The past four days have featured a premature attempt at the 2012 preseason poll. Friday's entry includes three teams that did not finish above .500 and missed the tournament this past season. But what they do have is intrigue in either the form of returning players, a new head coach or a campaign that just fell short of the tournament. In alphabetical order, the teams flying under the radar are:
Fairfield (2011 record: 8-8)
Outlook: The Stags turned a lackluster regular season into a reason for optimism by upending Loyola in the semifinals of the Eastern College Athletic Conference tournament and falling, 11-9, to Denver in the final. Fairfield ended the season tied for 11th in Division I in defense by surrendering just 8.1 goals per game. That unit returns starting defensemen Drew Palmer (31 ground balls and 23 caused turnovers) and Greg Perraut (17 GBs, 12 CTs) and junior goalkeeper Charlie Cipriano (7.92 goals-against average and .586 save percentage). The offense returns three 20-point scorers in sophomore midfielder Sam Snow (19 goals and 9 assists), junior attackman John Snellman (21, 3) and freshman attackman Jordan Greenfield (16, 8). If there's one area the Stags must improve, it's faceoffs. The unit won just 37.2 percent of its draws (116-of-312). If Fairfield can fix that department, the team could surprise Denver and Ohio State in conference play.
Outlook: This past spring was a forgettable one as the Midshipmen finished outside of the top four in the Patriot League and failed to qualify for the conference tournament for the first time in school history and dropped three straight contests to Army, matching the program's longest losing skid to its arch-nemesis. Those setbacks ushered the departure of Richie Meade, who has since been replaced by Rick Sowell who has revitalized programs at Dartmouth and Stony Brook. Sowell inherits a youthful attack in freshmen Tucker Hull (23 goals and 15 assists) and Sam Jones (23, 15) and junior Taylor Reynolds (10, 2). Defensively, sophomore defenseman Peter Rogers (17 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers) and junior defenseman Matt Vernam (11 GBs, 5 CTs) and junior goalie R.J. Wickham (9.26 GAA, .491 save percentage), but the unit ranked 37th in the country in defense (9.6 goals).
Outlook: Injuries took a toll on the Tigers as five players suffered season-ending ailments and aches and pains dogged 15 other players. But there was promise in the form of freshman midfielder Tom Schreiber (16 goals and 13 assists), who was named the Ivy League Rookie of the Year. Schreiber and sophomore Jeff Froccaro (13, 3) could be joined in the starting lineup by incoming recruit Brendan McGrath, an Under Armour All American. The attack is young and lacks a quarterback, but a defense anchored by junior goalkeeper Tyler Fiorito (7.52 GAA, .615 save percentage) and junior defenseman Chad Wiedmaier (24 GBs, 14 CTs) should provide a foundation for next season.