Last year's national champions Mercyhurst enter 2012 ranked as the top D-II program in the nation. Last year's runner-up, Adelphi? No. 2.
With top analysts calling for a maintenance of the status quo, do any other teams have a chance to unseat the Lakers as national champions in 2012? Will formerly dominant Le Moyne experience a resurrection? How will Conference Carolinas power Limestone fair in an a conference that has become increasingly marked by parity, rather than singular dominance?
With these and many other questions on the mind, let's take a look at five D-II teams to watch in 2012.
Ranked No. 3 in the nation (USILA), the Saints of Limestone College are poised to play a major role in the national picture this season. The team has won all three Conference Carolina championships since the league's inception and have their eyes on another in 2012.
However, rivals Pfeiffer and St. Andrew's both hope to return retooled this season. In order to gain another tile in 2012, Limestone will need to stave off attempts from both teams trying to unseat them. Pfeiffer especially figures to stand in Limestone's way as they sit at No. 10 in the nation.
One reason Limestone could win it all in 2012? All-American and Tewaaraton Watch List attack-man Shayne Jackson figures to play an even more explosive role in his second year with the team. A 2010 Junior College All-American and National Champion at Onondaga, Jackson was absolutely unreal his first season with Limestone, scoring 82 points (50 assists, 32 goals).
If he can maintain those kind of numbers, the Saints should be major players on the national scene this year.
My Call: first place Conference Carolinas, national runners-up.
Entering the season ranked No. 7 in the nation, NYIT looks forward to another competitive season in the challenging East Coast Conference. Facing top teams Mercyhurst (No. 1), C.W. Post (No. 4) and Dowling (No. 5), the Bears will have to not only meet, but far exceed expectations this season in order to have a chance at winning not only a national title, but just the conference.
Two reasons NYIT can unseat Mercyhurst in 2012? Long stick midfielder Justin Annunziato and defenseman Danny McDermott. Annunziato, who formerly played at Syracuse, has emerged as a top D-II player after coming to NYIT.
With 44 ground balls last season, Annunziato should expand on those numbers this year and help guide the Bears in 2012. McDermott, a sophomore from Vancouver and U-19 team member in Canada guides the defense and should have NYIT looking to stifle their opponents this season.
My Call: third place ECC
Entering the season ranked No. 6, Le Moyne College heads into this year's Northeast-10 Conference with a chip on their shoulder. After winning seven straight titles from 2001-2007, the Dolphins have only won the Northeast-10 once since (2009).
In order to get back on track, Le Moyne must unseat favorites Adelphi and beat contenders St.Michael's, Mercy and Merrimack.
Two reasons the Dolphins could win it all in 2012? Midfielder Tyler Sennett and defenseman Alex Cameron-Carter Jr. Sennett, a second-team preseason All-American (Inside Lacrosse) is the team's highest returning scorer from 2011 (16 goals, two assists).
In order for Le Moyne to compete this year, Sennett must greatly expand on those numbers. Cameron-Carter leads a strong defense in the 2012 campaign. A developing ballhawk, Cameron-Carter had 15 ground balls and three turnovers last season.
Overlooked this season due to a large amount of new developing talent, the Dolphins will have to mature quickly in order to compete in a difficult Northeast-10.
My Call: second place Northeast-10.
Entering the season unranked, Mars Hill looks to regain control of the Deep South Conference. With no titles since 2009, the Mountain Lions are poised to make noise this season. In order to retake the title of conference champions, Mars Hill must unseat current champions Catawba while holding off rivals Saint Leo.
Two reasons Mars Hill will win the Deep South in 2012? Long stick midfielder Chris Cudmore and goalie Dylan Price. Cudmore, a preseason All-American, absolutely tore it up in 2011 (six goals, six assists, 68 ground balls). However, those numbers must improve this season for the Mountain Lions to take the conference crown.
Goalie Dylan Price will play a pivotal role this season as this team will go as far as his play can carry them. One way to ensure the team's success? Maintaining his stat line from last year (6.97 Goals Against Average, .623 save percentage).
My Call: first place Deep South
The defending national champions enter 2012 with heightened expectations. Preseason favorites to win it all, Mercyhurst faces an incredibly difficult conference schedule and must deal with having a target on their backs all season. In order to win it all in 2012, Mercyhurst must not just compete in, but dominate the East Coast Conference.
Two reasons Mercyhurst will repeat as national champions? Attack man Brian Scheetz Jr. and long stick midfielder Greg Bensman. Scheetz Jr, the team's leading points scorer in 2011 (21 goals, 33 assists) returns in 2012 looking to improve on his numbers from last year. With an even larger share of the offense expected to run through Scheetz, look for him to rise to the occasion.
LSM Bensman led the team in ground balls and takeaways in 2011 (52 ground balls, 29 takeaways), however he also led the team in penalties and penalty minutes (10 penalties, nine minutes). If he can stay off the sidelines, Bensman should have another monster season in 2012.
My Call: first place East Coast Conference, national champions.
Division II lacrosse should provide plenty of entertainment this season. Although there are only four or five true contenders, there will be plenty of upsets this season. The quality of lacrosse at the D-II level continues to improve and unforeseen teams will most definitely make waves.
Don't forget that Le Moyne entered their conference tournament last season as the consensus top team in the nation. Any of these five teams can make noise in May. Keep your eyes on each of these teams in the upcoming months.