Editor’s Note: For this edition of our 2015 College Lacrosse Conference Preview, Sean Christman takes a look at theD1 Independents playing men’s lacrosse, and how these teams stack up for 2015. Christman has already previewed the America East and Colonial Athletic Association, and Connor Wilson tackled the mighty ACC and the Patriot. Albany, Drexel, Duke, and Loyola are our top four preseason teams in those respective divisions, but there are many more previews to come and contenders to talk about!
With Johns Hopkins joining the Big 10 in 2015, there will only be two Division 1 lacrosse teams without a conference to call home. Interestingly enough, neither one of them was an independent team last year. For NJIT, this is because their program didn’t exist in 2014. Air Force, on the other hand, was a leading part of the now-dissolved ECAC, where they were last season’s champion and defeated Richmond in the play in round of the NCAA Tournament.
2015 NCAA D1 Lacrosse Independents
Expectations are somewhat up in the air for NJIT, as they would be for any first year program. The Highlanders brought in former Mount Saint Mary’s assistant Travis Johnson as their first head coach, as well as Brad Conlon (former Princeton assistant) and Brian Tironi (Mountain Lakes HS coach).
The lone senior on the roster is midfielder Alexander Henry, with every other player being either a freshman or sophomore. Freshman Conor Lally of North Hunterdon (NJ) High School, is a strong shooter from up top who is also a solid off-ball finisher. Fellow middie Ian Strong, a sophomore, played in 13 games at Transylvania University. As a member of the Division 3 Transylvania team, Strong had three goals and made one start. Strong is the only player on the NJIT roster with college lacrosse experience.
NJIT’s first season may be a rough one, as it is difficult for all new programs to succeed in their first year. The Highlanders will be very young and inexperienced, so it will be interesting to watch their growth and development as the season goes on. Their roster is 75% New Jersey players and while the team is very young, it looks like a hungry group.
Air Force had a great year in 2014. They won their conference and advanced to the NCAA Tournament. Though they lost to eventual champion Duke, they defeated Richmond in the play-in round and had a successful season, going 11-6 overall. They graduated Mike Crampton, who was their leading scorer with 48 goals. However, they return Keith Dreyer, an attackman who had 17 goals and 31 assists last year. Dreyer, who was also first team all ECAC, will be leader of the Falcons’ attack unit.
The Falcons also graduated their main FOGO from last season, Bryan Price. They are also hurt by the loss of Erik Smith, who had 25 goals and won 58 % of his faceoffs. In fact, they do not return any players who have taken a collegiate faceoff. Who will step up? This is an area of concern for the Falcons. Defensively, the team will be lead by Kyle O’Brien, who started every game last year and lead the team in caused turnovers.
In goal, Doug Gouchoe returns after starting 7 games last year. Gouchoe played in every game last year, saving 49% of the shots that came his way. Gouchoe will provide the leadership that the Air Force defensive unit needs. Despite their losses to graduation, Air Force still brings back some key players and could likely be in the top 20 again, especially if they find someone to win draws and give them back-to-back possessions consistently.
Overall, these teams appear to be on opposite ends of the spectrum. NJIT is a brand new program who will be predominantly composed of freshmen. NJIT lacks experience, but needs some experience before they’ll be able to put together a strong season. On the other hand, Air Force appears to be in a good position. They lost a lot of talent, but bring in a strong freshman class and return some key players, so they may be able to make another postseason run.