The NAIA, what’s that? That’s a question NAIA coaches field almost every day while recruiting. Educating players, parents and coaches on the league can be one of the biggest hurdles of the process. Once players get past the brand familiarity they often find a student-athlete experience that rivals many top small college athletic programs regardless of league affiliation. The purpose of these articles throughout the season is to showcase the emerging lacrosse league that is the NAIA.
In many ways the NAIA is the last frontier of college lacrosse, and provides some great opportunities for the growth of the sport. In the 2000’s a handful of NAIA schools began sponsoring varsity programs and competed in the MCLA. Many of those programs had great success within the club league and prompted other schools to add.
READ MORE: Did you miss our NCAA Week 1 coverage? Ryan Conwell broke it down with Stats Freaks and the NCAA Week 1 Conference Comparison. See how the NCAA stacks up moving into the second weekend of NCAA Division I Lacrosse.
In 2016, the NAIA began sponsoring lacrosse. There are currently 28 schools and four conferences that make up the league. Officially sponsoring the sport led to increased investment from current programs, and the addition of lacrosse at strong NAIA schools. This trend should only continue in the coming years.
Entering the fourth year of the league there are ample storylines that should make for a compelling 2019. Reinhardt is coming off back-to-back national championships, and is well positioned to defend its crown as they are returning 9 of 10 starters. They defeated Georgia Tech in their first scrimmage, and followed that up by soundly defeating, 14-2, reining NCAA DIII USA South Champ Huntingdon.
“Our goals every year are to win the AAC and win the NAIA national championship,” said Reinhardt head coach John Snow. “I feel very strongly that we have the talent to accomplish our goals, but the challenging thing is to develop the chemistry to make our goals a reality.”
One of the biggest surprises of 2018 was Madonna’s run to the national championship game in only its second season. Their 2017 recruiting class was exceptional, and everyone will be watching to see what they do in their sophomore campaign.
“We look to head back to Championship Weekend with hopefully better results in the final,” said Madonna head coach Michael Walter. “We return most of our freshman class and have added what I believe is the missing pieces to the puzzle in this year’s freshman class.” Interleague matchups with Michigan State (MCLA) and Baldwin Wallace (D3) will provide a great picture of the program.
A great development the last two seasons was an increase of parity, and quality of play throughout the league. Reinhardt and Madonna are the clear favorites. After that is a plethora of quality programs steadily improving every year.
“The NAIA puts great lacrosse on the field and every game is competitive,” stated Missouri Baptist HC and League President Andy Joly. “I believe that almost any team can beat any other team on any given day.”
2019 NAIA Men’s Lacrosse Coaches’ Preseason Top 10 Poll
|RANK||LAST TIME||SCHOOL [FIRST PLACE VOTES]||RECORD||POINTS|
|5||5||Siena Heights (Mich.)||11-5||60|
|6||6||SCAD Savannah (Ga.)||8-5||58|
|9||9||Lawrence Tech (Mich.)||8-6||43|
|10||RV||St. Ambrose (Iowa)||8-7||35|
Receiving Votes: Missouri Baptist 28, Saint Mary (Kan.) 24, Lourdes (Ohio) 23, Montreat (N.C.) 12, Aquinas (Mich.) 9, Tennessee Wesleyan 7, Benedictine (Kan.) 3
Intriguing Preseason/Interleague Matchups (NAIA in Italics)
The preseason often provides some intriguing inter-league matchups that offer some insight to where the league stacks up against other classifications. So far the league has done very well against NCAA D3 and MCLA D1 teams while it has struggled a bit against NCAA D2 teams. Below are a few of the games that are already in the books, and a few yet to come. The Madonna matchups mentioned above and the last minute addition of St. Ambrose at Illinois Wesleyan should be ones to watch.
Reinhardt 10 Georgia Tech 9
Embry Riddle 13 Keiser 7
Reinhardt 14 Huntingdon 2
Point 8 Oglethorpe 7
Tennessee 16 Montreat 15
Alma 16 UM-Dearborn 14
Maryville 19 Missouri Baptist 7
Rockhurst 27 Benedictine 6St. Ambrose @ Illinois Wesleyan – 2/5
St Marys (KS) @ Rockhurst – 2/8
Michigan State @ Madonna – 2/9
Madonna @ Baldwin Wallace – 2/16
Asbury @ Hanover – 2/16
Cornell College @ St. Ambrose – 2/16
Fontbonne @ St. Marys (KS) – 2/16
NAIA Players to Watch
Cole Gingell – Attack – SO – Madonna – The freshmen phenom lead the country with 137 points last year, was First Team All-American, and NAIA Player of the Year. It’s hard to believe he will be able to match those gaudy numbers this year, but it will be fun to see him try.
Ryan Barnes – Midfield – SR – Missouri Valley – Barnes was the Minnesota high school player of the year back in 2015 and he has followed that up by being named NAIA All-American three years in a row. He was actually inducted into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame this past month. The return of IMG Academy product Tyler Wilkinson to the Vikings roster could lead to a special season.
Jake Morgan – Defense – SO – Cumberlands – Last year Morgan anchored one of the best defenses in the country, while causing 42 turnovers. The disruptive defender earned First Team All-American, and ACC Defensive Player of the Year awards to get his college career going.
Evan Schuster – Goalie – SO – Indiana Tech – Schuster followed the trend of sensational freshman campaigns. All he did was earn WHAC Defensive Player of the Year and Second Team All American honors. A strong year in cage for Schuster could propel Indiana Tech into the championship conversation.
Andy Myers and Logan Lund – FOS – Transfers – St. Mary’s – The pair of transfers should be one of the most formidable faceoff units in the league. Myers is a graduate transfer from Carthage College (D3) where he won 66% of his face-offs over two years. He was named CCIW Co-Defensive Player of the Year and All-CCIW First Team in 2017. Lund is a transfer from Southern Virginia University (D3) and won 52% of his face-offs over two years in the ultra-competitive CAC.
New Year, New Gear
No season preview would be complete without a look at some of the new gear from around the league. Here’s just a few of photos of the new gear you will see around the league in 2019.