With the start of the 2016 college lacrosse season just a couple of weeks away, here is the eighth 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. Saturday's visit was with the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Sunday takes a spin through the Northeast Conference.
Team on top: After St. Joseph's claimed the regular-season title last spring, Bryant turned the tables though, upending the Hawks for the tournament crown and advancing to the NCAA postseason. The team is set up for another successful run after graduating just one starter in defenseman Connor Dent. The top eight scorers are back, including senior attackman Shane Morrell (31 goals and 20 assists). How Bryant replaces NCAA faceoff record holder Kevin Massa (66.9 percent and 160 ground balls) will be key, but the potential is there.
Team on the rise: A tiebreaker sent Robert Morris home and Mount St. Mary's to the conference tournament as the No. 4 seed last season. The Colonials could use that as motivation, but they can also rely on the return of all six starters on attack and midfield, especially three 30-point scorers in senior midfielders James Rahe (17 G, 19 A) and Eric Rankel (22 G, 12 A) and senior attackman Luke Laszkiewicz (30 G, 3 A). The biggest obstacle is that the team does have to replace two starting defensemen and find a new goalkeeper.
Team on the decline: Hobart finished in a tie with Bryant for second place in the regular season, but a repeat performance could be out of reach. The Statesmen graduated their top three scorers and four of their top six, and those losses don't bode well for an offense that averaged just 8.4 goals last spring. The good news is that Hobart does welcome back three starting defensemen in junior Grant Soucy and sophomores D. Bennett Moore and Christopher Willman and junior goalie Jackson Brown. But can that unit remain steady until the offense can develop some scorers?
Prime-time player: Bryant goalkeeper Gunnar Waldt shared third-team All-American honors with Towson's Tyler White, continuing a run of individual success for the Freeland resident and St. Paul's graduate. Now a senior, Waldt was one of five goalies to finish last season ranked in the nation's top 10 in both goals-against average (8.24) and save percentage (.578). Waldt, who was selected as the league's Defensive Player of the Year for the second spring in a row, provides a solid foundation for the Bulldogs, who can also depend on two starting defensemen in junior Kyle Mummau and redshirt sophomore Chas South.
Underrated player: After totaling 27 goals and seven assists in 2014, Mike Rastivo increased his output in 2015 to 43 goals and 19 assists for St. Joseph's, claiming the NEC's Offensive Player of the Year award. As a sophomore, Rastivo paced the conference in points per game (3.7), goals per game (2.5) and man-up goals (eight) and ranked third in assists. With the graduation of attackman Ryan McGee (31 G, 25 A), Rastivo will have to lead the way in the points and leadership departments for the Hawks to win the league again.