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As parity in college lacrosse increases, so does number of early-season upsets

Chase Wittich didn't just have a feeling that his Colgate men's lacrosse team would surprise No. 14 Bryant on Saturday. The Gilman graduate knew.

"I don't think we were nervous," said the freshman attackman, who had a goal in the Raiders' 9-5 victory over the reigning Northeast Conference champion Bulldogs. "I felt like our whole team was prepared, and we went into that game thinking we were going to win."

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Colgate's win wasn't the only stunning result of the sport's opening weekend. Marquette edged No. 16 Lehigh, 10-9. The Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference's Detroit Mercy nipped Ohio State, 9-8. Richmond, which started Division I play last season, knocked off Saint Joseph's, 9-5. Third-year program High Point gave No. 3 and reigning NCAA champion Duke all it could handle before falling short in a 16-13 loss.

And on Tuesday, Towson defeated No. 6 Johns Hopkins, 7-5, for the first time since 1996.

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But don't call them upsets, Raiders coach Mike Murphy said.

"It's tough to call them upsets, especially early in the season, because nobody knows exactly who is who," he said. "There are preseason polls, and they're based on what teams did last year, and you just don't know."

Still, the frequency of these kinds of losses — unranked teams toppling ranked opponents, young programs disposing of venerable ones — is being cited as a sign of the sport's growing competitive balance.

"In the world of lacrosse, I just think there's so much parity right now," said Maryland coach John Tillman, whose No. 10 Terps open their season Saturday at unranked Navy. "I think if you talk to coaches, the ranking thing is not something that most coaches talk about. They kind of look at their team and look at what do we do well, what can we improve on, what is our health, those types of things. Even going into Saturday's game, I don't know who you'd favor. We haven't done anything yet, and they've destroyed another team [beating Virginia Military Institute, 21-7]. I don't look at it like we're the favorite. If anything, I kind of look at them and say maybe we should be the underdog. We're on the road, they've proven something already, we haven't proven anything, and obviously, there are a lot of question marks with this team right now."

CBS Sports Network lacrosse analyst Evan Washburn said one reason for the spate of upsets is the quality of available players. While areas such as Florida, Texas, Indiana and California are emerging as fertile areas for recruits, the number of scholarships at top programs remains limited.

"There are so many more talented players coming out of high school and not enough spots on what are considered the upper-echelon schools," he said. "So they end up at places like Richmond or Marquette or Detroit Mercy. Credit these coaches for going out and finding some players in unconventional areas and situations."

In 2010, an underrecruited player out of Oregon named Peter Baum joined Colgate. In 2012, he won the Tewaaraton Award, given to the best player in the country.

Detroit Mercy coach Chris Kolon said sophomore goalkeeper Jason Weber, the MAAC's Defensive Player and Rookie of the Year, got a few scholarship offers that "weren't significant."

Marquette redshirt junior defenseman B.J. Grill, the only unanimous first-team All-Big East Conference defensive selection last spring, had no offers until his first phone conversation with Golden Eagles coach Joe Amplo. Despite not even knowing that Marquette was located in Milwaukee, Grill committed.

"He's a 5-foot-6, 140-pound defenseman who turned out to be a really good Division I player," Amplo said. "So early on, it was that our guys were overlooked. But now it's not. We're in it with some of the great schools in recruiting battles."

With more full-time coaches, improved athletic facilities and the promise of more playing time, the have-nots appear to be narrowing the gap with the haves. But with just two first-time national champions since 1993 (Duke in 2010 and Loyola Maryland in 2012), Kolon preached caution.

"I don't know if the gap is closing," he said. "I just think there's a lot more good kids playing. You can get into the whole early-recruiting situation, but there's a billion different angles. I don't think we at Detroit would be ready to take on a Hopkins or a Virginia consistently."

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Washburn, the CBS analyst, agreed and said upsets are more likely as the sport opens its season in early February.

"I think you would see less of these results in these same teams were to match up in April," he said. "I just think that there is some wackiness that's going to happen here, especially as we continue to start earlier and earlier."

As long as there are preseason polls, early-season upsets will continue. But Amplo said he thinks there will come a time when they are no longer so surprising.

"I think you'll see that more and more," he said. "If we're not there yet, we're very, very close to the media and the lacrosse public realizing that there's a lot of good teams out there that can beat anybody on any given day."

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