The Southern Conference will see Air Force join their ranks in 2016, but for 2015, the Southern Conference will play host to seven teams: Bellarmine, High Point, Mercer, Furman, Richmond, VMI, and Jacksonville make up the conference this year, and it’s going to be a competitive push to see who the top dog will be by season’s end.
Editor’s Note: For this edition of our 2015 College Lacrosse Conference Preview, Connor Wilson takes a look at the Big East teams playing men’s lacrosse, and how these teams stack up for 2015. Sean Christman has already previewed the America East, Colonial Athletic Association, and the Independents (there are two!) and Connor Wilson tackled the mighty ACC, the Big East, and the Patriot.
Southern Conference 2015
Bellarmine is the top dog according the Souther Conference preseason coaches’ poll. They are buoyed by two defenseive stalwarts in Colin Hart and LSM Bobby Schmidt. Bellarmine returns more experience down low, and this should help ease the transition to a goalie with almost no college experience. Two freshmen may end up battling for the spot, so surrounding this inexperience with solid poles is a good first step.
Austin Shanks put up 29 points last year and he returns as a sophomore. If he has a big year, Bellarmine could go far, but expectations are high already, and he’ll need support. Tucker Ciessau also returns after a productive 2014, and Ryan Scinta brings great balance to the team’s scoring. Bellarmine has a number of guys who can play attack and midfield, so expect to see a lot of mixing and matching early on as the team finds added chemistry.
Bellarmine won only 40% of their face offs last year, and this is an area that needs improvement. If the Knights can fill that hole and find a solid keeper, they have more than enough talent to be a serious threat all season long. This won’t be a super high scoring team, but they will still be dangerous.
High Point is another school that could make a solid run at a Souther Conference title in 2015. They finished just behind Bellarmine in the coaches’ poll, and had a pretty solid year in 2014. Dan Lomas leads the way for the Panthers, and he is a versatile and dangerous attackman capable of having huge games. Matt Thistle is a good partner for Lomas, and the two are regarded as some of the best attackman in the conference. Michael LeClair provides a good third option.
Defensively, HPU is rock solid in goal with Austin Geisler. The kid can flat out play and he could be the difference maker for High Point. Pat Farrell and Harris Levine will lead the back line and Nick Bittner saw a ton of time last year. Will any of these guys get replaced? It’s possible. HPU recruits like crazy and has 14 poles on the roster.
Jamie Piluso should be tough again at the X after winning around 60% of his draws in 2014. High Point has the junior, but they have two other options as well, and this will help. The rest of the HPU midfield isn’t filled with stars, but it is filled with talent. There is solid depth and athleticism there, but look for most of the scoring to come from the attack.
Mercer, unlike HPU, does have a strong midfielder in Tim Geran. The senior will draw lots of attention and cause match up problems again this year. Junior attackman Chris Baxa is another big time threat for the Bears out of Macon, GA. Players like James Tautkus and Whit Anderson will need to step up their production on offense.
At the other end of the field, junior goalie Mike Nugent returns, and that should provide a good base of stability. Colin Massa returns down low after garnering second team all conference honors the year before. Matt Lucas, Justin Wood, and Austin Simpson bring back additional experience down low. Justin Evans should continue to take draws, and win more than 50% of his attempts.
Mercer isn’t incredibly deep, but they did well last year with a young defense. If that group has improved and can lead the team, the offense should be able to score enough goals to make Mercer consistently competitive.
Furman is a slightly younger program, and while they’ve made some big strides, there is still plenty of work to be done by the Palladins. They had a HUGE roster last year, and it was chock filled with freshman. If you expect the same size class this year, you can expect many of last year’s faces to be gone. Furman, clearly a program in flux as it matures!
Kenny Meinsen and Hill Blaze were both all conference picks last year and neither is a captain. Bizarre? Maybe, maybe not! The captains for Furman are Lincoln Liesemeyer (D) Clay Adams (M), and JJ McDaid (M). All three guys are pure team leaders. Blaze is a FoGo, and should provide a solid spark in that department. Zach Coker and Graham Dabbs were standout freshman at attack last year, and both should continue on in those roles. Scott Primeau, another 2014 freshman, is a player to watch in the midfield.
Predicting Furman is tough, and I haven’t seen them play this year, so they are very much up in the air. They’ll be better than they were in 2014, that’s for sure.
Richmond is another relatively young program, but one that went to the NCAAs last year, and one that must terrify opponents. How does Richmond take on UVA and Bryant in tight games, lose to VMI, beat HPU, make the NCAAs, and then lose big to Air Force? I have no idea, but it was glorious to watch.
Everyone is back for Richmond on offense. It’s a good deal of points, and a lot of talent. Michael Goldberg, Brad Burnam, JP Forester, Jean-Luc Chetner, and Alex Hatem all scored at least 25 points last year, with Goldberg notching 43. All 5 return. Then you go further down the list and all those guys are back too. Richmond has firepower on offense. Add in grad student Mickey Hofmeister (from VMI) and this group is verging on scary.
Where Richmond really needs to improve is with face offs. Opponents were winning almost two thirds of the draws in 2014, and that has to improve this year. Benny Pugh returns in goal, but there could be some battling for the keeper spot, so keep an eye on that. Defensively, Richmond returns a good deal, and also benefits from the transfer of two players in to the program. If this group tightens up, Richmond could really push for a second Souther Conference AQ bid to the big dance.
Jacksonville is a little lower rated in my opinion than High Point, Bellarmine, or Richmond. There is a talent there, but this will be a largely untested group of players for the Dolphins. Brothers Tom and Rob Moore will lead the way when it comes to scoring, and the two combined for 66 points last year on 44 goals and 22 assists. Dakota Rohlin will do a lot to balance the field as a scoring midfielder where he will see additional support from Quint Miller, a capable senior.
Bass Barfield saw only about 70 minutes of action last year, but has potential in goal. Face offs were ok last year, but need to improve. Two returners will fight with new players for time there. Charlie Archer and Austin Curtis will lead the defense after starting every game in 2014 as Juniors.
Jacksonville has some talent, but there is a lack of depth and certainty with this team that could push them into a bumpy 2015 season. If the Moore brothers and Chase McIntyre can score lots of goals, anything is possible, but the road looks tough from here.
VMI is a perpetual bottom dweller in D1 lacrosse, but every now and again they make some noise with a tight game or upset win. Tyler Prasnicki is a bright spot on defense, but the Keydets will need more than that to make any Southern Conference waves. Dale Mattice, Ben Huger, and Mike DeBlasio can all score points here and there, but all three need to be more consistent and improve their shooting percentages.
Defensively, Prasnicki is rock solid, and Evan Windisch is good in goal, but there is a notable step down after those two. VMI added some promising midfielders, but if they don’t get more help on D, they are simply going to give up too many goals. It’s tough to recruit to a state supported military academy, I guess! I love that VMI exists and that they have a team, but big steps need to be taken for them to be competitive.
Southern Conference Overall
While Bellarmine and High Point are the clear cut favorites, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Richmond take another stab at winning it all. They did it in year one as the #4 seed, so it could happen! I’m also curious to see how Jacksonville fares this year. That’s a program that has so much potential! Furman might be a year off (or not!) and Mercer is young, but interesting. VMI is at the bottom, and it doesn’t look like that will change this year, but I’d be happy to be wrong about that.