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CAA – 2016 D1 Conference Preview

Editor’s Note: It’s time to talk CAA men’s lacrosse for 2016! Welcome to our annual D1 Conference Previews! We kicked things off with the ACC, then hit up the Big East! Each conference will get an in-depth preview from different writers, and the staff will also rank the conference teams in a pre-season poll. It’s time for the CAA 2016 Preview!

CAA – 2016 D1 Conference Preview

The Colonial Athletic Association is one of the more interesting conferences in the NCAA.  The 6 teams that comprise the conference boast an alumni list which includes some of the best players in the professional ranks today.  While there are some good seasons in their past and several have been to the final four, there is no NCAA championship trophy in their collective trophy case.  Could this be the year?  Maybe!  Let’s take a look at who has a shot!

Delaware Blue Hens

2014 Record & Result: 7-9, Lost to Hofstra in CAA Tournament

2015 Record & Result: 5-10, No CAA Tournament

Key Losses:  OT loss to Drexel, 2OT loss to Fairfield

Key Wins: 12-11 over Bucknell

Players Departed: Beau Jones (12G,22A), Brian Kormondy (22G,14A), Tom Holland  (26G,4A), Jeff Heath (10G,3A),  Tyler Barbarich (99/209FOs), Brandon Worrall (12CT,24GB)

Players Arriving: Parker Ferrigan, G; Jake Hervada, FOGO

This will be a tough year for the Blue Hens, as they try to have their first winning season since 2011.  Their schedule is very winnable, but they are experiencing significant roster turnover, where most positions will see new faces.  They lose five of their top six scorers, their primary goalie, and their primary FOGO.

The Season Has Started delaware_high_point

Helping to fill in on offense will mostly be existing underclassman.  They only are bringing in two freshman attack, and their only major contributor coming back is junior midfielder and captain, Jackson Finigan, who had 15 goals and 11 assists last year.  After him, things are pretty wide open.  The highest scoring attackman returning only had three goals.  In the possession game, they lost their top FOGO, but Matt Olbrich returns from his 58/123 (47.2%) season in 2015.  Looking to fight for time at the X is freshman Jake Hervada, who is ranked as the #42 best player in his class nationally.

Defensively, they’re in better shape as most of their long poles come back.  The only major contributor that they are missing here is Brandon Worrall who led the team is caused turnovers.  Between the pipes, Conor Peaks is the only player on the roster who saw time last year, but he did see 4 starts.  Fighting for this spot is newcomer Parker Ferrigan, who is transfer from Syracuse.  He showed some promise for the Orange, but was a casualty of a very crowded position.  He was the #3 ranked goalie in the country when he entered college.

This team should be stronger defensively and their captains are all midfielders, which should make up slightly for the inexperienced attack.  They are going to have some growing pains on the offensive side of the field, but fortunately most of their players are going to be familiar with the system already.  They have a very manageable out of conference schedule, so winning their conference tournament is a must to have a shot at the NCAA.

Drexel Dragons

2014 Record & Result: 13-5, Lost to Denver in NCAA Quarterfinal

2015 Record & Result: 7-8, Lost to Towson in CAA Tournament

Key Losses: 1 point loss at St. John’s, Lost to Town in CAA

Key Wins: Towson in regular season finale, Bryant

Players Departed: Ryan Belka (21G,20A), Mitch DeSnoo (7G,1A), Nick Saputo (173/320FOs)

Players Arriving: Marshal King, M

Drexel played deep last year which should really help them in 2016.  They wound up having 25 players who saw time in 10 games or more.  What’s even better for the Dragons is they return almost everyone.  Of their top 11 scorers, only 3 are no longer with the team.  The two biggest losses are Ryan Belka, their leading scorer, and Nick Saputo, who took all but eight face-offs for the team last year.

CAA Denver vs Drexel Mens Lacrosse May 18, 2014 NCAA quarterfinal Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan CAA

When asked about what to expect this year, Assistant coach Chris Collins simply said “This is Cole Shafer’s squad”.  It’d be hard to argue with him.  The junior from British Columbia was second on the team in scoring last year with 29 goals and nine assists.  This past fall, he played for England in the WILC where he led the team in points in the tournament’s toughest division (he had almost double that of his closest teammate).  Joining him at attack are likely Robert Frazee and Chris Frederick, who were the next two highest scoring attackman in 2015 (22 and 9 points, respectively).  Among the Freshman who may see time is midfielder Marshal King, younger brother of former Ohio State All-American, Jesse King.

Defensively, Drexel returns their entire closer defense and goalies.  Jimmy Joe Granito started and played in eleven games, and Will Gabrielsen returns after starting in the remainder of the contests.  With this much experience coming back, I would expect Drexel to improve upon their 9.8 GAA quite a bit, which should put them in a great spot nationally.

Drexel opens their season by hosting Virginia and then travelling up to Albany.  They also host Maryland in early March.  If they win those three and only have a loss or two, an at large bid to the tournament is a possibility.  Realistically, winning the tournament is the more logical route.  With all the talent returning, this team is poised to make some noise in 2016.  As a side note, if you are not a fan of early recruiting, pay attention to this team.  They vocally do not recruit High School Freshman or Sophomores, so success from them at the national level might start changing the minds of other coaches in that they can choose not to recruit early, regardless of pending NCAA action.  They certainly have the potential on paper, so now there will just need to execute on the field.

Fairfield Stags

2014 Record & Result: 12-4, Lost to Air Force in ECAC Tournament

2015 Record & Result: 9-6, Lost to UMass in CAA Tournament

Key Losses: OT to Yale, 1 point loss at Stony Brook, 1 point loss to Towson, 1 point loss at Bucknell

Key Wins: Colgate, Villanova

Players Departed: Tristan Sperry (23G,24A), Colin McLinden (12G,20A), Drew Federico (10G,9A)

Players Arriving: Colin Burke, M; Tim Gillis, D; Kendall Keahey, M; Adam Riestis, M; Matt Sharpe, M; McKay Sheahan, A

Fairfield’s season did not end the way it should have last year.  They played strong all year long, found their way into the national rankings and even had the top seed for the CAA tournament.  Unfortunately, they lost to UMass in that tournament’s opening round and just didn’t have the resume you need for an at-large bid.

Fairfield Yale Lacrosse

Their offense in 2016 should be in great shape though.  They lost two of their three top scorers, but most of their major contributors who saw time in most games are back.  TJ Neubauer is the top returning scorer, with 31 goals to go with his three assists.  The top helper coming back is Charlie Schnider, who had 13 assists last year, which means this role is up for grabs.  Their incoming freshman are mostly being touted for adding depth to the team, so the Stags are likely going to look towards existing underclassman to step up.  All eyes are also going to be on FOGO Will Fox, who took the conference Rookie of the Year award in 2015.  He had the 14th best winning percentage at that spot last year, so can he make a jump in his sophomore season to join the game’s elite?

Defensively, Fairfield is looking more than OK.  They return nearly everyone, including both goalies who saw significant time last year.  They were third in the country last year in goals against average, so the pressure is really on the offense to keep pace given how much of that same defense comes back to campus.

Fairfield’s out of conference schedule isn’t the strongest, so winning their conference tournament is key for any NCAA hopes.  If they can keep their strong defense going and get some more points on the board, this team has the potential to cause some serious problems for someone in May.

Hofstra Pride

2014 Record & Result: 11-5, 3OT Loss to Drexel in CAA Tournament

2015 Record & Result: 5-9, No CAA Tournament

Key Losses: 2 point loss to Princeton, 2 point loss to Georgetown, 1 point loss to Ohio State

Key Wins: at Towson, Shutout over Manhattan

Players Departed: Mike Malave (28G,6A), Finn Sullivan (37GB,11CT), Chris Selva (7.83GAA), Ryan Rielly (27GB,18CT)

Players Arriving: Jimmy Yanes, A; Alex Gipe, G

After a very disappointing 2015 season, Hofstra is really hoping to get things back on track and return to their 2014 form.  Head Coach Seth Tierney has been added to the US National team’s coaching staff, so you have to hope that they can combine this with some stolen magic that the MLL’s New York Lizards may have left on their shared home field to bring some May success.  Coaching other teams and magical turf will only get you so far in life, so let’s look at what the Pride have in 2016.

Ohio State Outlasts Hofstra

Leading the offense will once again be CAA Player of the Year Sam Llinares.  The Senior packed in 33 goals and 24 assists to lead the team.   He has nearly his entire supporting cast back as they return seven of their eight top scorers.  With another year of experience together, Hofstra’s offense should be able to get more points on the board.

On the defense side of the field, things are not as clear cut.  The Pride were seventh in the country last year in goals against average with an even eight goals.  Unfortunately, they lost Finn Sullivan, who led the close defense in caused turnovers and ground balls and LSM Ryan Rielly.  Along with him was goalie Chris Selva, who started all but two games, but still played in all 14.

I don’t know if you will see the same level of defense out of the Pride, but they are primed to explode on offense.  They have a lot of key pieces coming back, so I really think they are in a good spot to make a dramatic improvement over their 5-9 record from a year ago.  They open their season at North Carolina, which means we will see where Hofstra sits pretty quickly.

UMass Minutemen

2014 Record & Result: 7-6, No CAA Tournament

2015 Record & Result: 5-10, Lost in CAA Final 8-9

Key Losses: 1 point loss at Albany, 1 point loss to Harvard, CAA Final

Key Wins: Drexel, Hofstra, Fairfield

Players Departed: Nick Mariano (22G,20A), Ryan Izzo (4G,32GB,3rd Team AA), Andrew Sokol (17G,8A), Austin Spencer (58GB,13CT), Zach Oliveri (10.34GAA)

Players Arriving: Ben Spencer, M; Isaac Paparo, D; Billy Philpott, M; John Tierney, M;

UMass has probably the toughest 2016 schedule in the conference.  Before they start their conference play, they’ll see Ohio State, North Carolina, Harvard, Brown, and Albany who are all ranked in the preseason top 20.  UMass is probably the only team in the conference that may have the shot at an at-large NCAA bid if they trip up in the conference tournament.  They would of course have to win nearly all of these games, which would be a feat, but not unprecedented.  The Minutemen have not made an NCAA appearance since 2012 when they were undefeated, but lost in the first round to Peter Baum’s Colgate squad.  So, maybe just sticking to the conference route is a better path to follow?

Ohio State vs UMass mens lacrosse

Offensively, the biggest loss was leading scorer Nick Mariano, who left for Oranger pastures (transferred to Syracuse).  Aside from him, they really are returning most of their offense.  Brendan Hegarty and Gianni Bianchin each scored 28 points a year ago and are both hoping to build on that.  UMass is also bringing back every face-off man from a year ago, which may not be a great thing as they finished tied for 58th in the country there.

On defense, they are losing their primary goalie in Zach Oliveri while DJ Smith saw very limited time as a backup.  The defense around him was hit pretty hard by losing All-American SSDM Ryan Izzo and Austin Spencer, who led the team in ground balls.  Kyle Karaska had a team high 18 caused turnovers a year ago while starting every game at defense.  He’ll be joined once again by Bob Fahey who was another season-long starter (and High School teammate).

While they do bring back most of their team, they did lose some important pieces on both ends of the field.  With a history as rich as they have, the desire to bring another NCAA appearance to Amherst has to be weighing on the team heavily.  The fourth year seniors on the team spent their freshman year undefeated, so you know they feel capable of shocking the lacrosse world.

Towson Tigers

2014 Record & Result: 8-7, Lost to Drexel in CAA Tournament

2015 Record & Result: 12-6, Lost by 2 to Notre Dame in NCAA first round

Key Losses: 1 point loss to Ohio State, 3OT loss to Navy, Notre Dame

Key Wins: Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, High Point NCAA Play-in game

Players Departed: JoJo Ostrander (37GB,13CT,HM AA), Justin Mabus (13G,11A), Max Siskind (21G,1A), Andrew Hodgson (15G,4A)

Players Arriving: Brendan Sunday, A; Nolan Sachs, D; JP Crowley, A; Zach Goodrich, M

Conference Defensive Player of the Year and third team All-American Tyler White looks to be the anchor for this team in goal as they look to repeat as conference champs on their way to another NCAA tournament.  They are also the only team in the conference who are starting the season ranked in the top 20, coming in at 19.

towson lacrosse

Powering their offense are their top four returning scorers from 2015 with Joe Seider, Ryan Drenner, Spencer Parks, and Pat Conroy.  They by no means had a blistering offense (58th in the NCAA in PPG), but they scored when they had to while their defense kept them close.

Speaking of defense, behind White, they were 6th in the country in GAA with 7.72.  Losing Ostrander will hurt a bit, but most of their defense is intact.  They still have Mike Lowe, Andrew Cordes, and Tyler Mayes with the long poles to help out White.  This should once again be a tough team to score on.

As far as key returners go, the Tigers are in probably the best shape in the conference.  They ended last year strong and are likely to build on that momentum.  Their schedule has some good tests, but like everyone else, still will probably need the conference title to lock a trip into the NCAA tournament for the second straight year.  They came very close to knocking off Notre Dame last year and they did beat Hopkins, so this team can play the role of a spoiler well.  Whether they can make it back to memorial day weekend is the big question.

2016 CAA Preseason Poll by

Just because I like to be proven wrong, here is where I think this conference stands right now:

  1. Towson
  2. Fairfield
  3. Drexel
  4. Hofstra
  5. UMass
  6. Delaware

Teams should feel free to prove me wrong on the field, and readers should feel free to disagree in the comments section below!