Montclair State, Middlebury lead the race to prevent a repeat title for Tufts
Tufts claimed its first national championship in 2012, and is the preseason favorite to win again, but Montclair State, Middlebury, Bowdoin and Salisbury lead the charge to take the title away.
Here's a look at all the teams we believe will be vying for the title come November.
The Jumbos enter the season as favorites to capture the national title after winning the program's first in 2012.
First-team All-American Emily Cannon, 2012 leading scorer Chelsea Yogerst and starting goalie Bri Keenan lead the returning group of Jumbos in 2013. Also returning is head coach Tina McDavitt for her 10th season at Tufts.
The Jumbos have made the NCAA tournament every year since 2008, including a trip to the national championship game in that year. But it wasn't until last year that the Jumbos broke through and claimed the school's first national title for a women's program.
The Red Hawks had their best season in program history in 2012 but fell just short of the national title. Montclair State advanced to the championship team but lost 2-1 to Tufts.
Entering this season, a number of key players on that 2012 squad return to try to finish the title run. Those returners are led by senior All-American Jennifer Tafro who had 15 goals and 14 assists for 44 points last year.
Also back is junior defender Abby Erler, who was a first-team All-NJAC selection and an all-region choice by the NFHCA. Erler teamed with senior Sierra Rauchbach, a 2012 NJAC second-team pick, to form one of the nation’s toughest defenses as Montclair State allowed just 16 goals in 24 games. All-NJAC second-team selection senior midfielder Brooke Hullings, who was second on the team in assists with nine, returns to her spot in the midfield.
The Red Hawks set a program record last season for victories with 20, including wins against Christopher Newport and Rochester in the NCAA tournament. They have also won their first two games this season.
Middlebury comes into the season ranked No. 3 but expectations could be higher. The Panthers were the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament last season after an undefeated regular season, but lost in the quarterfinals to DePauw.
If the Panthers are to live up to their preseason ranking, they will have to do so without last year's leading scorer. Lauren Greer, last year's Longstreth/NFHCA Division III National Player of the Year, scored 34 goals and had 14 assists for 90 total points. She graduated as the NCAA’s all-time leader in points/game with 3.56 and is second with 1.48 goals/contest. She was also tied for third in total goals (111) and was forth in total points (267) to go along with her 45 assists in 75 career games.
The Panthers do have Catherine Fowler (13 goals, 17 assists for 43 points), Katherine Theiss (17 goals, five assists for 39 points) and Anna Kenyon (13 goals and three assists for 29 points) all returning to try to replace some of Greer's production.
Katharine DeLorenzo returns for her 13th season with the Panthers, and has Greer on her staff as an assistant coach. Under DeLorenzo, Middlebury as made the national title game four times -- the last coming in 2011 when it lost to TCNJ.
The Polar Bears are coming off a runner-up finish in the NESCAC and an NCAA quarterfinal appearance last fall, when they posted a 16-4 overall record.
Bowdoin returns 2012 leading goal-scorers Katie Riley (16 goals, 15 assists for 47 points) and Rachel Kennedy (15 goals, two assits for 32 points) to lead the offense. But the defense has been hit hard by graduation with starting goalkeeper Kayla Lessard and defenders Brooke Phinney, Kassey Matoin and Elena Crosley all having graduated.
Three-time national championship winning head coach Nicky Pearson returns for her 18th season at Bowdoin. Pearson has been the national coach of the year in three seasons, the last time being in 2010 when she led the Polar Bears to their third national title in four years.
The Sea Gulls have always played an up-tempo style, getting quickly up and down the field, but with a team with young, now experienced talent and a number of newcomers who are expected to step in and make an immediate impact, Salisbury may just turn up the pace a little more.
One of the four graduates from last season is Erica Henderson, who led the Gulls with 16 goals on the year. But Henderson's tally may not be replaced by just one player but a host of them.
Senior Emily Voshell and junior Mallory Elliott will lead the way as returners from last season. Each player started all 18 games last season, though Voshell will be moving up from the midfield this season. She scored five goals and added five assists while Elliott will anchor the right side of the front line, having scored seven goals as a sophomore.
Senior captain Jessica Seay and junior Summer Washburn will anchor the midfield. Washburn scored seven goals and added five assists last season while Seay played in 13, starting five.
While senior Katie Hastings could still see some time in the back, young experience will lead the way. Amanda Cooper started 15 games as freshman last year and will hold down the spot on the left side of the defense and will be joined by classmate Breck Sullivan who played in seven games, starting four of them.
Rachel Clewer returns in goal after starting all 18 games last season, giving up a 1.22 goals-against average and making 49 saves.