February 10, 2014

#LMRanks: NCAA Division III Men's No. 5-10

by Jac Coyne | LaxMagazine.com | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Dickinson and Washington College are both looking to make noise after making the NCAA tournament a year ago. (Kevin P. Tucker)

We're slowly creeping toward the true beginning of the season and with that comes a week-long expanded Division III countdown to No. 1 at Lacrosse Magazine Online. We're starting with the Nos. 5-10 ranked teams.

10. Western New England

First Game: Feb. 25 at Keene State

If there is a highly-ranked team in Division III, Western New England wants to play them. That's seemingly been John Klepacki's motto since he took over the Golden Bears, and last year was no exception. The Golden Bears were one of two teams to play both national finalists, RIT and Stevenson, during the regular season and 35 percent of their games were against Top 10 competition. Hence, the 13-7 record.

This year will be no different, other than WNE having the offensive punch to test some of the high-end defensive outfits. Attackman Adam Knapton (30g, 32a) and middie Sean Lawton (28g, 11a), both seniors, provide a one-two punch while junior Jon Bota (26g, 13a) is another option up front. The defense will once again be the rock of the program with seniors Jack Liacos and Trevor Scott protecting junior netminder Brandon Body (9.27 GAA, 53.5 sv%).

If Western New England has dreams of making a significant impact in the tourney or keeping themselves in the at-large discussion if they can't beat Endicott for the Commonwealth Coast Conference AQ, then it'll need to improve it's faceoff unit (combined 41.4%) post haste. That's one of the few obstacles standing in the way of a dramatic '14 campaign.

9. Washington College

First Game: Feb. 22 vs. Goucher

The Shoremen regained a level of normalcy last spring. They reached the NCAA tournament for a second-straight year after not having a consecutive trip since 2003-04, and made it out of the first round for the first time since '08. Washington even made the annual 'War on the Shore' interesting, posting the first win over Salisbury since '02. Could the Geese be ready to match their semifinal run of '04 or, perhaps, even mimic the '98 season when they won a title?

Let's not get ahead of ourselves. Washington graduated its alpha dog, Bennett Cord, along with three key defensive ingredients in LSM Jonny Poe and close poles Zack Fuller and Michael Pierandri. On the plus side, senior goalie Ted DiSalvo shined (8.98 GAA, 57.6 sv%) in his first season as starter and should be even better this year. The offense returns three seniors – attackmen J.D. Campbell (32) and Jim Cusick (32) along with middie Hunter Nowicki (33) – who all posted over 30 points.

Consistency is the key for any program, even for those with the Shoremen's tradition, and a third straight appearance in the tourney will be a huge achievement for Jeff Shirk and his players. Momentum is a fleeting thing in the Centennial (see: Haverford, Gettysburg), but this year's edition appears poised to keep the train running.

8. Roanoke

First Game: Feb. 16 vs. at No. 16 St. Mary's

The last time Roanoke failed to make the NCAA tournament in two consecutive years was in 2003-04, but the Maroons looked like they might match that unwanted feat at the start of last year. 'Noke was 1-2 to start the season and sat at 3-3 on St. Patrick's Day after getting demolished by a relatively benign Salisbury squad, 17-5. Alas, six weeks later, Bill Pilat's troops had won 12 straight – including an overtime upset of eventual national champion Stevenson – and were the No. 2 seed in the South.

Roanoke should be able to build off that momentum in '14 by leaning primarily on its defense. Senior goalie Charles Pease (9.04 GAA, 56.5 sv%) anchors a backline that returns essentially intact, and should consistently get the ball back for an offense led by sophomores Tyler McWilliams (31g, 30a) and Will Pilat (32g, 21a).

The Maroons don't have Salisbury on the schedule, but five of the first seven games on the slate are against tournament qualifiers. Roanoke uncharacteristically has questions on faceoffs and it'll once again get a stiff test from the stern ODAC, but a deep run could be in the offing in Salem, Va.

7. Cabrini

First game: Feb. 22 at Haverford

Corey Elmer is the #LMRanks preseason Player of the Year for NCAA Men's DIII, and the anchor of Cabrini's offense. (Kevin P. Tucker) 

The face of the Cavaliers – the prolific Corey Elmer (57g, 55a) – is a senior, but this team will be younger and more vulnerable than the past two seasons. The biggest soft spot, at least early in the season, will be the defense, where only sophomore goalie Chris Treat (7.03 GAA, 57.1 sv%) returns as a regular starter.

A 14th consecutive CSAC title is all but guaranteed, so the defense has plenty of time to find its legs. The question will be whether Elmer, junior attackman Ethan Heisman (36g, 11a) and junior middie Anthony DiSanzo (35g, 4a), who potted six goals against RIT in the NCAA second round, can carry the load during the stiff non-conference portion of the schedule. Their plight will be helped by the presence of junior draw man Anthony DiNenno, who won 64 percent of his faceoffs.

Because of their geographical situation, the Cavaliers will once again be susceptible to being shipped up to the unfamiliar North bracket if the South once again hoards the bulk of the bids. That can be problematic when it comes to May, but other than its conference slate, every contest will present a challenge this spring.

6. Tufts

First game: March 1 at Middlebury

The Jumbos are now three years removed from their last championship game appearance and four seasons clear of their magical title run in 2010. They haven't been too far off the pace the last two seasons, losing in the semifinals and quarters. But the question begs: are they closer or further away from making another Memorial Day weekend appearance?

Tufts is already ahead of last season, when it had to sacrifice its first two conference games on the altar of offseason impropriety. The attack, which boasts senior Beau Wood (47g, 20a) and juniors Cole Bailey (30g, 42a) and Chris Schoenhut (46g, 6a), will give opponents fits, and there are enough pieces returning in the midfield and backline to keep the Jumbos as the presumptive favorite in the rugged NESCAC.

Goalie Patton Watkins has played in a championship game, and he'll be tasked with improving his numbers (10.23 GAA; 56.6 sv%) in his final campaign. If Tufts can win more faceoffs than it loses – the Jumbos ran at 46 percent last year, which is almost an unheard of number for a 16-5 team – it should be able to at least match last year's performance, and maybe even take down one of the New York cabal's big guns along the way.

5. Dickinson

First game: Feb. 19 vs. Lycoming

The 2013 season will be one that isn't forgotten anytime soon in Carlisle. The Red Devils marched through the regular season, Centennial Conference and the second round of the NCAA tournament without a blemish on their 17-0 record. Dickinson was eventually upset in the quarterfinals by Salisbury, but the campaign was significant in the growth of Dave Webster's program. This year might be even more important.

With many of the marquee names off the roster – guys like All-Americans Brandon Palladino, Matt Cherry, Peter Zouck and Greg Hanley – the Red Devils will find out if they have the program momentum to remain a player in the national discussion. Senior attackman Brian Cannon (48g, 20a) and sophomore pole Slay Sudah were both All-Americans, and a stable of LSM underclassmen apprenticed under Palladino last spring. Senior Carter Moore gives Dickinson a definitive advantage on faceoffs (66.7 FO%).

Another undefeated run is unlikely for the Red Devils, just as it is for most teams. However, if senior Max Pawk – Hanley's presumptive replacement in net – stands tall, a fourth consecutive Centennial crown and a fifth straight trip to the NCAAs is well within reach.

Lacrosse Magazine will continue its 2014 college lacrosse preview throughout January and into February, with team-by-team breakdowns of the top teams in NCAA Division I, II and III men's and women's lacrosse. Follow the countdown at LaxMagazine.com/LMRanks and on twitter at #LMRanks.

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