With the start of the 2018 college lacrosse season just a few weeks away, here is the ninth 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. Wednesday’s visit was with the Northeast Conference. Thursday’s takes a spin through the Patriot League.
Team on top: Winners of three of the past four league tournament championships, Loyola Maryland will be the team to target again this spring. The Greyhounds return three offensive starters and junior midfielder John Duffy, who contributed 13 goals and four assists on the second line. The defense will be headlined by senior defensemen Foster Huggins (36 ground balls, 17 caused turnovers) and Ryder Harkins (11 GB, 11 CT) and junior goalkeeper Jacob Stover (7.74 goals-against average, .547 save percentage). And the team features perhaps the best defensive midfield unit in Division I in senior long-stick midfielder Zac Davliakos (38 GB, 15 CT, 2 G, 3 A) and senior short-stick defensive midfielders Brian Begley (32 GB, 9 CT, 7 G, 1 A) and Jared Mintzlaff (17 GB, 15 CT, 6 G, 3 A).
Team on the rise: Bucknell missed the league tournament for the first time since 2006, but it appears to have the pieces to ensure that absence was an anomaly. The offense could welcome back its top four scorers paced by senior attackmen Will Sands (20 G, 42 A) and Connor O’Hara (32 G, 3 A). The defense graduated only one starting defenseman and will feature junior Christian Klipstein (10.41 goals-against average, .513 save percentage) in the net. Junior Jarret Witzal (54.9 percent on 130-of-237, 69 GB) will be a mainstay on faceoffs.
Team on the decline: Holy Cross’ hopes of repeating last year’s run to its first appearance in the conference tournament semifinals were dealt a severe blow by graduation. The offense bade farewell to its top five scorers, including midfielder Kevin Lux (17 G, 27 A) and attackman Sean Kirkpatrick (31 G, 12 A). The defense could bring back two of three starting defensemen and sophomore goalie Jonathan Tesoro (10.77 goals-against average, .451 save percentage), but the Crusaders face an uphill climb in the race to the league postseason.
Prime-time player: Loyola junior attackman Pat Spencer is the first player to be named Patriot League Offensive Player of the Year in his freshman and sophomore seasons. The Davidsonville resident and Boys’ Latin graduate had 28 goals and 55 assists in 2017 and is only 23 assists short of passing the league’s career record of 142 set by Army’s Tim Pearson (1999-2002). Spencer is already a preseason candidate to be named a Tewaaraton Award finalist for the second year in a row.
Underrated player: Of the four players who led the country last season in caused turnovers per game, only one is coming back, and that’s Craig Chick. The Lehigh junior long-stick midfielder ranked third with 2.9 takeaways per game, and his 40 caused turnovers were a school record. The Edgewater resident and South River graduate also scooped up 58 ground balls to rank second among the Mountain Hawks.