NCAA D2 Lacrosse has a long and interesting history. It started out a “small school” championship under the USILA in 1972-73, and morphed into a combined D2 and D3 NCAA championship in 1974. This continued until 1979, when the divisions were split, and D2 had its own playoffs until 1981. From 1981 to 1992, D2 teams could be invited into the D1 tourney. The D2 tourney wasn’t played again until 1993, but from that point it has consistently been around, and the division has continued to grow an evolve.
(Check out our D3 Preview HERE!)
Fast forward to today, and D2 looks stronger than ever in terms of talent, depth, NCAA visibility, and tournament size, and it’s going to get better from here! While the 2018 NCAA D2 Lacrosse tourney will feature the same 8 teams as it did in 2017, the future will see an increase to 16 teams, and this is great news for the sport. With more quality programs in D2 each year, the tourney expansion is only going to help promote the game in new places and old hotbeds alike. D2 is on the rise!
So what does 2018 hold in store for us? Which teams are looking like contenders right out of the gate, and which teams could pop up and surprise some folks? Let’s dive a little deeper into a division that, like Rodney Dangerfield, “gets no respect”. They certainly should, because D2 is awesome lacrosse!
NCAA D2 Lacrosse Contenders
Looking at the 2018 season, I see six teams that jump out immediately as top level teams, and not all that surprisingly, 5 of them were top 6 teams at the end of last year. Limestone, Adelphi, Tampa, Merrimack, LeMoyne, and Pace are my top 6, and if I had to put one team up top it’s going to be the Limestone Saints.
They are the current kings of D2, winning 3 of the last four titles, playing in all four of the last title games, and making every single final or Final Four since 2000, when they won the first of their five total titles. This small school has created a behemoth of a program, and JB Clarke is doing one heck of a job at the helm. Limestone won’t score 20 goals a game against great teams, but they will control the pace of the game, generate great scoring chances, and manage themselves to a victory. They have plenty of athleticism and talent, but their dedication to their own approach is what makes them consistent champions. When Limestone dictates how a game will be played, they are the clear number 1 in almost any match up.
Looking beyond Limestone, I like what’s going on at Merrimack a lot, and I like that Mike Morgan and his staff are trying to buck the D2 trend of a lower-scoring, more settled game. Even against the most staunch D2 defenses, Merrimack is looking to score 10+ goals. When they do, they tend to win. When they get held to single digits, they tend to lose. In fact, in three of ‘Mack’s four 2017 losses they only scored 9 goals. The other was a 12-11 OT loss to LeMoyne. Look for more of the same in 2018, as Merrimack continues to look to their offense for the extra edge. Merrimack also has a stout defense, and if they do focus more on that side of the ball this year, success is still very much possible. It’s a good problem to have.
Adelphi, Pace, and LeMoyne are another set of tough teams, and I while I still like Merrimack as my number 2, and top team in the North, this is far from set in stone. I could see any of these New York programs making a strong case for themselves as the top dog, and they all meet the smell test in every way. Great coaching, strong and deep rosters, stout defenses, and a chip on their shoulder. All these teams play with attitude, and while there are obviously differences, what will be most enjoyable will be the battles. On paper, I like Adelphi the most out of this group, but that means nothing. It will all come down to some big games and keeping “bad losses” off the ledger. As D2 continues to get tighter, let down games can really hurt a program. Consistency will reign supreme when it comes to seeing who in this group will move up the ladder.
Tampa also deserves a serious look, not only because they seem like a strong contender for “second best program in the South” right now, but also because their recent results have been quite impressive and it all seems to be headed in the right direction. We are not looking at a flash in the pan here by any means, and Tampa is here to stay, but I do have some questions about this team. While I LOVE that they took Limestone to the limit twice during 2017, losing 12-10 both times, some of their other losses concern me a bit more. Lindenwood, Belmot Abbey, and NY Tech are all great programs, don’t get me wrong here, but to be a true top 2 or 3 team, you simply can’t lose all 3 of those games, as they were some of the more challenging games on the Spartans’ schedule outside of Limestone. That being said, it’s also important to simply win when it counts, which Tampa seems fully capably of, so I’m giving them that continued respect.
The Maybe Contenders
While the six teams above are my top teams, there are a number of other programs out there who seem to be poised for solid years. Of those programs, a couple look like they could conceivably challenge the top tier by the end of the season, and it’s an interesting list! In no particular order I’m looking at:
NY Tech – I’d never count this program out, and they did well in 2017, but may have to deal with some changes. Early on in 2018, we could see a different team than we see later in the spring, so winning games they should is key early, while building up to something bigger always has to be in the back of the Bears’ collective mind. Tech looks solid in the East Coast Conference with Bill Dunn at the helm.
Mercyhurst – If the ‘hurst has an up year, they could jump out of this group quickly. If they have another 2017, they will stay right here, or maybe even drop. Mercyhurst won every game they should have last year, but in the four “toss up games”, they dropped 3 of them. This is not what I’m used to seeing from the Lakers, so I’m curious to see if they can rebound in 2018. This is a program that played in the finals in 2013, so expectations are deservedly high.
Seton Hill – For the Griffins to make the jump to true contender status I want to see a little more emphasis on offensive production. It seems like Seton Hill can generate lots of goals in big games, but against lower rated opponents, the production can tend to drop off. Consistency is important, and it has a lot to do with playing “your game” no matter who the opponent happens to be. Scoring 7-9 goals against a team you should score 15+ on is a concern as I see Seton Hill as a program that could see a lot of success pursuing a more offensive approach, much like Merrimack has done.
Belmont Abbey – The Abbey showed what it can do in a big win over Tampa and a good follow up over Mount Olive, but then dropped 3 of 4 games, and I was befuddled. It’s about consistency for these Southern programs more than anything, and while I love parity in general, I would like to see one of them really step it up in this department, and start running the table in Southern games. I like Belmont’s willingness to play tough out of conference games as well, and this will help their program over the long-term. Maybe 2018 is the year we see it all come together?
Lenior-Rhyne – Like Tech and BA, L-R beat Tampa and yet I ranked Tampa ahead of them. Seems unfair, and maybe it is, but I don’t love Lenoir-Rhyne’s general strength of schedule most years, and I think it hurts them in big games down the road. Having experience in games against Northern teams helps any program improve and learn to play against a different type of opponent. L-R always seems poised to win that late season game, but I a softer out of conference schedule during the year might be holding them back.
Wingate – Before losing to Limestone in the NCAAs, Wingate rattled off six straight wins and while four of these games were really close, wins are wins, and the Bulldogs earned them when they needed them. Another big win came over Belmont Abbey, and in general Wingate looked solid. I’m not sold on this team for 2018 yet, but they ended 2017 with really good momentum. If it carried over, things could be looking up.
Lindenwood – Ealry on, the Lions looked like a potential top tier team in 2017. A win over Tampa, an OT loss to LeMoyne, and I was ready to believe. A bunch more wins with lots of goals scored and Lindenwood was looking good! Then the last six games of the season played out and I was left scratching my head. A loss to Limetone or Indianapolis? Ok, I can let that go easy enough. But a 10-9 loss to Walsh (who finished 4-12) hit me hard. A true contender for 2018 likely does not lose that game in 2017. It’s a lot of ground to make up, and a bad trend to finish on. Still, it may have provided just the motivation the Lions needed.
Mount Olive – This program has talent, and can put up big numbers, but consistency is a huge issue here. It could be a 4-3 game or a 16-4 game, and there’s no way to tell which side Mount Olive will end up on. Some good wins, and some close games, but too many “bad losses” give me pause here.
Mercy – While Mercy may lack some of the flashy wins other teams may boast, I really like their consistency as a program. It’s a tough go in New York, but Mercy plays good lacrosse almost all the time. This is always a big key when it comes to making the jump back into contention status, and Mercy showed plenty of it last year. If they can build on that, there is a solid foundation at play.
Colorado Mesa – The Mavericks won 16 games last year, but not all of them were D2 games. Still, this bodes really well for this program, and I’m excited to see what they can against their D2 (and non-divisional) opponents again this year. There is likely still a gap when it comes to consistently beating other teams I’ve listed in this group, but Colorado Mesa looks very much poised to make another jump in level.
Indianapolis – The Greyhounds were 2-3 early last year, and struggling, but things changed with a win over Wheeling Jesuit, and then 3 more Ws after that. While the wins were good, I didn’t see Indianapolis all of a sudden competing with Top 10 level teams, but they did just that, losing three 2-goal games to Mercyhurst, Seton Hill, and Limestone. The ‘hounds might not quite be there yet, but that last leg of 2017 definitely has that program looking up, and hungry for more.
Other Teams Of Interest
Listen, everyone is technically of interest. I’m not DISinterested in any program. But these are the teams I’m looking to in 2018 for some movement. I have high expectations for this entire group, so don’t let me down! Actually, forget me, don’t let yourself down. YOU CAN DO IT!
Wheeling Jesuit – It’s like Canadian city down there, and I’d love to see it all come together for an exciting 2018. These guys lost 4 games by 2 goals or less last year, while winning 2 close games. Wheeling Problems. Win all six and people will be talking about the Cardinals. I’d love to see it.
Saint Anslem, Assumption, SNHU – The NE-10 conference is awesome. Four great teams in Pace, Adelphi, Le Moyne, and Merrimack… so who’s number 5? Or is the supposed number 5 going to press for a 4 spot, or higher? This is the big question. Either way, all 3 of the team I listed in bold have a chance to play great games and make big names for themselves as giant killers. Then they can become giants. Will any make the jump this year?
Chestnut Hill – As usual, it’s all about consistency. CHC had some big wins last year over LIU Post and Molloy, but dropped games to Fla Tech, Tampa, Mercy (twice), and NY Tech. Some were close, others not so much. It’s hard to rank a team that is this up and down team any higher.
Are there other teams to look at? SURE THERE ARE! But these are the 22 that really catch my eye. I could be surprised, and I hope I am, as that is always fun.
If you think I missed someone, let me know in the comments, and tell me WHY. I love WHY. It’s important!
For reference, here are the USILA Coaches D2 Preseason rankings for 2018.