#1 Johns Hopkins University
As much as it pains the most diehard Blue Jay haters, there’s just no way to argue with this one. Three Senior starters in Tom Garvey, Chris Watson and Benson Erwin, who have 11 years of combined starting experience between them, Matt Pinto, a junior close defenseman who’s also a returning starter, senior Greg Raymond, the team’s returning starter LSM, and arguably the world’s top defenseman of all time as a head coach. To say they’re stacked is a serious understatement. With Pinto, Garvey, a second team AA last season, and Watson, a four year starter, covering the opposing team’s attack unit in close, there’s really just no weakness to attack. So lets move to the midfield; an offense can definitely attack from the midfield, right? Well let’s remember that a returning starter in Raymond is coming back at the LSM spot and with Benson Erwin at the top short stick defensive middie position for the fourth consecutive season, it’s like having two poles running out top. Erwin shines at a position normally left in the dark and like most other great SSDM’s is viewed as the team’s unsung hero. Put all these players together under the guidance of Coach Dave Pietramala and it’s going to be a long season for offenses coming into Homewood. But as always, high expectations don’t necessarily equal a national championship and the number one spot has annually been the kiss of death for Hopkins.
#2 United States Naval Academy
After posting the second best defensive numbers in the nation last season statistically (out of teams with an even decent strength of schedule they were easily number one) you’d expect there to be some let down this season. But with every one of their key defensive players coming back-including 3 senior close defenseman, a senior LSM and two senior SSDMs- as well as their dual “Most Outstanding Defensive Players” Hendler and Lennon, it only seems as if they’re going to improve. For starters, you know that no one in the nation will be in better shape, hit harder or be tougher than these boys; so they got that going for them, which is nice. Their top defenseman and a 3rd team AA last season Mitch Hendler is back after covering the opponents top attackman week in and week out last season. Joining him at close defense is senior Mike Felber, a returning starter, along with Pat Reilley, another fellow senior with starting experience. Senior goalie turned LSM Seth DiNola has the athleticism to go step for step with any middie in the nation and the returning duo of Clipper Lennon and Dan Harris, also senior returning starters, at SSDM will be giving midfielders fits all season long. Like Hopkins, their experience will without a doubt help them to control offenses; however it’s their hardnosed style of play that will really strike fear into opponents. Were it not for the Blue Jays’ individual defensive talents the Midshipmen might have grabbed the number one spot, as their defense is almost as complete a unit as one could hope for.
#3 University of Maryland
After graduating five of their six starters on defense, including two 1st team all American close defenseman, one of whom was the D1 defenseman of the year, another All American close defenseman, the top SSDM in the nation and the team’s MVP, and another SSDM who’s now starring the NLL, it’d appear that the Terps have some big shoes to fill. But no matter how many defenseman Maryland seems to lose every couple of years, they always manage to record some of the top numbers in the nation soon after. With three returning impact players in sophomore Ryan Clarke- who recorded 1 goal and 2 assists as a freshman LSM, Captains Gavin Webb and Tyler Hereth, two of the teams strongest and most athletic players, there’s definitely no lack of talent. Add Air Force transfer Steve Wittenberg in at close, who could easily sprint through a brick wall, along with two of the nation’s top freshman long sticks in Mountain Lakes’ Joe Cinosky and Darien’s Charlie Wiggins and you’ve got one hard nosed athletic squad. While they might not have the most experience, with defensive coach Dave Slafkosky still at the helm and the recent addition of Terp Alum Jeff Shirk working with the midfielders, it will quickly be very apparent that Maryland’s defense won’t be missing a step.
#4 Georgetown University
While the Hoyas might not have a long list of big time players, they do have probably the top long stick in senior Brodie Merrill, as well as the largest defensive unit on the list. No, it’s not their depth that’s worth noting, it’s the fact that all four of their top defensemen are 6-0 200 pounds and up. Merrill, 6-4 205, was a 1st team AA last year as a junior and is a groundball hawk with Canadian stick skills allowing him to put points on the board. The close defense’s anchor is Reyn Garnett a 6-4 215 pound junior who’s one of the strongest players on the team and a returning All ECAC team member. Joining Garnett on close will be fellow juniors Rob Smith and John Trapp who are also part of the team’s strongest players and are 6-0 210 and 6-2 200 respectively. By gaining a bit more experience under their belts early on this season, they should be able to improve on last year’s impressive numbers.
#5 University of Virginia
Despite a less than stellar defensive effort last year, Virginia’s got a lot to look forward to this season. They’re bringing back two tremendous defensemen in juniors Steve Holmes, who missed all of last season after playing with the UVA football team, and Mike Culver, a “smart and smooth player with the quickest feet on the team.” Aside from having these two ridiculous athletes working around the cage, Coach Starsia also managed to lock in one of the nation’s top LSMs to cover the guys out top. Rob Bateman finished up his undergrad work at Penn State with an extra year of eligibility still in his pocket and decided to try his hand at grad school. Easily the most experienced and best stick handler, he has 4 goals and 20 assists over three seasons, the addition of Bateman brings the UVA defensive unit to another level. Factor in that most teams will most likely be underestimating the Cavs after last season’s performance and chances are that they’ll be turning plenty of heads.