With the start of the 2016 college lacrosse season just a couple of weeks away, here is the ninth and final 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 Patriot League. Tuesday takes a spin through the Southern Conference.
Team on top: Richmond ran the table and won the league's regular-season championship before falling, 9-8, in double overtime to High Point in the tournament final. A return to the title game is not far-fetched for a Spiders team that brings back nine of 10 starters. While bidding farewell to attackman Mickey Hofmeister (28 goals and nine assists), the offense welcomes back seven players with at least 15 points. A defense that surrendered just 7.4 goals per game should be solid again under the direction of junior goalkeeper Benny Pugh (7.42 goals-against average and .590 save percentage).
Team on the rise: After playing the 2015 season as an independent, Air Force joins the Southern Conference as an affiliate member and should make an immediate impact. The program returns seven starters, including four of its top six scorers, led by sophomore attackman and Gilman graduate Chris Walsch (37 G, 18 A). A pair of starting defensemen in senior Alex Warden and sophomore Sean LaVine and senior goalie Doug Gouchoe (8.62 GAA, .528 save percentage) are also back for a defense that gave up just 8.7 goals per game.
Team on the decline: In only its second season in Division I, Furman went 3-3 in the league and qualified for the fourth and final spot in the conference tournament. But the program is missing several key ingredients from that run, including three of its top five scorers in midfielder Kenny Meinsen (26 G, 1 A), attackman Robbie Betchley III (19 G, 4 A) and midfielder Clay Adams (8 G, 5 A). Those absences would not appear to bode well for a Paladins offense that mustered just 7.2 goals per game.
Prime-time player: After leading the Atlantic Sun Conference in goals with 42 as a sophomore in 2014, High Point's Dan Lomas did the same last spring in the Southern Conference, scoring 43 to break his own school record. The senior, who also added four assists and was tied for 10th in the country in man-up goals with nine, was selected as the league's Offensive Player of the Year. Lomas, who took a team-high 122 shots, was chosen Friday in the fifth round with the 38th overall pick of the Major League Lacrosse draft by the Ohio Machine.
Underrated player: Furman's success was punctuated by goalkeeper Reilly McDermott. He finished his rookie year anked second in the conference in both goals-against average (8.42) and save percentage (.586) and third in saves per game (11.3). Not surprisingly, McDermott — who also gave up eight goals or less in eight of his 12 starts — was named the league's Freshman of the Year. Now a sophomore, McDermott will be relied on to help the Paladins defense lower its 2015 average of 9.2 goals per game and give the offense time to develop.