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Premature men’s lacrosse rankings for 2019, Part 4

Here is the fourth installment of a very premature attempt to compile preseason rankings for next year.

The top 20 was broken up into four installments with Friday’s post involving teams ranked from Nos. 5 to 1. Tuesday featured teams ranked from Nos. 20 to 16, Wednesday highlighted teams ranked from Nos. 15 to 11, and Thursday centered on teams ranked Nos. 10 to 6.

Unless there are confirmed reports about certain players planning to use fifth years of eligibility, this space will assume that seniors in 2018 will not return next season. Unannounced fifth-year seniors and potential transfers will affect the rankings that come out next February, but here’s a spin anyway.

5. Penn State

(2018 record: 8-6; NCAA tournament finish: no tournament)

Losses: One starter in midfielder Ryan Keenan (21 goals and 10 assists).

Returns: Nine starters, including the entire attack of sophomore Mac O’Keefe (35 G, 11 A), junior Nick Spillane (19 G, 26 A) and redshirt sophomore Dylan Foulds (21 G, 11 A).

Reason for pessimism: Can the program get over the mental hurdle of qualifying for only its second NCAA tournament since 2013?

Reason for optimism: An offense that averaged 12.6 goals per game could be even more potent if junior attackman Grant Ament (30 G, 30 A in 2017) can fully recover from an unspecified injury that sidelined him for the entire 2018 season.

4. Duke

(16-4; finals)

Losses: Four starters, including attackman and Tewaaraton Award finalist Justin Guterding (66 G, 47 A) and midfielder Peter Conley (28 G, 10 A).

Returns: Six starters, including a deep midfield composed of juniors Brad Smith (29 G, 36 A) and Sean Lowrie (19 G, 6 A), sophomores Reilly Walsh (16 G, 3 A) and Kevin Quigley (12 G, 2 A) and freshman Nakeie Montgomery (14 G, 2 A).

Reason for pessimism: Graduation took a toll on a defense that allowed only 8.7 goals per game and lost goalkeeper Danny Fowler (8.64 goals-against average and .532 save percentage), defenseman Kevin McDonough (36 GB, 15 CT), long-stick midfielders Peter Welch (45 GB, 22 CT) and Greg Pelton (56 GB, 12 CT) and short-stick defensive midfielder Sean Cerrone (15 GB, 13 CT).

Reason for optimism: An offense that scored 13.6 goals per game should get plenty of chances again thanks to the faceoff duo of sophomore Brian Smyth (51.5 percent on 156 of 303, 82 GB, 6 G, 5 A) and freshman Joe Stein (56.0 percent on 98 of 175, 39 GB).

3. Yale

(17-3; NCAA champion)

Losses: Three starters in attackman and Tewaaraton Award winner Ben Reeves (62 G, 53 A) and defensemen Christopher Keating (59 ground balls, 25 caused turnovers) and Jerry O’Connor (23 GB, 22 CT).

Returns: Seven starters, including the entire midfield of juniors Jack Tigh (35 G, 14 A), Joseph Sessa (19 G, 6 A) and John Daniggelis (15 G, 6 A).

Reason for pessimism: In addition to graduating short-stick defensive midfielders Tyler Warner (48 GB, 16 CT, 3 G, 1 A) and Jason Alessi (24 GB, 3 CT, 6 G, 7 A), the unit may be pressed into defending more possessions after bidding farewell to faceoff specialist Conor Mackie (62.5 percent on 290 of 464, 191 GB, 3 G).

Reason for optimism: The void created by Reeves’ departure may be filled by sophomore Jackson Morrill (40 G, 32 A), who will be complemented by sophomore Matt Gaudet (41 G, 7 A).

2. Denver

(13-4; quarterfinals)

Losses: Two starters in attackman Colton McCaffrey (13 G, 10 A) and midfielder Joe Reid (15 G, 3 A).

Returns: Eight starters, including the entire close defense of juniors Dylan Gaines (36 GB, 22 CT) and Dylan Johnson (25 GB, 17) and sophomore Colin Squires (19 GB, 6 CT) and junior goalie Alex Ready (8.33 GAA, .503 save percentage).

Reason for pessimism: Draws will be a concern after the graduation of faceoff specialist and two-time Tewaaraton Award finalist Trevor Baptiste (74.4 percent on 279 of 375, 163 GB, 8 G, 2 A).

Reason for optimism: The expected return of sophomore attackman Ethan Walker (48 G, 22 A), junior attackman Austin French (29 G, 31 A) and junior midfielder Colton Jackson (22 G, 12 A) should continue to fuel an offense that averaged 11.4 goals.

1. Virginia

(12-6; first round)

Losses: Two starters in attackman Mike D’Amario (32 G, 3 A) and defenseman Scott Hooper (39 GB, 26 CT).

Returns: Eight starters, including the entire midfield of sophomore Dox Aitken (39 G, 12 A), freshman Matt Moore (19 G, 15 A) and junior Mikey Herring (12 G, 18 A).

Reason for pessimism: The departure of Hooper, the team’s top defenseman who frequently marked opponents’ best attackman, may not bode well for a defense that gave up 11.4 goals per game.

Reason for optimism: An offense that scored 12.6 goals per game will bring back sophomore attackman Michael Kraus (44 G, 39 A), who should be an early favorite for being a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award.

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