2022 CAA Preview

CAA stands for Colonial Athletic Conference, but I often like to call it the Crazy Athletic Conference because year in and year out some wild stuff goes down in the CAA, especially given just how razor-thin some of the margins between these teams are. I would expect that to hold true in 2022 just as in any other year.

Here is a look at how the CAA shook out last season:

*CAA Champs !CAA Regular Season Champs

  1. Delaware – 10-3 (7-1)!
  2. Drexel – 10-3 (6-2)*
  3. Hofstra – 8-6 (4-4)
  4. UMass – 4-6 (4-4)
  5. Towson – 6-8 (3-5)
  6. Fairfield – 2-9 (0-8)

The Blue Hens won the regular season title and came into the conference tournament as the top seed, but got knocked off by Hofstra in the conference semifinals. Drexel beat UMass in the semifinals and topped Hofstra in the title game to win the conference tournament.

Enough about last season, let’s turn our focus towards the upcoming 2022 campaign.

Delaware Blue Hens

Last season: 10-3 (7-1), CAA Regular Season Champs, CAA Semifinalist

Key Departures: Charlie Kitchen (A), Jake Hervada (FO)

Key Returners: Mike Robinson (A), Tye Kurtz (A), Mark Bieda (A), Owen Grant (D), Matt Kilkeary (G)

Transfer Additions: None

In 2021, Delaware looked to finally be on track to make the CAA title game for the first time under Ben DeLuca and have a chance to make their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2011. After seeing things end on such a sour note a year ago and with as much talent as this team brings back, you can bet the Blue Hens will be in the title race again this spring.

Delaware had a top-flight defense a year ago and that expectation remains in 2022 with goalie Matt Kilkeary returning for a fifth-season, as well as their top pole in Owen Grant returning for his senior season after being arguably the best defenseman in the CAA year ago. Those two alone highlight this defense and give them the ability to be a top-15 unit once again. Senior defenseman Kevin McCormick and sophomore LSM Joe Speers also return after being big pieces on that back end a year ago and provide even more confidence around this Delaware defense. On the opposite end, the Blue Hens must replace 55 points with the graduation of Charlie Kitchen. However, despite that loss, this can still be one of the best offenses in the CAA. Junior attackman Mike Robinson, senior attackman Tye Kurtz, and fifth-year attackman Mark Bieda will be leading the charge for the Delaware offense this spring. The trio combined for 126 points last season and can very well replicate those numbers once again. At the faceoff dot, the Blue Hens lose a multi-year starter in Jake Hervada, which does raise some questions at the position. Rolan Hockenberry is their top returner after going 44-for-102 (44%) in 10 games as the backup last year.

Drexel Dragons

Last season: 10-3 (6-2), CAA Champs, NCAA First Round

Key Departures: Reid Bowering (A), Colin Mailman (M), Jimmeh Koita (FO)

Key Returners: Sean Donnelly (A), Aidan Coll (A), Sean Quinn(D), Ross Blumenthal (G)

Transfer Additions: None

Notre Dame’s narrow defeat of Drexel in the first round of the NCAA Tournament ended one of the best seasons in program history for Brian Voelker’s squad. Drexel went 10-3 (6-2 CAA), won the CAA title for the second time in program history, and came within two points of practically replicating their 2014 campaign in which they made the NCAA Quarterfinals.

Coming into the 2022 season, you would be hard-pressed to find a team as complete and experienced as the Drexel Dragons anywhere in college lacrosse. With the exception of attackman Reid Bowering, midfielder Collin Mailman and faceoff man Jimmeh Koita, this squad returns all the major players from a year ago. Sean Donnelly looks to headline this offense once again after leading the Dragons with 46 points off 26 goals and 20 assists a year ago. Aidan Coll and Ryan Genord are back for an extra season while Jack Mulcahy and Sean Curico return for their sophomore seasons and are expected to take a step up. On the back end, the Dragons return their entire close defense unit in Sean Quinn, Patrick Udovich, and Brennan Greenwald, as well as SSDM George Grippo and LSM Jack Farrell who were leaders of that rope unit. The biggest returnee of them all is goalie Ross Blumenthal. The now three-year starter put together a wildly impressive junior campaign in 2021, making 133 saves with a 49% save percentage. That includes and impressive 15-save (62%) performance in the NCAA first round. Simply put, the CAA champs are back and could very well do it again in 2022.

Fairfield Stags

Last season: 2-9 (0-8)

Key Departures: Dylan Beckwith (A), Matt Chlastawa (A/M), Taylor Strough (A)

Key Returners: Tret Moran (M), Colin Consoli (G)

Transfer Additions: 

Andrew Baxter’s arrival was filled with hope that he could turn this program back around towards a place where they were competing for CAA titles. However, the chance for a turnaround of that nature just hasn’t been there over the first two seasons of the Baxter era. In 2020, Fairfield went 5-2 before things were shut down. And this past year in 2021, the Stags went 2-9 (0-8 CAA) against a weird CAA-heavy schedule. Additionally, the Stags defense has been one of the worst in the country. They ranked 61st nationally (bottom five) in scoring defense, allowing 15.27 goals per game game in 2021. With normalcy returning, can the Baxter era finally get off the ground?

As mentioned, Fairfield needs to improve the most on the back end. But the one area where I have confidence in this defense is in cage with Colin Consoli. He is the face of this defense, returning after a strong freshman campaign last spring in which he made 148 saves with a .478% save percentage. He is a strong anchor to build around and if the guys out in front of him can improve, this defense will surely see, at least, solid growth. Fairfield had the nation’s 29th-best scoring offense (11.45 goals per game) a year ago and loses a lot of that talent, including Dylan Beckwith. Trent Moran is the top returning point-getter for this Fairfield after being their fifth-leading scorer a year ago with 10 points. Additionally, Patrick Drake, who missed a good part of the season due to injury, and Bryce Ford comes back after missing all of last season with an injury. It’ll certainly be interesting to watch how that unit comes together.

Hofstra Pride

Last season: 10-3 (7-1), CAA Runner-up

Key Departures: Ryan Tierney (A), Justin Lynskey (A), Riley Forte (M), Alex Concannon (M), Bobby Casey (G)

Key Returners: Brian Herber (FO), James Philbin (M), Justin Sykes (M)

Transfer Additions: Gerard Kane (A, Ohio State)

Hofstra churned our a very solid season in 2021, coming within a goal of making it to the NCAA Tournament as they fell to Drexel by one in the CAA Title game. Now a year removed from that, things look drastically different in Hempstead, and very much so due to the loss of program great Ryan Tierney along with multiple other major losses on both ends of the field.

Tierney, along with fellow All-CAA selections Michael Altmann (LSM), Riley Forte (M), and Keegan Santos (D) have moved on. The same is true for Justin Lynskey (A) and Alex Concannon (M), who were top-five scorers as graduate transfers last season, starting goalie Bobby Casey, and graduate defenseman Logan Danenza. That creates a lot of holes on both offense and defense for this Pride team. But even with some major questions on both ends, the Pride faithful can look to the middle of the field and find confidence with Brian Herber returning for a fifth season at the faceoff dot. He churned out the best campaign of his career in 2021, going 192-for-302 (.636%) and ending the year seventh in DI in faceoff win percentage (first in CAA). The impact returners aside from Herber include midfielders James Philbin and Justin Sykes, who combined for 42 points last season, as well as attackman Dylan McIntosh, and defenseman Tom Ford. With the key returnees not being numerous, this is a Hofstra team that will be very green in many areas in 2022 and that leads to many questions of exactly what this team will look like that only time can answer.

Towson Tigers

Last season: 6-8 (3-5)

Key Departures: Brody McLean (A), Jake McLean (A)

Key Returners: James Avanzato (A), Andrew Milani (A), Koby Smith (D), Garrett Zungailia (D), Mo Sillah (LSM), Shane Brennan (G)

Transfer Additions: Sam Weisshaar (A,Anne Arundel CC), Nick DeMaio (A, Maryland), Kyle Berkeley (M, Towson), Peyton Winters (D, Harford CC)

After a terrible 2020, the Tigers started their climb back to being one of the top teams in the CAA where many are used to seeing them. After starting 2-5, Towson went 4-3 during the second half of the season. That stretch included an overtime win over arch-rival Towson and a three-game winning streak against Fairfield, Hofstra, and UMass in mid-April. Losses against Delaware and Drexel to end the season ultimately held the Tigers out of postseason play, but not by much. The Tigers will look to, and can, continue the climb back to the top of the CAA in 2022.

Towson ranked in the bottom half of DI last season in scoring offense as they averaged 9.5 goals per game last season. They return four of their top five point-getters from a year ago in senior James Avanzato, who led the way with 40 points, Andrew Milani, Ryan Swain, and Austin Stewart. Maryland transfer Kyle Berkeley is expected to be a big contributor as well. This offense has some bright sports, but it is one of the areaa where the Tigers really need to improve the most. The same is true at the faceoff dot, where they went .364% as a team last season as one of the worst faceoff teams in the nation. The one area where I have very little hesitation surrounding the Towson team is on defense. That entire close unit returns, including top poles Koby Smith and Garrett Zungailia. Shane Brennan will be back in between the pipes as well after posting a .519% save percentage a year ago. The Tigers will also see their top LSM Mo Sillah will also be back after a strong season in 2021 in which he made his presence known all over the field.

UMass Minutemen

Last season: 4-6 (4-4)

Key Departures: Devin Spencer (A), Billy Philpott (M), Jackson Subcoch (D)

Key Returners: Kevin Tobin (A), Gabriel Procyk (A), Dillon Arrant (A), Zach Hochman (FO), Adan Towey (D), Matt Knote (G)

Transfer Additions: Logan Lijeberg (A), James Caddigan (M), Anthony Sericolo (M)

There is no other way to put it, UMass did not live up to expectations last season. Going 4-6 (4-4 CAA), it was the worst season for UMass since 2016 and only the third losing season for the program since joining the CAA, and just the sixth losing season during Greg Cannella’s 27 years at the helm. And this was a Minutemen team that many thought was the most talented in the conference. With normalcy returning and given this team is healthy the full way through, there is no question that UMass has the ability to bounce back. And I do, wholeheartedly, expect a better outcome from this team in 2022.

Defense is where the Minutemen have made their mark, both historically and in recent years. That trend held true in 2021 and I expect it will again here in 2022. A pair of full-time starters in senior Adam Towey and Sam Eisenstadt, who comes back for a fifth season, return to lead the way at close defense. UMass will also see a talented pair of junior LSMs in Jake Dulac, who started one game at close last season, and Ryan Fitzpatrick come back. But the biggest piece of this defense is goalie Matt Knote He continued his impressive play this past season, making 125 saves with a .536% save percentage. UMass will also see a major impact player return at the faceoff dot with junior Zach Hochman. He went 114-214 (.533%) last spring. Hochman should give this UMass offense, which returns three of their top-five point-getters from a year ago in fifth-year midfielder Kevin Tobin , senior attackman Gabriel Procyk, and sophomore attackman Dillon Arrant, a solid possession advantage. The Minutemen offense also returns Chris Connolly, who missed the majority of last season with an injury and brings in a big transfer addition with Logan Liljeberg from Sacred Heart.

2022 CAA Predictions

Here is a look at how I can see the CAA shaking out this season, as well as who I would pick right now as the conference’s Offensive and Defensive Player of the Year. I also added in a Transfer Player of The Year to predict who will be the most impactful transfer.

Final Standings:

  1. Delaware
  2. Drexel
  3. UMass
  4. Towson
  5. Hofstra
  6. Fairfield

Delaware and Drexel I believe are the top two teams in the conference and could very well see them playing in the title game. UMass and Towson are both looking to make headway this season after poor seasons last year, and the past two years in the case of the Tigers, and both of them I believe have the talent to do so. I would not be at all surprise if one of them ends up in the title game or winning it all. After all, this is the CAA and anything can happen. Hofstra and Fairfield I have a ton of questions about and see them as the bottom two coming into the year.

Offensive Player of The Year: Mike Robinson, A, Delaware

Defensive Player of The Year: Owen Grant, D, Delaware

Transfer of The Year:  Logan Liljeberg, A, UMass (from Sacred Heart)

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