The start of the 2012 college lacrosse season is a little more than a week away, which is music to the ears of
There were some fairly significant changes in the offseason, including the introduction of Michigan's program to Division I lacrosse. What kind of impact do you think that will have on the national landscape?
I think it’s absolutely huge when you talk about a school like Michigan. I guess schools now get characterized as
How much time will John Paul have to turn the program into a winner?
When Bill Tierney – who has won six national championships – went to the
Twelve programs changed head coaches in the offseason. Is that a positive or negative sign for the sport?
I think it’s a positive in that it shows that these schools feel like they can win now and want to win now. Most of those schools were what you would consider to be your mid-majors. But there a couple in there that a lot of people feel like they can be giants.
So is there a palpable pressure on coaches to win immediately and consistently?
Really, the pressure comes in summer with the recruiting. You have kids that are sophomores and they haven’t played a minute of varsity lacrosse, and yet they’re committing to Johns Hopkins or
You weren't shy about anointing Virginia, the reigning national champion, as the top team in your preseason poll. What do you like about the Cavaliers?
I like Virginia because of the way they came together last year as a team. For years, it had all been about the individual at Virginia. And they finally put it together from a team aspect and won the national championship. I would characterize it as a legacy of leadership that has been left by Bray Malphrus and John Haldy, in particular. Bray Malphrus was just incredibly impressive as a senior. He entered 2011 as the poster child for why hits to the head were being targeted by officials because he made a living out of knocking the heck out of people. But he transformed himself into more of a leader and just an incredible presence. I think playing that zone defense really helped. He went from being a long-stick midfielder to being the central cog in that zone. And Haldy on the offensive end -- they've got [senior attackman] Steele Stanwick, who has been that offensive leader even through the trials and tribulations of Virginia lacrosse over the last few years culminating last year with some suspensions and some dismissals. But Haldy was a glue guy. And I think when you look at Virginia's team this year, they've got [senior defenseman] Matt Lovejoy coming back, and he had been viewed in the past as a little bit of a thug. But now he embraces the role from Malphrus, and offensively, they still have Stanwick there as the glue guy. And not only is he the glue guy, but he's the best player in the country. I just like those bookends at each end of the field. Obviously, they've got to replace Adam Ghitelman, who I think was incredibly underrated. But I think they're going to have a capable goaltender behind that really strong zone defense. I like the middies. I think [sophomore midfielder] Rob Emery is ready to break out and have a significant season. And then of course, you've got the attack. You've got [junior Matt] White, [senior] Chris Bocklet, some nice freshmen coming in. I look all over the field, and they've got as much talent as anybody, but their biggest thing is their experience from last year and the legacy of leadership that has been left by Malphrus, Haldy and Ghitelman. I think they're really going to pick up from where they left off, and I think they're in a great position to become the first repeat champions since Syracuse in 2008 and 2009.
You also had
For that 10th, I wrestled between Penn and UMass. But what I like about Penn is they get back [sophomore] Maxx Meyer on defense. He played some long stick for them last year as a freshman and was exceptional. He missed their last three games with a leg injury, and Penn lost three in a row and allowed double digits [in goals] in each of those games to Virginia,
Is there a team that is getting a high ranking that you're just not sure of?
A lot of people have Duke at No. 1, and I don't know why, but I just haven't fallen in love with the Blue Devils the way that some of the other folks have. I love [sophomore] Jordan Wolf on attack, but I've got questions about whether their midfielders can dodge enough to create. They're all terrific athletes and great shooters, but are they going to be able to penetrate defenses and open it up for guys like Wolf to do their thing? It just seems like year in and year out [junior goalkeeper Dan] Wigrizer is on the hot seat. Even though he's won a national championship, he still has [senior] Mike Rock breathing down his neck. I think I put Duke at [No.] 4. The other teams that I think might be a little high is Hofstra at 11 and Villanova at 10. Hofstra just loses so much from the offensive end. They also lose Mike Skudin as a close defender, and they lose both of their short-stick defensive midfielders. They just lost a ton to graduation. I'm not saying that they might not be there at the end of the year. They might be in that 10 or 11 spot. But for right now, I thought they were a little high. That attack rolled off the tongue for the last three or four years with [Stephen] Bentz, [Jamie] Lincoln and [Jay] Card. They only played together for two years, but that whole attack is gone. They do get some terrific middies back, but I just think early on, they might struggle. And the reason I say Villanova is because when you talk about all the seniors from last year, I think the one senior that is going to be missed the most by his team is Brian Karalunas, the long-stick middie. He did so much for those guys – creating transition, generating turnovers. They're really going to miss him. And the other thing is, [senior attackman] Kevin Cunningham, who is their best offensive player, has had hamstring issues, and if he goes down, that's going to be tough for the Wildcats. Villanova is a team that everyone just loves and for good reason because they've worked so hard and do so many nice things. Coach [Michael] Corrado has done a great job with those guys, but I just think Penn right now might be a little higher. It's only preseason though.
Considering what Denver accomplished last season, is this year the
Yes. I think with the offensive firepower that they have – and they were incredibly impressive against the United States national team this past weekend – [senior attackman] Mark Matthews is smooth and slick and [senior attackman] Alex Demopoulos is very unselfish and makes things happen. I love their midfield. [Sophomore] Jeremy Noble – in addition to Rob Emery at Virginia – is my breakout player for 2012. He was dynamite last year, especially against Virginia in the national semifinals. The key for Denver though is replacing that defense. All three starters at close and the short-stick D-middies have to be replaced. But if I'm going into that situation, [head coach] Bill Tierney and [defensive coordinator] Trevor Tierney might be the tandem to have a year where the defense's cupboard needs to be replenished. Denver just has incredible offensive firepower, they've got good face-off men. The trick is, who's going to play defense? But here's another key for Denver. As I look at their schedule, they're at Penn State, at Notre Dame, at Air Force, at Fairfield. They get several neutral-site games, and teams have to go out west there. So if they secure home field in the first round [of the NCAA tournament] like they did last year, they know what it takes to travel, especially in the tournament, and they have the experience of running through a forest fire in 900-degree weather in Baltimore last year. They know what it takes to get to the game's ultimate stage. However, they don't want to be a one-hit wonder. They don't want to be that flash in the pan. So I think Coach Tierney is definitely going to remind them of that every single day. Last year doesn't matter. This is a new year, a new focus. But they're going to win a lot of games [by a score of] 14-12. They're going to give up a lot of goals, but at the same time, it's going to be really, really hard to keep Denver off the scoreboard.
Who are your leading candidates to take home the Tewaaraton Award in June?