NESCAC Men’s Lacrosse | Top to bottom NESCAC: The definition of parity
Published: Wednesday, March 9, 2011
Updated: Wednesday, March 9, 2011 07:03
In the past four NESCAC men's lacrosse championships, four different teams have emerged victorious. And in each of those four championships, the No. 1 seed in the tournament has been knocked out before even reaching the title game.
Suffice it to say, NESCAC men's lacrosse is the most competitive sport in the most competitive conference in Div. III athletics. Vegas lines don't stand a chance here, but that's okay. The Daily will break down the squads for you so you can make your own intelligent, thoroughly researched pick for which team will reign supreme over the rest come early May:
Tufts Jumbos: They're the reigning NESCAC and national champs and current national No. 1 — a blessing or a curse? The intensity of Tufts' schedule will probably stay the same. The Jumbos will have the same difficulty getting through an increasingly tough conference as they ever have — the heated rivalries within the NESCAC are always thriving. With the level of competition always so high, the experience the Jumbos acquired from the postseason heroics of 2010 will undoubtedly help.
A slew of returning starters from last year's squad, particularly on the offensive side of the ball with the senior quad-captain duo of D.J. Hessler and Ryan Molloy leading things, puts the Jumbos in a very good place. Bear in mind, Hessler, Molloy and junior Sean Kirwan — the third of the three returning starting attackmen — were the top three scorers in the NESCAC last season. Junior faceoff specialist Nick Rhoads will surely continue to dominate at the X, giving the Jumbos the possessions they need to light up the scoreboard. Of course, the addition of a strong recruiting class will make an already deep roster noticeably stronger on both ends of the field.
Middlebury Panthers: The Jumbos feel that the only team that can beat them is themselves, and while that may be true, the national No. 7 Panthers would probably beg to differ. It stings to lose three times in one season to the same team, let alone losing to the eventual national champions in both the NESCAC Championship game and the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament by one and two goals, respectively. Middlebury suffered that fate at the hands of Tufts last season and will seek revenge.
Middlebury's top two goal scorers from 2010 — the attacking tandem of senior David Hild and junior Tim Cahill — will return for the Panthers. Hild is a natural finisher while Cahill is a lefty gunslinger with a lightning-fast wrist-y shot. Any team that can keep these attackmen in check and put the pressure on less experienced scorers has a chance of taking down the NESCAC's most decorated men's lacrosse program, but that's much easier said than done.
Bowdoin Polar Bears: The national No. 18 Polar Bears have one of the most experienced rosters in the league. On attack, there's senior Russell Halliday, who has garnered a considerable amount of field time and a hefty number of goals as a starter in his three previous seasons. All-American Honorable Mention and NESCAC First-Teamer Owen Smith, a senior midfielder, will lead the explosive offense as well.
Bowdoin's biggest weakness might be its defense, which graduated several key players and was already the second-worst team in the league in goals against average. In order for Bowdoin to limit the damage and give the powerful offense a chance to win, young defenders will need to step up and the team will need consistently strong performances from its goaltenders. The Polar Bears have several phenomenal goalies in senior Jake McCampbell, who recorded the best save percentage in the NESCAC in 2009 and earned two NESCAC Player of the Week awards in that year, as well as junior Christopher Williamson, who saw significant playing time last season.
Conn. College Camels: The regular-season NESCAC champs from last year were the only team to beat the Jumbos all season, but an early exit to Wesleyan in the conference tournament and to Rochester Institute of Technology in the NCAA tournament quickly tarnished a stellar regular season campaign. Unfortunately for the national No. 10 Camels, the graduation of constant scoring threat Steve Dachille leaves big shoes to be filled. That burden will likely fall to senior attackman Ryan Hayes, the team's third-highest scorer last season, as well as a slew of skilled underclassmen. While the team may not have the same veteran leadership as it had last year, this is a team on the rise, and the team has a solid recruiting class to show it. It's safe to say that the Camels — and the rest of the league — expect big things this season.
On the Brink
Wesleyan Cardinals: The Cardinals won the 2009 NESCAC Tournament title but failed to win the big games last season. That said, they were in somewhat of a regrouping phase after the graduation of key offensive staples in '09 and still managed to beat Conn. College in the NESCAC Quarterfinals and then get within a goal of Tufts in the semis in '10. The talent is in place to reclaim NESCAC glory, and with another year under its belts, the senior class has a better understanding of what it will take to win again.
So far, Wesleyan is off to the right start after beating Salve Regina 13-8 on Saturday. While Salve Regina certainly isn't one of the top programs the Cardinals will play this season, a win is a win, and it's important to get the jitters out early. Whether or not they can thrive in the NESCAC will depend on their ability to pull out close games — an area in which the team lacked proficiency last season during their 3-6 conference campaign.
Colby Mules: The man who made it all happen for the Mules' last season — attackman Whit McCarthy (33 goals, 11 assists) — graduated. Sophomore midfielder Ian Deveau, last year's NESCAC Freshman of the Year and the team's second-leading scorer, will need to be spectacular to keep his team in contention. His feeding abilities and field vision are top-notch, but the Mules lack the sure-fire finisher that they had last season in McCarthy. Still, this team has tons of potential with solid returning starters in all positions that first-year coach Justin Domingos will look to turn into a bounty of wins. NESCAC First-Team faceoff specialist Craig Bunker, a senior, will give his team a good chance to win if he continues to play at a high level at the X.