NCAA Division III

Division III men’s soccer: 2014 Preseason preview

Photo: Courtesy of Franklin & Marshall Athletics

The 2014 Division III men’s soccer season kicks off this weekend and local teams will look to get off to a fast start. Some teams aim to repeat program-best finishes from last season, while others will work to improve on a disappointing 2013 season.

Below we take a look at seven local conferences — Capital Athletic Conference (CAC), Colonial States Athletic Conference (CSAC), Centennial Conference, Commonwealth Conference, Freedom Conference, Landmark Conference, and New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) — which among them include five local teams that are featured in the NSCAA Top 25 preseason poll.

In the rankings below, the numbers in parentheses indicate the number of first-place votes in the preseason poll. The numbers not in parentheses represent the overall number of votes received.

Capital Athletic Conference 

Preseason Rankings
1. York (Pa.) (5) 77
2. Christopher Newport (4) 73
3. Salisbury (1) 69
4. Mary Washington 52
5. Frostburg State 49
6. Wesley 40
7. St. Mary’s (Md.) 35
8. Marymount (Va.) 23
9. Penn State Harrisburg 21
10. Southern Virginia 11

Two CAC teams –York and Salisbury — are ranked in NSCAA’s top 25 poll at No. 11 and 19, respectively. Surprising, Salisbury sits behind Christopher Newport in the CAC preseason poll.

The CAC coaches’ preseason vote shows just how divided the conference is in deciding the top dog, a reflection of just how close the talent is within the conference. Regular season results will set-up much anticipated rematches in the conference playoffs.

Prediction: It’s likely to be a three team race for the conference championship between Christopher Newport, Salisbury, and York. York seems to be stacked every season and has won the last five CAC men’s soccer Championships. This season they will make it six in a row.

Colonial States Athletic Conference

Preseason Rankings
1. Cabrini (5) 92
2. Marywood (5) 90
3t. Neumann 79
3t. Centenary 79
5t. Gwynedd Mercy 43
5t. Keystone 43
7. Rosemont 42
8. Cairn 31
9. Baptist Bible 30
10. Immaculata 21

As shown above, Cabrini and Marywood split the first-place votes with five votes apiece. Neumann and Centenary should be contenders in the conference playoffs and have NCAA tournament experience in the past few years. Last year, Centenary won the CAC championship only to lose in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to eventual champions Messiah College.

Cabrini head coach Rob Dallas said of his team’s hard work ethic and being chosen as the favorite to win the conference, “We are flattered to be recognized by the CSAC coaches. We are working hard in preseason and hope to live up to the high expectations in a conference that is getting more and more competitive each year.”

It looks like those four teams will be the ones to battle for the conference championship and automatic qualifier in the 2014 NCAA tournament. However, a dark horse could emerge during conference play that changes the landscape of the CAC playoffs.

Prediction: Neumann faces Cabrini in the CAC Final and earns the automatic qualifier. Maybe they can relive the 2011 NCAA Tournament and make another Cinderella run.

Centennial Conference 

Preseason Rankings
1. Franklin & Marshall (5) 76
2. Haverford (2) 67
3. Dickinson (1) 66
4. Swarthmore (1) 59
5. Johns Hopkins (1) 55
6. Muhlenberg 41
7. Ursinus 31
8. Washington College 24
9. Gettysburg 22
10. McDaniel 9

After a 2013 season that saw Franklin & Marshall advance to the Elite 8, the Diplomats are the favorites to win the Centennial Conference championships in 2014. As we saw last season, anything can happen and the conference is stacked with talent. As is evident with five team receiving at least one first-place vote, it’s always difficult to pick a clear favorite in this conference.

Prediction: With experience from last year’s NCAA run, the Diplomats will be the team to beat. In the final, No.24 nationally ranked Dickinson will face-off against No. 10 F&M for the all important AQ. In the end, F&M will prevail, but they will not be the only Centennial Conference representative in the NCAA tournament. Given its strength, it’s not out of the question that three teams Centennial Conference teams could make the NCAA tournament.

Commonwealth Conference 

Preseason Rankings
1. Messiah (7) 63
2. Lebanon Valley 49
3t. Lycoming (2) 48
3t. Alvernia 48
5. Stevenson 35
6. Arcadia 27
7. Widener
8t. Albright 17
8t. Hood 17

Defending champion Messiah College leads the Commonwealth Conference preseason poll and is also No.1 in the NSCAA Coaches Poll. With a majority of their offensive threat still with the team, including 2012 Player of the Year Jeremy Payne returning, Messiah looks for their 11th national title. The only offensive weapon to graduate since last year’s championship is 2013 NSCAA Player of the Year Josh Wood.

This season will look slightly different for the conference, with Elizabeth College leaving for the Landmark Conference. And while Messiah is the favorite, like the Centennial Conference, the Commonwealth Conference is filled with talented teams.

Last year in the conference semifinals, Lycoming and Messiah battled through a scoreless 120 minutes of action before Lycoming advanced through penalty kicks. That the Warriors advanced past Freedom Conference side King’s in the first round before losing in the second round of the NCAA tournament may explain why the Warriors received two first-place votes this season.

Non-conference play kicks off this weekend with some of the teams facing off against local talent from the Top-25. Conference play is always enjoyable to watch due to fact that the Top-5 teams in the pre-season poll have the potential to beat their opponent on any given night.

Prediction: Messiah should return back to the Commonwealth Final this season barring another conference tournament upset. Look for Lebanon Valley College to join them in the final. In the end, Messiah should find a way to win the 2014 Commonwealth Championship.

Freedom Conference

Preseason rankings
1. Eastern (5) 47
2. Misericordia (1) 41
3. King’s (2) 40
4. Farleigh Dickinson- Florham  30
5. DeSales 27
6. Manhattanville 19
7. Wilkes 13
8. Delaware Valley 7

Moving on to the other side of the MAC, the Freedom Conference is just as talented from top to bottom as its sister conference. The voters chose Eastern as No. 1, but Misericordia wasn’t far behind. While only receiving one first-place vote, Misericordia has four titles in the last six years, the most recent coming in 2012.

2013 Freedom Conference Champions King’s received two first-place votes and look to build on last year’s performance that ended in the first round of the NCAA tournament. It will take some key wins against tough conference foes to repeat as champions.

Don’t be surprised if the teams don’t finish in the order of the preseason poll. There will be at least one unexpected result in conference play this season. Look for a tight, competitive table throughout this year’s season that could go down to the final regular season conference game to determine who makes the conference tournament and who is seeded where.

Prediction: Misericordia and King’s face-off in the final. The Cougars of Misericordia will come away on top with a much wanted conference championship.

Landmark Conference

Preseason Rankings
1. Catholic (5) 72
2. Susquehanna (3) 64
3. Drew (1) 55
4. Elizabethtown 44
5. Scranton 35
6. USMMA 30
7. Juniata 26
8. Goucher 16
9. Moravian 9

The Catholic Cardinals start the 2014 season as the favorites to win the Landmark Conference, but don’t hold your breath that they will as Susquehanna, Drew, and newcomers Elizabethtown, will be gunning for them all season long.

Just as with the Freedom Conference, there is no clear favorite to be crowned conference champions despite Catholic’s five first-place votes. It wouldn’t be a shock if Scranton wins this season, but at the same time, Catholic or Susquehanna could win as well. I think it will be a three team race between Scranton, Catholic, and Susquehanna for the No. 1 seed for the conference title, and who wins the conference championship.

Prediction: Susquehanna defeats Catholic with Scranton losing to Catholic in the semi-finals.

New Jersey Athletic Conference

Preseason Rankings
1. Rutgers-Camden (5)
2. Montclair State (2)
3. Rutgers-Newark (2)
4. Richard Stockton
5. The College of New Jersey
6. Rowan (1)
7. William Paterson
8. Ramapo
9. Kean
10. New Jersey City

While receiving five first-place votes to repeat as NJAC champions, Rutgers-Camden is ranked No.2 in the NSCAA preseason top 25 poll. Coach Tim Oswald, who was 2013 NSCAA Coach of the Year, and PSP Coach of the Year, looks to lead the Scarlet Raptors to another deep NCAA run and their fourth NJAC title.

However, No. 9 Montclair State, Rutgers-Newark, and Richard Stockton, will all be gunning for the NJAC Championship come season’s end.

Prediction: The 2013 NCAA Division III runner-ups will win the NJAC Championship again and make a strong run in the NCAA tournament. The NJAC final will be against either another all Rutgers final or Rutgers-Camden against Montclair St.

What are your thoughts? Who are you predicting to win their respective conference championships. I welcome your comments below.

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