Division I women's lacrosse team-by-team previews

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Projected NCAA seeds

1. Syracuse

Big East Conference

Last season: 19-4, NCAA finalist

Coach: Gary Gait (seventh year, 76-27)

Top returning point-getter: Alyssa Murray, junior A (74 goals, 31 assists)

Other key returnees

Michelle Tumolo, senior A (52, 43)

Becca Block, senior, D

Alyssa Costantino, junior G

Key newcomers

Kayla Treanor, freshman A-M

Erica Bodt, freshman M

Outlook: The Orange reached the NCAA final for the first time in school history last spring where it fell, 8-6, to Northwestern, but it was impressive in rallying from seven goals down to beat Florida in the semifinal. With that tournament experience and 10 starters back, the Orange has what it takes to go one step further. Tumolo, last season's Attacker of the Year, and Murray lead a unit that returns five of its top six scorers. Two goalies — Costantino and Kelsey Richardson — good enough to split time also return. In addition to aiming for the national championship, the Orange wants to take back the Big East tournament title it lost to Loyola last season before moving to the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2014.

2. Florida

American Lacrosse Conference

Last season: 19-3, NCAA semifinalist

Coach: Amanda O'Leary (fourth season, 45-15; 18th season overall, 207-80)

Top returning point-getters: Brittany Dashiell, senior M (44, 25); Kitty Cullen, senior A (45, 24);

Other key returnees

Ashley Bruns, senior A (44, 24)

Sam Farrell, senior D

Mikey Meagher, senior G

Key newcomers

Lauren Lea, freshman A

Darcy Messina, freshman, A

Outlook: The Gators have all they need to make a strong run at the national title in their fourth year of existence — talent, experience and motivation. After falling to Syracuse in double overtime of last year's national semifinal, the Gators return 11 starters and could not be more determined. This team is loaded with seniors who grew up together after arriving in Gainesville as freshman to start building toward this spring. In addition to a host of capable attackers, Dashiell, a Tewaraaton Award finalist last season and a John Carroll alumna, can dominate all over the field, and Meagher (7.03 goals-against average, .537 save percentage) could be the best keeper in the country.

3. Northwestern

American Lacrosse Conference

Last season: 21-2, NCAA champion

Coach: Kelly Amonte Hiller (12th season, 196-30)

Top returning point-getter: Erin Fitzgerald, senior A-M (56, 9)

Other key returnees

Taylor Thornton, junior M-D

Alyssa Leonard, junior M

Christy Turner, junior D

Key newcomers

Kaleigh Craig, freshman M

Christina Esposito, freshman M

Outlook: The Wildcats return seven starters from a team that won its second straight NCAA title and its seventh in eight years, but it gets tougher every season. In the final four, they edged Maryland, 9-7, and then Syracuse, 8-6, but in the ALC final, they suffered their worst loss in nearly a decade, 14-7 to Florida. The Wildcats graduated a strong core of players, including 2011 Tewaaraton winner Shannon Smith, a key feeder and finisher, and starting goalie Brianne LoManto. Still, the Wildcats have never had trouble reloading. One of their biggest advantages should be on the draw, where Leonard is difficult to beat. They also have an edge in Thornton, a Tewaaraton finalist last season and one of the most versatile players in the nation, who can dominate anywhere on the field.

4. Maryland

Atlantic Coast Conference

Last season: 19-4, NCAA semifinalist

Coach: Cathy Reese (seventh season, 117-15; 10th season overall, 148-44)

Top returning point-getter: Katie Schwarzmann, senior M (72, 22)

Other key returnees

Alex Aust, senior A (44, 52)

Iliana Sanza, senior D

Kelly McPartland, sophomore, M (39, 9)

Key newcomers

Taylor Cummings, freshman, M

Alice Mercer, freshman, D

Outlook: Coming off their fourth straight final four appearance, the Terps need to fill very few holes. The most significant is in goal, where senior Kasey Howard and sophomore Abbey Clipp likely will battle for the starting spot right up the season opener at Richmond on Sunday. Graduating All-American Karri Ellen Johnson (Broadneck) leaves a hole on the attack and on the draw, but their four other top scorers — Schwarzmann (Century), last spring's Tewaaraton winner; Aust; McPartland and Brooke Griffin (South River) — bring back 195 goals, more than all of the Terps' opponents scored against them last season. The return of junior Beth Glaros (Wilde Lake) from an anterior cruciate ligament tear will also boost the attack. Cummings, the National High School Player of the Year last spring at McDonogh, will play a key role on the draw.

Other schools in Maryland

Johns Hopkins

American Lacrosse Conference

Last season: 9-9

Coach: Janine Tucker (20th season, 210-113)

Top returning point-getter: Taylor D'Amore, junior A (33, 40)

Other key returnees

Sammy Cermack, junior M (24, 11)

Courtney Schweizer, senior M-D (16, 2)

Cosette Larash, senior G

Key newcomers

Jen Cook, sophomore A

Dene' DiMartino, freshman M

Outlook: The Blue Jays took a big hit from graduation, including losing three of their top five scorers, who had 96 goals last season — nearly half the team total. With 11 freshmen, Tucker said, possession will be critical. The Blue Jays have speed and athleticism, and were successful with their pressure on the ride in fall ball, which will be important to gaining more possession. Other keys to improving in one of the nation's toughest conferences are taking care of the ball and finishing. Hopkins returns perhaps its two most important veterans in D'Amore, a versatile player who set the school record for draw controls in a season (74), and Larash (10.57 GAA), who has plenty of experience in the goal.

Loyola

Big East

Last season: 14-6, NCAA quarterfinalist

Coach: Jen Adams (fifth season, 53-22)

Top returning point-getter: Marlee Paton, junior M (54, 36)

Other key returnees

Annie Thomas, sophomore A (38, 31)

Sydney Thomas, sophomore M (23, 23)

Taryn VanThof, junior M

Key newcomers

Katrina Geiger, freshman M

Maddy Lesher, freshman D

Outlook: The two-time defending Big East champions return a depth of talent on offense, bringing back the players reponsible for all but four of the 367 points they scored last season. The Greyhounds should improve on the draw with the return of VanThof, who sat out last spring with a knee injury. Graduation, however, wiped out their entire defense. Still, veteran midfielders Ashley Moulton and Katherine Reinhard appear ready to move back to line defense and accept leadership roles. Adams is quick to point out that the Greyhounds' offense was written off last preseason after graduating nearly everyone, but it emerged as a powerhouse with All-American Paton leading a handful of talented freshmen.

Mount St. Mary's

Northeast Conference

Last season: 8-11

Coach: B.J. Johnson (third season, 16-22)

Top returning point-getter: Kaitlyn Larrimore, senior A (31, 4)

Other key returnees

Erin Seipp, sophomore A-M (23, 8)

Gabe Little, junior D

Melissa Cox, sophomore D

Key newcomer

Steph Rurkowski, freshman G

Outlook: Conference runners-up last season, the Mountaineers have the benefit of a balanced offense but are still learning how to maximize it. With three seniors, they have a lot of young players with experience, and Johnson is working to build confidence among her attackers so they know how to blend their talents while also asserting themselves individually. On defense, the Mountaineers return a solid core backed by graduate student Sarah Jane Leder, who backed up Brigid McTavish last season. Leder, however, will be pushed by Rurkowski.

Navy

Patriot League

Last season: 18-3, NCAA first round

Coach: Cindy Timchal (sixth season, 76-22; 31st season overall, 412-108)

Top returning point-getter: Jasmine DePompeo, senior A (45, 47)

Other key returnees

Kathy Young, senior A (58, 4)

Loren Generi, sophomore A (52, 7)

Aimee Gennaro, junior A (52, 4)

Key newcomer

Lizzy Rullan, freshman D

Outlook: For most teams, it doesn't get much better than returning 10 starters, including the top scorer and a goalie who came on strong at the end of the previous season. The Midshipmen run with that into a season in which they aim for their fourth straight Patriot League title. The top four returning scorers bring back 207 goals, so the offense looks as solid as ever. On defense, goalie Michelle Verbeeck allowed just 8.15 goals per game, but Navy has to revamp a defense that lost two all-conference players. The key for the Midshipmen will be to continue to build and to stay consistent as they aim for a fouth straight NCAA tournament bid.

Towson

Colonial Athletic Association

Last season: 16-4, NCAA first round

Coach: Sonia LaMonica (third season, 27-11; fourth season overall, 35-20)

Top returning point-getter: Ashleigh Rohrback, junior A (27, 22)

Other key returnees

Kelly Custer, senior M (35, 9)

Alexa Demski, senior D

Ashley Waldron, senior M (23, 2)

Key newcomers

Laura Zinkand, senior, D

Breanna Hamm, freshman, D-M

Outlook: The Tigers won eight one-goal games last season, including both CAA tournament games, and that says a lot about a defense that should again be strong, but it also says something about an offense that LaMonica would like to change. She would prefer to see a more prolific attack take pressure off the defense. The offensive players who have been with LaMonica for a few years have been groomed to be more free-thinking and up-tempo, and that should pay off a bit more this season. The Tigers, who return nine starters, will have a new goalie, likely sophomore Kelsea Donnelly. After a perfect run through the CAA last season, they are favored to win the conference title for the third straight year.

UMBC

America East Conference

Last season: 8-9

Coaches: Amy Appelt, Tony Giro (first full season)

Top returning point-getter: Lindsay Cox, senior M (42, 8)

Other key returnees

Jamie Fahey, senior D

Abby Wilson, sophomore A (22, 7)

Kristen Bilney, junior M (23, 2)

Top newcomers

Alyssa Semones, sophomore M

Mary Milligan, junior M

Outlook: Appelt and Giro coached two games last season after the abrupt departure of Kelly Berger, and now the former assistants take over as the only head coaching duo in women's college lacrosse. Their first goal will be boosting the offensive production after losing nearly 50 percent of their scoring. The Retrievers, who lost three one-goal games last spring — including two in the America East — scored only one goal fewer than their opponents over the season. While holding opponents to 9.94 goals per game should be good enough to produce a winning season, scoring 9.94 isn't. Look for more assisted goals and a more dynamic offense from a young but eager attack.

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

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