With the start of the 2016 college lacrosse season just a few weeks away, here is the third 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. Monday's visit was with the Atlantic Coast Conference. Tuesday takes a spin through the Big East.
Team on top: After three Final Four appearances in five previous NCAA tournament appearances, Denver broke through with a 10-5 victory over Maryland for the program's first national title. Despite the graduation of Tewaaraton Award finalist Wesley Berg (58 goals and 20 assists) and goalkeeper Ryan LaPlante (8.33 goals-against average and .539 save percentage), the Pioneers should continue their dominance. Junior attackman Connor Cannizzaro (57 G, 33 A) is an early candidate for the Tewaaraton Award, and sophomore faceoff specialist Trevor Baptiste (68.0 percent, 140 ground balls, 8 G, 5 A) is a fellow first-team All American.
Team on the rise: Georgetown's 10-6 record included all six losses occurring against NCAA tournament qualifiers (including Denver twice), and the program was one of the bubble teams left out of the postseason. The Hoyas do have to replace three starters including attackmen Bo Stafford (34 G, 26 A) and Reilly O'Connor (22 G, 24 A), but return their entire starting defense of sophomore goalie Nick Marrocco (10.80 GAA, .549 save percentage) and junior defensemen Michael Mayer (30 ground balls and 15 caused turnovers), Chris Pauzer (11 GB, 9 CT) and Ed Blatz Jr. (12 GB, 6 CT).
Team on the decline: Villanova edged Providence and St. John's for the fourth and final spot in the Big East tournament, but the joy was short-lived after a quick loss to Denver in the semifinals. The Wildcats do return nine of 10 starters including three defensemen (senior John Moderski and juniors Danny Sweeney and Nate Gorman) and one goalkeeper (senior Greg Stamatov) who helped the unit allow a modest 10.4 goals per game. But the offense averaged just 9.4 goals, and it's unclear whether the program has added an influx of talent to help that side of the field.
Prime-time player: Many experts thought Cannizzaro should have been named a Tewaaraton Award finalist last season. Barring injury and ineffectiveness, Cannizzaro will likely find a spot there this spring. His 90 points and 13 man-up goals set single-season records at Denver, and his 57 goals were good enough for second in program history. Cannizzaro's quickness and vision behind the cage are rivaled by few, and his numbers should improve playing with the likes of junior midfielders Zach Miller (26 G, 35 A) and Tyler Pace (22 G, 27 A).
Underrated player: Georgetown midfielder Peter Conley had posted 19 goals and three assists in seven games last spring before suffering an ankle injury that sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Conley – a junior who was on pace to register 50 points, which would have ranked second on the Hoyas – returns to pair with sophomore Craig Berge (16 G, 21 A), an All-American honorable mention, to give the team a formidable 1-2 punch in the midfield. Conley's presence should help the offense make gains against some of the tougher defenses in the conference.