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Northeast Conference men’s lacrosse outlook for 2018

After sitting out the 2017 season because of a serious right knee injury, attackman Mike Rastivo is back for his final year of eligibility to help Saint Joseph's return to the top of the Northeast Conference standings in 2018.
After sitting out the 2017 season because of a serious right knee injury, attackman Mike Rastivo is back for his final year of eligibility to help Saint Joseph's return to the top of the Northeast Conference standings in 2018. (Saint Joseph's Athletics)

With the start of the 2018 college lacrosse season just a couple 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 in alphabetical order. Tuesday’s visit was with the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Wednesday’s is a spin through the Northeast Conference.

Team on top: Bryant’s march to its fifth league championship in the past six seasons might be difficult to repeat this spring. The team graduated five starters from last year’s squad that did not go away easily against eventual national champion Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament. The biggest loss will be attackman Tucker James (43 goals, 27 assists). But the Bulldogs return a number of contributors on defense, including senior goalkeeper James Werner (7.85 goals-against average, .552 save percentage) and senior defensemen Chas South (52 ground balls, 22 caused turnovers) and Anthony Johnson (37 GB, 21 CT).

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Team on the rise: Saint Joseph’s run of three consecutive conference titles in the regular season ended last season with a fifth-place showing and a non-appearance in the tournament. But the Hawks welcome back attackman Mike Rastivo, who sat out the 2017 season after tearing the ACL and meniscus in his right knee during a workout in the fall. Rastivo, the league’s Offensive Player of the Year in 2015 and 2016, will lead an offense that returns four of its top five scorers. If the defense can build around senior defenseman Brendan McNicholas (16 GB, 8 CT), the program could find itself in a familiar setting.

Team on the decline: Hobart has qualified for the NEC tournament every year since joining in 2014, including finishing first in the 2017 regular season. But the Statesmen will not have four of their top eight scorers, including league Player of the Year Frank Brown (32 G, 18 A) and midfielder Max Romm (24 G, 4 A). Add a defense that graduated three of four starters with the biggest hole opening up in the cage after the departure of goalie Jackson Brown (10.84 goals-against, .521 save percentage), and the program will have to accelerate its learning curve to keep pace in the conference.

Prime-time player: Rastivo has a chance to further burnish his legacy at Saint Joseph’s. In a mere three seasons, the graduate student is tied for fourth on the program’s all-time list in goals (105) and ranked seventh in points (153), ninth in shots (273) and 10th in assists (48). With teammates such as senior attackmen Chris Blewitt (27 G, 18 A) and Jason Kelly (23 G, 6 A) in the fold, Rastivo’s numbers could spike in 2018.

Underrated player: Werner returns as one of the top goalkeepers in Division I. He finished last season as one of only four players to rank in the top five in goals-against average and top 10 in save percentage. The others were Richmond’s Benny Pugh, Monmouth’s Nick Hreshko and Marist’s Brian Corrigan. Werner is the latest to continue a strong goalie tradition recently headlined by Jameson Love and Gunnar Waldt.

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