Feb. 18, 2010

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By Kevin Scheitrum

Today we take a look at the teams that start the year just a rung below the nation's premier squads, ranging from a squad that finished 2009 just seconds away from a national title - but instead walked off the field in Foxboro on the sour end of one of the most heart-thumping finishes in the history of the Tournament - to two squads who didn't reach the NCAA's last year.

Each one of these teams possesses two of the three things that would make you elite - pedigree, personnel and/or proven system - but they're all saddled by questions in one of those three arenas. Whether it's youth (Cornell), an entirely new coaching staff (Princeton), concerns about potential meeting reality (Georgetown), questions about what effect a new league will have (Notre Dame) or if a new-look midfield can string together returning powers on attack and defense (Hofstra), if these teams can address that one lingering doubt, they'll have a shot at the crown.

Coach: Jeff Tambroni, 10th year at Cornell (97-34)
2009 Record:: 13-4 (5-1 Ivy) - Lost to Syracuse in national championship game
Big Losses:: 2009 Tewaaraton Trophy winner Max Seibald, All-Americans John Glynn, Matt Moyer and Rocco Romero (Hon. Ment.); Four of the top six midfielders.
Key Returns/Additions: Sr. Attacker Ryan Hurley comes back after scoring 45 goals, becoming only the fifth player in Cornell history to notch 40 goals in back-to-back years and earning Honorable Mention All-American status along the way;

Photo Courtesy of Cornell
Soph. Attacker Rob Pannell, who earned Third Team All-American honors after putting up one of the best freshman years in Cornell history, breaking the Big Red rookie record for points in a year, with 67, and taking seventh all-time in Cornell single-season history with 42 assists.
Offensive Outlook: With nearly the rest of the team in flux, the Big Red will need to rely on Pannell and Hurley to get the job done early and often. Junior David Lau, who came to Cornell as an attacker but moved back to second midfield, may jump up to attack, but provides a formidable force as a two-way middie. Cornell had some trouble getting sustained offense going in the preseason but, again, the peas in the back of your freezer are warmer than Ithaca in February. Give them time. And anybody who watched Pannell score from everywhere and every angle (including completely horizontal and nearly upside-down) in the national semis and finals last year senses what's ahead for this kid. In the midfield, senior Chris Ritchie should slide up from the second line, with sophomore Roy Lang and freshman Ross Gillum heavily in the mix.
Defensive Breakdown:: Although only one LSM returns, in Pierce Derkac, the Big Red should be solid in the defensive end. As far as defensive SSMs go, Austin Boykin's back for his senior season after playing in all 17 games last year and working face-off duties. On the back line, look for returning letterwinners Max Feely (20 GB, 13 CT in '09) and Andrew MacDonald - Mike Howe may be out all year with an injury - to lead a young crew that involves two talented freshmen in Max Bronzino and Thomas Keith. In goal, A.J. Fiore looks to have the inside track after Mat Martinez struggled through injury when the season opened.
Other Players To Watch: Soph. A Chris Austin; Freshman LSM Jason Noble; Jr. MF Chris Livadas
Numbers Game: 16 - The number of seniors that graduated from last year's epic run through the Tournament for the Big Red.
Circle Your Calendar: May 1, at Princeton - Last year, the Ivy schedule ended with three teams crammed up at the top. This year, for the first time ever, there'll be a conference tournament to decide that. Look for this game to be a clash between the two league leaders, acting as a chance to gain a No. 1 seed in the tourney and possibly a preview of the tournament championship game.
Before The Face-Off: Cornell's actually led all of D-I in winning percentage over the past six years (.787), a realization that should do away with concerns about the loss of Seibald, Glynn and Moyer. Tambroni has a system in place, one that was just seconds away from reaching the sport's highest peak last year. And while getting so close - had Syracuse not pulled off two no-look passes that rode a magic spell to Kenny Nims' stick in front of the net, Cornell would have won the title - may sting, it showed the Big Red what needs to be done to win the title. The question, however, is if this freshman-heavy lineup will be able to match up with the clubs with more experience - and a few years' worth of growth - under their belts.

Coach: Dave Urick, 20th season at Georgetown (210-81, 322-11 overall)
2009 Record: 7-7 (3-4 ECAC) - did not qualify for Tournament
Big Losses: Attacker Jake Samperton; MF Jake Taylor; MF/D Michael Shotwell; D Steve Bauer
Key Returns/Additions: The Hoyas' three leading goal-scorers in 2009 are all back, in the form of senior A Ricky

Barney Ehrmann | Courtesy of Georgetown
Mirabito (23g, 6a) and senior middies Andrew Brancaccio (22g, 3a) and Scott Kocis (21g, 8a). Meanwhile, leading assist man, Sr. A Craig Dowd is back after posting a team-high 33 points in '09. He'll assume the captaincy along with Kocis and defenseman Barney Ehrmann, who led the team with 62 ground balls in '09.
Offensive Outlook: The parts are there. But to get to Baltimore, they'll just have to perform better together. A 9.54 goals-per-game average last year watched the Hoyas start slow almost all year (54 of their goals came in the first half, compared to 80 in the second half), so to compete every game, they'll need to address that. Freshman Travis Comeau has created a lot of buzz, and he might be just what the Hoyas need to stir the offensive pot this spring. But look for Urick to juggle the lineup early to find the right blend - the Hoyas simply can't afford to walk down the same road they did last year.
Defensive Breakdown: Ehrmann, a Second-Team All-ECAC performer last year, provides the central cog on a back line full of returners. Senior MF Chris Schuville provides a burst in transition, with his nose for both ground balls and the net.
Other Players to Watch: Jr. Attackers Ryan Schuler and Brett Weiss; Freshman MF Dan McKinney
Numbers Game: 11 - Number of consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances Georgetown had made until 2008 - the Hoyas have now missed two in a row
Circle Your Calendar: Feb. 27, vs. Maryland - Let's not waste any time. Against their hated rivals, the Hoyas will be out to not only gain some Beltway supremacy, but to prove to the country (and themselves) that this is a new year and these guys can compete for a spot in their second-ever final weekend.
Before The Face-Off:: The folks in D.C. couldn't have been too happy with last year. Finishing at 7-7 after starting the year at No. 6, falling by one goal to Penn State on Senior Day and missing out on the NCAA Tournament for the second straight year after 11 in a row, all that doesn't sit well with a program accustomed to success and ranked as high as No. 1 just three years ago. Picked to finish third in the Big East, this senior class that came in as highly touted freshmen has a lot to prove.

Coach: Seth Tierney, 4th season at Hofstra (27-18)
2009 Record:: 11-4 (6-0 CAA) - lost to Cornell in NCAA First Round
Big Losses:: MF Michael Colleluori, Anthony Muscarella and Ryan Carter; Attacker Tom Dooley; LSM Steve Prifte.
Key Returns/Additions:: Jr. A Jay Card, the reigning CAA Player of the Year, ranked 16th in the country with 35 goals last year.

Jay Card | Photo Courtesy of Hofstra
Junior attack transfer Jamie Lincoln (Denver) scored 53 goals and added nine assists in two years in the Rockies. On defense, seniors Adam Swarsen and Christian Scuderi (35 and 33 GB, respectively, last year) anchor the crew.
Offensive Outlook:: Dooley's absence will hurt. In four years at Hofstra, the dynamic attacker scored 107 goals and added 24 assists, helping to usher this program back into the heights it hadn't seen since the early 70's. But, as the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens. Expect Card to revel in the limelight, while Lincoln brings his fast-paced game to an offense ready to take off with him. When Kevin Ford (19 goals in 2009) returns from an injury, he looks to slide into the third spot on the attack. An abundance at attack should help ease the strain on a new-look midfield that'll be without 2009 Honorable Mention All-Americans Colleluori and Muscarella. Dan Stein, moved over from attack, will serve as the elder statesman for the middies, while sophomore Brad Loizeaux will be looked at to start.
Defensive Breakdown:: If you're a Hofstra fan, this is a thing of beauty: all three starters return on close defense, from Adam Swarsen - who may play LSM - Christian Scuderi and Mike Skuden. Steve Prifte's work with the long pole has ended, and it looks like Adam Mojica will take his spot after recovering from an injury, while Second Team All-ACC MF Steven DeNapoli and converted offensive MF senior Tom Interlicchio chair a deep list at defensive SSM. Sophomore Andrew Gvozden will live between the pipes.
Other Players to Watch: Jr. Attacker Steven Bentz and Soph. Attacker Rob DeNapoli should fill in for Long while he's out; RS-Freshman MF Michael Hamilton.
Numbers Game: 47 - The Pride's face-off percentage last year. To fuel an offense as potent as Hofstra's looks, they'll need to vastly improve this year.
Circle Your Calendar: Feb. 27, at Princeton - In front of a national audience on ESPNU, the Pride begin a stretch against three of the nation's best, starting with the Tigers, then going through Johns Hopkins and Brown.
Before The Face-Off:: Hofstra had, by most accounts, the best season in its history last season, ascending to No. 10 in the polls and earning its first-ever at-large bid after losing to Villanova in the conference semis (just four days after beating the Wildcats). Remember, just two years ago, this team was 6-8. Midfield will be jerry-rigged until the right combination can be found to bridge the gap between a defense and offense that should be ready to roar out of the gates.

Coach: Kevin Corrigan, 22nd season at Notre Dame (196-96)
2009 Record: 15-1 (5-0 in now-defunct GWLL)
Big Losses: Attackers Ryan Hoff and Duncan Swezey; D Regis McDermott
Key Returns/Additions: Sr. attackers Neal Hicks, who broke out in 2009 to the tune of 25 goals and 18 assists, and

Neal Hicks | Photo Courtesy of Notre Dame
Grant Krebs, whose 29 goals were second on the team. Jr. MF Zach Brenneman leads the midfield after putting up 24 points last year. Meanwhile, Sam Barnes and Kevin Ridgway lead the defense, while Scott Rodgers (tops in counry in GAA and save percentage in '09) mans the pipes. Freshmen Steve Murphy, Pat Kotter and Ty Kimbell should have an impact.
Offensive Outlook: Ryan Hoff's graduation will create more than just a hole in the Irish lineup - it'll affect the style of offense altogether. Hoff was a master at planting himself in front of the goal and dumping shots in. In 2010, the Irish don't really have a comparable player. However, they do have big-time scorers like Hicks and Krebs, while a team that was heavily right-handed in '09 looks more balanced in '10. Meanwhile, the first midfield returns largely intact, led by Preseason All-Big East selection Brenneman.
Defensive Breakdown: Last year, Notre Dame set a school record with a 6.19 goals-against average, and most of the key players from front to back return, including star goalie and two-year-captain Scott Rodgers, back after a junior year that saw him post a GAA of 6.14 and save percentage of .663. Mike Creighton should slide from LSM to post defense after seeing action in all 16 games last year.
Other Players To Watch: Sr. Attacker Colin Igoe
Numbers Game: 14-1 - The Irish's record in the GWLL over the last three years - "People were saying it was getting like Memphis basketball," said SID Sean Carroll.
Circle Your Calendar: Feb. 20, at Duke - Duke struggled early against Bucknell last week, but exploited a defense that was weakened by graduation. The Irish might have a template for success here: strike early against a team that's started slowly in two straight games so far (including exhibitions), but then clamp down. And if there's any team in the country who can nail down Duke, it'd be Notre Dame. At the very least, we have one of the nation's best offenses against one of its best defenses.
Before The Face-Off: Talk about a team outgrowing its conference. Sure, the now-defunct GWLL accelerated pretty quickly, but nobody could keep up with Notre Dame. And really, nobody across the country could last year...until Tournament-time, where the undefeated (yet seventh-seeded) Irish lost to Maryland, 7-3. Welcome to the big time, Notre Dame. In a newly formed Big East that features the two-time defending national champs, ever-powerful Georgetown, rising talent Villanova and other teams on the ascent, the Irish won't have a lapse in their schedule this year that will (1) create easier wins to boost the record, (2) lull them into complacency and (3) keep them from a high seed if they manage to go undefeated. With Duke early on the horizon, we'll get an early glimpse into how good the Irish are - but prepare to be impressed.

Coach: Chris Bates, 1st season at Princeton (70-71 at Drexel)
2009 Record: 13-3 (5-1 Ivy) - Lost to Cornell in national semifinals
Big Losses: Attacker Tommy Davis; MF Mark Kovler; MF Rich Sgalardi; D Chris Peyser; LSM Charlie Kolker
Key Returns/Additions:: The McBrides, Chris and Jack, return on attack after scoring 53 goals between the pair last year (35 for Jack, a Second-Team All-American and First-Team Preseason All-American this year). Defenseman Jeremy Hirsch, a two-year starter, and Chad Wiedmaier, a First-Team Preseason All-American who'll be out with an injury for the season's first half.

Chad Wiedmaier | Photo Courtesy of Princeton
Offensive Outlook: The McBrides should take care of themselves. But Tommy Davis' graduation leaves a big hole in the third attack spot, which looks to be filled by the winner of the Rob Engelke-Alex Capretta battle. But things get pretty murky in the midfield, where the graduation of All-Americans Kovler and Sgalardi leaves a two-man hole next to returning starter Scott MacKenzie (29 points in '09). With an abundance of middies, that could be one of the most intriguing battles in the early going.
Defensive Breakdown: The Tigers came into the new year feeling like this corps was clicking. Then Wiedmaier went down with an injury that'll likely sideline him until mid-season. That leaves Hirsch as the lone returning starter on close defense. But, if you're going to return a guy, it might as well be a two-year starter. Look for Jonathan Meyers, who gave up football to focus on lacrosse, to slide in. But if there are questions directly in front of goal, they fade away quickly at LSM, where John Cunningham returns as a fore. Sophomore goalie Tyler Fiorito returns after posting a .587 save percentage and 7.40 GAA in 2009.
Other Players To Watch: Soph. A Mike Grossman (injured most of '09); D Long Ellis
Numbers Game: 1987 - The last time the Tigers had a head coaching change, following the '87 season.
Circle Your Calendar: Mar. 6, April 3, April 10 - Princeton plays in every NFL-Stadium event this year, from the Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank against rival John Hopkins in March, to the New England Classic against Brown at Gillette Stadium to start April to the Big City Classic against Syracuse a week later. Who knows - if the Tigers get too accustomed to playing in 60,000-seaters, we might see a fourth appearance on Memorial Day Weekend.
Before The Face-Off: It's a new dawn at Princeton - it's a new world - at Princeton, as the departure of longtime head coach Bill Tierney, who won six D-I national titles and 14 Ivy League championships while at the helm of the Tigers. Not to mention the departure of second-in-command David Metzbower. Or that of possible heir apparent Kevin Unterstein, who followed Tierney to Denver. Add the eight seniors who left, and you've got an overhaul that Princeton, a model of continuity, has rarely endured before. But the arrival of Bates, who won 31 games in his final three seasons at Drexel after rescuing the program from the dredges, brings renewed optimism - a feeling dashed a little by the injury to Wiedmaier on defense - to a team that hasn't won a title since 2001. But that top-ranked recruiting class from 2009 has risen to the sophomore ranks now - look for them to burst.