Thursday’s entry is the fourth installment of a series taking a look at each of the eight Division III programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. The Sun’s lacrosse preview is slated to be published on Friday, Feb. 8. This is McDaniel’s turn.

Overview: The Green Terror bounced back from a 6-9 overall record and a 3-5 mark in the Centennial Conference in 2011 to go 11-7 and 5-3, respectively, last season. That was good enough to send the program to its third conference tournament in the last four years, but McDaniel failed to get out of the semifinal round, losing to Washington College. Finishing in the top four and qualifying for the tournament is always a priority for the team, but there’s a sense of urgency to get to the championship game and challenge for the automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament.

Reason for optimism: Graduation took a toll on almost every position on the field with the lone exception of the midfield. The first line of sophomore Matt Dupras (12 goals and eight assists) and seniors Michael Woglom (13, 6) and William “Skippy” Clary (14, 4) made a combined 38 starts in 54 contests last season, and coach Matt Hatton thinks that trio – along with freshman Jason Lawrence – are poised to carry the team in 2012. “[W]e didn’t really have anybody that was scoring 40 points or anything crazy like that last year. But our top three scorers from the midfield are back and really our top four or five options from that position are back,” he said. “I think with the new rules being what they are, I think it’s going to be real critical that you can control or attempt to control the middle of the field, and we feel like we’re in pretty good shape.”

Reason for pessimism: An offense that averaged just 7.8 goals last year got weaker with the graduation of its entire starting attack of J.S. Duke (23, 24), D.J. Rickels (40, 6) and Ben Yancheski (13, 7). Sophomore Pat Bivons (8, 6) is a lock to start, and seniors James Gibbons (1, 5) and Pat Woglom (sat out last season) are the leading candidates to join Bivons. Hatton said he’s not expecting any of the attackmen to match what Duke and Rickels accomplished in 2012. “I don’t think we’re going to have any attackmen that are going to necessarily score 40 goals or shoot 150 times, but we’re really trying to balance what we do offensively with ball movement, being smart, being at the right place at the right time, and making sure that we’re prepared,” Hatton said. “… We’re going to start hoping that those three guys can get the job done. They’ve done a really good job thus far, and just like anybody else, they’ve got stuff they can work on.”

Keep an eye on: The Green Terror also have to replace two starting defensemen in Nicholas Sicuranza (37 groundballs and 30 caused turnovers) and Nelson Hannahs (43, 25). Senior Alex McCoy (5, 7) and sophomore Alec Schunk (6, 4) are likely candidates to join sophomore Zac Bitzer (13, 12) as starters, and their development could determine the team’s postseason fate. “Obviously, there are going to be some new faces and losing Nick and Nelson isn’t going to be easy,” Hatton said. “But I think at the same time, it’s not like we’re putting three new guys in there that don’t have any big-game experience. All the guys I just said have played against Gettysburg and Dickinson and Salisbury. I think they’re a little more battle-tested than the typical guy just coming off the bench that hasn’t had any burn yet. It’ll be interesting for sure.”

What he said: Hatton, who is 47-45 in six seasons at McDaniel, has guided the school to four of its six Centennial Conference tournament appearances, and despite the losses via graduation, he makes no attempt to disguise his goals for this year’s squad. “We’re at a point program-wise where our expectations are always going to be about having an opportunity to compete and be in the top four and try to push for a conference championship,” he said. “We’ve been in the semifinals in three of the last four years and the year that we did miss it, we missed it by one game. … I think we’ve been pretty consistent in that regard, and I think we’re at a point now where our expectations are a little higher than they were four years ago.”