Next season will be quite a telling one for several college lacrosse teams. But maybe no one will be more curious to follow than Cornell.
The Big Red just reached the title game for the first time since 1988. Max Seibald, the do-everything midfielder who made a difference from the day he stepped into Ithaca, is gone.
He even got a nice bunch of baubles – including the Tewaaraton Trophy last night – that effectively stand out as career achievement awards. In a year when no single player stood out above the rest (you could argue Duke’s Ned Crotty and Syracuse’s Sid Smith), giving a bunch of hardware to the guy who over the last four years was the game’s steadiest player wasn’t a bad idea.
But where does it leave the Big Red? Here’s guessing they’ll be capable, but probably not a top-five team.
And after the last three years, which featured a pair of final four trips, that isn’t so bad.
Onto the second five in this absurdly early glance at next season.
10. Harvard (8-5 in 2009): Coach John Tillman likes to make reference to the Crimson’s reputation as the sport’s “Lost Cause.” After all, given the demographics of both lacrosse and Harvard, shouldn’t this be a natural match?
Typically, no. But that’s changing. And with most of the offense coming back next season and plenty of help on the way, Harvard has the goods to make a substantial leap.
The hints are already there. The Crimson absorbed its last four losses (@Georgetown, @Cornell, @Princeton, vs. Brown) by a combined five goals. They caught Duke napping early in the season. And they hammered pretty much everyone they were supposed to hammer.
They guys could be very good, very quick. As a result, those references to “The Lost Cause” are soon to disappear altogether.
9. Loyola (9-5): Meet conference realignment’s biggest winner. Yes, the Greyhounds take a couple tough losses in Shane Koppens and P.T. Ricci. But Cooper MacDonnell and Collin Finnerty will be back, so the offense won’t disappear altogether. Still, discovering some consistency in the midfield would be nice.
But there’s another important matter. The ECAC won’t be quite the same nasty neighborhood it’s been. Loyola should enter next season as the favorite to win a league that will also feature Fairfield, Hobart and the remnants of the GWLL (most notably, Denver and Ohio State).
The Greyhounds weren’t too far away from being a tournament team this year. They should get there next year, and might even be a threat to a win a game once the postseason begins.
8. Johns Hopkins (10-5): It’s still hard to believe the Blue Jays weren’t their usual selves on defense. And with Michael Evans leaving – along with the Hop’s starting pole and top short stick d-middie – it becomes difficult to believe things will be dramatically better next season.
That’s what prompts this ranking. The Blue Jays will still score enough next spring. They’ve got Chris Boland and Steven Boyle and Michael Kimmel and Kyle Wharton, so if they can find a midfielder or two to make a leap, they’ll be fine.
But it’ll come back to that defense. If they aren’t more athletic and more disciplined, a fair number of teams on their grueling schedule (Virginia, Syracuse, Princeton and North Carolina all come to mind) are going to slice them up. Again.
7. Cornell (13-4): Really wanted to go a spot or two higher with the Big Red, but the personnel losses are just too hard to ignore.
Beyond Max Seibald, there’s the impressive John Glynn, fellow midfielders George Calvert and Rocco Romero, defenseman Matt Moyer and attackman Chris Finn – all part of a strong, departing senior class.
Those are a lot of pieces to replace, and if Cornell (a) Hadn’t just shown so much resilience in making the title game and (b) Didn’t have at least nine victories in every season since 2002, you’d expect a precipitous decline.
But there won’t be, simply because the Big Red is re-established as one of the sport’s powers. There’s more help in the pipeline, and as a result Cornell won’t be going away next year. A drop is inevitable – losing the entire first midfield ensures that – but coach Jeff Tambroni will have the Big Red relevant in May. Book it.
6. Maryland (10-7): What to do with the Terps, who will lose their three best true midfielders (Dan Groot, Jeff Reynolds, Jeremy Sieverts) but bring back the bulk of their production in the rest of the field?
The talent on attack is impressive, and Maryland always finds a way to be solid on defense. But after entering 2009 with lofty – and probably inflated – expectations, there’s no reason to do the same next season.
Clearly, the return of long pole Brian Farrell will help, and this ranking is predicated on goalie Brian Phipps being back once March starts (he’s due to undergo ACL surgery in three weeks). Farrell’s return will help, and the Terps should be a team to pencil into at least the quarterfinals given what they bring back.