NCAA – 2017 Colonial Athletic Association Preview

Chris’ Colonial Projections

1. Northeastern
2. William & Mary
3. Drexel
4. Hofstra
5. Elon
6. UNC Wilmington

7. James Madison
8. College of Charleston
9. Towson
10. Delaware

Northeastern conquered all in the CAA in 2016. It certainly didn’t appear that that was going to be the case early last year, when the Huskies won just two of their first six, including a draw at home against Rhode Island. Even at the beginning of league play, there were doubts, with the club losing their opener against Delaware. NU would end up winning seven of their last eight CAA matches though to storm to a league title. They’d win their two CAA Tournament matches, 3-0, and actually gave Clemson a close run battle in the NCAA Tournament before bowing out.

The Huskies are a paradox in 2017, as they lose five starters, but they also return a very talented core that could have them as title favorites again. The attack for NU rolled last season, and junior Hannah Rosenblatt was the lead gun, netting thirteen goals to lead the Huskies. Rosenblatt is just one part of a dynamic attack though, as seniors Hannah Lopiccolo and Kayla Cappuzzo have terrorized opposing defenses here for three years and could give NU the best one-two-three punch in the CAA. Though the Huskies have to replace midfielder Carina Deandreis, they still have sophomore Kerri Zerfoss and rookies Chelsea Domond and Sophia Thompson to fall back on as ancillary attacking weapons.

NU was also pretty good on defense last year as well, though not in league runner-up Drexel’s class. Defense is the biggest question mark for NU, as the group loses one of the CAA’s best defenders in Mackenzie Dowd, as well as the very game Jenny Sinclair. Adding in U.S. U18 international Mikenna McManus should help, but there are still some serious concerns on the backline. NU should be safe in goal though, as junior Nathalie Nidetch was one of the best in the league last year, while rookie Megan Adams should provide excellent cover if needed. I’m probably a bit more conservative on my view of NU this year than my projections thanks to some of the defensive questions, but the Huskies are still probably going to roll most CAA teams thanks to their attacking trifecta.

2016 was another winning season for William & Mary, a program that has never had a losing season in program history. Unfortunately for the Tribe, that’s about all it was, as they were mired in the mid-table in the CAA at the end of the season. A non-conference win over DePaul had invariably raised hopes of a big year, but one win in four CAA games to begin the league season hurt, and W&M backed into fifth place in the league after a loss and draw in their final two. They’d make a run to the CAA Tournament semi-final but were well beaten by Northeastern there.

The Tribe look to be well placed for a bounce back year in 2017. Defense could be a bit of a sore spot though, as the Tribe lose league Co-Defender of the Year Clara Logsdon, as well as Corinne Giroux from the backline. Senior Haley Kent is likely the best of the returnees on the backline, while seniors Grace Smith and Samantha Johnson may again split time in goal.

The Tribe could be pretty good going forward, with most of last year’s big hitters back. Senior Rachel Moore could be one of the league’s best players and will be looking to improve upon a six goal, five assist showing from last season. Also back is sophomore Sarah Megan, who was very impressive as a rookie, knocking home ten goals to lead the Tribe attack. W&M also add in rookie midfielder Erin Dailey, a strong prospect from the powerhouse PDA club, to their ranks. At bare minimum, William & Mary look like one of the CAA’s best sides this year and potentially a title contender if they can compensate for the loss of Logsdon.

Drexel got painfully close to ending a long trophy drought in the CAA last season. They’d open up league play with four wins in five in conference play to establish themselves as title contenders but saw those dreams dissipate with a 0-1-3 mark to close out league play, though it was still enough to put them in second in the CAA table. The Dragons would win their way into the CAA Tournament final but fell to league champs Northeastern in a heavy 3-0 defeat.

With an experienced squad returning this year, Drexel will hope that last year was just a stepping stone towards greater things in the CAA. The Dragons should again be a strong team defensively, conceding just four in CAA play last year and returning most of their best personnel. The cornerstone is in goal, as Christiana Ogunsami returns for her senior season after winning league Co-Defender of the Year honors following a transfer from Vanderbilt of the SEC. On the backline, the Dragons lost Laura Hamilton to transfer to Penn after a solid rookie season, but they do return senior Heidi Gspurning, the New York native having done a fine job after missing 2015 through injury.

There are a few more questions on offense. Vanessa Kara has the potential to be one of the league’s top attackers but saw her goal total dip to just six last year after netting eleven as a rookie. The wild card is Shaelyn McCarty, who actually led the team with seven goals despite starting just ten games. Rookie midfielder Gwyn Godin could also see major minutes early after being tipped for success here. My projections are a little conservative on Drexel considering their sudden rise last season, but they do appear to have the ingredients for another title push this year.

Usually home to deliriously attacking football, Hofstra found their “score one more than you concede” style of play insufficient for the postseason for the first time in ages. In fact, the Pride’s seventh place finish in the CAA put them out of the postseason for the first time since 2006, putting an end to a rather remarkable string of success considering how tough the league is. The Pride never recovered from an ice cold league start, losing their first four, though it has to be said all were on the road in a spot of non-sensical scheduling from the league. Hofstra would win four of their last five but lost a tiebreaker to College of Charleston, sending them home early for the Winter.

With nine starters back from last year’s squad, the Pride will likely have hopes of making it back to the postseason this season. Talk of Hofstra always begins with their attack, and the Pride look solid, though they lose leading scorer Jill Mulholland. Mulholland scored thirteen goals and added eight assists, having a hand in 75% of her club’s twenty-eight goals, making her hard to replace. The duo of Kristin Desmond and Noriana Radwan each had six goals last season, but getting one to step up as the lead scoring option will be vital to the Pride’s hopes in 2017.

Defense has usually been an afterthought for Hofstra, and it won’t be easy this year either with their best player, Emily Agudelo, graduating. Starting goalkeeper Friederike Mehring also departs, though she essentially split time with the returning Ashley Wilson. Kelly Gerdes showed great potential in her first season of play after missing two years with injury and may need to be a leader for the backline this season. I’m probably a little more pessimistic than my projections on the Pride’s hopes, but they still look like a side that should make the top six this year.

Elon has had trouble rising to the occasion since their move to the Colonial before the 2014 season. 2016 made it three straight seasons that the Phoenix have failed to make the CAA Tournament, and three straight seasons where the club hasn’t reached double digit wins. Las season began with a middling non-conference performance before a solid 2-1-0 start in CAA play. But the bottom dropped out, and Elon failed to win in their last six to sink to the bottom of the league table.

While prior performance here might breed skepticism for future results, Elon actually looks to be in decent shape to take a step forward in 2017. The Phoenix should get eight starters back for the new season, and a big reason why they could move up is the best of those starters, senior defender Kendall Ballotti. A mountainous center-back, Ballotti enjoyed a breakout season in 2017 and could be one of the favorites for league defender of the year as a senior.

It’s the offense which could hold Elon back though, as the Phoenix scored just eight goals in nine league games last year. Junior Tori Baliatico is the leading returning scorer but netted just four times, and Elon may be hoping for more from Taylor Paradoski, who impressed as a rookie as a spot starter here. Little separates Elon from many other mid-table hopefuls, but they still stand a fighting chance of breaking their CAA Tournament duck this year.

It was going to take a lot for UNC Wilmington to top 2015’s fifteen win season and NCAA Tournament second round showing, and few were surprised that the Seahawks took a step back last year. After a pretty timid non-conference slate, UNCW found themselves winning just two of their first seven league matches to put themselves in postseason danger. They’d win their last two to finish in fourth in the league but were dumped out of the CAA Tournament quarterfinal on penalties to William & Mary.

Unfortunately for Seahawks supporters hoping for a rise up the table, this year might bring much of the same as 2016 thanks to the loss of five starters. Wilmington will likely be banking on their offense this season thanks to the return of senior Serenity Waters, who led the squad with nine goals and seven assists. The club’s second leading scorer was Nikki Cox, who’s actually a redshirt freshman this season after getting injured but still netting six goals in four games. However, no other returners netted more than three goals, and the club loses strong midfielder Moa Jarl. A phalanx of talented attacking rookies descends on Wilmington this year though, with midfielders Molly McGarry and Dixon Veltri and forward Morgan Nanni all highly rated in this class.

Things could be challenging defensively as well, with top defender Madison Melnick graduating. It will likely be up to sophomore Ashley Johnson, impressive here as a rookie, and freshmen Grace Pitcher and Marissa Vincent to keep the backline solid. The team has to draft in replacements in goal as well, with JUCO transfer Caitie Broderick fighting Jamaican youth international Sydney Schneider and Cassidy Boyes for the starting job. While the Seahawks look to have done a nice job filling the ranks with talented freshmen, there’s too much upheaval to believe that they’ll get above mid-table this year.

If nothing else, James Madison were an exciting side to watch in non-conference play, as their defensive failings and often potent offense led to a lot of goalfests, even if the Dukes ended up on the losing side more often than not. Once the business of league play began though, James Madison proved a formidable foe, winning four in a row at one stretch but stumbling over the line and losing their last two, which cost them second place in the CAA and pushed them into a quarterfinal in the conference tournament. They won that match but fell in the semi-finals to Drexel, being scorched by the Dragons for the second time in 2016.

In many ways, last season feels like the end of an era for JMU, who graduates five starters and a whole lot of their top players from last year and the last four years. Chief among those gone is the reigning league Player of the Year and a club legend in the form of Ashley Herndon, who finished off her JMU career with eleven goals last season. The club also loses a standout in midfield in the form of Allie Bunner. Sophomore Haley Crawford is the reigning league Rookie of the Year and scored five goals and added nine assists, but she’ll be under a microscope this year as the likely top scoring option.

Defense is a serious worry, as JMU tied for most goals conceded in the league and almost conceded two goals a game across all fixtures. That’s a problem considering the Dukes lose their two top defenders, Allison Bortell and Jenny Sroba this year. Even if the attack does keep rolling, those defensive woes could push JMU into a battle just to make the top six in the CAA this year.

The College of Charleston haven’t found it easy in the transition to the CAA, but 2016 marked some solid growth on many fronts for the Cougars. There was the winning season, the club’s first since 2011. There was also a sixth place finish in the league, meaning CofC reached the postseason for the first time since joining the CAA, even if they did fall at the first hurdle. Regardless, it was a much needed showing for head coach Christian Michner and a Cougars program that had seemingly been spinning their wheels in the CAA. The next step is a big one though, and Michner and co. know that turning into a title contender in a ruthless league isn’t an easy proposition.

The Cougars lose four starters from last year’s squad, the most important of which being goalkeeper Lauren Killian, who had a breakout year for the club. Senior Genevieve Henderson is the only returnee with experience at the position, though she played forward last season, with rookies Meredith Holton and Maggie Berlin likely to vie for the role. The attack takes a big and unexpected hit with the sudden departure of Jessica Schifer, who was the team’s joint leading scorer last year with seven goals. It puts even more pressure on the other returnee with seven goals, Spaniard Laura Ortega, who has adapted well after a slow start and who also added eight assists to the cause for the Cougars in 2016. Mid-table in the CAA looks wide open this year, and the Cougars could reach the top six again but don’t look like a title challenger.

2016 was a typical season for Towson. In that it was a season without anything resembling measure success. The Tigers have long been one of the CAA’s doormats, having now gone since 2007 without a winning season. It’s been even more embarrassing in the league, where the Tigers have qualified for all of one CAA Tournament despite having been a league member since 2002. 2016 was more of the same here, as a promising 2-1-0 league start quickly gave way to a 1-5-0 finish and a ninth place finish in the final CAA table. Through it all, Greg Paynter has been entrenched as head coach here, but even an exceedingly patient Towson brass have to be wondering at this point if things are ever going to change.

On paper, that change happening in 2017 looks to be an outside bet at best. If it does change, it’ll be because of a quantum leap forward by an attack which netted a league low seven goals in CAA play last year. Worse news? Marissa Green and Natalia Pinkney, who were joint leading scorers here last year with four goals each, both graduate. Justine Stoner is likely the best returning attacker and had a pair of goals last year, but Towson really needs someone (or more than one someone) to have a breakout year. The defense wasn’t great but didn’t stick out like a sore thumb either. Senior keeper Taylor Sebolao was busy last year and could be again this year if the Tigers can’t improve on both sides of the ball. The bottom half of the CAA is pretty wide open, but you still wouldn’t bet on Towson filling a postseason slot come season’s end.

Life in the cutthroat CAA is difficult, as Delaware can attest to, having not won a postseason game in the conference since 2011. The Blue Hens wouldn’t get that chance in 2016, finishing two points out of the postseason places in a disappointing season that began with just one win in the club’s nine non-conference games. UD would win its first two league games, including a big one against Northeastern, but five straight losses effectively killed off hopes of a CAA Tournament berth. The Blue Hens will be under new leadership this year with NC State assistant Mike Barroqueiro now in charge.

Barroqueiro helped oversee a big rebuilding project with the Wolfpack, and that’ll probably help considering the Blue Hens don’t have much at the moment. A league high six starters depart, including the club’s top two players, Natalie Zelenky and Nikki Adams. Zelenky netted twenty-five goals in her four seasons here, and the offense is a huge worry here, with two of the three players that netted multiple goals gone. Sophomore Dani Kabat scored three goals last year and might have to be big this year for the Blue Hens as they try to rebuild an offense. Given the departed goals and experience, Delaware will probably open up as favorites to prop up the CAA this year, making this a likely hard first act for Barroqueiro with his new club.

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