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Baltimore, MD - 06/17/15 - Johns Hopkins women's lacrosse coach Janine Tucker poses for a photo at Homewood Field.
Baltimore, MD - 06/17/15 - Johns Hopkins women's lacrosse coach Janine Tucker poses for a photo at Homewood Field. (Tom Brenner / Baltimore Sun)

Projected NCAA seeds

1. MARYLAND

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Big Ten

Last season: 21-1, NCAA champion

Coach: Cathy Reese (10th season, 183-18; 12th season overall, 214-47)

Top returning scorer: Taylor Cummings, senior M (63 goals, 37 assists)

Other key returnees

Megan Whittle, sophomore A (67, 5)

Zoe Stukenberg, junior M (38, 22)

Alice Mercer, senior D

Top newcomers

Caroline Steele, freshman M

Jen Giles, freshman M

Outlook: The Terps return just five starters from the team that won its second straight national championship, but one of them is two-time Tewaaraton Award winner Cummings. The three-time first-team All-American not only dominates on attack but also on defense and on the draw, winning 143 last spring. The Terps return considerable offense, especially from Cummings, Whittle and Stukenberg. However, their defense will be new except for second-team All-American Mercer and junior Nadine Hadnagy. There's also a battle going on between junior Emily Kift and freshman Megan Taylor for the starting spot in the goal. Merging so many new starters into the lineup, Reese said she's eager for her players to get on the field against someone other than their teammates to see how well they've reloaded. The Terps, who aim to win their first Big Ten championship, open Feb. 13 in College Park against William & Mary and begin Big Ten play at home March 31 against Northwestern.

2. NORTH CAROLINA

Atlantic Coast Conference

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Last season: 18-4, NCAA finalist

Coach: Jenny Levy (21st season, 275-104)

Top returning scorer: Aly Messinger, senior A (42, 18)

Other key returnees

Maggie Bill, junior M (32, 17)

Caylee Waters, junior G

Sydney Holman, junior A (21, 23)

Top newcomers

Olivia Ferrucci, freshman M

Caroline Wakefield, freshman D

Outlook: The Tar Heels, who fell to Maryland, 9-8, in last year's national championship, have nine Inside Lacrosse Preseason All-Americans and add the No. 1 recruiting class in the country. Many of those youngsters might have to wait a while for their turns, except on defense where North Carolina lost all three starters. Still, the defensive turnover won't hurt as much with the return of Waters, last year's National Goalie of the Year. She ranked fifth in Division I in save percentage (.496) and 12th in goals-against average (7.84). The Tar Heels have been injury riddled over the past two seasons since winning their first national championship over Maryland in triple overtime in 2013. If they can stay healthy, they could give Maryland its toughest challenge of the spring. The Tar Heels open their season at James Madison on Saturday.

3. SYRACUSE

ACC

Last season: 16-8, NCAA semifinalist

Coach: Gary Gait (ninth season,131-42)

Top returning scorers: Kayla Treanor, senior A (60, 31), Halle Majorana, senior A (55, 36)

Other key starters

Riley Donahue, sophomore A (28, 15)

Mallory Vehar, senior D

Top newcomer

Nicole Levy, freshman A

Outlook: Despite falling to Maryland, 10-8, in the NCAA semifinals, the Orange had a remarkable run through the ACC tournament, avenging three regular-season losses and winning their first ACC title over North Carolina, 9-8, in double overtime. They return 10 starters, including two-time Tewaaraton Award finalist and National Attacker of the Year Treanor, and All-American Majorana, who made a major impact after transferring from Maryland. Syracuse also returns three of its next four top scorers. The biggest hole to fill will be in goal where the Orange graduated Kelsey Richardson, but they add former Notre Dame keeper Allie Murray, a graduate student who didn't play her senior year in South Bend but had a career .450 save percentage over three years. The Orange opens with Loyola at the Carrier Dome on Feb. 14.

4. NORTHWESTERN

Big Ten

Last season: 14-7, NCAA quarterfinalist

Coach: Kelly Amonte Hiller (15th season, 243-47)

Top returning scorer: Selena Lasota, sophomore M (69, 9)

Other key starters

Kaleigh Craig, senior M (46, 6)

Sheila Nesselbush, junior M (27, 6)

Shelby Fredericks, sophomore A/M (15, 11)

Top newcomer

Danita Stroup, junior A (LIU Brooklyn)

Outlook: The Wildcats' 10-year run to the final four ended last season when Maryland stopped them in the NCAA quarterfinals. Last season's team was one of Amonte Hiller's youngest and despite a breakout season for Big Ten Freshman of the Year Lasota, Northwestern struggled against some of the nation's other top teams. This season, those youngsters have matured. Northwestern returns six of its top seven scorers and adds Stroup. The transfer from LIU Brooklyn made the Northeast Conference All-Rookie team in 2014 and joined Lasota over the summer on Canada's world champion Under-19 team. Nesselbush and Fredericks combined to win 138 draws last season. The Wildcats will have a newcomer in the goal after graduating All-American Bridget Bianco. They open at Duke on Sunday and will play at Maryland on March 31.

Others in Maryland

JOHNS HOPKINS

Independent

Last season: 14-4, NCAA first round

Coach: Janine Tucker (23rd season, 249-129)

Top returning scorer: Dene' DiMartino, senior M (40, 12)

Other key returnees

Haley Schweizer, junior M (28, 4)

Caroline Federico, junior G

Emily Kenul, sophomore M/A (25, 19)

Key newcomers

Miranda Ibello, freshman M

Morgayne Rix, freshman D

Outlook: With one year left before they move into the Big Ten conference, the Blue Jays are aiming for a second straight NCAA tournament appearance. They fell to Big Ten champion Penn State, 14-11, in last year's first round after coming off a regular-season finale upset of then-No. 4 Duke. Tucker returns all but three starters from the team that won came within one of the school record for wins in a season. The Blue Jays return nearly 200 goals on a balanced attack led by third-team All-American DiMartino. Perhaps the biggest hole the Blue Jays have to fill is on defense with the loss of Octavia Williams, but they have three strong veterans in Nevi Fernandez, Kirsti Paavola and Josie George. Federico started eight times as a freshman and has played in 27 games, so she has the experience to step in full time. Defense kept Hopkins in many games last season, allowing just 7.44 goals per game, the No. 8 scoring defense in Division I. While they're focused on getting to the postseason as an independent this year, the Blue Jays have added the Big Ten's Penn State and Ohio State to Maryland and Rutgers, which they played last year. They open Feb. 13 at home against Marquette.

LOYOLA MARYLAND

Patriot League

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Last season: 17-5, NCAA quarterfinalist

Coach: Jen Adams (eighth season, 96-42)

Top returning scorer: Maddy Blakeman, senior M (17 goals)

Other key returnees

Molly Wolf, senior G

Maddy Lesher, senior D

Bailey Mathis, junior D (three goals)

Top newcomers

Hannah Powers, freshman A

Kristen Yanchoris, freshman D

Outlook: In their first two seasons in the Patriot League, the Greyhounds have not lost a game. They won both league tournaments, giving them four conference titles in five years with their 2011 and 2012 Big East tournament championships. To say the Greyhounds have some rebuilding to do would be an understatement. Graduating their top six scorers, including all four starting attackers, they lost 88 percent of their scoring and 93 percent of their assists. Adams, however, prefers to consider this a reloading year. Four years ago, she was in the same position and turned that team into Big East champions. The Greyhounds, who have been known for their late-season upsets the past few years, had a 16-game winning streak going before losing in last year's NCAA quarterfinals to the Orange, who they had beaten two weeks earlier. Adams will have to rebuild her offense, but has a solid foundation on defense, especially in Lesher, the two-time Patriot League Defensive Player of the Year, and Wolf, who was second in Division I last season in save percentage at .517. Their first game is Saturday at Florida.

MOUNT ST. MARY'S

Northeast Conference

Last season: 6-11

Coach: Lauren Schwarzmann (second season)

Top returning scorer: Nicole Lantuh, sophomore A (27, 14)

Other key returnees

Steph Rurkowski, senior G

Marley Heller, sophomore M (20, 3)

Sammie Knapp, junior M (25, 6)

Top newcomer

Jillian Petito, freshman G

Outlook: The Mountaineers are aiming for their 17th trip to the NEC tournament in 19 years. They finished 5-2 in the NEC last spring, including a regular-season-ending upset of eventual champion Bryant, before they fell to Wagner in the tournament semifinal. With all but two starters back, the Mountaineers are well schooled in Schwarzmann's system and ready to pick up where they left off last season. They won five of their last seven games. Schwarzmann — assisted by her sister, Katie, a two-time Tewaaraton Award winner at Maryland, and former Duke All-American Kerrin Mauer — plans to pick up the pace on offense this season. The Mountaineers scored 50 percent more goals than they did in 2014 and return five of their top six scorers. The defense returns intact and Rurkowski, who played every minute last season, will be challenged for the starting job by Stephen Decatur graduate Petito, one of the top high school goalies in Maryland last year. The Mountaineers open their season Feb. 20 at home against Bucknell.

NAVY

Patriot League

Last season: 15-5

Coach: Cindy Timchal (ninth season, 124-32; 34th season overall, 460-118)

Top returning scorer: Katie Gallagher, senior A (38, 23)

Other key returnees

Jenna Collins, sophomore M (25, 10)

Julia Collins, sophomore M (27,7)

Lizzy Rullan, senior D

Top newcomers

Marie Valenti, freshman M

Gabbi Labuskes, freshman A

Outlook: The Mids graduated seven seniors including Loren Generi, the program's all-time leader in goals (217) and draw controls (493). While they have to make up for Generi's 86 points last season, they return their next four top scorers — Gallagher, the Collins twins and Morgan Young (30, 7) — and 59 percent of their goals. While the attack might have a different dynamic this season with the scoring spread more evenly, they have plenty of weapons to remain in the hunt for the Patriot League championship after finishing second to Loyola the past two seasons. Navy also has a big hole to fill in the goal where sophomore Ingrid Boyum takes over. Timchal said Boyum was the heir apparent to three-year starter Annie Foky last season and had more preparation by playing in 2014 fall ball while Foky recovered from surgery. In the midfield, the Mids have more depth and Timchal could run two lines. Jenna Collins will take over on the draw, but several other players can handle it as well. If the Mids have consistent performances across the deck, they should be back in the hunt for the Patriot League championship. They opened Friday at Virginia Tech.

TOWSON

Colonial Athletic Association

Last season: 9-9

Coach: Sonia LaMonica (sixth season, 57-36; seventh season overall, 65-45)

Top returning scorer: Samantha Brookhart, junior M (11, 19)

Other key returnees

Breanna Hamm, senior M

Emily Roth, senior D

Emily Gillingham, sophomore M

Key newcomers

Tianna Wallpher, sophomore D (UMBC)

Carly Tellekamp, freshman A

Outlook: Last year was the first in LaMonica's tenure that the Tigers did not finish above .500, but that's a bit deceptive. Towson came with a goal of No. 2 North Carolina early in the season and later, they came within a goal of Johns Hopkins. LaMonica has taken the Tigers to the CAA final all five years with the program. Last season, they avenged a regular-season loss to Hofstra in the semifinals before falling to James Madison in the title game. The Tigers, who lost three longtime starters, retain their balanced attack. Hamm moves from defense to midfield and will add to an offense that has to make up for graduated leading scorer Andi Raymond, who provided more than double the points of any of her teammates. On defense, the Tigers lost Michelle Dufault and goalie Kelsea Donnelly. Adding Wallpher and returning Nadia Podo from a knee injury that sidelined her all of last season might give the Tigers an even stronger line defense while senior Tayler Bowman and freshman Angie Benson battle for the starting spot in goal. Towson opens its season at home against Monmouth on Feb. 10.

UMBC

America East Conference

Last season: 8-9

Coach: Amy Slade (fourth season, 23-26)

Top returning scorer: Sam Nolan, junior A (22, 16)

Other key returnees

Caitlin Miller, sophomore M (7, 4)

Carolyn Jamison, sophomore A (22, 8)

Jennie Milligan, junior M (23, 9)

Key newcomer

Brittany Levine, freshman M

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Outlook: Despite a tumultuous season in which four players were dismissed from the team for making threats on a group chat against younger players, the Retrievers still qualified for the America East tournament for the first time in three years. They finished fourth during the regular season behind nationally ranked Stony Brook and Albany, and Vermont. With nine starters returning, including several young players who appear poised for breakout seasons, Slade said she likes the attitude and potential. The Retrievers return four of their top five scorers, including Nolan, one of two players to lead the team last season. Nolan, who led the team in assists, and Jamison scored 22 goals each. Miller contributed all over the field and tied a UMBC single-season record with 78 draw controls. The Retrievers lost a key defender in Tianna Wallpher, an America East All-Rookie team selection who transferred to Towson, but Slade said her defense is emerging as a balanced unit. There's also a furious competition for the starting spot in goal among returning starter Kelsey Major, junior transfer Ashley Peacock (Louisville) and freshman Carly Tolino. Slade said all three could see time. The Retrievers open the season Feb. 17 at Towson.

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