As part of our offseason we are doing an early 2017 scouting report on every D1 team. Our first two were on the Cleveland State Vikings, and the Hampton Pirates. We're doing our list from the bottom to the top, so our third report is on last year's 69th ranked RPI team (according to LaxPower), the NJIT Highlanders!!!
Let the construction commence! pic.twitter.com/z3tTxRMp3J— NJIT Lacrosse (@NJITlacrosse_) January 8, 2016
Profile: While the Highlanders had their share of bumps in 2016, they were better than their winless first season. NJIT lost by 3 goals or less 4 times in 2016, and recorded their first win ever against Dartmouth on March 22nd.
Like many young programs, NJIT shouldn't really be judged critically for a couple more seasons, nevertheless, NJIT demonstrated improvement from their inaugural season and that is really the most you can ask from a new program.
2016 Record: The Highlanders were 1-14 last year. That may not sound like a major bump from going 0-12 in 2015, however, NJIT played better on the field than they did last year. As always, there are no moral victories in lacrosse, but we should still acknowledge that the Highlanders were statistically better in almost every major category in 2016 than they were in 2015.
The Highlanders had more than double the number of CTs, scored nearly 2 more goals/game, and had 5 more GBs/game last year than they had in 2015. NJIT was more active on the field than they were last year, which helped them get their first ever win. NJIT is improving, they just need to continue in this trajectory if they want to be a consistent winner.
Roster: NJIT saw only 1 senior graduate last May and has only one rising senior on the roster. The Highlanders are made up of mostly young guys with13 rising juniors and 20 rising sophomores. This should be a great benefit to NJIT as BOSS Johnson's 2017 roster will overwhelmingly be composed of recruited players.
The Highlanders have some talent on the roster. Rising sophomore Aaron Foster led the team in points with 28 (15 Gs & 13 As) and rising junior Joe Lomeli led the team with 17 tallies on the season, and was 2nd on the team in total points (he also had 2 As). In 2015, NJIT only had 4 guys with double digit points, in 2016, they had 4 guys with double digit goals (a 5th had 9 Gs) and 6 players with at least 12 points or more on the season. NJIT needs to keep this going and play even better, but they are going in the right direction.
Add another large recruiting class of freshmen to this decent nucleolus of talent already on the roster, and it is not out of the realm of possibility that NJIT has a bit of a jump in their level of play in 2017. Coach Johnson would have a large group of guys used to playing with each other, and another large group of freshmen recruited to play his style; if both groups gel quickly, Johnson may have himself a something to really work with next season.
Conference: NJIT is another independent, so they don't have to worry about a conference race. Now this is just #BaselessSpeculation, but I think NJIT would be perfect number 8 school for the NEC. The NEC doesn't have a New Jersey school and the Highlanders provide the conference with an accessible regional school in a market they aren't in right now.
The MAAC also has 7 schools, but they have Monmouth, so they are already in the NJ market. The America East doesn't have a New Jersey team, and it also only has 7 squads, however, I believe the level of play in the AE is just too high for a squad in its infancy like NJIT and the NEC makes more sense geographically. NJIT needs to still get better, but the NEC should give them a look in a few years if the conference wants to expand.
What are they doing this summer: They aren't too active on Twitter, but their account has been busy showing pics about the new $100M+ Wellness and Events Center being built on campus. This will surely please a lot of recruits.
2017 outlook: I liked the improvement last year as compared to 2015. I think with continued growth from the guys on the roster, and another class of recruited talent, NJIT should be even better in 2017 than they were in 2016. I see them in more games than they were last year, and that 3 Ws is not out of the question next season.
Non-Sequitor: I want all the New Jersey teams to play each other, and the team with the best record gets some type of trophy. Pretty much I want the Philly Big 5 version of lacrosse in NJ and I'd like it to start next season.