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September 4, 2012

Midsummer Night's Power Rankings – MCLA Division I

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

With the likes of senior middie Dustin Grybinas (above) coming back, not to mention the entire defense that allowed just 15 goals in four games in Greenville, Colorado State could possibly be the most formidable defending national champion in the history of the MCLA. Will they suffer the same fate as the previous two champs (Michigan, BYU), or will the Rams repeat with ease? Jac Coyne is taking the latter.
© Cecil Copeland

It looked like the 2012 MCLA Division I season was going to produce its first first-time champion since '08, but when the dust finally settled, the association had reverted back to the old guard as Colorado State put on a defensive clinic to win its record fifth national title. So much for new faces.

As we get set to kick off the '13 campaign, there are several uncrowned programs that appear to be primed to pump some fresh blood into the MCLA, but only time will tell. To get a feel for the candidates, I've composed my Midsummer Night's Power Rankings for MCLA Division I.

I'm not going to sugarcoat it: it's not looking good for a new champion.

Just a reminder that this is not Lacrosse Magazine's Preseason Poll, which will come out in December.

To the Midsummer Night's Power Rankings...

20. Stanford (7-6)

Key Returner: Jack Farr. Farr has been a steady presence for the Cardinal and returns as the team's top gun (28g, 15a). He has the potential for a dominant campaign if Stanford can keep its roster numbers up.

Biggest Question: Is the WCLL tent big enough to keep Stanford a legitimate national tournament contender? Sonoma was a good team last year, but had too many conference losses for Greenville. The Cardinal could suffer the same fate in '13.

The WCLL/SLC split in 2010 has not been kind to the WCLL. The league managed to get its first at-large berth last year, but the conference is undoubtedly on the upswing. Stanford is one of the teams raising the overall prestige. With the defense returning and Farr leading the other end, there's enough talent in Palo Alto for a push within the conference. Making it to the league title game, however, may prove to be problematic.

19. Boston College (8-8)

Key Returner: Nick Shea. One thing you can always count is Boston College being a lock down defensive team, and with Shea (62.6 sv%) returning, they are already ahead of the game in making that happen again.

Biggest Question: What happened to the Eagles? They started the season knocking off a pair of SELC contenders and followed that up with two narrow losses to western powers, but they struggled at the end against teams they usually dominate.

This will be a critical year for the Eagles because it appears as though the PCLL has caught up to its former standard bearer in a big way. Getting rocked by UNH in the conference tourney was just the finishing touch on a league slate that featured losses to Northeastern, UConn and Buffalo. The talent will always be there in Chestnut Hill, but questions abound.

18. Northeastern (12-6)

Key Returner: Chris Tecca. The junior did it all for the Huskies last spring (30g, 19a), and will have plenty of help around him on the Northeastern front line.

Biggest Question: Are the Huskies back? For those new to the MCLA, remember that it was Northeastern's embarrassing, 15-4 victory over Michigan in the first round of the '07 national tournament that was the catalyst for UM's ascendency. This program gets talent; it's all about steering it in the right direction.

The Huskies were the last team out of the tourney last spring even with a half-decent schedule. With a strong slate and a host of talent returning to Huntington Ave., these dogs could surprise a lot of people in '13. Tecca, along with playmaker Michael Adamson (25g, 36a), leads the offense and the backline has more than enough back to contend in the rugged PCLL.

17. Texas (9-5) – Tournament Qualifier

Key Returner: Spencer Price. An injury sidelined the Longhorns' top attackman for the season just prior to the Oregon trip and UT was fighting uphill the rest of the way. He's back and healthy in '13.

Biggest Question: Should anyone in the LSA be considered as a Top 20 team? The 'Horns beat ASU during the regular season, but went 2-4 in non-conference outings and were beaten by the Sun Devils in Greenville in the first round. It's a question that has to be asked until there is a breakthrough.

The Longhorns are one of those teams that tantalize every year. The nature of the school – UT should, without a doubt, be an MCLA power – and the talent that has passed through always keeps them on the radar. With essentially the entire team returning from '12, including outstanding netminder Jordan Lee (61.0 sv%), the 'Horns will not only be expected to win some of the tougher non-conference games, but also be more of a threat in Greenville.

16. Connecticut (10-3)

Key Returner: Kevin Canavan. He scored 45 goals in his sophomore campaign for the Huskies and Canavan could emerge as one of the most dangerous snipers in the nation this spring.

Biggest Question: Will the experience operating on the national stage help UConn avoid another early exit from the conference tourney?

The rise of the Huskies was one of the notable storylines of the '12 season. With a slightly improved non-conference slate and the experienced gleaned for last year's breakout campaign, UConn has all of the tools to not only make a run at the PCLL crown, but also stay in the hunt for one of the coveted at-large bids.

15. Sonoma State (8-4)

Key Returner: Kyle Riddle. The Seawolves top gun in '12, Riddle (28g, 3a) should once again be an off-ball threat benefiting from the playmakers in the midfield and attack.

Biggest Question: Can 'Noma catch Cal (or maybe even Cal Poly) to move into the second slot in the WCLL. The conference should once again be a two-bid league, and even with a beefed up schedule, the 'Wolves will only be truly safe by moving up a spot.

Even with the graduation of goalie Michael Clothier, Sonoma should still have a strong defense with the return of all the poles. Riddle, along with Matt Gillan (10g, 14a) and Ryan Heidrich (18g, 5a), will give Doug Carl's group enough goals. If they can clean up their faceoff unit and find an athletic initiator like the departed Zach Blackman, Greenville is definitely within reach.

14. Florida State (14-5)

Key Returner: Tyler Selman. With almost the entire defense returning around him, Selman (64.1 sv%) will put pressure on opponents to find goals.

Biggest Question: Can Florida State avoid the injury bug that plagued it in '12? The 'Noles played themselves out of the at-large discussion during a three-game skid midseason when they were hamstrung by injuries. If it stays healthy, there shouldn't be too many losses on the schedule.

Because of youth and injuries, last year was the season to take advantage of the Seminoles, and FSU still played for the SELC championship. This spring, Bill Harkins' troops will be a handful. The 'Noles lose just two players off the roster and return most of the top guns, including middies Luke Donovan (49g, 23a) and Brett Angerer (35g, 17a). They will have to contend with an improved SELC – Virginia Tech in particular – but we should see a return to the Seminoles typical standards in '13.

13. California (11-5) – Tournament Qualifier

Key Returner: Sean Hayden. During his rookie campaign, Hayden stepped right in as the Bears playmaker (13g, 27a). With Daniel Cohen (41g, 13a) finishing, Cal has a potent duo to build around.

Biggest Question: Can the Bears win all of the close games that helped vault them into the tournament again?

Despite the graduation of goalie Casey Keenan, Cal should be a stingy defensive team again with the return of several talented poles. Depth on the offensive end of the field could be a question, but half the team was comprised of freshmen, so there's no reason this team shouldn't be back in the WCLL championship game. The schedule could use some improvement, but the Bears should be dangerous regardless.

After Cal Poly's magical run to the national championship game, the Mustangs lose some key contributors, including nearly the entire attack. Fortunately, senior middie Tim Albo (above), along with several players waiting in the wings, should keep Cal Poly in the discussion again in 2013.
© Cecil Copeland

12. Pittsburgh (12-3) – Tournament Qualifier

Key Returner: Tyler Novotny. No surprise here. After a huge year (67g, 17a) helping put the Panthers on the map, it's a pretty good bet he'll be in player of the year discussions if Pitt can improve.

Biggest Question: Can Pitt find an adequate replacement for goalie Chris Gorham? Gorham's numbers (64.6 sv%) were superb, especially in the big games. That's a tough void to fill.

There's good reason to be optimistic at Pitt, especially with the return of Novotny and much of the defense. Michigan State will still be a road block in the CCLA, but if the Panthers can beef up their schedule a tad, there's no reason to think they can't make a return visit to Greenville. Keep an eye on Joe Grmusa to be a dangerous option next to Novotny on attack.

11. Virginia Tech (17-3) – Tourney Qualifier

Key Returner: Matt Giannelli. One half of the two-headed Hokie monster along with the graduated Kevin Hayden, Giannelli (55g, 24a) automatically gives Tech a formidable attack.

Biggest Question: Can Virginia Tech be the first SELC team since Florida State in 2005 to actually be a player on the national tournament scene? Time will tell, but they are fighting history.

Goals, again, will not be a problem and the Hokies enter this spring as the class of the conference, but the defense that gave up (gulp!) 19 goals to BYU in the MCLA first round in '12 is gone. That could be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on your optimism. The VT schedule is stacked, so unlike many of the years past, the Hokies should be battle-hardened if they make the dance.

10. Buffalo (14-2) - Quarterfinalists

Key Returner: Ryan Lichtman. The senior was the backbone of an outstanding defense that allowed double-digit scoring just twice in '12, finishing with a 61.8 save percentage.

Biggest Question: What the Bulls have been able to accomplish in the PCLL the last two years has been impressive, but is the success sustainable?

With Lichtman and three other starting poles returning, the Bulls defense – its calling card during the last two seasons – should be just as tough. With the amount of offense missing (Buffalo graduated 81 percent of its scoring), the backline will have to be even better. The highest returning scorer has eight goals, meaning the attack will have to grow up in a hurry.

9. Oregon (14-4) – Tournament Qualifier

Key Returner: Chris Osip. The Ducks lose a lot of points off last year's squad, but the senior was the third leading scorer (34g, 11a) and should be the foundation for Oregon's frontline.

Biggest Question: Will Oregon ever regain the magic they had in '07? It's been five years since the Ducks made it to the national championship game and they've gone 1-4 in tourney play over that time.

There's no doubt that Oregon is one of the most recognizable programs in the MCLA, partly because of its past successes and partly due to the national popularity of the school. Still, the Ducks are losing a bit of their cachet, illustrated by the fact that the committee was comfortable saddling them with an 11th seed – a fate no traditional SLC or RMLC power would suffer in similar circumstances. With the departure of Joe Kerwin, the architect of Oregon's best teams, 2013 could be a telling year for the Ducks.

8. Colorado (7-8) – Tourney Qualifier

Key Returner: Brad Macnee. Without his presence in net (62.4 sv%), the Buffs would have struggled even more than they did, and certainly would not have made nationals. He's a player of the year candidate if the Colorado rebounds.

Biggest Question: Can John Galvin, in the second year of his second tour, create a system that will maximize the offensive talent on the roster?

The Buffs were able to beat a pair of eventual semifinalists and hang within a goal of the national champs, but also lost to Loyola Marymount and Arizona, so '12 was a rollercoaster. Only two players run out of eligibility off last year's squad, so with a little more continuity in Galvin's second season and increased balance on the offensive end of the field, CU should right back in the thick of the RMLC race.

7. Michigan State (12-4) - Quarterfinalists

Key Returner: Wes Binder. If he returns for his final year of eligibility, the Spartans are going to be a devastating defensive outfit. He was one of the nation's best in '12.

Biggest Question: How will State transition from its old coach to the new one?

The talent is there for the Spartans to be a Top 5 team and they should once again be the class of the CCLA (with Pittsburgh giving them a run for their money), but we'll have to wait to see if Brandon Schwind overhauls Michigan State's identity or just tweaks the current system. Either one could potentially pay off with a deep playoff run – remember, Sparty nearly derailed Poly in the quarters – or another early exit.

6. Brigham Young (18-4) - Semifinalist

Key Returner: Pat Matheson. It's staggering the amount of goals lost off last year's roster – 231-of-343 (67.3%) by my count – and Matheson (22g) is the only one returning with more than 16. He'll have some pressure on his 6-foot-6, 240-pound shoulders.

Biggest Question: Do the Cougars have the incoming/returning personnel to come anywhere close to replacing what they lost?

BYU was the frontrunner all season, and had the best player (Ted Ferrin) in the nation, and still fizzled in the semifinals. Perhaps the Cougars operate better without the bulls-eye? We'll find out, because expectations will be extremely low in '13. BYU will undoubtedly get a small boost from players returning from a mission, but even that can be a hit-or-miss experiment. This will be a fascinating season for the Cougars, one in which they will look a lot different than previous years.

5. UC Santa Barbara (13-4) - Quarterfinalist

Key Returner: C.J. Jacobs. A steady presence in the midfield, Jacobs (21g, 8a) is the most dangerous offensive player returning for the Guachos and could have a colossal year.

Biggest Question: How far can UCSB get with a nasty defense and inconsistent offense? The Gauchos could wear down most teams, but they didn't have enough juice to run with the big boys in the postseason.

For a guy who made his reputation on the offensive end of the field, it was a credit to Mike Allan that he could rely on the Gauchos' strength and transform the team into a brutally effective defensive-minded program. If UCSB wants to be a true contender, it'll have to be more innovative on offense, which won't be easy with many of the top guns gone from last year's squad. Single-digit games will be the Gauchos' friend.

Colorado struggled mightily to score goals at the beginning of 2012, but the Buffs matured along the way, knocking off semifinalists BYU and Arizona State during the regular season and staying within a goal of Colorado State. Much of that can be credited to the play of Brad Macnee, who enters the '13 campaign as the best netminder in the land.
© Cecil Copeland

4. Cal Poly (21-2) – National Runner-up

Key Returner: Nick Czapla. One half of the Mustangs platoon last year, Czapla will utilize a fifth year, answering one of the key questions facing Poly this spring.

Biggest Question: Has the program reached a point where it can replace a dominant senior class without a huge dropoff in competitiveness?

Poly got the early-round-flameout monkey off its back in '12, but Scott Heberer (42g, 37a), Matt Graupmann (59g, 7a) and Olivier Schmied (44g, 20a) are gone off attack and there are significant losses across the board. That type of attrition rate would be difficult to overcome for the traditional powers, so it will be interesting to see whether this emerging contender has the depth to match last spring's accomplishments and fend off an ascendant WCLL.

3. Chapman (16-5) - Quarterfinalist

Key Returner: A.J. Rafter. The loss of midfielder Justin Shields hurts, but Rafter, who had 21 goals and five assists as a sophomore, could be the next great Chapman middie.

Biggest Question: Does the rising, seven-man senior class have the leadership skills to keep a young team on track? Talent is not an issue, but the Panthers are still slowly transitioning to the Dallas Hartley system. Keeping the young bucks on task will be a challenge.

Had the Panthers not allowed BYU to post an eight-goal fourth quarter in the national quarterfinals, we could very well be talking about how Chapman would match its first national title. Or not. Keep an eye on the new rules changes, because if the 30-second "shot clock" goes into effect in '13, that will be a huge benefit to a fast, athletic Panthers squad.

2. Arizona State (13-6) - Semifinalist

Key Returner: Payson Clark. Goals were hard to come by in '12, so the Devils desperately need someone to either create for themselves or open up gaps for others. Clark (22g, 13a) started to provide that when he was bumped up to attack midseason, but he'll be expected to produce from the start.

Biggest Question: Can the ASU offense give the defense a break? The Sun Devils defense was as good as any in the country, but they were often left on an island as they waited for the offensive unit to mature. If Chris Malone can find the right ingredients on the frontline, this could be a championship team.

The graduation of Dylan Westfall in the cage stands out as a critical loss, but there are players – notably sophomore Brandon Propp – who can fill the void without too much of a drop off. So, to beat a dead horse, the success of the '13 campaign rests entirely with an offense that is two years removed from being one of the most prolific in MCLA history.

1. Colorado State (17-2) – National Champion

Key Retuner: Hayden Porter. You could throw a dart at the CSU roster and connect with a key returner, but Porter's role as anchor of the stingy Rams defense makes him the pick.

Biggest Question: Should CSU order its '13 national championship t-shirts now and take advantage of the early-bird specials?

Having an overwhelming favorite to defend as national champion is nothing new to the MCLA. Michigan and BYU boasted the label in '11 and '12, respectively, and both crumbled in the semifinals, but Colorado State trumps both of them in regards to talent and depth. There are no holes in the roster at all.


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