Defending Tewaaraton Trophy winner Steele Stanwick (UVA)
This past weekend was full of predictable outcomes and stunning upsets.
As the season rolls along, the picture of the national lacrosse landscape becomes clearer. Contenders are separated from the pretenders, and tournament-ready teams begin to emerge.
With many Top 10 match ups to highlight this past weekend, fans were treated to many nationally-televised games. This exposure not only helps the game of lacrosse grow, but gives current student-athletes the challenge of performing on a big stage.
Over time, coverage of NCAA Lacrosse went from a one-weekend affair to a full season of programming. Bravo America.
Here is my revised Division I Top 10 coming into a big week of action across the country.
10. Denver Pioneers
Sitting at 3-1, the Pioneers are a defending Final Four team. Hall of Fame coach Bill Tierney has attackman Mark Matthews and the Pioneers on a role, despite a close 11-10 win over Hartford last weekend. Their only loss was their season opener against Ohio State, where they fell 10-9 in a surprising outcome. Even with the loss and the less-than-stellar victory last weekend, it is hard to think that Denver is not going to get better. A big matchup with Penn State this week will help gauge this team as they move along.
9. Notre Dame Fighting Irish
I'm still not sure about the Fighting Irish. After opening the season with a four-goal victory over Duke, the Irish lost a close bout with Penn State and snuck by a talented Drexel team by one goal. They have not been putting up a lot of goals (16 in three games), and do not have a player that can take over a game. Sophomore attacker Westy Hopkins leads the team with only 4 points, but a talented defense may allow for a lackluster offense. Even after beating Duke, I have them behind the Blue Devils in the rankings. I'm just not convinced.
8. Duke Blue Devils
A perennial Final Four team, the Blue Devils are 3-2 entering the week. With losses to Notre Dame and Maryland on an already tough schedule, they are improving and waking up as each game goes on. They may not be title contenders come May, but have the opportunity to pick up some quality wins as the season continues. They still face UNC, Syracuse, Virginia and Denver before the season is up, giving them opportunities to make big statements. Their wins over Rutgers, Penn and Jacksonville were very convincing early in the season.
7. North Carolina Tar Heels
With perhaps the most talent on a single roster in the nation, UNC lost a stunner to Lehigh last weekend. This completely threw a wrench in the perception of the Tar Heels, although it is tough to think that it was not a fluke loss. With a consistent rotation of offensive firepower, there is great distribution in their scoring, leading them to victories over Penn State, Mercer and Detroit Mercy. This week will be a huge test for the Heels, as they face Ivy League foes Penn and Princeton in a short week. As the new core of players continue to work together on the field, UNC should only improve as the season goes on. If they do, they are a sure contender for a National Title.
6. Syracuse Orange
Yesterday, Syracuse dropped a heart-breaker to Virginia by a score of 14-10. This was the highlight game of the weekend, and surely lived up to the hype. It was made very clear that UVA is for real (as expected), and that Syracuse can play with anybody (also expected). Syracuse is led in points by Derek Maltz (7g, 3a), but have players that can score from anywhere on the field. Their nifty feeds and quick sticks inside make them a threat to score at any time. Having played two goalies this season, the Orange must get better play in goal. Their talent is obvious, and I suspect a big win against Johns Hopkins in two weeks.
5. Massachusetts Minutemen
Coach Greg Cannella seems to always put his best foot forward at UMass. It is now routine to find the Minutemen in the national rankings, and this year, they are a real contender. Sitting pretty with a 4-0 record, UMass already has quality wins against Bucknell and Ohio State, having also taken care of Army and Brown along the way. What is more impressive is that three of these four games have been away from home. Attacker Will Manny is making a statement with 14 goals to go along with eight assists so far. Their schedule is not the toughest in the country, so expect UMass to be a high seed in the NCAA tournament.
4. Johns Hopkins Blue Jays
Sitting at No. 2 in many polls, the Blue Jays are off to a great start in 2012. Always well coached, JHU is 4-0 with a quality victory over Princeton last Friday. With this said, Hopkins beat Delaware and Siena by two goals each, and their preseason ranking is keeping them high in the polls. With a strong defense and fantastic first midfield line, their schedule will be daunting as the season moves along. With Syracuse, Virginia, UNC and Maryland coming up, the Blue Jays can either make a case for No. 1 or fall out of the Top 10 altogether. My guess is a split of those tough games, and a middle-of-the-pack ranking come tournament time.
3. Maryland Terrapins
Averaging almost 13 goals a game thus far, the University of Maryland has had a fairly easy time getting off to a 3-0 start. With quality wins over Georgetown and Duke, Goalie Niko Amato has set the tone early. Amato is boasting a 62% save percentage, and is one of the best in the country. With strong scorers at the midfield position, Maryland can be a match up nightmare for opposing defenses. With big games still on the schedule, Maryland should stay near the top for the entire season.
2. Cornell Big Red
With wins over Binghamton and Army so far, the Big Red have still been able to make it clear that they are one of the best teams around. With a stellar first-line attack and solid defense, Cornell is a threat to beat anyone they face. Rob Pannell is showing great balance with seven goals and nine assists thus far, using his skill to open things up for his teammates. When the big games come, however, he is always a threat to take over and make the clutch play. With a big showdown against Virginia on the horizon, time will tell if Cornell can make it to No. 1. As they near an always tough Ivy League schedule, a healthy squad should be able to lock a tournament position with time to spare.
1. Virginia Cavaliers
As a writer, you always want to mix things up and stray away from the norm. Unfortunately, UVA has left me no choice but to join the crowd. After a big win at home against Syracuse yesterday, it is clear that Steele Stanwick and the Cavaliers are the cream of the crop. Already 5-0, Virginia has been able to rely on senior goalie Rob Fortunato to compliment their outstanding scorers. With firepower all over the field, the Cavs can score with anyone. Their senior leadership has enabled them to ignore the distractions of the George Huguely trial and put together a fine campaign thus far. After a tough game with Cornell coming up, Virginia still has Johns Hopkins, Maryland, and North Carolina in back to back weeks later on. If they can come through these game unscathed, Stanwick will undoubtedly win back to back Tewaarton trophies.