With the 2012 lacrosse season poised to begin in the upcoming weeks, Division III teams across the nation prepare to pursue conference championships and the title of National Champions.
In 2011, Salisbury University re-assumed their usual title as the best Division III team in the nation. However, a number of other teams are on the rise and looking for their own chance at glory.
Several questions arise: Will Salisbury be able to retain the title of the class of Division III? Will Dickinson's 2011 Centennial Conference title translate to repeat dominance in 2012? How will perennial contenders such as Gettysburg and Wesleyan fare in their increasingly competitive leagues?
This is not a listing of the top-five teams in Division III. What follows on the other hand are five teams poised to make waves in 2012.
Since their runner-up finish in the 2009 National Championship game, Gettysburg's lacrosse program has found itself in decline. After nine consecutive conference titles, Gettysburg was unseated by rival Haverford College as Centennial Conference champs in 2010. After missing out on the championship again in 2011, the Bullets are looking to rebound in 2012.
I will most likely state this again, but the road to the 2012 Centennial Conference title will run through Carlisle, PA (Home of Dickinson). In order to have a hope at unseating the Red Devils, Gettysburg must find their groove heading into their April 28th matchup.
Two reasons this team could find themselves playing for a national title come May? Attackman Pat Sartory and defenseman Billy Grayson. Sartory, the Bullet's top returning points scorer (30 goals, 14 assists in 2011) is the primary cog around which the team's offensive revolves. In order for this team to make a deep postseason run, Sartory must continue to play at a high level.
My Call: Second Place Centennial Conference, Elite Eight bid.
By most team's standards, the past several years for Middlebury would have to be considered a success. However, the Panthers have always been considered one of the top programs in Division III lacrosse. With no NESCAC titles since 2007, Middlebury heads into this season looking to regain their former dominance in one of the most competitive conferences in Division III lacrosse.
However, two teams stand in their way: 2010 National Champions Tufts and Inside Lacrosse preseason No. 2 Amherst. For the Panthers to have a shot at a NESCAC title, they will need to at least split their two games against these two dominant programs. Look for the team to make some noise in the Conference tournament come May.
Three reasons that Middlebury could make another deep postseason run? 2011 starting attackmen David Hild, Mike Giordano and Tim Cahill accounted for 157 points combined last season (96 goals, 61 assists). Sophomore Giordano is a key proponent of the offense and his ability to direct the offense (34 assists) should allow Cahill and Hild to continue to put up huge numbers in 2012.
My Call: Second Place NESCAC, NCAA Semifinal bid.
Skidmore College is rapidly emerging as a top program in the Liberty League. With success, however, comes pressure. Expectations for the thoroughbreds are high this season. Will this team be able to make it over the hump and capture not only a league title but find themselves in the hunt for a national title come May?
Two challenging early-season matchups against Haverford and Dickinson will show whether or not Skidmore is truly ready to compete on a national level. Last season's upset win against Dickinson will have the Red Devils primed and ready to show that Skidmore's victory last year was a fluke. If Skidmore can win at least one of these two matchups we'll know that they are in fact for real.
Two players to keep an eye on early in the season: middie Ryan Paradis and attackman Mike Holden. If Paradis can continue his success on faceoffs (.623 percent, 107 ground balls), this team will be able to truly dominate the Liberty League.
My Call: First Place Liberty League, NCAA Tourney bid.
The 2012 lacrosse season means one thing in Lynchburg: pressure. Pressure to retake control of a conference that the team has not won since 2008. Pressure to play a role in the national title picture. Pressure to show that Lynchburg is not in fact in decline.
With 15 seniors and a loaded starting lineup, Lynchburg is poised to take care of business in 2012. However, their neighbors up Route 81 at Roanoke College will not hand over the crown of Old Dominion Conference Champions lightly. Their March 17th matchup will most definitely be worth the trip.
Three reasons Lynchburg could take home both the Old Dominion and National title in 2012: attackman Dylan Hoff, midfielder Max Voumard and defenseman Joe Lisicky. Look for all three of these preseason All-Americans to play central roles for the Hornets in 2012.
My Call: First place Old Dominion, Elite Eight Bid.
Last year's Centennial Conference Champions resume their quest for national glory in 2012. Returning nine out of ten starters from last year's 2011 squad, the Red Devils enter the season ranked No. 3 in the nation. Their biggest challenges of the season: an early season tilt with No. 2 Roanoke and conference matchups against Gettysburg and Haverford.
However, a team as stocked with talent as Dickinson has to look beyond conference titles. A win against Roanoke will show that this team has truly in fact arrived as a contender for the national title.
Three reasons the Red Devils can win the national title in 2012: All three starting attackmen, Matt Cherry, Brian Cannon and Christian Beitel return to a unit that put up massive numbers last season (82 goals, 66 assists).
However, Dickinson's midfielders are what truly seperates them as a top contender this season. With top players Ward Gruppo (16 goals, 14 assists) and Bobby Kingsley (32 goals, eight assists) poised for another big season and the return of 2010 all-conference middie Sam Abramson (26 goals, eight assists in 2010), the Red Devils should put up points in bunches this season.
Long Stick Middie Brandon Palladino heads a strong defensive unit and his ability to jump-start the offense should only further contribute to the Red Devils explosive offense in 2012. Honorable Mention All-American Goalie Greg Hanley heads the defense.
My Call: First Place Centennial Conference, NCAA Runner Ups
Needless to say, 2012 should be a great year for Division III lacrosse. With the improving quality of play at the D.III level and greater parity across the board, keep an eye out for some shocking upsets.
The five teams just mentioned should all be in contention in their conferences and the national title picture this season. So do yourself a favor and follow each of these teams closely.