Men’s Lacrosse | NESCAC preview: Amherst, Middlebury, Tufts lead the way
Published: Wednesday, March 7, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, March 7, 2012 02:03
With the 2012 NESCAC men's lacrosse season beginning this weekend, questions surround Tufts' ability to rebuild after losing a strong senior class. Meanwhile, Amherst looks to be Tufts' biggest threat, and other personnel changes have similarly shifted the power dynamics across the conference.
The league also welcomes a new program as the Hamilton Continentals prepare for their first year of full membership. With five NESCAC teams ranked among the top 20 in the most recent USILA/Coaches' Poll, it remains to be seen whether Amherst, Middlebury and Tufts can meet expectations and set themselves apart as the conference's elite programs, or if a sleeper team might emerge.
No. 5 Amherst
The Lord Jeffs look poised to assume the NESCAC's top spot, returning four of their top six poles as well as the players who accounted for 98 percent of their scoring. They are coming off a strong 15-3 season during which they advanced to the NCAA quarterfinals.
Three of the squad's quad-captains — midfielder Alex Fox and attackman Evan Redwood, both seniors, and junior long-stick midfielder Danny Gold — are preseason All-Americans, and sophomore Devin Acton, the NESCAC rookie of the year, led Amherst in scoring during his freshman season. Amherst has depth in the midfield and Gold, who had 64 ground balls last year, anchors a relatively experienced defensive unit.
With all that returning talent, the Lord Jeffs seem poised to improve on last year's performance.
Bates returns several starters, but that is little consolation for a team that went 1-8 in the NESCAC last season. Bates finished ninth out of 10 NESCAC teams in goals, assists and total points, and the team's only noteworthy offensive effort came from now-graduated attackman Luke Charest, the team's leading scorer. Charest finished fourth in the NESCAC in assists per game last season.
Senior Kevin Helm is the heart of the Bobcats' defense and Bates must improve between the pipes to compete. While nearly every other NESCAC team has two or more high-impact playmakers who can take games into their own hands, it appears that Bates lacks both the tools and the standout players to create game-changing opportunities against the conference's top programs.
No. 18 Bowdoin
Bowdoin shows threatening potential for the upcoming season, despite having graduated 10 seniors last season. The Polar Bears started 3-6 last year before surging to five consecutive wins, including a massive 15-9 upset of then-No. 1 Tufts and an equally one-sided 14-9 defeat of Amherst in the NESCAC quarterfinals.
Last season, Bowdoin trailed only Tufts in scoring and topped the rest of the league by a substantial margin. Current senior Brendan Hughes did well to ensure possession, winning 56.2 percent of his face-offs, and Bowdoin returns three of its top four scorers.
Year in and year out, one of Bowdoin's advantages is its size, and it must capitalize on the defensive end by playing a physical on-body game and forcing opponents into mistakes. Last year, the Polar Bears won 502 ground balls to opponents' 430.
Bowdoin has plenty to work with and returns capable players at every position excluding goalkeeper, a spot where it can arguably only improve. If the Polar Bears continue to capitalize on their size and develop the depth on their maturing bench, they can make coach Thomas McCabe's 22nd and final season with the program a memorable one.
Judging by its 4-5 conference finish, Colby was an average team last year, but with junior midfielder Ian Deveau leading the way, the Mules have the potential to improve and finish a few games above .500 in the conference this spring.