubtedly there – junior Corey Lunney (39g, 14a) is a premium midfielder and he has a bunch of other quality midfielders around him, and there is talent at just about every position – but the Warriors need to find some consistency before they can break into the elite. Consistency, and a stronger save percentage in the cage.

7. Le Moyne (12-2)

Starters returning: 4 | Points returning: 91 of 274 (33.2%) | Momentum: Downward
If there was ever a team that had been building for a title run 2011, it was the Dolphins. They had been to the title game the previous five seasons and the roster was stacked, and the postseason awards testified to that – attackman of the year Jack Venditti, specialist of the year Corey Bulken and defender of the year Pat Moran. When the NCAA tourney chips fell, however, Le Moyne was the fifth team in a four-team field. The offense has been decimated, as the points returning number attests, and the loss of Bulken could quietly be the biggest replacement challenge for Dan Sheehan. The Dolphins have been through this before. You don't get to their level without a little turnover. Sheehan would likely admit that he has his hands full this season, and the margin for error is zero.

6. Mercy (11-3)

Starters returning: 9 | Points returning: 232 of 237 (97.9%) | Momentum: Upward
The Mavericks were the feel-good story of 2011 – the second-year program was ranked for much of the season after bouncing NYIT early on and playing tough with Mercyhurst (9-7) and Post (15-12) – but nobody will have warm feelings about Mercy as we ramp up toward the '12 campaign. The Mavs will transition quickly from the lovable upstarts into one of the more feared programs in the already stacked Central region with just about the entire roster returning, in addition to undoubtedly another strong recruiting class from Steve Manitta (my pick for coach of the year in '11). The Mavs lose five points from the offense and return D-II goalie of the year T.J. DiCarlo (7.58 GAA, 63.6 sv%). More importantly, they should be a confident group heading into the spring.

5. C.W. Post (16-2)

Starters returning: 3 | Points returning: 204 of 345 (59.1%) | Momentum: Downward
With an 18-man senior class, led by the likes of Mike Messina, Nick Coric and Mike Giordano, last spring was supposed to be the exclamation point on the C.W. Post dynasty. Instead, the Pioneers flameout in the semifinals to Mercyhurst meant the rebuilding in Brookville would have to start sooner than later. Rebuilding to a degree, that is. Post still boasts one of the premier finishers in the nation in Eddie Plompen (54g, 18a) and a talented middie in Keith Rodriguez (18, 14), but there are a lot of holes to fill. With the exception of sophomore Stephen Burke, the starting defense, which was outstanding, has been nearly wiped clean, meaning John Jez will have to lean on players who apprenticed last year or plug in rookies. Not an enviable position in the ECC.

4. Limestone (15-2)

Starters returning: 6 | Points returning: 354 of 467 (75.8%) | Momentum: Neutral
It was a special year for the Saints, but in late match-ups against the top teams from the Central and North, Limestone wilted. Mercyhurst shut down the high-powered attack, led by junior Riley Loewen (54g, 20a) and senior Shayne Jackson (32, 50) in a late-season inter-regional clash and then Adelphi exposed the Saints on defense in the national semifinals. Limestone should have no trouble cruising through the South once again in '12, but J.B. Clarke and his staff will have to make sure his team is peaking in May, not March, whether it is through different scheduling or postseason preparation. The Saints will be at the top of the charts for much of the year, but they still have to prove they are worthy during crunch time.

3. Dowling (11-3)

Starters returning: 7 | Points returning: 227 of 262 (86.6%) | Momentum: Upward
The Golden Lions won the showdown they needed with C.W. Post, but they lost a trio of road games, including a devastating loss to Chestnut Hill late in the season that bounced them out of contention. That's the bad news. The good news is Dowling returns a potent squad in '12 that might prosper because of last year's adversity. Senior sniper Vito Demola (46g, 9a) returns along with the top five scorers, and the defense just has to find a replacement for All-American pole Andrew Casmir to pick up where they left off (no small task). If senior netminder Ryan Dougherty can improve on his numbers (8.49 GAA, 57.7 sv. %), the Lions are going to be a beast in the Central, reminiscent of their '10 season.

2. Mercyhurst (14-2)

Starters returning: 6 | Points returning: 182 of 277 (65.7%) | Momentum: Neutral
Heartbroken in '07, snubbed in '10 and champions in '11 – it was a compelling five-year stretch for the Lakers. You'll be hard-pressed to wipe a grin off Chris Ryan's face until the first day of fall, but he'll have to get right back to work when his kids return. The D-II field isn't expanding for another year, so it will be another season with very little margin of error for all the teams in the division and 'Hurst will have some questions heading into '12. The biggest one will be the goaltending position, where Zach Nash has been very good the last three seasons. There are two other sophomore goalies returning, including Nash's younger brother, Tyler, but they both have zero collegiate minutes (Nash played every second last year). Junior playmaker Brian Scheetz (21g, 33a), senior sniper Kyle Kallay (35, 10) and senior middie – as well as championship game hero – Ian Wild (18, 2) give the Lakers plenty of punch. Sophomore pole Andrew Wagner was a revelation in his rookie campaign. There are enough graduation losses, however, to make a repeat a challenge.

1. Adelphi (16-3)

Starters returning: 7 | Points returning: 306 of 369 (82.9%) | Momentum: Upward
The program with the most championships in Division II finally made its return to the national championship game after a 10-year hiatus, and the Panthers came thisclose to racking up title No. 8. The fact that Adelphi came up short is certainly cause for disappointment, but what is returning in '12 should have Gordon Purdie and Panther fans everywhere very optimistic. There are losses – superb pole Dan Gill (100 GBs), faceoff man Jesse Colamussi (60.3%), and dangerous middie Tommy Susko (41g, 7a), among others, are gone – but the core of the team, lead by Joe Vitale (40g, 30a) returns, including another recruiting class. The Panthers came up short in their quest for a return to glory, but all signs are pointing to the fact that it's just a matter of time.

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