Let's meet our teams!
NJIT: The Highlanders had a difficult inaugural season. However, while the squad didn't record a win in 2015, struggling in the first few seasons of existence is not unheard of in D1. Nevertheless, despite the expected growing pains last year (Don't waste another minute on your crying!), NJIT was competitive in several games in 2015. Indeed, in its regular season finale, NJIT had Dartmouth tied at 5 with 13 minutes to go in the 4th quarter, before finally losing 7-5.
Moreover, as Monmouth (also a North Jersey squad) or Richmond demonstrated, it is possible for a team in a talent-rich state to become competitive quickly. Monmouth was 0-13 in 2014 and improved to one game under .500 in 2015. NJ is very fertile ground for head coach, Travis Johnson, to recruit and I can easily see coach assembling a capable squad in year two, much in the same way Monmouth did in 2015.
Looking ahead, NJIT's schedule features 6 games against Ivy, Big Ten, and Patriot League teams. One thing's for sure about the Highlanders, they aren't ducking anyone. NJIT will play you whenever and wherever you want.
Hampton: There is not much to review about the Pirates from last year, as 2016 will be the program's first season in D1. However, we will all get a proper introduction soon enough. @LacrosseMag just Tweeted out that ESPN is bringing SportsCenter to Hampton to broadcast the Pirates' first game on February 13 against Division II Roberts Wesleyan College!
That will obviously be a big day for the program, but I believe it will be an even bigger day for the sport, as Hampton will continue the great legacy of the Morgan State Bears lacrosse team and be the second HBCU school (Historically Black Colleges and Universities) to field a D1 program. A great sign of lacrosse's growing reach into non-traditional areas and demographics.
Head coach Lloyd Carter will lead the program in its first year, but he is a well known figure at Hampton already, as he headed (and co-founded) Hampton's intramural lacrosse team for the last four years. With his guidance, I believe Hampton is due for some bright years in the near future and the Pirates may even surprise a few folks with their play in 2016. Either way this will be an exciting season for the Hampton community and hopefully more D1 schools across the nation will follow the Pirates' lead, level up, and sponsor a lacrosse team.
- Joe Lomeli, NJIT: For a freshman on a first year program, the Clark, NJ product played well beyond his years. Despite only starting one game, Joe led the team in points (21) and goals (19). With that kind of production coming off the bench, I can easily see Lomeli exceeding his freshman year totals, as I expect he'll see more playing time in 2016.
Official College Crosse Independents Prediction:
- NJIT: I believe the Highlanders will win 3+ games this year. I think NJIT will follow the same path as Monmouth did in its second year and take home several wins in 2016. NJ is very fertile land for recruiting and with a couple recruiting classes under its belt, I think we'll see the Highlanders field a more successful squad this year.
- Hampton: No real prediction since this is their first year. While I am not expecting Hampton to challenge UVA in the next 2-3 years, like NJIT, the Pirates benefit greatly from playing in a state with tons of HS players looking to play D1. The geographic blessing of playing in a lax-rich state like Virginia should help Hampton develop into a decent squad in a short amount of time.
That's it for today! Be on the look out for our America East preview later this week. Until then, STAY HYDRATED!