(Photo Courtesy of Vermont Athletics)
The America East has undergone a change in recent years with Chris Feifs and the Vermont Catamounts taking over as the definitive top dog in the league. Furthermore, the league enters a new phase in 2023 with Stony Brook having left the league while Bryant and Merrimack have joined from the NEC.
Vermont still comes into the year as the clear-cut favorite and likely most talented team in the league. UMBC and UAlbany should be right behind them. However, the steps Binghamton has taken in recent year and the overall consistency of Bryant, albeit under a recently retired head coach, also can’t be overlooked.
At first glance, it may look like a pretty chalky America East once again, but there is still a ton of different aspects to watch across this league in 2023. And with the rapid change seen in many mid-major conferences, there isn’t much you can count out fully.
Can Vermont Three-Peat?
It has been the Vermont Catamounts who have taken up most of the oxygen surrounding the America East in recent years. The Catamounts have won the conference title each of the past two seasons and have gone a combined 14-2 in league play while doing so. Both of those losses came in 2021.
Vermont does lose the 2022 America East Offensive and Defensive Player of The Year with midfielder Thomas McConvey and goalie Ryan Cornell having moved on. Jake Bernhardt and Brian Kavanagh also left the program after stints as the Catamounts’ offensive and defensive coordinators. Despite those major losses, the Catamounts still return one of the most talented rosters in the America East with faceoff man Tommy Burke (269-for-438, 61.4%), attackmen David Closterman (29G/26A) and Bock Haley (26G/25A), defensemen Jackson Canfield (49GB/20CT) and Tim Manning (17GB/3CT), and LSM Nick Alviti (88GB/32CT) all returning.
Chris Feifs returns a solid core that should allow this team to be fighting at the top of the America East once again and possibly be the first program since UAlbany in 2015 to three-peat as league champions. And if Vermont fills in the holes it does have, achieving that goal likely looks even more realistic.
Does Albany Get Back on Track?
Since Scott Marr’s arrival ahead of the 2001 season, the Great Danes have been nothing short of the best overall program in the America East. Albany has earned nine America East Championships and 10 NCAA Tournament appearances. That includes five trips to the NCAA Quarterfinals and the program’s first, and so far only, Championship Weekend trip in 2018.
Since that 2018 season, however, Albany hasn’t quite been what many are used to seeing. An 8-5 record and America East title game appearance in 2021 is the high water mark of the last four years for this program. Last spring saw Albany have its worst season sine the early 2010s as the Danes went 5-10 overall and 3-3 in America East play. It marked the first time that the Danes have had anything less than an above .500 season in league play since joining DI and the America East.
Leading scorer Graydon Hogg (26G/12A), as well as poles Jake Piseno (77GB/27CT) and Elijah Gash (26GB/8CT), among others, headline the returning core for this Albany team. Now, with much of that core back, the Danes will very much be looking to return to the top of the America East.
How Do Bryant and Merrimack Do in Year One?
The 2023 season brings some shake-up to the makeup for the America East as Stony Brook has exited the league while both Bryant and Merrimack have come over from the NEC.
Bryant enters a new era on two fronts with both its move to the America East and change at head coach with Brad Ross taking over for a recently retired Mike Pressler. Bryant won six NEC titles and made five NCAA Tournament appearances under Pressler following its move from DI to DII in the late 2000s. After losing a heap of talent to the Transfer Portal this offseason, the immediate future of Bryant is something to question. However, winning has been the norm in Smithfield for quite sometime and that should be expected to continue, if not immediately, eventually in its new league. Merrimack, on the other hand moved to DI in 2020 after consecutive DII national title winning seasons. The Warriors enter their last year of their NCAA mandated “postseason ban” and returns quite a bit of talent, including leading attackmen Jack and Tommy Rooney, as well as goalie Henry Vogt.
How each of these teams performs in its first year in the America East will certainly be something to watch within the league this season and could possibly tell where each is headed, as far as their future standings in the league are concerned.
This topic is very much debatable. UMBC and UAlbany could be argued here, and especially so with Vermont’s losses. However, the Catamounts are still the top dog in the league and can certainly replace elite talent like they have done before.
Vermont was the clear-cut top team in the America East last season and its offense was no exception as it averaged 13.21 goals per game (1st in the America East, 25th in DI). However, the losses of midfielder Thomas McConvey, as well as attackmen Michael McCormick and Liam Limoges, leaves a lot of holes on that end.
Vermont loses 168 points between McConvey, McCormick, and Limoges. That will be tough to replace. However, the return of David Closterman (29G/26A) and Bock Haley (26G/25A) at attack, plus Griffin Fenech (10G/20A) and Charlie Pope (16G/7A), gives this offense a solid core to build and revamp itself around. The cupboard is far from bare in Burlington on the offense and should help it maintain among the best on that end in 2023.
This one may even be more debatable. Vermont loses its goalie and a starting poles from its No. 5 scoring defense last season. And that same ‘Next man up’ mentality has been seen in Burlington on the defensive end in recent years. However, it also can’t be overlooked what UMBC has done in that regard on the back end either for the better part of five years now.
UMBC had the No. 9 scoring defense in DI last season and loses defensemen Colin Kasner, a program great, and Corey Gaines at close, as well as goalie Tommy Linger, who started all but the Retrievers’ conference tournament games in cage, from that unit. Jayson Tingue started those final two games in cage and made 19 saves in those contests. He is one of the top returners on defense for Ryan Moran’s squad.
In addition to Tingue in cage, the Retrievers also return LSM/D Colby Weishaar (4GB/13CT), Ricky Fedorchak (23GB/9CT), and Tony Diallo (18GB/7CT) at pole. Kyle Hoff (19GB/8CT) and senior Mason Edwards (36GB/7CT) return as the team’s top SSDMs. With this talent, expect UMBC to feature another elite defense here in 2023.
Offensive Player of The Year: David Closterman Attack, Vermont
Defensive Player of The Year: Colby Weishaar, D/LSM, UMBC
Specialist of The Year: Tommy Burke, Faceoff, Vermont
Projected Final Standings
7. UMass Lowell