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2013 College Lacrosse Preview: ECAC Outlook

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

Winslow Townson

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

The ECAC has chugged along the last few years, churning out nationally-elite team after nationally-elite team with minor fanfare (save Loyola's championship run in 2012). Over the last four seasons, the ECAC -- the league that doesn't have a national television contract and is populated by a Division I newbie, a program that considered dropping back to Division III status not too long ago, a program located in Kentucky, a service academy that doesn't draw the ink that its two Division I counterparts earn, a handful of schools located in non-traditional areas, and a small Jesuit school with a nice lacrosse history overshadowed by its Maryland peers -- has actually been the fourth strongest conference in the country based on Pythagorean win expectations, trailing only the ACC, Ivy League, and THUNDERDOME! It's a talented and deep-ish conference, ripe with contenders and dotted with depth that provides interesting competitiveness in the tiering of the conference.

2013 doesn't appear as if it is going to deviate too much from the script that the ECAC has put together over its history. Again there are nationally-relevant squads at the top -- Denver and Loyola, notably -- and teams behind that deserve attention given their potential to cause havoc. The strength of the league is tangible, and this could be another "breakout" season for the conference -- if that's even possible -- this spring.

Exposition I

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

Air Force

  • When is a 6-7 record an indication that a team is potentially poised to raise some hell in 2013? When the Falcons do it, college boy. There's nothing particularly fabulous about finishing the year under .500, duplicating its record from a season prior, but Air Force's record was a bit deceiving in the overall: At the end of 2012, the Falcons ranked 26th nationally in adjusted efficiency margin, improving the team's overall efficiency a solid 3.21 value points from 2011. That's notable for any team, but given the fact that Eric Seremet accomplished this with a roster full of youth -- Air Force's top six scorers in 2012 were either sophomores or freshmen and the defense was loaded with underclass players -- the Falcons did some serious work a spring ago that may reap strong dividends in 2013. If Air Force can carry this momentum into 2013, they become a serious player that could shake up the ECAC not only for 2013, but for 2014 as well. The big challenge for the Falcons, though, is finding some consistency in conference play: In 2012, Air Force only won one league game (Bellarmine). (The Falcons' defeat of Michigan was a non-counting contest a season ago). In its other ECAC games last year, Air Force played outside of its season efficiency values -- significantly and somewhat significantly -- and couldn't pull out any victories. If Air Force is able to exorcise some of its ECAC demons, the Falcons could put together a special season in 2013.


  • The Knights' ceiling -- and the story of their season -- may ultimately be dictated by how much offense the coaching staff can coax out of a roster that finished 43rd nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency in 2012. There are obviously layered issues that build into this, not the least of which is filling holes from graduated players like Colton Clark that buoyed a lot of the offense, but two tend to stick out: (1) Finding some consistency in canning the bean (the Knights only held a raw shooting percentage of 27.37 last year, a mark that ranked 42nd nationally); and (2) Maximize generating and creating offensive opportunities (Bellarmine played at a -2.08 possession deficit compared to their opponents in 2012) through more efficient clearing (the Knights only held a 82.74 clearing percentage last year, a rate that ranked 42nd in the country) and/or stronger play at the face-off dot (Bellarmine won only 46.72 percent of their draws a season ago, the 42nd worst mark in the nation). There is probably enough defense kicking around Louisville where Bellarmine can survive, but the development of the offense -- how it performs and what opportunities it is given -- is paramount to Bellarmine's success. If the Knights are unable to increase their shooting efficiency -- which isn't always endemic, but can carry over from season to season -- the focus needs to be on volumizing offense and at least creating opportunities and maximizing them through conscious play that isn't loaded with sloppiness. These are major focus points for the Knights and it could be the difference between six or seven wins and three or four victories.


  • There is no bigger storyline coming out of Peter Barton Stadium than what Bill Tierney will do between the pipes in 2013. You can yap your trap for days about what the Pioneers want to do with the constitution of its attack (it's going to be fine), or whether the team is going to become more midfield-focused and what that means for the offense in general (it's arguably the strongest unit in the country, and it's likely only going to impact the offense in positive ways, keeping opposing defenses on their heels and in difficult matchup positions), or whether Denver is ready to step forward with its field defense to sufficiently support its offense (if they aren't, they're really close and may be there my mid- to late-March). That's all fine and I understand why these are things that deserve focus, but there is nothing bigger -- right now -- than whether Jamie Faus or Ryan LaPlante (or both!) will serve time in the crease for Denver. Goalie rotations are never particularly good things (just ask Syracuse last season), but the Pioneers are in the enviable (I'm not sure that's the right word, but whatever) position of having two keepers that are more than capable at handling first-line responsibilities. The focus here is on the decision: Does one get the nod over the other, or does a rotation go into place? This impacts not only play in the crease, but also dictates what may occur with the field defense out in front of Faus/LaPlante. Over the last two years the Pioneers have leaned somewhat heavily on their netminders to make stops -- in 2011, Denver ranked 11th nationally in saves per defensive possession; in 2012 the Pioneers ranked 19th in the same metric. Should Denver require its keeper (or keepers, as the case may be) to assume a similar level of responsibility, the decision as to the netminding situation becomes even more important.


  • I'm not saying that Fairfield wasn't good last season -- the Stags were, and Andy Copelan is putting together a coaching resume that could land him a big job down the line should he want it -- but 12-win seasons aren't created equal. This was a team that finished last season ranked 31st in adjusted efficiency margin and managed to pull out six one-goal wins (four of the overtime variety) that could have gone the other way had circumstances changed a little bit. Whether you want to call it luck or being fortunate or being clutch, I don't care. These things tend to even out over time, and with the Stags facing a situation in which they need to replace some important parts in 2013 -- Brent Adams, Charlie Cipriano, and defensive coordinator Kevin Conry -- the biggest story for Fairfield this year is whether they can continue to grow as a program and avoid the universe recalibrating itself (which it has a way of doing). Fairfield's situation is almost the exact opposite situation to Hofstra in 2012, a team that had enough talent to pull out double-digit wins but collapsed when things mattered most. Luck -- or, again, whatever you want to call it -- is a thing that exists (although it is embedded in the fact that you often can create your own luck), and in close games it often matters the most. If Fairfield puts themselves in those situations again in 2013, will the team prosper as they did a season ago? Or will the Stags not have the luxury -- if you can call it that -- of putting itself in tight games, thereby exposing what could be a good-but-not-very-good team -- albeit a team with lots of potential, especially on the offensive end of the field -- in straight play where luck -- or whatever you want to call it -- has less of an impact? It'll be an interesting scenario to monitor.


  • In a league that features two of the strongest offenses in the nation -- Denver and Loyola -- and a third with mega offensive potential -- Ohio State -- will the Statesmen's defense be able to survive its slate and help support an offense that features one of the better junior tandems in Alex Love and Cam Stone? Against the second-hardest strength of schedule in terms of opposing offenses faced, Hobart finished 2012 ranked 49th in adjusted defensive efficiency. That isn't going to be enough in 2013 if the Statesmen hope to improve on their 4-9 record a season ago. Peter Zonino has put together an underappreciated effort in Geneva, standing strong under fire and performing fairly well: Backstopping a defensive unit that yielded 1.2 shots per defensive possession last season (only three teams allowed more than Hobart in 2012) and seeing shots from preferable locales (only seven teams had a worse defensive assist rate than the Statesmen), Zonino still held a 53.0 save percentage (24th nationally) and ended about 39 percent of Hobart's defensive possessions with a stop (the sixth highest mark in the country). Zonino survived the Statesmen's defense and without him things could have been worse on the lake. In 2013, what kind of support will he get from his field defense? That's a major key for defining Hobart's ceiling, and with guys like Sean Regan and Reid Rosello there is hope for continued improvement. The more the defense can take care of business in 2013 at an efficient rate -- especially considering that Hobart is going to need to replace face-off guru Bobby Dattilo, the cat that drove the Statesmen's positive possession margin a season ago, allowing Hobart to (somewhat) insulate its defensive against excessive exposure -- the better the Statesmen's prospects look.


  • Greyhounds head coach Charley Toomey has spent most of the offseason pounding it into everyone's heads that the 2012 iteration of Loyola lacrosse was the 2012 iteration of Loyola lacrosse; 2013 isn't 2012, and the 2013 iteration of Loyola lacrosse is going to need to cut its own path. That's fine -- and I agree with it -- but this fact remains: The 2013 iteration of Loyola lacrosse is part of the Greyhounds program, and whether it likes it or not it will perform under the tradition that the 2012 iteration of Loyola lacrosse created: national championship-caliber play (especially considering the volume of players returning to Ridley Athletic Complex to try and repeat its national title run from a season ago). The suffocating nature of trying to win consecutive national championships is the storyline for Loyola in 2013; everything else is subordinated behind it -- whether Mike Sawyer can win the Tewaaraton, how Loyola will operate without Dan Chemotti at the offensive controls, whether this will again be one of the strongest defenses in the country (a fact that was lost in the shuffle a little bit last season given all the offensive weapons that the Greyhounds ran with), etc. Only four programs have ever won back-to-back titles (Johns Hopkins (1978-1980, 1984-1985), Syracuse (1988-1990, 2008-2009), Princeton (1996-1998), and Cornell (1976-1977)), and turning the trick in the ultra-modern era of college lacrosse with increased competition throughout the entire cohort of play and more contenders for the throne would, arguably, place Loyola's two-year run -- should the Greyhounds turn the trick -- in the most rarified of air. It's a story because of the potential possibility of seeing tangible greatness, and while Toomey doesn't necessarily want to hear it, there's nothing bigger for Loyola this season.


  • Look: It's Team Two for John Paul, and it's probably worthwhile -- myself included -- to pump the brakes a little bit on the Wolverines and let the program grow into itself. Like many, I thought that Michigan's maturation into a Division I program would be a little accelerated compared to other programs that have tried to navigate the waters of college lacrosse's highest level of play, but last year -- while there were flashes of competency concomitant with a program with a heightened sense of ability -- proved that the development arc for new programs -- even Michigan -- is significantly pronounced. Talent is coming into Ann Arbor, and with a season of learning how to get on and off the bus as a varsity program under Michigan's belt, the future looks fairly bright. But for 2013 there are no magic tricks or short cuts to a half-dozen wins: The schedule is ambitious and Michigan is still playing from behind with respect to the totality of talent dotting the roster. The story for the Wolverines this upcoming spring, therefore, isn't necessarily wins and losses (there's going to be more of the latter than the former), but how -- or whether -- the Wolverines improve in their performance. Will the Wolverines remain one of the most efficient shooting teams in the country (the team held a raw shooting percentage of 31.36 last season)? Will the team cut down on the turnovers this season, hopefully raising the team's overall offensive efficiency (and functional opportunity) under new offensive coordinator Ryan Danehy (the Wolverines lost the bean on about 55 percent of their offensive opportunities in 2012, the 55th worst mark in the nation)? To dovetail that last point, will the clearing game remove itself from the nation's basement (only one team had a clearing mark worse than Michigan's 73.43 rate a season ago)? It's the little things that are important, again, for the Wolverines in 2013; it's the foundation for building a program. Where Michigan goes relative to those things is ultimately the most important thing this spring for the neophyte program.

Ohio State

  • In 2011 and 2012, the Buckeyes just didn't have the offense to complement its defense; in both seasons, Ohio State finished the year with icky adjusted offensive efficiency rankings -- in 2011, 32nd; in 2012, 40th. The inability for Ohio State to can the bean was due to a series of issues -- shooting efficiency, uneven consistency in offensive approach, some problems in valuing the ball (in different ways each year), etc. -- but the end result was the same: Offensive production that couldn't match top-five-ish efforts on the defensive end of the field. While the Buckeyes are entering 2013 with holes to fill defensively -- notably, the losses of Keenan Ochwat, Joe Bonanni, and Matt Kawamoto could provide growing pains for a Buckeyes defense that is going to put a handful of players into positions with increased responsibility compared to prior seasons-- the backstop (Greg Dutton) remains as well as some talent with potential to mitigate a significant step back in terms of defensive performance. Where concern remains -- and the ultimate dictate for the Buckeyes' ceiling this spring -- is on the offensive end of the field. Logan Schuss is as good as they come and Dominique Alexander is poised for an important season in the Buckeyes' midfield, but is there enough in the supporting cast -- in prior years, too young to fully contribute -- to create an offense that can not only keep Ohio State in games but also create cushions for the team to operate? There is talent there for Nick Myers to exploit -- Jesse King may be ready for a big effort in 2013 and Turner Evans could make a dangerous living working in the attack with Schuss -- but it needs to finally step forward if Ohio State hopes to take the next step in a crowded field.

Exposition II

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

Air Force

  • Keith Dreyer, A (So.)

  • Davis Gunter, D (So.)


  • Michael Ward, A/M (Sr.)

  • Bobby Schmitt, LSM (So.)


  • Cam Flint, M (Sr.)

  • Jeremy Noble, M (Jr.)


  • Sam Snow, A/M (Sr.)

  • Toby Armour, D (Jr.)


  • Cam Stone, A (Jr.)

  • Alex Love, A (Jr.)


  • Scott Ratliff, LSM (Sr.)

  • Mike Sawyer, A (Sr.)


  • Thomas Paras, M (Sr.)

  • Austin Swaney, D (R-Sr.)

Ohio State

  • Logan Schuss, A (Sr.)

  • Jesse King, M (So.)


Four important conference games that will define the discussion.

  • GAME I: Denver at Loyola -- April 13th

  • GAME II: Denver at Ohio State -- March 9th

  • GAME III: Loyola at Ohio State -- March 30th

  • GAME IV: Michigan at Bellarmine -- February 16th


Illustrating the landscape of the universe.

Once again, it looks like Loyola and Denver have a leg up on the rest of the conference entering the spring. The Greyhounds are the league's favorite, returning pieces upon pieces invaluable in the program's quest to repeat their national championship effort from a season ago. The Pios aren't too far behind, and if the attack and defense are ready to coalesce, Denver could make a serious run at Loyola for the top spot on the conference table. Ohio State and Fairfield slot behind, with the Buckeyes -- at this point -- arguably in a stronger position than the Stags (but the Stags aren't far behind from a potential standpoint). Then there is a little bit of a mess in the next part of the table: Air Force could make a run at one of the league's top four positions while Hobart, Bellarmine, and Michigan likely taking some shots to the chops. How the bottom of the league figures itself out is probably going to be determined by how the Statesmen, Knights, and Wolverines compete among themselves, and that kind of uncertainty -- while not necessarily impactful to the determination of the ECAC's conference tournament selections -- makes for an interesting race among teams looking to create some program momentum in a league that will look somewhat different in 2014 without Loyola in the mix.