September 7, 2012

Midsummer Night's Power Rankings – MCLA Division II

by Jac Coyne | | Coyne Archive | Twitter

Westminster wasn't able to get past the quarterfinals in 2012, but with Matt Hearn (above) leading an offensive unit that should have no problem scoring goals this spring, the Griffins could be poised for a return to at least the semifinals.
© Bob McLellan

The polls are going to look a lot different in MCLA Division II this spring. Both Davenport and Grand Canyon – a pair of Top 10 teams – have moved up to MCLA-I while Hope, another Top 20 stalwart, has taken its talents to NCAA Division III.

As such, some teams have moved up the charts into rarified air in this year's Midsummer Night's Power Rankings and others find themselves filling gaps at the back end of the roll. While some fresh faces will get an extended stay at nationals this year, MCLA-II remains a top-heavy division. Alas, all of that will be sorted out in May.

Just a reminder: this is not the Lacrosse Magazine Preseason Poll. That will come out in December. This is just an offseason evaluation of teams based on what they have coming back combined with several other metrics.

To the Midsummer Night's Power Rankings...

20. Sam Houston State (13-3) – Tourney Qualifier

Key Returner: Travis Tabb. Tabb parlayed his first year with the Bearkats into a 90-point season (54g, 36a) and headlines a midfield group that will be the signature unit in '12.

Biggest Question: Will the Bearkats always be victims of the lightweight LSA, or can they take the next step on their own? It's a question only they can answer.

Sam Houston State don't get a lot of respect in the MCLA because it puts up gaudy numbers in their own conference, but struggles when it gets thrown in with the big fish. The 'Kats made an attempt to get out of their comfort zone with a trip to Vegas last year to play some decent competition, but the season still culminated in a 19-goal, first-round loss at nationals. The program boasts some talented players, but not nearly the battle-hardened experience necessary to be a threat.

19. Northern Colorado (7-8)

Key Returner: Spencer Hogan. Hogan does it all for the Bears from his LSM spot: takes faceoffs (at a 71 percent clip), is a ground ball hog (91 GBs), can lock down top offensive players and even pitched in on the other end (4g).

Biggest Question: Can the Bears narrow the gap with RMLC heavyweight Westminster? Northern Colorado acquitted itself reasonably well against some high end teams, but had its doors blown off by the Griffins (losing by a combined 32 goals in two games). The Bears don't need to win the conference to go to Greenville, but being somewhat competitive would help the cause.

UNC still has some maturing to do, but it's important to remember that everyone is coming back from last year, including Tyler Vogel (33g, 18a), Ryan Beigl (26g, 14a) and Hogan. Dave Wakefield always puts together a tough schedule for the Bears, so if this young team can gain some confidence early on in the season, they could be a player when the calendar flips to May.

18. Missouri Baptist (8-7)

Key Returner: Ian Brosch. The faceoff man operated at a 72 percent clip last spring and chipped in with 11 goals and five dimes. He'll need to be even better if the Spartans want to win the GRLC.

Biggest Question: Does MoBap have the program momentum to shrug off an important senior class and still remain viable? The Spartans have quickly emerged in the GRLC, highlighted by the run to nationals in '11. We'll find out what this program is made of this spring.

There's no question that the Spartans will be rebuilding – you can't lose that amount of points and not be affected – but Missouri Baptist will always stay in the discussion with the kind of schedule Andy Joly puts together (something that can be just as important as talent in the MCLA). The Spartans may take their lumps early, but a stiff non-conference slate should prep them for the GRLC stretch run.

17. Washington University (12-3) – Tourney Qualifier

Key Returner: Jeremy Fridling. A playmaker out of the midfield, Fridling led the team in assists (30) while also contributing 20 goals. Combined with John Metz (30g, 9a), WashU will work through its middies.

Biggest Question: Will the Bears get serious about testing themselves? WashU handled the GRLC – not the most impressive feat – but didn't put together a very impressive non-con schedule. That will have to change.

Washington's second appearance at nationals (the Bears went in '03 as a Division I program) met a grim end (an 18-5 loss to GVSU in the first round), but there's still plenty of juice left in St. Louis for a GRLC repeat. John Weinstein is a capable goalie (64.9 sv%) while Fridling, Jack Barrow (40g, 8a) and Benjamin Glassman (27g, 11a) should provide enough pop up front.

16. Kennesaw State (8-5)

Key Returner: Casey Newton. The senior returns to provide some solid kick out of the midfield (19g, 3a). The Owls weren't a high-scoring outfit in '12, but Newton is always a threat.

Biggest Question: Is there a replacement for Andrew Flood waiting in the wings? Flood was quietly one of the top netminders in the country (63.9 sv%) and covered a lot of defensive warts for Kennesaw. There's a good chance the Owls will face a downgrade at the position.

The season started well enough for the Owls with an 'upset' of Division I Georgia Tech (a victory they would have to forfeit later) and a solid win over eventual tourney qualifier Wash U. A win over North Dakota State kept Kennesaw in the discussion, but it was AQ or bust for the Owls, and they fell three goals short of Elon in the SELC title game. They could struggle to get back there with key graduation losses.

15. Coast Guard (11-5)

Key Returner: Steven Danseglio. His 44 goals out of the midfield were good for tops on the team (and his 10 assists were third). The midfield unit should be a big strength for the Bears.

Biggest Question: Will Coast Guard be able to push past Briarcliffe and achieve PCLL supremacy? The Bears were close, losing to Briarcliffe twice by a goal, one of them in the conference championship game. They should be knocking on the door again.

There are plenty of holes to fill for the Bears, including the graduation of goalie Cory Pray (68.8 sv%), but the close defense is returning intact. Danseglio will work with attackman Austin English (20g, 36a) and Stuart Carley (14g, 7a). The non-conference schedule has been decent, but a couple of solid road trips against good competition could keep the Bears in the at-large discussion in '13 even if the PCLL doesn't work out.

14. Western Oregon (7-8) – Tourney Qualifier

Key Returner: Jacob Bohince. If he returns from the injury that sidelined him for the entire '12 season, he instantly makes the Wolves attack the best in the PNCLL.

Biggest Question: Will Western Oregon have enough depth to be a legitimate threat in Greenville? The Wolves brought 17 total players to nationals and still made St. Thomas sweat in the first round. At the end of the day, no team can possibly win four games in six days with those numbers.

It was a tale of two seasons for the Wolves. They started out 1-7, but entered nationals on a five-game tear, including routs of the top teams in the PNCLL in the conference tourney. If Bohince makes a healthy return and Justin Eckenroad can cobble together a capable second midfield line, WOU should be able win the league title again and give someone a headache in South Carolina.

13. Cal State Fullerton (17-5)

Key Returner: The Coles. They are one of the most devastating midfield-attack combos in the country, but the fact that Chris (52g, 43a) and Cam (77g, 44a) are related makes them a one-of-a-kind duo.

Biggest Question: Just how serious are the Titans? They flirted with going MCLA Division I (but demurred) and jettisoned a successful coach (Kyle Morrison) in the offseason. The talent is there, but there doesn't seem to be a plan.

Dealing with existential issues is not unique to Fullerton – it's a bit of a cottage industry in the MCLA – but it's important to see what kind of team emerges in '13 because the Titans appear to have a lot of the pieces necessary for a postseason run. The Coles lead the way, but Fullerton returns much of its defense, led by netminder Trevor Burns (59.7 sv%) and some solid complementary players.

St. Thomas became the first dynasty in the MCLA Division II history with its third championship in four years. With most of the same cast of characters returning, including sophomore Matt Kleven (above), title No. 4 could be in the offing this spring.
© Cecil Copeland

12. St. Mary's (16-3) – Tourney Qualifier

Key Returner: Matthew Jaber. The senior won faceoffs at a 70 percent clip last spring and also chipped in on the offensive end (17g, 8a). Having a dominant faceoff man should provide cover for a maturing offense.

Biggest Question: Will the Gaels be able to successfully walk the at-large tightrope again? WCLL-II is the only conference in the MCLA without an automatic qualifier, so St. Mary's can't really afford to take more than two losses during the regular season.

St. Mary's lost a critical senior class, but with John Rosa and Alex Starr returning on defense, along with SSDM Nico Vanderklugt, the Gaels have a good foundation on which to build. Attackman Hayden Cook (28g, 9a) and middie John Athens (24g, 9a) will lead a young offense and Jaber's contributions can't be overlooked. Andrew Hax is expected to get most of the minutes in net after limited action last spring.

11. Elon (13-5) – Tourney Qualifier

Key Returner: Mike Meglio. The Phoenix were a stingy team in '12, and with Meglio (66.7 sv%) back between the pipes, they're a long way to reprising that role this spring.

Biggest Question: Is there enough firepower on the roster to allow an SELC title repeat? With the graduation of Colin Madden (32g, 13a) and Matt Love (26g, 18a), there's a big chunk of offense missing.

Nearly the entire defense in front of Meglio returns, which gives the Phoenix a solid building block heading into conference play. Andy Fargnoli (32g, 4a) returns as the top returning scorer, but Steve Bailey will have to find some complementary pieces to fill out the front line or Elon could fall back in an improving conference pack.

10. Indiana Tech (9-8)

Key Returner: Dylan Johnston. A lock-down close defender who was dangerous in transition (13g, 6a), Johnston will be the anchor for the Warriors defense, which is nearly intact.

Biggest Question: Is this young program ready to fill the void left by Davenport in the CCLA? If they have the schedule and a couple of key wins, there's no reason Tech can't be the perennial third team out of the MCLA's toughest conference.

An attack unit of Brent Nichter (45g, 22a), Josh Puckett (43g, 9a) and Craig Schaepkens (38g, 42a) gives the Warriors more than enough on the offensive end while the defense only loses its top LSM from '12. There will be a four-way battle for the starting goalie position, but that's the only real question mark lingering for a team that lost by a goal to Grand Valley State in the CCLA semifinals.

9. Briarcliffe (11-4) – Tourney Qualifier

Key Returner: Matt Karp. An athletic finisher who delivered some of the Bulldogs biggest goals (43g, 8a), Karp automatically makes Briarcliffe the team to beat in the PCLL. He'll have help from Jon Trama (34g, 3a).

Biggest Question: Can Briarcliffe ever build a roster of 30 or more players? It's been an annual dilemma now for three years running, but until the Dawgs build the depth necessary for a tournament run, it's tough envisioning them reaching the next level.

What Sean-Michael Pagano has been able to achieve – successfully planting the MCLA flag on Long Island – is as impressive now as it was three years ago, but the program appears to have plateaued. Nothing surprising there; just about every good program goes through this phase. Fortunately, Briarcliffe can quickly solve its issues with an expanded roster, and maybe a goalie to replace Kevin Collica.

8. Concordia (14-5) – Tourney Qualifier

Key Returner: Josh Fagan. One of the top finishers in the division, Fagan (75g, 15a) produced against all the top teams, including seven goals against Westminster and five versus Davenport.

Biggest Question: Will the Eagles figure out how to play defense against premium competition? There are plenty of goals on the roster, but until Concordia can slow down high-end opponents, it'll be a pretender.

The Eagles' season came to an unceremonious end at the hands of Davenport, 19-12, in the first round of nationals, but Concordia has quietly been using the Davenport blueprint to make a splash in just its fourth year. Using cagey Canadians like Fagan and Destin Seguin (45g, 34a) up front and a deep midfield unit, the Eagles are very similar to the Panthers. However, they still lack the athletic defenders and big-game goalie that put Davenport over the top.

7. SCAD (9-4) – Tourney Qualifier

Key Returner: Cody Horauf. One of the top poles in the country, Horauf will be the foundation of the Bees' defense, which should once again be its signature unit.

Biggest Question: Who will replace goalie Wade Winebrenner? Winebrenner was excellent (66.1 sv%) last year and helped erase a lot of mistakes. The expected return of Kreyton Polka, who split time with Winebrenner in '11, will soften the transition.

Because of a tie-breaking quirk in the SELC, SCAD was one of the few teams in MCLA history to miss its conference tournament and still earn a bid to the national tournament, and the ride ended in the first round. The Bees will be challenged to earn a return trip with the top three scorers off the roster and an ever-improving SELC. SCAD has enough talent, especially on defense, to make it interesting, but the Bees can't afford the odd stumbles they had in '12.

6. Dayton (13-4) - Semifinalist

Key Returner: Will McCormick. The leading scorer (60g, 14a) for the Flyers last spring, McCormick returns as one of the few experienced weapons on the frontline. He'll be getting a lot of attention this spring.

Biggest Question: Will the Flyers benefit from having lowered expectations in '13? Dayton has been to the national semifinals in four of the last five years, but has never been able to break through. It won't be expected to make it nearly that far in '13, which could be a blessing.

With Charlie Mark at the helm, Dayton will never lack for confidence – and the Flyers truly have been one of the most consistent teams over the last half-decade – but questions abound for this year's edition. McCormick and Rich Meares (28g, 6a) pack punch on offense, but the defense will be challenged to run with the top dogs in the division. The return of FOGO J.P. Hewitt will help ease some pain.

5. St. John's (11-4) - Quarterfinalist

Key Returner: Michael King. He occasionally makes some decisions outside of the cage that leave you scratching your head, but King is typically stalwart when he stays between the pipes. He needs to improve on his 55.7 save percentage, however.

Biggest Question: What is the ceiling for a team with a fantastic defense and a plodding offense? Yes, the Johnnies handed St. Thomas it's only loss and made Grand Valley sweat, but as the quarterfinal contest against Dayton showed, there's very little margin for error.

St. John's has been – and will continue to be – a team no one wants to see on its half of the bracket, but the top teams know that even if they are losing, they'll never be out of striking distance because of the Johnnies lack of production offensively. Jacob Helmer (25g, 23a) gives SJU a quality playmaker to build on, but the program needs to develop a deeper corps of dangerous scorers.

When the season starts, every team believes they have a shot at the biggest prize, but this year it appears to be a two-horse race for the coveted trophy. Time will tell whether that plays out.
© Cecil Copeland

4. North Dakota State (10-5) - Quarterfinalist

Key Returner: Peter Flock. Flock becomes the elder statesmen of the Bison in this, his junior year, and there's no one better to build a program around. He's as dangerous an attackman (41g, 25a) as there is in the country.

Biggest Question: Can Zach Bosh continue to keep NDSU on an upward arc? What the Bison coach has managed to do in Fargo is one of the great stories of the last two seasons, but questions linger about just how high this outpost can reach. This season will be a telling one in that respect.

Just four seniors graduate off last year's quarterfinalist, and Bosh already has a monster rookie class enrolled, including former MCLA Division I All-American FOGO Andrew Madsen, so the Bison will once again be a handful in the UMLC. Replacing Ryan Freeman (60.6 sv%) in the cage will be priority No. 1, but Flock has plenty of help with the return of Andy Kinsel (23g, 5a) and Kyle Sturgeon (20g, 34a).

3. Westminster (16-3) - Quarterfinalist

Key Returner: Jake Arthur. A huge threat out of the midfield, Arthur (47g, 14a) could be primed for an epic campaign in '13. Throw in Collin Madsen (34g, 28a) and the Griffins midfield is going to be extremely dangerous.

Biggest Question: Is there someone in the pipeline to replace FOGO Marshall Serzen? Serzen has been a rock for the Griffins, going 276-for-370 (74.6%) at the dot last year.

Despite the loss of leading scorer Gian Sexsmith (55g, 31a), the Griffins will be better in '13. With Arthur in the midfield and Matt Hearn (42g, 13a) guiding the attack, the offense is in good hands. Chris Burckle (63.1 sv%) anchors a defense that returns nearly intact after posting stingy numbers in '12. The RMLC will not be a problem for Westminster, but finding the right seed in Greenville will be important.

2. Grand Valley State (18-2) – Runner-up

Key Returner: Danny Kransberger. The Lakers' junior goalie filled his end of the bargain as the program sought its first national championship (66.2 sv%), but it was the offense that faltered in the clutch. He returns as the top netminder in the division.

Biggest Question: Can GVSU solve St. Thomas when it counts? Even with the graduation of Jack Dumsa (36, 69a), the Lakers are loaded in '13. The only hurdle standing between GVSU and the hardware is the Tommies.

If form holds, Jeremy Pouba (46g, 25a) should become the next great Lakers' attackman following in the footsteps of Dumsa and Cam Holding. He'll have the luxury of running with dangerous offensive players like Tyler Farmer (32g, 18a) and Michael Garner (37g, 8a). The defense, led by Kransberger, could be the best one ever assembled in Allendale. There are very few holes on this team.

1. St. Thomas (16-1) – National Champion

Key Returner: Peter Carbonneau. The Tommies offense is seemingly comprised of a bunch of nameless, faceless players and Carbonneau (25g, 25a) encompasses that concept. He could put up bigger numbers, but is willing to operate as a cog in the machine.

Biggest Question: Does St. Thomas have enough defensive depth to replace the likes of Jesse Amar and Kevin Gause? The attack and midfield units are well stocked. The only thing standing between St. Thomas and a fourth crown are the poles.

There's not a lot of bad news coming out of St. Paul these days. The Tommies had their worst team of the last four years – they won their four tourney games by an average of 2.5 goals, which is it the lowest in division history – and still managed to parlay that into a third title. Now they return a roster that is built for a dominating run at No. 4. The defense will have to be rebuilt, but even that won't be enough to keep UST from more Greenville grandeur.

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