Week 1 is barely in the books, and there were several huge outcomes that painted a pretty clear picture of the contenders and pretenders in the NAIA. No. 3 Cumberlands started the season off with a bang, defeating Point, 26-3. They then followed that up by knocking off No. 1 Reinhardt, 13-12. In independent play No. 7 Keiser notched an impressive victory, 16-7, over No. 6 SCAD. Over in the WHAC, there were a pair of exciting inter-league games with No. 2 Maddona falling, 15-13, to Baldwin Wallace (D3) and #9 Lawerence Tech coming up short, 14-13, against Hope (D3). Like so many other levels of college lacrosse the shot clock appears to be shaking things up, and its influence was very apparent in this week’s results.
READ MORE: Check out the NAIA season preview by Luke Christiansen here.
Lawerence Tech Highlights
NAIA Game of the Week
In one of the most anticipated matchups of the year, and what was the first game played in their new lacrosse facility, the Cumberlands Patriots took down the back to back champs, Reinhardt, for the first time in program history. This victory puts the Patriots in firm control of the AAC, and made a very clear statement to the league they are contenders.
Continued development from Cumberlands’ young scoring nucleus proved to be one of the major differences in the game. The sophomores accounted for ten goals on the night (McCune – 3; Crouch – 3; Elerick, – 3; Fogarty -1), and went blow for blow with the veteran Eagles all game long. Also, the shot clock likely played a role in the outcome of this matchup. Late in the third quarter Reinhardt led, 10-5, and with their conservative style of play it’s likely they attempt to bleed out the clock in previous years.
Cumberlands v Reinhardt Highlights
NAIA Conference Outlook
Whether it’s the ACC, the NESCAC, the ODAC, the Northeast-10, or the RMLC a strong conference affiliation is often a vital component to a quality student-athlete experience. The importance of playing for conference championships and awards cannot be oversold at any level. Entering its fourth year of competition the NAIA has developed a handful of strong conferences that appear to be steadily improving with each passing year. Currently, there are four conferences in the NAIA with each receiving an automatic bid to the national tournament.
Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference
The WHAC is widely considered the strongest conference in the league. With four teams in the preseason top ten, the WHAC will once again be deep and competitive. Madonna, Indiana Tech, and Sienna Heights are all viewed as legitimate contenders. While Lawrence Tech, Lourdes, Aquinas, and Michigan-Dearborn are all capable of making a run to nationals.
1. Madonna (Mich.) (7-0 / 22-1) – The Crusaders bring back pretty much everyone, including NAIA Player of the Year Cole Gingell (87 g, 50 a), and added a few key pieces in recruiting. Barring an unforeseen sophomore slump they should be a favorite to win it all.
2. Indiana Tech (6-1 / 13-3) – Second Team All-American Evan Schuster is back in cage for his sophomore year but a legitimate concern is how the Warriors replace 180 points with the departures of Childs, Givens, and McKinney. Senior attackmen Noah Puckett (19 g, 36 a) is a good place to start as he led the team in assists last season.
3. Siena Heights (Mich.) (4-3 / 11-5) – SHU returns a solid nucleus highlighted by sophmore attackmen Garnett Potter (25 g, 20 a) and junior midfielder Ryan Mamo (31 g, 7 a).
3. Lawrence Tech (Mich.) (4-3 / 8-6) – The Blue Devils return the majority of starters and added a key transfer in standout FOS Nik Kubik (Alabama-Huntsville).
5. Lourdes (Ohio) (1-5 / 7-6) – Two years removed from a trip to the national tournament, the Grey Wolves are hoping to reinsert themselves in the national conversation. All-Conference performers Gregg Johanning, midfield, and Collin O’Loughlin, defense, will be vital to a bounce back season.
6. Aquinas (Mich.) (1-5 / 6-6) – The Saints look to be the beneficiaries of a youth movement last season. They return four all-conference performers highlighted by All-American midfielder Dan Diederich.
7. Michigan-Dearborn (3-4 / 6-8) – Attackmen Devon Callaghan will look to lead the Wolverines to their first winning season since 2015. He led the team with 56 points (47 goals, 9 assists) during his junior campaign.
8. Concordia (Mich.) (1-6 / 4-10) – With a new coach and a new stadium there should be some new life at Concordia. Coach McGuire comes to the Cardinals from Kalamazoo College (D3), where he served as an assistant coach.
9. Taylor (Ind.) (0-0 / 0-0) – The Trojans begin their first year of competition, and it will be interesting to track their progress in an ultra-competitive conference.
Appalachian Athletic Conference
It’s hard to criticize a conference that has two teams ranked in the top three, but after Reinhardt and Cumberlands there is a bit of a drop off in the AAC. The conference needs a third team to break into the top ten to solidify its national perception. Does this happen this season with Montreat or does the AAC have to wait until 2020 when SCAD joins the conference?
1. Cumberlands (Ky.) (5-1 / 12-4) – The Patriots return all ten starters from last years national semi-finalist squad. Their young attack line of Elerick, Crouch, and Fogarty is proving to be the difference for Cumberlands this year.
2. Reinhardt (Ga.) (6-0 / 16-1) – Reinhardt is coming off back to back national championships, and is well positioned to defend its crown returning 9 of 10 starters. After a close loss at Cumberlands to start the season, the Eagles will be looking for revenge in the AAC tournament.
3. Montreat (N.C.) (3-3 / 6-11) – Montreat has the potential to be that third program as they bring back an attack unit that combined for 195 points last season. The Cavs will need to lean on that offensive firepower as they develop a young defense with a very difficult schedule for a young program.
3. Tennessee Wesleyan (4-2 / 7-8) – The Bulldogs will depend heavily on the Roderick Williams Show this year. Williams is an electric attackmen who posted 76 points (45 g, 31 a), good enough for second team All-American honors last season.
5. Point (Ga.) (1-5 / 2-8) – Point had a solid preseason and first outing against #6 SCAD. It appears the Skyhawks are improved but a tough schedule might not show that improvement on paper.
6. Asbury (Ky.) (2-4 / 3-9) – Coach Murphy returns for his second season at the helm of the Eagles. They compiled a 3-9 overall record last season, and will rely on a youth movement to make a run to the conference tournament.
Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference
The KCAC might be the most intriguing conference race as it appears to be completely wide open. Missouri Valley has won three straight conference crowns, and brings back several All-American caliber players. That said, the strangle hold they once had on the conference has been loosened considerably.
1. Missouri Valley (6-0 / 8-4) – Three-time All-American Ryan Barnes is back for his final act, and the Vikings roster is bolstered by the return of IMG product Tyler Wilkinson. The major question is if there is enough of a supporting cast to make it four KCAC championships in a row.
2. St. Ambrose (Iowa) (4-2 / 8-7) – The Bees bring back 9 of 10 starters, then followed that up with a very solid Fall and preseason. The addition of high school All-American and a new defensive coordinator could pay huge dividends. A big question mark will be the absence of Josh Bales at the faceoff x.
3. Saint Mary’s (Kan.) (3-3 / 10-6) – All-American AJ Nardi returns to anchor the defense, while freshman phenom Tyler French (32 g, 41 a) will take the reins of the offense. The addition of FOS transfers Andy Myers (Carthage), and Logan Lund (Southern Virginia) should make the Spires a tough out this season.
4. Benedictine (Kan.) (3-3 / 6-10) – Benedictine brings back a solid nucleus and Coach Blaise first recruiting class had some impressive gets. Offense should be the calling card of the Ravens with returner Peter Girard (37 g, 17a) being paired with HS All American Brady Guck.
5. Ottawa (Kan.) (3-3 / 6-5) – The Braves bring back one of the best scoring duo’s in Aidan Baker (4.73 ppg), and Pearson Willis (6.36 ppg). Depth and consistency will likely plague Ottawa throughout the season.
6. Columbia (Mo.) (2-4 / 5-9) – The Cougars had a very solid inaugural season, and there should be some steady improvement. Sam Crum (38 g, 16 a) and Cooper Heck (34 g, 11 a) should provide some solid firepower for the second year program.
7. Clarke (Iowa) (0-6 / 3-8) – Clarke has struggled ever since inaugural head coach Casey Burst left for crosstown Dubuque a month before the programs first game. This season should see some improvement with some solid young scoring options, but depth will continue to be an issue.
Yes, the independents have a conference. There is a post-season tournament with an automatic bid to the nationals, and players are named to the all-independent team. It’s a three team race for the AQ between SCAD, Keiser, and Missouri Baptist.
1. Keiser (Fla.) (1-1 / 7-4) – The Seahawks experienced somewhat of a sophomore slump last season, but are very well positioned to be darkhorse contenders this year. Keiser returns multiple All Americans on defense in Justin Stone and LJ Redpath. The addition of transfers Tyler Kalmowitz (OCCC), John Senior (Union), and Marco Olortegui (Marymount) positions the Seahawks for a late season run.
2. Missouri Baptist (0-1 / 8-4) – A respectable loss to Maryville (D2) is looking better and better for the Spartans. Young talent on both sides of the field enables Missouri Baptist to be a team capable of making a run to nationals this year.
3. SCAD (Ga.) (1-0 / 8-5) – The major question for the Bees is how they replace their two leading scorers with no clear heir apparent.
4. Lindenwood-Belleville (Ill.) (0-1 / 2-9) – The Lynx are in need of some major help on offense, and they will lean heavily on freshman attack Kurt Springli this season.