We know the 2019 campaign just ended about two months ago. But it's not too soon to project the extremely early top 25 Division I women's lacrosse rankings prior to the upcoming spring. A lot can change between now and then but it's still fun to consider who might begin the season as the top teams.
Here are our way-early rankings, beginning with North Carolina — tied for the fifth most national titles (2) in the NCAA:
1. North Carolina
2019 record: 17-4 (5-2 ACC)
No team maintains a perfect balance of talent and fundamental soundness more than the Tar Heels, especially in terms of next season's lineup outlook. Highlighted by single-season points record holder (112) Jamie Ortega, the experienced core of returners includes Katie Hoeg (104 points), Olivia Ferrucci (59 points) and Tayler Warehime (38 points) — four offensive threats that could be enough to propel North Carolina to its third title in program history. But wait, there's more. A brick wall in Taylor Moreno is back in Chapel Hill as one of the best goalies in the country and she'll have a stout defense that allowed only 8.6 goals per contest this past spring. And to top it all off, the Tar Heels could have an automatic stimulus in 2020 after faltering just long enough to lose an instant classic against Boston College in the NCAA semifinals. This is a team with few flaws, and because of it, North Carolina earns the top spot in our early rankings.
2019 record: 16-5 (5-2 ACC)
One of the most exciting matchups of the spring comes when Syracuse squares off against ACC rival North Carolina, because the strengths of these squads are nearly identical. Most notably, the Orange weren't decimated by graduates and have the chance to field 10 of the same starters. One of the more prolific scoring attacks in the NCAA will fill the offensive third with the return of Emily Hawryschuk (71 goals), Meagan Tyrrell (37 goals, 20 assists) and a dynamic duo in Sam Smart and Megan Carney that tallied 32 goals each. Combine Hawryschuk's (67 draw controls) skilled presence on the draw with an aggressive defense, anchored by a versatile Sarah Cooper, that dominated ground balls last season and Syracuse is a formidable challenger for its first national championship since 2009.
2019 record: 22-1 (6-0 Big Ten)
Maryland capped off 2019 with a national title in a season defined by the terrorization of opposing defenses. But the Terrapins lost their three most productive offensive threats to graduation, though replacing the trio won't be an impossible problem to overcome. Like many elite programs, the squad maintains a handful of stars who have the opportunity to step up in the midst of Maryland bidding adieu to seven former starters. Kalie Hartshorn (48 goals, 19 assists), Brindi Griffin (44 goals, 24 assists) and Grace Griffin (45 goals, 12 assists) are the new faces of the offense and will provide plenty of support to a defense that fields a new goalie — rising sophomore Maddie McSally stands as the probable starter — after the departure of Tewaarton Award winner Megan Taylor. A long story short, the sky is always the limit for a school that's won 14 national championships.
2019 record: 16-4 (6-1 Ivy League)
The Tigers lose a hefty chunk of their lineup from last spring, but like Maryland, the program won't be the only one searching for ways to supersede key players. Princeton will likely turn to Kyla Sears and Tess D'Orsi, two scorers who dropped a combined 119 goals, on the attack. And losing only two defenders is also a plus for a squad that will field a brick wall goalie in Sam Fish (48.8 save percentage). All told, the Tigers are without seven seniors from 2019 but have the benefit of keeping assets on both ends of the field. Princeton could make plenty of noise next spring in an effort to gain its first title since 2003.
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2019 record: 16-5 (5-1 Big Ten)
It may be tough to envision a future for the Wildcats that doesn't include Selena Lasota, who put up 85 goals and 19 assists last season. Losing a program-changing player is always difficult, but it probably won't be for head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. The offense retains Izzy Scane (62 goals, 18 assists), Lindsey McKone (45 goals, 28 assists) and Lauren Gilbert (52 goals, 13 assists); a group that will have the ball in their sticks quite often if Brennan Dwyer is back to her prodigious draw control form after scooping up 181 last year. The 'Cats are usually so offensively productive and defensively stable that average goalkeeping has sufficed in the past, so the graduated Mallory Weisse likely won't be an overly negative loss in the net. Lacrosse has won seven of the eight national championships across all sports at Northwestern and expect them to be a realistic contender to make it nine in 2020.
2019 record: 12-6 (5-2 Ivy League)
Penn returns all but four players from last year's roster, giving the Quakers one of the most experienced teams in the nation — one that made it to the NCAA tournament in 2019. From top to bottom, Penn also contains as much or more stability than any other Division I program, highlighted by Gabby Rosenzweig (35 goals, 63 assists), Abby Bosco (54 goals, 44 draw controls), goalie Mikaila Cheeseman (45.8 save percentage), Zoe Belodeau, Erin Barry (37 goals) and many other offensively and defensively-capable weapons. Because of the proven success of a nearly identical lineup coming back to Penn, calling this team a potential national champion seems like a no-brainer.
MEN'S LAX RANKINGS: The way-too-early men's lacrosse top 25 rankings for the upcoming 2020 season
2019 record: 16-4 (9-1 Pac-12)
Bringing back nine of 11 starters is one thing. But returning eight players who notched 20 or more points in 2019 is another incredible feat. Led by Kelsey Huff (43 goals), Izzy McMahon (35 goals) and Hope Anhut (29 goals, 17 assists), the Trojans are stacked with versatile players who contribute in all facets of the game. Huff is relentless with the ball on the ground, picking up 35, while McMahon earns her goals after winning draws (28). And on top of those numbers, Kerrigan Miller tallied at least 20 goals, ground balls, draw controls and caused turnovers. With a firm defense to supplement stellar goalie Riley Hertford, who held shooters to a measly 8.3 goals per game, USC should sweep through the Pac-12 with a chance to cause serious trouble later on in the NCAA tournament.
2019 record: 16-4 (4-2 Big Ten)
Ann Arbor had a lot to celebrate this year with Michigan baseball's underdog trip to the College World Series and the first NCAA tournament appearance in women's lacrosse program history. The Wolverines sported exceptional balance with a wide range of players making significant contributions. Many of those same pieces will be back in the 2020 lineup: Caitlin Muir (38 goals, 21 assists), Maggie Kane (34 goals, 37 draw controls, 23 ground balls), Lilly Grass (29 goals, 19 assists), Nadine Stewart (27 goals, 8 assists) and Molly Garrett (29 goals, 65 draw controls). But, with the exception of fifth-year Maggie Handlan, the defense will lack experience and have a new face in cage. If Handlan can play teacher to the young defenders and the attack finds a way to light up the scoreboard, Michigan will be a sneaky pick to make a dent in the NCAA tournament pool.
9. Boston College
2019 record: 22-2 (7-0 ACC)
Before Boston College landed two program-changing transfers (attacker Charlotte North and goalie Rachel Hall), the team was a huge question mark heading into the 2020 campaign. Since the Eagles no longer have their best three point distributors, and they're forced to make up for a whopping 395 draw controls lost to graduation, the addition of North couldn't have come in more dire straits. At Duke, the rising junior put up 82 goals and 23 assists, numbers that a deprived attack needed. But who's there to pick up the rest of the slack? Well, rising seniors Cara Urbank (55 goals, 19 assists) and Sheila Rietano (35 goals, 14 assists) will help steer the offensive ship along with junior Jordan Lappin (23 goals, 7 assists). A pair of 14-goal scorers in Jenn Medjid and Kate Taylor will also be back to complement them. And a defense that allowed more than 10 goals per game in 2019 sees the arrival of Hall from Oregon. In one season, she obtained a nation-leading 246 saves over 18 contests and stopped a per-game average of 13.67 shots on her way to a 49.8 percent save rate. Boston College went undefeated in ACC play last season, and its outlook just got a lot better for this go-around.
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2019 record: 13-7 (3-4 ACC)
Outside of team points leader Sammy Mueller (72 points), the Cavaliers are deprived of 139 points due to the departure of Maggie Jackson and Avery Shoemaker. So this means someone, or everyone, will have to step up in the absence of those two holes. Luckily for Virginia, the team has a solid young set of scorers to help Mueller out: Lillie Kloak (31 goals, 7 assists), Nora Bowen (30 goals) and Ashlyn McGovern (27 goals) with the promise of sophomore midfielder Courtlynne Caskin (10 goals). Add a trustworthy goalie in Charlie Campbell (45.1 save percentage), and the Cavaliers could be one of the better groups in the ACC.
11. Notre Dame
2019 record: 14-5 (5-2 ACC)
Notre Dame will surely miss the presence of record-holding goalie Samantha Giacolone, the Fighting Irish all-time leader in wins and saves. Her replacement in the net, Bridget Deehan, is a competent substitute with 149 minutes of on-field experience in 2019. And Notre Dame's defense only allowed just over eight goals per contest last season, so it isn't time for the back line to panic just yet. Plus, the offense returns its two best point scorers in Andie Aldave (47 goals, 20 assists) and Maddie Howe (59 goals, 19 assists). The Irish had some trouble getting over the hump against teams like Syracuse and Northwestern last spring and it won't get any easier in a stacked conference schedule. But this year's lineup has the capabilities to improve on its second-round finish in last season's NCAA tournament.
12. Stony Brook
2019 record: 16-5 (7-0 America East)
Stony Brook is one of the dominant forces of the modern era, making seven straight NCAA tournament appearances. But the relatively heavy losses the Seawolves took on the defensive end after the 2019 season is the reason they are marked outside of the top 10 on this list. Despite Mackenzie Burns (25 caused turnovers), Carlee Janelli (22 caused turnovers) and netminder Anna Tesoreiro all taking graduating from the program, Stony Brook's attack is still a daunting matchup for its opponents. Keeping dual threats Ally Kennedy (84 goals, 124 draw controls), Siobhan Rafferty (50 goals) and Taryn Olhmiller (36 goals, 35 assists) could keep the ball out of the defensive end of the field anyway. The Seawolves will be just fine and could find their way in our top 10 if they knock off ranked non-conference opponents early in the regular season.
2019 record: 16-4 (5-0 Big East)
Denver preserves its intimidation factor on the attack with eligibility remaining for its top-two point contributors, Quintin Hoch-Bullen (59 goals, 12 assists) and Bea Behrins (49 goals, 5 assists). The significant exits come on the defense, highlighted by the loss of Katherine Fischer, who put up a team-leading 36 caused turnovers and 49 ground balls. And possession could be near Denver's goal a little more in 2020, especially because the team will be without Maddie Baum (105 draw controls). The key player to watch in the upcoming spring is the do-everything Molly Little (28 caused turnovers, 62 draw controls) who has a chance to be the statistical replacement to Baum and Fischer. If 2019 performance is any indicator and the Pioneers can be average on defense, they could have their path to the NCAA tournament paved with flying colors.
14. James Madison
2019 record: 16-4 (6-0 CAA)
A recurring theme in these rankings is good goalkeeping, which can make or break a team. In James Madison's case, the defense will be anchored by 2019 CAA goalie of the year Molly Dougherty, who allowed a meager 8.49 goals per game a stellar 53.5 save percentage. And it's imperative for Dougherty to be the brick wall behind a back that loses three starters. Even though the Dukes graduate their top point scorer, the offense keeps the likes of Logan Brennan (38 goals, 15 assists), Maddie McDaniel (41 goals) and Katie Checkosky (10 goals, 21 assists). Other than a rebuilding defense, the team's point producers are well distributed throughout the lineup, giving James Madison a ton of flexibility at its disposal. The program also won the 2018 national title, which could have been a developmental experience for much of the current roster. If these Dukes can come out swinging on defense, this No. 14 ranking might prove to be an underestimate.
2019 record: 16-5 (9-0 Patriot League)
Loyola returns a substantial cast of goal manufacturers from last season, with Livy Rosenzweig (46 goals, 70 assists) at the helm. In spite of that, the Greyhounds drop a multitude of key players from the lineup, including midfielder Taylor VanThof (31 goals, 14 assists, 108 draw controls), defender Lindsey Ehrhardt (45 caused turnovers) and starting goalkeeper Kady Glynn. Rosenzweig still has Sam Fielder (48 goals, 26 assists) and Elli Kluegel (34 goals, 5 assists) to share some of the load in the scoring department, but it may not be enough if Loyola has difficulty finding sufficient successors to its lost talent.
2019 record: 16-5 (8-1 Patriot League)
Navy's attack will be downright scary next season. With Kelly Larkin (69 goals, 52 assists) to score points and midfielder Reagan Roelofs (146 draw controls) to secure possession, the Midshipmen have the firepower to make their eighth NCAA tournament since 2010. To add on, in the upcoming spring, eight of the nine players who obtained 20 or more points are re-upped for 2020. Giving up 17 goals or more in losses is cause for disconcertment, but Navy's offense is the real deal and could help negate many of the defensive complications. It seems likely the program will be a mainstay in the postseason.
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2019 record: 14-7 (5-0 AAC)
Notwithstanding Florida's loss of its leading goal scorer and starting netminder, the Gators retain three of their best five point distributors — a key to maintaining the high-octane attack they've pushed in the past. Shannon Kavanagh (69 goals, 26 assists), Grace Haus (39 goals, 12 assists) and Brianna Harris (21 goals, 22 assists) will backpack the the team's offense, while the defense falls into the hands of incoming senior Cara Trombetta (40 caused turnovers). With Kavanagh (93 draw controls), Sabrina Cristodero (75 draw controls) and Harris (40 draw controls) to command ball possession, there's enough scoring talent to restore the goals missed by the graduation of Lindsey Ronbeck (89 goals). But one of the big deterrents potentially holding Florida back could be its goalkeeping situation; starter Hailey Hicklen ended her tenure with the Gators and the backup Kenzii Kittell only played 40 minutes in 2019. So either a newcomer or Kittell will take on a huge responsibility next spring. Florida maintains a capable lineup, but it'll only go as far as its goalie allows them in the pursuit of the first national title in program history.
18. High Point
2019 record: 15-5 (6-0 Big South)
Led by the 66 goal, 37-assist scoring Abby Hormes, High Point sets the scoreboard on fire. Alongside Hormes stands Ashley Britton (39 goals, 9 assists) and Rachel Foster (39 goals, 14 assists) to help out in the scoring department. And the defensive end keeps hold of four players with more than 20 caused turnovers, complementing the two facilitators obtaining possession with over 77 draw controls each. Additionally, the squad keeps its starting goalie Sarah Zeto. This team has the goods to make an NCAA tournament run, but that could be contingent on performing well against top-ranked opponents.
19. Johns Hopkins
2019 record: 10-8 (2-4 Big Ten)
Johns Hopkins will have a tenured group with a knack for burying shots in the back of the cage. Its two top scorers in Maggie Schneidereith (48 goals, 29 assists) and Aurora Cordingley (41 goals, 22 assists) will take to the attack in 2020, and the roster maintains a defensive mastermind in Caroline Hoeg (42 ground balls, 24 caused turnovers). The Blue Jays face the need of finding an adequate replacement for the departed Haley Crosson, though the team keeps two returning backup goalies. Overall, Johns Hopkins is a threat in every facet of the game and could find a spot in the NCAA tournament with even a small slip up from another Big Ten program.
2019 record: 11-8 (8-2 Pac-12)
In 2019, the Buffaloes will be without their best two scorers, Miranda Stinson (64 goals) and Samantha Nemirov (51 goals). That leaves a young core to complete the task of running the offense: junior Sadie Grozier (36 goals) and sophomores Charlie Rudy (26 goals) and Liz Phillips (7 goals, 3 assists). But Colorado sports a solid defense and goalie to pick up some of the possible slack. Senior Anna Collawn (36 ground balls, 18 caused turnovers) is a workhorse in the midfield and will try to keep returning goalkeeper Julia Lisella from getting peppered in net. The Buffaloes are fundamentally sound but travel a tough road to the NCAA tournament.
2019 record: 12-9 (3-2 Big East)
There will be a new set of scorers at the top of the stat sheet in 2020, as the best three point-getters on the Hoyas have left the building. So Michaela Bruno (34 goals, 13 assists), Emily Ehle (16 goals, 23 assists) and Natalia Lynch (22 goals, 9 assists) will comprise a fresh trio on offense. Some good news for Georgetown is it fields multiple competent players who can snag draw controls at a high rate. And its skillful defense can batten down the hatches near the fan, giving a new goalkeeper a chance to get used to a starting role. Hoyas fans will be happy to hear the Big East likely won't be difficult to circumvent, and Georgetown's only bonafide conference test is Denver.
WATCH: Adelphi wins the 2019 DII Women's Lacrosse Championship
2019 record: 11-8 (2-5 ACC)
The Blue Devils seemed as though they'd break the three-year NCAA tournament drought that's plagued the program as of late, until they received the future-altering news: Duke's top point scorer Charlotte North (83 goals, 23 assists) transferred to Boston College. Now the key players left in the projected 2020 lineup are goalie Gabbe Cadoux, and three offensive pieces in Catherine Cordrey, Abby Landry and Katie Cronin. Last season, Landry notched 20 goals while Cronin tallied 18. After North and Olivia Jenner's (59 goals, 23 assists, 150 draw controls) departures from Duke, returners are going to have to take a significant step forward next spring.
2019 record: 11-6 (6-1 Ivy League)
Like Georgetown, Dartmouth's offense is hurt by its top three scorers graduating. But a consolation is the latest triumvirate — Katie Borque (38 goals, 8 assists, Ellie Carson (29 goals, 8 assists) and Sophia Turchetta (21 goals, 7 assists) approaches next season with senior standing, giving the lineup an experienced core of replacements. The defense will be up to speed with load of returners, but Claire Marshall (54 draw controls) will be asked to fill the void left by the graduated Kathryn Giroux, who led the team in draw controls with 160 in 2019. On paper, Dartmouth looks to be a solid contender for an NCAA tournament bid, but replacing three of the best players on a roster is always unenviable.
2019 record: 15-4 (9-0 A-10)
The Minutewomen boast one of the more tenured rosters, especially in the midfield, throughout this list. Massachusetts loses 67 goals due to the graduation of Kiley Anderson, but it'll have most of its production back with the return of Haley Connaughton (37 goals, 35 assists), Stephanie Croke (43 goals, 25 assists) and Kaitlyn Cerasi (47 goals, 39 assists). Croke and Caitlyn Petro will most likely be asked to take on increased roles at the draw — dominance in that area could keep the ball on the offensive end and help a goalkeeping duo that split time almost evenly last season. UMass didn't make the 2019 NCAA tournament due to its sputtering in the conference title game, so the team must cross that bridge before they think about making a deep run in the postseason.
2019 record: 17-4 (6-0 ASUN)
This past season, the Dolphins only lost four games — three against ranked opponents — and made it to the second round of the NCAA tournament. Now, Jacksonville brings a plethora of talent back to school. The best part is that its roster is youthful and will be a daunting matchup for opponents in years to come. But for the 2020 season, the squad retains its leading scorer, Jenny Kinsey (51 goals, 19 assists), along with Alyssa Arnold (39 goals, 22 assists) and Lauren Phillips (29 goals, 14 assists). With a sturdy trio that has grabbed 64 or more draw controls each in next season's lineup, Jacksonville could have plenty of opportunities to continue terrorizing opposition on offense. And the Dolphins' defense preserves a starting goalkeeper with three years of eligibility left and a steady defender in Casey Sullivan (23 caused turnovers, 26 ground balls). There's truly little reason to believe Jacksonville won't continue its reign of the ASUN, in which it has only lost one conference game in the last three years, and earn another bid to the NCAA tournament. This young set of players may not make the most noise in this year's tourney, but it's frightening to envision how good they'll be in the near future.