By Michael Spinner
2002 will probably be remembered as a quiet year in the lacrosse world. After all, how much happened that really surprised us or truly made the headlines? Was anybody shocked to see Syracuse raise the Division I trophy and yet another Championship Game appearance by Princeton? Was Limestone's presence in the Winner's Circle a surprise? And, Middlebury-Gettysburg…any surprises there? Even in the professional ranks, it was a Baltimore-Long Island Title Game. While Long Island dropping the Finals was a bit of an upset, at no point was there any doubt as to who the two best teams were.
And on the International Level, we all learned that the United States fields the best lacrosse on Earth even when our best players don't compete…as if there was ever any doubt. The only surprise came when the U.S. did the same in the box arena against Canada in the Heritage Cup.
Overall-2002 was not very different from the year before when you think about it. We were blessed with a one-goal Division I final and cursed with dominant performances in the Division II and III Championship Games. Very few coaching changes in the off-season (in men's lacrosse), not very many shocking stories and, if anything, the most intrigue took place among High School recruiting circles.
It was an interesting year for lacrosse, but not very spell-binding. It was exciting, but not special. Overall, it was a great year for our sport, but it is doubtful that anything we saw happen will change the landscape of our sport.
For my money's worth, the proverbial "Story of the Year" in the lacrosse world was perhaps the under-publicized of the major events as in Division I Women's Lacrosse we saw an era come to an end with Maryland's string of seven straight National Championships ended. In fact, the Lady Terps barely made it to the NCAA Tournament. Maryland's run was perhaps the greatest period of dominance in the history of Division I lacrosse and only rivaled Hobart's Division III dynasty for the ultimate supremacy in our sport. But Maryland's demise barely made a peep. It's unfortunate, too-there will be a time that people look at the run by Cindy Timchal and her squads with much awe.
But, 2002 is over and with the change to the 2003 and pre-season workouts only weeks away, it's time to look ahead. While there is an expanded NCAA field this year, there's little to indicate that 2003 will be a whole lot different. We can only guess that the increased parity of the lacrosse world will bring about some truly amazing storylines for the 2003 season. Is there one team at any level of men's and women's lacrosse that is clearly the elite? Probably not. Is there a lot of room for upset? Definitely. But there always is.
With this in mind, here's a sneak peek into the crystal ball and a list of some predictions for 2003:
- Division I-While the level of play will be at an all-time high among the top-20 in Division I, Syracuse with both Powell and Banks in the line-up will make it to the finals along with a Princeton team that returns a ton from last season's runner-up team. However, look for one surprise team from the New England area to make it to their first Final Four and one Final Four regular to be upset in the early rounds. Ultimately, we'll be treated to another classic between the Orange and the Tigers but the emergence of the young guns at Hopkins, Virginia, UNC, and elsewhere will prove that this is the last time we'll see such a match-up for the Championship for a while.
- Division II-For the first time in the brief history of Division II men's lacrosse, a Long Island team will not appear in the Championship game. LeMoyne-Limestone for the D2 crown.
- Division III-Should be one of the most exciting seasons in recent memory for Division III lacrosse-particularly in the southern region as Gettysburg, Washington and Lee, Washington College, and Salisbury leave everybody guessing who is the best of the best. Middlebury advances to yet another Championship Game but is dethroned by one of the elite Southern squads.
- Women's Lacrosse-Princeton goes untouched on another Championship run while the ACC makes history by having the entire conference in the top-five for a very long stretch. Look for a Princeton-Virginia Championship Game with the Tigers proving to be one of the best squads in the history of Division I women's lacrosse. Look for C.W. Post to take the Division II crown while Middlebury continues its stranglehold on women's Division III.
- The Pros-This will be the year of reckoning for Professional Lacrosse as both the NLL and MLL determine whether or not they can survive. The NLL move to Colorado will prove to be an overwhelming success that beings new energy to the rest of the league while the MLL finds a way to tread water for another year. Look for MLL brass to finally admit their struggles and either form a partnership with US Lacrosse or allow team and player sponsorship by alternative manufacturers to try to keep the league afloat. However, one current franchise will relocate to Philadelphia and another will fold for 2004, but an expansion will keep the league alive for one more year. If the league ever drops to less than 6 teams, it's over. That won't likely happen for another year or two, if at all.
- Economics-One major lacrosse equipment manufacturer will file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection by year's end. At least 5 upstart retailers will fail, as well.
- The D1 AQ's-Ivy (Princeton), CAC (Towson), America East (Quinnipiac), MAAC (Manhattan), ECAC (UMass), Great West (Fairfield), Patriot League (Hobart). The other nine teams advancing to the NCAA tournament will be Virginia, Maryland, UNC, Duke, Georgetown, Syracuse, Hopkins, Hofstra, and Yale with the lacrosse world being shocked by Cornell and Notre Dame being snubbed.
- D1 Teams that will have excellent seasons after tough 2002 seasons-Notre Dame, Towson, Duke
- D1 Teams that will disappoint-Stony Brook, Loyola, Bucknell
- D1 Teams that will emerge-Denver, Villanova, Sacred Heart
- D1 Team that takes another step-Fairfield
- Number of Division I Head Coaching positions of current programs that will open before July-5
- Most intriguing Vacancy-St. John's
- Number of D3 Conferences with a surprise team to gain an AQ-0
- Division III team that will not live up to its hype-Whittier
- Most Improved Division III teams-Stevens Tech, St. Mary's, Western New England, Lynchburg
- Division III Final Four-Washington and Lee, Salisbury, Cortland, Middlebury
- Division III Powerhouses that will struggle-Nazareth, Denison
- Player of the Year in Division I-Kevin Cassese, Duke
- Player of the Year in Division II-Corey Sullivan, LeMoyne
- Player of the Year in Division III-Tim McGinnis, Gettysburg
E-lax Editor's picks: It's all Virginia! Men and Women win squeakers over Hopkins and Princeton (their only loss) for a title monopoly in Charlottesville. The NCAA Final four and final game will set records for attendance at Ravens' Stadium in Baltimore. In D-III watch for Salisbury and a little attackman named Brian Bradford to challenge Middlebury in the final. Bradford, a star on the E-Lacrosse summer team between freshman and sophomore years ran with and against some of the best in D-I and was always a threat. He could be the next Mark Millon if he works as hard. In D-II Anne Arundel, Maryland - I mean Limestone, South Carolina will win it. Nassau wins the JUCO - again. Toronto, with the addition of Kevin Finneran, repeats in the NLL and Baltimore repeats in the MLL.
December 29, 2002
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