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Patriot League – 2016 D1 Conference Preview

If a pair or trio of teams can get out of conference play with only a loss or two, the Patriot League could see multiple teams in the NCAA tournament this year.

Editor’s Note: It’s time to talk Patriot League men’s lacrosse for 2016! Welcome to our annual D1 Conference Previews! We kicked things off with the ACC, then hit up the Big East, and made our way to the Colonial and then the Ivy League. Then it was the America East and the MAAC and then the Big TenEach conference gets an in-depth preview from different writers, and the staff will also rank the conference teams in a pre-season poll. It’s time for the Patriot League 2016 Preview!

Photo Credit: Craig Chase

2016 Patriot League Preview

Last year’s edition of the Patriot League was ferocious, and one of the best examples I have ever seen of teams in a conference cannibalizing each other throughout the season. Each game seemed like a virtual coin flip as far as who the winner would be. Ranking didn’t matter, previous record didn’t matter, and home field didn’t matter. The end results was that only the conference champion went on to the NCAA tournament. Colgate got an 11-8 win over Army for the honro. With all that chaos, this conference was incredibly fun to watch all year long.

For the 2016 version of the league, they are truly running a marathon. If you’re an opponent of NCAA games being played as early as they are, you should talk to this league. Not only are they the first teams to play this weekend, but they are also play their last regular season games well into May. Talk about using all of your schedule!

The key for me this season is who can stay above the chaos that occurred last year. If a pair or trio of teams can get out of conference play with only a loss or two, I think the Patriot League could see multiple teams in the NCAA tournament this year. But who will they be?

United States Military Academy

2014 Record & Result: 9-5, Lost to Lehigh in conference tournament
2015 Record & Result: 10-7, Lost to Colgate in conference tournament
Key Losses: Syracuse, Loyola, Navy, Colgate
Key Wins: Navy, Loyola

Army is a team that just always seems ready to play, and never ready to stop. The only game they lost by more than three points was to Notre Dame in their last game of the year. 2016 should be no different. They did lose John Glesener and Sam Somers, but they still bring back a huge amount of talent.

Anchoring this team in the scoring department will be Attackmen Connor Cook and Cole Johnson. Army does return nearly all of their top scorers outside of Glesener and Alex Newsome, which means most of their top two midfield lines are back in 2016.

Losing Somers in goal is a huge hole to fill. He had a stellar goals against average and played all but about 40 minutes of game time last year. Paul Newbold saw the most time as a backup as a freshman, so he seems poised to see the start in cage.

Sean Jallota is main long pole who needs to be replaced at close defense while Jimbo D’Aprile is the departing LSM. This does leave army in good shape defensively as they have a more experience group to play in front a new goalie. Also helping out will be FOGO Dan Grabher and his 57.9% faceoff win percentage, which should really help out in the possession game.

Overall, I really like Army’s chances this year of making a tournament run. They return a huge chunk of a team that mostly had trouble with ranked teams and lost in their conference title game to a good Colgate squad. You can absolutely never count this team out as year after year they are relentless until the final whistle. They’ve been a ton of fun to watch for years and this season should be no different.

Boston University

2014 Record & Result: 2-12, No conference tournament
2015 Record & Result: 6-8, No conference tournament
Key Losses: 1 point loss to Harvard, 1 point loss to Lehigh, 7-13 loss to Duke
Key Wins: Colgate, Bucknell

In just their third year of existence, BU has hit the lacrosse scene hard. 2014 saw the two win first year program play Duke tough in the last game of the year and only lose by 5. 2015 saw them playing great teams close and scoring some wins over some excellent Patriot League competition. Before March was over, this team was sitting 6-2 and had topped Colgate by seven goals on the road. Unfortunately, they never won again before the season ended and their conference played a tournament without them. Will 2016 be different?

I really think they should at least make a strong push for the conference tournament. This is a ridiculously young program, but they have shown spectacular improvement in their two years of existence. I don’t think any program will take this team lightly, which will make every game a battle.

What makes this team imposing going into 2016, is that they return everyone. Not literally everyone, but every single starter. Not just every starter, but pretty much every backup. And nearly every specialist. Really, almost every player returns, it’s crazy. There is only one player who saw time in more than four games who is not back in 2016. That means their top 16 scorers are back, all 163 saves are back, all 339 faceoffs are back, and all but six ground balls are back. That is some incredible continuity.

So are they bringing back a world dominating team? No. Are they bringing back a team that pushed some good competition to their limits and beat and NCAA tournament team? Yes. With another year under the belts of the coaches and players, I really expect some great things coming out of Boston this year.

Bucknell University

2014 Record & Result: 7-8, Lost to Colgate in conference tournament
2015 Record & Result: 9-6, Lost to Colgate in conference tournament
Key Losses: Colgate (twice)
Key Wins: Brown, Fairfield, Loyola, Navy

Bucknell was more than capable to beat some great teams, and they did. Unfortunately, they also lost to some teams they had no business losing to. Colgate seemed to be their kryptonite, which is why their season ended early. What do they look like in 2016?

Unfortunately, graduation was not friendly to Bucknell. They lost their starting goalie, one close defender, two top midfielders, and one of their primary attackmen. Their major returner is going to be LSM Alex Spring, who dominated the team’s ground ball count and found himself being drafted by the Florida Launch in the recent collegiate draft.

Sophomore Will Sands will be asked to lead this team as he is the top returning scorer, just a few points short of taking that title a year ago. He’ll be joined by Sean Doyle at attack and likely Connor O’Hara. Most of Bucknell’s strength a year ago was in the midfield, but I think they may change a bit in 2016.

Losing goalie Sam Grinberg will be tough, but Brac McKee saw some solid minutes last year and should be ready to jump in. His numbers in limited time were not stellar, but neither were Grinberg’s. This is one area that needs to see big improvement if the team wants more success.

I don’t love the spots where Bucknell is trying to fill in gaps. They do field a competitive team each year, so they will be no push over, but I struggle to see them as one of the top contenders for the league this year.

Colgate University

2014 Record & Result: 9-7, Lost to Loyola in conference tournament
2015 Record & Result: 10-6, Lost to UNC in NCAA opening round
Key Losses: 2 points to Syracuse, OT to Cornell, 1 point to Navy
Key Wins: Loyola, Army (twice)

As the lone NCAA tournament representative for the Patriot League in 2015, Colgate earned a very difficult first round matchup with a talented and determined North Carolina team. They had just come off the tournament win and struck fear into Syracuse, but the Tar Heels were just too much.

Gone is Ryan Walsh to the MLL and Matt Clarkson, but they do return some key pieces. Goalie Brandon Burke will be the solid wall in cage for this team to build out from. They bring back sophomore Anthony Abbadessa, and nearly every other major contributor on offense. They need to replace their two biggest pieces, but the majority of the players who saw big time last year are back.

Defensively they are in much the same situation. With Burke back between the pips, they bring back nearly every major piece of the defense and their faceoff unit. From top to bottom, this team is going to be a force to reckon with.

College of the Holy Cross

2014 Record & Result: 3-12, No conference tournament
2015 Record & Result: 6-7, No conference tournament
Key Losses: 1 point loss to Navy, 1 point loss to Colgate
Key Wins: Fairfield, Loyola, Army

A 6-7 finish might be easy to overlook, but that was a huge improvement for the perennial doormat of the Patriot League. Going all the way back to 2005, they have had exactly zero winning seasons. Then they bring in a new coach and were sitting at 2-0 after knocking off Fairfield and Loyola, both on the road. Then, they lost by a single goal to Navy. Let’s just say, people started paying more attention to the lacrosse being played in Worcester, MA.

In the scoring department, they bring back seven of their top 10 scorers, including their top two attackman, Kevin Lux and Sean Wilkinson. They did not light up scoreboards last year, but with the new coach having another season with most of the offense, they should be much improved.

The Crusaders only lost one closer defender, and return their goalie Michael Ortlieb and his 44.4% save percentage. They need to see some significant improvement here to jump up in this league. Where they are really going to be hurting though is on faceoffs, a place they lose their primary FOGO and LSM. They were not great to start with here (oh, how they miss Ben Williams), so it is going to be an uphill battle.

While they do a have a decent base to build on, I don’t think you are going to see an NCAA tournament team out of this group just yet. If they get some good wins together, you may seem them in the Patriot tournament, but there is still a road of rebuilding ahead for Holy Cross.

Lafayette College

2014 Record & Result: 2-11, No conference tournament
2015 Record & Result: 4-10, No conference tournament
Key Losses: close games with Colgate, Penn, Bucknell, & Lehigh
Key Wins: Holy Cross

While they did beat Holy Cross, this team has not seen a winning season since 2010. Their four wins from a year ago also happens to be their highest in that span. Simply put: this team has a long way to go, but Coach Rogalski does seem to have a plan. Now can it work in a league where the competition is always fierce?

Working in their favor is that they have returned a significant portion from last year’s team. They had a pretty good rotation of players on offense, and many of them are going to be back in 2015. Leading scorer Jason Sands and number two scorer Eric Joseph will both return with a good supporting cast.

On defense, there was also a ton of rotation at the starting positions at close defense and in goal. Like the offense, most of these “filled” spots will be back again in 2016, so hopefully some more time together will yield better results. It seems like there is a pretty open level of competition for playing time, so if different players step up, this team could be hard to peg.

It would be much more concerning if Lafayette had the season they did last year with a senior-laden group, but fortunately they did not. Recent history does not offer much optimism, but hopefully another year of continuity and experience will make them more competitive in this tough league.

Lehigh University

2014 Record & Result: 13-5, Lost to Loyola in conference tournament
2015 Record & Result: 7-9, Lost to Bucknell in conference tournament
Key Losses: OT to Bucknell in regular season, 1 point loss to Navy
Key Wins: Princeton, Stony Brook

Without question, the biggest task for this team will be replacing Dan Taylor and his 77 points. Attackman Reid Weber will be the top returning scorer and is tasked with leading a unit that is going to be missing four of their top five scorers from a year ago. That is simply a ton of production to replace.

Where they should see some big improvements are on the defensive end of the field and on faceoff. They only lose one major long pole and their goalie situation was hardly locked in, so losing Matt Poillon should be reasonable to deal with. Faceoffs are going to be an interesting area to watch as they bring back both FOGOs, who didn’t perform great last year, but now are going to be taught by former Bryant faceoff king Kevin Massa.

With improved faceoff play, and perhaps a steadier presence between the pipes, the defense should have more of an opportunity to come together. They are trying to replace a bit too much for my liking on offense to give me a load of confidence. They are a very well coached team and I know they capable of putting some great wins together, but on paper, I don’t quite see it just yet.

Loyola University

2014 Record & Result: 15-2, Lost to Albany in NCAA opening round
2015 Record & Result: 7-8, Lost to Army in conference tournament
Key Losses: 1 point loss to UVA, 1 point loss to Georgetown, 1 point loss to Maryland
Key Wins: Towson, Navy

Just a season removed from a season where they only saw a single overtime loss in their first game to Virginia, 2015 was not what anyone expected from the Greyhounds. This was of course after a 2013 season that saw the Greyhounds lose in double overtime to eventual NCAA champion Duke. Before that was a NCAA championship campaign in 2012 marred only by an overtime loss to Hopkins during the season. The seniors who are graduating this year (assuming a red shirt somewhere) are used to winning a ton of games. Spending last year on the wrong side of .500 is going to have them motivated.

Zach Herreweyers is going to be the one leading this team, but he brings back nearly his entire supporting cast on offense. The only major piece they are missing from a year ago is Nikko Pontrello, but they really are bringing back the rest of the gang. This offense is ready to explode, especially if the group stays healthy.

In net, they return their primary starter in Grant Limone, who played reasonably well. In front of him, practically the entire defense returns, including David Manning, who missed 2015 with an injury. At the faceoff position, Graham Savio is coming back with his 59% win percentage from a year ago.

It is a little scary that this team is pushing BU for the most complete returning lineup from a year ago. With this much talent and the bad taste of 2015 in their mouths, look out for Loyola.

United States Naval Academy

2014 Record & Result: 4-10, Lost to Lehigh in conference tournament
2015 Record & Result: 9-5, Lost to Army in conference tournament
Key Losses: Army, Bucknell
Key Wins: Towson, Colgate, Army

Navy played well enough a year ago to earn the top seed in the conference tournament, only to lose to rival Army. It was their best season in several years, but the question is whether or not that is a trend, or a blip in the radar (pun kind of intended).

Nearly their entire offense will be back in 2016. Their highest scorer only had 36 points on the year, so this is not a high powered offense coming back for seconds, but their play was certainly more dynamic than in years past. This team still has a ton of room to improve however. As much as I can say they were lacking firepower (another military pun? really?), they won every game where they scored more than 8. If they can do better here, they should have much better results.

Scoring is only half of the equation, of course. Defense is just as important, but they also are going to return a healthy number of defenders as well as goalie John Connors. Connors was just a hair over 50%, so like with the offense, improvement here should lead to much better success in the box score.

I do really like where this team sits right now. They made a big jump in 2015 versus 2014, and bring most of that team back again. I do not think they’ll be the top seed, but I would be surprised if they did not make a return to the conference tournament at a minimum.

The common theme for most of these teams is returning talent. As nice as it may be to have a clear favorite or two, I do not see that happening this year in the Patriot League. Loyola is going to capture the attention without question, but do not ignore any of these other teams. I would not be even a little surprised to see the insanity of last year’s conference play happen again. The big question is how they do out of conference against teams in the Big 10 and ACC. That it what will help the cumulative strength of schedule and ideally push the conference as a whole higher towards multiple NCAA bids. It will be an awesome year!

Perhaps wrong or perhaps totally correct Conference Rankings:

  1. Colgate – They won the conference a year ago and return a ton of players. Gotta put them here to start. Ask me again after week 1.
  2. Loyola – While 2015 was disappointing, they were not far off from expectations. They were a few goals from a totally different season. I doubt that happens again.
  3. Army – I have a great feeling about this team this year.
  4. Navy – They bring a ton back and should be a force in the league all year long.
  5. Boston University – Tremendous upside here. I really like their chances.
  6. Lehigh – Just a few too many question marks to start the season.
  7. Bucknell – A little too shaky for my taste, but I would not be shocked to see them a few spots higher in May.
  8. Holy Cross – They surprised everyone a year ago, now everyone will be looking.
    Lafayette – Someone has to be last, and the Leopards’ track record ain’t good.

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