Outlook: The Terps have high hopes to repeat as national champions and why not? They return 10 starters including Cummings, last year's Tewaaraton Award winner, who can dominate the draw and control play anywhere on the field. The Terps return 87 percent of their offense and plenty of depth on an attack led by Cummings and All-American Griffin. If that weren't enough to make the Terps preseason favorites, they bring back their entire field defense and three capable goalies vying for the starting spot. The defense, led by National Defender of the Year Douty, Alice Mercer and Shanna Brady, gave up an average of just 7.96 goals per game and allowed just three opponents more than 10 goals. While the landscape has changed for the Terps, now in the new Big Ten Conference, they retain a couple of their Atlantic Coast rivals, including a rematch of last season's national championship game with Syracuse on March 7 in College Park. The Terps also host North Carolina on Feb. 21 and a newcomer to their schedule, Florida, on March 14, before opening their Big Ten schedule at Northwestern on March 26.
Outlook: The Tar Heels celebrate the 20th year of their program with a strong returning cast, although half a dozen of them missed all or part of the season with injuries. With so many veterans injured, a lot of youngsters had unexpected chances to play and the combination of their experience with the return of the older players makes North Carolina a team to watch out for. The Tar Heels have the talent to make a run at winning their second national title in three years. Last season, the injuries started with North Carroll graduate Coppa tearing an ACL in an exhibition game and it was dominoes from there. Nonetheless, the Tar Heels were the only team to beat national champion Maryland last year and they lost their five games by a total of nine goals. Getting an early jump on the season, the Tar Heels have already beaten James Madison, 13-9, and will learn a lot about how far they've come back when they head to Florida Saturday.
No. 3 SYRACUSE
Atlantic Coast Conference
Last season: 21-3, NCAA finalist
Coach: Gary Gait (ninth season, 115-34)
Top returning scorer: Kayla Treanor, junior M (79, 38)
Other key returnees
Kailah Kempney, senior A (24, 12)
Maddy Huegel, junior D
Mallory Vehar, senior D
Halle Majorana, junior A (Maryland)
Kathy Rudkin, freshman D
Outlook: The Orange, which won a school-record 21 games last season, had one of the biggest turnovers in Division I, losing eight key players to graduation, including two-time Tewaaraton Award finalist Alyssa Murray. But Gait likes to use a lot of players, so the Orange returns a host of veterans led by Tewaaraton finalist Treanor, a do-it-all midfielder. Syracuse always has one of the toughest schedules in the country and it's no different this year. They play eight of the other Top 10 teams in the Inside Lacrosse preseason media poll. That includes Maryland, which dealt the Orange all three of its losses last spring, including 15-12 in the national championship game. Gait is trying something new to open the season Saturday: two games in one day at the Carrier Dome, with No. 18 Denver at noon and Canisius at 7:30. After another two-game day at the Dome on Feb. 15, the Orange hosts No. 5 Virginia on Feb. 23 in their ACC opener.
Top returning scorer: Shannon Gilroy, senior M (86, 20)
Other key returnees
Nora Barry, senior M (30, 10)
Caroline Fitzgerald, sophomore D
Mary Sean Wilcox, junior G
Shayna Pirreca, freshman A
Allie Pavinelli, freshman M
Outlook: A young Gators team came within one goal of the final four last season, losing to Northwestern 12-11 in overtime in the NCAA quarterfinals. With almost everybody back, including Gilroy, who led the nation in goals last season, the Gators will make another run at the national championship, having reached at least the quarterfinals four straight times. The regular-season landscape, however, will be different with the move to the Big East. The Gators won four straight championships in the challenging American Lacrosse Conference, but with the conference dissolved, they no longer play Northwestern, Johns Hopkins or Penn State, retaining only Vanderbilt, which also moves to the Big East. As usual Florida, which averaged 15 goals last season, has a lot of finishers. Barry has 12 career game-winners and McDonogh graduate Sammi Burgess had 38 goals last season. The Gators are favored to win the Big East.
Others teams from Maryland:
Last season: 15-5, NCAA first round
Coach: Janine Tucker (22nd season, 235-125)
Top returning scorer: Dene' DiMartino, junior, M (49, 7)
Other key returnees
Haley Schweizer, sophomore, M (5, 0)
Octavia Williams, senior D
Caroline Federico, sophomore G
KC Emerson, senior G
Emily Kenulk freshman M-A
Emily Verica, freshman D
Outlook: With the dissolution of the American Lacrosse Conference, the Blue Jays have an independent schedule that isn't quite as strong as in recent years, although they still play Loyola Maryland and have added Maryland, Duke and Boston College. To Tucker, being independent keeps players from relying on the possibility of a tournament-championship safety net to make it to the NCAA tournament and it makes each game equally important. The Hopkins offense will have a new look this season, "success by committee," Tucker said, after graduating All American Taylor D'Amore, the ALC Offensive Player of the Year, and Sammy Cermack, who contributed 37 percent of last year's goals and 47 percent of the points. With 12 freshmen, the Blue Jays have lots of new options. Defensively, they allowed just 7.4 goals per game and three veterans should help keep them just as strong — Williams along with Federico and Emerson, who are battling for the starting job in goal for a second straight year.
Last season: 15-6, NCAA second round
Coach: Jen Adams (seventh season, 79-37)
Top returning scorer: Annie Thomas, senior A (40, 39)
Other key returnees
Maddy Lesher, junior D
Taryn VanThof, redshirt senior M (31, 9)
Hannah Schmitt, senior A (39, 10)
Frankie Kamely, freshman A
Hannah Savage, freshman, M
Outlook: The Greyhounds have won their conference title three of the past four seasons and have been to the NCAA tournament four straight years. After two straight losses in the second round, they're looking to break through to the NCAA quarterfinals. As Adams said, getting to the tournament isn't enough anymore. The Greyhounds have a good shot at earning another automatic bid to the NCAA tournament as heavy favorites to repeat as Patriot League champs after sweeping the conference in their first season as members. Despite graduating midfield leader Marlee Paton, Loyola returns a strong core of veterans, many of whom have played together for four years, and has plenty of depth up and down the field. Last season, the Greyhounds beat Virginia, lost to Florida by a goal and pushed Syracuse to overtime before falling, but a team that averaged 12.7 goals managed just three in an 8-3 loss to Boston College in the NCAA second round. If the Greyhounds get to the NCAA tournament, which they should, Adams will be looking for the big performances they haven't gotten the past two seasons.
MOUNT ST. MARY'S
Last season: 3-13
Coach: Lauren Schwarzmann (first season)
Top returning scorer: Erin Seipp, senior A (17, 6)
Other key returnees
Melissa Cox, junior D
Steph Rurkowski, sophomore G
Sammie Knapp, sophomore M
Nicole Lantuh, freshman A
Emily Dees, freshman D
Outlook: Last spring, the Mountaineers missed the Northeast Conference tournament for the first time in 12 years and to recover, they must boost goal production. They scored just 100 goals last season, an average of 6.25, which ranked them last in the conference by more than three goals per game. In her first season, Schwarzmann, a high-scoring midfielder at Century and Johns Hopkins who has been an assistant coach at Cincinnati, San Diego State and Stanford, has made it a priority to boost the scoring, by working to improve stickwork and shooting along with instilling a motion offense. The Mountaineers had a strong enough defense to rank third in the conference in goals allowed but with the offensive struggles, they allowed 5.4 more goals per game than they scored. They return the heart of the defense in Cox and Rurkowski and the addition of Dees, a John Carroll graduate, should fill the only hole left by graduation.
Top returning scorer: Loren Generi, senior A (46, 34)
Other key returnees
Annie Foky, senior G
Katie Gallagher, junior A (22, 19)
Lindsay Rheiner, senior, M
Jenna Collins, freshman, M
Julia Collins, freshman, M
Outlook: The Midshipmen return a solid core of seniors as well as some tested youth from a team that lost three games by a total of seven goals. Two of the losses, including one in the Patriot League semifinals, were one-goal setbacks against Boston University. The third was an 11-6 loss to Loyola. In fall ball, the Mids tuned up for a tougher schedule that now includes Top 10 programs Duke and Virginia by going against defending national champion Maryland, runner-up Syracuse and the U.S. national team. While All-Patriot League attacker Generi leads the offense, Navy has a lot of scoring options. The defense will get a boost from the return of 2013 conference Defender of the Year Foky, who had a 4.97 goals-against average before suffering a torn ACL 11 games into last season.
Colonial Athletic Association
Last season: 11-8, NCAA first round
Coach: Sonia LaMonica (fifth season, 48-28; sixth season overall, 56-37)
Top returning scorer: Andi Raymond, R-Sr., A (50, 26)
Other key returnees
Breanna Hamm, junior M (11 goals)
Kelsea Donnelly, senior G
Gabby Cha, sophomore A (22, 14)
Kaitlyn Montalbano, freshman, M
Erika Cavalllo, freshman A
Outlook: Last season, the Tigers became the first CAA team to win the conference title and move on to the NCAA tournament three straight years. They've reached NCAAs six of the past seven years but have never gotten past the first round. They lost by two goals to Stony Brook each of the past two years. Getting deeper into the tournament is a priority for this group after graduating just four players. All were key starters, but they return the CAA's top scorer and Co-Player of the Year Raymond, top goalie Donnelly and Rookie of the Year Cha. LaMonica said she believes the Tigers have an even better group of attackers around Raymond than they did last season and they could add to their 10.47 scoring average. Donnelly allowed just 9.39 goals per game and defenders Michelle Default and Nadia Podo also return. LaMonica said the secret to getting further into the NCAAs is mindset and she expects the intensity she sees now to carry over come tournament time.
America East Conference
Last season: 7-9
Coaches: Amy (Appelt) Slade, Tony Giro (third season, 15-17)
Top returning scorer: Abby Wilson, senior A (21, 12)
Outlook: The Retrievers struggled in the midfield last season, disrupting the connection between a stingy defense and a capable attack. They allowed just 9.31 goals per game, but the midfield couldn't sustain the transition necessary to turn defensive stops into goals. Injuries were partly to blame and Slade said she and Giro now have a deep enough group to run two midfields and bring the Retrievers back to their fast-breaking ways. They have experience — seven starters return — and they add 10 freshmen, many of whom will see playing time, including Wallpher, an All-Metro defender at Mount Hebron last season, and Miller, a Tuscarora graduate. Miller, whom Slade called "spectacular," adds a spark to the midfield, not just in transition but on the draw, another weakness last spring. The Retrievers controlled just 45 percent of the draws and boosting that number could also increase their scoring. Picked to finish fifth in the America East after going 1-4 last season, UMBC could easily improve on that if it can maintain its defense and add flow to the midfield.