This week’s Junior College Report features the first NJCAA Top 10 Poll of the year, and my thoughts on how these final preseason rankings will shake out. Over the last couple months, I’ve previewed a bunch of teams, and shown off a lot of 2018 gear, including last year’s champ, Onondaga. I’ve also talked about last year’s runner up, Howard, and a bunch of other programs, like Harford, Monroe, Potomac State, and more.
Check it all out, then take a gander at the poll NJCAA Top 10 Poll below, and look for more Junior College Report content throughout the year!
NJCAA Top 10 Poll – February 12th, 2018
Rank – Team Name (Total Poll Points, any 1st place votes)
1) Onondaga (60, 6)
2) Howard (54)
3) Genesee (46)
4) Nassau (44)
5) Anne Arundel (33)
6) Harford (27)
7) Essex (20)
8) Ocean County (17)
9) Suffolk (12)
9) Monroe (12)
Also Receiving Votes: Union County (2), Tompkins-Cortland (2), Hudson Valley (1)
Breaking Down The NJCAA Top 10 Poll
Onondaga was a unanimous choice for the number 1 spot the first NJCAA Top 10 Poll for 2018, and absolutely every sign says that they will be the top team in the Junior College ranks this year. Everything must be played out on the field, but given their returning talent, incoming freshmen, and program legacy, it would be very hard to see a scenario where they are not once again pushing everyone else for their 11th title in 13 years.
That being said, there are a couple others teams that have the potential to knock off the OCC Lazers during the regular season, and while a loss would certainly be a surprise, I’m not sure it would knock OCC out of the #1 spot, as crazy as that may sound. If another team beats OCC and goes undefeated, I can see it happening, but Onondaga should put up some incredible offensive numbers in most of their games, and that will be very convincing to pollsters from start to finish. And to me, to be honest. 30 goals in a game with a good opponent says something. If the defense is also top notch, then Onondaga is a clear cut #1 the whole way, but that’s why we play the games, right?
Sadly, OCC doesn’t play Howard (more on them below), but they do play Nassau, and on paper this looks like it could be a great game. Nassau is going to be strong in a lot of the right places (defense, face offs) and if they can get a little extra bump in some other places (you need to score goals to beat the Lazers) you never know what can happen. Plus the game is on Long Island. It’s one to circle, and Nassau is a team to watch. I’m not sure they’ll beat teams by 15 goals, but I think they’ll win consistently, and in a manner where they dictate the pace of the game more often than not. I like consistency!
Two weeks later, OCC plays Genesee, and this is another team that has some spark. All of the guys who beat OCC two years are gone, and last year’s loss to OCC was a big one, but a game like that sticks with a program, and you can’t rule the GCC squad out. The game is on the road, and if OCC sleeps on it, Genesee is very capable.
Ok, time to talk Howard a little bit more. After last year’s run, and with some high quality returners, HCC is the preseason #2, and they got every vote for that position. A 15-14 loss to Onondaga in last year’s championship game alone validates this ranking now, but the fact is, Howard is going to be good again. How good will they be? We’re going to find out immediately when they play Nassau on February 24th to open the season! That’s no joke for either team, and Howard hosting an early game has to help their cause. Long Island in February can be beyond brutal for outdoor activity.
Howard will be tough and physical, but so will Nassau, and in the early season it could come down to who simply wants it more and can do the basics really well. Beyond Nassau, Howard plays teams ranked 3-8 in the preseason, so they should get some good tests before the playoffs roll around. Howard does not have the same illustrious history that Onondaga enjoys, but the guys in Columbia, MD are running their program with the same goals of reloading not rebuilding, so I’m very interested to see how it all plays out, especially early on. However it starts, I’d expect it to end differently, as Howard was a program that improved dramatically as 2017 wore on.
Anne Arundel, Harford, and Essex make up an interesting little group all to their own just outside of the top 4 teams. None look like they are on the consistent level of the 4 teams above them in the first NJCAA Top 10 Poll, but there are often tight games when these teams meet up with the programs listed above, and wins should never be ruled out. For me, the big question is not “can AACC, Harford, or Essex beat a top 4 team?” The big question is “can AACC, Harford, or Essex beat a top 4 team WHEN IT MATTERS?” That’s a big difference, and recently season ending losses were really lopsided for most of the “next level” programs. This is not a knock on them at all, just a realistic look at how things stand.
The wonderful thing about the NJCAA is the potential for a program to see a jump, or a renewal of strength, in only a year or two. A really strong freshman class can make a big difference for any decent program. Another year can see truly next level results. Harford, for example, is REALLY pushing their program in a lot of new ways. From increased recruiting to social media and beyond, the Owls are really putting it out there. Last year was a solid campaign and even featured a win over Nassau. If they can build on that, they could be a top 4 team themselves.
So while it might sound like I’m a little down on Anne Arundel, Harford, and Essex I would never ever count them out. All three are programs on the cusp of figuring out how to reach the next level and stay there, and any upset games in the regular season just add fuel to the fire. I’d be shocked if at least one of these three schools doesn’t knock off one of the preseason Top 4 at some point this year, but for now, I can see why only ten points in the poll voting separates the three of them.
Ocean County makes a nice showing at #8 in the preseason poll, and eventual success for this program makes a lot of sense. It’s an attractive option for a school, has good facilities and support, and this OCC also has a good coaching staff, looking to steadily improve. Ocean County had some great games, but still lost by considerable margins to Howard and Nassau. There is still work to be done, but Ocean county seems poised to make it happen.
Monroe has a new Head Coach and two assistants who were star players. Monroe has always been an interesting program with solid potential for the Top 5, but the depth and consistency were never quite there for the Tribunes to make the leap. Monroe played a slate of tough games to end 2017, but did well, so if they can carry that momentum and keep it going, they could be a fixture in the Top 10 this year. If the transition takes a little more time, there are other teams within Region 3 that show similar promise, like Tompkins Cortland, Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes, and possibly Herkimer. Does the fact that Monroe has one of the top women’s lacrosse programs make me think success is possible for the men as well? Yes, yes it does.
Suffolk is a program looking to re-emerge on an upwards trend, and like Monroe they’ll need more depth and better consistency to do so. There are some really good players in this program, but playing together and finding enough quality guys to do so is the challenge. Their first two games of the season are against Essex and then Ocean County, and those are important early season games to watch. They will play Howard and Nassau before April, and facing top competition early can help later on in a big way when a team needs to make a final push.
Union County, Hudson Valley, and Tompkins Cortland all received votes in the first NJCAA Top 10 Poll, and I could see any of these teams spending time in the Top 6-10 range this year. I could also see them not spending much time there! Not only is the bottom group in the Top 10 pretty tight, but there are also a couple other programs looking to make their way in. Both Frederick and Potomac State seem to be able to win a good game. Brookdale could be right there this year as well. What about Delaware Tech? I’d also keep an eye on Ancilla and Southern Maryland. Maybe Broome turns it around? They didn’t look bad at the end of the year in 2017…
The point is, keep an eye on this stuff! The Top 10 Preseason Poll is a lot of fun to talk about, but with the games starting soon, we can start to hit on the important stuff soon enough… RESULTS!
I’ll have more team previews out next week before the season starts, and each week we will feature the NJCAA Top 10 Poll, and remark on its changes. Ocean County, Mercyhurst NE, and others will be featured next week as well, so stay tuned!