The 2015 college lacrosse season is almost upon us, as Delaware plays at High Point on Sunday. Locally, the season begins in eight days when UMBC visits Johns Hopkins and Loyola Maryland welcomes Virginia. So it's a good time to check in with ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins midfielder Mark Dixon.
Dixon, who can be followed on Twitter at @DixonLacrosse, shared some of his thoughts on the upcoming year.
Is there any reason to doubt Denver's No. 1 preseason ranking?
Not really. I think that on paper, they're an elite program with the talent they have coming back on the offensive end of the field and with the coaching they've received not only from [head coach] Bill Tierney but also [associate head coach/offensive coordinator] Matt Brown and the rest of the staff. They're innovative, they're athletic, they're the real deal. There was a time when everybody wanted Denver to be good. I remember five, six, seven years ago preseason polls putting them in the top 10 just kind of hoping that they'd be good because you felt like it would be good for the sport. Now they are good and not only are they good, but they are great.
What team poses a serious challenge to Denver's grip on the top spot?
I think everybody at this point. Not a game has been played yet. But when you're looking at it on paper, obviously Notre Dame returns a pretty strong lineup from a team that was the national runner-up from a year ago. We say it every year, but North Carolina, is this the year they can put it together and challenge and get to the national semifinals? You can never count [2013 and 2014 NCAA champion] Duke out. I know that team has lost a ton of talent, but you can never count out the Blue Devils. I think Syracuse is going to be very good this year. [Senior attackman] Kevin Rice is one of the most dynamic players in the country and probably one of the most underrated players in the country. Johns Hopkins is going to be better than they were last year. Obviously, they've had to deal with an emotional and very difficult time right now, but they're a talented team. And how about Albany? They still have [senior attackman] Lyle Thompson, the best player in the country and the most electric player in the country. That's a team that could certainly be a dark horse. And I think another dark horse is Cornell. I think with [senior midfielder] Connor Buczek and some of the players they have up in Ithaca, I think that's a team that should win the Ivy League and could challenge for a national championship.
Is there a team that stands out as being ranked too low in preseason polls?
Preseason polls are what they are. They're preseason. It's one of those things where if you don't like where you're ranked, you can do something about it. But in terms of being ranked too low, I don't really put a lot of credence in being ranked too low or ranked too high. I will say that Harvard could fall into that category. I think they have a really talented defense, and I like [junior Devin] Dwyer on attack. Cornell is in the top 10, and Harvard is outside of the top 10. One team that I may have suggested as being ranked too low is Lehigh. I like what they returned, but it became public this week that they've got three starters that are suspended indefinitely. So that's going to hurt them. But when the preseason rankings first came out, knowing what I know about Lehigh, I thought their ranking was a little low.
Is there a team that you have questions about?
I think the one team that's in the top 10 that is going to have a ton of question marks is Maryland. They lose [senior defenseman] Goran Murray, which is the latest loss for John Tillman. A first-team All American and then you also look at what they lost in [long-stick midfielder Michael] Ehrhardt and [goalkeeper Niko] Amato, their defense was kind of going to be in flux anyway, and now it's further along with the loss of Goran Murray. [Sophomore] Matt Rambo, the attackman, was suspended, but I've heard reports that he is practicing. If he's back, I think that helps them out on the offensive end. But they lost [attackman] Mike Chanenchuk. He and [sophomore attackman Connor] Cannizzaro last year, in crunch time, they were the guys. Now Chanenchuk's graduated and Cannizzaro transferred to Denver. I think Maryland might be that team that is a little too high.
Is Albany's Lyle Thompson the favorite to retain the Tewaaraton Award that he shared with older brother Miles in June?
I think so. The question in Albany is without [attackmen] Miles and Ty [Thompson], how will Lyle be able to function this year? Last year, teams played a ton of attention to him, but you had to worry about Miles and Ty and they had some really nice middies last year. … When you look at their numbers, Lyle had 128 points and the next closest returner had 26 [junior midfielder John Maloney]. So that's a huge drop-off. So I think he is the best player in the country, but what kind of support will he get to try to replicate last year's effort? And then there's [junior attackman] Matt Kavanagh over at Notre Dame and Kevin Rice at Syracuse and [junior midfielder] Myles Jones at Duke and [senior attackman] Wesley Berg at Denver. Those are individual players out there that may have better support systems in place. Is Lyle Thompson the favorite right now? Yeah, I think he is, but it's a long season, and he's going to need help.