With the start of the 2018 college lacrosse season just a few weeks away, here is the second installment of a series previewing the battles for conference championships in Division I. The leagues are scheduled to appear via alphabetical order. Monday’s visit was with the America East Conference. Today takes a spin through the Atlantic Coast Conference.
Team on top: Duke has not captured a league tournament crown since 2012, but appears poised to end that drought this spring. The team could return as many as seven starters from last year’s squad that advanced to the NCAA tournament quarterfinals before falling to national finalist Ohio State. The Blue Devils will have to fill voids on defense and at the faceoff X after the graduations of defenseman Brian Dunne (23 ground balls and eight caused turnovers) and faceoff specialist Kyle Rowe (59.6 percent on 202 of 339 and 118 ground balls), but the offense should be in capable hands with senior attackman Justin Guterding (51 goals and 46 assists) leading the charge.
Team on the rise: It’s hard to believe that Virginia has gone back-to-back seasons without participating in the postseason and has dropped 16 straight conference games since a 17-12 win over Syracuse on March 1, 2014. But this year’s team could return to the tournament on the strength of an offense that finished last season ranked third in the country at 14.4 goals per game. The question is whether a defense that ranked 65th of 70 units in goals allowed (13.3) can keep opponents off the scoreboard long enough to secure victories.
Team on the decline: Sliding out of the top 10 hardly qualifies as a decline, but Syracuse does have some questions to answer. The first is whether the offense can replace three starters and 48.6 percent of its scoring. The second is whether the defense can find a consistent goalie after the graduation of Evan Molloy (10.05 goals-against average and .495 save percentage). The third is whether the next faceoff specialist can be as productive as Ben Williams (53.9 percent on 181 of 336 and 75 ground balls) was.
Prime-time player: If not for former Syracuse midfielder Sergio Salcido, Guterding might have been named the ACC’s Offensive Player of the Year last season. The second-team All American accounted for 33 percent of Duke’s assists last season and 26 percent of the team’s points. His 97 points were tied for the second most on the school’s single-season list, and he became the fourth player in league history to amass 90 points in a year. With four other returning starters on offense, Guterding figures to rewrite more marks.
Underrated player: Senior John Sexton is the latest representative of Notre Dame’s tradition of strong play from its long poles. The long-stick midfielder scooped up 46 ground balls and caused 23 turnovers last spring en route to being named All-ACC and a first-team All American. He also posted career highs in goals (four) and points (five), which is somewhat eye-opening considering how the Fighting Irish are renowned for grinding their opponents into submission in a defensive struggle.