With one of the game's top scoring duos returning in senior attackmen Merrick Thomson and Frank Resetarits, the University at Albany figured it would click on offense in 2007. The Great Danes, off to a 4-0 start for the first time since their Division III days in 1993, averaged just under 12 goals per game last spring, and have averaged 13 this year.
But the main reason No. 8 Albany has moved into the top 10 - first with a huge 8-7 win at Johns Hopkins in its season opener, next with last week's 13-7 drubbing of Delaware - is what is happening at the other end of the field.
The Great Danes have learned how to play defense. The unit that surrendered 19 goals to UMBC in last year's America East tournament final and allowed 10.8 goals per game is making the difference. And it's the same crew that played for the first time together a year ago and hurt Albany throughout its 8-7 season.
Led by senior goalie Brett Queener, junior defenseman Craig McDonald and sophomore defenseman Garrett Pedley, Albany allows about 7.8 goals per game.
"The defense is playing amazingly," said Thomson, who is second behind Resetarits with eight goals.
"We weren't confident in our man-to-man. Last summer, we made a commitment that we had to get better on defense," Albany coach Scott Marr said. "We lost five games by a total of nine goals last year, and it came down mostly to defense."
Albany won three straight conference titles before last year, but the Great Danes have never advanced beyond the first round of the NCAA tournament. If the defense holds up, that also should change this time.
Syracuse went 1-1 against Johns Hopkins in 2006. The Orange lost by five goals at Homewood Field before completing a nine-game winning streak by edging the Blue Jays, 13-12, in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals.
The turnaround from a 1-4 start that season was due largely to the rapid maturation of attackmen-midfielders Dan Hardy and Kenny Nims and midfielder Pat Perritt. They were pressed into service after midfielders Greg Rommel (broken thumb) and Steven Brooks (torn ACL) were lost with early-season injuries.
The youngsters are back as sophomores, and so are Rommel and Brooks. In Saturday's 14-9 win at Georgetown, Brooks, a junior, had his best day of his comeback season with four goals. He has seven for the season.
M&T; Bank Stadium, the site of the inaugural Inside Lacrosse Face-Off Classic on March 3, could be the venue for the same doubleheader next year.
The magazine made a two-year sponsorship commitment to Johns Hopkins, Princeton, Syracuse and Virginia, and its representatives plan to talk to the Ravens about having the games there again in early March 2008. The doubleheader drew 20,180 - the largest crowd ever to watch an NCAA regular-season lacrosse event.
The 2007 NCAA championships are at M&T; Bank Stadium on Memorial Day weekend. Ticket sales have exceeded 26,000.
Don't be surprised if, in a week or two, Maryland coach Dave Cottle makes changes at midfield. When the team went 1-2 against Georgetown, Duke and Towson, the first line of Dan Groot, Chris Feifs and Drew Evans combined for three goals. And don't be shocked to see freshman long-stick midfielder Brian Farrell (four goals, two assists) end up on offense.
"[The idea] has come up in discussions," Cottle said.
A good omen
By beating then-No. 1 Duke on Saturday, Loyola seems to have history on its side. The last time the Greyhounds beat a No. 1 team was in 2001, when they edged Syracuse. That was the last time Loyola made the NCAA tournament.