Last year was a very exciting year in Division 3 men’s lacrosse, with Stevenson winning their first ever championship. Aurora University in Illinois made their first NCAA tournament, and won a game. RIT beat Cortland with a hidden ball trick, and Salisbury was finally dethroned as the most dominant team in the South, if only for a season. As fall ball and training continues to roll, here’s a look at some of the top teams from last year, as well as a couple potential dark horses for 2014.
Photo Credits: Tommy Gilligan
Stevenson (NCAA Champion) - The Mustangs won their first NCAA championship ever in 2013, and bring back a lot of key players for the 2014 campaign. Dmitri Pecunes, who was stellar in goal for the green and white, will be back as a sophomore. Attackman Mark Panneton, who scored 62 goals last year and was named NCAA Tournament MVP, is back for his junior year. He is joined by junior attackman Pat Candon, senior FOGO Brett Hiken (who won 70% of his draws last year), LSM Ryan Rubenstein (another All-American), and a solid defense. Stevenson will be just as big of a force this upcoming season. With Paul Cantabene leading the program and all that talent, you can chalk that one up right now.
RIT (NCAA Runner-Up) – The Tigers were arguably the most entertaining team to watch all year, regardless of division, and RIT is back with a vengeance. Kyle Aquin, who scored 64 goals and tallied 8 assists, returns as a Junior. Rising senior Jack Kryzston, the leading scorer for the Tigers in 2013, will be back again. Eddie Kiesa and Allister Warren are also back. The 1-2 punch at the faceoff X of PJ Hart and Tyler Brooks-Lambert will still be around, and Patrick Johnson (who you should check out on twitter @Pat_Johnston15) will be back in goal again for the Tigers. RIT is hungry for a title in 2014, and is as dangerous as ever. It’s amazing how much talent BOTH teams that made the D3 finals last year bring back for 2014.
Dickinson - Dickinson will surely miss the presence of D3 player of the year Brandon Palladino, who was a terror with a long pole, but they will still be very good in 2014. Defenseman Slay Sudah and attackman Brian Cannon will both be back, and can be dominant players. Carter Moore, who had a great season last year, will be back at the faceoff X for the Red Devils. While many great players like Matt Cherry and Palladino have graduated, Dickinson will be very strong again in 2014, and should be motivated by Stevenson’s ability to break through to the next level.
Cortland - After another year of coming close to vying for an NCAA title but falling just a little short, Cortland is looking to finally get the job done in 2014. With Mike Kaminski graduated, the goalie competition will be one to watch in Cortland. Joe Slavik, Cortland’s best offensive weapon, is back to lead the Red Dragons as a senior. Rising sophomore Zach Hopps, the SUNYAC rookie of the year, is back as part of an attack unit that is sure to cause trouble for opposing defenses. Defensively, senior Brian Winterfeldt will lead the way, and he is a caused turnover machine. Will 2014 be the year that Cortland makes it back to the Finals? RIT presents a big challenge in the North, but Cortland is more than capable.
Salisbury - Rhett DePol, Brady Dashiell, and Jesse Rabishaw will lead the attack unit for a Salisbury team that is perpetually dangerous. 2013 saw some low scoring games, but Alex Taylor returns in net, after being named a Third-Team All American and first team all CAC, so SU should be well stocked to win low or high scoring games. The biggest question for Salisbury this year will be if they can beat Stevenson, who was virtually unbeatable last season. With offensive production potentially booming and a sturdy defense, it’s looking like another strong year for the Gulls.
Tufts - Despite the suspension of 27 Tufts players for the first two games of the season, the Jumbos went on to win their fourth straight NESCAC title. At a school that has produced a number of great attackmen (DJ Hessler, Ryan Molloy, Bryan Griffin) and loves transition, it’s no surprise that their offensive output was averaging double digits (13 PPG) in 2013. The Jumbos were lead by rising junior Cole Bailey, who led the team with 30 goals and 42 assists. Bailey has the potential to be even better in 2014, and could be the most dangerous players in the NESCAC. Between the pipes for Tufts will be rising senior Patton Watkins, who had a standout year in 2013, and solidified an already solid defense. The Jumbos have the pieces to make it 5 straight conference titles and go on a deep run in the NCAA tournament.
Cabrini - The Cavs lost two key players to graduation in Bobby Thorp and Eric Zarzecki. Thorp was Cabrini’s best offensive weapon, while Zarzecki locked down the D in between pipes. However, great players are still around in Radnor, PA. LSM Bill McCabe will start again, attackman Kevin McQuilliam returns, and sharpshooting middie Anthony DiSanzo is back. There are a couple of question marks on close D, as many seniors graduated this past year. Who will step up for the Cavaliers in 2014? Can they keep climbing, or will they fall back down? Definitely a team to watch.
Western New England - The Golden Bears were the surprise team of the NCAA tournament for many last year, going all the way to the Quarterfinals. Netminder Brandon Body made 199 saves, and will be back in net for WNE in 2014, continuing a strong Golder Bear legacy in goal. Offensively, Adam Knapton, the biggest weapon for the Bears in 2013, is back. Rising senior Jack Liacos is back to lead the stout defense. Knapton was CCC offensive player of the year, and Liacos was the team leader in caused turnovers and ground balls. The Golden Bears have proved they’re the real deal, but how far can they go in the upcoming season?
In addition to the teams above, I’m thinking the teams below could be serious Dark Horse contenders in 2014:
Franklin & Marshall
Washington & Lee
I also want to see how Aurora fairs this year, even if I do not think they are a championship contender by any means, I will keep an eye out to see how this fourth year program does in 2014, after making their first NCAA tournament appearance in 2013. Considering they won their first ever NCAA game, I’d say they are worth a follow. This will be their first season with a full senior class. Pay attention.