Team on top: St. Joseph’s topped Bryant for the Northeast Conference’s regular-season title, but the Hawks were the ones who stayed at home and watched the NCAA tournament after the Bulldogs claimed the league’s tournament championship for the third consecutive year. That memory might drive St. Joseph’s this spring, but the team is also blessed with a plethora of talent. The Hawks welcome back nine starters, including reigning conference Offensive Player of the Year and senior attackman Ryan McGee (34 goals and 22 assists).
Team on the rise: Hobart limped to fourth place in the conference despite a season-ending abdominal injury to attackman Alex Love, who had set a school Division I record in goals with 45 in 2013. But the Statesmen still pulled off an upset of St. Joseph’s in the tournament semifinals, and with Love coming back for a redshirt senior campaign to an offense that returns five of its top seven scorers, they could be primed to shake up the anticipated St. Joseph’s-Bryant battle for league supremacy.
Team on the decline: Robert Morris won the Northeast Conference regular-season and tournament crowns in 2012, but failed to qualify for the tournament last spring for the first time since joining the league. The Colonials do welcome back five of their top six scorers, but must replace two starting defensemen, a starting goalkeeper and the top long-stick midfielder. That doesn’t bode well for a defense that surrendered 11.6 goals per game in 2014.
Prime-time player: Bryant’s run to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals last season was built on the team’s strength up the middle of the field, and junior goalie Gunnar Waldt is back again. The Freeland resident and St. Paul’s graduate was just one of three goalkeepers who ranked in the top five in both goals-against average and save percentage. (Army’s Sam Somers and Loyola’s Jack Runkel were the others.) Waldt anchors a defense that ranked fifth in the nation last year after allowing 7.9 goals per game.
Underrated player: The other part of that Bulldogs equation is senior face-off specialist Kevin Massa. He led the country with a 68.8 face-off percentage and was the only player to register more than 200 ground balls. (He finished with 225.) A two-time Northeast Conference Player of the Year, Massa also set a NCAA record for ground balls in a career with 593 and ranks second in career face-off wins with 877.