Feb. 19, 2010

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By Kevin Scheitrum

As we wrap up our three-part season preview, we look at the teams that rush into the season just a rung below our top-flight title contenders. Here, we encounter the teams that might not have the weaponry of teams like Duke, Syracuse or Virginia, but find ways to compete with anybody.

In short, don't count these guys out.

Bucknell - Anybody who followed the Bison's game with Duke last weekend got an early glimpse at what this team's all about. Anybody who missed it - start paying attention. This is a team that's finally got all the pieces in place to produce offensively, and although graduation poked holes in a defense that had grown into one of the nation's best, the Bison may have the best team they've put on the field can shore up the back lines that let Duke climb out of a 3-0 hole last week, they'll erase any memory of last year's gut-crunching loss to Navy in the Patriot League final. Austin Winter will handle the scoring. Look for Jake Clarke, who out-played Duke's solid face-off guys last Saturday, to become a name.

Harvard - Something's brewing up in Cambridge. The Crimson reached as high as No. 11 last year on the strength of an 8-5 record that included an early-season win over Duke - that newfound notoriety, coupled with John Tillman's recruiting ability, brought in the third-ranked incoming freshman class. The rooks won't be ready to run the show yet, but they'll make an impact on a program steadily on the rise. Senior co-captain Travis Burr directs the field as well as anybody in the midfield, while fellow captain Billy Geist, himself a Preseason Honorable Mention All-American, will patrol the back line. Look to Dean Gibbons to drive the offense on attack.

Loyola (Md.) - The Greyhounds have a new home this year, the state-of-the art Fr. Harold Ridley, S.J., Intercollegiate Athletic Complex (opening Mar. 13), but rest assured that they'll have their sites set across town at M&T Bank. Picked to win the ECAC this year for the third straight time, Loyola returns 60 percent of its scoring offense from last year, despite the departure of leading point man Shane Koppens (41 points). Scoring duties will fall on Cooper MacDonnell and Collin Finnerty, while Steve Layne leads a defense that held conference opponents to 7.6 goals per game last year.

Navy - It's not fun to play against Navy. The Midshipmen work as hard, every minute of every game, as you'd expect future members of the United States military to work. Navy doesn't bring in the premier talent that teams like Duke or Virginia do, but coach Richie Meade squeezes every drop of ability from his team. Tim Paul (32 points in '09) and Brendan Connors (league leader in scoring in '09) come back to run the attack, while conference Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Jaren Woeppel chairs the defense. Picked to win the Patriot League crown in the Preseason Coaches Poll, Navy is after its seventh straight Tournament appearance.

UMBC - Tied with Stony Brook to finish first in the America East in the conference's Coaches Preseason Poll, the Retrievers look to have a slight edge to notch their third straight AE title. What was lost from the '09 squad was great: attacker Ryan Smith, middies Peet Poillon and Alex Hopmann, defender Kevin Goedeke and America East Player of the Year Jeremy Blevins in goal are all gone. However, what returns isn't too bad, either: Twenty-seven letterwinners return, including First-Team Preseason All-American Kyle Wimer at midfield and Third-Team Preseason All-American Bobby Atwell on defense.

Others To Watch: Brown, Stony Brook, Colgate, Albany, UMass, Villanova, Ohio State and, to see what's ahead for next year, Bryant