The stakes are higher in the NEC than they've ever been before: With the conference officially earning automatic invitation status to the NCAA Tournament this season, someone from the league is going to have a May adventure that counts and everything in 2013. While the bourgeois scoffs at this fact, this is a tremendous development for programs in a league that have been toiling in relative obscurity, spending the last two seasons in lacrosse purgatory. With three teams poised to potentially grab the conference's bid -- two of which have never participated in lacrosse's most important moment -- the interest around what the NEC puts together in 2013 is a quiet storyline that should gain momentum as the calendar moves to March and April.
The question, then, is this: What do the NEC's coaches think about their league this spring? To the press release!
Some quick thoughts:
The Northeast Conference men’s lacrosse coaches have voted and defending league champion Bryant has been picked to win the title again in 2013. The Bulldogs were a unanimous pick in this year’s NEC Men’s Lacrosse Preseason Coaches’ Poll, claiming five first-place votes to best second-ranked and NEC Finalist Mount St. Mary’s, which claimed the final first-place tally. Coaches were not allowed to vote for their own teams.
Last year’s regular-season champion, Robert Morris, was voted third, followed by Quinnipiac in fourth. Sacred Heart and Wagner rounded out the six-team poll in fifth and sixth, respectively.
- I'm assuming that the Mountaineers' lone first-place vote came from Mike Pressler as he wasn't allowed to vote for his own team. Don't take that to mean that Mount St. Mary's is significantly behind Bryant in the NEC's pecking order. The Mountaineers are going to have a veteran presence with Tom Gravante's redshirting scheme in play and there is talent kicking around Emmitsburg -- the Schmidt brothers are a handful, Andrew Scalley can distribute and score, and Cody Lehrer (after sitting out last season) can pound opposing goaltenders. Mount St. Mary's may not be the class of the league right now, but they could develop into that role as the season progresses should Bryant falter.
- Bryant as the conference's unanimous pick to win the league isn't surprising. The Bulldogs have loaded up their roster with talent that is above the heads of their peers (in totem), and this could be a trendy NCAA Tournament first-round pick should the matchup work in Bryant's favor. Yet, you still have to worry about how Pressler is going to deal with a reality without Jameson Love in the net to anchor the defense. That's a huge story for the Bulldogs this season, and while it may not impact their NEC ceiling, it does have overall impact to the team's total pursuits.
- This is why I wish the NEC would have released the balloting points in the poll: Robert Morris is a curious player in the conference this season. The Colonials may take a step back from where they were a season ago, but the new rules that have been put in place play right into Drew McMinn's wheelhouse. I wouldn't be shocked if Robert Morris finished close to Mount St. Mary's in the polling, but we unfortunately can't see exactly how that shook out. Regardless, there is a definite tier between the Bulldogs, Mountaineers, and Colonials and the rest of the league.
- I don't think that Quinnipiac finishes lower than fifth in the conference this season, but with the youth that Eric Fekete is bringing along, the Bobcats may -- and this is a bit of a stretch -- finish as high as third in the NEC. Regardless, Quinnipiac is going to be in a dogfight for that final league tournament position, trying to keep Connecticut neighbor Sacred Heart at bay while also fighting against a glass ceiling.
- I don't care what the coaches think. I still love you, Wagner. Keep the faith.