NCAA D3 lacrosse is always a lot of fun, and with increased parity and new programs on the rise, it’s getting harder to predict what will happen. That’s part of what makes D3 such a great division of college lacrosse! It’s also great because it is an absolutely huge grouping of teams, so knowing what is going on with all 242 varsity teams is darn near impossible. Still, we try!
Early on, before games had been played, I put forward some Preseason projections about the D3 lacrosse world, and while some of them were spot on, others need some tweaking.
So here I am, tweaking my D3 lacrosse pecking order, with an update primed for the beginning of April. Moving forward, conference play continues to heat up, AQs start to settle out, and before you know it we’re in Foxboro watching two of the top teams battle for the hardware. The season is about to hit mach 5, so get up to speed now!
NCAA D3 Lacrosse MidSeason Report
Looking at last year’s success, overall program success, and returning players, I came up with a list of “Top Teams for 2018”, and while most of these programs are still right up there near the top, others have dropped off, and some newcomers have joined the ranks.
D3 Lacrosse Top Level Teams
Here the OLD TOP TEAMS list: Salisbury, RIT, Wesleyan, Denison, Cortland, York
Here is the NEW TOP TEAMS list: RIT, York, Tufts, Wesleyan, Gettysburg, Cabrini, Amherst
Teams That Dropped Out: We will start with perennial power Salisbury. The Gulls have dropped down quite a bit as they stand at 6-3. Two of those losses were in OT, but there have been a number of close games for the Gulls and they look vulnerable. I can’t believe I just wrote that, but a 15-6 loss to York backs it up. I’ll talk about why I’m not counting them out below. Cortland has also dropped out of this top group for now, but much like SU, I’m not so sure they won’t be back in the conversation in May, when it matters most. I dropped Denison out of this group as well, again, for now, but not by much. It’s a thin margin for the Big Red, and they’re right on the line.
New Top Teams: While the three teams above have not quite lived up to my expectations for them this year, RIT certainly has. Some were predicting doom and gloom for the Tigers after they graduated so much talent last year, but I thought RIT’s underlings could ball, and I was right. Didn’t skip a step, reload, and put up Gs from all over the place. I’ll take it. RIT manufactures chaotic situations, but they look calm and collected doing so. To beat RIT you need to be a truly good TEAM, and you also need some stars who can keep pace with the eventual onslaught of goals coming your way.
York dropped a game to Gburg, who dropped a game to W&L, who lost to York, but I tend to treat a loss like that like I treat a NESCAC loss in a good match up. Someone has to lose, it shouldn’t be a deal breaker. York has an exceptional midfield, and controls most games really well. Also, they blew out Salisbury, and that still holds some weight. Sals has lost other games, but not like they did to York, and not for a long time.
Tufts is 6-0 and while their last couple games have been tight ones, one things remains constant – goals, and lots of them. Run n gun is back in full force, and the only remaining question seems to be if the defense can answer the bell when it has to as the Jumbos square off with the cream of the NESCAC the rest of the way. I don’t think Tufts remains perfect, but a single loss won’t even come close to knocking them out of this echelon right now, even it is against a team like Conn or Williams. Everyone gets one.
Speaking of everyone getting one loss… Wesleyan had very few saves and oh so many turnovers against Coast Guard, and they lost in OT. Hats off to USCGA for one heck of a game! After that, Wes went on to beat Bates, Midd, and Noke for 3 top 20 (ish) wins, and my faith was restored. As an alum I was thankful. Very thankful. I still think they’re a top level team, but only when they really work for it and play together. Hero ball never works over the long-term, and it’s not a trap in which any team wants to fall.
Gettysburg has two tough OT wins, a loss, and a win over York, but what really has me scratching my head about this team is their recent 8-7 win over Ursinus. Ursinus keeps it close with a lot of teams, but if Gburg is really Top level material, they should have rolled the Bears. Still, a win is a win, it’s definitely NOT a loss, and a little love to Ursinus for the good fight. Gettysburg looks rock solid, but with more Centennial games coming up, anything can happen.
So… Cabrini. You might want to knock them for losing to Stevenson (who is 1-5 right now) but Stevenson has been hanging tough with the absolute best of D3 in the early goings and they were going to get a win over SOMEONE. Ok, enough about Stevenson for now. Back to Cabrini. If the Cavs can beat Hampden-Sydney, they will go on to absolutely romp in their CSAC games, and finish the year with the AQ and a very high seed. The only problem is that they won’t have played a Top 20 opponent since late March. That’s a lot of time without being tested by outside competition. We’ll have to see how it plays out, but it makes me nervous come NCAA time. Amherst has only one loss, and it came 21-16 at the hands of RIT. Outside of their one goal win over 4-2 Bowdoin, Amherst has been crushing people. They have a good athletic D, and there are like 8 guys who can seemingly shoot the ball at any time. It’s slow, it’s fast, it’s plodding, it’s quick… it’s Amherst! The only constant is that the Mammoths are going to put the ball in the back of the net time and time again. Bowdoin almost kept pace, and RIT outran them in the end, but Amherst is a definite threat in any game they play.
Don’t Count This Next Group Out!
The 7 teams above are my favorites right now, but that doesn’t mean all 7 of them will win the rest of their games. Obviously some of them actually play each other, but there are plenty of other teams out there that could make deep runs in the playoffs, or knock off one of the teams above in the regular season, or even make a run for a national title. Let’s look at the “still contenders” group.
Cortland – At 5-3, I don’t love the Red Dragons’ record, but that’s not why I have them here. They’ll face a solid SUNYAC schedule, and have two good OOC games schedule before the playoffs hit. Cortland has a really solid core especially in the midfield, and as chemistry develops further, I see them trending upwards again; rested, tested, and ready to prove they belong.
Denison – Looking at Denison’s results this year, you see a lot of close games. Watching them play, you see a pretty methodical team, and these close results make sense. Winning close games against good teams consistently isn’t easy, but Denison usually does it well. The Amherst and Dickinson losses are concerning however, because they show that these games can also get away from Denison, and that makes another run like they had in 2017 seem a little more unlikely.
Ohio Wesleyan – OWU has definitely improved since they opened up the year with a 12-7 loss to RIT back in mid-February, and that’s good news for Bishops fans. OWU can win big, but they can play composed lacrosse as well and they almost knocked off Cabrini, before falling 9-8. Their game with Denison on April 15th is huge, and if they don’t drop any more games, they’ll likely be welcome in that top level grouping. That other Wesleyan in Ohio is really back! Love to see it.
Franklin & Marshall – One more good win and F&M could move up into the top group pretty easily. One loss doesn’t disqualify anyone, and what I love about F&M is that they play a brutal schedule, but seem totally comfortable doing so. I don’t see a single “easy” game on their slate, and they start Centennial play now! If they keep winning, this is a team to watch for sure. Dip life. Or Dips life. Who’s winning the hammer this year, boys? Chuck Ptak was the best winner ever. Remember that. That prep school HAIR!
Salisbury – I’ll be honest, I refuse to count Salisbury out… like ever. Maybe it’s a bias of mine I need to shed, but I’m not ready to yet. If it weren’t for their blow out loss to York I’d probably still have them in the top group just because… Berkman. With a weaker Capital conference schedule to go, expect SU to bounce back, but look at the Cabrini out of conference game and the the CNU game to see what the Gulls are all about.
Stevens – The Ducks lost by 9 to Tufts, but other than that their results have been downright impressive. Want to knock that win over Springfield? Don’t. Springfield is also good, and no one else sees it… yet. They will. But back to Stevens… these guys can put up points, and they have done so against very solid teams. This is not a group to look past in any way, shape, or form.
Christopher Newport – CNU hasn’t played any Top Ten D3 lacrosse teams, but they haven’t played a single easy game, and yet they’re winning by a good margin, and they have an unblemished record. I am very much paying attention to CNU, and games with Roanoke, Salisbury, and York give the Captains the opportunity to move up, make some noise, and do so really quickly.
Washington & Lee – I may be undervaluing W&L here. I’m open to that possibility. Three losses to open the season never help, but all three were to very good teams, and since then the Generals have gone on a tear of wins over F&M, Gburg, and Roanoke, as well as 4 others. Now they are 7-3 with 7 wins in a row, and over some really stiff competition. I don’t know what to think yet, and I’m ok with that, but I won’t count them out, not by a long shot. Now I definitely think I’m undervaluing the Generals.
Stevenson – Ok, so how can I put a 1-5 D3 lacrosse team anywhere near my contenders? Simple, Stevenson has played a ridiculous schedule – they lost 4 games by 2 goals or less, got BLOWN OUT by York, and then they beat Cabrini 14-10. So… yeah. Stevenson’s path to the D3 lacrosse NCAAs and a deep run, is through the MAC, which they should win easily, but they also get to face Lynchburg and Stevens during April, and with all those losses, they have nothing else to lose in those games. AQ or bust, and Stevenson will be angry. I like them to be a very different team in about 3 weeks and I pity the fools who don’t. Could be time for a revenge tour from the old VJC crew.
Longer D3 Lacrosse Shots
I’m not sure that any of the teams below can consistently put together wins over top teams to make it to the championships, or even the Final Four for that matter, but I’m not SURE that they can’t. So let’s talk about some more teams as we head into April. There is still plenty of season to go, and a lot can happen in that time.
Dickinson – The Red Devils will need to consistently score big time goals if they want to make a deep run, but they have the talent to do it. It really seems to be about chemistry. The Centennial regular season will be a tough one, but if Dickinson can focus on competing now, winning enough games, and then peaking in May, they can be very dangerous. They just can’t lose sight of the forrest in favor of the trees.
Ithaca – I was watching Ithaca scores come in with surprise for most of the season as they looked like they were just crushing people. Then they lose to RPI (5-1) by a 9 goal margin and I don’t know what to think. I like RPI, and a couple goal loss wasn’t out of the question, but that was a dominant final score. Ithaca has plenty of chances to prove themselves again in the Liberty, and they also play Cortland late, when Cortland should be at their best. Good tests, but I think Ithaca can bounce back.
RPI – If you write off the early loss to Keene State, the rest of their resume is impressive, and that win over Ithaca doesn’t hurt! With 3 huge Liberty games upcoming in regular season play, the Engineers have plenty of opportunity, and tests, still to come. Pass a couple with flying colors and RPI is rising fast. This is where you want to be in early April as an outsider – climbing with plenty of challenges left ahead.
Coast Guard – As the USCGA continues to develop their program, a win like they got over Wesleyan was absolutely huge. Sometimes that success carries on for a full season, and while a 15-5 loss to Ithaca brought the Bears back down to Earth, they have a couple more opportunities to earn big wins, and complete an amazing season. When players don’t want that to ever end, things can happen. Things can happen, man, things can happen. That being said, we may also be a long way from that.
Springfield – Evidently if you lose to Stevens by 1 and RIT by more than 1 (ok, a lot more, but that isn’t a weird thing is it?) you will not even be considered as a Top 20 team. Well I’m here to change that. The Pride seems to have something going on, and they have great wins over Union and Cortland. I think they’re worth a look, and their conference game with Coast Guard could be a real hidden gem to take in for fans.
St. Lawrence – 5 wins, 1 loss, and zero games against teams with winning records. The wins seemed pretty convincing, but the Liberty schedule coming up will tell us more. A lot still to figure out for SLU. At least for me, not for them. Sorry, I can’t see every game. I’ll watch one of these soon, but things seem solid.
Roanoke – The Maroons are a better team than people are giving them credit for right now (I think), because if you watched them against Wesleyan they showed what they can do for about 5 minutes. Then things changed, and it got ugly on the scoreboard for Noke. But I choose to see the first 5 minutes Noke for now. Wesleyan’s D is a rare bird. I’ll give Noke that loss on credit. The rest of their 6-3 ledger is actually super solid.
Muhlenberg – At 8-0 the Mules look attractive, but those are relatively close wins over teams that aren’t (on average) at the Centennial Conference’s level of quality. The CC schedule starts NOW, so questions will be answered in short order. I wouldn’t mind being wrong here, but I don’t think I am. For now, Muhlenberg is still up here. Maybe they stay, it could happen.
Conn College – The Camels don’t have a “big” win yet, and they have a loss to Williams, but if they can keep scores low, and control the game, then Conn has a chance. An outside chance, but a chance nonetheless.
Colorado College – If the Tigers beat Williams (likely the second best team they play all year) they should go on to win out, and they’d be sitting pretty for a bid. I’m not sure their strength of schedule will prepare them for a long run into the NCAAs, but the air is rare in Colorado Springs (we played there in 2000, and I remember being gassed) and it helps to make for well conditioned athletes! I have long hoped that CC could become a Top 20 level team, and it seems like this is starting to be a reality. I remember Whittier being a contender in the early 2000s. Those were the days! Maybe if Chapman can get their sun kissed butts in gear…
Any More D3 Lacrosse?
Sure! There are honestly plenty of other D3 lacrosse teams out there that show promise. All they need to do is keep improving, win a couple big games, and then go on a historic run through a couple of NCAA rounds of playoffs! Ok, that’s actually a huge ask, and I don’t believe these teams have what it takes to do all that, but I’ve been wrong before, so here is a list of a couple other teams worth watching out for:
Williams – 3 tight losses to very good D3 lacrosse teams. Williams could be a NESCAC darkhorse that bounces back strong in May. I would not count them out just yet.
Bowdoin – 2 tight losses to very good teams. No big wins to speak of, but that is likely to change quickly in the firing squad that is the NESCAC regular season. Bowdoin could be 9-2 by the time they are playing teams like Wesleyan and Tufts, and then the playoffs start, so this could go down to the wire, but it gives the Polar Bears time. Finally, someone cares about the Polar Bears, of course it was a Wesleyan grad.
Illinois Wesleyan – Ok, so IWU lost to OWU and CNU by 7 and 10 goals respectively, but they put up 11 and 14 goals in each of the losses. These guys might not play the most defense, but they take shots and put up goals. It’s fun lacrosse, and if it gels and coalesces a bit more, maybe they can surprise some more highly regarded teams in a tourney setting game.
Union – The Dutchmen aren’t going to blow out any top level D3 lacrosse teams, but they have a compelling D at times, and could present some problems to higher regarded teams.
Keene State – It’s up and down and impossible to predict. Plenty of potential, but for now, lacking in consistency.
Misericordia – Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, but the Cougars could conceivably go undefeated. That’s neat, but they need a better SOS to move up.
Aurora – Last year this group finished up 18-3 in the competitive world of D3 lacrosse, this year they are 6-1. Can they keep it going, or take it a step further?
Merchant Marine – At 6-0, it’s conceivable MM goes unbeaten. It’s far from guaranteed though.
Maritime – A conference rival with MM, and at 6-1 they are also looking really strong in the Skyline.
Rhodes – The Lynx look like the class of the Southern this year, and have been competitive with more traditional powers like Denison or Muhlenberg.
Oswego – The Lakers look like a second place SUNYAC team, but that’s saying something. Solid work being done there.
Pfeiffer – The Falcons may be the best team in USA South.
Keep an eye on D3 lacrosse moving forward, it only gets better from here! And If I didn’t mention your squad, just keep winning!