Singling out someone as the top player in any sport is never easy, and I certainly don't envy the task that awaits the Tewaaraton Foundation, which must choose from Loyola Maryland senior defenseman Joe Fletcher, Princeton senior midfielder Tom Schreiber, Albany junior attackman Lyle Thompson, Albany senior attackman Miles Thompson and Duke senior attackman Jordan Wolf as the winner of college lacrosse's version of the Heisman Trophy.
But, as with any honor of this nature, there is bound to be some second-guessing. Here are some candidates (in alphabetical order) who could have had an argument for inclusion in the group of finalists.
* Niko Amato, Maryland. The senior became the first goalkeeper in the history of the Atlantic Coast Conference to be named to the All-ACC team four times. He has recorded 601 career saves, becoming only the third goalie in program history to register 600 stops. Amato is one of just three goalkeepers in the NCAA tournament field who ranks in the top 10 in both goals-against average (fourth at 7.19) and save percentage (sixth at .577).
* Kevin Rice, Syracuse. With 76 points in 2014, the junior attackman became the first Orange player to exceed the 70-point mark in a season since Kenny Nims had 74 points in 2009. He set ACC tournament records for assists (11) and points (15) in April, shattering marks previously held by Virginia’s Nick O’Reilly (nine assists in 2013) and O’Reilly and North Carolina’s Mark Phillips (12 points in 2013 and 1996, respectively). Rice ranks fourth in the country in assists with 43 and is tied for sixth with 76 points.
* Justin Ward, Loyola. With 53 assists in 2014, the senior attackman has already surpassed Bucknell’s David Dickson as the Patriot League’s single-season leader in helpers. He has already set a new Division I record in assists in a career among the Greyhounds with 120. Ward ranks second in the nation in assists and eighth in points with 69.
Schreiber is considered the game’s best midfielder, but his candidacy loses a good amount of steam because he and the Tigers are not in the NCAA tournament.
And as CBS Sports Network analyst Evan Washburn pointed out, will Lyle Thompson’s inevitable NCAA single-season record for points get overshadowed if the Great Danes fall to third-seeded Loyola in Saturday’s first-round game and Wolf goes on an offensive display as the Blue Devils march deep into the postseason?
That looms as an intriguing dilemma for the Tewaaraton Foundation.