A Midsummer Night’s Ranking: MCLA Division I
|Hmm, Michigan is not the top team in Jac Coyne's
midsummer power rankings. I wonder which team will take the top
© Marc Piscotty
The Michigan men’s lacrosse team is on a bit of a roll
Not only did the Wolverines capture their third MCLA national championship in Denver by subduing a powerful Arizona State team and win a slew of individual awards, but it appears they are about to topple an even more powerful lacrosse opponent.
Even though Title IX has been around since the Nixon administration, been responsible for the near-extinction of collegiate wrestling programs and been the target of dozens of lawsuits, it would appear the Michigan lacrosse team could be on the cusp of conquering it.
The good vibes will have to come to an end at some point, and it starts right here. Despite all of the program inertia, Michigan was unable to grab the top spot in my 20-team Midsummer Night’s Power Rankings for MCLA Division I.
Oh, the Wolverines will be the preseason No. 1 in all of the polls that roll out in a couple of months – and rightfully so – but when I crunch the numbers to determine what is the best team right now, it’s not Big Blue. They aren’t far behind, however.
Note: This is not Lacrosse Magazine’s preseason poll. That’s a completely different animal and it will be released sometime in December. My rankings take into account players lost, players returning, points returning, coaching stability, program stability and last year’s results, among other variables, to provide a ranking of the teams.
20. Virginia Tech (13-3)
Key Loss: David Rhymers. The Hokies were an extremely young team in ’10, and Rhymers – a pole – is one of the few graduation losses. He was a key part of the Virginia Tech defense, finishing fourth on the team in ground balls.
Key Returnee: Kevin Hayden. The junior always produced, even against the top-tier programs like Florida State (3g) and Florida (2g, 3a), and finished with a team-best 47 goals. Paired with classmate David Stanton (28g, 29a), Hayden could be set up for a huge third year.
Wild Card: The schedule. The Hokies mailed it in schedule-wise last year – the toughest non-conference opponent was Marquette – and they weren’t even close to qualifying for Denver despite the pretty record. Whether the budget allows for it or not, Tech needs to hop a flight somewhere and get a couple of high-end games in to at least make the committee sweat a little.
Reality: The Hokies are a good team. But that really doesn’t matter unless you prove it. Navigating the eight-team SELC tournament is not easy, so putting all of the eggs in that basket is unwise. We’ll know whether Virginia Tech is a serious team when the schedules are released. Otherwise it will be AQ or bust again.
19. New Hampshire (11-3)
Key Loss: Michael Maloney. The PCLL offensive player of the year, Maloney was a big reason for the Wildcats’ surge onto the national stage in 2010. He scored a team-high 33 goals along with four assists in his final season.
Key Returnee: Jacob Katz. The close defense unit in front of him will have to be reconstructed, so Katz may find himself on an island occasionally, especially early in the season. The senior should be up for the task after posting a .634 save percentage last spring.
Wild Card: An upset. The win over Colorado in the season opener kept UNH in the discussion for the rest of the season. The Wildcats will need at least one more if they want to reach Denver. With road games against Arizona State, Wisconsin and Santa Clara along with a home tilt against Colorado, the chances will be there, but UNH must cash in. Otherwise, it will have to snatch an upset over Boston College in the PCLL tournament to achieve the same goal.
Reality: As quaint as the notion of UNH getting at-large bid is, it’s probably not going to happen. The Wildcats need to use their non-conference opponents to prepare themselves for the clash with the Eagles in the PCLL title game – a contest that will ultimately determine their fate. Can they win it? Absolutely. Katz, junior Evan Flower (31g, 13a), senior Daniel Milano (8g, 30a) and sophomore Joe Gardiner (23g, 8a) provide UNH with plenty of firepower to overcome their nemesis, especially if they solidify the defensive unit.
18. Texas (11-5)
Key Loss: I’m not sure if they had one, at least out of the senior class. The ‘Horns were young – only two players, both attackmen, who combined for five points, used their last year of eligibility in ’10. Barring any unforeseen attrition rate, they should be ready to return atop the LSA.
Key Returnee: Alex Barfield. There are an awful lot of young scorers that should serve Texas well this season, so the difference might be in goal. Barfield was the go-to guy at the end of the season, and if he comes back and commands the top spot ahead of Philip West and Nick Milazzo, he could give the Longhorns a confident veteran at the back.
Wild Card: Normally, new coach Brian Myers would be the wild card, but in the case of Texas, it’s the program in general. The team rolled out a skeleton crew for the most important game of the season, the LSA title tilt, because of a myriad of reasons – none of them flattering. The Longhorns need to prove they are a stable entity before we can even talk about Denver.
Reality: Regardless of who has been the top team in the LSA or the fact that Texas State won the league last year, Texas enters every season with the most potential as a program. With its name recognition, location, size, etc., the Longhorns should not only be the perennial favorite in the LSA, but one of the bullies on the entire MCLA scene. With a new coach, the possibility of this actually becoming a reality resurfaces, but until there is some consistency, Texas (or whoever wins the league) will be saddled with the No. 15 or 16 seed.
17. Florida (12-4, MCLA Tourney)
Key Loss: Ryan Akin. The attackman is just one of many offensive losses for the Gators, but his 53 goals, 20 assists and nearly five points a game will be felt the most. In Florida’s three-game tear through the SELC tourney, Akin had 13 goals and four assists, including a six-spot against Florida State in the first round.
Key Returnee: Kurt Stadelman. The sophomore managed to score 15 goals and set up 13 others last year, but he’ll need to double that if the Gators expect to have an effective offense.
Wild Card: Points. By my quick count, the Gators amassed 348 points last year. Care to guess what UF lost to graduation? That would be 251 points, or 72 percent of the production from the 2010 season. Stadelman will hopefully take some of the edge off, but where are the rest going to come from? Florida has the tradition to “reload,” but even the most powerful programs in the association would have a hard time with those losses and still be in the hunt the following year.
Reality: In the new MCLA world, all you need is a brutal schedule and a couple of well-timed upsets and you can punch your ticket to Denver. That will be the model for the Gators. They will be underdogs against all of the big name programs they play, but these days, it just takes one win to change the selection committee’s perception.
16. Illinois (12-3, MCLA Tourney)
Key Loss: Eric Rakoczy. A premium goalie who flirted with a save percentage of 70 last year, Rakoczy was the difference in the Fighting Illini winning the GRLC crown with 34 saves in two games – including 20 stops in the victory over Wisconsin in the title tilt. Illinois has four other goalies returning in 2011, but none with the pedigree of Rakoczy.
Key Returnee: Dan Dickson. The junior scored 44 goals and dished out 14 assists last year to lead the Illini in points. Paired up with senior Scott Pfiffner – another 50-point guy – Dickson has the potential to become an MCLA household name if Illinois takes care of business.
Wild Card: Coaching. I think it’s reasonable to say that Illinois has trouble holding on to coaches, or at least during the time I’ve been covering the MCLA. By my count, we’re moving to No. 4 in four years with the hiring of Phil Dodson (the younger brother of recently departed skipper, Joe Dodson). Don’t know the details, but it seems whoever runs the program needs to reevaluate the hiring process.
Reality: The GRLC has seen coaching changes in two of Illinois’ three biggest challengers (Lindenwood and Indiana), and Wisconsin is still new to the MCLA grind. So all things being equal, the Illini don’t lose much ground with their new hire. Plus, despite the loss of Rakoczy, they still have the most returning talent. There’s no wiggle room – the GRLC is an obvious one-bid league – but Illinois should be in Denver.
15. Loyola Marymount (13-5)
Key Loss: Alec Paul. The senior put up massive numbers (41g, 23a) out of the midfield for the Lions. The next-closest points man was almost 30 points behind. Magnus Karlsson (23g, 15a) brings back some punch in the midfield, but nothing approaching Paul’s impact.
Key Returnee: John Gilbreath. Thomas Holman graduates his .668 save percentage and much of the playing time, leaving a gaping hole in the cage for LMU. Enter Gilbreath. He played in 12 games last year, but saw just 55 shots the entire year. Unless someone pops up in the freshman class or via transfer, the Lions will be leaning hard on Gilbreath.
Wild Card: The Hochstadt brothers. Craig and Scott take over the head coaching duties this spring. There is very little question that, considering their connections and playing pedigree, they’ll be able to recruit and teach the game, but how will they react to the MCLA student-athlete and form a connection? Ultimately, for an MCLA coach, all of the rest is secondary. The Hochstadts should be able to figure it out, but there may be some growing pains for both coaches and players along the way.
Reality: The Lions were so close last year. The season-opening overtime loss to San Diego State ended up being a killer, and a win over UCSB late in the season may been enough to get in, as well. While Paul and Holman are gone, there are a lot of key pieces coming back, and the midfield and defense should be strengths. With maybe one more high-end attackman and a capable goalie, LMU should be a factor in the SLC.
14. Boston College (11-3, MCLA Tourney)
Key Loss: Mark Pohlman. The Eagles have a long tradition of developing hard-nosed, lock-down defenders. Pohlman was the most recent edition. There are a couple of potential players returning who will keep BC composed in the back, but nothing close to Pohlman.
Key Returnee: Donald Conway. The senior attackman was the leading scorer (35 points) for the Eagles and should match that this spring. A playmaker (team-high 20 assists), Conway will help keep B.C.’s strong midfield units involved in the scoring.
Wild Card: Goalie. It was assumed that this wouldn’t be an issue last year with the return of Rob Ventura, who was coming off an outstanding ’09 campaign. But various factors led to rookie Nick Shea earning a majority of time between the pipes, where he posted a .667 save percentage. Entering this season, there are four goalies – all of whom played at least four games in ’10 – vying for the starting pot, including Ventura. It’s always good to have options, but there might be some painful decisions ahead for the Eagles’ coaching staff.
Reality: Judging by the schedule last year, it appears Boston College has embraced the fact that for the foreseeable future the PCLL is going to be a one-bid league. As such, BC satisfied the non-conference requirement (three games) and otherwise played out the league schedule in hopes of securing the AQ. It’s tough to argue with the results, but it’s walking a tightrope, especially with the number of close games they had against PCLL opponents last year (including an overtime win in the conference title game). Every year, the Eagles prove to be a formidable opponent (they lost to CSU in the first round, 10-7), but it will be tough to advance much further when saddled with a low seed (they were No. 15), which they will continue to have under their current approach.
13. Simon Fraser (10-8, MCLA Semifinalist)
Key Loss: Adam Foss. The playmaker was the engine of the Clansmen’s attack, scoring 28 goals while setting up 29 others. While Fraser will likely be able to round up plenty more scorers this season, finding someone with a pass-first mentality will be a lot harder to replace.
Key Returnee: Chris Tessarolo. The lone member of the starting attack returning after the graduation of Foss and Ben Towner, Tessarolo will need to have a monster year if SFU wants to be in the hunt for a berth to Denver. His numbers last year (21g, 13a) were promising, but there will have to be a steep incline in his production.
Wild Card: Incoming class. The Clan needs a monster group of incoming rookies to restock the offensive end of the field with high-end talent. Fraser only carried 19 field players on its roster, and five of those graduated, taking with them 101 of the team’s 187 total goals. If the schedule looks anything like last year’s, SFU will need productivity from the jump.
Reality: Despite the spirited run to the national semifinals, Fraser was essentially a .500 team. It has lost the core of the team to graduation and, because of its tiny roster size, doesn’t have the returning depth to make me think the Clansmen can reprise their 2011 success. Thus, as mentioned above, they must roll the dice on attracting an epic freshman class to make the tourney. The Clan might struggle this year.
12. UC Santa Barbara (10-6)
Key Loss: Zack Carson. An experienced, senior goalie is always tough to lose, so Carson will certainly be missed, especially in the early part of the season. The Gauchos have viable options in net – notably Andrew Noto, who took a redshirt season last spring – but it might take half a season to get up to the level where Carson was operating.
Key Returnee: Jamie Bridgman. The junior led the team in goals (37) and points (45), and will be expected to at least match that from his attack position. Bridgman has the luxury of playing with solid assist men like C.J. Jacobs, Nate Wellin and Kevin Bowles. He must make sure he’s converting at an All-American pace.
Wild Card: Evolution. There were only five seniors – and just three who were large contributors – on the ’10 team, so if the Gauchos make the next step leading into this season, they’ll be contenders for the SLC’s North/West division crown. If Mario Waibel can lure another talented recruiting class to the Gold Coast, UCSB might replant its flag among the nation’s elite.
Reality: The Gauchos had a beef, but I’m not sure how well they would have done if they actually made the nationals. This year, they have the potential to make a deep run if all of the current pieces stay in place. If Waibel can revamp the schedule – the Gauchos have been slow to react to the new selection criteria – UCSB could very well snag a seed in Denver.
11. Minnesota-Duluth (15-3, MCLA Quarterfinals)
Key Loss: Rob Graff. As the architect of the Duluth experience, Graff’s absence will undoubtedly be felt. I doubt Frank Clark, Graff’s capable replacement, would even argue that point. Fortunately, Clark has mentored under Graff long enough to have the same gravitas with the players, allowing for as smooth a transition as possible.
Key Returnee: Brandon Nispel. The heir apparent to Dan Pitzl’s role as playmaker out of the midfield, Nispel had a quiet junior season in which he racked up 27 goals and 20 assists, good for third on the team in scoring. No one player will be able to replace Pitzl this season, but Nispel appears ready to make up for a chunk of the points.
Wild Card: Defense. The Bulldogs have significant graduation losses, but the backline appears to bear the biggest brunt of the exodus. The bruising Duluth style brought by Graff from Long Island starts with a physical defense, and there are several experienced holes to be filled. There are some younger poles who earned valuable minutes at the back, but will it be enough for Duluth to navigate its non-conference schedule well enough for a decent seed?
Reality: When I spoke with Graff in Denver, he felt that Duluth would surprise some people in 2011 even with the noteworthy losses. This is certainly plausible, but with all of the moving pieces with the players and staff, it’s tough to accept this on its face. Regardless, Duluth will still be five goals better than any of the other teams in the UMLL, so the ‘Dawgs just need to be primed come tourney time.
10. Cal Poly (12-5, MCLA Tourney)
Key Loss: Kendal Shomura. The graduation of Colin Mason and his team highs in assists (32) and points (50) will hurt, but the Mustangs have enough juice on the offensive end to mitigate his loss. Finding a replacement for Shomura, Cal Poly’s top close defender, will be more difficult. Fortunately, Poly returns everyone else from the back line.
Key Returnee: Scott Heberer. Although he plays out of the midfield, Heberer will be tasked with replacing the feeding presence of Mason. The junior dished out 19 assists last year – the only other player on the roster with double-digit assists besides Mason – and should be able to improve on that total by setting up the likes of Matt Graupmann (43g).
Wild Card: The WCLL. Ever since the SLC split, the WCLL has been a league in decline. Although there are several programs with potential, Cal and Sonoma in particular, it’s difficult to believe the WCLL will be more than a one-bid league heading into the season. Cal Poly is clearly the class of the league, but it’s always dangerous when your season boils down to a two-game conference tournament.
Reality: The Mustangs were an extremely young team – I didn’t realize just how callow they were – and still managed to acquit themselves well in their non-conference contests. All four regular season losses – Chapman, Florida, Florida State and Simon Fraser – came by two goals or less. If Poly can start winning the close ones, it has the potential to grab a better seed (they were No. 14 in 2010) and go deeper in Denver.
9. Michigan State (10-6, MCLA Tourney)
Key Loss: Dean Hall. No surprise here. The Spartan goalie was a game-changer, posting a .611 save percentage against a stiff schedule. Hall’s departure is made more glaring by the relative lack of action received by either of his backups.
Key Returnee: Patrick Nemes. The team leader in goals and assists, Nemes is vital more for his vision than his scoring. His ability to set up teammates for easy conversions was a huge part of Sparty’s success last spring. If his counterparts can be more efficient after the catch, Nemes’ assist numbers should balloon this spring.
Wild Card: Expectations. They can be dangerous. The Spartans have to avoid the temptation to believe that expectations can be a substitute for hard work and discipline. They have enough talent to return to Denver, but if they think the Michigan State brand will win games on its own, they are in for a rude surprise. Sparty isn’t that good yet.
Reality: It’s no fun being a perpetual second fiddle in your conference, but being Michigan’s de facto travel partner has its advantages. Not only will the Spartans get some quality non-conference home games, but more often than not, the opponents will either be gassed from just playing the Wolverines or distracted from looking ahead to the champs. If Michigan State can win the ones it’s supposed to and snag a couple of quasi-upsets, it should be in Denver.
8. Florida State (14-4, MCLA Tourney)
Key Loss: Robert Lee. A playmaker out of the midfield, Lee scored 20 goals and set up 16 others to finish second on the team in scoring. The Seminoles’ balance should allow the team to fill the scoring hole, but Lee’s intangibles will be missed.
Key Returnee: John Goodrich. When the FSU goalie is on his game, the Seminoles are awfully tough to beat, so the Florida State staff will be looking for a bit more consistency out of the senior. If he can have a monster final season, the ‘Noles will be an extremely dangerous team in Denver.
Wild Card: Idle time. It became painfully clear at the end of last season that the Seminoles were not a productive team when they had time to kill. After hammering Florida in the regular season finale, 25-9, FSU went into a two-week stagnation period before the start of the SELC tournament and proceeded to score 14 fewer goals and lose, 11-9 in the first round to the same Gator team. Following a near-three-week dormancy, the ‘Noles managed to produce six goals against Simon Fraser – not exactly a lock-down defensive squad – in the first round of the MCLA tourney. The coaching staff needs to find a way to keep the edge late in the season.
Reality: One potential cause of the late-season collapse was due to the overall youth of the Seminoles. There were just four seniors on the team, as opposed to 27 freshmen and sophomores. This bodes well for the ’11 season. Not only will they have a 17-man senior class providing leadership, but the youngsters will be ready for the challenges that the conference and national tournaments provide. FSU should be the class of the SELC again.
7. Brigham Young (12-6, MCLA Quarterfinals)
Key Loss: Eliot Grow. The do-it-all middie for the Cougars covered a lot of deficiencies during his career. One could argue that BYU will be forced to be a deeper team without Grow taking up spots on the face-off, man-up, man-down, defensive and offensive units, but it’s difficult to think the team will be better at any of those spots without Grow.
Key Returnee: Jared Houghton. This one is always tricky with BYU, because it’s tough to determine who is leaving for a mission and who is returning. Since Houghton has already been on his excursion, he’s a safe pick. Plus, the burly middie is coming off a strong season (25g, 5a). Houghton, and his brother Jacob, will be expected to be big producers.
Wild Card: Matt Schneck. Now that Schneck’s debut season has passed and the microscope trained on his program has been removed after the departure of Jason Lamb, we’ll be able to get a better feel for what he’s able to do as the head man. BYU will always attract talent and be in the MCLA discussion, but how will Schneck utilize it now that he has complete ownership of the outfit.
Reality: Considering the key losses to graduation, and potentially to missions, it’s tough to envision the Cougars being better this season than last. BYU will make the tournament, but it may not have the talent to push past the quarterfinals again. There are enough variables that make a deep tourney run plausible, however probably not a title contender.
6. Chapman (15-4, MCLA Semifinals)
Key Loss: Chris Small. Connor Martin will leave a large hole, but the attack unit has plenty of guns to make up for his loss. Small’s proficiency at the faceoff “X” will be far more difficult to replicate. Players have come and gone over the Panthers’ three-year run, but Small was a constant.
Key Returnee: Matt Walrath. He was a revelation in his first season after transferring from NCAA D-III Stevens (N.J.). Walrath’s goal-faceoff-goal sequence in the national semifinals was a thing of beauty and just a taste of what the LSM is capable of. Combined with Andrew Salcido and Spencer Halvorson, Walrath will also be part of a strong defensive unit.
Wild Card: Coaching. There’s always a transition period for a team that comes under new leadership. As Chapman proved three years ago, a new coach isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as Mike Wood guided the Panthers to the top of the MCLA in his first three seasons. A lot will depend on what kind of recruiting class Wood lured to SoCal (just as it was with his predecessor), but Dallas Hartley’s assimilation to the college game and the college student-athlete will certainly play a role.
Reality: Even without the coaching change, there was a chance there would be a drop-off for the Panthers this season. I could see Chapman being as high as No. 3 and as low as No. 10 in this power ranking, so this spot seems like a good fit as we enter the fall season.
5. Colorado (7-8, MCLA Quarterfinals)
Key Loss: Mike Geocaris. An imposing pole, Geocaris gave the Buffaloes a confident presence on the backline who could match up with the top attackmen in the association. There are plenty of candidates to fill his role, but his loss, along with shorty Mike Britt, must be the focus of offseason preparations.
Key Returnee: Mike Ryder. It’s kind of odd to name a coach as a key returnee, but in light of last year’s contretemps in Boulder, it’s appropriate. When I spoke with Mike after his loss to Arizona State in the tournament, he seemed like a poised guy who had a detailed vision of where he wanted CU to be in the ’11 campaign. If he can maximize the vast array of talent on the Buffs’ roster, Colorado should have a tasty seed when the field is announced.
Wild Card: Composure. The Buffs are a combustible bunch. It’s just who they are. Sometimes it works for them, but if the team can act with more poise in the face of adversity, the sky’s the limit for this bunch. CU was a deadly 11-seed last spring. If they can keep an even keel this year and earn a better seed, they’ll be even more lethal.
Reality: With high-end players at both ends of the field in goalie Brad Macnee and attackman James Blackburn, along with a host of young talent in between, Colorado has as much potential as any team in the country. Whether they can keep their house in order will determine how this season will play out for the Buffs.
4. Oregon (10-5, MCLA Quarterfinals)
Key Loss: Justin Blackmore. A first-team all-PNCLL selection, Blackmore not only finished third on the team in goals and assists, but drew a lot of attention, opening up opportunities for his teammates.
Key Returnee: Nick Johnston. The league’s defensive player of the year, Johnston always seemed to show up in the biggest games. Throw in a close defense that returns nearly intact, and Johnston could be on the verge of a monster year. Having a confident goalie is going to make Oregon a tough out in the tournament.
Wild Card: The schedule. With only one (potentially) meaningful game in the conference (Simon Fraser), the Ducks not only need another strong schedule, but also must win some critical contests to keep them ahead of the ever-expanding pack of possible at-large contenders. It’s difficult to envision that will actually be an issue with what Oregon has coming back, but it’s best to cover all the bases.
Reality: Last year was a baby step. There were some young players receiving a lot of time and a couple of key veterans trying to break them in. This is the year the Ducks should be ready to roll from the opening whistle of the season. They are extremely deep in the midfield, which generates a good percentage of their offense, and the defense could be one of the best in the country. If the attack can increase its output, Oregon could be returning to the salad days of 2007.
3. Colorado State (17-2, MCLA Quarterfinals)
Key Loss: Alex Jacques. Senior goalies are always at a premium, and replacing Jacques and his .621 save percentage will be one of the primary challenges facing the CSU staff this fall. Having a former goalie as the head coach will likely expedite the transition, but this is a position to watch for the Rams.
Key Returnee: Cooper Kehoe. A legit Player of the Year candidate, Kehoe was masterful last spring with 41 goals and 38 assists, producing against all of the top teams. His goal numbers will probably be in the same vicinity, but if the other finishers convert their chances, he could be a 100-point player when the dust settles.
Wild Card: Defense. With Kehoe leading the way, the Rams shouldn’t have trouble scoring goals, but with the loss of Jacques and long pole Andrew Stein, the backline will have to be restructured. Assuming there is a steady growth curve among the defensive players over the course of the season, Colorado State will be a title contender.
Reality: With their usually brutal schedule, the Rams will be in Denver. The question is whether they can use their flameout in the quarterfinals last year as a stepping stone to greater success in 2011. Or will it linger in the team’s collective psyche and make them jittery at crunch time? All of the pieces are there, so CSU’s finish will be based on leadership by the upperclassmen and motivation by the staff.
2. Michigan (18-1, MCLA National Champion)
Key Loss: David Reinhard. The Wolverines return studs on defense and offense and appear to have settled on a goalie, but the one unknown piece is who will fill in for Reinhard. Can that player come even close to matching Reinhard’s production? Even with a 50-percent guy, Michigan will still win a lot more games than it loses, but the margin of error dips significantly.
Key Returnee: Thomas Paras. The rookie had a superb debut (32g, 19a), but with the thinning of the attack through graduation, he shouldn’t leave the field in 2011. Assuming he continues his evolution, it’s not out of the realm of possibility that he could be a 50-assist guy this spring. He’ll be in the shadow of Trevor Yealy for another season, but the potential is there for Paras to become a household name.
Wild Card: Leadership. It always is for the Wolverines. The system and talent are there, so oversight is key. With guys like Yealy, Harry Freid and Matt Asperheim having been molded in the crucible of the program during the past three years, it doesn’t seem like it should be a problem on paper. However, as many coaches will tell you, it’s dangerous to assume anything about 18-to-22-year-olds.
Reality: While I don’t think anyone believes John Paul’s troops will finish outside of the national semifinals, this will still be an extremely interesting season for Michigan and the MCLA. If the Wolverines shrug off a couple of challenges facing them in the preseason and cruise to a fourth title, it will force the association to tackle several issues – such as reshuffling divisions – it has been loathe to broach to this point. If there is a new champion in ’11, it will also be fascinating to see how it impacts UM’s NCAA vision quest.
1. Arizona State (16-4, MCLA National Runner-up)
Key Loss: Justin Krider. The Sun Devils have enough offensive firepower to hide the loss of Tyler Westfall – the only other loss from the ’10 team – but a pole of Krider’s acumen will be much harder to replace. ASU won’t be helpless on the backline by any means, but the experience and leadership Krider provided is difficult to replicate.
Key Returnee: Anthony LaFlam. Sure, Ryan Westfall, Dylan Westfall and Eric Nelson are big parts of the Devils’ game, but I think LaFlam could be on the cusp of a monster year. With the likelihood of Ryan Westfall and Nelson drawing most of the attention from the opposition, LaFlam could get a lot of open looks, and he has the skills to convert (although he could stand to clean up the shooting percentage).
Wild Card: Well, considering recent history, there is an obvious wild card for ASU. Besides that, the Sun Devils need to realize that despite all of the players coming back, they still need to get better. While they undoubtedly played Michigan tough, they saw the Nos. 14, 11 and 10 seeds before the title game – hardly the mettle of the association. Things will be a lot tougher this year, so if they get lazy, they are in for a rude finish.
Reality: The Sun Devils came within a goal of the three-time national champions and now they return all but two players and add another full recruiting class. There’s no nuance for Arizona State anymore: it’s championship or bust. Even though it is searching for its first national crown, ASU must adopt the mentality that Michigan possessed for the past two seasons and expect to be fighting for a title in the last game of the season.