For No. 13 Massachusetts men’s lacrosse coach Greg Cannella, there is no doubt that the Colonial Athletic Association is one of the top conferences in the nation.
“I would say top to bottom again it’s one of the best conferences in the country,” Cannella said. “It’ll be a dogfight every time out. In the CAA, you know you’re gonna be in a battle, you know one, two, three-goal games regardless of what people’s records are. Once you gain a familiarity with programs or you establish rivalries with certain programs you can throw the records out and just go out and play.”
The Minutemen came out of the conference unscathed last year en route to their first-ever CAA championship.
This year, UMass was picked to finish first once again with five of the seven first place votes in the coach’s preseason poll.
But it won’t be easy for the Minutemen as they are one of three teams, along with Penn State and Hofstra, to be ranked in the preseason Top 20 poll within the conference.
Here is a look at the teams UMass will be competing with for its second-straight CAA crown.
The No. 15 Nittany Lions are coming off of a second place finish in the CAA with a 9-6 overall record and a 5-1 conference record.
Penn State has four players who were named to the 2013 Preseason All-CAA Men’s Lacrosse Team including star junior goalkeeper Austin Kaut, who was 10th in the NCAA with a 7.93 goals-against average and sixth in save percentage (.584 percent) last season.
The Nittany Lion’s strength last year was its defense as it posted the 10th best scoring defense in the country with 8.13 goals allowed per game. Two of their top returning defenders are Jack Donnelly and Kessler Brown, who was one the other Penn State players named to the preseason CAA team.
Also named to the all conference team were attackers Jack Forster and midfielder Nick Dolik. Forster, who was granted a sixth-year of eligibility by the NCAA, was tied for the team lead in points with 40.
The Nittany Lions have difficult 2013 schedule as they will face seven teams ranked in the preseason Top 20 including the Minutemen on Mar. 16 in Amherst. They started their season with a 11-6 win at Michigan.
The No. 17 Pride finished with a record of 6-8 overall and 2-4 in the CAA last season.
But this year, Hofstra is projected to finish in a tie for third place in the conference with Drexel.
The Pride return 27 players and will be led by top returning scorers Adrian Sorichetti and Lance Yapor. Sorichetti and Yapor finished with 38 and 35 points, respectively, last year.
Sorichetti, John Antoniades and Mark Mullen were all named to the All-CAA preseason team.
The Pride will have to find a new starting goalkeeper this year after the graduation of Andrew Gvozden. Chris Selva is the only returning goalie to have seen playing time last year.
Hofstra will face six preseason Top 20 teams including UMass on April 20. It will open up its season against Sacred Heart on Feb. 16.
The Dragons are projected to finish in third with Hofstra after their 2012 season in which they went 8-8 overall and 4-2 in the CAA.
Senior attacker Robert Church, who was named to the All-CAA preseason team, returns after he scored a team-high 29 goals, 18 assists and 47 points last season.
Brendan Glynn and Aaron Prosser, who each tallied over 30 points last season, also return for the Dragons.
Drexel will also have to find a replacement in goal. Dan Rodgers was the only goalie to see game action last season that returns.
The Dragons will face five preseason Top 20 teams including the Minutemen on April 13 at Garber Field. They will open their season at No. 9 Virginia on Feb. 16.
The Blue Hens are off to a 1-1 start to the season following a season-opening 12-10 win over High Point and a 9-8 loss to Bucknell.
Delaware was picked to finish fifth in the CAA this year after compiling a record of 6-9 overall 1-5 in the CAA last season.
The Blue Hens will be a young team this year, as 33 of their 46 players will either be freshmen or sophomores.
Senior Eric Smith is projected to lead the Delaware offense at attack after missing all of last season due to injury. Chris Herbert returns for his sophomore season to lead the Blue Hens in goal.
Delaware will face five teams ranked in the preseason Top 20 including UMass on April 26 in Amherst.
The Tigers were picked to finish sixth in the CAA this season after going 2-4 in the conference last year with an overall record of 7-8.
Towson had one player named to the All-CAA preseason team in defenseman John Fennessy.
Senior co-captain Andrew Wascavage is returning for the Tigers in goal after posting a goals-against-average of 9.57 last season.
The rest of the team is relatively young with 65 percent of the players being either freshmen or sophomores.
The top returning goal scorer is junior Thomas DeNapoli. He finished third on the team last year in goals (15) and led Towson in points (28).
The Tigers will face six preseason Top 20 teams including the Minutemen on April 6.
Rounding out the CAA is the Hawks, who were picked to finish last as they did last season with a record of 6-9 overall and 1-5 in the CAA.
Returning for SJU is junior Ryan McGee, who finished with a team-high 52 points and 38 goals and was tied for the lead in assists with 14.
Kyle Williams, the only other player to tally over 20 points last season, also returns. He was tied with McGee in assists and finished with 13 goals and 27 points.
The Hawks will have to replace Griffin Ferrigan at goalie this year. Dustin Keen is the only returning goalie to see playing time last year.
SJU will face four preseason Top 20 teams including UMass on March 30.
Cameron McDonough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @Cam_McDonough.