With the start of the 2016 college lacrosse season just a few weeks away, here is the second installment of a series that offers a preview of the battles for conference championships in Division I. The leagues are scheduled to appear via alphabetical order. Sunday's visit was with the America East. Monday takes a spin through the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Team on top: This category could be shared by Duke and Notre Dame, but the edge goes to the Blue Devils. They failed to advance to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals for the first time since 2006, but the program returns all 10 starters from last year's team that went 12-6 and adds three Under Armour All Americans as freshmen. Duke does have to replace five major contributors, including first-team All-American short-stick defensive midfielder Will Haus. But if any team is poised to fill in the gaps and thrive, it's the Blue Devils under coach John Danowski.
Team on the rise: Virginia failed to defeat a conference opponent last season and was bounced from the first round of the NCAA tournament by Johns Hopkins. This spring, the Cavaliers will miss four starters, but they can reunite senior Greg Coholan (39 goals and 14 assists) and junior Ryan Lukacovic (22 G, 27 A) on attack with senior James Pannell, who recorded 11 goals and four assists before sitting out the final nine games becuase of a season-ending knee injury. And redshirt junior defenseman Tanner Scales is set to return after missing last year because of a torn Achilles tendon.
Team on the decline: Winner of an NCAA-high 10 national championships, Syracuse's climb to another title figures to be much steeper this season. The Orange bade farewell to seven starters including five players who scored at least 17 goals each. Redshirt senior attackman Dylan Donahue (50 G, 21 A) and junior face-off specialist Ben Williams (67.4 percent and 153 ground balls) are back, and the program does welcome Massachusetts transfer and junior attackman Nick Mariano (22 G, 20 A). But there are holes in the midfield, defense and goal that need to be addressed.
Prime-time player: Duke senior midfielder Myles Jones and Notre Dame senior attackman Matt Kavanagh were two of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award last June, and both players will be in the conversation once again. But the 6-foot-5, 240-pound Jones is a rare blend of quickness, elusiveness and power. With 77 points on 40 goals and 37 assists last spring, he led all Division I midfielders in scoring and ranked fourth overall in points per game. Jones' 161 career points have already made him the top scoring midfielder in Blue Devils history.
Underrated player: Notre Dame senior Matt Landis and Syracuse redshirt senior Brandon Mullins were tabbed as All-American first-team defensemen last season, but the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Landis is regarded as the top lock-down defender in Division I. In the Fighting Irish's 14-10 win over Albany in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal, Landis limited Great Danes attackman and two-time Tewaaraton Award winner Lyle Thompson to one goal on 11 shots. Thompson did post four assists, but also committed a game-worst six turnovers. Landis earned the William C. Schmeisser Award as the country's most outstanding defenseman.