2013 College Lacrosse Preview: Colonial Athletic Association Outlook

Patrick Smith

The narrative isn't written, but this is what the outline looks like right now.

These are macro-level pieces; micro-level nonsense will occur sporadically throughout the site's preview. We're doing this in the construct of what a story may look like, so bone up on all that crap that you ignored while in English class, staring at the clock and hoping that none of that stuff would ever permeate your brain ever again.

The Plot

Don't bring a knife to a post-apocalyptic-theater-of-violence-that-features-guys-with-one-eye-and-chainsaws-for-arms-and-flasks-full-of-poison-and-rage fight. That's the rule of law in the Colonial Athletic Association, college lacrosse's THUNDERDOME!, the toughest league in the country -- combustible, hectic, unstable, and reliably erratic. While Massachusetts' unblemished run through the conference in 2012 provided the overt appearance that THUNDERDOME! had lost some of its blood lust, it was merely a false facade: The rest of the league continued to mercilessly whip each other with chains until the last fool that couldn't get his hands on a mace bled out on the sandy floor.

2013 has the potential for that and more given the relative competitive balance in the league this spring. I hope the conference's members are current on their medical insurance because this is going to be great.

Exposition I

Underlying background information -- team storylines -- that structures the plot.

Delaware

  • The Blue Hens -- for reasons too numerous to detail here -- were decidedly average in so many facets of play in 2012 that the team's eventual 6-9 record, which was constituted by three-game and four-game losing streaks, wasn't all that surprising. The overarching storyline for Delaware in 2013 is obviously lifting the entirety of play to a level that the Blue Hens have been accustomed to, but there is a micro issue that merits keeping an eye on for this upcoming spring: Can Delaware continue to dominate the possession game and provide its offense -- which may need to rely a bit on volume to score -- opportunities to generate tallies? The Blue Hens finished 2012 ranked 12th nationally in possession margin per 60 minutes of play (+2.52) and a big piece of that was the work of now-graduated Dan Cooney at the dot (Cooney won almost 60 percent of his attempts last season). Delaware achieved this margin despite clearing the ball at only a 79.2 percent rate, a mark that ranked the Blue Hens 54th in the country and, importantly, stole opportunities from an offense that needed to maximize its offensive opportunities to make the scoreboard blink. With a lot of moving parts on the offensive end of the field for Bob Shillinglaw this season, you can see the issue here: (1) Can Delaware continue to perform well on the whistle -- with fresh faces -- to create desperately needed possessions?; and (2) Will the clearing game move toward the national average (around 85 percent), allowing an offense that is going to define its identity on the fly as many possessions as possible due to the inherent inefficiency in role and responsibility development? These are two big issues that could define the Blue Hens' ceiling.

Drexel

  • I'm willing to give Brian Voelker the benefit of the doubt that he'll have the Dragons in a competitive position by March -- right around the top third of the country in terms of where his club stacks up relative to the rest of the country. Drexel, though, is dealing with a situation that could feed upon itself and exacerbate the issue: Injuries on the offensive end -- notably, the loss of Brendan Glynn and the rehabilitation of Nick Trizano from surgery on his Achilles tendon -- and Voelker's need to rely on the offense until the Dragons can figure out their defensive constitution. That circumstance could yield success or failure: The balance of the Dragons' strength is offensively focused -- Robert Church is one of the better finishers in THUNDERDOME!; Aaron Prosser is a multi-dimensional midfielder that can really shape the flow of play; Ryan Belka provides additional support through the midfield and has strong potential if put into a higher usage role in 2013; and Voelker is high on attack Andrew Vivian -- but this is a unit that shot only 25.77 percent last season (53rd nationally) and volumized its shots per possession to the tune of 1.22 attempts per opportunity (the most in the country) in an offense that took its time to take care of business (only one team played fewer possession per 60 minutes of play than the Dragons). The offense is poised to take a big step forward this spring -- the pieces are there, even if Glynn's absence takes the shine off the diamond a little bit -- but reliance on a unit that was somewhat uneven a season ago (Drexel did finish the season ranked 18th in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is pretty good) in a climate wherein the Dragons may not be able to be as patient as they have been in the past could either reap rewards or signal doom.

Hofstra

  • There is one story for the Pride in 2013: Can Hofstra survive itself? Now, there are numerous underlying issues that build into that question: (1) A one-goal loss nightmare in 2012, are the Pride constituted sufficiently to do what top 20 teams do -- close games and gut-out wins in the face of adversity?; (2) With injuries hampering the team -- Adrian Sorichetti is nursing a back injury, which doesn't bode well for his style of play through the midfield and attack; midfielder Brad Loizeaux is still recovering from his injury last season, and his absence could further deplete an offense that needs options around Sorichetti; Corey Caputo, a starting defenseman for the Pride last year, is dealing with an ankle situation -- can Hofstra internally develop options to keep the ship afloat?; (3) With five -- five! -- goalies currently on the roster, will Hofstra find a consistent and suitable replacement for the now-departed Andrew Gvozden? The layering of issues creates uncertainty, and how the Pride handles itself creates the foundation for where Hofstra can go.

Massachusetts

  • It's not that Greg Cannella has a bunch of lames on his hands compared to last season, it's that Cannella doesn't quite have the completeness that Massachusetts ran with a season ago. Will Manny, Kyle Smith, Colin Fleming, Ryan Hollenbaugh, and Jake Smith all return to cause mayhem on Garber this spring, but this iteration of the Minutemen isn't the same that finished first in the country in adjusted offensive efficiency and 11th nationally in adjusted defensive efficiency a season ago. Filling the voids left by Tim McCormack in goal, Tom Celentani and Greg Rushing on the defensive end, and Art Kell and Anthony Biscardi on the offensive end aren't easy tasks and may define just how special Massachusetts' season was in 2012; throw in the loss of Anthony Toresco at the dot, and the Minutemen's totality of strength is best described as, "Well, no clue." There are hubs to build around on both ends of the field, though, and how they pace play could ultimately determine Massachusetts' season: Manny and Kyle Smith will anchor the attack, and with Colin Fleming pushing through the midfield and providing missile support, there is potentially enough there that, while the Minutemen may take time to develop a productive supporting cast, the trio can still carry the load, allowing their play to dictate the thrust of the Minutemen's new offensive reality; Jake Smith and Hollenbaugh are nice parts to build around in the back end, but their task is a little tougher -- insulating a new keeper while breaking in two fresh poles is a big task, and the clarity around Massachusetts' ability to survive that, even with solid short-stick defensive support from Ryan Izzo, is at best an unknown. How quickly and efficiently Cannella can fill some holes will shape Massachusetts' season.

Penn State

  • At some point Penn State is going to need to get its offense to start supporting Austin Kaut and what has been a solid Nittany Lions defense. Last year, the Nittany Lions had a tough time canning the bean, finishing the year ranked 36th in adjusted offensive efficiency (due, in part, to an inability to get the ball in the back of the cage at a decent rate -- Penn State held a raw shooting percentage of only 25.84 percent, a mark that ranked 52nd in the nation). The pieces may be in place for Jeff Tambroni's squad to finally get things cooking at that end of the field and find the totality of balance that the program has been searching for: Jack Forster earned a sixth year to play and with Shane Sturgis form a potent set of options attack; Nick Dolik is has all-conference potential in the midfield, and with freshman Sammy Davis and junior Tom LaCrosse the trio could provide good support for an offensive unit that will need to grow into itself as the season progresses. The more that Penn State can get from its offense -- and how that offense operates -- is really the biggest hurdle that the Lions face entering 2013. If that unit can finish well and share the ball at a decent rate, leveraging opportunities and responsibilities throughout the attack and midfield, Penn State becomes a top 10-type of team that is going to give opponents nightmares; if that unit struggles in the shooting department and isolates responsibility around a player or two -- like it did last season with Matt Mackrides and Jack Forster -- the onus on the defense to win games becomes, once again, a really tough task to complete. The Nittany Lions are talented, but the team's ceiling is heavily influenced by what the offense can accomplish.

St. Joseph's

  • There is nothing more interesting about the Hawks than the fact that the Hawks are a story entering 2013. What was a dead program saw signs of life last season under Taylor Wray. It wasn't just the increase in wins from 2011 to 2012 that indicate that St. Joseph's may be on the move (a 40 percent increase, shockingly), but rather that the Hawks significantly increased their overall level of play and production: With a 10.35 value increase in adjusted efficiency margin, St. Joseph's was among the most notable teams in the country in how their play improved over the course of a year. The Hawks have had a hell of a time winning games in the last decade or so, winning only 34 out of 119 games over the last eight seasons. They have been drunk on terribleness in the two years preceding their 2012 campaign, winning three games in 2010 and putting together a perfectly winless effort in 2011. Nobody expected St. Joseph's to do anything in 2012 other than to take a bludgeoning from a sledgehammer in the CAA. And yet, KABOOM! . . . Taylor Wray managed to pull together a 6-9 record and move his team from the ranks of the terrible to the bad-but-not-wishing-for-sweet-death. This kind of momentum is incredibly important for programs outside the elite; if they miss the tide, they could get washed back out to sea. I don't think that the Hawks are going to start rolling through folks in 2013, but if they can continue the improvement they showed in 2012, they could keep themselves out of annual contention for Reverse Survivor honors. Which, for St. Joseph's, is sorcery.

Towson

  • Shawn Nadelen put in a yeoman's effort last season at Towson, his first at the helm of the Tigers program. A seven-win season with wins over Mount St. Mary's, Stony Brook, Delaware, Hofstra, and UMBC are nice accomplishments, as is a five-game winning streak through mid-March and early-April. The Tigers, though, still have work to do, and while 2013 doesn't necessarily look like a step-back year for Towson, the Tigers still need to become the kind of team that doesn't end its campaigns with a five-game losing streak. For Towson this season, I think the biggest focus -- outside of seeing what kind of defense Nadelen can unleash on opponents with Andrew Wascavage manning the net and John Fennessy and JoJo Ostrander out in front of him -- is Towson doing the things that teams in the top third of the country do: Maximizing offensive and defensive possessions. The Tigers were ranked 48th in the country last season in turnovers per offensive opportunity, losing the ball on over 51 percent of their possessions; this severely hampered the team's overall offensive efficiency, mitigating the offense's sharp shooting (30.43 percent, 19th nationally) and the team's patience necessary to create those shots. On the defensive end, the turnovers put more pressure on the Tigers' defense to withstand fire from the opposition -- only six teams saw more shots per defensive possession than Towson and only six teams relied on their goaltender to stop more shots per defensive possession than the Tigers. If Towson can help itself a little more in 2013, the Tigers can do some impressive things in THUNDERDOME!

Exposition II

Underlying background information -- guys to know to impress people at cocktail parties -- that structures the plot.

Delaware

  • Eric Smith, A (Sr.)

  • Dom Sebastiani, SSDM (Sr.)

Drexel

  • Aaron Prosser, M (Sr.)

  • Robert Church, A (Sr.)

Hofstra

  • Adrian Sorichetti, M (Sr.)

  • John Antoniades, M-FO (Sr.)

Massachusetts

  • Jake Smith, D (Sr.)

  • Kyle Smith, A (Sr.)

Penn State

  • The Blonde Satan, G (Jr.)

  • Shane Sturgis, A (Jr.)

St. Joseph's

  • Ryan McGee, A (Jr.)

  • Will Farrell, D (So.)

Towson

  • Andrew Wascavage, G (Sr.)

  • Thomas DeNapoli, M (Jr.)

Argumentation

Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: Penn State at Massachusetts -- March 16th

  • GAME II: Drexel at Hofstra -- March 23rd

  • GAME III: Drexel at Massachusetts -- April 13th

  • GAME IV: Penn State at Hofstra -- April 27th

Description

Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

This is kind of like picking the guy with the battle axe over the guy with a flamethrower because the axe looks shinier and sharper: In the end, both combatants are probably going to end up battered to bits; picking a winner prior to combat is not only difficult, but also potentially useless.

If you're going to put a nail gun to my head (and as this is THUNDERDOME!, you are), here's my best guess as to how the league stacks up: Massachusetts and Penn State are a cut above the rest, but the gap between the Minutemen and Nittany Lions isn't significantly pronounced; Drexel, Hofstra, Delaware, and Towson are in the next tier, but are interchangeably deadly and all four -- four! -- are in the mix for the conference's last two league tournament positions; and St. Joseph's is in the rear lobbing pipe bombs at people because they can. This league is a presumed mess in the middle -- the true hallmark of THUNDERDOME! -- and I wouldn't have it any other way.

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