There are three Division III schools in Maryland that have six opponents ranked in the preseason top 20 poll as compiled by Inside Lacrosse on their schedules. Stevenson and Salisbury are two of them, and the third is St. Mary’s.
The Seahawks have meetings against the No. 3 and 10-time reigning national champion Sea Gulls (April 13), No. 8 Dickinson (Feb. 23), No. 9 Denison (March 13), No. 11 Roanoke (Feb. 17), No. 16 Ohio Wesleyan (March 17) and No. 17. Washington College (March 6).
Coach Chris Hasbrouck said the intent of scheduling ranked opponents is to upgrade the team’s strength of schedule and RPI numbers with an eye towards qualifying for the NCAA tournament.
As a member of the Capital Athletic Conference, St. Mary’s can win the league tournament and earn the automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament. Another avenue is defeating enough quality teams in the non-conference portion of the schedule to be awarded an at-large bid from what is called the Pool C list of candidates.
“To be a Pool C team, you need to play the best conference schedule possible,” Hasbrouck said. “So we specifically looked to bring in as many ranked opponents. We also wanted to look to play teams that had made the tournament in previous years. We think that exposure will help us for our conference and will put us in a position where we might get a Pool C bid. It’s also helped that teams see some value in playing us. So I think we’re now a team where opponents can look at us and say, ‘If we can beat St. Mary’s, that’s a quality win.’ That says something about the development of our program.”
St. Mary’s would have had seven ranked opponents on the schedule if Stevenson hadn’t left the Capital Athletic Conference for the Middle Atlantic Conference. The departure of the Mustangs would seem to remove one impediment from the Seahawks’ hope of reaching the CAC tournament final and challenging Salisbury for the league’s automatic qualifier, but Hasbrouck said he would have preferred if Stevenson had stayed.
“I was sorry to see Stevenson leave the conference,” he said. “It gave us another great opponent in the conference and it was developing into a great game. … For me, I’d like to see as many top teams in our conference and on our schedule. So I was sorry to see them leave the conference. Salisbury is always going to be a very high quality opponent that we have to face in our conference. That has its own challenges, but with that, Mary Washington and York can beat anyone on their schedules. There are so many great players now that winning and losing is a very fine line on our schedule.”