The Worst Defending Champions in College Lacrosse History

(Photo Courtesy of North Carolina Athletics)

To no one’s surprise, historically, teams who win the national championship are usually pretty good the following season. And this is especially true in lacrosse where only 11 programs have claimed a national championship at the DI level in the NCAA era (1971-present). 

But sometimes teams that win the title one year aren’t so hot the next season. And there are many factors that lead to that. A new head coach, losing a special class, injuries, and plenty of other factors. 

After scanning through record books, here are 10 of the worst college lacrosse teams, in chronological order, the season following a national title run.

1922 Lehigh

Record: 4-4

In 1921, the Mountain Hawks went 8-1 and defeated Syracuse 3-1 in a post-season playoff game to win the national championship, their second ever outright national title. Lehigh was not able to defend that title, as they went 4-4 in 1922. 

Lehigh’s four wins in the 1922 season came against Rutgers, Swarthmore, Stevens, and Penn. They lost to Oxford, Navy, Army, and Johns Hopkins, who was the co-national champion with Syracuse. 

1929 Johns Hopkins

Record: 4-5

In 1929, the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays, headlined by a stifling defense of All-Americans in Howard Caplan, Purnell Hall, and William Keegan, were looking to defend their title from 1928 and four-peat as national champions. 

But after going 9-2 and outscoring their opponents 108-36 a year prior, the Blue Jays went 4-5 and only outscored their opponents 37-34. It was the first five-loss season in the history of Johns Hopkins lacrosse. 

1950 Navy

Record: 6-4

Navy went 11-0 and secured a national title in 1949. However, the Midshipmen didn’t live up to the same expectations the next season, as the 1950s started rather rough for Navy on the lacrosse field. 

The Midshipmen started the season 5-0, which included wins over Washington College, Harvard, Duke, Penn State, and Maryland. However, Navy finished the season 1-4, losing by significant margins to Yale, Princeton, and Johns Hopkins. They clobbered Penn in their second to last game, but got beat by rival Army 11-8 to end the season. 

1971 Johns Hopkins

Record: 3-7

In the years leading up to the first NCAA lacrosse tournament, Johns Hopkins was dominant. The Blue Jays won four consecutive national titles from 1967-1970, and only lost one game in each of those seasons. 

But in 1971, the Blue Jays took a downfall. They went 3-7 and missed out on the first-ever NCAA tournament. They also got outscored 93-89 that season. It is, arguably, the worst season that Johns Hopkins has ever seen. The Blue Jays have only had one losing season since (2013). 

2017 North Carolina 

Record: 8-8

After a memorable national title run in 2016, which saw Chris Cloutier and Luke Goldstock rise to the occasion in May and show what they had on college lacrosse’s biggest stage, the Tar Heels were not able to repeat in 2017. 

North Carolina wasn’t a horrible team. They won the ACC tournament and made it to the NCAA Quarterfinals, where they lost in an exciting night contest against Albany at Tom and Mary Casey Stadium. But overall, an 8-8 season after winning a national title is not ideal for any squad. 

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