Two new coaches are at area schools and the Atlantic Coast Conference is stronger than ever. One constant prevails, however: Johns Hopkins still is the dominant force in collegate lacrosse.
The Blue Jays from Baltimore are aiming to a first-ever fourth straight national title following an unprecedented third straight championship last spring. They are Notre Dame, the Steelers, the Celtics and the Yankees all merged into one slick, stick-swinging machine.
While it is difficult to imagine Johns Hopkins improving, some of its challengers actually have. Maryland, for one, with new Coach Dino Mattesich, is expected to be in the thick of the ACC race with a Virginia team that has attained elite national status, and North Carolina. The Midshipmen of Navy also should be better and the only Washington-based varsity team, Georgetown, has a new coach and brighter hopes. Maryland
Mattesich, an assistant last year to Bud Beardmore, inherits seven starters from a 5-5 team that tied Virginia for the ACC title.
The feeling around College Park is that the Terps will be a hustling bunch. "We're going to be aggressive, we've got no choice," Mattesich said. "Each player has to play a role because we're not overly talented."
Modesty aside, there is talent. Returning are attacker Jim Wilkerson (12 goals, 15 assists), who has moved from midfield, and midfielder Don Sadler, who switched from defense. Rich Shassian is a competent goalie, who still must improve. Questionable is attacker Pete Worstell (24 goals, five assists), who has a bad back.
Mattesich sees the team being more oriented to defense than scoring goals, which is why Worstell, an all-Amercia choice, is such an important factor.
"We are going to pick and choose our little battles," Mattesich said, "and try to win any way we can." Navy
The Mids were 7-4 last year and have many of experienced players returning. Coach Dick Szlasa, therefore, should be bursting with optimism.
"We've got a tough, tough schedule," he said. "If we go 7-4 again, it will be a hell of year. What's happening is that the other teams are getting better and better."
As usual, the Mids will be in shape. "It's going to be a running team, well-conditioned," said Szlasa. "They enjoy hitting. And it should be a littel better offensive team."
This despite the loss of attacker Mike Buzzell. But Syd Abernethey (23 goals, 19 assists) is back, along with Rich Wehman (21 goals, five assists). All-American Mike McLaughlin is the defesive anchor and the Mids have top goalies in Scott Bartkowski and Pat Brannigan. Georgetown
Tom Oberdorfer replaces Greg Swanson as head coach. As an assistant, Oberdorfer was active and close to the players.
"I'm pretty excited about what we've got," Oberdorfer said. What he's got is a program on the rise. The Hoyas were 4-6 last season, the best record in the 10 years of the sport at Georgetown.
"We're building," Oberdorfer said. "When we go on the field a lot of people are going to be surprised."
Of no surprise is the ability of some returning veterans, such as midfielders Nick Kirsch (12 goals, 14 assists) and Hugh Rice (11 goals, 10 assists), defensemen Peter Farrell and Dana Rose and goalie Kevin Murphy. Virginia
The Cavaliers made it to the NCAA final last year, losing to Johns Hopkins by one goal. Four key players are gone from that 12-2 team, but Coach Jim Adams should have enough to again challenge for national honors.
Top returners are attackers Mike Caravana (11 goals, 27 assists), Randy Natoli (16 goals, nine assist), Matt Rainis (13 goals, eight assists), six of eight midfielders and two goalies. Only defense will be of some concern, but not enough to keep Virginia out of the playoffs. Johns Hopkins
Coach Henry Ciccarone again probably has the strongest contingent in the nation, despite the loss of four starters.
Gone is defenseman Mark Greenberg, who some say might have been the greatest at his position in the last 20 years. But back are attacks Brendon Schneck (46 goals, 25 assists), voted the outstanding player in lacrosse, and Jeff Cook (32 goals, 27 assists) and defensemen Lance Schneck and Dave Black.