When Peter Baum -- Colgate's mobile artillery, destructive against opposing defenses (both lacrosse-wise and to states hostile to NATO) -- took home the Tewaaraton Trophy to Hamilton last year, it marked what could be a new trend in how the game recognizes its most proficient player for a particular season: Baum became the first Tewaaraton winner since Doug Shanahan (2001) to not play in the national title game. For an award that appeared to want to value postseason efforts as much (if not more) than regular season production (see, Steele Stanwick over Rob Pannell, 2011), Baum's victory was a potentially notable signpost in how voters are viewing the game's best players -- there may no longer be truncated markers, and all players (regardless of whether affiliated with blue bloods, hotbeds, or otherwise) are in the discussion.
This is possibly an important shift in the voting paradigm, and it makes the chase for the 2013 Tewaaraton Trophy all that more interesting: Even with a handful of players looking like mortal locks for making the Tewaaraton Foundation's finalist list, the actual outcome may carry with it intrigue all the way through May. And I'm a guy that likes his intrigue; if there's anything in life I like more than intrigue, it's magical pizza trees with leaves made of pepperoni, and I'm not completely sure that they exist. This is good for the award, and even better for a game that is coming to grips with the fact that the depths of player talent and production is stronger than it has likely ever been.
Trying to put together a preseason candidate list is an exercise is wanting to smash your face through the window so that you can take a calming ambulance ride and hospital visit to escape the pressure of trying to do a decent job projecting future returns on prior history. Expectations are always subject to everything falling apart due to a myriad of factors that may or may not be known at the time the forecast is made; putting together a list of players that may, in five months time, sit atop the country as the nation's best performers falls squarely into that category of "Potentially Useless: May 2013." Throw in the fact that many of these lists attempt to predict how voters will cast ballots and the exercise becomes even more of an effort in trying to make your brain leak out of your ears. Accordingly, I'm kind of going to go off the map a little bit and putting together a list of candidates that has no basis in prediction (as there are no certainties around something like this) and instead list a bunch of guys that I think should be in the conversation -- and where they should be in the conversation -- as the spring approaches.
1A.: Peter Baum, Attack (Colgate, Sr.)
Arguably Division I's most dynamic player with the ability to dodge and finish from behind, goal line-extended, or from the top of the attack box. His ability to work with his supporting cast -- a supporting cast that has the potential to be among the stronger offensive units in the country, if not the top offensive unit -- makes Baum's fingerprint on Colgate's efforts substantial, the driver to how the Raiders are able to make the scoreboard blink. Colgate will enter the season with an elevated profile and Baum will have the opportunity to show his stuff against strong competition on big stages; both factors will help the senior cement his place as the country's most potent player. The numbers will once again be there for Baum, it's just a question of how people will value his contributions.
1B.: Rob Pannell, Attack (Cornell, Sr.)
Here's what I know about Pannell: If he's ready to play and there are no residual conditioning or foot issues -- which, as of right now, I'm willing to believe that he'll be ready to go from Cornell's opening draw because Pannell doesn't do "getting up to speed" -- he's not only the best player in the country, he's one of the best attack to play the game in the last dozen years. Pannell was on his way to grabbing the Tewaaraton Trophy in 2012 before he got a flat tire and probably should have taken the honor in 2011 (despite Stanwick's impressive run to guide Virginia to the national championship that season). He's just as valuable to Cornell's offensive production as Baum is to Colgate's efforts, and with the number of weapons that will run with Pannell this year, the fifth-year senior has at his disposal every opportunity to reassert his position as the nation's best player.
3.: John Kemp, Goalie (Notre Dame, Sr.)
The problem with being a goalie in terms of positioning them in a Tewaaraton race is that it's difficult to statistically value what a goalie provides to a defensive effort in the overall. Goalie stats can be deceiving given the relationship between how goalie activity is measured and what a field defense accomplishes to create values in those metrics. For Kemp, however, his production and importance to Notre Dame's defense -- a suffocating nightmare from the mind of Gerry Byrne -- is clearer in my mind than others: The combination of his save percentage (which is indicia of his ball-stopping ability), the Irish's overall defensive shooting percentage (which is buoyed in part by Kemp's ball-stopping ability), and the number of saves that Kemp makes to end defensive possessions illustrates a picture that shows Kemp with a hazy halo above his head with disciples around his seat. Kemp is outstanding relative to his goalkeeping peers, and in the context of a defense that may be (once again) among the best units in the country, his importance to Notre Dame's success and individual effort should put him in the conversation for the Tewaaraton in late-spring.
4.: Marcus Holman, Attack (North Carolina, Sr.)
Holman -- playing alongside Joey Sankey and Jimmy Bitter, and a midfield with lots of potential that will provide important support -- should put together another big season from traditional and advanced statistical standpoints: Holman was a 74-point guy in 2012 with nice balance between goals (39) and assists (35), was fourth among attack in the Player Impact Ratings, and was eighth overall in adjusted points per possession among the top-200 players in the nation. With all the youthful talent that Holman had to shepherd last season now with a year under their belts, Holman could become even more dangerous, potentially serving as the ACC's strongest offensive player (with Jordan Wolf a close second). It's all there for Holman in 2013, especially considering how valuable the Heels' offense will be -- once again -- to the team's overall success.
5.: Scott Ratliff, Long-Stick Midfield (Loyola, Sr.)
I know I'm in the minority on this, but what Ratliff gives Loyola -- wing play on face-offs, two-way midfield play to trigger offense, a nose for groundballs and causing turnovers, and sound defensive play that doesn't overly expose the Greyhounds' close defense or Jack Runkel in cage -- is something that is undervalued in terms of picking Tewaaraton candidates. Ratliff was comparable in a lot of ways to CJ Costabile last season at Duke (although their games do have notably different flavors), and Costabile was a no doink finalist selection in 2012 for the trophy. What may hurt Ratliff this year is comparisons to Maryland's Jesse Bernhardt -- who has Tewaaraton potential himself -- but that doesn't mitigate how Ratliff impacts the game. He may not be on the level of other long-stick midfield Tewaaraton finalists like Brodie Merrill and Joel White, but it'd take some serious head trauma to sleep on Ratliff this year.
Supporting Cast (Alphabetical)
Jesse Bernhardt, Long-Stick Midfield (Maryland, Sr.)
A major catalyst for what could be the nation's best defense in 2013. Two-way play gives him additional juice for Tewaaraton consideration. The issue: Is he more valuable than Ratliff?
Tuker Durkin, Defense (Johns Hopkins, Sr.)
Lack of flashiness and playing in a structured defensive system may hurt his candidacy, but he remains the best defensemen in the country and will likely be the preseason favorite for the Schmeisser Award. Lots of television opportunities should show the nation just how good he is at locking off his man.
Will Manny, Attack (Massachusetts, Sr.)
A shifty quarterback with the ability to go to cage and get his own when the opportunity arises, there's only one question about Manny's Tewaaraton hopes: Can he duplicate his effort from 2012 without the help of Ark Kell, Anthony Biscardi, and Mike Fetterly? Manny will still be the hub, but there are some important missing spokes in 2013.
Brian Megill, Defense (Syracuse, Sr.)
Megill anchors the Orange's defense -- a unit that will be among the nation's best five next spring -- and is arguably the country's best takeaway artist, following in the tradition of Ric Beardsley and John Glatzel. Throw in his work on face-offs (if he's asked to take them again) and Megill serves as an interesting figure in the Tewaaraton universe.
Jeremy Noble, Midfield (Denver, Jr.)
The heartbeat for a midfield unit that may serve as the core to the Pioneers' offensive efforts in the spring. Opportunities and ability to get the offense working in totem is an important trait, and he stands among the nation's best in pushing that attribute.
Mike Sawyer, Attack (Loyola, Sr.)
Holding a sonic boom for a shot, Sawyer faded into the shadows during the NCAA Tournament last season, allowing Eric Lusby to shine. (Importantly, Sawyer did this without pressing the issue, which shows his lacrosse IQ.) Sawyer should post some staggering numbers again playing along with Davis Butts and Justin Ward this spring, but it's his volume of his usage that may allow him to differentiate himself from the pack.
Tom Schreiber, Midfield (Princeton, Jr.)
Schreiber is probably a year away from being the best offensive player in the game, but as of right now, he is Division I's best offensive midfielder. "Give the ball to Tom and let great things happen" isn't a lazy offensive strategy in Princeton; it's one that works, and Schreiber's multitude of talents makes him exceedingly dangerous for opposing defenses.